Opinion | Delta State 2023 guber race: The DC-23 and the limit of subterfuge

By Boss Clark

Elections into public offices are more often than not driven by issues, be they real or imagined, altruistic or selfish and pertinent or irrelevant. These issues are often formulated and pushed by the ruling elites until they are popularized among the masses. One of such ideas formulated by the Nigerian political elites and accepted by the masses, is the zoning of political offices. This idea fuelled by emotional attachment to identity has remained a very strong influencer of many electoral outcomes in contemporary Nigeria and the situation is unlikely to be different in the 2023 general elections.

Identity of provenance is the most commonly revered human heritage and people ought to be very careful when dealing with it because identity conflicts are often very difficult to handle.

The zoning formula though highly critiqued by pro-democracy activists as not being on all fours with the tenets of democracy, could be credited with creating some measure of peace and stability in the context of the heterogeneity of the Nigerian polity.

In Delta State where the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has remained in power since 1999, the greatest challenge to the zoning formula could be traced to the political dynasty of Chief James Ibori who governed the State from 1999 to 2007. It is imperative to put this assertion in context and proper perspective.

Chief James Onanefe Ibori emerged the Governor of Delta State in 1999 and in this capacity, he became the leader of his Party, the PDP in the State. He enjoyed the overwhelming loyalty of the Party faithful in the State. Being from the Delta Central Senatorial District of the State, PDP members and indeed most Deltans expected that Chief Ibori’s successor would come from either the Delta North or the Delta South Senatorial Districts, but the Governor was never forthcoming on this popular expectation. He left every person in doubt over his commitment to put on a sound footing, the power sharing arrangement among the senatorial districts in the State.

Ahead of the 2007 general elections, Chief Ighota Amori; a well-known confidant of Chief Ibori spearheaded a political pressure group – the Urhobo Agenda to produce the Governor’s successor. The Party members from the Delta North and Delta South Districts organized themselves into Equity 2007 and the G-3 pressure groups respectively, for the same purpose.

In December 2006, the Governor allowed aspirants from the three senatorial districts to contest the primary election to select PDP’s candidate for the 2007 Governorship Election. The primary election was hotly contested with Chief Ibori employing various tactics and gambits of subterfuge, Greek Gift, power-over and unjust disqualification from the race, of the aspirants he considered to be strong contenders, all in the bid to swing the Governorship ticket to his cousin; Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of the G-3 who the Governor had anointed all along but which he had kept to himself.

After the first round of balloting failed to produce a clear winner in accordance with the guidelines for the primary election, there was to be a run-off contest between Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa but Chief Ibori successfully pressurized Dr. Okowa to allow Dr. Uduaghan his preferred candidate have his way and upon that, Dr. Uduaghan proceeded to contest the election as the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP. He won that election and succeeded his cousin Chief James Ibori who handed over to him on May 29, 2007. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa served as the Director-General of the Party’s campaign for that election. It is on record that in that transition process, Governor James Ibori was practically in control in the State. The way and manner Chief James Ibori arm-twisted everybody to install his cousin as his successor became a sore-point in his relationship with some elders of PDP in Delta State but people like Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa cooperated and moved on with him. As another transition beckoned in 2015, it was expected that the PDP gubernatorial ticket will seamlessly go to the Delta North Senatorial District to consummate the zoning formula in the State, at least; in the PDP. Contrary to this rational expectation, Dr. Uduaghan to the chagrin of the people of Delta North took to many subterranean strategies to deny the district the opportunity to have one of their indigenes ascend the post of the Governor of Delta State; an act adjudged by many in the Anioma nation as done in bad faith against
them. Governor Uduaghan pulled Mr. Anthony Obuh out from the State Civil Service where he was a serving Permanent Secretary and presented him as a disguise for his anointed successor. At the twilight of the process leading to the PDP primary election towards the 2015 Gubernatorial Election, Governor Uduaghan’s stratagem came full circle. Tony Obuh was his mere cannon fodder while David Edevbie was his trump card, trooper and pitcher’s slider. Chief James Ibori’s men were on the prowl again, their power politics is a raw game of scramble not sharing and they did not pretend about it. That primary election that was held in Asaba on December 14, 2014 ended up as a battle between Chief Ibori’s men and the rest of Delta State. When the dust settled, Ibori’s men lost and the alliance engineered by Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa triumphed. It is important to emphasize here, that there were people in Delta Central District who understood the implication of the action of Chief Ibori’s camp and therefore, joined the camp of its opponents. It is therefore wrong for any person to claim that pursuant to 2015 general election, it was all PDP members in Delta Central District who did not respect their Party’s senatorial district rotation/zoning consensus for the governorship seat of the State.

We are now at the dawn of another transition in the State and the outlook points to nothing but the hour of reckoning with regards to what played out in December 2014. Several questions are definitely up for interrogation and possible answers. First and foremost, from 1999 it has been taken for granted in the ruling political parties that the Governors are the leaders of the parties in their respective States, however; Governors come and go. The question is therefore, who is on the saddle in Delta State? What is the status of erstwhile
Governors in their States? When Chief James Ibori was the Governor of Delta State, there was Orologun Felix Ibru now of blessed memory who was a former Governor of the State and a member of the PDP but Chief Ibori called the shots. Now that the State has produced three Governors since 1999, should Chief Ibori remain the leader of the ruling party or the head of perhaps the College of erstwhile Governors of the State? From what transpired in 2014, could the DC-23 Group in all sincerity, expect the cooperation of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa for its aspiration to produce his successor? In the reckoning of many people, Dr. Okowa is a political tactician, who like the Roman General, Fabious Counctator has successfully adopted phlegmatism, strategic patience and other
tactics of a resilient spear catcher to defeat his much entrenched opponents and secured victories in complex battles. Therefore, the DC-23 surely has an uphill task with him.

For Orologun David Edevbie; an undisputed seasoned technocrat and a prime contender in the race for Dr. Okowa’s successor on the platform of DC-23, it seems that to Okowa’s group and by his (Edevbie’s) action in 2014, it is more of a consideration between competence and character. This is understandable because like the
Americans will say, ‘fiercer than the light that beat upon a throne, is the light that beats on the candidate for the throne and when the choice is between a good man and a safe man, the safe man is preferred.

It is therefore most likely that as we move towards the primary election to select the PDP candidate for the 2023 Governorship Election in Delta State, the case of the DC-23 Political Lobby Group may be that of the limit of subterfuge.

Boss Clark, a political commentator, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.