How Okowa plans to develop Urhobo land
These are trying times for the PDP gubernatorial candidate for Delta State, Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, especially as he fights to win back the Urhobo people into the fold following his victory at the PDP primaries last December.
It will be recalled that at the last PDP primaries in Asaba, Okowa emerged victorious by pulling 406 votes, even though Urhobo had 420 delegates. Another Delta North aspirant, Victor Ochie came 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!
But the Urhobos, through their organisation, the Urhobo Progress Union, have been spitting fire, contending that an Urhobo must emerge the governor of Delta State come May 29th this year.
To actualise this aim, the UPU is invoking the “Uvwiamuge Declaration” which mandates all Urhobos to vote for only Urhobo candidates in the 2015 governorship race in Delta State.
Having promised to back President Goodluck Jonathan by delivering one million votes to him next month, the UPU wants to turn its back on the PDP during the governorship elections by supporting either the APC or Labour Party who are fielding Chiefs O’tega Omerhor and Great Ogboru respectively.
And having realised that he needs the support of the Urhobos who constitute no fewer than 48% of the population of Delta State, Senator Okowa has been reaching out to Urhobo leaders and groups to urge them to remain in their party, the PDP where they command the majority in the state.
People close to the senator say he is very agitated, and wants to do everything within his means to convince the Urhobos that his government will do everything possible to bring them back to reckoning in the state, if the Urhobos can rally round him and give him their votes.
First, Okowa will want to show how important the Urhobos are, as the largest ethnic group in the state, by giving them more positions in his government. Thus, he will not only empower the Urhobos but will cede almost half of key positions to them. For instance, he will appoint more Urhobos as Commissioners and heads of parastatals.
Again, sources close to the PDP gubernatorial candidate hinted that Okowa was not oblivious of the marginalisation of the Urhobos in the nearly eight years of the Uduaghan government, how the Urhobos were made politically and economically irrelevant in the state, and how their towns and villages were deliberately neglected.
It was understandably so because of the roles many Urhobos played in the 2007 and 2011 elections, by rallying round Great Ogboru who was an Urhobo candidate, and deserting Uduaghan, an itsekiri man. Governor Uduaghan had to get his pound of flesh by consigning the Urhobos to total political irrelevance in the state .
But Senator Okowa would not want this kind of scenario to happen again, as he has indicated that he would not jettison the Urhobos. Rather he would accord them their due space, respect and recognition.
Furthermore, sources in the Okowa camp also revealed that the governorship aspirant plans to revamp and revived the Warri Industrial park abandoned by the Uduaghan government, if he is elected governor. This project, he believed, will benefit the Urhobos as well as the Ijaws and itsekiris in equal measure.
Again, Okowa is said to have as priority the opening up of Urhobo towns and villages, and linking them up with good roads. For instance, his aides say Okowa plans to bring back the lost glory of Sapele by developing the town and making it a commercial nerve centre of the state. He also plans to link Sapele to Asaba by dualising the Sapele – Aghalokpe - Abraka road.
What is more, Okowa’s blueprint for developing Delta State will also include linking up all the towns and villages in Okpe land, and “opening up Okpe land to the Atlantic Ocean”. He also plans to build a Polytechnic in Sapele or Orerokpe while more primary and secondary schools will be built to accommodate the growing number of pupils requiring good and functional education.
It is also understood that Okowa would want to make a big difference in Warri, which is regarded as the second capital of the state. Even though he may not have need to frequent the Governor’s lodge in Warri as his predecessors, but his aides say Okowa will ensure the College of Education in Warri is transformed into a University of Education.
Apart from this, Okowa would want to cash in on the status of Warri as an Oil City by building many low-cost housing schemes in Warri and other satellite towns like Agbarho, Osubi, Effurun, Ekpan, Jeddo and Ovwian. He will also develop the state of infrastructure in these towns which many agree are in terrible state at the moment due to government neglect.
One aid say Okowa will surprise cynics and critics, especially people from the south of the state, and hints that Okowa’s case will be like that of Goodluck Jonathan who came to build the Lagos-Ibadan road that a Yoruba man, Chief Obasanjo failed to build.
That is why remodelling and completion of the BRT in Warri will be one of Okowa’s greatest priorities, as the road from Effurun to Warri is currently in a very bad and uncompleted shape and state right now.
Again, people close to the PDP gubernatorial candidate claim that if elected as governor, Okowa will also open up Udu local government which accommodates many Urhobo towns that are remotely cut off from mainstream development. Thus towns like Otokutu, Otu-Jeremi, Ekakprame, Ovwian and Aladja will receive accelerated development. He also plans to build a school of Health technology in Udu land and another in Ughelli to help address the shortage of health personnel in the state.
There is also the issue of the revival of the Delta Steel Company at Aladja which Okowa plans to take up with the federal government. His close aides say Okowa will impress it on President Goodluck Jonathan on the need to urgently revive the moribund steel company which was established by the Shagari government in the early ‘80s. They also say Okowa will seek the support of his kinsmen like the CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele and the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to get the president to accent to his clamour to revive DSC.
Furthermore, it is revealed that Okowa plans to review and upgrade the status of many traditional rulers in Urhobo land, and also seek their contributions and advice in matters that pertain to the implementation of government projects in their domains.
Meanwhile, Okowa has been consulting with leaders and traditional rulers in Urhobo land for the past one month. Analyst and political watchers say this will continue even to the eve of the elections, as Urhobo votes are very critical to Okowa.
They also say Okowa and the PDP do not have problem in Isoko land, or Ijaw land or even Itsekiri land as these areas will vote for the PDP in all the elections in the state. Their only concern is Urhobo land which has eight out of twenty-five local governments in the State, and also fielding two Urhobo candidates.
But keen political watchers are of the views that the Urhobos should douse the heat of their agitation for governorship position, and for equity sake, let Delta north hold the office this time around. After all, the Urhobos have produced two civilian governors since the state was created in 1991 in the persons of Chiefs Ibru and Ibori, while the south has produced Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. But the north has not.
They are also of the view that even though the Urhobo votes are important, there is consolation in the fact that the nine local governments in delta south and the nine in Delta north will vote for the PDP and Okowa. But since because nobody wants to take chances, it was clear Okowa does not intend to rest on his oars either. Hence he is fighting desperately to reach out to the Urhobos and make concessions to them.
Now, as it is, the Urhobos are the political brides of Delta State. In the days ahead, the Urhobos will no doubt continue to demand for more concessions. But they are also smart enough to weigh the scale so as not to lose out on both ends, as they did with Uduaghan. Therefore, they will consider rallying around Okowa in 2015 a better proposition, and waiting for the turn of Delta Central in the next dispensation, a viable persuasion.
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