Delta 2023: Battle of defections ahead of polls
The governorship election in Delta State will be a two-horse race between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) because other parties are yet to be visible, less than two months to the general elections.
With the ticket tussle in PDP put to rest by a Supreme Court judgment, the party went into the field with confidence of retaining its position as a party to beat in the state.
Its candidate and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Chief Sheriff Oborevwori, supported by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and other members, have been traversing the state, soliciting votes at all levels, including the presidential election, where Okowa is the vice presidential candidate.
But the wounds from the legal tussle are yet to heal fully and scars remain, as some politicians in the camp of the plaintiff and runner-up in the May 2022 primary, Olorogun David Edevbie, developed cold feet about the campaigns. They have been conspicuously absent from the rallies, even at his doorstep. Indeed, the former commissioner for Finance and Okowa’s immediate past chief of staff is currently vacationing abroad at the peak of the campaigns.
Perhaps more importantly, and obviously worrisome to some observers, is the ‘no show’ of former governor of the state, main backer of Edevbie in the primary and a critical stakeholder, Chief James Ibori. At virtually all the campaigns so far, the leader of the Ibori political dynasty, whose daughter is a candidate for the House of Representatives on the PDP platform, has never featured, making many to believe that it is not yet Uhuru in PDP.
It is believed that his presence would have sent out a message of full reconciliation within the party and dissuaded some of his men and supporters from leaving the party and given it more verve to carry on. This also would have encouraged his teeming supporters to reintegrate into the umbrella by taking active part in the campaigns.
The loud silence of the former governor in the affairs of his party, both at the state and national levels, is giving credence to rumours that he, indeed, might have a trump card and may be looking in a different direction, having suffered what his loyalists considered a humiliation from one of his own, bearing in mind the loss by his godson, Edevbie. Besides, his daughter almost missed out in the ballot, but for a bye-election and horse-trading after the tie in the first primary election.
While some PDP observers in the state say Ibori might be backing the candidate of a different party and will make his position known on the eve of the governorship election, others, who claimed to be in the know, insisted that he remains a good party-man, who cannot fathom anti-party activities.
Indeed, Chief Press Secretary to Okowa and a member of the state campaign council, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, when asked about Ibori in the party’s campaigns, said he was “fine, he is okay.” Reminded that former governor was still aloof or at large in the party’s presidential and even governorship campaigns, Ifeajika added: “Well, he has not been appearing in the public as such, but he remains a member of the PDP, a leader at that. He remains in PDP and has not left for another party.”
On whether he was supportive of the party’s candidates, Okowa’s spokesman enthused: “Of course, why not? Don’t forget that his daughter is the party’s candidate for Ethiope Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, while his very good friend, Chief Ighoyota Amori, is the party’s candidate for Delta Central senatorial district and Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, his cousin, is very much involved and in the forefront of our campaigns.”
Indeed, another former governor, Okowa’s predecessor, Uduaghan, has become the game-changer in the process. Despite his daughter losing the primary in her bid to the state House of Assembly, and initial reluctance to concede anything to him since 2019, Uduaghan has come to the rescue in breaking the ice.
Having declared his support for Oborevwori, Uduaghan started troubleshooting among members across the state. He has not only elected to go about reconciling aggrieved members and preaching peace, he has also taken up the challenge to reunite the party.
It is not clear if his joining the campaign actively is with the blessing of Ibori or he is on his own. It is also not certain if his return to the mainstream has helped to thaw the internal disagreement. But whatever is the case, even on his own, the former governor is also of great value to the party and its candidate, especially at this time and given them a new zeal that victory is on the way. In all campaigns and rallies across the state, Uduaghan has been reminding party faithful and electorate the need to vote for PDP at all levels.
His reintegration shows that reconciliation is ongoing, like the state Chairman, Chief Kingsley Esiso, keeps saying, and other aggrieved members feeling left in the lurch could still join the train even at the eleventh hour to solicit votes for Oborevwori, who has promised to advance the state further with his M.O.R.E. Agenda.
Another notable face absent at the campaigns and rallies is the pioneer chairman of the party in the state, a former commissioner, and member of the National Assembly for over two decades, representing Delta South senatorial district, Senator James Manager.
Manager, who was an aspirant in the governorship primary, but lost out has not fully identified with neither the party he helped to build nor its candidate. APC digs in at rallies
APC appears to have narrowed the gap among its members, as they now united. Its candidate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, has been hitting the Okowa government hard, levelling allegations bordering on non-performance and impropriety, with the promise to do better if elected.
But the absence of one of his staunch supporters and pillar of the party in Delta North, Chief Peter Nwaoboshi, is affecting the penetration of the party in the senatorial zone.
Nwaoboshi, the senator representing Delta North in the National Assembly, who is also seeking re-election, has been unable to attend campaigns and rallies, even for himself, owing to his conviction for fraud.
Meanwhile, campaigns by both parties have been characterised by defections. At Boji-Boji Owa, eight candidates of the House of Assembly from other political parties, led by Mr. Andrew Akawe of Accord Party, renounced their candidatures in favour of the candidacy of Mrs. Marilyn Okowa-Daramola of the PDP, who is the governor’s daughter.
At Obiaruku, the campaign rallies witnessed massive defections from APC and Labour Party (LP), including former LP Delta North Senatorial candidate, Mr Ebuwa Kelvin, and Chief Alex Imarah, to PDP.
At Otor-Udu, a former APC chieftain and aide of Omo-Agege, Mr Benjamin Sharta, along with hundreds of his supporters, dumped the party for the PDP, saying they left their party because of Omo-Agege’s dictatorial leadership style and lack of progress in the party.
At Issele-Uku, hundreds of African Democratic Congress (ADC) and APC members, led by chairman of ADC in Aniocha North Local Council, Mr Chris Ogwu, and former APC chieftain, Mr Bolum Michael, defected to the PDP.
They said they were back home to join the winning team and had collapsed the structure of ADC in the council in all the wards into the PDP.
At Akwukwu-Igbo, a former chieftain of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Mr. John Azike, and over 100 members defected to the PDP.
Azike, who addressed the crowd, said he was joining PDP alongside his supporters, because of the incoming governor, Oborevwori, who has presided over the state Assembly for years without crisis.
At Ughelli, a former APC governorship aspirant, Chief Osiobe Okotie, and over 500 members defected to PDP, saying he has returned to join others to build PDP in Delta State, adding: “Like the prodigal son, I have returned to my original home, the PDP. I started politics in PDP, so, am back to my original home.”
APC also harvested some defectors. At Ughoton, a number of PDP chieftains and members in Uvwie and Okpe Local Councils, including a former commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Chief Victor Otomiewo; two-term member of the state Assembly, Hon. Efe Ofobruku; Chief Godstime Omimi; Mr. Stephen Atemu and Mr Randy Omovie defected to the party.
The campaign rally in Burutu witnessed decamping of former PDP stalwarts, who said they had been working for the party over the years, but “PDP used us to sweep their floors and dumped us. We are tired of being used and dumped and have decided to cross over to APC.”
At Imode and Oviri-Olomu, both in Ughelli South Local Council and Kiagbodo in Burutu Local Council, Ambassador A.B. Idolor; Dr. Gradeone Clark, Chief Alex Emekeogha and their supporters, as well as hundreds of women, who expressed dissatisfaction with the PDP, joined APC.
Other defectors to APC include a former commissioner, Mrs Faith Majemite, and a former aide of the governor, Mr. Mike Akpobire.
It’s free entry, free exit, says Okowa’s aide
Asked how the defections could likely affect the fortunes of PDP at the polls, Ifeajika said: “Have you looked at the number and calibre of people defecting and joining PDP from APC and other political parties, in comparison with those leaving PDP? That is very important. The number of defectors from APC to PDP is so much that even Omo-Agege’s aides are leaving him for PDP.”
Reminded that some of the governor’s aides left PDP for APC, Okowa’s spokesman emphasised: “I am talking of people who left APC with a group of supporters. I mean people who are joining with numbers, with large supporters.
“But you know it is allowed in politics; there is free entry and exit. You move when you want to move for whatever reasons. Big men are moving to PDP from APC. So, we don’t want to talk about small men that left PDP for APC.
“Some of them left for personal interests, not principles or ideologies. Somebody contested the primary, because he or she lost, he or she decides to move, such a person is entitled to such movement. But the movement out of PDP has not affected and would not affect the party in any way at the polls.
“For example, Mrs. Faith Majemite lost the last primary and decided to leave the party. She is the only one of the defectors that is close to Ibori. In fact, she has always been close to power in the state since Ibori administration. But I am not sure Ibori would have encouraged her to leave PDP when his biological daughter is contesting on the platform of the party. I see it as something personal to whoever defected, which they are entitled to, anyway.
“So is Mike Akpobire, who left PDP recently, entitled to it? They may have made some promises to them that made them to defect, which is their right and discretion.
“But in PDP, these defections do not and have not removed one strand of hair from our head; they are of no consequence. There are many more, quality people that have joined PDP from APC. So, we are good, no cause for alarm. There is free entry and free exit; it’s not a cult that anybody would come after you for leaving.”
Ifeajika, however, urged APC members and its governorship candidate to always tell the truth when campaigning, instead of half-truths and lies, adding: “At a press conference in Abuja, Omo-Agege reportedly said that apart from Ibori, no other governor had/have done one good road in Delta State, that Uduaghan stayed eight years without doing much in Delta. How can somebody say that? Is that possible?
“The Government House we are using in Asaba today was built by Uduaghan. He also built Asaba Airport; Okowa came to improve on it. Uduaghan started the dual carriageway from Ughelli to Asaba that Okowa is currently working on now. The flyover we have in Asaba now, by InterBau, Uduaghan constructed the one in Effurun, among many other projects.”
AS the two parties go from ward to ward in the state to canvass votes, all eyes are on Ibori to see, who of the two candidates, both of them are close to him in one way or the other, he would finally back ahead of the elections. While Oborevwori is from his party, PDP, Omo-Agege used to be a member of his political dynasty while in the PDP.