Delta guber: How LP momentum gave way
The build up to the 2023 elections gave the impression the contest was going to be between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC). The February 25 Presidential/National Assembly elections, clearly changed the equation, as the budding Labour Party (LP), which was not reckoned with, because as many said, it had no structures, caused a major upset that sent the two main parties in Delta state back to the drawing board.
The one-week shift of the election date from March 11 to 18, afforded a great opportunity to the two main parties to renew campaigns and woo voters, especially LP supporters, and sway victory to their side.
LP’s victory in the presidential election in Delta State threw the governorship race on March 11 open for the three political parties – LP, APC and PDP.
APC supporters thought that the outcome had brightened their chances and that of the LP, believing that PDP was not going to catch up after the trashing.
This was because APC not only retained Delta Central, it also won Delta South senatorial district, where its candidate, Joel Onowakpo-Thomas, beat Michael Diden (Ejele) of the PDP.
Given the performance in the presidential election, where LP won the state, the old order was expected to change on March 18 governorship election, and the expectation was that LP would form government in Asaba come May 29.
With this, the dominance of the umbrella was threatened, especially as more members defected to APC on the eve of the governorship election, including known names and former political office holders.
The LP candidate, Ken Pela, relied heavily on the wave of the Obidents movement created by the candidacy of his party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, especially among the youths, unlike Sheriff Oborevwori of the PDP and APC’s Ovie Omo-Agege. Pela had hoped to ride to the Government House on the euphoria of the moment and counting on LP supporters to repeat the feat of February 25 by coming out en masse to cast their votes for him. But that never happened.
The announcement of the results of the presidential election, which LP supporters believed was manipulated against their candidate, discouraged them from coming out to vote.
Apart from the feeling that their votes were allegedly stolen or did not count in the last election, despite standing in the sun and rain to cast their votes, many youths vowed not to waste their time again on March 18. So, the outcome of the presidential election dampened their spirits and the momentum was lost.
Consequently, majority of the LP supporters stayed away from the governorship and state assembly polls; hence the contest returned to a two-horse race.
The APC and Omo-Agege were counting on their improved showing in the presidential election.
But Omo-Agege’s pedigree and the upbeat mood as a result of the party’s victory in the presidential election was not enough to dislodge the PDP that has held sway in the state since 1999, as even the low turnout of LP supporters did not benefit them.
The PDP was jolted by the February 25 results, and therefore, returned to the drawing board. In addition to the disunity arising from its governorship primary election, which saw many members disgruntled, while others remained aloof in its affairs, the rumour that former governor, Chief James Ibori, was backing Omo-Agege did not help matters.
Ibori had not identified with the party since the primary, after his anointed candidate, Olorogun David Edevbie, lost, not even with his daughter running for a House of Representatives seat.
While some political analysts thought Okowa was on the verge of losing grip of the state’s politics, judging by the outcome of the Presidential/National Assembly elections, the party bounced back in the governorship election, despite the odds. Indeed, PDP and Oborevwori were the greatest beneficiaries of the apathy LP voters in the state.
In the end, it was a return to status quo, as PDP’s Oborevwori defeated Omo-Agege of APC.
Asked to do an evaluation of the two elections, Head of Publicity Committee at PDP’s governorship campaign council and Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Prince Emmanuel Amgbaduba, explained that even though the party campaigned in all parts of the state, and showed readiness for the elections, most people underrated the impact of the Obidient Movement.
“Nobody saw it coming the way it came on election day. The Obidient Movement persuaded most of the voters, who were traditionally PDP supporters, to vote for LP, either out of anger or quest for a new thing.
“It is not that we didn’t perform in governance. They are aware of our performance, in terms of infrastructural development, healthcare, empowerment, training and skill acquisition, but the #EndSARS saga was transformed into the Obidient Movement and that dwindled our votes.
“That was what affected our votes during the February 25 presidential/national assembly elections. Most of those who voted for the LP, were PDP supporters/voters,” he claimed.
He also blamed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for allegedly not following its own laid down rules and the processes as enshrined in the law in declaring a winner, as has now been taken up at the election tribunal by the national PDP.
His words: “At the state level, we took advantage of the popularity of the party. Deltans are not fools. They know and can see the potential of our governorship candidate, Oborevwori, and the antecedents of PDP in the state. When somebody promises to give you more, would you reject that?
“The people saw the sincerity in our campaigns, the party’s hardwork and good works of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and having tasted a good thing, they did not want to spit it out.
“So, the quest for continuity, was naturally there and the youths that constitute a chunk of the Obidient Movement know a good thing when they see one. Comparing our candidate with other candidates, they knew that Oborevwori stood out; hence they gave us their votes.”
Amgbaduba agreed that the one-week shift of the election date was a window of opportunity that was capitalised by all the political parties and candidates.
“For us as a political party, having taken time to go round, we still made use of that opportunity to meet with every other person, including the media, to let the people know our agenda. We restrained ourselves from the slinging, insulting and provocative campaigns, while marketing our candidate. And that gave us victory at the polls,” he said.
On lessons his party learned from the elections and their outcomes, he said: “For me as an individual and on behalf of the campaign council, we will not take anybody or any party for granted again. There were reports of Peter Obi not having structures and all that, but we have found out that human beings are the structures.
“As a lesson, any election we want to go into in future, we must ensure that we oil the human elements – the people, the voters, civil society organisations – and make them see our perspectives, especially the youths,” he explained.
On his part, Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, stated that Oborevwori would further sustain the development trajectory in the state, while thanking Deltans for their overwhelming support that culminated in the victory. He assured that Oborevwori would continue with ongoing programmes and policies of the Okowa administration, while also introducing its own programmes.
He stated: “What has happened in this election is that Deltans have been able to repel surgically the incursion into our political DNA. We are happy that we won fair and square in all the senatorial districts.”
Aniagwu said PDP and the current administration have learnt lessons in the course of the campaign and election, promising to make amends for the good of the people.
He said: “We have learnt lessons in the course of this period. We have seen the need to further connect with our people in the rural communities, to further empower our youths, provide more laudable projects for the people and pursue a more united Delta agenda.
“We have, as an administration, done quite some laudable projects across the state and we can beat our chest that we will be leaving the state on May 29 far better than we met it.”
He called for the cooperation of all Deltans, saying: “The electioneering period has come and gone, although a victor has emerged, but for us there is no vanquished.
“We believe that with the support of our brothers who contested with us, we can put behind us the bitter experiences that characterised the campaign and the mudslinging to move together in unity to develop our state.
“As an administration, we have forgiven those who cast aspersions at us and those who lied by way of propaganda by projecting stories that were at variance with reality. Those we may have also offended in the course of the campaign, we also plead with them to forgive us and take it as part of the campaign.”
Okowa, while expressing gratitude to the people for using their ballots to give PDP and Oborevwori victory in the election, said the presidential and governorship elections taught him new lessons.
“In these last two weeks, God has taught me a lot of lessons and it is my prayer that the governor-elect will not make some of the mistakes that we made,” he quipped.
He wished those that defected before and during the elections well, emphasising that he held no grudge against anyone, just as he charged the governor-elect and his deputy to relate more with the people at the grassroots.
Before the declaration of the final result, Aniagwu had urged Omo-Agege to accept defeat, do the needful expected of democrats and congratulate Oborevwori, insisting that the election followed due process and was conducted in line with the Electoral Act 2022, (as amended).
But Omo-Agege rejected INEC’s declaration of Oborevwori as winner, “despite the myriad of infractions and acts of impunity on the part of the PDP in the course of the election, brought to the attention of INEC with incontrovertible proof.”
The deputy senate president, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sunny Areh, insisted that the election was characterised by massive fraud, unprecedented vote-buying and voter suppression.
According to him, in the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, the results pointed to an unequivocal rejection of the PDP.
“Of the three senatorial zones, APC won two, while PDP controversially edged out the LP in Delta North. It was an unadulterated verdict of Deltans on how they have fared under 24 years of governance of their state by PDP.
“On the basis of the factors listed and more that will come later, Omo-Agege, as well as the leadership of the party unequivocally reject the declaration by INEC of Oborevwori as winner of the election. We will challenge this fraudulent result using all legal means.
“As a democrat, Omo-Agege will explore all lawful avenues to reclaim the mandate freely given to him by the good people of Delta State,” he stated.
Similarly, the APC governorship campaign council, in a statement by its Director, Communications and Media Strategy, Ima Niboro, dismissed the result declared by INEC as “a pyrrhic” victory for the PDP, which he hoped would be overturned by the sheer weight of evidence against it.
The council said it had evidence that the process was characterised by irregularities and Deltans were denied the right to freely express their will, adding: “We have an entire arsenal of evidence showing the disenfranchisement of the people, non-use of, and tampering with BVAS machines, declaring double results at polling units, issuing of fake result sheets to agents and uploading cooked up results into the BVAS.
“We also have evidence of widespread vote suppression, voter intimidation, thuggery and violence against our supporters.”
Therefore, the campaign insisted that the election result was a rape of the will of the people, assuring that it would not be allowed to stand.
Whether it would stand or not lies in the hands of the judiciary, or the possibility of a rapprochement between the winners and losers, and only time shall tell.