From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Ahead of the 2023 governorship election, the storms are already gathering in the multi-ethnic and oil rich Delta State, particularly within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This stems from the battle among party members over power rotation agreement that would determine where the governorship candidate of the state would come from.
While an agreement based on senatorial district appears to favour the Urhobo ethnic group of Delta central, the Ijaw nation of Delta South are singing a different tune.
They (Ijaw) are demanding the number one seat on the ground that zoning should be based on ethnicity.
And Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s initial posture of non-alignment seemed to have galvanised the Ijaw quest for power, despite the fact that former governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of the Itsekiri ethnic stock, who handed over to Okowa in 2015, hails from Delta South like every Ijaw in Delta State.
Okowa from Delta North, as it were, is completing the triangular rotational tripod on the basis of senatorial districts which started in1999 with James Ibori from Delta central. However, at every transition year, politicians from the three zones contested the PDP primaries and the general election.
While other ethnic nationalities particularly the Isoko in Delta South and Ndokwa in Delta North are watching with keen interest, Ijaw seems to be taking the battle to the Urhobo nation of Delta Central.
As a result, PDP leaders in Delta Central came up with a lobby group called DC-23 in desperate push to persuade other senatorial districts on the need to uphold senatorial zoning over and above ethnic considerations.
The group with Ibori’s strong political ally, Ighoyota Amori as chairman, had a shaky start because of the belief in some quarters that it was intended to birth a preferred candidate of the Ibori political dynasty.
But the group’s advocacy visit to critical stakeholders including aspirants seems to be neutralising such beliefs, with some persons who initially pulled out now having a rethink.
Hence, the aspirants who have indicated their interest to govern the state with DC-23 have swollen.
They include the current Chief of Staff to Governor Okowa, Festus Ovie Agas; former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo; former state House of Assembly members, Ejaife Odebala and Efe Ofobruku; former Commissioner of Finance, Kenneth Okpara; and immediate past Chief of Staff to Okowa, David Edevwie.
Others are immediate past Commissioner for Works, James Augoye; former Auditor General of Local Government, Abel Esievo; and former Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Fred Majemite. This list however does not foreclose the emergence of a dark horse as intrigues continue to unfold.
But a frontline aspirant and former Minister of State for Education, Kenneth Gbagi, is still not listed among interested aspirants within the DC-23.
Although Gbagi had played host to the lobby group, during which he was said to have supported it financially like other aspirants, he is however seen as a more independent minded candidate unlike some of his co-contestants with attachments to political blocs projecting their interests within and outside DC-23.
Gbagi, an entrepreneur, lawyer and security expert who has been around the political scene for a long time is seen as a lone ranger in the build up to the PDP primaries, and his recent romance with DC-23 seems to have bolstered the group’s credibility.
Meanwhile, the assemblage of the ten aspirants including the real contenders and pretenders from Urhobo land has literally created a situation best described as the battle for Urhobo brothers.
Political watchers are not amused by the prospects of rowdiness that may attend the preliminary exercise, hence the lobby group, DC-23 was recently advised by the immediate past governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to trim down the number of aspirants to just one.
But how the group would streamline the array of qualified aspirants to just one that can fit the bill of a consensus candidate that would not jeopardise the chances of Delta central and the PDP family is another odious task.
For the incumbent governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, consensus building must be based on fairness, equity and justice irrespective of the zone where the candidate hails from.
But what the governor refers to equity, justice and fairness might be subjective, considering the fact that he might be interested in who would sustain his legacies and possibly not undo some of his policies.
However, Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu said his principal, the governor, is not averse to power moving to Delta central in 2023, but quickly added that in previous contests, aspirants from other zones were not shut out.
Aniagwu confirmed that power rotation was on senatorial basis, adding that those agitating for power shift on ethnic basis were not conversant with the political equation of Delta State.
According to him, “The governor is not averse to power moving to the central, but he cannot just shut the Ijaws out from expressing their interest.
“At every given time there have been people from other senatorial districts contesting.
“For instance, remember that the man that came second to Governor Okowa in 2015 was from the central. In the same way, the present governor also contested in 2007 and was second to Uduaghan.”
He explained that the DC-23 lobby group is for the entire central, adding that “they didn’t call it the Urhobo group because it’s not about an ethnic group.
“And this group has been going about pleading with other senatorial districts to allow them to have it.
“Anybody mentioning ethnic group is not clear on the political equation of the state. There are many ethnic groups in the state, so it was never an ethnic group thing.
“What we are saying, is that the PDP leaders will come together and pick a consensus from everyone that has indicated interest.”
The commissioner might have cleared the air on where his boss actually stands in the build up to 2023, another hurdle for the DC-23 is shopping for a sellable candidate that would appeal to majority of the voting populace, the governor and other leaders of the party.
A source close to the governor hinted that the incumbent is very much interested in a grassroots mobiliser whose appeal cuts across the three senatorial districts as candidate of the party in order to maintain the PDP winning streak since 1999.
Besides, the source said the governor might not be interested in projecting some persons tied to the apron strings of a particular political bloc to take over power from him.
“These are persons who at some point in time, participated in raping the state, and should not be allowed to preside over the affairs of the state again if it must continue to make the desired progress.
“To an extent, DC-23 has been able to shake off that belief that it was intended to muscle other aspirants and pave way for an anointed candidate from a certain political bloc. But we keep watching as events unfold,” the source said.
However, chairman of the group, Ighoyota Amori, has assured that the outcome of their lobby would please all stakeholders, saying that DC-23 would continue with its consultation until it achieves the desired result.
Amori said for the group to have taken its consultation to parts of the state without rancour, was a plus, and urged members to maintain the tempo.
He said with the level of consultation carried out so far, 2023 governorship victory is becoming clearer as more persons were already keying into the zoning arrangement on senatorial districts order.
The chairman advised aspirants to know that only one person among them would emerge governor of Delta State, and as such should listen to the voice of reason before the primary election.
Be that as it may, the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC) with Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, leading the pack, is waiting to take advantage of any slip by the PDP and DC-23 in managing the issues that may arise as a result of consensus building within the umbrella party.