The absence of some prominent chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party from the ‘Mega Rally’ of the party held recently in Delta Central senatorial zone, where Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa was unanimously endorsed for 2019 gubernatorial election, has undeniably put some leaders of the party on the defensive as Delta journeys towards 2019. Omon-Julius Onabu writes
“We have come this far; we have endorsed Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa for 2019. We need your prayers to achieve that agenda.”
– Monday Igbuya, February 2016.
Despite the excitement that resonated in the camp of the Delta State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) especially among supporters of the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, following the apparent success of the recent gathering of party faithful in Sapele tagged: “Delta Central PDP Mega Rally”, the conspicuous absence of a handful of influential members of the party has kept tongues wagging about possible cracks in the party concerning the 2019 governorship election.
Among the party’s notable figures that did not attend the Sapele rally was Hon Monday Igbuya, the erstwhile speaker of the state legislature who was impeached on May 11, 2017 by his co-lawmakers that staged a “coup”, accusing Igbuya of sundry transgressions.
Some reasons have been advanced for the former speaker’s absence at the mega rally. While some believed he was still smarting from the injury inflicted on his hitherto towering political ego by that legislative demotion, others believed it was his own way of washing his hands off the Okowa-for-2019 campaign of which he (Igbuya) was initially the chief protagonist.
As a matter of fact, Igbuya was probably the foremost politician in the state to publicly make the typical Nigerian no vacancy in government house declaration less than one year into the tenure of Governor Okowa. As the quotation at the beginning of this piece clearly shows, Igbuya was a strong advocate of the Okowa 2019 campaign.
The aforementioned statement were the very words of the former speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Igbuya, when he played host to members of the interim executive committee of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), the socio-cultural organisation of the Urhobo ethnic nationality, in Asaba. So confident was Igbuya about the second term campaign for Okowa that he would not be persuaded by the call for caution by even his kith and kin in the UPU.
This is contrary to the insistence by the UPU President-General, Chief Gabriel Ofotokun, that a repeat of the Urhobo unpleasant experience in the 2015 elections especially at the state level would be better avoided if the ethnic nationality went about its 2019 political agenda through negotiation without sentiments. “Whoever is going to take over from Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa (in 2019) must be an Urhobo”, Ofotokun stressed.
But Igbuya shrugged off the flurry of criticisms about the implication of his action for the separation of power between the executive and legislative arms of government, vis-à-vis the latter’s statutory oversight functions. He saw no wisdom in the widespread denouncement of premature 2019 campaign by the state legislature spearheaded by him as not only a distraction but an embarrassment to the generality of the citizenry.
For instance, while carpeting Igbuya and his co-travelers on the Okowa-for 2019 campaign train early 2016, a chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Delta State, Mr. Felix Edemanya, observed that the action of the state legislators portrayed them as bootlickers of the executive arm, which reduces them to a mere rubber stamp rather than an independent arm of government.
“Being subservient to the executive arm of government in the state as our lawmakers are clearly doing is inimical to the tenets of accountability and democracy”, Edemanya stressed, adding, “The legislators in Delta State have abandoned their primary responsibility of lawmaking and oversight functions to become stooges of the executive.”
Another notable political figure whose absence many did not fail to notice was the immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Although he is not really from the Delta Central zone, Uduaghan has very strong family, social and political connections with the area, where he also had his formative years. Moreover, his personality could not be confined to one senatorial zone as a former governor, aside the fact that the event in Sapele was actually about the PDP family in the state, of which he is an eminent member.
Observers argued that Uduaghan should have at least been represented at such an event, the first by the party since the conclusion of the 2015 electioneering that brought in his successor, Okowa, to power. Some alluded to the somewhat strained cordiality between Okowa and Uduaghan in the buildup to the December 2014 PDP gubernatorial primary, due to the conflicting interests and intrigues that took the contest to the wire.
There were also unpleasant insinuations in certain quarters about the absence from the Sapele rally of another former PDP governor, Chief James Ibori, and his daughter, Erhiatake, who is a member of the Delta State House of Assembly. Some commentators even jumped to the hasty conclusion that it all signaled a vote-of-no-confidence on Okowa’s second term ambition despite his reported assurances to Okowa and Delta North leaders on his return from London.
This was believed to be due to his exasperation with the alleged refusal of Okowa to use his good offices to save Igbuya’s job as Speaker amid claims that the governor actually ‘sacrificed’ Igbuya to consolidate his 2019 relection chances. But the camp of Okowa’s supporters and party faithful debunked claims that there might be cracks in the PDP especially as 2019 calculations gather momentum among the contending forces.
Executive Assistant to the Governor on Communications, Dr. Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe, told THISDAY that claims of any division in the PDP on account of those perceived to have distanced themselves from the Sapele rally, was erroneous. Oghenesivbe asserted that “I am not aware of feuding groups or division within Delta PDP. Delta PDP is one united political family. Hon Igbuya’s impeachment is entirely the internal affairs of the state House of Assembly.”
On claims that Ibori might have fallen out with Okowa so soon after reportedly endorsing him for 2019, Okowa’s aide said, “After the Delta Central Mega Rally in Sapele, same day, party leaders and Governor Okowa as well as his aides were hosted to a lunch at Oghara by Chief James Ibori, a clear indication that Ibori was part of the rally.”
Nonetheless, amid the roll-call of who-is-who in the party and especially Delta Central zone, the declaration was resounding and unanimous and reechoed by leaders including erstwhile information minister, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, Senator Emmanuel Aguarivwodo and Senator Ighoyota Amori. Prof Oyovbaire said, “You (Okowa) will do full term. Here in Delta Central, ‘decampees’ have also agreed that Senator Okowa will be governor till 2023.”
The return of a prominent ‘runaway’ member of the PDP, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, was probably the climax of the Sapele rally. The one-time influential member of the party, who had in 2015 caused a stir by defecting to the rival party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) with several other PDP chieftains across the state, returned to the PDP fold.
Chairman, PDP, South-South Zone, Mr. Emmanuel Ogidi, the state chairman of the party, Mr. Kingsley Esiso, and other leaders of the party formally received Akpeki and defectors from other parties at the rally. They included some members of the Delta State House of Assembly who won their elections on the tickets of other political parties like the Labour Party (LP).
A PDP chieftain from Delta South and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon Leo Ogor, had moved the motion for Okowa to be returned as sole gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in 2019 while the representative of Sapele Local Government Area, Hon Ejaife Odebala, seconded the motion amid a thunderous shout of approval by the frenzied sea of heads at the arena in Sapele.
The state party chairman, Esiso, gave what might be regarded as the final seal to the endorsement of Governor Okowa for a second term when he said, “In 2019, it is Governor Okowa again! The Urhobo Nation appreciates you, because of what you have done. We are here today to celebrate progress, to celebrate prosperity. Members of our party who left for other political parties are back to the family they belong to. We are one only.”
Governor Okowa at the occasion said the PDP would be stronger if they were united and work for a common purpose. At the well-attended rally, Okowa disclosed that ahead of the local government elections, candidates of the party for the local government council elections would emerge through a free, fair and acceptable process.
Okowa, who was full of gratitude to the organizers of the rally and welcomed the returnees as well as new members, described the event as “very successful”, saying it signaled a greater future for the party.
According to the governor, “The future is better and greater for us as a family. We should remain united as members of the PDP. We will continue to work hard so that every Deltan will continue to sing the same song.”