By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The stakes are very high in Delta State as we count down to D-Day, that is, Saturday February 25th, 2023. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is twice on the ballot, first as Vice Presidential candidate of PDP nationally and secondly as benefactor and point man to the PDP governorship candidate of PDP, Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, in the second weekend of the 2023 elections. An outright win is what PDP hopes to achieve in the general elections, what PDP faithful have called 5/5. Governor Okowa is leaving no stone unturned to fully deliver Delta to the PDP if he must be a force to be reckoned with at the national level. He must win convincingly to demonstrate to his principal that he has what it takes to be Vice President of Nigeria in terms of numbers. The party relies heavily on its political heavyweights who have been on the ground in the state since 1999. And because their careers in politics are intertwined with the success of PDP, they are likely to give their all in ensuring victory for their principal. The politics of personal survival is real!
It is expected that Delta North will back their son with a massive turnout to catapult him to the national powerhouse that is Abuja. Okowa has therefore done his homework to ensure victory. The popular candidates for the different legislative seats will serve multifarious purposes. To be sure, they will attract votes to PDP and to themselves. They would be expected to muster and galvanize their supporters to troop out on Saturday this week and ensure a PDP victory. But PDP must contend with the Peter Obi factor in Delta State as we go the polls for national politics on Saturday. It is true that across the country, Obi has stolen the hearts of many young people. However, for the people of Delta north, the principle of ‘ours is ours but mine is mine’ will carry the day. For the presidential elections, there is no doubt that Peter Obi will eat into Atiku-Okowa votes in the state, but not enough to upset the proverbial applecart.
PDP governorship candidate, Sheriff Oborevwori is from Delta Central, a candidate with strong Urhobo credentials and political capital. Specifically, he is Okpe, the biggest clan of all twenty-four Urhobo kingdoms, a people who had always clamoured for the coveted seat. Thus, the Okpe have vowed to deliver their votes 100% to PDP and give their son a powerful backing to Government House Asaba. It is an opportunity that may never return to Okpe in this generation. Indeed, the slogan is that any Okpe man/woman who doesn’t vote Sheriff is practising ‘orha’, that is, witchcraft! It is that serious!
Okowa allayed the fears of Delta Central when he marshalled the PDP machinery to stand solidly behind Sheriff, the humble and smart grassroots Speaker of Delta House of Assembly. Oborevwori connects very well with party stalwarts. He is easily accessible and carries no airs. He knows and understands politics judging from his relationship with members of the party. He also respects the intellectual power of academics and show them great respect having gone through the four walls of a university. Those who run him down on account of his association with street politics or education forget or deliberately ignore how mature and savvy he has become after piloting the affairs of the State House of Assembly for nearly seven years. Indeed, he is the longest serving Speaker in the history of Delta State. No dimwit could have achieved this feat. The courts, including the Supreme Court, have laid to rest the certificate saga, by declaring that Sheriff submitted valid documents for the primaries; so, and all hands are now on deck to deliver the votes in March 2023.
It is true that some party men and women mainly from Delta Central and South recently defected to the opposition party, the APC. This appears to be a fallout from the choice of the party’s standard bearer which has not gone down well with the Strongman of Delta politics domiciled in the serenity of Oghara. His candidate, the highly cerebral Chief David Edevbie came second in the party primaries, and while some of his erstwhile supporters have morphed into mainstream PDP politics, some others have crossed over to the APC. But defections on the eve of elections are not new in the state. Not new in the country. They are not a guarantee to election victory or defeat. We must consider the other variables that compel victory in a multi-ethnic state as Delta.
Chief Ibori’s successor as governor Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan has openly rooted and stomped for Sheriff Oborevwori, forming a formidable arrowhead for PDP in Delta South. Recently, Senator James Manager, a strong contestant in the PDP primaries came out strongly in favour of Sheriff. So, despite defections, PDP will carry Delta Central even if these will lead to a split in the votes between Ovie Omo-Agege and the PDP candidate. All PDP leaders are compelled by survival politics and party loyalty to deliver the party’s candidate. A win by the opposition would mean a vicious retirement for the next eight years. No PDP leader can afford to toy with the future of the party and its officials in the state.
Omo-Agege seems to have won the hearts of these defectors and together they hope to wrest power from PDP. This will be tough. APC has made a mess of the nation at the federal level. Even within Delta Central, there are many who view his penchant for concentrating all federal projects which he attracted to the state in and around his hometown of Orogun. The fear is that other parts of the state would have a terrible deal if we were to use this approach as a portent in an Agege victory. Furthermore, it must be noted that the split votes in Delta Central will be made up for by massive support from the north and south. So, defectors who believe that their actions would derail PDP’s chances of victory have not done their computations effectively. No one senatorial zone can on its own deliver the governorship candidate. ‘Hand must wash hand for this matter’, as our elders say!
As the campaign comes to an end, the PDP machinery must tackle all negative perceptions, misinterpretations and distortions which are circulated on social media. The level of borrowing must be articulated and justified to the public because out there, the thinking is that the state has over-borrowed, and Sheriff would further plunge the state into debts. However, Sheriff has promised to do MORE and lift the state to the next level owing to his deep involvement in all the projects of the Okowa administration. It beggars belief that some of the gladiators argue that they know Sheriff will win the governorship and that they are ready to use the courts to upturn his victory. This weak strategy cannot stand. PDP in the state will be ready for the court battle after victory at the polls as it had always done in the past.
Finally, all stakeholders have done their best. It is nearly time for the people to speak through the ballot box. It is the duty of all leaders to ensure a violence-free exercise so that the people of Delta State may continue to live in peace and harmony.
Prof. Eghagha teaches at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Lagos Nigeria