Delta 2023: How Okowa’s decision outperformed Ibori’s. There have been several governorship primaries of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State since the return of democratic rule in 1999, none had been as tension-soaked and ardous as the last one held on May 26 at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba.
Whereas there have been contests for the party’s ticket among aspirants, this last one was also a proxy contest and supremacy battle between Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and former governor, Chief James Ibori, over who is more influential in the state’s political affairs.
By Thursday night, the result was obvious, as Ibori’s choice and Okowa’s former chief of staff, David Edevbie, lost the primary election to Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori, long rumoured to be the governor’s pick, by 590 to 113 votes from 825 accredited delegates. Either way, one could say it is a win-win for the Ibori political family, perhaps not for its leader.
Ahead of the 2007 general elections, Ibori, then governor, from Delta Central senatorial district, singlehandedly picked his cousin, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, from Delta South, as his successor, against all odds and despite voiced and muted protests from stakeholders.
And when Uduaghan’s second term was ending in 2014, he chose the then permanent secretary, Government House, the late Tony Obuh, to succeed him. This almost caused a revolt and culminated in implosion within that political family and took the mastery of Okowa and a few others to snatch that ticket from Uduaghan’s pick, Edevbie, after he dumped Obuh, despite the understanding that power should rotate to Delta North.
The battle-line that climaxed in Thursday’s outcome had been drawn about one year ago and several efforts at different meetings to unite the two main camps proved abortive, as Ibori insisted on Edevbie.
A politician in the state hinted that Okowa and his strategists ostensibly had not forgotten the 2014 episode, and it must have been too late for Edevbie to erase that memory.
Months back, there were rumours that the governor may have anointed the Speaker, but this was continuously denied by government officials. The governor himself consistently dismissed it, promising a level-playing field for all aspirants. But gradually, political office holders were moving, as Oborevwori’s consultations train was constantly on the move and he was at the same time gaining momentum across the state, with the support of his colleagues in the Assembly, who it seemed, were mandated to deliver their respective constituencies.
The closest inkling of what was to play out last Thursday started trickling in during the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and senatorial primaries, where Uduaghan’s daughter, Orode, lost in her bid for Warri North State Constituency to Fred Martin by seven to 25 votes.
Ibori’s daughter, Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu, was only lucky a second time in her quest for Ethiope Federal Constituency, defeating Ben Igbakpa by 46 to 22 votes in a run-off, following a deadlock in the first exercise on Sunday, May 22.
Unlike the duo, the governor’s daughter, Marilyn Okowa-Daramola, was returned unopposed for the Ika North-East State Constituency.
In the senatorial race, Okowa’s camp won in Delta North (Prince Ned Nwoko) and Delta South (Michael Diden, aka Ejele), but lost in Delta Central, where Ibori’s Chief Ighoyota Amori secured the ticket in his quest to return to the Senate, beating Chief John Nani and others.
Former governor of Delta State James Ibori
The governor had been in control of the party’s delegates before and during the primaries, including the governorship. Indeed, a day before the emergence of the party’s candidate, one of the frontline aspirants, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, while withdrawing from the race, accused Okowa of threatening his life, bribing delegates and having a predetermined outcome for the exercise.
In his petition to the party’s National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, state Chairman, Mr. Kingsley Esiso and copied all critical stakeholders. Gbagi said he was denied access to a meeting of delegates called by the governor at the Government House, Asaba, adding: “It transpired that the reason Okowa called the meeting was because all available information was that both within the party and in the larger Delta State, people were making it clear that his preferred candidate, Sheriff Oborevwori, was unacceptable.
He said, “The Governor called the meeting to intimidate and witch-hunt ad hoc delegates using the pomp and circumstances of his office and tax payers’ money to overawe the delegates. The governor issued threats against any person, who he said would engage in anti-party activities by voting against his preferred candidate in the primary elections.
“He also openly offered inducement in the realm of between N1million and above if the delegates would vote for Oborevwori. He said there would be more if they toed his line. On the spot, each ad hoc delegate who was allowed into the venue was given N100,000, with N1million promised at the venue.”
According to him: “Okowa is bent on sinking the fortunes of the PDP in Delta State with an unmarketable candidate for reasons best known to him, but using threats to the life of members of PDP that crossed the line. I could have been killed by a person whose salary is paid by the people of Delta State, simply because I wanted to participate in the political life of my party; if I were nobody, the story might have been different.
“It is, therefore, my humble view that as a foundation member of the party, a former minister for Education, having validly obtained my expression of interest and nomination form, screened by the screening panel and issued a certificate to contest the governorship election, my refusal today as an ad hoc delegate is a clear act of hostility, desperation and threat to life.
“I hereby withdraw my participation in the primary, since Okowa, contrary to all his promises and pledges that there will be a free, fair and level playing ground is untrue, since he has pre-determined the primary election.”
But the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Olisa Ifeajika, dismissed the allegations, insisting that Okowa had not interfered and was not going to interfere with the process, saying he had provided a level-playing field to all aspirants, as he had earlier promised, since it started on Sunday.
He wondered why Gbagi, who, as an ad hoc delegate, must have participated in the previous primaries, which have been free and fair across the state, suddenly realised that Okowa was interfering in the process and chickened out of the governorship race.
Ifeajika urged the former minister to tell the people why he actually withdrew from the contest, even though it is his right to do, wondering why he felt the exercise will be different.
At the end of the exercise, Edevbie, in his reaction on the outcome, said though it was not favourable to him, he was humbled by the immense goodwill shown to him across the state, thanking Deltans and PDP members, particularly the youth, for their enthusiasm and support through the process.
He said, “We are driven by the vision and a strong passion for the development of our state, and we remain encouraged that most Deltans share in this vision. Though several unsavoury factors came into play in our politics, particularly over the last few months, we remain steadfast in our aspiration for a modernised Delta to be bequeathed to the next generation. Once again, thank you, Deltans and may God bless our state.”
Following the outcome, there has been no word from Ibori or any hint of reconciliation from the parties involved, leaving observers wondering what their next moves might be.
MEANWHILE, Oborevwori has been dragged to court over alleged discrepancy in his certificates submitted to INEC. The suit, filed at the Federal High Court in Asaba by Ojei Victor Obianuju, Maize and Associates Farmers, has the Speaker, PDP and INEC as defendants.
In the Affidavit, the plaintiffs stated that the 1st defendant allegedly wrote his Primary Six examination in 1977 with the name Oborevwori O. Francis, while he wrote his West African Senior School Certificate examination in June 1999 with the name Oborevwori O. Francis.
They also alleged that he obtained his degree from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma in Edo State on July, 14, 2004 with the name Oborevwori Sheriff Francis; certificate of exemption from National Youth Service Corp on March 10, 2005 with name Oborevwori Sheriff and a Masters degree in Political Science from Delta State University, Abraka, with the name Oborevwori Francis Sheriff Orehwedor on September 24, 2010.
The plaintiffs alleged that on February 1982, one Benson Ogbolo deposed to an affidavit, stating that the PDP candidate was his cousin and had the name as Francis Oborguwori.
Shortly after the governorship primary, most political office holders and party officials relocated to Abuja for the presidential primary held late into last Saturday and it has been difficult getting them to comment on the way forward, as efforts to speak with the party’s spokesman in the state, Ifeanyi Osuoza, were unsuccessful.
It appears some of the aggrieved members and aspirants have gone back to the drawing board to re-strategise ahead of next year’s election.