Behind Okowa, Uduaghan’s Cold War in Delta
LAGOS AUGUST 27TH (URHOBOTODAY)-The quiet war between Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, and his immediate predecessor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, appears to have gained momentum with the recent arrest of some Uduaghan’s political associates by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Okungbowa Aiwerie, examines the issues surrounding the rift.
The icy relationship between the incumbent governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and his immediate predecessor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, seems destined to endure with the arrest, last week, of some retired public servants by the anti-graft agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
A political associate to the former governor, Chief Tony Obuh, a former permanent secretary in charge of Government House during Uduaghan’s tenure and governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the build-up to last year’s governorship election in the state, was among those that were quizzed by the anti-corruption agency.
Also quizzed were Mr. Friday Aghedo, a secretary to Obuh and Mr. Benson Oburo, Obuh’s immediate successor as Permanent Secretary of Government House, who was redeployed to the Bureau of Special Duties as soon as Okowa became governor.
There has been no love lost between Okowa and his predecessor since the race for the coveted number one seat in the state began in 2015. Reliable sources said Okowa has always nursed a grudge against Uduaghan for sponsoring the likes of Obuh and the current Commissioner for Finance, Chief David Edevbie and others against him during the 2015 PDP governorship primaries.
Okowa was said to have been particularly miffed that Uduaghan compounded his lack of support for his governorship ambition with an open campaig against him at the venue of the governorship primaries. The former governor, on his part, was said to have been irked by Okowa’s public revelation of the gory details of his administration’s financial transactions, which he felt was a deliberate attempt to discredit him.
On assuming office last year, Okowa, in an address he delivered at the Delta State House of Assembly seeking a review of the 2015 budget of the state, had called to question the previous administration’s role in the rise of the state’s debt profile to more than N600 billion.
It was learnt that the ex-governor is particularly unhappy at the manner some projects, which his administration tagged five projects, are being handled. For instance, the neglect of Delta State’s tertiary health institution Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara, where expatriate staff head hunted during Uduaghan’s regime are languishing without salaries and other emoluments.
The rift between the two political gladiators may be causing disaffection in the Okowa administration as Uduaghan loyalists are said to be often shunned aside while their functions are taken over by Okowa’s loyalists. A case in point is the recent resignation threat issued by the Commissioner for Finance, Chief David Edevbie, over alleged usurpation of his duties by the Commissioner for Economic Planning, Mr Kingsley Emu.
It will be recalled that Kingsley Emu was sacked by ex-Governor Uduaghan from his government after he pledged allegiance to Governor Okowa in the run-up to the 2015 Delta State governorship election.
Although the Delta State Government had in a statement debunked insinuations to the effect that Governor Okowa was the brains behind the recent invasion of the state by EFCC operatives with Uduaghan and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly as the ultimate targets, not a few people remained unconvinced the government’s explanation.
The Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah, had said that “the publication is not only untrue and mischievous but meant to cause disaffection among peace loving Deltans.”’
He vehemently denied the insinuations that EFCC operatives invaded the state on the invitation of the Okowa government, adding that the operatives came to the state on the basis of petitions that were written against some individuals in the state and not on the invitation of the governor.
According to Ukah, “they (EFCC operatives) visited the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) to get official documents that could aid them in the course of their investigations and also invited some government officials for clarifications on certain issues.”
He attributed the publication to the handiwork of mischief makers and called on Deltans not to believe its contents.
But dependable sources told The Nation that the EFCC officials who came to the state were lodged in a hotel by a top aide of Governor Okowa. The commission’s officials, who spent two days in Asaba, were stationed in the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Ovie Agas, it was gathered.
It was learnt that some former permanent secretaries who served in the Uduaghan administration and staffers of the Ministry of Science and Technology were grilled. The Nation gathered that following the two-days grilling exercise, Obuh and two other persons were arrested by EFCC operatives and whisked away to Abuja for further questioning.
Sources who craved anonymity confided that permanent secretaries in all ministries were ordered to submit all relevant government documents to the EFCC operatives.
His words: “The SSG’S office was converted to a temporary office of the EFCC for the two days. Although all the documents were first taken to our office, the office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, by all the Permanent Secretaries, where some vital documents that could implicate the current administration were removed before the rest were sent to the centre.
“The team was actually brought in by the governor on a Tuesday and were lodged in a hotel. Currently, the targets are those who were used against the governor during the 2015 elections, especially those who contested against him during the PDP governorship primaries.”
The source added: “In the next few weeks, another set of the operatives of the commission will be visiting the state to invite and carry out more investigations on more persons seen as obstacles to the governor before, during and after the elections.
“In our ministry here, the governor has already directed our commissioner and we are collating documents and other papers to be forwarded to anti-corruption agencies to arrest and prosecute some officials of the immediate past administration. Government officials have been warned not to speak to any journalist on the issue.”
An official of the commission said that they were in the state on the invitation of the state government to investigate some persons, especially officials of the past administration as well as lawmakers.
He said: “For the past two days, we have been in town scrutinising relevant government documents both for contracts award and others in the conference room of the office of the Secretary to the State Government.
“Some officials of the former administration were invited and documents were tendered, which we scrutinized. We shall be back again. But for now, we are going to our Abuja office with the former permanent secretary, Government House, Asaba, Mr. Obuh, and two other persons.”
Not a few people are wondering why the relationship between the Okowa and Uduaghan has degenerated, especially when Uduaghan has been seen lately commissioning projects embarked upon by his successor in the run-up to the State’s 25th anniversary celebrations.
A PDP chieftain in the state, who spoke with our correspondent, said the two politicians have polarised the party in the state, adding that their recent public appearance was an attempt at “window-dressing”., The situation, he said, could be likened to the peace of the graveyard.
Observers believe the battle line might have been drawn as the two political juggernauts look to outwit each other in the run-up to the 2019 governorship election.