By Isioma Olisamah
Political contests, especially within the same party, should ordinarily be a friendly, family affair and, for any society that seeks advancement, the conversation around aspirants should be about their competence and capacity to lead and deliver on the collective hopes and dreams of the people.
Curiously, the conversation towards the determination of who should succeed Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as Governor of Delta State seems to be going off-key, with some leaders and groups fanning the embers of malice and disunity which can only leave Deltans with the poisoned chalice of mutual disaffection both within the PDP and across districts and ethnic groups.
Perhaps, when Governor Okowa said God will guide him to the right person to succeed him, he was misunderstood to mean he would unilaterally use his power of incumbency to jaundice the democratic process to satisfy his personal whim.
This cannot be farther from the truth and should long have been rested after he had declared at the PDP mega rally in January that the primaries will be free, fair and transparent.
Notwithstanding his assurances, enemies of the state have kept manufacturing and propagating toxic theses, not healthy for the PDP political family and for ethnic relations in Delta, and crediting same to the person of Governor Okowa.
One of such is that he intends to diminish, possibly, vanguish Chief James Ibori as a leader of the PDP and Delta politics, to enthrone himself as the ultimate godfather.
The other is that he is leading Delta North or Anioma people into political enmity with Delta Central or the Urhobos in vengeance over speculations that Ibori may not have supported him in the 2014 primaries.
Whichever one, that characterisation which suggests the spirit of malice, grudge and vindictiveness does not represent the person of the Okowa we know.
First, whichever way we look at it, no matter which persons from whichever districts or ethnic groups have entered into previous primaries from 1998 to 2006 and 2014, the fact remains that the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party has always been able to manage the process and have equitably achieved a full circle of power rotation across Delta Central, South and North.
Being members of the same political family, the aspirants have also always put the contests behind them and joined together, not only to deliver victory for the party, but also to work for and support each administration to achieve. It should not be different this time around.
Thirdly, it is well known that Ibori was the prime mover of rotation of power through Senatorial Districts. That he was not on ground to lead the charge in the 2014 primaries has given room to speculations and, understandably, there are those who swear that he indicated his support for Okowa and those who also swear that he either didn’t or did not do enough.
However, events after Ibori’s return proved that his support for Okowa has remained solid. If nothing else, after the 2019 election, the Deputy Governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, reportedly testified at a thanksgiving in church that Ibori stood shoulder to shoulder with Okowa to ward off the opposition which had intended to wrestle power from him using external forces.
It is not possible that Okowa may have been nursing grudges against Ibori over 2014 even when Ibori joined him to fight in 2019.
What would be his big gain in wanting to destroy or fall Ibori whom, as is well known, unflinchingly contributed to his political growth and they have been coming well together in good friendship and mutual respect? Certainly not the Okowa we know. It is not in his character.
On the other thesis, as an Anioma son, I feel sour grapes over suggestions that Okowa is leading Delta North and Anioma people into political enmity against the Urhobos for perceived personal angst.
It cannot be true that Anioma people have declared political war against our Urhobo brothers. It cannot be true that that is the atmosphere and legacy Okowa wants to bequeath on the state. Certainly not the Okowa we know and certainly not with the wisdom, education, exposure, civilisation and grace which God has gifted Anioma political, traditional, social and spiritual leaders, and the good relations and mutual cooperation we have shared with our Urhobo brothers through the decades.
There also cannot be any acrimony between the Urhobos and the Ijaws who have shared and maintained centuries of brotherhood. This cannot be sacrificed for any reason, not even 2023.
As the respected elder statesman, Chief E K Clark, put it, both peoples have been going about their political lobby over ethnic or district rotation admirably peacefully, democratically and without rancour.
Why then are some people stoking the embers of hate and malice into the process and seemingly suggesting that it is at the behest of Okowa? Certainly not the Okowa we know.
Let it be known that it is normal for districts, ethnic nationalities and communities to vie and make claims and counterclaims for power, appointments, creation of a state, local governments or situation of capitals, and it cannot be any reason for people to descend into mutual disaffection.
In civilised politics, even siblings of same parentage can contest against one another, belong to different political parties and support different contestants. Same way, the delegates from the various districts have voted for different persons other than those from their districts or ethnic nationalities at even the various party primaries.
Once the decision has been made, either by the authority of government or, as in politics, by delegates or the electorate, civilised people move on together.
No matter how knotty the issues may be, ordinary Deltans have embraced and take pride in our diversity and no knife can nor should be driven between us in the name of politics, for politics in itself or the claims and counter claims over power rotation do not and cannot aggregate the totality of our essence and common brotherhood.
When Ibori and Governor Emmanual Uduaghan were Governors from 1999 to 2015, there was no indication that they starved Delta North of development in favour of Delta Central or South. The situation of Warri today, perhaps, is the testimony.
Ibori is known to have related well and equally to all the districts and ethnic groups while Uduaghan’s major flagship project was the establishment of the Asaba Airport, in recognition of its status as the state capital. The emphasis could have been on Osubi Airport, but it was not.
Therefore, there is no basis for the invitation of an evil spirit to prevail in our union.
The contention, as to whether rotation of power should be by senatorial districts or by ethnic nationalities, is as ordinary and resolvable, without those abrasive theses being loaded with it.
At the national level, political parties have been careful not to over particularise the rotation of power through ethnic groups. This is because it is clearly unmanageable, especially for a country of about 200 ethnic groups, even more.
It is also known that producing a Governor or President has not necessarily led to the development of the area such a leader comes from.
In our national experience, the North has held power for the most part, but the region is known to be even economically and socially poorer, besides the incidence of insecurity which has further worsened their situation.
When it mattered, Deltans, including the Urhobos, Itsekiris, Isokos and Aniomas, unanimously rose at various times to support the presidency of our Ijaw brother, President Goodluck Jonathan, a position that is even more powerful than state governorship. Even then, there are different views about the impact of his administration on the region.
We must therefore understand that, ultimately, for any society to grow, it must ascend above the primary sentiments of ethnicity and religion to choose leaders based on competence and capacity to drive development.
Methinks Okowa understands he owes this to Deltans and to also deliver it through a process that advances rather than stunts our democratic experience. More still, in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood. That would be a most worthy legacy.
I am confident that Okowa clearly understands that it is not only dangerous, both in the present and for the future, but also spiritually diminishing of his person, office and collective essence, to do otherwise. Much worse to promote mutual acrimony into the fabrics of our being.
Therefore, those who have come to town to bamboozle the people with suggestions that Okowa intends to descend the course of tyranny and dictatorship against both aspirants, delegates and the electorate, or urging him to do so, are vain enemies of Delta.
Interestingly and very assuredly, Okowa understands the slippery nature and coarse nuisance of sycophants and hypocrites more than they are imagining they can cheer him into bequeathing acrimony upon the people he is opportune to lead.
Dance as much as they may, pretend as much as they do, Okowa surely recognises them as Fifth Columnists that they are. They however have to desist because they are fouling our air.