The All Progressives Congress recently held a formal reception in Abuja for one of Nigeria’s most controversial politicians, Chief Great Ogboru, and others like the erstwhile Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Victor Ochei, who defected from their former parties to the APC. In this report, Omon-Julius Onabu examines the significance of the event against the no-love-lost political relationship that existed between Ogboru and his kinsman, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, believed to have made the rare political union possible

Not a few political observers familiar with the hue of politics he was known for expressed pessimism about the rumoured efforts to persuade him to jettison his seeming strait-jacketed style of politics, but Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru eventually proved the pessimistic lot wrong. He showed that he could, after all, be cast in the mould of most politicians especially in this clime: that the only thing permanent in the game of politics is the interest of the player or political actor.

On Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 two eminent citizens of Delta State, Ogboru and Hon Victor Ochei, one-time speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, formally became members of the All Progressives Progress (APC). A well-publicised reception, which was attended by the national leadership of the party, was held for Ogboru, Ochei and several other defectors from different parties in the state.
Ogboru and the others were formally received at the event that took place at the national secretariat of the APC in Abuja, with the full complement of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC led by the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Also, conspicuously present were the party’s candidate in the 2015 governorship election in Delta State, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor and the Delta State APC chairman, ‘Prophet’ Jones Erhue. The duo of Emerhor and Erhue had actually performed the proverbially impossible feat of leading an apparently unwilling horse to the pool and making him drink as well. The two men spearheaded that deft political maneuvering that midwifed the new political union into reality.

Ogboru’s sojourn in the political landscape of the country has been truly checkered as it has been intriguing. He was the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Delta State in the aforementioned 2015 election. Thus, both Ogboru and Emerhor took a shot at the coveted gubernatorial crown in their state from the opposing camps, the LP and APC, respectively.

They both eventually lost that crown to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party that has remained dominant in the state since 1999 and on whose platform, Hon Ochei initially vied for the Delta North senatorial ticket in December 2014, albeit unsuccessfully, towards 2015. Ochei eventually used the Accord Party as vehicle but could not win the race as ex-state PDP chairman, Peter Nwaoboshi did.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the international businessman and politician had not always been a member of the Labour Party nor was he contesting the governorship diadem of Delta State for the first time. As a matter of fact, Ogboru’s face and name has been a regular feature of gubernatorial elections in the state under the country’s present political dispensation except the maiden one in 1999.

He was generally seen as a close political ally of his kinsman, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, who emerged the second democratically elected governor of the now 25-year old state. However, following what was regarded as irreconcilable differences between them, Ogboru parted ways with Ibori and would, indeed, attempt to throw Ibori out of the Government House, Asaba, by contesting the 2003 governorship election against Ibori.

That attempt, which Ogboru did under the canopy of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), failed. Prior to the said election, he had signaled his interest in party politics with the convening of the progressive stakeholders forum in 2000, a group that later merged with the AD in 2003.

Renowned for his dogged fighting spirit, Ogboru again took a gamble in 2007 in a renewed effort to take over the reins of power in the state, this time draped in the colours of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). The attempt was again futile; he lost to the PDP candidate, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Ogboru would, however, not accept the outcome of the election as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and so commenced a long-drawn legal tussle that dragged on for over three years.

The 2011 election was arguably the fiercest ever contested by Ogboru, who is fondly called “The People’s General”, a nickname earned from his alleged abortive but popular role in the April 1990 attempted military coup against Nigeria’s then military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida. And like in the previous elections, Ogboru initiated a legal battle to claim what he considered the stolen mandate given him by the people at the polls. It appeared he was at the verge of realising his ambition following his partial victory at the state election petitions tribunal as Uduaghan was forced to step down as governor temporarily.

Three-and-a-half years after, in 2010, Ogboru succeeded in removing Dr Uduaghan from office through the court as Uduaghan’s victory was invalidated by the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin City and a fresh election was subsequently ordered by the Court for January 6, 2011. The victory turned out to be a hollow one because of what some analysts blamed on technical error in Ogboru’s prayer before the court.

He claimed in his petition that voting did not take place across the state during the governorship election in 2007. Understandably, his judicial victory had thrown his supporters and admirers into frenzied jubilation but the celebration was short-lived following INEC’s declaration of Uduaghan as winner of the January 6, 2011 governorship rerun election in the state.

Then, he took yet another shot at the governorship position in April 2011, also against then incumbent, Uduaghan, who eventually secured another victory and a second term for himself under the canopy of the PDP. However, Ogboru could not upturn INEC’s declaration of Uduaghan as winner of the January 6, 2011 rerun election and the April governorship election as well despite series of court cases he initiated.

Ogboru was back on the scene in 2015, contesting the governorship this time on the platform of the Labour Party, whose only governorship victory in the country was by incumbent Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko. Olorogun Emerhor was also contesting the coveted seat at Asaba as the candidate of the APC. Interestingly, although both men apparently had a common political foe in the candidate of the PDP who was then a serving senator, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the two illustrious sons of Urhobo ethnic nationality – Emerhor and Ogboru – could not collapse their forces into a common front to wrest power from the PDP.

Instead, the duo would rather engage in what many observers regarded as anticlimax of an epic battle. Rather than live up to his larger-than life image in the state’s political firmament, Ogboru apparently resorted to dissipating much energy shadow-boxing Emerhor for Urhobo votes as though oblivious of the fact that numerous key figures in the campaign committee of the PDP governorship candidate were also of Urhobo ethnic extraction.

The supremacy battle between Emerhor and APC precipitated the balkanization of the once influential socio-cultural organisation of Urhobo people globally, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). The UPU became split into the Chief Joseph Omene and Chief Tuesday Onoge factions with the former supporting Ogboru and the latter throwing its weight behind Emerhor.

The sharp division was said to be prompted by the spirit of “Uvwiamuge Declaration” with contention for Urhobo votes by the LP and APC candidates being accentuated by Ogboru and Delta State LP’s decision to endorse then incumbent and PDP presidential candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Conversely, Emerhor argued that the Urhobo people would be better off voting for Muhammadu Buhari of the APC.

Another glaring factor in the 2015 gubernatorial battle in Delta State was the fact that the Labour Party in the state clearly lacked politicians that could be referred to as political juggernauts, just as it lacked formidable structure from ward to local government and state levels. Besides Ogboru, only Chief Ovie Omo-Agege, erstwhile governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011, was the towering figure in the state chapter of the party.

To worsen matters, Ogboru’s running mate in the 2011 governorship race under the DPP, Chief Fidelis Tilijie, had defected to the PDP following protest over the emergence of Emerhor as the candidate of the APC where he had contested the primary for 2015.

Nonetheless, it certainly wasn’t in the best interest of the two men to depict a picture of ethnic chauvinists fighting for Urhobo votes, which are mainly concentrated in one senatorial district, whereas they desired an office that required the entire state as their constituency. In the end, Ogboru lost the 2015 election in a manner that was viewed by analysts as probably his worst electoral outing since 2003.

Similarly, Emerhor, who in 2007 was a governorship aspirant in the PDP, also lost as Senator Okowa of the PDP ran away with the victory. Subsequently, both men ultimately lost the long-drawn, energy-sapping legal tussle they separately instituted to challenge the electoral victory of Dr. Okowa. The legal battle went all the way to the Supreme Court but Okowa’s victory was upheld as the apex court drew the final curtains on the case. Ogboru and Emerhor then shunned the olive branch offered by Governor Okowa to join hands with him in his government.

Today, Emerhor and Ogboru are sailing in the same boat of political destiny. Although he had in 2015 vowed, “I can never step down for Emerhor”, for the first time since 2003 ‘The People’s General’ has obviously settled for a political party not based on his own terms. As a matter of fact, some might even argue that Emerhor, his main adversary in the countdown to the 2015 Delta State governorship election, who is now the most visible figure in the state chapter of the APC, has probably saved Ogboru’s political career from total eclipse.

Such argument should hold much water considering the fact that it was Emerhor who, with the state chairman of the APC, Mr Jones Erhue, formally presented Ogboru and ex-speaker Ochei to the national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and members of the national working committee (NWC) of the APC, recently in Abuja.

Even his alleged attempt to take most members of the LP along into the APC was rebuffed as the state chairman of the party, Chief Tony Ezeagwu, put his foot down firmly, saying the state chapter was never part of Ogboru’s negotiations to move to the APC. Further to the warning from the national chairman of the Labour Party, Alhaji A. Salam that the party in the state should not merge with the APC.

Thus, Ezeagwu threatened legal action against anybody in the state LP who made any statement about a purported merger with the APC. It also appeared that swallowing his pride and going into the APC was the best option available to Ogboru as the national leadership of the LP was said to be on the verge of suspending him from the party in April this year, owing to the rumoured merger talks considered as anti-party activity.

Interestingly, Ogboru could have been a foundation member of Nigeria’s most successful political merger, the APC, but he bluntly refused to follow as the emergent political juggernaut in the state, the late Senator Pius Akpor Ewherido and others like Emerhor, Dr Otive Igbuzor, Mr Martins Ahweyevu Mukoro and Mr Festus Keyamo were active in the precursor to the APC in the state, known as the Integrity Group.

Ogboru was said to have developed cold feet towards the fledging political party because it was clear to him he could not call the shots under the emerging order especially with the presence of Senator Ewerhido, in the new group. Indeed, before his sudden demise on June 30, 2013, Ewherido was being regarded by many across the state as the only man who could give the PDP a real gubernatorial fight.
And Ogboru as the LP gubernatorial candidate said 2015 would be his last shot at the governorship in Delta State.

“In the agitation, movement and struggle to liberate Delta State, we all can see now that there is a big difference. We have fought so many battles and even when we win, they say we didn’t win, but this is the last battle and the last river to cross,” Ogboru said during last year’s gubernatorial campaign. So, the world is watching if he would keep to his words or whether his new found love in the APC would alter his position, other things being equal. After all, President Muhammadu Buhari said similar thing after his 2011 experience and even wept. Yet, he reneged on his words and went on to become the president in 2015.

However, not a few are looking forward to what impact the defection of Ogboru to the APC would make on UPU and Urhobo politics on the one hand and politics generally in Delta State on the other hand. Would Ogboru’s (hitherto unlikely) decision to drink from the same political cup with Emerhor shore up the fortunes of opposition parties, particularly the APC in the state?

Already, since the APC formal reception in Abuja, Ogboru has visited Emerhor at home with the two men reportedly agreeing to henceforth work harmoniously. That position is expected to be consolidated with the expected formal defection to the party by LP’s Senator Omo-Agege, who displaced Chief Ighoyota Amori as the senator representing Delta Central district via an election petition court triumph.
According to Dr Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe, Director of Media and Political Communication to Delta APC leader, Olorogu Emerhor, the APC is poised to dislodge the persistent domination of the PDP and take the state by storm in 2019.

Oghenesivbe, who is also the Convener, Rescue Delta Media Group (RDMG) of the APC, said after the scheduled visit, “The two illustrious sons of Delta State agreed to put ethnic and tribal politics far away from the reinvigorated Delta APC and work with other party leaders and chieftains in Delta South and Delta North to ensure that victory does not elude the party in 2019.” He stated that with the decision of Ogboru and Ochei to travel the same boat with Emerhor, “an effective quit notice has now been served on PDP to vacate Government House, Asaba in 2019.”
Political observers will surely be enthralled to no end with Ogboru’s new life in a mainstream political party like the APC, because ‘The People’s General’ has spent his past life in partisan politics in opposition camps.

Although his seeming insistence on being in charge always vis-a-vis his dogged fighting spirit had not resulted in the realisation of his personal ambition for power, several persons had achieved their political dreams by merely placing the picture of Ogboru in their campaign posters and handbills especially in Delta Central. Will this defection open the door to fulfillment of Great Ogboru’s long sought desire for political power? The answer resides still in the sands of time.

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The duo of Emerhor and Erhue had actually performed the proverbially impossible feat of leading an apparently unwilling horse to the pool and making him drink as well. The two men spearheaded that deft political maneuvering that midwifed the new political union into reality