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Zoning intrigues stir guber anxieties in Delta State PDP, APC

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Ifeanyi Okowa


•As APC’s Omo-Agege looms large
• Strain for Okowa’s succession plan

Some stakeholders of Delta State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently endorsed a former Minister of State for Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi, for the 2023 gubernatorial contest in the state. And like everything politics, which has been found to be local, the development has thrown up a lot of issues regarding, not only the direction of zoning, but also other considerations, especially how it tallies with the stance of incumbent governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, and notable political godfather in the state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori.
 
Unlike the pre-2014 politics in the country, Delta State no longer brags as being predominantly PDP state. In the current dispensation, for instance, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has shown a strong presence in the state by returning one candidate apiece as Senator and member of the House of Representatives in the persons of the Deputy President of Senate, Ovie Augustine Omo-Agege, and House committee Vice Chairman on Intergovernmental affairs, Rev. Francis Waive.
  
It should be noted that flowing from its historic merger in 2013, APC brought together tendencies from the former mushroom opposition parties in the state that could not pose serious electoral challenge to the PDP. Prior to that merger, both Great Ovedje Ogboru and Olorogun O’Terga Emerhor had tried their luck without success in the governorship contests against PDP from Labour Party (LP) and the legacy Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

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Although the two opposition political figures hail from Delta Central Senatorial District, where it is expected that Okowa’s successor would come from in 2023, it is on record that they (Ogboru and Emerhor) did not give heed to the zoning arrangement in the state when they contested for the governorship seat.
 
Just a quick recall: In 1999, Ibori, who hails from Delta Central started his eight-year sojourn, followed by Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, from Delta South. He completed his two terms in 2015 and handed over the governorship mantle to Dr. Okowa, who is currently on the final lap of his two terms in office. Going by the rotational arrangement for the governorship seat, it could be seen that the trail would run full circle by 2023 when Okowa from Delta North rounds off his tenure. The focus would then be on Delta Central and the question would be how APC would react.
 
Not that alone, it could also be seen how the Itsekiri, Isoko, and Ijaw groupings would join the debate. Is it possible for Delta South to join the governorship contest on the claim that the zoning was not etched in stone? Would Omo-Agege’s ascension as the highest political office holder in APC throw him up as a compromise candidate to neutralize the Ogboru versus Emerhor’s age-long rivalry?

It should be noted that even while Governor Okowa indicated his interest to seek a second term in office, some aspirants emerged from his Delta North Senatorial District on the platform of APC. The aspirants, including Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr. Leroy Edozien and Dr. Cairo Ojuogboh indicated their preparedness to serve for just one term of four years in office. Nonetheless, the fact that there was no zoning in APC constitution did not make them to deny the gentleman’s convention of zoning.It was gathered that some aspirants are also warming up from Delta South Senatorial District to contest the 2023 governorship on the platform of APC.

PDP’s frontloading
That consultations for the 2023 governorship have begun in earnest within the fold of Delta PDP is now an open secret. One of the early risers, Gbagi, has received the endorsement of eminent statesman, Chief Edwin Clarke, who explained that the former Minister of State for Education has never been found wanting in his previous positions of authority. However, it is not known yet whether Governor Okowa’s succession plan envisages a Gbagi entry.

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The former minister received some negative brushes with the party and his community recently. One was immediately after the March 9, 2019 Governorship and State Assembly election, when he was accused alongside his son, of engaging in anti-party activities. Some party chieftains alleged that Gbagi used PDP’s resources for the benefit of a rival state Assembly candidate in YES party.
 
Last month, the former education minister was taken to task by his people for his impudent attempt to change the community’s name from Oginibo to Oginibu. But despite those unrelated incidents, Gbagi has continued with his consultations, stressing his determination to contest and win the gubernatorial poll come 2023.

While speaking when he sought the blessing of traditional rulers in Delta Central, Gbagi told the monarchs that he would not hesitate to resign as governor if he cannot transform the state in his first year in office. He outlined to the traditional rulers his vision to industrialize Delta State, create jobs and end unemployment within a year.

“I have come to change the topography of Delta State,” he said, “if you go all over Warri and Lagos, I own a lot of properties. So, I know what to do to bring infrastructure to Delta State. I make bold to say that at the end of one year if you do not see dreams, magic, seen things happening, or not seen me remove every Deltan, who has no job from the streets, I will tender my resignation”.
 
While assuring the monarchs that he has “enough bullets to run the battle,” Gbagi noted that as an important stakeholder and investor, who has added value to the state by creating jobs, he saw the infrastructural deficit in the state many years ago. He stated that if he emerges governor he would transform the state in no time, since according to him, he had been planning to be governor for 24 years and believes that now is the time to enter the race.
 
Gbagi commended the Okowa-led administration for surpassing others before it, noting that the governor “came to power in a state (that was) comatose; no money to pay salaries or do any business. We were bankrupt as a state, but he has turned things around, such that there is no nook and cranny, no local government that his government has not tarred one road, fixed or built one school and many others.”
  
Gbagi, who said he had never done state or federal contracts because he did not believe in them, explained that he did not take salaries or use government vehicles while in government. Stressing that he is without ethical blemish or tainted with corruption, the former education minister disclosed that out of 42 of them that served as ministers, he has never been queried or invited by either the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to explain his wealth. 
  
He lamented that many years of negative reports about Delta State forced some companies to relocate to other places, with no new investors willing to come. He, therefore, pleaded with journalists to evolve improved methods of reporting events in the state.

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Zoning, intra and inter-party disputation
THERE are chances that Governor Okowa and the Ijaw leader, Clarke, would join Ibori as godfathers in the search for the next chief executive for Delta State. Although Okowa has not indicated his preferred candidate, the body language of some of his commissioners and appointees betray their plans to join the governorship race.
  
Gbagi dismissed the insinuations that Okowa might insist on someone from among his allies, saying, “when the time comes the men will be separated from the boys.” But the reality on ground is that APC is also bent on fielding a strong contender.
  
Those in the know contend that Senator Omo-Agege would not be a pushover, especially given his closeness to Ibori and on account of his rising political clout in APC. However, the question that would confront the gladiators is whether the zoning argument will not wrong-foot them, particularly if other clans move against the Urhobo.
 
Reacting to that likely scenario, Gbagi traced the cycle of zoning and concluded that “we did not zone the governorship in the party to tribes; we zoned it to senatorial districts, and when it gets to Delta Central, it is left to the people to discuss amongst themselves and come up with a candidate.”He observed that left alone, Delta Central alone couldn’t produce the governor, adding: “We need the support, the brotherhood, the friendship of the people of the south and north. We must work together to make sure it is a win-win situation.”
  
On his part, Senate Deputy President, Omo-Agege, said, “the people of Delta Central know me. They know that when I set my mind to do something, I give it my all. They also know that any mandate given to me is one I will protect with every fibre of my being. 
  
“My senatorial district is very republican. We have always felt short-changed by successive PDP administrations in the state and we wanted change, hence my election under Labour Party and thereafter under the APC platform. My people, who I say are very republican, have been electing opposition senators. 
  
“Before me, we had Senator Pius Ewerido of blessed memory; he was elected under Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) platform. Our people look out for those who can fight and protect their interest at any given time and they know I will call a spade a spade.”
  
On APC platform, Ogboru and Emerhor developed rival factions, which waged the 2019 gubernatorial battle from their different camps. As such if Omo-Agege throws his hat in the ring, as is being speculated, he would have to contend with the ambivalent tendencies in the state chapter of the party.And so, with Ogboru and Emerhor, where does Omo-Agege come in and what role is he playing to ensure that Delta APC becomes one?

“We will try to bring them together, especially now that the court has resolved all the outstanding issues,” he said. “We tried as much as possible to bring everybody together, resolve the differences, but those who have gone astray have been fighting us.”

Omo-Agege believes that Delta APC has become formidable, stressing that there is time and season for everything, a time to fight and also a time to reconcile, “Those who want genuine reconciliation, we reconcile with them, but we also know that there are some who, no matter what you do will never come together under one umbrella, because their market is destroyed.”
  
It is possible that a lot of alignments and realignments would be engineered across party lines, but in the unlikely event of both Ogboru and Emerhor supporting Omo-Agege for the governorship, APC may go into the 2023 governorship again as a divided house.But Omo-Agege believes that direct primaries could help to solve such divergent interests at the build up to the election.He said: “I know that we have such issues in so many states and that is why when we were working on the electoral reform bill, we thought it wise to permit the parties to make a choice between direct and indirect primaries.
  
“We knew full well that with the indirect primaries, the state governors will have control of structures of the party, but with direct primaries as an option, everybody goes before the card-carrying members and it will be very difficult for one person, be it governor or not, to tell, assuming you have 500,000 to 1,000,000 APC card-carrying members what to do.”

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Omo-Agege disclosed that what defines his political orientation and motivates him as a grassroots politician are his family background and desire to render some comfort to persons denied social privileges.His words: “I come from a family where public service is everything. My father was a public servant all his life. He retired as a Judge. I would not say I was born with a silver or golden spoon, but I had some protection and grew up with some comfort. I have always felt that the least we owe people who never enjoyed such benefits is to give back to those as much as we are able to.
  
“I see myself as someone in public life, who would fight to ensure that we remedy all of the situations, and whatever we are entitled to we fight for it to come back for the use of the community. That is what drives me.”
 
The Deputy Senate President, who caused a major outcry in the 8th Senate, said he is pained that Delta State “contributes so much to the economy of this country, but we do not believe that we are getting commensurate return.”He agrees that governors from the Niger Delta region have not done much to justify the 13 per cent allocation to the states as derivation fund, insisting that he would fight to ensure that his people get what is their due.
  
“Growing up as a little boy in a rural community, we had everything. We had streams and rivers that provided everything we needed, good land for agriculture, but because of the degradation of the environment, we no longer have viable land for agriculture.
  
“We no longer have viable aquatic life and that is the essence of the 13 per cent derivation payment as guaranteed by the constitution. But, notwithstanding that, when you go to most of the communities in Delta State, you will weep because you ask yourself, why is so much coming in yet nothing is happening?”
  
Although he has not yet commented on his political future after the 2019 electoral cycle, it is obvious that Chief Ogboru has become battle-weary and might be reluctant to join the governorship race after many failed bids. However, depending on what happens to the structures of APC and PDP and depending on how his strategies panned out in 2019, Emerhor might try his luck once more or even contemplate returning to PDP as a form of protest against the intrigues of the state’s chapter of APC.
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And should any of the above scenarios play out as 2023 considerations gain momentum, the Deputy President of Senate would surely come up as a fresh gubernatorial face in APC’s quest to displace PDP in the oil-rich state.  
 
But the snag would be how those who worked against his senatorial election earlier in February 23, 2019 would go to ensure that APC’s field is crowded with many aspirants. If Omo-Agege’s allegation is true that a certain official of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) spent a whopping N2.6 billion to promote his rival PDP Senatorial candidate, the opposition party may still have many rivers of internal conflicts to cross before 2023.
  
Could it be the discovery of such possible internal contestations within APC that informed PDP’s tactics of frontloading its aspirants in the search for Governor Okowa’s successor? Whatever it is, a lot depends on what lessons Delta State PDP learns from the recent off-season governorship election in neighbouring Bayelsa State. It would definitely not be an easy battle, especially against the republican political leaning of Delta Central Senatorial District.  
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