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Factors shaping 2019 Delta governorship

By Sony Neme, Asaba
17 December 2018   |   3:01 am
On paper there are more than a dozen political parties that are fielding governorship candidates for the March 2, 2019 election in Delta State. But in the actual sense of electoral contest, Deltans are getting ready to determine between strong contenders on two political parties, namely the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and main opposition…

[FILE PHOTO] Delta State Governor, H.E Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa

On paper there are more than a dozen political parties that are fielding governorship candidates for the March 2, 2019 election in Delta State.

But in the actual sense of electoral contest, Deltans are getting ready to determine between strong contenders on two political parties, namely the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
While the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of PDP is seeking a second term in office, his main challenger, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru of APC, has been a victim of electoral malfeasance on several occasions.

Based on the backgrounds of the two gladiators, the electorate in Delta is already divided between those who are insisting that competence and capacity should determine who wins and those who believe in the zoning arrangement and ethnic balance.

Given that intricate compartment, it is the overlap of voters from the two opposing camps that would determine who emerges victorious from the forthcoming gubernatorial poll.

But from a cursory look at the distribution of voter sentiments, it could be easily said that those who favour competence and performance outnumber those who suggest a blind obedience to the zoning sentiment.
A cross section of Deltans believes that next year’s gubernatorial election in the state would be a referendum on the four years of Governor Okowa.

The governor has been showcasing his achievements in the past three years and six months.

For instance, two months ago when Nigeria Guild of Editors held its meeting in Asaba, the governor took them round some projects embarked upon by his administration, including infrastructural and social amenities in the state capital.
Ifeanyi also cites the hosting of many conferences, including sports and football competitions as evidence of expanding the fortunes of Delta, just as he claims that the state has climbed up on the issue of ease of doing business. 

However, despite the dismal picture painted by his challengers, one issue that they do not seem to factor in is whether the governor would have performed better under a buoyant economy like his predecessor.
Nonetheless, within the government some civil servants hold the view that the governor does not seem to have any record of managerial accomplishment prior to his public service.

Again, although as a medical doctor Okowa could not be described as a dullard, some observers conclude that his long association with less than excellent characters might have disposed him to below average performance.
The opposition is accusing the governor of diverting bailout funds meant for the settlement of salary arrears without qualms even when President Muhammadu Buhari urged the governors to use the said money to pay salaries of workers.
It is perhaps on this score of poor managerial expertise that the people are making a comparison between the incumbent and his main challenger, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru, who, as the patriarch of the once famous Fiograte conglomerate, provided employment for teeming old Bendelites and Nigerians at large when his group of companies played a major part in the Nigeria economy.
Not a few Deltans recall the business acumen of Ogboru and feel that he could turn out a better manager of resources and therefore more capable to transform the fortunes of the Big Heart State from dilapidation to buoyancy.

Those who believe that performance and capacity should guide the election of the next Delta State governor argue that Okowa’s three and a half years in office have been anything but inspiring.
They further allege that he posted a mediocre performance compared to some of his peers in other states, insisting that the governor used low federal allocation from the Federal Government as excuse to express his limitations, from infrastructure to education to security to agriculture and healthcare.
Said a member of PDP who pleaded anonymity, “in spite of the recession, states like Kebbi, Lagos, Anambra and Cross River, through the ingenuity of their governors, have succeeded in taking their respective states to innovative pedestals.

Dr. Okowa lacks this quality, hence his inability to dream big and start any ambitious signature project. Instead, what we have is a litany of complaints of lack of money.

Tell me, among Delta, Cross River and Kebbi States, which is richer in terms of internally generated revenue and revenue allocation from the federation account?”
Based on the foregoing, the question is, would Deltans put their faith and trust on Great Ovedje Ogboru because of his antecedents in building vast business empire and expect to reap better returns on their votes or allow Okowa to complete a second term?

Zoning appeal

ON the zoning front, Governor Okowa appears to enjoy relative support.

There are many voters from Anioma through Urhobo to Itsekiri, Ijaws and Isoko, who have assimilated the zoning philosophy and are therefore inclined to cast their votes along that line irrespective of scale of performance or otherwise of the incumbent.
To this group of voters, good governance comes second place. Yet there are still among them those who, though believe in zoning, but feel strongly that there should be a balance between good governance and faithful adherence to zoning.

A sizeable chunk of voters in this bracket would therefore go for a candidate with vision and ability to impact their lives positively. 

There is high probability that in the ensuing contest between APC’s Ogboru and PDP’s Okowa, Ogboru would earn more votes, especially as they apply the axiom that a good neighbour is better than a bad brother.
Intriguingly, there are among these zoning zealots voters who are scared that Okowa’s return for a second term, particularly going by certain hegemonic tendencies displayed by the governor, that his reelection could jeopardize their traditional values and institutions.

Those sentiments are surprising traceable to Okowa’s backyard in the Ika nation and neighbouring kingdoms. 

The Ogboru camp looks forward to harvesting much votes based on that emotion, because members of that class of voters are not only prepared to assist in canvassing for votes, but also spending money to ensure that Okowa’s march to a second term is halted.
There is also another smaller group within the zoning aficionada, who believe that Ogboru deserves their votes as an Anioma son.

Among this cluster could be found mainly voters from Ndokwa nation, who trace the APC gubernatorial candidate’s maternal roots to their enclave and therefore feels that he deserves their votes in addition to his famed managerial competence.
The people also recall how it was Okowa and his kinsmen who voted for Chief Ibru against Professor Eric Opia from Ndokwa in the first gubernatorial poll held shortly after the creation of Delta State. And from Delta Central, where Ogboru hails, the predominant sentiment is that zoning is a conspiracy against Urhobo people.

They argue that in the days of Midwestern and Bendel States, in spite of the unsuccessful shots they took at the governorship, they never compromised standard through recourse to zoning. 
It is therefore such voters in this subset that are disposed to voting for Ogboru for reasons of competence and not necessarily ethnic affinity. They also seem to stand on the same ground with the Itsekiri nation because of the unexpected but edifying support the Urhobo once gave to their kinsman (Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh) at the height of political rivalry between the Itsekiri and the Urhobo.

It is possible that the Itsekiri nation feel they stand to gain more from a competent neighbour than from a complacent Okowa, who is said to harbour streaks of vengeance against their son, Dr. Uduaghan.

The story does not seem to be different in Ijaw, Isoko, Oshimili and Aniocha, where Okowa is perceived as being nepotistic. 
One other consideration that seems to be tilting public sentiment towards Ogboru is transparency.

There has been growing calls on public officers to be transparent in official dealings. But the opposition claims that the governor has become more opaque about funds coming into the state coffers and internal sources.
In his campaigns the APC candidate has been citing transparency as an integral plank of his administration come 2019, adding that he would be staging regular briefings on the status of revenue earnings and expenditure.

That this proposition is resonating with Deltans could be explained by the fact of the incorruptibility posture Ogboru has cut for himself in the past 18 years, when he assumed leadership of opposition and in championing the enthronement of accountable government. 
But there are those who feel that despite Ogboru’s courage and determination over the years, he is fired by desperate search of the highest office more for self than service.

Yet, that negative characterization freezes against reports that after the 2015 election, the APC candidate vowed not to be on the governorship ballot again in the state.

However, sustained pressure from associates made him change his mind.
Ogboru’s supporters say he was pressured to join the race when it became obvious that Okowa could not get Delta out of the woods and bring relief to Deltans.

According to Owhe, “another four years for Okowa is invitation for sorrow and irredeemable decay,” adding that a governor that could not create jobs, but mindlessly keeps appointing a myriad of political aides on stupendous allowances is a joke on Delta people.
While gauging the mood of Deltans as the governorship election approaches, it is obvious that March 2, 2019 would be a clash between incumbency versus zoning and intrepid, persistent clamour for good governance.

If Ogboru downs Okowa next year, it would not only make history, but it would also redefine the politics of Delta State.