By Francis Ewherido
In present-day Nigeria, the most burning issue is how to restructure the country to ensure that much of the power held at the centre is either shared with the federating units or devolved to the federating units.
They say all politics is local and if so, power should also be localised to a significant extent. Consequently, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about the politics of the rotation of the governorship in Delta State, when there is a more important issue on how Nigeria should move forward. I feel this should be sorted out before the 2023 elections. But again, all politics is local and as my late brother, Sen. Akpor Pius Ewherido, always told me, you have to be a good Urhobo man to be able to be a good Deltan and Nigerian.
On the morning of December 11, 2006, my late brother told me to follow him to the Government House, Asaba. He said the then governor, Chief James Ibori, had invited him and other frontline PDP governorship aspirants to a meeting. Others at the meeting were the current deputy president of the senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; current governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa; former governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan; Chief Ighoyota Amori and the convener, Chief Ibori.
These were the only people I recall seeing either before or after the meeting. I sat in the outer room. When we got into the car, my brother told me what the meeting was all about. One, he said Ibori told them that Uduaghan was going to be the PDP governorship candidate and told the rest of them (Okowa, Omo-Agege, and Ewherido) to go to Ogwashi-Uku Stadium, the venue of the primary, and tell their supporters that they had stepped down for Uduaghan. Two, Ibori told them that Uduaghan was the new leader of PDP in Delta State. Anyway, he, Omo-Agege, and Okowa did not make any announcement stepping down at the venue of the primary.
Why am I going into history? Governor Okowa made a statement last week that there is no gentleman agreement on rotation among the three senatorial districts in Delta State. He is not correct because at that meeting, an allusion was made to such an arrangement and the rotation agreement was viciously enforced in favour of Uduaghan at Ogwashi-Uku Stadium. For me, it was a traumatic experience watching “friends,” relatives, and people my family shared a common bond with their families even before I was born, working brazenly against my brother. As I write, I can only remember how I got into the venue that day; I can’t remember how I left. I was too traumatised that day to remember anything after the primary.
I was not present at the 2015 PDP governorship primary and had no reason to, but I followed proceedings. The same Urhobo people fought to undo their own and ensured Okowa emerged as the PDP governorship candidate. In addition, Okowa also made reference to the agreement when he was campaigning in his homestead in 2015 and again mentioned it in 2019. And Okowa is denying there is a gentleman agreement? I understand some behind-the-scenes scheming. He is under pressure, so I take it as the talk of a man under immense pressure.
During Ibori’s second term, Delta South had various groups agitating for power rotation. The most prominent of these groups was G3, with prominent members like Uduaghan (Itsekiri), Chief Solomon Funkekeme (Ijaw), and Chief Solomon Ogba and Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay (Isoko), among others. These represented the three major ethnic groups in Delta South Senatorial District. So when I see people from Delta South speaking from both sides of their mouth and denying what they benefited from rotation, I shake my head.
But I am not surprised because there is no morality in politics. I expect Funkekeme, for instance, to educate his people that the power rotation he fought for was among the three senatorial districts, not the ethnic groups. Candidates from Delta South have a constitutional right to contest the 2023 governorship election if they want to. What is irritating some of us is the barefaced distortion of history and lies.
I have always been against rotation. I felt everyone should go out there and let the best emerge. But I came to reluctantly accept it when I found out many Deltans wanted it to calm frayed nerves. For the smaller ethnic groups, it was their surest way of producing a governor. But the issue of power rotation has now gone beyond PDP. It is now a Delta matter. My people of Delta Central feel it is their turn to produce the next governor of Delta State after all the senatorial districts have produced a governor.
Whatever PDP does, the Urhobos will work together to actualise their wishes. The APC is putting its house together and a united APC has the capacity to win the governorship of Delta State. That was one of the wishes of one of the founding fathers of APC in Nigeria and the arrowhead in Delta State, Senator Ewherido. The wish of the Urhobos is legitimate, just, and equitable and I am in full support. It is a herculean task, but it will be accomplished.
But Urhobos must accept the fact that since 1992, when the first governorship election was held, no one ethnic group has been allowed to produce candidates unchallenged. Other ethnic groups, especially Urhobo, have always had candidates contesting the governorship election. The next election will not be different. But unlike in the past, when there was divergence, the Urhobos are firm and united this time around that the next governor of Delta State should be an Urhobo. In actualising this, party affiliations will be secondary, just as it was for the Aniomas if a non-Urhobo springs up as governorship candidate of the APC or PDP. With Okowa’s statement, APC is a surer bet for the Urhobos for now.
Okowa is the incumbent governor and incumbents are powerful in Nigeria. He is also a veteran. Since 1992, he has won elections to become local government chairman, senator, and governor. He has also been appointed commissioner twice and secretary to the Delta State Government. But something tells me his fiercest political battles are yet ahead because if a non-Urhobo governorship candidate emerges in PDP, the political careers of Ibori, Amori and some other PDP gladiators of Urhobo extraction will be horribly dented; only redeemable if they team up with other Urhobos on another political platform to produce the governor.
The Urhobo surely need the support of other ethnic groups to produce the next governor of Delta State. Not producing the next governor is not an option for the Urhobos. Beyond political careers that will go down the hills, the pride of every Urhobo man will be gone, except those who have no pride and there are some of them, especially in government circles. But the power of Okugbe (unity) will see the Urhobos through.
On a final note, people at the helm of affairs should be fair, just, and equitable, and that is the minimum I expect from the next governor of Urhobo extraction in Delta State.
•Ewherido, an insurance executive and political analyst, wrote from Lagos