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2023: Whither Delta state?

2023: Whither Delta state?
February 07
06:09 2022

BY AUSTIN OGHENEKARO ONIYOKOR

As the 2023 general election draws nearer, there has been a swirl of political activities across the length and breadth of the country, with pressure groups, political actors, and their supporters employing all manner of strategies, subterfuge, and even threats to make their voices heard and ultimately outwit one another in the game of who gets what, when and how.

Expectedly, Delta state is not left out of the frenzy and filibuster. The various political actors and interest groups have been vociferous in their campaign about whether or not the governorship ticket should be zoned and which part of the state should produce the successor to Ifeanyi Okowa as the governor of Delta state. Perhaps, the race for who occupies the Dennis Osadebe House, Asaba, as the numero uno has never been this baleful.

Without prejudice to the other political parties, the campaign has been more pronounced and even vicious within the Delta state chapter of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). And this is quite understandable being the ruling party in the state. For the main opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC), there are insinuations that the governorship ticket is for the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, to pick, especially now that he has outwitted the other group in the battle for the soul of the APC in the state.

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So, the focus of this piece will be to examine some of the views that have been canvassed by the various interest groups, political actors, and their supporters, and extrapolate on the likely outcomes based on history and known facts.

For the uninitiated, perhaps, it is necessary to state that predominantly, the Delta state is made up of the Anioma, Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri. Like other states in Nigeria, these ethnic groups have been administratively grouped into three senatorial districts, namely Delta north (the Anioma), Delta central (Urhobo), and Delta south (Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri). While Delta north senatorial district comprises nine local government areas, Delta central and Delta south have eight local governments each, to make a total of 25 local government areas.

While a school of thought within the PDP in Delta state believes that the governorship should be zoned to Delta central and subsequently produce a successor to Ifeanyi Okowa in 2023, another school of thought says there has never been a time that the governorship was zoned to any or one particular zone since 1999. While the Delta central 2023 (DC-23) has been at the forefront of the former position, the Ijaw Agenda for 2023 (DIA-G23) has been the major proponent of the latter view.

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Shown off its hue and cry, the pro-Ijaw campaign is majorly being propelled by the supporters of the lawmaker representing Delta south senatorial district at the national assembly, James Manager. In a move that political observers have termed as very audacious, they have gone a step further to urge the PDP to hand over the party’s governorship ticket to him.

Now, let us for a moment assume without conceding that there has never been zoning of positions within the PDP. However, we were all living witnesses to how Manager, an Ijaw man replaced Stella Omu, an Isoko woman, from the same Delta south senatorial district at the senate in 2003 – on the basis of the gentleman’s agreement on zoning and rotation of positions among “the three Is” in Delta south senatorial district, namely the Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri.

Suffice it to say that by 2023, James Manager would have been in the senate for five consecutive terms that will amount to 20 unbroken years! Perhaps, it is this indulgence that has emboldened him and his followers to say there has never been zoning in the PDP since 1999. It is on the basis of the same gentleman’s agreement that the former governor of Delta state, Emmanuel Uduaghan, is aspiring to take the turn of the Itsekiri to represent Delta south senatorial district at the senate in 2023 – being the only ethnic group of the tripod that makes up the senatorial district that is yet to occupy the position. For a moment, one is tempted to assume that what the proponents of “no zoning” are trying to say is that there has been no zoning of the governorship seat to any senatorial district. But wait a minute, is it possible to zone other positions and leave out the governorship?

Between 1999 and 2007, James Onanefe Ibori (from Delta central senatorial district) was the governor of the state with Benjamin Elue (from Delta north senatorial district) as the deputy governor. Between 2007 and 2015, Emmanuel Uduaghan (from Delta south senatorial district) was elected the governor with Amos Utuama (from Delta central senatorial district) as the deputy governor. Since 2015 till date, Ifeanyi Okowa (from Delta north senatorial district) has been in the saddle with Kingsley Otuaro (from Delta south senatorial district) as the deputy governor. These were not by mere happenstance. They were a result of deft political moves, strategic calculations, and clinical execution.

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The governorship position having gone round the three senatorial districts, proponents of zoning are of the view that it is in the interest of equity, justice, peace and good brotherliness, for the position to go back to Delta central senatorial district, where it began in 1999, especially since they have not had a bite at the office for almost 16 years! Afterwards, it can return to Delta south and then Delta north – in that order.

It is worthy to note that since the incumbent governor is from Delta north senatorial district, no politician from that senatorial district is aspiring for the governorship seat. This is yet another silent but eloquent pointer to the gentleman’s agreement about zoning, not just within the PDP but across the political parties.

Again, let’s for a moment concede that there was never a time that positions were zoned to any senatorial district and that aspirants from the other senatorial districts contested the primaries, as have been canvassed by the anti-zoning elements, the fact that it was the tickets that pandered to ethnic balancing and sentiments across the senatorial districts that won is another reason why zoning or a return to the gentleman’s agreement cannot be ignored.

What is more of the state’s 25 local government areas, Delta central senatorial district is essentially made up of the Urhobo who also form the highest homogenous voting population of the state. The two other senatorial districts are somewhat heterogeneous, and this is more pronounced in Delta south senatorial district, which comprises the Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri. While it is within a people’s democratic rights to agitate and canvass their positions, any politician or political party worth the name should have his eyes set on how to win election. And in doing this, no one should be blinded by selfish ambition. Rather, all the options should be weighed with a fair appreciation of likely scenarios.

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For instance, in the Delta state APC, it is said that the governorship ticket is Ovie Omo-Agege’s for the asking. He is an Urhobo man from Delta central senatorial district. If the PDP makes the mistake of giving its governorship ticket to our Ijaw brothers who are the only dissenting voice from Delta south senatorial district, then the consequences are better imagined than expressed. Omo-Agege would gladly retrace his political roots and hopefully reap from it. Recall that he was a member of the PDP and served as an executive assistant, commissioner for special duties, and secretary to the state government (SSG) at various times in the PDP-led state government.

In all, the architect of the modern and smart Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa, has a major role to play in diluting and diffusing the political tension within the PDP and the state at large, not just as governor but the leader of the state. For, as Martin Luther King, Jr, said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. Okowa has provided uncommon leadership and dexterity in the management of the affairs of the state and party, locally, regionally, and nationally – a fact recently attested to, by no less a personality than the “Ogidigborigbo,” and former governor of Delta state, James Onanefe Ibori. If ever there was a time that he needs to provide strong leadership and point the way forward, it is now. Until our cool, calm and calculated governor rises to the occasion, the question on the lips of many Deltans and political observers remains: whither Delta state come 2023?

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Oniyokor, a political analyst, writes from Oyede, Isoko-north LGA, Delta state

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Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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