Delta 2023 guber race: PDP’s motley house, one horse-race in APC
Except in 1998, governorship elections in Delta State have always been a contest between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and what used to be the second-largest political party, this time around, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) since 2015.
And ahead of the 2023 general elections, not much has changed, but for the fact that the main action appears to be within the PDP, over who flies its ticket, as 15 aspirants have been cleared to contest for the ticket, while in the APC, it is a one-horse race of Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege.
The situation in the oil-rich state is tense, more so within the ruling PDP, as the supremacy battle by proxies of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and former governor, Chief James Ibori, has gone beyond party levels.
The party’s Governorship Screening Committee for the South-South geopolitical zone, headed by Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, last weekend, cleared 12 aspirants from the state that appeared before it in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Those cleared include Deputy Governor of the state, Kingsley Otuaro; Senator James Manager, representing Delta South; Speaker of the state Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori; a former minister of state for Education, Kenneth Gbagi; a former commissioner for Finance and one-time chief of staff to Okowa, David Edevbie; a former commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development, Fred Majemite; a former attorney general and commissioner for Justice, Peter Mrakpor and Chris Iyovwaye.
Others were a former member of the state Assembly, Ejaife Odebala; a former commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Onajefe-Gift Bright Edejewhro; Lucky Ohworode Idike and Abel Oghenevo Esievo.
Out of the pack, only Otuaro and Manager are from Delta South district, while the rest are from Delta Central district, with Delta North, from where the current governor hails, not in contention, ostensibly in the spirit of obeying the rotational principle.
Though the majority of the people believe the rotational arrangement should be on the basis of the senatorial district, in which case it would be the turn of Delta Central, made up of the Urhobo, the Ijaw from Delta South are insisting it should be on an ethnic basis, especially being a major ethnic group, hence two of their sons are in the race, pointing out that the Urhobo (Delta Central) have no regard for the arrangement, as they had always contested the governorship position in large numbers in any election, even when they are aware that it was not supposed to be their turn.
Ibori has since declared Edevbie his anointed for the position. The former principal secretary to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was also recently endorsed and adopted by the apex Urhobo socio-cultural organisation, Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), though some members and interest groups cried foul. Ibori has been out and about the state seeking support for his candidate, whose choice has set him against Okowa, who, many say, may not be well disposed to Edevbie, for obvious reasons.
It would be recalled that in 2014, Edevbie refused to drop his ambition, in the spirit of the rotation principle, and went ahead to contest the primary election against Okowa and lost by a narrow margin.
Many were worried then that even Ibori and other stakeholders could not prevail on him to drop out of the race, almost costing Okowa the ticket, if not for the massive support of the Ijaw, for which they got the deputy governorship ticket.
All the aspirants have had one thing or another to do with the governor at a point and he is said to owe a few a debt of gratitude for one thing or another; hence it is difficult to say with certainty, who he is backing, at least overtly, like Ibori. Some had, after meeting with him to formally intimate him of their aspirations, claimed that he had endorsed them, a development the government had always denied.
But lately, rumours of Okowa covertly backing Oborevwori have been rife and gaining ground, more so with the increased momentum of the Speaker’s consultation across the state. Again, the government has consistently denied this.
Meetings at different fora, including at the Government House in Asaba, attended by Ibori, Okowa, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and other major party stakeholders to reach a common ground and resolve the difference over who to support between Ibori and Okowa seemed to have failed, as it is alleged that both gladiators refused to shift ground.
Fearing that this could dovetail into the primary and possibly the election proper, the national leadership of the party was said to have waded into the matter. Indeed, the National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, during his recent visit, counselled members, especially leaders, against any act that could jeopardise PDP’s chances in the elections.
In the company of some National Working Committee (NWC) and Board of Trustees (BoT) members, Ayu stated: “Since we returned to democratic governance in 1999, Delta has remained a PDP state and I congratulate all our party members in Delta for the unity that has ensured that we remain a PDP state.
“Let me counsel that it is normal to have family disagreements within a political party, but whatever the disagreement we may have, let us ensure that it remains a family disagreement. Nothing whatsoever should be done to damage the unity of purpose which has brought about this great development and our winning streak.”
He went further: “It is said that divided we fall and united we stand. The PDP family in Delta must remain united and I have no doubt in mind that come next year, the governor of this state and all members of the state and National Assembly will come from the PDP.
“We don’t lose elections in Delta and we are not going to, particularly with the performance of Okowa. Delta is moving forward and Delta will continue to move forward and Delta will always take its pride of place in Nigeria as one of the shining states of the PDP family.”
Ayu commended Deltans for their massive support for the PDP since 1999, urging them to remain steadfast in their support in the forthcoming general elections.
There were reports that the top PDP leaders used the opportunity of the visit to wading into the disagreement between Okowa and Ibori over who will succeed the governor to ensure the party retains the state in next year’s general elections.
But the effectiveness of that intervention would be clearer in the coming days. For now, there is still uneasy calm within the PDP caucus in the state, as some members were yet to correctly read the body language of the governor, a grassroots politician and strategist who rose through the ranks. Besides the larger senatorial zoning, there has been a muffled clamour for a macro-zoning arrangement in every senatorial district.
While Ibori, whose political dynasty has been at the helm of affairs in the state since the advent of democracy in 1999, and to which Okowa belonged, attempts to hold on to that monopoly of the political machinery, though Edevbie is waning, as the governor’s followers seem to be gradually moving towards Oborevwori.
Omo-Agege still unopposed in APC
WHILE the PDP battles with power rotation and a possibly crowded race in the primary election on May 21, the challenge posed by Omo-Agege, from Delta Central, being unopposed to date, is becoming real, especially with Senator Peter Nwaoboshi joining forces with him
Nwaoboshi dumped the PDP last year to join Omo-Agege in APC, making APC now control two of the state’s three senatorial districts, except for Manager’s Delta South, which ordinarily could be a major yardstick in deciding the outcome of the elections.
Before now, APC had had its fair share of internal crises in the state, as prominent members, including its former governorship candidate, Great Ogboru; Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo; former speaker of the state Assembly and Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Victor Ochei; former member of the House of Representatives, Cairo Ojougboh, among others, opposed Omo-Agege’s alleged hijack of the party to ensure his eventual emergence as a candidate.
Ahead of the primary election, there is currently no known name or politician that can match Omo-Agege for the ticket; hence it is assumed in many quarters that he has already emerged by design.
But the permutation remains that if Okowa should support Delta South (the Ijaw) against Delta Central (Urhobo), the latter could dump PDP and throw their weight behind their other son, Omo-Agege, to clinch the position, depending on who gets the block delegates’ votes from Delta North, who are awaiting a clear direction from.
There is also the fear that if Ibori fails to install his godson, Edevbie, or for whatever reason, an Urhobo, in PDP, he might switch support (covertly) to another godson, Omo-Agege, in APC. But a PDP chieftain argues this would be unthinkable if another Urhobo, not Edevbie, emerges in PDP, as such would be perceived as being selfish and unbecoming of a good party man/leader.
For Okowa, some analysts also see options that are never mentioned, or may never come to play. A school of thought believes he could switch support to another Urhobo or an Ijaw on another platform if Edevbie picks the PDP ticket. That too, the chieftain insisted, would diminish his national reputation within the party.
For other political parties, it is still a waiting game to see if they could benefit from the eventual fallout when PDP and APC misbehave.
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