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Delta PDP and 2023 zoning albatross

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It was not entirely out of frustration or dejection that Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa dismantled his cabinet recently. Scheming by various interest groups and politicians for effective positioning towards the 2023 gubernatorial poll have turned out, not just as a huge distraction, but also a source of irritation to the governor.

The political aspiration by some of his trusted aides in addition to the creeping zoning arguments in the state as well as concerns within the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regarding the governor’s succession plan seemed to have got to the Delta chief executive. And he struck.

While it remains obvious that the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state has its eyes on displacing PDP from its steady perch at Dennis Osadebe since 1999, Okowa and PDP need to be smart about their zoning politics. With three Senatorial Districts in the state having had their time, a new cycle is about to begin and which zone begins the round has quietly become the issue.

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Closing the loop
NOW, it could be said that ‘rotation’ is the major issue. The push and pull is more defined within the governing PDP, where party faithful are divided between those in support and those vehemently opposed to it. The bone of contention is, which Senatorial district Delta South, Central and North, is entitled to the governorship ticket in 2023.

It would be recalled that the gubernatorial journey began with the Central (Chief James Ibori), South (Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan) and North, which threw up the incumbent Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.

The agitation got a notch higher with the sudden emphasis on the claim that the Central, notably the Urhobos, should kick-start the next round. But, those from the South (the Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri nation) and North (Ndokwa, Ukwuani, Anioma/Oshimili), particularly the central, have through their words and actions shown that they are not willing to throw in the towel.

It was perhaps owing to these contending scenarios that virtually all PDP faithful, including former Commissioners began to plot their ways into the future.

Sources disclosed that some of the gladiators were getting ready to quit their former positions so as to concentrate on preparations for their governorship aspiration, before the governor got wind of it, and acted quickly and discharged them from his cabinet.

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In the beginning
FOURTH Republic governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, is said to have propounded the ‘Rotation’ principle in Delta politics. As leader of the famed G-3, Ibori hails from Delta South, while James Manager, the leader of Delta Central and the incumbent, Okowa, who is leader of Delta North are other members of the G-3.

It was said that the rotation was a bargain to favour the three in the political calculus of the state. But, Ibori was said to have knifed the rope that cemented the bond, by introducing Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, instead of James Manager into the triumvirate.

Manager had, within the period, held on to the Senate seat in Delta Central. Ibori’s perceived autocratic action of bringing Uduaghan, his cousin, was said to have infuriated the likes of Chief Edwin Clark, just as Ibori was also said to have paid dearly for the alleged ‘wrong’ doing.

Uduaghan

When it was the turn of Delta North, however, aspirants from Delta South, Ibori’s zone, flooded the ring, angling to take over from Uduaghan.

Against that background, it could be seen that the dissolution of the state cabinet by Governor Okowa was a countermove, because many of his aides had prepared to throw in the towel. It is believed that if such aides had served the governor notice to quit or put in their resignation, the move would have caused ripples in the state. But, the governor, a suave politician, played a fast one on them.

The governor’s move was also seen as a bold statement that he wanted his ‘Stronger Delta’ mantra to resonate and subsume the subterranean campaigns to avoid distractions. By that singular move, Okowa cleverly blocked, not only openings for fund wastages, but also leakages of sensitive official information.

How far the governor’s smart political decision would go to shape the 2023 governorship in the state, especially regarding who succeeds him in the long run would be seen.

As it is, those who will make the fresh list of Commissioners are expected to be die-hard technocrats rather than politicians, since according to the governor, “when it is time for politics, we will play politics.”

The sack can be hinged on two political premises, including avoiding distraction and blocking cracks in the PDP family. Okowa said he was miffed by the protracted distraction from his appointees, which began very early into his second tenure. Some of his appointees started scheming for 2023 so early, a development he described as disruptive of his Stronger Delta agenda of his second administration.

Cracks in PDP
Watchers of Delta politics noted that a crack was already developing in PDP, particularly between the defacto leader of the ruling political dynasty, Ibori and the incumbent governor.

The searing cold war between PDP helmsmen in the state became very defined during the last state congress. Insiders revealed that Chief Ibori had wanted a change in the state chairmanship position preferably a former council chairman, Chief Atose from Sapele, in lieu of the incumbent, Chief Kingsley Esiso as chairman. Ever since the congress, there had been some disquiet within the Delta State PDP family.

What tended to further aggravate the disconnect was the selection process and eventual outcome of the last Council election. In fact, the result of the Council poll widened the crevices among interest groups in the state, culminating in some defection from the ruling party to APC.

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Prior to the cabinet dissolution, Governor Okowa seemed to be losing grip over some appointees, who were largely nominated by various stakeholders across the state. The dissolution therefore came as a bold to re-assemble and reorganise his camp to guarantee unflinching loyalty.

James Onanefe Ibori

Explaining the rationale for winding down the cabinet, Okowa stated: “At some point, in the course of an administration, there are always reasons to take some actions. If I tell you that there is no reason for the dissolution, then I would have fooled myself; then why did I have to dissolve the Exco?

“I believe I have been in this administration in the past six years, two years into this tenure and I have two years to go. Obviously, there have been a lot of distractions among some members of Exco.

“They have been working effectively and strong and so many of them have been very useful to me and I must thank them as I did yesterday; I must acknowledge that a lot of them have worked with me to be able to achieve that which we have achieved.

“The fact is, in the last two years, we needed to be able to ensure that we reduce the level of distractions in governance and if we do not take that action, I may have an Exco that may be divided in the next two years and that will not enable me to achieve my vision.

“So, I thought that there was need to re-work the Exco in such a manner that we will operate within the least stress, where those in Exco will know that their minds are focused more at what we are able to achieve in the next years rather than in their private ambitions and beliefs.

“And, that was a key factor, otherwise the gentlemen that worked with me, who also include the ladies, were very good; they worked hard, they meant well for the administration and I truly thank them for all that we have done.”

Zoning brouhaha
But, picking holes on Okowa’s emphasis on equity, justice and fairness instead of plain rotation, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, former Information Minister, said rotation of the governorship of Delta State was not initiated on the basis of ethnic nationalities, but on the basis of Senatorial Districts, as it has created a very big basis for peace and stability in the state.

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Speaking during the official swearing-in/inauguration of the National Executives Council/Board of Trustees of Delta Central 2023, Oyovbaire declared: “The issue of rotation or zoning has always been there in the affairs of the PDP, how it plays out at the national level and continues to play out at the state level, has its own character. Even at the local government and ward levels, rotation is there.

“For us here in Delta State, this is the third phase of our transition, we have a transition in 2006/2007. We all know that even when a constitution or written agreement has not been entered, there is a basic understanding that the governorship of this state should go round senatorially.

“In 2014/2015, which was our next experience, Okowa was elected not just because he was competent, focused and an Ika man, but because it was the turn of Delta North. For those who are arguing, will it make sense if Okowa starts to agitate for an Oshimili person to take over from him? But, for the fact that an Oshimili person wants to exercise his right, he can’t be deprived. Rotation does not stop one from contesting, but only favours the next senatorial district on board to benefit.”

But, the opposition APC in the state berated PDP and its stalwarts over the rotation debate. APC publicity Secretary, Sylvester Imonina, told The Guardian: “We have taken a swipe at Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and Delta PDP for practicing deceit on Deltans since 1999 till date.”

He said APC’s position comes on the heels of the recent view of Okowa in Asaba that there is no political agreement, understanding and/ or arrangement within or without PDP on how each of the Senatorial Districts should take a shot and/ or allowed to occupy Unity House, Asaba.

It could be recalled that before now, Deltans were made to believe that governance of the state is predicated on zoning, as a panacea for tribal distrust or giving sense of belonging to all tribes. For instance, during the build up to the 2019 general elections, Sen. Okowa at a political gathering/rally at Otor-Udu, Udu Local Government Area of the State, profusely appreciated Chief James Ibori, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Chief E.K. Clark and others for convincing political, cultural and religious Leaders of different ethnic backgrounds/nationalities in the State to support zoning of gubernatorial position.

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Though, most of the opposition parties kicked, because they felt zoning does not give room for the dominant population to rule the state unchecked, PDP sowed and watered the seed of rotation among Deltans.

On his part, Francis Ewerhido said there is rotation, recalling how in the morning of December 11, 2006, Chief Ibori invited his late brother, Pious Ewerhido and other frontline PDP governorship aspirants to a meeting, including current deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege; Okowa; former governor Dr. Uduaghan; Chief Ighoyota Amori and told them that Uduaghan was going to be the PDP governorship candidate. That is rotation.

But, Okowa, in what looks like self defence, retorted: “The gentleman agreement, which allows each Senatorial District in the state to produce governor was not signed by any formal gathering.

“The gentleman agreement is agreement that is not written.  But, whether there was any formal meeting in which the agreement was reached, there was no such formal meeting. So, it means whatever we are doing today is about what is fair, equitable and just. It’s only God that knows who will be governor after me. I don’t know whom God will bring. I know God will take the decision of who will be governor.

“I never have intension to go to Senate earlier, I was called by a governor in 2010 to run for Senate not because they love me but to skip me out of the state and stop me building my political structure, to the extent that my primary was conducted three times. And I won in all the three primaries.

“Unfortunately, the push brought fortune to me and I made impact in the National Assembly that today people are enjoying the health insurance scheme. When I wanted to run for governorship position, a lot of people, including some Senators told me not to run for governor rather that I should run for Senate again.

“They said that ‘powers that be’ don’t want me to be governor, I prayed and God told me that I can be the governor of Delta State and today I’m a governor. So, I do understand that some politicians are fair and want to serve their people. It is true also that politicians have continued to recycle themselves.

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“We are aware that some governors went to the Senate just to exercise that power. A lot of them are just there not making impact. I do not believe that all governors should go to the Senate and I also believe that Governors should go for Senate to make impact.

“As for me, if God wants me to retire and go back home I will do, but if he wants me to go for other positions, act of disobedience is not in my character. And for those of them jumping ship because of a little envelop, please let us caution them. I thank God my brother, Elumelu invited 80 councilors from the four local governments of his constituency, and we are glad about that.

“But, we also know that in this same state previously, it would just be about 56 councillors because some people just felt that as Delta north people, and particularly Aniocha/Oshimili that we were not politically mature to have 20 councillors in each local government. Why would that be?”

“And the same hands that orchestrated that, are the same people throwing envelopes at our people, and a few of them are jumping at such envelopes. Whosoever that is coming to rule this state must be ready to ensure that there is fairness, justice and equity in everything. We want somebody who will come to Asaba and see it as his own, rather than feel that Asaba as headquarters is misplaced. It ought not to be.”

Now, will rotation make or Mar Delta PDP come 2023? Time will tell.

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