The unanimous election of the Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa as the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the governorship election signposts the crossing of the first hurdle by the governor in his bid to remain at the Government House Asaba till 2023.
However, apart from the governorship contest, slated for Saturday March 2, 2019, there appears to be one more delicate bridge for the governor to cross. And that is today’s PDP senatorial primary in Delta North Senatorial District. Even though Okowa is not a candidate in the race, it remains a make or break event for his re-election bid.
Daily Sun gathered that the Delta North senatorial district is the home ground of the governor and he is widely adored and accepted as “our own” in the area. Besides, many have rated him above average in terms of performance.
Delta North is made up of nine councils. They are: Aniocha North, Aniocha South, Ika Northeast, Ika South, Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West, Oshimili North, Oshimili South and Ukwuani. The area is also relatively homogenous, as they appear united by language and culture.
Although, sources say, it would have been taken for granted that whoever emerges as the senatorial candidate of the PDP in the district would be unconditionally accepted and pose no harm to the incumbent governor’s electoral fortunes, there are however indications that of the two front-runners for the district’s senate race, Ned Nwoko and Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, the emergence of one of them could pose “serious threat” to Okowa’s second term bid.
Nwoko, a prince of Idumuje-Ugboko kingdom in Aniocha North council, is a grassroots politician while Nwaoboshi from Ibusa in Oshimili North council, may not be described as one. The people see him largely as a “professed system political player.”
Although an international lawyer of repute, his acceptance rating in the district is unrivalled. He is a known philanthropist who mixes freely with the people throughout the district. It is expected that he would use his vast connections with the masses to attract votes not only for his own victory at the senatorial election but also the governorship and even presidential election throughout Delta North.
Nwoko’s popularity has been significantly buoyed by his heroic feat in securing the multi-billion dollar Paris Club refund which the Federal Government, states and local governments are reaping today. The fact that he overawed the powerful multinational club of creditors through intelligent, tenacious and diligent efforts as an international lawyer and arbitrator convinced many in the district that he would be a better option for the senate.
There appears to be palpable apprehension within the top echelons in Delta North that Okowa may lose electoral grip in the district through voter apathy should Nwoko, a former House of Representatives member is denied the PDP senatorial ticket.
Senator Nwaoboshi makes no pretence of his reliance on the endorsement and support of a former governor of the state, Chief James Onanefe Ibori whom he flaunts as his godfather and mentor. He boasts about being a member of the Ogidigborigbo family, the political structure founded by Ibori. He believes the system is alive and kicking in the state and would deliver him when the chips are down.
And in real terms, Nwaoboshi has benefitted from the system that had controlled and dominated the state’s political space since 1999. He started as the Delta State Secretary of PDP in 1999 and was later appointed Commissioner during the administration of the former governor, Ibori. From the State Executive Council, he moved on in 2007 to become the longest serving State Chapter Chairman of PDP. In 2015, he succeeded Governor Okowa as the senator representing Delta North district.
When Ibori was released from prison in December 2016, Nwaoboshi was among the first to rush to London and to congratulate him.
There he boasted openly that it was Ibori that facilitated his own election and that of Governor Okowa in 2015.
His claims did not go down well with many Nigerians who thought “remorse and sobriety” should have been the right attitude at the time.
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Uduaghan Defection and Ogboru Challenge
Despite the heavy blow dealt the Ibori political family with the defection of former governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC), the Nwaoboshi camp is still upbeat counting seriously on the Ibori factor and the old system.
Barring any upset, Daily Sun gathered that an Urhobo man from Delta Central Senatorial District, Chief Great Ogboru, may emerge as the governorship candidate of the APC and square up against Governor Okowa in the March 2, governorship contest.
Sources say many voters in Delta Central where Ibori hails from might out of sentiment cast their lots with Chief Great Ogboru, the most likely governorship candidate of the APC in the state.
But that, that may still leave the governor with at least the minimum 25 percent votes in the district.
It was further gathered that the mere fact that the acclaimed godfather of Nwaoboshi, Chief Ibori is also an Urhobo from the same district as the likely APC candidate, Chief Ogboru, upsets the applecart to his disadvantage in his (Nwaoboshi) home district, Delta North.
Ibori was recently quoted to have declared his “neutrality” in the upcoming governorship election hinging his reason on the fact that he is now a father figure to all.
Apart from that, many political stakeholders from Delta North appeared alienated and belittled by Nwaoboshi’s superfluous allegiance to Ibori who is from Delta Central.
Nwaoboshi’s battles with EFCC
Beyond what appears the apparent weakening of Ibori’s grip on PDP in Delta North, Daily Su gathered that Nwaoboshi’s public perception in Delta North appears poor.
He may be a longstanding actor on the state’s political stage but the allegations of corruption against him repel many from identifying with his aspiration. The fact that his name is in the controversial list of alleged looters of public funds published by the federal government appears a major taint.
Till date, he is still facing serious allegations of corrupt enrichments resulting in court cases and running battles with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Today’s contest between Nwoko and Nwaoboshi would end the first phase of the intense intra party campaigns and horse trading which have been on and mostly underground.
The processes entail intricate networking, lobbying, wooing, secret and nocturnal meetings which centre around the PDP delegates.
With Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his administration insisting that there must be a level playing field for all in the PDP primary devoid of official anointing, it is left to be seen if the governor will walk his talk.