2015: Why Urhobos should support Okowa
Following the emergence of Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa as the PDP governorship candidate in Delta State in the next gubernatorial elections, there have been disaffection by some sections of the Urhobo populace who feel – and rightly so – that an Urhobo man should have emerged the PDP flag bearer.
Their grouse is hinged on the belief that Delta North already has the capital Asaba in their stead. Therefore, it should not aspire for the number one position in the state.
According to Chief Omene, President General of the 83 year-old Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), “they have the capital and 12 positions and they still want to be governor of the state”.
“They occupy at least 12 positions that should have been evenly distributed among the three senatorial districts of Delta state,” he states.
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He listed those appointed from Delta north senatorial zone as Ambassador Joy U. Ogwu, Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations, Prof. Sylvester Monye, Special Adviser to Mr. President on Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, Mrs. Ngozi Olejme, National Social Insurance Trust Fund and (Sure-P) and Mr. Peter Idiabor, Director General of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.
Others are Prof. Epiphany Azinge ,Director General of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Dr. Cairo Ojugboh, Chairman Export Processing Zone, Calabar, Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Nigeria Communication Commission, Dr. (Mrs.) Esther Uduehi, Chairman of the Board of National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, Engr. Gabriel Amuchi, MD/CEO Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, Mrs. Mariam Ali, SA to Mr. President on Inter-Governmental Relations, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy.
But the man at the centre of the storm, Dr. Okowa seems unrelenting. Despite the obstructive levees and embankments on his path, Okowa seems to be undeterred, fighting desperately to reach out to the Urhobo people who make up the largest number of PDP membership in the state.
Notwithstanding the position and arguments of some of the Urhobo leaders of thought, there are many reasons why supporting Okowa for governor in the coming elections will benefit the Urhobos greatly.
Firstly, the Urhobos are the foundation members of the PDP in Delta state, and therefore have a greater stake in the party. The fact that one of their own is not flying the governorship flag this time around does not mean they should abandon the party they have laboured so hard to build. It is like abandoning your own home, for others to possess. The Urhobos cannot afford to make this mistake a second time. It’s their party. They must stay. Endure. And take over.
Again, Urhobos must learn to demonstrate fairness, and show that they can accommodate and tolerate others. From 1992 when Felix Ibru, an Urhobo man emerged governor, the Urhobos have held on to political power in the state like glue on wood, with the other ethnic groups supporting them sheepishly. James Ibori, another Urhobo man ruled for eight years, from 1999 till 2007. All through the years, the people of Delta North queued behind the Urhobo candidates, and gave them unflinching support. Now, why can’t the Urhobos reciprocate this gesture by supporting a candidate from Delta North? Isn’t it said that ‘one good turn deserves another’?
Thirdly, even during the battle for the soul of the state in 2007 and 2011 governorship elections between Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri man, and Chief Great Ogboru, an Urhobo man, the people of Delta North did not completely abandon the Urhobo candidate as Ogboru performed better in Oshimili and Aniocha local governments. Again, why can’t the Urhobos reciprocate this gesture by voting for a Delta North candidate?
Furthermore, the Urhobos through their umbrella body, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) have met President Goodluck Jonathan late December 2014 at Aso Rock where they discussed with the number one citizens on their grievances and the way forward. The meeting itself was very timely as the Urhobos who are ubiquitous, and normally vote in unison, can muster up to a million votes in the coming elections.
The president who is the leader of the party was able to assuage the Urhobo elders, notably Chief Omene who had been most vocal. Of course, they pledged to support him in the next election. Clearly, if the Urhobos are going to support PDP in the presidential election, it is only logical they also support their party, the PDP in the governorship and legislative elections so that their allegiance is plain and total.
Another reason why the Urhobos should rally round Okowa is the fact that the Urhobos stand to gain a lot by partnering with him, and ensuring the PDP wins the state. The Urhobos have repeatedly complained of marginalisation by the Uduaghan administration. While this is debatable, it must be known that the Great Ogboru domino effect was a major factor why Uduaghan seemingly turned his back on the Urhobos, preferring to work with a tiny fraction of Urhobos from Ibori’s Ethiope West local government who stood by him during his travails.
Now, the situation has presented itself again: Do Urhobos prefer to turn themselves into the powerful majority and vote the PDP’s Okowa or will they prefer to remain a docile, silent majority in the next dispensation by dividing their votes along opposition blocks and remaining irrelevant and inconsequential thereafter?
Again, it is a well-known fact that the Urhobos have not had it rosy since 2007 in terms of federal appointments. Many people attribute this to the chasm between Uduaghan and the Urhobo leaders many of whom were antagonistic to the governor during his election struggles and battles with Great Ogboru. Since it a common knowledge that the President would always consult with the sitting governor (especially when both are from same party) before federal appointments are given to indigenes of the state, it is not unlikely that this arrangement may have worked against the Urhobos.
That is why no Urhobo was minister in President Goodluck’s government until recently. The Urhobos may not want a repeat of this scenario. That is why they must jump into their bandwagon and ride with Okowa this 2015.
Furthermore, the ‘Equity 2015’ which the Delta North people have built their governorship aspirations on means that it is the turn of the people of the North to produce the governor. After eight years, it will now be the turn of the Urhobos from Delta Central to take the mantle again. This is fair enough. Why can’t the Urhobos rally round Okowa now so that in 2023 it will be a smooth sail for another Urhobo man to occupy the Dennis Osadebe government house in Asaba?
What is more, it is often said politics in Nigeria is about cash or the financial wherewithal to do effective political battle. Except one is dump, it is foolhardy to assume that one could raise personal funds to do the battle. Even if you are a Dangote, the bad news is that you will soon go broke. As it is, with no Urhobo man in a visible political office for a long while now, it is unlikely they will have the cash to battle against Delta North who seemingly have more people in government, and therefore more avenues to raise funds to prosecute the Delta gubernatorial elections. Therefore it is only logical that the Urhobos should retreat, retool their strategies and support Okowa so that by 2023 there will be no stopping them.
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Added to this, the Urhobo people as it is right now are fragmented and badly divided. At the last PDP primary election, Urhobo had 420 delegates. Yet Okowa won with 406 votes with another Delta North aspirant, Victor Ochie coming second with 300 votes while the Urhobo candidates had 311 votes total, comprising David Edevwie 299 votes, Omo-Agege 10 votes and Kenneth Gbagi, 2 votes. The implication of this is that one-third of the Urhobo delegates did not vote for Urhobo aspirants!
Even then, the so-called Uvwiamuge Declaration – that purportedly mandates all Urhobos to queue behind an Urhobo candidate in the next elections – now looks like it is only worth the paper it was written on based on these antecedents. There are many factions of Urhobo political movements, apart from the UPU, all trying to align to the fulcrum to get the right balance and precincts.
Therefore, there is zero margin for error. Apart from the fact that Urhobos are fielding Ogboru of the Labour Party and Chief O’tega Omerhor of the APC, it is unlikely the average Urhobo man will want to align with any of these parties, especially the APC which is unpopular in Delta State. As it is right now, the PDP will still get more than 50% of the votes in Delta Central, just like in previous elections. This is because many Urhobos will want to run away from ethnic bias and prejudice and support the candidature of Okowa, as demonstrated during the primaries.
Lastly, the candidate of the PDP, Senator Okowa is not only a bridge builder but also a fine gentleman. Ever since he emerged the PDP governorship candidate, the man has virtually turned Warri, Sapele, Ughelli and Patani into his hometown. He has been reaching out to all groups that matter – students, market women, traditional rulers, ethnic leaders, etc. He has been traversing Delta Central and Delta South, knowing fully well that 70% of the voters in Delta State are from this region of the state. He has been reaching out to the Urhobos, Itsekiris, Ijaws and Isokos. He has gone deeper to the grassroots, to the forests and creeks to meet with the people, understand their problems and partner with them so that collectively, they can take Delta State to the next level as from May 29 this year.
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