By OBINNA EZUGWU
Though 15 aspirants in Delta State successfully underwent the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship screening in Port Harcourt on Thursday last week, ahead of the party’s May 21, 2022 primary election, what seems already obvious is that the battle for the ticket is between the duo of Olorogun David Edevbie, former commissioner of finance and Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, Speaker of the state house assembly.
Edevbie, who also served as chief of staff to Okowa, in accordance with the succession plan set up by Chief James Ibori, the state’s first governor in the fourth republic and its most influential political figure, is the next in line to clinch the coveted governorship seat, but Okowa is bent on choosing his own successor, and is said to have backed Oborevwori to take over from him.
The ensuing battle is increasing heating up the state’s polity, with both men resolutely maintaining their positions, even amid attempts by the national leadership of the party to wade in and negotiate an understanding.
Last week, Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the PDP, following complaint by Ibori, last month, reportedly advised Okowa to listen to the former governor’s suggestions, following which the two men met, but Business Hallmark gathered that no understanding was reached.
In the meantime, the governor is said to be making effort to reconvene a fresh meeting to enable him, Ibori and Emmanuel Uduaghan, his successor, reappraise their positions before the primaries, but there is still little indication that a truce would be reached.
Both Ibori and Uduaghan, his cousin, are said to be backing Edevbie, but Okowa, though openly insists he has no candidate, is vehement in support of the Speaker.
Last week, the state House of assembly presided over by the Speaker, in a move seen by many as a plot to raise funds for the Speaker’s governorship bid, approved N150 billion bridging finance facility requested by Okowa. The assembly gave its approval for the facility at plenary on Tuesday, barely 11 months to the end of the governors tenure.
Inside sources told this platform that a larger chunk of the N150 billion loan would be used to prosecute Oborevwori’s governorship campaign.
However, Okowa had in a letter to the assembly requesting its approval for the facility, said the loan would be used to defray arrears of unpaid certificates earned by contractors with respect to completion of some critical ongoing legacy projects awarded by past and present administration.
The letter which was addressed to the Speaker, Oborevwori, read: “The requested credit facility will be principally tailored towards defraying arrears of unpaid certificates earned by contractors with respect to completion of some critical ongoing legacy projects awarded by past and present administrations in the state.”
The governor also said that part of the loan would be tailored toward taking care of outstanding pension commitments to the state and local government areas pensions in the contributory pension scheme, amounting to N20 billion and N10 billion, respectively.
“The speaker and members of the state House of Assembly, I wish to inform you that the state is expecting refunds from the federal government, being petroleum subsidy payments made without recourse to the 13 per cent derivation due to oil producing states from January 1999 to Nov. 30, 2021, the letter stated further.
“Delta states portion in this regard amounted to N270.6 billion. Bearing in mind the administrations resolve to finish strong, it is necessary for the state to capitalise on the refund to defray arrears of unpaid certificates earned by contractors with respect to completion of some critical ongoing legacy projects awarded by past and present administrations,” the governor added.
Amid Okowa’s determination to ensure the Speaker emerges governor, Ibori’s camp are deploying various tactics, including media attacks, to ensure that the governor’s wish doesn’t materialise.
Last week, while the screening exercise proceeded, a report was published in an online platform NigerDeltaToday, to the effect that the credentials presented by the Speaker in his governorship expression of interest and nomination forms for the screening were riddled with various forms of discrepancies including those of his names.
According to the report, the Speakers educational certificates are said to have five different names, just like those of the former Bayelsa deputy governor-elect, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, who was disqualified on the eve of his swearing-in with then governor-elect of Bayelsa, David Lyon, for forging his credentials.
It further noted that from available information, all of the Speakers educational certificates which tendered and attached to his forms carried different names ranging from his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) to his masters degree certificate.
For instance, the report said, in his FSLC certificate which he obtained in 1977 from Alegbo Primary School, Effurun, (then Bendel State) bears Oborevwori Francis not Sheriff Oborevwori which he is publicly known with today.
Similarly, the Speaker’s name in his West African Examinations Council (WAEC) certificate which he obtained from Oghareki Grammar School, Oghara, bears OBOREVWORI O. FRANCIS which is also different from his current names, the medium reported.
Yet, according to the report, there was also discrepancy in the name in his BSc which he obtained from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, which contained OBOREVWORI SHERIFF FRANCIS as against the names in previous certificates.
The discrepancies, the report said, could prompt the Speaker’s rejection by the screening committee. But apparently this did not happen, as all the 15 aspirants are understood to have scaled through and would then have to slog it out in the primary.
Though both the Speaker and Edevbie are of Urhobo ethnic group, the single largest ethnic group in the state, found mostly in the state’s central senatorial district, the district of Chief Ibori, which is favoured to produce the next governor in line with the state’s zoning arrangement, its stakeholders are divided over the options.
But Ibori, being easily the political leader of the Urhobo nation, is sure to have the upper hand in terms of securing the support of the people.
Indeed, a fortnight ago, on April 17, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), an influential sociocultural group, endorsed Edevbie as Urhobos consensus candidate and preferred choice for the 2023 governorship election on the PDP platform. The body thus called Okowa to allow Urhobo Nation choose the candidate to succeed him.
The endorsement was contained in a statement signed by UPUs President General, Olorogun Moses Taiga; 1st Deputy President General, Chief Anthony Onoharigho and three others.
The statement said in part, “That after thoroughly examining and analysing all the aspirants, we have, however, reached a consensus that Olorogun David Edevbie, is the best person for the job at this time. Over time, he has acquired impressive public sector experience, both locally in Delta State and Federal Government, and prior outstanding international development finance experience.
“That we hereby plead with all our sons, and prevail on them all to support and collaborate with the consensus choice of UPU Worldwide, for the collective interest of our dear Urhobo Nation. We ask for their understanding at this critical and trying time in the history of the Urhobo Nation.
“We want to appeal to our Governor, His Excellency, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, to forgive Olorogun David Edevbie for any perceived transgression. To forgive is divine. No individual is perfect.”
However, another group, the Coalition of Urhobo Youths (CUY), opposed the UPU endorsement and asked the governor to disregard it.
The Chairman of CUY, Isaac Omomedia, who took the position while addressing a press conference on Wednesday, April 20, by members of the coalition, comprising Urhobo Youth Leaders Association (UYLA), Urhobo Youth Council (UYC), Urhobo National Youth Movement (UNYM) HOSTCOM Youths, Ex Agitators and UPU youth wing, asked Okowa to reject the endorsement, describing Moses Taiga-led UPU executive as “selfish and greedy persons.”
Omomedia said: “We wish to alert all Deltans that the endorsement did not reflect the interest of the entire Urhobo people but that of a few self-serving individuals, who are on a wild goose chase. We condemn in its entirety Moses Taiga actions, which will never stand and is dead on arrival.
“Delta should know that governorship election is the job of all Deltans, not for few or one ethnic group, or individuals like Moses Taiga to decide.
“The UPU is a socio-cultural organisation of all Urhobo people worldwide, we cannot leave it to the hand of Moses Taiga to drag the Urhobo nation in the mud. The agenda they are pushing is aimed at destroying the Urhobo nation politically and we, the youths, will not accept such a dance of shame from our so-called fathers.
“One expected that the UPU as the Umbrella body of all Urhobo must stand to be neutral to all her sons, provided the governorship position, come 2023, is rotated to Delta Central Urhobo.
The coalition also stressed that the UPU is not a political party and should not interfere in the internal affairs of the PDP. ”
They, therefore, urged Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to disregard the endorsement by the Taiga-led UPU.
Still, another group, the Coalition for Media Politics and Governance (CMPG), in its own response, advised the president UPU, Olorogun Taiga and his deputy, Captain Anthony Onorharigho, to resign and tender unreserved public apology in three national dailies for usurping the functions of the PDP and its organs.
The group, a political heir of the PDP, in a statement on Thursday, April 21, by its Convener and Chairman, Olorogun Fred Oghenesivbe, and Deputy Chairman, Delta South, Toju Ekengbuda, said the call has become necessary, so as to immediately restore the integrity of the Urhobo socio-cultural organisation and engender healthy political contest among the governorship aspirants in the state.
The group advised Urhobo nation of Delta Central senatorial district to be weary of elements fanning the ember of disunity through endorsements of governorship aspirants, urging the union to immediately walk back the unconstitutional and unwarranted endorsement of Edevbie, which it described as an unpopular governorship aspirant.
“Rejecting Edevbie is simply to ensure that Delta State money will remain in Delta for the development of the state and for the wellbeing of the people,” the group said.