The picture of what is to come in the Delta State governorship election in 2023 is gradually becoming clearer as the general election year approaches.
First, it appears that the thorny issue of where the next governor should come from has become a foregone conclusion.
When Governor Ifeanyi Okowa stated on May 18, 2021 that there was no formal agreement on rotating the governorship among the three senatorial districts – Delta Central, Delta North, and Delta South – even though there was an informal arrangement, many politicians and non-politicians, particularly from Delta Central, saw him as a betrayer, having benefited from the arrangement.
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“There was no formal meeting where a gentleman’s agreement was reached, and that is the truth as of today,” Okowa said at a press conference in Asaba on May 19, this year. It implies that whatever we are doing or discussing today is about what is fair, equitable, and just.”
On his potential successor, he stated, “I cannot pretend to be God, because I am not, I don’t know who God will bring, and I have no intention of playing the role of God.”
Some may have forgotten or wished away the fact that during the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary ahead of the 2015 general elections, which Okowa from Delta North won, aspirants from other senatorial districts also contested. In fact, his closest rival was Delta Central’s Olorogun David Edevbie, whom he later appointed as his chief of staff upon taking office as governor.
It is documented that he narrowly defeated Edevbie for the ticket, despite the understanding at the time that the ticket should go to Delta North.
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Recent events, however, appear to have put all of that to rest, as the governor’s political protagonists have now accepted the truth – that the rotational arrangement was informal and based on political understanding rather than law or written rules. As a result, the governor must have been justified.
That is resolved; the next question is whether a new rotational arrangement should be based on senatorial district or ethnicity. Since 1999, the governorship has rotated among the three districts, with Chief James Ibori (Urhobo/Delta Central, 1999-2007), Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan (Itsekiri/Delta South, 2007-2015), and Okowa (Anioma/Delta North, 2015 to date).
The Urhobo live in Delta Central, while the Anioma, also known as Igbo-speaking people, live in Delta North, and the Ijaw, Itsekiri, and Isoko live in Delta South.
Rotation is based on senatorial districts
It was suggested that if rotation is based on senatorial districts rather than ethnic groups, it will be easier to manage and more equitable, potentially depriving minority groups of the opportunity to produce a governor.
Most observers and aspirants/campaign groups, including the Senator Ighoyota Amori-led Delta Central for 2023 (DC-23), appear to be accepting Okowa’s position on the matter as they campaign for a governor of Urhobo extraction/from Delta Central in 2023.
Okowa dissolved the state executive council on May 18, this year, ostensibly to ease out and allow those with governorship ambitions, who were already, overtly or covertly, oiling their consultations from within the cabinet, to follow their dreams and avoid further distractions.
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Since the dissolution, little has been heard of some of the former cabinet members who harbored governorship ambitions, though a few have expanded their political reach underground.
Now that it appears clear who will be governor in 2023, politicians of Urhobo descent in Delta Central with such ambition have been emboldened to step up consultations and reach out to other districts directly or through proxy.
As in the past, aspirants from other districts are not barred. Delta North politicians have expressed an interest as well.
Among those vying for Olorogun’s position is former Minister of State for Education Kenneth Gbagi, who is the only politician who has publicly declared his desire to succeed Okowa. He’s no stranger to racing. He had been lubricating his campaign machinery for quite some time, even before the coast was clear.
The Oginibo-born criminologist reaffirmed his desire to govern Delta State in 2019, shortly after the governor was re-elected for a second term.
The governor’s presence, as well as the caliber of politicians who attended his wife, Justice Sybil Gbagi’s, thanksgiving service following her recent elevation to the Court of Appeal, was interpreted by Gbagi’s supporters as an endorsement of his ambition and popularity.
Edevbie, who is still a member of the PDP, has returned to the race he lost over six years ago, armed with a wealth of experience. Though he has yet to formally declare his ambition, he is known to have begun working underground; thus, it was not surprising that Okowa disengaged him to allow him to pursue his ambition.
The former Finance Commissioner under Ibori is openly known to have his master’s support above other Urhobo aspirants and will soon publicly declare his vision. His supporters hope that any event he organizes will be attended by the state’s political who’s who, similar to Gbagi’s event.
Others rumored to be running for governor on the PDP platform include James Manager, the state’s longest-serving senator (six terms), and incumbent Deputy Governor, Chief Kingsley Otuaro, both Ijaw from Delta South; former Justice Commissioner, Mr. Peter Mrakpor (SAN); former Works Commissioner, Mr. James Augoye, and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Sheriff Oborevwori.
Certainly, for political reasons and to avoid ruffling feathers, some of the rumoured aspirants may shelve their ambition at the end of the day and never publicly declare their interest. The coming days will reveal how far such ambitions can go.
IN THE APC, the most visible aspirant is Omo-Agege, who has long wished to be governor of Delta.
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Many political observers in the state believe he deliberately chose not to run in 2019, but instead supported Ogboru against the political tide of the time, allowing the businessman to burn out his political goodwill when power, understandably, shifts to Delta Central. He probably assumed that by 2023, Deltans would be sick of Ogboru, who has run in every governorship election since 2011.
Omo-Agege will rely heavily on the center, as events in the party’s ward and council congresses in the state have revealed cracks and divisions, some of which are a result of the 2015 election.
There are other candidates on the platforms, but in Delta, as in all other states, the governorship is typically a two-horse race between the PDP and the APC. And 2023 will not be any different.