From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The anxiety over who flies the governorship flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State may have been settled with the emergence of the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sheriff Francis Oborevwori.
Oborevwori who was the anointed aspirant of the incumbent governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, emerged the candidate after polling 590 delegates votes to beat David Edevbie, Senator James Manager who scored 113 and 83 respectively, to come a distant second and third.
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But the process that threw up an Oborevwori candidacy in the PDP was not without its fair share of the drama, intrigues, horse trading, alignment and realignment usually associated with political contests.
In the first instance, the Speaker’s entrance into the pulsating race late last year threw most of the leading contenders off balance. Many had thought Oborevwori, who represents Okpe constituency and in his second term in the House, would seek re-election into the legislature.
However, backed by the incumbent Governor Okowa, the deputy national chairman of the Conference of State Assembly Speakers had other plans to further raise his profile in national politics.
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In fact, the plot to make Oborevwori the preferred successor to Okowa was hatched in 2017 when Mr. Monday Igbuya, representing Sapele constituency, was impeached as Speaker of the state House of Assembly.
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Although Igbuya was accused of high handedness and other alleged legislative malfeasance by his colleagues, it was gathered that the underlying factor to shove him out was his unalloyed loyalty to former governor James Ibori, whom Okowa sought to dislodge as leader.
Igbuya was also loyal to the Okowa administration with his pronouncement from day one that the governor must be returned in 2019, a strategy he intended to use to keep his seat and defer to Ibori when the chips are down.
The ex-Speaker at the time, was said to also be nursing governorship ambition for 2023 but such vaulting ambition did not find favour with the incumbent who activated his loyalists in the House to impeach Igbuya.
Michael Diden aka Ejele who represented Warri North constituency at the time and a first term lawmaker, was the arrowhead of the impeachment saga, and the subsequent enthronement of Oborevwori as Speaker.
It was learnt that making Oborevwori the head of the legislative arm was to prepare him for higher responsibilities. And the fact that he became the first Speaker to spend over four years on the seat since the creation of the state became an added advantage.
Perhaps, what also worked in favour of the Speaker was his area of origin which is the Okpe axis of Delta Central senatorial district. There is said to be an unwritten agreement within the PDP that the governorship should rotate among the three senatorial districts.
With Okowa from Delta North completing the first triangular rotation that started in 1999 with James Ibori (central) to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan (South) from 2007 to 2015, it was only logical that power should return to central.
But zoning became a major issue for contention among political stakeholders with some insisting that power rotation should be jettisoned on the ground that aspirants from Delta central had always participated in previous primaries.
The Ijaw nation from Delta South made a strong case for one of them to occupy the exalted office based on their contributions to the PDP winning streak in the state in previous elections. They felt that they should be compensated with the ticket.
However, Okowa believed that the next governor of the state should be a product of equity, justice and fairness. And in Delta Central, two out of the three federal constituencies have produced governors since the state was created in 1991.
The Ughelli axis produced the first civilian governor in the person of Olorogun Felix Ibru (1991 to 1993) while the Ethiope axis produced James Ibori (1999 to 2007). It is only the Okpe axis that has not tasted the seat.
Immediate past Commissioner for Works, James Augoye, who hails from the Okpe axis as Oborevwori, was at some point said to be ‘Okowa’s anointed one’, but he became the first political casualty of the Speaker’s governorship ambition.
Augoye was asked to withdraw and collapse his structure for his kinsman, which he did. Besides, he opted for the nomination and expression of interest forms for Okpe constituency in a bid to replace Oborevwori at the state House of Assembly.
Majority of the contenders for the ticket including David Edevbie, Kenneth Gbagi, Fred Majemite among others are from ughelli axis except Abel Esievo (Ethiope) and Ejaife Odebala who hails from Sapele under Okpe.
Perceived score to settle with Ibori, Edevbie
Meanwhile, Edevbie, a core loyalist of former governor James Ibori, was a frontliner in the race just like the former Minister of State for Education, Kenneth Gbagi. But while Gbagi appeared more as an independent candidate, Edevbie was being urged on by Ibori.
On the other hand, Okowa vowed never to support Edevbie who almost denied him (Okowa) the PDP ticket in the 2014 primary with his (Edevbie) late entrance into the race and secured the backing of the then incumbent governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Edevbie also got the endorsement of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), a socio-cultural umbrella body for Urhobo nation. He lost the primary to Okowa, who according to sources, is still holding the grudge against his former Chief of Staff and former finance commissioner.
Inside sources hinted that the governor is using the 2023 governorship election as a pay back time for both Edevbie and Ibori who is suspected to have secretly backed Edevbie for the 2014 primary but used the then sitting governor, Dr. Uduaghan, as front.
“What happened in 2014 was like the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau. Edevbie was never Uduaghan’s favourite but based on the order from above, and working in consonance with UPU, Edevbie had to be seen as the candidate of Uduaghan,” a source hinted.
Even though, it was to Edevbie’s knowledge that Okowa was not supporting him for the 2023 race, he stayed on, on the ground that if Okowa could succeed in 2014 without the support of Uduaghan as sitting governor, he (Edevbie) too will succeed without the governor’s backing.
DC-23 and UPU endorsement
And to give his ambition an edge over his contending brothers from Delta Central, Edevbie was again endorsed by the Olorogun Moses Taiga-led UPU.
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The endorsement came after DC-23, a Delta central-based governorship lobby group, had narrowed the race to just three contenders out of about twelve aspirants who indicated interest with the aim of having a consensus candidate for Urhobo nation that could defeat any aspirant put forward by Ijaw ethnic nationality in Delta South.
Working in the interest of Urhobo nation, DC-23 led by Chief Ighoyota Amori, in the first screening, reduced the number of aspirants from the zone to five including Edevebie, Gbagi, Oborevwori, Augoye and Emmanuel Agwuariavwodo.
In the final screening, Augoye and Agwuriavwodo were knocked out the lobby group. And the UPU followed it up with the endorsement of Edevbie, a development that unsettled the camps of both Gbagi and Oborevwori.
DPV rescues Oborevwori
While mixed reactions trailed Edevbie’s endorsement, it did not deter the Delta Political Vanguard (DPV), an influential pressure group within the PDP from sticking with Oborevwori.
The group, composed mainly of Okowa’s loyalists and foot soldiers came up with a slogan of ‘where Okowa goes, we will go’ at a mega rally that was attended by a mammoth crowd at Agbor last January.
DPV followed it up few weeks later with the official endorsement of Oborevwori as it’s preferred choice to succeed Okowa.
Although the governor denied backing any of the aspirants, he never rebuked the Ejele-led DPV for its campaign for the Speaker, rather, he maintained a studied silence.
Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu said at the time that Okowa’s name was being dropped by almost all the aspirants to curry favour.
Aniagwu told a press conference that the aspirants were simply identifying with his performing boss, noting that dropping his name was an advantage for the aspirants who were wooing delegates.
Regardless, through the machinery of DPV, the Oborevwori project resonated across the state with Delta South leaders and stakeholders of PDP led by Mike Loyibo also throwing their weight behind the Speaker.
The action of Delta South PDP leaders and stakeholders neutralised the plans of the Ijaws as membership of the the group cuts across the four ethnic nationalities of Itsekiri, Ijaw, Isoko and Urhobo of Delta South senatorial district.
The group consistently held meetings to re-affirm their stand on Oborevwori. Even in the face of rife speculations that the governor dumped the Speaker, and had secretly obtained PDP nomination forms for his Chief of Staff, Ovie Agas as Oborevwori replacement, the group did not waiver.
Besides the effort of the Loyibo-led group, there is said to be a promise by the present system that should Oborevwori win the governorship, he would hand over an Ijaw son in the person of Funkekeme Solomon, after eight years on the saddle.
At the moment, Mr. Solomon who is a former deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly and Commissioner for Works, is presently Okowa’s Chief Political Adviser.
Although, the idea to make Oborevwori governor was muted in 2017, it was kept under raps by Okowa and the few persons who were privy to it.
The governor didn’t activate it but secretly built structures to sustain through appointment of close allies into key positions in government.
At the reconstruction of the board of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) in 2019, Okowa dropped Williams Makinde as Managing Director and Ebose as chairman. Both men were perceived as die hard loyalists of Ibori.
Rather, the governor brought on board, Michael Diden aka Ejele who was unsuccessful in his senatorial ambition to represent Delta South, as chairman of the oil commission.
He elevated another of his henchman, Askia Ogieh from the position of Director of Finance to Managing Director of DESOPADEC, and made his former Commissioner for Environment, John Nani the director of finance.
These were the key positions and the personalities that Okowa used to drive the Oborevwori project from the embryonic stage, and consolidated on it in the long run.
They were said to be in charge of the delegates from the various wards for the primaries, and came up with far reaching strategies to shut out other aspirants from making adequate contacts with the voters at the primary election.
Rumours of delegates being forced to take oath as was trumpeted by some aspirants were unsubstantiated. It was only clear that the aspirants lost to the superior strategies as deployed by the governor and his henchmen.
Oborevwori’s emergence, as it were, was celebrated by those in government but there are reservations among the losers, some of whom are threatening court action, on the ground that the academic certificates presented by the candidate had discrepancies.
The former Minister of State for Education, Kenneth Gbagi, is still very much aggrieved after he withdrew from the race, blaming Okowa for hijacking the process. Gbagi is said to be eying another platform to realise his ambition while also exploring possibilities of the court option.
Besides, the opposition party, All Progressive Congress (APC) and it’s candidate, Ovie Omo-Agege, are also said to be dusting their papers in preparation for legal battle should the PDP candidate win the general election with the alleged discrepancies in the certificates as major ground.
However, sources close to Okowa and the PDP candidate hinted that if the alleged certificate discrepancies was the major ground for those preparing to go to court, “they have failed from the onset.
“When Oborevwori presented those certificates including his university degree and Masters degree, Okowa advised that they should be withdrawn.
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“What they don’t know now is that the document with the PDP and INEC is Oborevwori’s SSCE which is the minimum qualification to contest for the office of governor.”