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Published On: Tue, Apr 12th, 2022

2023: Zoning Threatened As 10 Delta PDP Governorship Aspirants Jostle For Ticket

LAGOS APRIL 12TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Gradually and steadily, the Delta State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is witnessing intrigues with many aspirants joining the fray in its governorship race. Some who, were not in reckoning at the onset are now fully on board.

While it has been a long time ambition for a few, having contested the party’s primary elections in the past, it is a first shot for some, who appear to have been thrown up by circumstances.

And while some are being backed by godfathers and endorsed by individuals and groups, others are going solo, believing that the backing will come in due time. Right now, names dropping have become part of the campaigns.

AS at now, contenders include Deputy Governor, Kingsley Otuaro; former commissioner and ex-chief of staff to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, David Edevbie; former Minister of State for Education, Kenneth Gbagi; Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori; James Manager, Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, James Augoye, Braduce Angozi, Peter Mrakpor, Ejaife Odebala, Fred Majemite, Bright Edejeghwro and others.

Virtually all the aspirants have either served under the present administration, are friends to the governor or had one thing to do with him in the past. As a result, it is not unusual to hear reports of one or any of them claiming to have been endorsed by the governor to succeed him, thereby making it difficult to confirm, who is actually Okowa’s anointed, if there is any. Their billboards adorn major roads of Asaba, Warri and Ughelli, other towns and highways.

But the race appears to be narrowing, with some aspirants accepting their fate and looking elsewhere, while others are trudging on. One of such is Manager, a five-term Senator representing Delta South in the National Assembly, who is said to be doing underground work and consultation of party chieftains across various tribes and senatorial districts.

Few weeks ago, Otuaro formally inaugurated his campaign office in Asaba and has continued to market himself across the state. Like Manager, he is Ijaw and both are from the same senatorial district.

Edevbie, a Commissioner for Finance under the Chief James Ibori administration, one-time private secretary to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and former chief of staff to Okowa, remains upbeat about picking the party’s ticket, especially having come second behind Okowa in the 2014 primary and with the backing of his godfather.

Ibori is his main backer and sponsor and he is one of the leading aspirants from Urhobo and Delta Central, even by the reckoning of the DC-23, a pressure group from the area, led by former senator, Chief Ighoyota Amori, which is rooting for a candidate from the district in the spirit of a zoning arrangement understanding.

Ibori is unapologetic about his support for Edevbie’s ambition and Amori’s plan to return to the Senate, from where he was displaced by Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, and has insisted on Edevbie at every fora, including stakeholders meetings at the Government House, Asaba.

Indeed, the former governor, at Amori’s formal declaration of intent to return to the Senate in Mosogar, Ethiope West Council, said that some politicians were trying to undermine his clout in the state and warned that those bent on “humiliating him would be shamed by God.”

He said: “I am behind and I will support 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 will fail.

“This is not issue of money, all mothers should call their children to order; this is my senatorial district, I am a stakeholder in this party and in Urhobo. This is my place of birth.”

Gbagi is versed in the politics of the state and its political dynamics, having contested for governorship primaries before. In fact, he knows how the primaries are contested and won and had started his consultations very early, even when some of the aspirants were still unsure or undecided.

The security expert is likely to go the whole hog. And like others, he believes he has the ears and backing of the governor.
Oborevwori seems to be gaining momentum, but whether this would translate to delegates’ votes remains to be seen.

Right from last year’s PDP mega rally in Asaba, it was obvious with his showing that the two-term and longest-serving Speaker of the state Assembly is not a pushover. At that rally, his supporters almost subsumed those of the other aspirants. Indeed, he stole the day and seems to be carrying on from there as one of the frontrunners.

It was gathered that he has the full support of members of the Assembly, who are reported to be mobilising for him at grassroots. His level and success of mobilisation is really a source of concern to his opponents, many of who are wondering whether the governor is backing him.

But the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, insisted that the governor has not anointed any of the aspirants and that they may have misunderstood him during their consultation about their ambitions.

Aniagwu decried the rumours of endorsement, saying the aspirants might simply be latching on Okowa’s achievements, noting: “The governor will not be interested in asking anybody to step down, because he is a democrat. But his achievements and pedigree will speak very loud.”

At the party’s mega rally last year, Okowa promised all aspirants a level-playing field, assuring that there would be free, fair and transparent primary election in choosing the party’s governorship candidate and called on aspirants to control their followers.

Ibori, in his address called for open environment for all aspirants to pursue their political ambitions without hindrance and commended Okowa for ensuring a level-playing field for all the aspirants.

Already, many of the aspirants were said to have collected expression of interest forms, a first step to participate in the primary.

Zoning still thorny issue
WITH the ethnic groups and senatorial districts still divided on the issue of zoning of the governorship, the race is likely to be open and crowded, as it was in the past.

In 2014, many aspirants from Delta North and Delta Central contested the primary election, except Delta South, where the outgoing governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, hails, even though it was perceived and agreed, but unwritten, that it should be the turn of Delta North for the sake of equity, Delta Central having taken its turn for eight years in Ibori.

Then, Delta Central and proponents of the zoning arrangement were unable to prevail on their sons, including Edevbie, to wait till 2023 to actualise their ambitions.

President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, insisted in a recent interview with The Guardian that rotation of the position should be on ethnic, rather than senatorial basis, adding: “As matter of fact, the people who are clamouring for this zoning thing have never respected it for once.

“There was no time that Delta Central did not bring somebody to contest the primaries, even when there was an understanding on zoning. So, why are they shouting?

“The Delta Central people, the Urhobo, have never respected zoning and even if you give it to them now, in the next dispensation, they will still contest in their numbers.”

Okaba, however, stated that the most important thing is understanding and good governance, saying the moment a good, equitable and fair leadership emerges, nobody would care where the leader comes from.

He does not see this thorny issue being resolved before the next governorship primaries; hence he foresees over 10 aspirants going into the primary.

Rumours of endorsement 
LATELY, some aspirants have employed attack dogs and praise-singers to further their ambition, just as some aspirants are waiting for official endorsement from the governor, which might turn out a long and futile wait.

Unlike Ibori, who seems bent on Edevbie, Okowa is keeping his anointed, if any, to his chest and might not engage in open endorsement of any aspirant. But as a grassroots politician, he is not likely to be aloof on the matter, even though he will not repeat Uduaghan’s 2014 mistakes, when his anointed aspirant, the late Tony Obuh, a retired permanent secretary, could not fly and was indeed shot down before take-off.

As a ‘father’ and friend to all the aspirants, being the governor, who has some gratitude to settle Okowa might as well stick to his promise to allow all of them to test their popularity and acceptability in the field and ensure a level-playing ground at the primary election or at least a resemblance of it.

It is not surprising that a good number of the aspirants, in addition to their grassroots mobilisation, consultations and visits to stakeholders have been attending political events, especially those involving the party, with the governor in furtherance of their ambitions.

The fireworks may have started with the reported resignation of at least seven commissioners from the state executive council, who are statutory delegates to the party’s primaries and convention and aspirants to the different positions in next year’s elections.

This followed Okowa’s recent directive that all cabinet members who have political ambition should resign their appointments, in line with Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022, which stipulates that political appointees must resign their appointments before participating in the 2023 general elections, either as delegates or elective office seekers.

Also said to have resigned was the governor’s chief of staff, Mr. Festus Agas. But he has denied the report, saying he was yet to resign, even though multiple sources insisted that he had turned in his papers, being a statutory delegate to the party’s forthcoming convention.

Agas had been rumoured in the past to be interested in the governorship election on PDP’s platform.The commissioners that resigned were Evelyn Oboro, Basil Ganagana, Christian Onogba, Julius Egbedi, Ovie Oghoore, Jonathan Ukodhiko and Chika Ossai. In all, the picture will be clearer in the coming weeks as the party’s primary draw closer.

Guardian Nigeria

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