DELTA State is made up of five distinctive ethnic groups, namely: Urhobo, Igbo, Ijaw, Isoko and Itserkiri. I will refer to the ethnic groups as the five fingers of Delta State. Like other states of the federation, Delta is divided into three senatorial districts – Central, North and South which I have similarly opted to refer to as the triangle here.
Two out of the three senatorial districts are to a large extent ethnically homogenous. The two districts are Central District predominantly inhabited by the Urhobo ethnic group and North District mainly populated by the Igbo. Conversely, the South District made up of four ethnic groups: Ijaw, Isoko, Itserkiri and Urhobo is distinct in ethno-cultural coloration.
Since the creation of Delta State in 1991, the Urhobo have produced two democratically-elected civilian governors of the state. These are the late Olorogun Felix Ibru and Chief James Onanefe Ibori. Felix Ibru was elected governor a year after the creation of Delta State on the platform of the defunct and resurrected Social Democratic Party, SDP.
Ibru governed Delta from 1992 to 1993 during the short-lived Third Republic. Chief James Onanefe Ibori the second Urhobo from Delta Central governed the state from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In the era of the defunct Mid-West Region prior to the creation of Delta State, the Urhobo produced two unelected governors, Chiefs Samuel Jereton Mariere and David Ejoor.
The Itserkiri on their part, have produced one democratically-elected governor in the person of Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan who succeeded Chief Ibori also on the crest of the PDP. The incumbent Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who took over from Uduaghan, is an Igbo from the northern part of the state. Okowa equally won the seat on the platform of the PDP. Through Okowa’s emergence, the governorship seat completed a triangular rotation across the three senatorial districts and three out of five ethnic groups of the state. The Ijaw and the Isoko are the remaining two ethnic groups yet to produce a governor of the state.
The Gordian knot which political power brokers in the state are still sweating to untangle relates to the contour the choice of the next governor of the state should navigate in 2023. Should the choice be guided by a horizontal oscillation through the five ethnic fingers? Or in contradistinction, should a triangular rotation along senatorial district line be followed irrespective of the feelings of the Ijaw and the Isoko?
If senatorial district rotational line is followed to produce the next governor come 2023 then central would savour a treble in the occupancy of the Government House, Asaba since 1991 and a quintuple if extrapolated to the days of the defunct Mid-West Region in 1964. On the contrary, if ethnic composition is the yardstick South would be favoured with either Ijaw or Isoko occupying the governorship seat for the first time.
Perhaps, due to its linguistic, cultural and geographical closeness with the Urhobo, the Isoko have been less virulent than the Ijaw in the debate over which ethnic group or senatorial district should produce the next governor of the state. The muted perception is that the Isoko are more comfortable with the push by their Urhobo neighbours to rule the state again in 2023.
To boost Delta Central’s chances to produce Governor Okowa’s successor, prominent Urhobo strategists like Chief Ighoyota Amori who floated a pressure group styled Delta Central 2023 (DC 2023) for the actualisation of Urhobo governorship bid are doing their utmost to rekindle the ancestral bonds between Isoko and Urhobo.
They want Isoko to align with Urhobo to ward off the Ijaw challenge so that after Central’s turn, when zoning comes to the South in 2031, the Urhobo in South and Central will reciprocate by supporting them in a spirit of brotherhood. But the Ijaw view such alliances as injurious to the common political interest of the South where they and the Isoko are located.
The other ethnic group in the South, Itsekiri, for obvious reason, appears less concerned about where the governorship pendulum swings. Having produced a governor of the state in the person of Dr. Uduaghan, the group already feels a reasonable sense of belonging in the state. The seeming non-committal stance of the Isoko and Itserkiri leaves the Ijaw as the lone wolf fighting for their political relevance in the state.
And the Ijaw seems not to be taking the battle lightly as they are pulling all the strings and stops to their favour. As a relatively large ethnic group both in the country and the state, they feel they have all it takes to galvanise and preside over the affairs of the state for the first time in 2023.
Based on this scenario, if ethnicity should supersede district considerations in deciding where the next governor of the state should come from in 2023, the Ijaw would stand out as the next most deserving and favoured in the state. The other consideration anchored on triangular rotation among the three districts presupposes that a fourth Urhobo indigene would take over the governorship mantle instead.
On the ethnic plank, the Ijaw argue that having supported four past governors of Urhobo extraction in the past, namely: Chiefs Ibori, Ibru (under Delta), Mariere and Ejoor (under Mid-West) it would be most unfair to sidestep the group while Urhobo is awarded an unprecedented fifth slot in 2023.
The Ijaw also lay claim to being their territory hosting the bulk of the state’s oil mineral resources. To their leading apparatchiks like Chief Edwin K. Clark and Alaowei Broderick Bozimo both former Ministers, 2023 should logically be the payback year for them to produce the next governor of Delta State.
Already, the Ijaw have two formidable governorship contenders under the umbrella: Chief James Manager, the state’s longest serving senator and Dr. Kingsley Otuaro, the deputy governor. Both of them have intensified wide consultations and mobilisation across the state, albeit mainly underground. Neither Manager nor Otuaro is a neophyte in politics and the Ijaw’s biggest hope of clinching the coveted seat is hinged on them.
Similarly, the Urhobo who are banking on continuation of the unwritten zoning agreement along district and not ethnic line are not resting on their oars. That aside, they pride themselves as the largest ethnic group in the state. In fact, some of their leaders have warned of dire consequences for the PDP if they are taken for granted through the ceding of the governorship ticket to the Ijaw of South.
While the ding-dong continues, leading Urhobo governorship aspirants on the PDP platform such as Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, Mr. David Edevbie, Peter Mrakpor, Festus Agas, James Aguoye, Hon. Sherriff Oborevwori and others are busy oiling their political wheels for the big battle ahead.
As the chess game and permutations get more intricate and animating between the Urhobo of Central and the Ijaw of South, the sitting governor, Okowa and his North have emerged the beautiful bride and battleground. And because Okowa is widely respected across all the nine homogenous local government areas of North, he has the ace as far as which district clinches the PDP’s governorship ticket between Central and South is concerned.
Being witty and crafty, Governor Okowa has consistently shied away from owning up to his growing political influence in the state by shifting the responsibility of deciding who succeeds him to God. However, in real terms, he knows that not even his (Okowa’s) presumed political godfather, Ibori, possesses the same amount of powers he has concerning the decision of who flies the PDP governorship flag and possibly succeed him as governor in 2023. Ibori’s influence has been whittled down by a number of factors. First is the effect of time. It is now 14 years since he relinquished power as governor of the state.
Second, his conviction of financial crimes by a UK court has left him with the uncomplimentary yoke. Again, he was among the leaders of the state who didn’t demonstrate enough belief in Asaba as the capital of the state. He allegedly treated Warri as the de facto capital of the state to the neglect of Asaba, the constitutionally-recognised capital. That disposition made some people from North to distrust him.
But Ibori is generally adored by many politicians across board in the state who perceive him as a generous leader that ‘empowered’ many people during his eight-year tenure. On the surface, Ibori is the most sought after PDP godfather in the run down to the titanic race. But beneath the trapeze, the ultimate kingmaker in the state chapter is the shrewd and subterranean Okowa. The governor is a taciturn but steely man who thrives on building networks and alliances under. This makes him a more difficult political meat to chew than Ibori.
In the open, Okowa is busy preaching fairness, justice and equity with a declaration that God would point out the best direction for the state with regard to the choice of his successor. While the whole state is literarily quaking over which district or ethnic group should produce the next PDP governorship candidate, the gladiators appear to have taken it as a fait accompli that the party would triumph over the main opposition All Progressive Congress, APC, and other parties in the state in the 2023 governorship election.
The APC appears to have settled for Central as the district that would produce the party’s flag bearer. This is because all the leading contenders are Urhobo from the district. They are Chief Great Ogboru; the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo Agege and the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo.
All in all, the bare truth is that in Delta State PDP, power rotation never existed as a formal agreement hitherto, rather it was an unsigned informal arrangement designed to ensure spread and inculcate a sense of belonging among the diverse people of the state. Whether an Urhobo or an Ijaw man wins the PDP governorship nomination, the task before, Dr. Okowa, Chief Ibori, Chief E.K. Clark and other chieftains of the party in the state is to work assiduously in concert to preserve the unity and peace of the entire state.