*As Struggle to Galvanize Support for Anointed Candidates Hot Up
By Tony Iyare
With the overwhelming victory of Sheriff Oborevwori, loyalist of the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa at the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary and the emergence of Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo Agege, a protege of acclaimed power broker and former Governor, James Ibori, in the All Progressive Congress (APC) primary, the stage appears set for a fierce battle between Okowa and his predecessor for the soul of the oil rich state.
Oborevwori, also Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, polled 583 votes to emerge as the candidate of the PDP in the 2023 general election. The primary election, which was held at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, the state capital, saw eight hundred and twenty-five (825) delegates accredited to vote. David Edevbie, a former Commissioner for Finance under Ibori, his immediate successor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan and Okowa, scored 113 votes to come second while Senator James Manager polled 83 votes. Similarly, Omo Agege, who was the sole contestant, was returned as the APC flag bearer, with a whooping 1,190 votes according to the party’s returning officer, Oyibo Nwaneri.
Ibori, who obviously had his cards in two baskets, must be sulking after losing out in the feverish battle to swing victory for Edevbie, who was perceived as the crown prince. A three times Finance Commissioner, from 1999-2003, 2003-2005 and 2015-2019, Edevbie, a well groomed technocrat with a stint at the Commonwealth Development Commission (CDC), was also chief of staff to Okowa between 2019-2021. He was the director, Finance and Administration of the Yar’Adua Campaign Organization in 2006 and 2007 and later became Principal Secretary to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The two Delta big players, Okowa and Ibori, have been apparently locked in a struggle for primacy and pre-eminence as they pitched tents with their anointed aspirants in the PDP at different levels of the primaries. The stakes now tilt in favour of Okowa who exploited both his leverage on party machinery and state funds to clinch victory for many of his close allies.
Smarting from the massive gains in the PDP primaries where many of his loyalists including his daughter, Marilyn coasted home with the big apple, Okowa is likely to dig in to ensure he finally replaces Ibori as the biggest masquerade in Delta politics.
But this may just be a momentary victory as Ibori, who has clinically enthroned his successors including Okowa, since leaving office in 2007, is not likely to eat the humble pie. He may reach for his forces beyond the PDP to check this seeming affront. Aligning with APC Candidate, Omo Agege, whom he has virtually nurtured politically could be his armour to inflict defeat on Okowa’s ego.
From his appointment as the arrowhead of the structure that worked for the victory of former President, Umar Musa Yar’dua to his ascension as secretary to government and his current position of Senator representing Delta Central Zone, Omo Agege has Ibori to thank. He was also Ibori’s first choice as successor until the agitation for power shift led the mantle to Uduaghan who was secretary to government. Omo Agege has also further fortified himself by gravitating to the cabal controlling power at Aso Rock. The combined forces of Ibori who’s brooding to cut Okowa to size and Omo Agege may be too hot to handle.
In pushing hard with his victory train, Okowa’s permutations will be to leave Delta Central l, now up for grabs for Omo Agege and Oborevwori, who are both Urhobo, while consolidating his firm grip of Delta North and leverage in Delta South. This may be a smart move. Delta North Senatorial District covers 9 local governments namely Aniocha North, Aniocha South, Ika North East, Ika South, Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West, Oshimili South, Oshimili North and Ukwuani.
Delta South Senatorial District consists of 8 local governments comprising Bomadi, Burutu, Isoko North, Isoko South, Patani, Warri North, Warri South and Warri South West while Delta Central Senatorial District also has 8 local governments which include Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Sapele, Okpe, Ughelli North, Ughelli South, Udu and Uvwie. Mathematically, Okowa could have 17 LGAs in his kitty to guarantee victory for Oborevwori.
Besides, Delta like the other South South states, where the PDP has held power since 1999, doesn’t seem to want to shake off the party. This presents some big hurdle for Omo Agege to snatch victory. It doesn’t look like some cake walk. Ibori, who will perceive this as a battle for his political survival will put everything to fight back. With his vanguard role in the battle for resource control which reverberated in the creeks and won the support of the people in the Niger Delta, Ibori, whose later travails was more on account of this than the graft charges on which he was convicted in the UK, may reach out to the militant groups for support.
Whoever eventually wins the aces between Okowa and Ibori may also not need to dance himself lame. The matrix of power play in the country have seen kingmakers being virtually dislodged by their favoured successors leaving them prostrate. From the struggle between Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi, who was nudged by his erstwhile boss and former Zamfara State Governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima to Abdullahi Ganduje, who succeeded Ibrahim Kwankwaso as Kano State Governor to the struggle for the control of Edo State between former Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his anointed successor, Godwin Obaseki, the story between godfathers and their godsons has not been palatable. It would be intriguing if Okowa is not expecting his dose of the bile.
With his term drawing to a close in May 2023, Okowa may not put a bet that all that kneeling and genuflecting by Oborevwori during the thanksgiving to mark his victory will not change once his godson takes over the mantle as Governor. Even Omo Agege who owes his rise in politics to Ibori is already oiling his arsenals and nursing the dream of calling the shots and not playing second fiddle to anyone in Delta politics.
It may be why Okowa, Ibori and Uduaghan are enmeshed in propping up their wards in their desire to remain relevant in the affairs of the state. Okowa’s daughter, Marilyn Okowa-Daramola, clinched Ika North East ticket while Ibori’s daughter, Ms Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu, dusted Ben Igbakpa, who was staging a come back to represent Ethiope West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. It was however not smooth sail for Uduaghan’s daughter, Orode as she lost Warri North ticket to Fred Martins. But the unsavory dethroning of foremost Kwara State kingmaker, Abubakar Saraki by his son, Bukola Saraki, a former Senate President is a pointer that this option is also not full prove.