Nigeria’s political scene is replete with stories of historic battles between godfathers and godsons; battles which more often than not, result in mortal bruises for overreaching godfathers, the most recent being the contest for the soul of Edo State between incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, another battle is crystallising in neighbouring Delta, between the incumbent governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa and Chief James Ibori, the godfather of Delta politics.
Okowa, who will be completing his second term as governor in 2023, is bent on picking his successor, but Ibori, who had maintained a firm grip on the state’s politics since 1999 when he became governor, wants to have a say. Both men have different opinions about who should be governor in 2023, a development that is already heating up the state’s polity.
Okowa is said to favour Sheriff Oborevwori, Speaker of the state house of assembly, among other aspirants within his camp, including the deputy governor, Kingsley Otuaro and former minister of state for education, Kenneth Gbagi, all of whom have claimed that the governor had endorsed them, but Ibori had since penciled down David Edevbie, his core loyalist who was his Finance Commissioner and later Principal Secretary to the late President Umaru Musa YarAdua, as Okowas successor.
Edevbie, who is next in line in the succession plan set up by Ibori, is also said to have the backing of Okowa’s predecessor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, in what is turning into an Ibori/ Uduaghan versus Okowa contest.
“Ibori wants Edevbie, same for Uduaghan,” said Mr. Richard Obaka, a political commentator, “But Okowa is backing Sheriff. He doesn’t like Edevbie because he is thought to be very extravagant. His concern is that he may mismanage the state’s resources.”
Yet, apart from the question about who becomes next governor, there are also some disagreements over who goes to the senate, particularly in Delta Central, Ibori’s Urhobo zone.
Okowa is said to be favouring Chief John Obukohwo Nani, his loyalist, former commissioner for environment and executive director at Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (DESOPADEC), while Ibori has since backed Senator Ighoyota Amori, political adviser to former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman, Uche Secondus.
Ibori’s Lash Out
Piqued by Okowa’s presumed moves to undermine him in this regard, Ibori on Saturday, fortnight ago, lashed out, warning that those plotting to undermine his influence in Delta politics; and anyone conspiring to disgrace him shall suffer shame, an apparent reference to the governor.
Ibori who issued the warning during Amori’s declaration for senate, at his Mosogar country home, Ethiope West local government area of the state, affirmed his support for Amori, while calling on the people of the district to support him.
He insisted that as a stakeholder in PDP and Urhobo nation, he should have a say on who becomes what in his senatorial district, while restating his warning that those planning to undermine him, in an attempt to disgrace him at the poll will be disgraced by God.
I am behind and I will support Senator Ighoyota Amori every step of the way, and anybody, anyone conspiring, anybody that thinks that because I am now a former governor they want to conspire to disgrace me, God will disgrace all of them,” Ibori said on the occasion.
This is my senatorial district, I am a stakeholder in this party (PDP) and I am a stakeholder in Urhobo, this is my place of birth, I am with Senator Amori all the way.
I want to assure that if you give Senator Amori your support, he will not disappoint you, I want to guarantee you that Senator Amori will perform beyond expectation because we know his capacity, we know his reach, he has contact and knows how to use it and that seat befits Amori, so let’s support him.
Please, join hands with me. Support him to go to the senate. I know that some of you from your various houses will probably be thinking, please have a rethink, I am begging of you.”
His outburst has since prompted moves by Okowa to douse tension. On Thursday, Charles Aniagwu, his close aide, the state’s commissioner for information, organised a press conference during which he claimed that it’s untrue that his principal and Chief Ibori were not in good term, insisting that their relationship was still intact.
“In the comment of Ibori last week, he commended Okowa very well for his good work and he will want Okowa to produce the best candidate that can win election,” he said.
Aniagwu went on subsequently to claim that Okowa had not endorsed any candidate for governor, but could not turn down anyone who comes to inform him of their intention to contest.
“Everybody knows that the governor has recorded a number of achievements, and it is believed and rightly so that any direction he shakes his body will have a whole lot of advantage because he has been able to add a whole lot of values to the promises he made,” he said.
“If, in that light, they believe the name of the governor is capable of giving them advantage, you can’t blame them, and we are not going to fight them for using the name of the governor because they are trying to associate themselves with what is good.
“At the end of the day, we are going to have one governorship candidate in the PDP. The governors pedigree is quite high and everybody wants to have that covering,” he said.
“If you go and meet him to say you want to run, you are being courteous. Naturally, he will not ask you to stop because it is assumed that you have accessed and you have the capacity to run.
“And if you believe that because he did not ask you to stop, that it is an endorsement, there is nothing wrong with it. What is important is that we hope and believe that all our members who are interested in positions whether the governorship or legislature, that they are able to play safely and with respect for one another.
“So the Governor hopes that anybody who is contesting will use the most sane words; have respect for one another; recognize the fact that we are one family; recognize the need for us to sustain the development trajectory in the State.
“Not too many people are carrying money and jumping up and down because they believe that the best just have to come, knowing that the enormity of succeeding Okowa is a task that would require a whole lot of strength if the person must indeed command the respect that this administration enjoys at the moment.”
Aniagwu’s choice of words betrays a reluctance to confront Ibori, but with both Okowa and the former governor seemingly determined to back their chosen candidates, a collision may be in the offing.
Yet, for Ibori and his quest to maintain his grip on the state’s politics, there are even more complications. The All Progressive Congress (APC) appear to be making a inroads into the state, even as the agitation by Ijaw and the Isoko groups may distort the equation.
Delta, like all states of the Nigerian federation, is made up of three senatorial zones: Delta North, the predominantly Igbo speaking Anioma areas; Delta Central, the Urhobo zone and Delta South, which is an admixture of Itsekiri, Ijaw, Isoko and Urhobo.
Power rotation has been key in maintaining a semblance of stability in the states politics, and Ibori who is Urhobo from the Central District had handed over to his cousin, Dr. Uduaghan, an Itsekiri from the Southern District, and upon the completion of his tenure in 2015, Uduaghan handed over Dr. Okowa from the Delta North.
Okowa will be completing his eight years in office in 2023, and in line with the rotation structure set up by Ibori, power is billed to return to the Urhobo of the Central District. And with this in mind, Ibori had penciled down Edevbie.
Apart from Edevbie, who also served as Okowas chief of staff, other Urhobo sons who are in the race within the PDP ranks are: Assembly speaker, Oborevwori, said to Okowa’s choice; immediate past commissioner for Works, James Augoye; Gbagi; former Commissioner for Justice, Peter Mr Akpor; a former commissioner, Fred Majemite; former senator and managing director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, among others.
Indeed its along this line of thought that prominent traditional rulers from Delta North led by the Asagba of Asaba, Chike Edozien, recently argued that it was only right for power to return to the Central Senatorial District in 2023.
But theres been a twist in the tale. The Ijaw, which make up a significant portion of the Southern Senatorial District, as well the Isoko who are also a significant group in the zone, are aggressively making a case for the coveted seat. Their argument being that since the Urhobo, the Itsekiri and the Anioma have had power, its only right for them to do so, too. In essence, they argue that rotation should be based on ethnic groups and not senatorial zones.
At the forefront of the Ijaw quest for power are such notable figures as Chief Edwin Clark, former federal minister and leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), and importantly, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, both of whom are prominent Ijaw nationals of the state.
Recently, Chief Clark, in response to the position of Delta North traditional rulers, insisted that zoning doesnt exist as far as he was concerned, as according to him, every governorship election since 1999 had been contested for by people from different zones.
Ijaw is not campaigning for 2023 governorship that it is the turn of Delta South, we are saying that we too want to have it, that we produce most of the oil, we will like to have it, not on the condition of senatorial zone, he said in an interview with a national daily. What Ibori did was in abuse of his office as governor of the state and he paid dearly for it.
Similarly, in a statement few months ago, Equity Group of Isoko (EGI), an Isoko pressure group urged other tribes in the state to support the Isoko bid for power in the interest of equity and fairness.
However, the Urhobo who are the single largest ethnic group, are standing their ground, with the Urhobo Progress Union, UPU, rallying support for their quest, and Ibori their son, knows he will find it difficult not to acquiesce to their demand for power.
But at the same time, the Ijaw, whose three sons: Senator James Manager, currently representing Delta South under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform; deputy governor, Kingsley Otuaro and former commissioner, Braduce Angozi, are major contenders for the governorship, will present a huge headache for the former governor.
Votes from the creeks inhabited predominantly by the Ijaw, have been instrumental to Ibori and PDPs successes in the state and Tompolo, who is the lord of the creeks, is said to be maintaining his ground that it is the turn of his kinsmen to produce the next governor.
Ibori, perhaps knowing that he is in a very tight position in this regard, last month, for the first time since he returned from London, paid a visit to Tompolo in his home town of Oporoza, Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West Council Area to negotiate with the warlord.
In Delta, as in most of the South South, the APC is making huge inroads, and will be looking to snatch up victory in the 2023 governorship election in the state, which would mean that the era of Ibori dominance is over.
In 2019, Chief Great Ogboru, an Urhobo with significant political clout, became the APC candidate for the umpteenth time — his candidacy was eventually nullified by the court which recognized Prof. Pat Utomi as the rightful candidate — but he ultimately lost to Okowa, the incumbent PDP governor who, apart from wielding power of incumbency, had Iboris backing.
Ogboru with some historical baggage could not muster up enough federal might to tip the scale in his favour, and the federal government which had allegedly negotiated Iboris return to Nigeria in the understanding that he will use his influence to ensure peace in the restive oil rich region, may not have been keen on interfering with his territory.
Ahead of 2023, however, with deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, another prominent Urhobo, as its leader in the state, the APC will be hopeful of a better outing. But the party is also facing its own contradictions, with minister of state for labour, Festus Keyamo, among other party stakeholders, at loggerheads with Omo-Agege, even as it remains unlikely that the federal government will want to significantly undermine Ibori given his strategic role in guaranteeing peace in the region.
“If the likes of Ogboru, Omo-Agege and so on can come together, they may be able to challenge Ibori,” said a prominent journalist and political analyst from the state who craved anonymity. But I don’t see that happening. Omo-Agege is not strong enough to take on Ibori, and I dont think Abuja will want to play too much because of Ibori.”
Okowa Caught in-Between
The outgoing governor, Dr. Okowa is an integral part of the Ibori political family. Indeed, his emergence as governor in 2015 was down to the fact that Ibori stood solidly behind him amid plots to deny the people of Delta North the governorship slot.
Both men had remained very close, prior to this period, but Tompolo is also an ally of the governor and he is said to be favourably disposed to an Ijaw candidate, notably the deputy governor, Mr. Otuaro, and had stirred up some controversy when he was quoted to have argued against zoning in this regard. The governor is also said to be particularly opposed to the choice of Edevbie, who is Iboris Urhobo candidate.
The above complications have led to suggestions that Okowa may be on collision course with Ibori.
Okowa is out to retire Ibori,” an insider in Delta politics who craved anonymity said. “The thing about Okowa is that he doesn’t forgive. If you offend him, he will not forgive you. I think that’s the issue with Edevbie.”