Ahead of the 2015 governorship succession war in Delta State, ethnic and clannish permutations are defining who inherits Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s throne. LEADERSHIP WEEKEND’s OSBY ISIBOR and KOLA NIYI-EKE examine the political intrigues already playing out.
Barely five months into Dr.? Emmanuel Uduaghan’s second term in office as the governor of Delta State after the disputed April 26, 2011 governorship election which brought him to power for the secondterm, politicians and ethnic nationalities in the state have started scheming to take over the mantle of leadership from him. Clearly, this signals commencement of the race to Asaba Government House in 2015.
The first shot was however fired by Dr. Uduaghan? at a public function? where he? advised the people of Anioma in Delta North to unite and put their? house in order if they must be taken seriously by Deltans in the build-up to 2015. He stressed that the? Anioma people cannot? achieve their aim? of producing the next governor of the state except they are united? and focused.
The report in one of the national dailies (not LEADERSHIP) disclosed that Governor Uduaghan had urged Anioma to eschew in-fighting and perfect their strategies to enable them produce the next governor of the state.
As simple and innocuous as this statement may sound, it has triggered corresponding reactions from other groups and ethnic nationalities. To some, it is a clear indication of where the power pendulum may swing to in 2015, while others see it as a wake-up call for other ethnic groups, particularly the Urhobos who in? the recent times are comfortable? being divided? and chasing? personal political? goals? to the detriment? of the Urhobo common interest.
A school of thought? is of the view that the governor’s? comment was an affront on the? collective sensibility of the Urhobo people who though are the major tribe in Delta State?? have been reduced by their own choice of an insignificant ethnic? group when it? comes to who becomes? governor.? Uduaghan’s election has shown that you don’t? need? Urhobo vote to become the governor of Delta State.? All you need is hold on to your vote cast in Delta North and that of Burutu and Bomadi.
Another school of thought held that Uduaghan may have chosen to pay the Urhobos back for rejecting him twice in one year. The governor, it appears, may have decided to go further to humiliate them for their? failure to realise that elections in this part of the world are not just about having a larger population, but a game of the smartest.?
Although he considered himself?? before now as an Urhobo son, having spent the better part of his early years in Urhobo land, Dr. Uduaghan was shocked and angered by the electoral rejection he experienced from this adopted zone. Deriving from this, allegations are making the round that he is planning against the power plan of Chief James Ibori, his brother and benefactor.
Sources told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that Ibori wants power to come back to Delta?? Central after Uduaghan’s tenure. This new twist, it is believed, may shape events in the build-up to 2015, if Uduaghan, against wise counse,l sticks to his gun of handing over power to Delta North with or without the collective consent of the Urhobo nation.
Feelers indicate a political sobering up in Urhobo land following the last election where prominent Urhobo sons, for personal interest, worked against the Urhobo aspiration for change. This earned much public ridicule and worse, allegedly without corresponding post-election dividends. LEADERSHIP WEEKEND gathered that many are already begging for forgiveness and are now willing to use 2015 as restitution for their sin.
If this trend continues, and with the new orientation of some of the Urhobo youths who, during the election collected as little as N500 to sell their votes, then change is afoot. So they are battle-ready to support the? quest for power to be returned to Delta Central in 2015. After this it will go to Delta North, a position Chief? Ibori had gladly embraced? and will mobilise his? support for. He may also part way with Uduaghan if he resists it.
According to a close associate of Chief? Ibori,? his? thinking of recent is to make amends with his? Urhobo? kinsmen. And since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the national level seems to have jettisoned the power rotation principle, it will be out of place to insist that it be respected in Delta? State. This, according to him, will amount to disservice to the Urhobo nation.
He? argued that if? in other states, particularly in Benue? State, the Tivs who are the dominant? ethnic group has consistently produced the governors of the state? since its creation, it would amount to an act of oppression? by minority? against the majority, which is classically against the law of natural? justice, as politics? is a game of numbers.
Reacting to the statement by the? governor to the effect? that the? people of Delta North should prepare? to take over? from him in 2015, a group? from the old Delta? Province,? comprising the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaws and Itsehkiris under the aegis of the Old Delta Province Stakeholders Forum declared that, “If the report is true, the? governor? should be prepared for a bitter? but? avoidable political confrontation in 2015.”
According to a statement signed by Mr Fegor Onokome, an engineer, Mr. Peterson V. Umuajefe and Comrade? Preye Brisibe,? “Dr. Emmanuel? Uduaghan should know that there is no arrangement or understanding for the next governor to come from Anioma. We want to believe he did not mean what was credited to him. But if he actually wants it to be so, then he should be? prepared .
“The PDP which we all belong to has no such understanding among the various constituencies. Dr. Uduaghan has no right or power to decree where the next governor will come from. If the PDP dares the might of the people, what happened in the last elections in the state would be just dress rehearsals for more heart-break to come,” the statement added. The group noted that the Old Delta Province has not recovered from the injustice of locating two state capitals in the Old Benin Province; one in Benin City and the Old Delta Province who fought for the creation of Delta State.
The group called on the people of the Old Delta Province to be vigilant and view the statement by the governor as a wake-up call.
The people of Anioma have been advised not to be jittery concerning the statement credited to the group, which warned Anioma people not to aspire to the governorship of Delta State, because according to the group, the injury inflicted on Old Delta Province by the location of the capital at Asaba remained unhealed.
The advice was given by Evangelist Simeon Ebonka, the former deputy governor of the state during the administration of Chief Felix Ibru.
According to him, the statement was “sentimental and has no political backing.” He added, “The issue of capital of the state is not a product of any individual or group of persons, but rather a divine decision from God.”
Evangelist Ebonka said the opinion of the group against Delta North did not carry the support of the true leaders in the ethnic groups they claim to represent.
“The statement that no Anioma person can be the governor of Delta State is a sentimental statement that has no political backing. The sitting of the capital of a state, although carried out by men in authority, is a decision of God. A well-known man of God who relocated from Jos to Owa due to the crisis in Jos prophesied back in 1973 that Asaba would be a capital.
The man is still alive and his prophesy came true in 1991,”he said
The former deputy governor said the proponents of what he called a divisive agenda deserved historical lesson as there were instances where people from state capitals in the country emerged governors.
“Chief Lucky Igbinedion from Benin ruled Edo State, Chief Christian Onoh, from Ngwo, Enugu was a governor in the Old Anambra State. They should not push us to war. Of course, I know their psychology. If it was not the will of God, the Itshekiris, a minority group despite their money, would not have produced the governor of the state.’’
He said after the death of Awolowo and Afred Rewane, not even the Itshekiris would have placed a bet that an Itshekiri would become a governor of Delta State.
“Delta North people are the determinants of who becomes the governor of the state. The Urhobo man became a governor because of the overwhelming support from Delta North. The only painful thing I have is the show of ignorance by some people in Delta North. The reason why some people associate with the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) is merely selfish,” he said.
He added that the recent rerun election exposed the political nakedness and incapability of the dominant ethnic group to continue to use its tricks to churn out toxic votes, adding that INEC had made rigging difficult and uncharitable.
He said the Urhobos, like every other ethnic group, cannot produce a governor without the support of other groups.
“In the rerun election, they voted for their sons because they are tribalistic, but did they win Uduaghan. In the second election, they voted for their son, but they did not win.”
He said the Itshekiris were a people who realised the need to rally round their son, adding that despite the litany of litigations against Uduaghan, he remained victorious. While claiming that the agitation for the creation of Anioma State was on course, Evangelist Ebonka said that the thinking in some quarters that the area was disunited was the handiwork of detractors. He stressed that Anioma remains the most coherent ethnic group in the state.
Anioma people occupy the Delta North senatorial district, which has nine local government areas as against eight occupied by Delta Central of the Urhobo and another eight occupied by Delta South of the Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri. By the 1997 estimate of the Federal Office of Statistics, Anioma’s population is 1,114,055 out of 3,062,676, which is the population of Delta State.
Therefore, Anioma accounts for 36.36per cent of the state’s population, which is clearly more than one-third. It is next to Uhrobo in population, which in the 1991 census was 1.12million and was estimated in 2002 by the Urhobo Historical Society to be about 1.5million
If politics is actually a game of numbers, then Anioma has the numbers to call the shots to a large extent in the politics of Delta State. And there is sufficient evidence from the voting patterns in gubernatorial elections in the state that Anioma votes have remained a major determinant of who becomes the governor of the state.
Going by the above analysis, from January 1999 to June 2004, Delta North or Anioma constituted 42.27per cent of the public service manpower of Delta State, followed by Delta Central (Urhobo) with 35.26per cent and then Delta South, Ijaw, Isoko and Itsekiri put together with 22.47per cent. If the public service staff strength or seniority level determined the political power of a senatorial district, then Delta North should be the most powerful district politically in Delta State.
Though Central and South senatorial districts boast of larger oil production than Delta North, the latter also has abundant deposit of oil, already being tapped in Kwale and yet to be explored in Ubulu-Uno, Ubulu-Uku. Ekuku-Agbor, Mbiri etc. Records also showed that the oil reserves in Ubulu-Uku and Ubulu-Uno, for example, were discovered by Shell BP Oil Company in 1958, two years after the first discovery of oil in Nigeria at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State was made.
The most significant fortune of Anioma people in the politics of Delta State since the state was created in August 1991 is that Asaba was made the state capital. But this has met stiff oppositions from indigenes of Delta South and Delta Central, who have a strong belief that the capital ought to have been Warri in Delta South or Ughelli in Delta Central.
Champions of this opposition included Professor Itse Sagay, Professor Obaro Ikime, Dr. Temi Akporhonor and many other voices from the Urhobo Historical Society. In an article entitled “Whither Delta State?” published in one of the daily newspapers, May 23, 2002, Dr. Akpornonor extended their argument by calling for “a political arrangement whereby governorship power would remain with what he termed, “the real Deltans.”
All the struggle for power shift ferociously championed by Mr Peter Nwoboshi, a lawyer, now the Delta State PDP chairman, and the efforts of the Bridge Building Committee, chaired by Dr. Newton Jibunoh, which was set up by Delta North PDP to actualise the dream of having a governor from Delta North in 2007, yielded nothing, perhaps because of the aforementioned resolution of Delta South and Delta Central. And perhaps, one other reason why the Government House in Asaba has eluded the Anoimas is the fact that an average Anioma man is diplomatic and will always follow due process. Also, the Delta North power brokers lack the political will to confront the Delta Central and Delta South over who rules the state.
Similarly, no elected governor has ever appointed a Delta northerner to the office of commissioner for finance or commissioner for education; the two ministries are apparently too powerful to be ceded to ‘powerless’ Delta North. According to Dr. Emmanuel Urhobo, member, Agbarha Warri Leaders of Thought, “Nobody can truncate the interest of the Urhobos as they speak in majority. Like the northern star, Urhobo majority is constant and has played development roles in the state. As a matter of fact, 2015 is still far and we do hope that all interest groups would support Urhobo house then.”
As things stand now, only time can tell where the cat will jump in 2015.