Delta 2023 guber gathers steam as Okowa debunks rotation agreement
The look of things to come in the Delta State 2023 governorship election is gradually unfolding and clearer as the general election year inches closer.
First, the thorny issue of where the next governor should come from appears to have become a foregone conclusion.
When Governor Ifeanyi Okowa stated on May 18, 2021 that there was no formal agreement on rotating the office of governor among the three senatorial districts – Delta Central, Delta North and Delta South – even though there was an informal arrangement, many politicians and non-politicians, especially from Delta Central, saw him as a betrayer, having, according to them, benefited from same.
Okowa at a press briefing in Asaba on May 19, this year, said: “There was no formal meeting where a gentleman’s agreement was reached, and that is the truth as at today. It means that whatever we are doing or talking about today is about what is fair, equitable and justiceable.”
On his possible successor, he stated: “I cannot pretend to be God, for I’m not, I don’t know who God is going to bring and I don’t have the intention of playing the role of God.”
It was easy for some to forget or wish away the fact that during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary ahead of the 2015 general elections, which Okowa from Delta North won, aspirants from the other senatorial districts also contested. In fact, his closest rival was Olorogun David Edevbie from Delta Central, who he later appointed his chief of staff on assumption of office as governor.
It is on record that he defeated Edevbie to the ticket by a small margin, despite the understanding then that the ticket should go to Delta North.
But events of late tend to have put all that to rest, as the governor’s political protagonists have now accepted the truth – that the rotational arrangement was informal and based on political understanding, neither law nor written. Thus, the governor must have been vindicated.
That settled; the next question is whether a new rotational arrangement should be based on senatorial district or ethnic basis. The current democratic dispensation since 1999, has seen the governorship move round the three districts, with Chief James Ibori (Urhobo/Delta Central, 1999-2007), Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan (Itsekiri/Delta South, 2007-2015) and Okowa (Anioma/Delta North, 2015 till date).
The Delta Central is made up of the Urhobo, Delta North is inhabited by the Anioma people otherwise known as Igbo-speaking, while Delta South is made up of the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko.
It was said that it would be easier to manage and for equity to reign if rotation is premised on senatorial districts, rather than ethnic groups, which could ultimately deny minority groups the opportunity of producing a governor.
The position of Okowa on the matter seems to be gaining ground as most observers and aspirants/campaign groups, including the Senator Ighoyota Amori-led Delta Central for 2023 (DC-23), have accepted his position as they go around to campaign for a governor of Urhobo extraction/from Delta Central in 2023.
On May 18, this year, Okowa, in a show of political brinksmanship, dissolved the state executive council, ostensibly to ease out and allow those with governorship ambitions, and who were already, overtly or covertly, oiling their consultations from within the cabinet, to follow their dreams and avoid further distractions.
Since the dissolution, not much has been heard of some of the former cabinet members who nursed governorship ambitions, although a few of them have increased their political reach underground.
Now that it appears obvious where the governorship is going in 2023, politicians of Urhobo extraction in Delta Central with such ambition have been emboldened to step up their consultations and reach out to other districts directly or by proxy.
Like in the past, this does not preclude aspirants from other districts. Indeed, politicians from Delta North have indicated interest as well.
Among those vying Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, the former minister of State for Education, who is about the only politician to have publicly declared interest to succeed Okowa. He is no stranger to the race. He has, indeed, been oiling his campaign machinery long ago even before the coast was clear.
The Oginibo-born criminologist had as far back as 2019, shortly after the election of the governor for a second term, renewed his ambition to govern Delta State.
The presence of the governor and calibre of politicians that attended the thanksgiving service of his wife, Justice Sybil Gbagi after her recent elevation to the Court of Appeal, was seen by Gbagi’s supporters as an endorsement of his ambition and his popularity.
Still within the PDP, Edevbie is back in the race he lost over six years ago with a rich bag of experience. Though yet to formally declare his ambition, he is known to have started working underground; hence it was not a surprise that he was disengaged by Okowa to enable him pursue his ambition.
The former commissioner of Finance under Ibori is openly known to have his master’s backing above other Urhobo aspirants and would soon publicly declare his vision. His supporters hope that any event he organised would also be attended by the political who-is-who in the state, just like Gbagi’s event.
Others rumoured as wanting to be governor under the PDP platform include James Manager, perhaps the longest-serving senator (six terms) and incumbent Deputy Governor, Chief Kingsley Otuaro, both Ijaw, from Delta South; former commissioner for Justice, Mr. Peter Mrakpor (SAN); former commissioner for Works, Mr. James Augoye and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Sheriff Oborevwori, all Urhobo.
Certainly, for political expedience and not to ruffle some feathers, some of the rumoured aspirants may shelve their ambition at the end of the day and may never publicly declare interest. Days ahead will tell how far such ambitions can go.
IN the APC, the most visible aspirant is Omo-Agege, who has since nursed the ambition to govern Delta.
Many political observers in the state believe he strategically refused to join the race in 2019, but supported Ogboru, against the political tide of the time, to allow the businessman burn out his political goodwill when power understandably shifts to Delta Central. He probably reckoned that by 2023, Deltans would have been tired of Ogboru, a serial contestant of every governorship election since 2011.
Omo-Agege is going to rely heavily on the centre, as unfolding events in the party’s ward and council congresses in the state have shown cracks and divisions, some fallout of the 2015 election.
There are certainly other aspirants on the platforms but in Delta, like in all other states, the governorship is usually a two-horse race between PDP and APC. And 2023 is not going to be any different.