By Irikefe Umukoro
Since 1999, Delta state politics has been dominated by two men: a former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori and the People’s General, Olorogun Great Ogboru. Ibori ruled Delta state from 1999 to 2007 and successfully handed over power to his chosen successor and cousin, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan who in turn ruled for 8 years and handed over power, against his wish, to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who was again the choice of Ibori.
Conversely, Ogboru, the popular opposition politician in Delta who contested and lost in five consecutive elections is still in search of an opportunity to govern Delta. He lost to Ibori in 2003, thrice to Uduaghan in 2007, 2010, 2011 and to Okowa in 2015. It is widely believed by his followers that he lost all five elections to PDP rigging machinery. While this could be acceptable, except perhaps in 2015, the facts and the realities on ground shows a scoreline of 5-0 in favour of Ibori in the tie for the political control of Delta state. The scoreline is bad, not only for Ogboru but also for Delta opposition which has failed to get its act together at every opportunity
Meanwhile, March 2, 2019 provides Ogboru a unique and historical opportunity. It is a chance for him to shape a better future for Delta. A chance to correct the mistakes of the past and end the losing stream against Ibori. And whether he is able to finally put to end the reign of Ibori’s infamous political family and change the trajectory of Delta politics will depend on what Ogboru decides to do in 2019. To run or not to run.
Since returning home from London where he served jail term for money laundry on Feb. 4, Ibori has made clear he wants to play active role in the politics of Delta state and keep the state under his firm control. And buoyed by the rousing welcome he received across the state since his return, Ibori has thrown down the gauntlet to challenge anyone for a fight for the soul of Delta State in 2019.
Without federal might on his side, Ibori is vulnerable in 2019. And with Ogboru now in the All Progressives Congress (APC), the national ruling party, there is no better chance for Ogboru to secure his first electoral victory at the polls. But the path ahead, is narrow and filled with crushing obstacles. Standing between Ogboru and Government House Asaba is power rotation which Ibori introduced to Delta politics in 2007.
Power rotation gives Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, whom Ibori has endorsed for second term, huge electoral advantage in a race against Ogboru. And Ibori would rely on it to carry Okowa over the finish line ahead of Ogboru. He divulged this when at every opportunity he has to address the Urhobo people of Delta Central who are the power base of Ogboru, he enjoined them to build alliances with other ethnic groups by supporting others for the governorship, so that others will support Urhobo when it will be their turn. In otherwords, Urhobo should wait until 2023.
This reaffirmed what he’d said last year during the 25th anniversary of Delta state. “We held tenaciously to the PDP mantra of equity and justice. And this gave birth to the principle of power rotation. The result is that for the first time in Nigeria’s history, a minority ethnic group, the Itsekiri, produced the governor of the state.” he said last year.
He added, ominously, “In 2007 the baton of leadership went to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri from Delta South Senatorial District and from him to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, an Owa man from Delta North.”
By touting power rotation, Ibori is signalling to everyone that the next campaign will not be fought on Okowa’s record and policy issues but on the sentimental issue of identity politics and power rotation. Ibori may be right.
The Delta public overwhelmingly recognises the need for power rotation among the three senatorial districts to achieve stability of the polity. This sentiment which could also play out in APC primary should be of deep concern to Ogboru and his allies. In the face of this clear evidence, it would be a costly mistake to ignore the clamour for Delta North to complete it’s two terms. APC would be doomed to failure in 2019 if they ignore the principle of zoning and power rotation as practised by PDP in the state. Under these circumstances, an Urhobo candidate won’t fly in 2019. Ibori knows this and he is banking on progressives to make the mistake of presenting a candidate that is not from Delta North.
Now more than ever before, Deltans expect Ogboru to do all that is necessary to turn the page on the failed politics and policies of the Ibori political family. That is why Ogboru needs to do things differently and take steps to define a forward-looking plan to regain the political initiative and halt the political gravity that is now operational around him.
Ibori can be upstaged by Ogboru, but only if Ogboru finally realize the potential he has thrown away so far, and become a Delta Tinubu, who led a delegation to then General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) to ask him to contest and later put aside his personal ambition to be Vice President and delivered his South West base to a fellow progressive, Buhari in the 2015 presidential election. It’s not out of character for a general to beat a retreat and recalibrate rather than suffer a humiliating disaster at the hands of his enemies.
Should Ogboru run and lose again to Ibori’s candidate, Ogboru would be in political jeopardy, marooned in an Island of political irrelevance. It is hoped that Ogboru take the opportunity of 2019 to forge a more robust alliance across the three Senatorial Districts and reestablish himself as the true leader of Delta progressives. And it is only by going north in search of a true progressive can he outsmart Ibori in 2019 and open a new chapter in Delta politics.
As Ogboru ponders over what to do in 2019, he should keep in mind that he stands on the threshold of a significant moment- a must win moment for himself and all progressives. There is no room for error. If progressives fail in 2019 because of his candidacy or the candidacy of anyone else from Urhobo, it’s hard to see how a progressive can win in 2023 when it will be the turn of Delta Central.
A political analyst,
Wrote from Ughelli, Delta State.
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