By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
If the winning streak of PDP in Delta State elections from 1999 till date is summoned to predict the forthcoming general elections, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Francis Oborevwori is poised to succeed Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa as Governor of Delta State come May 2023. To those who know, for Sheriff Oborevwori, it has been a long, rough, busy, and tumultuous ride from the struggle for power as a union, ‘street’ boy to being a political heavy weight in the politics of Delta State. What else can we say about a man who became Speaker of the State House of Assembly with such a humble background?
Oborevwori has God to thank for His great benevolence and the incumbent governor for having faith in him when perhaps nobody gave him a chance. Sherrif? some have asked? As his ardent field workers would say ’The state has been Sheriffied! Poignantly, the spirit of Sheriff, the new would-be Sheriff in town has caught on. The slogan ‘Have you been Sheriffied? caught on like wildfire in the PDP camp and spread in the State. Sheriff’s humility is legendary. Social media pictures of Sheriff bending on one knee to thank Governor Okowa drew criticism from some. But it was an acknowledgement of the mobilizing role of his benefactor. No one should begrudge him for this!
For the Okpe people, easily the clan with the largest population in Urhoboland, the choice and emergence of Sheriff Oborevwori as PDP candidate was the result of many years of asking that the Okpe be given their due in political reckoning. So, early in the race, after the DC 23 announcement of the final three contestants, His Royal Majesty (Major General Mujakperuo, Orhue the 1st), the traditional ruler of Okpe people where Oborevwori is a chief, rolled out the pomp and pageantry of Okpe royalty, openly blessed and endorsed Oborevwori as a worthy representative of the Okpe people for the coveted seat of Governor of Delta State. Sheriff for Governor became a project of the Okpe people, ‘our own Sheriff’ as senior chiefs (I quote Chief Robert Onome) of the kingdom captured it.
But beyond this, Sheriff’s victory is victory for Urhobo, victory for consensus-building and victory to the State. This ought to be a model to the country- how to manage cultural and ethnic diversity, how to manage a polity with fairness, equity, and justice. Very early in the race to winning the governorship slot, there were contestations on the status of rotation; that is, was rotation of the governorship slot among the three senatorial districts a convention, a gentleman’s agreement; was it to be rotated among the ethnic group in the senatorial districts. Finally, reason prevailed and the received perception that it was the turn of the Urhobo to produce the governor won the day.
Sheriff’s victory is victory for Urhobo, victory for consensus-building and victory to the State. This ought to be a model to the country- how to manage cultural and ethnic diversity, how to manage a polity with fairness, equity, and justice.
A congratulatory message to Chief Sheriff Francis Oborevwori is in order. From the rough and tumble of street life, he has managed himself well. To be able to manage the House of Assembly for six years without any form of rebellion showed that he enjoyed the confidence of his honourable colleagues and the State governor. Early in the year, some twenty-two honourable members of House endorsed him for governor. It is only a man who is wise in the techniques of survival that can navigate the rough waters of politics at that level. Obviously, his choice is a popular one within the PDP in the State. With the number of votes which he garnered from delegates during the primaries, it is obvious that the party has made a popular choice. To be sure, money was spent on delegates. Indeed, all contestants splashed money on delegates to win them over. Naira and dollar rain fell on delegates in the days before the primaries. We have God to thank for the spirit of sportsmanship that permeated the exercise. The exercise was broadcast live on AIT for the entire world to see. True, some felt aggrieved asserting that the incumbent governor mobilized all the ground forces to support his favoured one. No one who is familiar with elections in Nigeria will fault the governor for sticking out his neck in support of his anointed one!
Now that the primaries are over, it is time to plan for the general elections. PDP is well established in Delta State, with men and women of timber and caterpillar planted in the twenty-five LGs in the State. In every unit, every ward, and every Local government, PDP has men and women who have held some position in the twenty-three-year reign of the Party in the state. The election therefore will see these stakeholders go to the trenches in a titanic battle with APC candidate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the gubernatorial chair. It will not be a fight between Oborevwori and Omo-Agege. Oborevwori will be the symbol of the PDP. It will be a fight between all the PDP bigwigs and their passionate foot soldiers in the field. Party faithful know what it means for a change of occupant of Government House would be. So, all hands must be on deck to deliver Sheriff. For the Urhobo nation head or tail, they win. Two worthy Urhobo sons will slug it out come February 2023.
This therefore is a congratulatory message to Ukodo Okpe, Right Honourable (Chief) Sheriff Francis Oborevwori, the man who has electrified the state with ‘Sheriffied’ anecdotes. This is a tribute to a man who started in the streets but did not end there. He peered into the future and decided that formal higher education was the way to go. He therefore embraced education and took first and second degrees. He took a Bachelor of Science degree from Ambrose Alli University in 2004, and a Master of Science degree from Delta State University Abraka in 2010. As for the names issue in his certificates that came up before the primaries, he dismisses it with a wave of the hand. He affirms that he attended the schools which are indicated in the certificates and that there is no inconsistency in his records. The state certainly has not heard the last of this. As opponents are getting ready for the courts, his legal team is also prepared to puncture all the arguments of inconsistency in certification and identity.
The real test of the self-acclaimed ‘Street Boy’ when he becomes governor will be in the art of governance. He plans to run an all-inclusive government which will put a crack team together on education, human capital, industrialization, and political engineering. On a personal note, I thank him openly for the role he played during my kidnap ordeal in 2012, a role which made then Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan re-appoint him Senior Security Adviser. Mandated by the State Governor and the fatherly and concerned Orodje Okpe to ensure my safe return from the den of kidnappers, Sheriff Oborevwori, working with retired Admiral Kpokpogri and other security officials, made my official residence in Asaba his home for two long weeks, counselling my wife, tracking the kidnappers till I was released after sixteen days! I remain grateful!
Knowing that he is a product of political re-engineering as crafted by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Oborevwori is likely to rise to the occasion and silence critics with the Big Dreams of an Urbane Street Boy from Osubi. Then, the people of Delta State would know that indeed there is a New Sheriff in Town! Once again, Ukodo Okpe my ‘omizu’, I say congratulations!
Professor Hope O. Eghagha (BA, Jos; MA; PhD, Lagos) MNAL
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
University of Lagos