The shape of things to come in the Delta State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary ahead of next year’s governorship election is gradually emerging, but not without some thorny issues.
This more so, following a recent meeting of major stakeholders of the party at Government House, Asaba, attended by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, two former governors of the state – Chief James Ibori and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan – and others, as well as the party’s mega rally on Saturday, January 22 in the state capital.
The meeting could not arrive at a consensus on the vexed issue of rotation of the governorship among the senatorial districts of Delta Central, North and South, nor the choice of a particular aspirant among the pack that have indicated interest for the topmost political office in the state.
Though it is generally believed that the governorship should rotate on senatorial, rather than ethnic basis, the party has not been able to formally agree on this and so unable to whip its members into line, as the race remains an all-comers affair for the zones, except for Delta North.
The greatest challenge now is how to convince the Ijaw from Delta South to suspend their ambition for the next eight years, when proponents of rotation principle believe it will be their turn, all things being equal.
Indeed, aspirants, such as Senator James Manager and Deputy Governor Kingsley Otuaro, continue to echo the Ijaw opposition to zoning on senatorial basis, being spearheaded by former Minister of Police Affairs, Broderick Bozimo, believing that as a major ethnic group in the state, they deserve a shot at the position, the Urhobo, Itsekiri and Anioma having taken turns to rule the state.
Bearing in mind that it was a gentleman’s agreement to rotate the position for equity sake; hence Delta Central was not stopped from contesting the 2015 and 2019 elections, even when it was assumed that it was the turn of Delta North, it would indeed be difficult to dissuade any aspirant from Delta South.
Unless Manager and Otuaro drop their ambitions, the coast is not clear for only Urhobo/Delta Central contest, as formalisation of zoning remains unresolved, as it had always been, even at the highest level in the state.
The frontrunners from Delta Central, albeit, Urhobo, include two-time commissioner and Okowa’s immediate past chief of staff, David Edevbie; Speaker of the state Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori; immediate past commissioner for Works, James Augoye, as well as businessman and former minister of State for Education, Kenneth Gbagi.
Also in the race are former Commissioner for Justice, Peter Mrakpor; a former commissioner, Fred Majemite; former senator and managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Emmanuel Aguariavwodo and others.
There is talk of the Delta Central lobby group, DC-23, led by former Senator Ighoyota Amori, trying to further prune the number of aspirants from the district. And if Edevbie, Oborevwori, Gbagi or Augoye emerge the top contenders, Okowa might have to choose who to support from the last three, since he is allegedly not disposed to Edevbie, who is Ibori anointed political son for the position. That is, if he decides to abide by rotation on district basis.
If that be the case, observers say he might likely queue behind the Speaker, with whom he has had a longstanding and cordial working relationship. But some people believe he is as close to Gbagi, maybe Augoye too, as he is to Oborevwori, and doing so would pitch him against Ibori and probably the Urhobo.
With the Ijaw insisting on contesting the primary, despite the immediate past governor, Uduaghan, coming from the same Delta South district and Ibori unwavering in his quest to install Edevbie, it is dicey for Okowa, who will not want to repeat Uduaghan misadventure of 2014 by picking or supporting an aspirant against the political tide of the moment in the benefiting zone.
But it would be a harder decision for the governor if the two prominent Ijaw aspirants remain in the race, as he owes Manager and Otuaro some gratitude, directly or indirectly.
Manager supported his ambition and put in a word for him in Abuja when it mattered, even when Uduaghan didn’t want to hand over to him and also mobilised to ensure his victory at the 2014 primary and 2015 election.
Otuaro’s principal at the time and an ex-militant leader was rumoured to have mobilised delegates and funds for Okowa during and after the 2014 and 2018 primaries.
It might be seen as a stab in the back at a critical time if he is unable to convince the duo to suspend their ambitions in favour of senatorial rotation basis. It remains to be seen how he wriggles out of this dilemma.
In continuation of its mobilisation ahead of the primaries and elections proper, the party, on January 22, held a mega rally in Asaba, where Okowa assured the aspirants and members in the state of free, fair and transparent primaries for all the positions, just as he affirmed that the party remained one, united family despite the emerging differences.
Okowa said the massive turnout at the rally showed that PDP was ready to rescue Nigeria from the All Progressives Congress (APC), adding, “One good thing about us in the PDP is that we are one family; we are not like other people where one man takes it all. Here in PDP, we are one family.
“We work as a family with the love of God, but in other parties, they are always fighting themselves. We won well in 2015 and 2019, and in 2023, we will finish well again.”
He advised aspirants to control their followers, saying there is no need for any fight, as the party remains one big, united family.
On his part, Ibori said: “From what I can see here, you (Okowa) have provided an atmosphere for a free and fair contest and for people’s aspirations to be heard without intimidation whatsoever.
“Of a truth, this was the philosophy behind the formation of this great party when I said in 1998 that democracy is about opening up the space and environment for everybody to aspire to whatever he or she believes in, and I thank you for continuing with that vision.
“I want to thank you on behalf of teeming members of our party and pray that God will continue to guide you as you lead us in the years ahead.”
As the governor keeps his choice aspirant and preferred successor close to his chest, Delta Political Vanguard (DPV) group, comprising mainly party faithful, who played major role in his emergence as governor in 2015 and 2019, have expressed commitment to his course.
This was disclosed by the state chairman of the party, Kingsley Esiso, at a recent rally in Agbor, Ika South Council, organised by DPV, where he stated that the person to decide who the next governor would be is the incumbent, adding:
“Therefore, on Okowa we stand,” a statement that does not sit well with many party members. At the Asaba PDP rally, former state APC chairman, Cyril Ogodo; former Delta North senatorial chairman, Ben Onwuka; immediate past publicity secretary, Sylvester Imonina; Patrick Okonkwo; member of the Elders and Leaders Council of APC, Victor Soroku, said to be amongst other supporters of Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, announced to have defected.
Speaking at the event, Ogodo pledged to work for the PDP, while Imonina said: “I was the greatest critics of Okowa government, but on a second thought, I have to join the party to support the governor for a great and united Delta.”
But an APC chieftain queried: “Why didn’t those decamping to PDP do so when they were in office? Why are they jumping ship close to the elections? It is because they feel they will no longer get a fat share of the game, having lost out and vacated office, some of them reluctantly.”
One of the decampees announced at the rally has denied leaving the APC for PDP, describing his alleged defection as “share desperation of a party afraid of its shadow in 2023.”
Soroku, while faulting reports of his defection, insisted he never at any point contemplated to join PDP.
At a press conference in Asaba two days after the announcement, the APC chieftain said he was shocked when he started receiving calls from friends, party members and others, asking him if he had truly decamped to PDP.
Flanked by other party leaders in the state, including Delta North APC Chairman, Adizue Eluaka, Soroku insisted he remained a faithful, bonafide and unwavering APC member, reiterating: “I was never approached nor attended the rally where my name was announced on the podium that I have decamped to PDP.
“I was in PDP between 1999 and 2015; I know PDP inside out. Our leaders called me to know the truth, but l told them there is no way l can defect. Some names that were mentioned there never decamped.
“Delta should not be a one-party state; we should allow opposition to help in development. Come 2023, PDP will become opposition. Now PDP is rejoicing by instigating crisis in APC. Deltans definitely are getting tired of PDP. We are not missing those that defected. We are waiting for implosion of PDP; we are going to harvest.”
Unless there is a consensus, there could be a repeat of the 2014 governorship primary election, where despite the gentleman’s agreement on power rotation in favour of Delta North, Edevbie and others from Delta Central contested against Okowa, who emerged victorious.