By Annabel Ogheneganre
On Thursday June 16, 2022, at the Wadada Plaza, Headquarters of the Peoples Democratic in Nigeria, Presidential candidate of the party unveiled Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as running mate ahead of the 2023 general election to set the stage for a North-East/South-south Presidential joint ticket.
The announcement has been greeted with wild jubilations from supporters of the governor who have rolled out the drums in their numbers to celebrate the elevation of their hero to National limelight. For Atiku and his backers, the choice of Okowa was a reward for hardwork, calmness of spirit and resourcefulness in administrative probity. To many, Okowa deserved the exalted office and my initial reaction was to celebrate with fellow Deltans the rise and rise of a proud son of the state from the Ika nation.
However, at night when I slept over the development and ponder on the implication for Urhobo glory and how the Urhobo nation has fared under the Okowa’s administration, I felt a yawning hollow in my spirit. Exactly 10 years ago when I signed up to this column, it was meant to defend Urhobo interest and not to celebrate the fall of Urhobo giants in the face of competing interests. The opening paragraph of the very first article of the series published in June 2012 on the topic TOWARDS 2015: WHERE DOES URHOBO INTEREST STAND? is as follows:
‘’It is in the air. The music of 2015 and what that year gubernatorial polls portend is everywhere. Close watchers of political developments understand the imperativeness of early preparation. 2015 is far away yet so close. The drum beats are deafening. The water is still warm, not hot yet but in no time it will boil to consume the unprepared.
Alignments and re-alignment of forces are on-going. Stakeholders are building structures that could help promote their interests. Delta South seems to have conceded to the other two districts while the North Senatorial district is claiming to be the next on the queue to take a shot at government. Expectedly, Delta north appears to be more aggressive in their claim to produce the next governor. In all these, where does Urhobo stand?
Where does Urhobo interest lies?’’
That was exactly 10 years ago. Today, I ask the same question again, where does Urhobo interest stand? How has Urhobo fared under Okowa? Have we gotten our due as the largest ethnic bloc in the state? What does Okowa’s Vice Presidency portend for Urhobo wellbeing?
As things stand, Chief James Onanefe Ibori has been thoroughly humiliated and politically decapitated. It takes an irresponsible child not to feel shame when his father is stripped naked in the market square. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has reduced the Odidigborigbo to nothing because, beyond the pictures being flaunted in the media of a cordial relationship between the duo, we know that all is not well between both men. For the choice of governor of Delta State, ‘’Okowa fall Ibori hand’’ and when everybody thought he would get his pound of flesh in the choice of vice presidential candidate for Atiku Abubakar, his old time friend disappointed him again by prevailing on Ibori to swallow the bitter pill of accepting Okowa as Vice Presidential flag-bearer.
That Governor Okowa is a serial betrayal and selfish political schemer is no longer in doubt. He hosted the Southern Nigeria governors’ meeting which birthed the Asaba Declaration to the intent that power must shift to the south and that a sitting governor should be supported to victory in 2023. Governor Wike of the PDP and Governor Fayemi of the APC plus other southern governors took the bulls by the horns but when it mattered most, Okowa betrayed Wike for Atiku negotiating under the cover of darkness the vice presidential flag-bearer of the party behind Wike’s back. Now Atiku has decided to reward Okowa with the VP ticket even when the 19 man committee set up by the National Working Committee of the PDP had recommended Nyesom Wike. Atiku insisted on Okowa which resulted in the second committee allegedly for screening of the Vice Presidential hopeful. All that is now history and the three largest states in Nigeria including Lagos, Kano and Rivers states cannot be guaranteed for PDP any longer. Wike may let go but his supporters are going to get their pound of flesh in February 2023.
Under Okowa’s administration, three Universities were established in Delta State, none came to Urhoboland.
In Okowa’s DESOPADEC, the Chairman of the Commission and Managing Director are from Delta South. All the millionaires made under Okowa are either from his Ika nation or Delta South. He thoroughly took our own Ibori to the cleaner and Chief Ighoyota Amori is dancing ‘Awilo’ that he is the senatorial candidate of the party. Where are the major projects of the Okowa’s administration located? With his puppet, Sheriff Oborevwori as governor in 2023 and himself as Vice President, none of the evil perpetuated against Urhobo can be undone because, a phone call from Abuja can simply keep the occupier of Denis Osadebey House in check.
Those who believe Urhobo is at ease under Okowa may continue to delude themselves until the scale falls off their eyes, perhaps in the grave. But I will continue to insist that Okowa is a bad omen to Urhobo nation. And if Okowa is discerning enough, he will understand that his popularity has dwindled over the years. When the results of the selection committee hit the media, the airwave was wild with jubilation over the choice of Wike. But since Thursday when Okowa was unveiled by Atiku, there has been a seeming cold reaction from the masses with only the elites who are benefiting from Okowa’s administration celebrating. These angry people who felt disappointed that Okowa is PDP choice are the people whose votes PDP hopes to harvest next year.
Okowa may not be a bad man but his brand of politics suggests some cold, brutal and wicked tendencies toward seeming adversaries. And Urhobo has been on the receiving end of his cold, brutal political strategies towards decimating the cerebral elements in the land in favour of certified thugs and gangsters.
But for Bola Tinubu’s health status, I do not see an Atiku Abubakar/Okowa candidacy standing any chance in 2023. PDP broke the rotation arrangement by ceding their presidential ticket to the north in the vain hope that the north will always stand by their own. But interests may change all that in 2023.
Those governors who delivered Tinubu will not mind sacrificing the primordial northern interest for party interest and that could be Atiku’s undoing. Just as Okowa sacrificed Southern Nigeria’s interest for primitive party interest, the North may not mind voting Tinubu in line with the interest of the APC which is predominantly a northern party. Wike may be garrulously abrasive but his forthrightness and political voltage is far higher than that of Okowa. Okowa has betrayed the Asaba Declaration and the south may not be able to unite behind him. In all, Tinubu’s chances are still brighter.
In the face of the prevailing situation, this writer will not celebrate this milestone because it portends grave consequences for Urhobo honour. Those benefitting from the status quo may rejoice. Let them continue to celebrate the fall of Ibori.
If I were Ibori, this is the time for me to move on to either align with the APC at the National level or completely quit politics. His old time friend, Atiku has found new love in Okowa, who has not overtly demonstrated loyalty. Urhobo is hemorrhaging politically and there is little Ibori can do to halt the ugly scenario. But for the likes of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who now stand in the gap to look Okowa eye ball to eye ball in defense of Urhobo honour, Okowa would walk away with all the scheming against Urhobo interests. Atiku has made his choice, the masses will make their choice in 2023. Let us look beyond political parties in the politics of 2023. No political party is good, or evil. Individuals drive the system and the time for Urhobo to open their eyes and take tough decisions have come.
Annabel Ogheneganre writes from Garki, Abuja. (firstname.lastname@example.org)