FOR the people of Delta North Senatorial District who, all these years, have been yearning for the opportunity of producing a governor for the state, it was sweet victory when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Returning Officer for the State Governorship election, Professor Bio Nyananyo, reeled out the result of the exercise and pronounced Senator Ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner
While reeling out the figures, Nyananyo said Okowa polled 724,680 votes to beat his closest rival, Chief Great Ogboru of the Labour Party (LP), who got 130,028 votes. The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Chief O’tega Emerhor came a distant 3rd with 67,825 votes. It was a sweeping victory for Okowa who tops in the votes cast in 21 local government areas out of the 25 in the state while Ogboru clinched the remaining four LGAs.
What culminated in the joy of the Ika people today was a journey of many years, nursed with enthusiasm but with trepidation of possible failure. The second civilian Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori who hail from Delta Central Senatorial zone actually set the ball rolling when at the twilight of his administration, he expressed hopes that the people of the state will come to realize the need to allow power rotate among the zones. The first civilian governor of the state, Sir Felix Ibru is also from Delta Central. Ibori’s successor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, (Delta South) also bought into the idea and pursued it with vigor which culminated in the emergence of Senator Okowa, now as the Governor-elect of the state.
However, the struggle that led to the emergence of Okowa as the PDP candidate was both intriguing and interesting. While it was agreed that power should shift to Delta North, the power that be within the state settled for the candidature of Sir Tony Chuks Obuh who had all hopes that he would be the next governor of the state on the platform of the PDP. Obuh who had about three years to stay in the State Civil Service, with the possibility of becoming the Head of Service of the State, threw in the towel in August last year because of the encouragement he had from stakeholders in the Senatorial zone about his possibility of becoming the next governor but fate had a different thing in stock for him as political permutations turned against him at the last minute.
With discord brewing within the ranks of Delta North stakeholders who at the time saw as many as 15 of their compatriots showing serious interest in the PDP governorship ticket, while the Delta Central seem to have settled for a particular candidate, in person of Olorogun David Edevbie, the need to unite against a “common foe” became paramount.
In resolving the logjam, the Anioma Congress, the umbrella socio-cultural and political group of the Delta North people, took the initiative to wade into the lingering crisis and decided to speak with one voice on whom the zone will present as its choice candidate. Okowa had the best of chances, placed side by side with other aspirants from the zone and his people refused to commit political murder as he was picked as the favoured candidate at the end of the screening exercise conducted by the Congress. The duo of Victor Ochei and Ndudi Elumelu came second and third respectively.
Dissent, re-allignment and pan-Delta project
THE preference for the Okowa candidature by the Anioma Congress was not surprising as he was really experienced in the game having contested in 2007 for the PDP governorship ticket but narrowly losing to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan but some other aspirants from the North Senatorial zone did not easily accept their fate, preferring to go to the poll to slug it out for the PDP ticket.
The need for compromise and re-alignment was obvious and the open declaration of support of support for his candidature by one of the big guns in the Delta South Senatorial zone, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, who is popularly known as Tompolo, the game changed totally in Okowa’s favour.
Rather than be a Delta North project, Okowa agenda became a Pan Delta project with prominent stakeholders from the Delta Central joining the trail. With an agreement reached with the people of Delta South on the choice of Barrister Kingsley Otuaro, an Ijaw from Warri South, as the running mate to Okowa, preparation for PDP party primary was concluded with assurances of victory.
It is instructive to note also that while most of his colleagues one way or the other, gave to themselves Senatorial tickets as retirement benefits, Governor Uduaghan who was set to pick the Delta South Senatorial ticket, dropped it in an arrangement aimed at ensuring fairness and show unwavering commitment to the Okowa project, while pleasing those who demanded personal sacrifice from him too.
The atmosphere at the Event Centre, Asaba, the venue of the governorship primaries held on December 8, 2014, was that of apprehension among the camps of all the 26 aspirants, their supporters and the accredited delegates. Eventually, Okowa won the expected Pan Delta Votes when he had majority votes of Bomadi, Patani, and Burutu Local Governments. He also won solidly in Isoko North and South. The votes from Warri South and Warri South West also went to him.
Okowa also received about 45 per cent votes from the Delta Central, which was big enough to minimize the impact of the 185 votes that Ochei received and the 50 and 49 votes that went to Elumelu and Elder Godsday Orubebe respectively.
With the first line of battle won, the real project planning commenced and all the stakeholders within the PDP family across the state put aside their differences and worked together to ensure victory for him at the main governorship poll.
Winning more than two-third of the entire vote cast across the state irrespective of the presence of other candidates from “majority ethnic” groups is a clear indication that the jinx of unnecessary ethnic sentiment in leadership selection has gone for good in Delta state.
The jinx has eventually been broken.