By Frank Ofili
For the first time in a very long while I am going to comment on the Anioma Governorship Agenda 2015. My comment is informed by the fact that I have watched carefully the political climate in our state vis-a-viz the manner of a campaign of our Anioma political gladiators, and I cannot but wonder at the intrigues that have been deployed on what ought to be a simple political arithmetic.
There is, of course, no gain-saying the fact that Aniomas are united on the need for their son or daughter to occupy Unity House Asaba come 2015. That hope is hinged solely on the PDP zoning agreement (some say gentleman understanding), which aims to rotate the governorship seat among the three senatorial zones in the state – Delta Central, Delta South, and Delta North.
With Delta Central and Delta South having had their shot on the governorship seat through James Onanefe Ibori (1999 – 2007) and Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan (2007 – 2015), it is generally believed that for equity, fairness and political justice to prevail in the state, Delta North, otherwise known as Anioma, should have her own shot in 2015. This equity mantra has been vigorously pursued and propagated without exception by the mercurial PDP Chairman, Chief (Barrister) Peter Nwaoboshi, the man who says he is the Oracle of Delta State politics.
The political naivety and failure of the APC and other opposition parties in the state to proffer and propagate alternative political deal for the state even in the face of the unbridled chicanery that has come to define the PDP politics, has driven the Nwaoboshi brand of democracy in our state to an almost all-around acceptable model for political inclusiveness in the state. It is perhaps this political naivety on the part of the opposition that has emboldened the PDP to think that its victory at the polls in 2015 is cast in stone even in the face of its comprehensive misrule of the state and country. To that extent, it probably sees no reason to provide fewer politics and more governance, thus making Delta State a more or less one-party state. The bitter truth, however, is that the opposition parties are not in contention at all either in Anioma or the state at large.
Sadly enough, this same political naivety also defines Anioma politics. Delta Central zone, through the Urhobo Progressive Union, has said it would not shy away from contesting the governorship seat again in 2015 under PDP. To this end, it is also surreptitiously positioning a governorship candidate in the opposition party and angling for a mass vote-switch for that candidate should PDP fail to field an Urhobo as governorship candidate. Whereas Anioma political elites are putting all their eggs in one basket – the so-called PDP zoning agreement – the Urhobos are plotting their political strategy in such a manner that whichever way the pendulum swings, they would hold the Trump card. One would have thought that Anioma political elites would understand that in politics an agreement, whether a gentleman one or not, is like an egg – easy to break – especially if a superior authority, like the Presidency, suddenly shows interest in who becomes governor.
No matter. The campaign for an Anioma governor has gone fairly well and good. The various Anioma candidates, whether pretenders or contenders, jostling for the governorship seat have all done their best to sell themselves using physical and virtual groups as well as lobbyists and media teams. However, like all organic groups, there have emerged some noticeable chinks in their armour, and it is to these I shall focus this piece.
I have read many an Anioma governorship campaign and I cannot but wonder why none is stepping down, or doing a deal with his opposite number. At the last count, there were up to 12 governorship aspirants from Anioma alone and all of them from PDP. In Aniocha/Oshimili axis of Anioma, there are four aspirants; in Ika axis, four aspirants and in Ndokwa three. Unconfirmed reports have it that Governor Uduaghan has reportedly anointed one from each axis, plus another one whom he is keeping to his chest, a potential dark horse whom he may unleash at the eleventh hour.
Of all these aspirants Sir Tony Chuks Obuh’s recent entry into the race has caused the most stir. It is rumoured that Obuh has the firm support of Governor Uduaghan and elder statesman Pa E. K. Clark, the Aneni of Delta State politics. Sir Tony Obuh was private secretary to Governor Uduaghan until recently when he resigned to join the governorship race. The plethora of aspirants and the manner of their campaigns against one another has given many (including this writer) cause for concern. The media team of one of the aspirants is perhaps the most culpable regarding smearing other opponents. This aspirant’s media team is quick to aver that Anioma and Delta State need their patron and not the other way round. According to them, their patron is “the only man qualified for the job.” The truth, however, is that each of the Anioma aspirants is as qualified as the other.
Another worrisome feature in the manner of their campaigns is the “it is our turn” mentality, a rather lazy approach which prompted the Secretary to the State Government, Ovuozorie Macaulay, to issue a damning condemnation of the Anioma aspirants not too long ago. The Oracle, of course, took him up on it, but beyond the Macaulay umbrage, the Oracle is perhaps sensing that the SSG may have spoken the mind of the governor, quickly called the Anioma governorship aspirants to a roundtable with a view to narrowing the number.
The meeting produced no positive result principally because of Oracle’s own selfish political ambition in which he is eying the Senate seat. Not long afterward, one of the aspirants, Victor Ochei, was forced out of his position as Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly. Livid, Ochei subsequently denounced zoning in what is generally regarded as a spoiler’s move.
Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa who had hitherto been assured of the governorship ticket by Governor Uduaghan and ex-governor James Ibori, was himself later to feel the sting of political intrigue when he was overlooked by the duo when they threw their weight behind Chief of Staff, Chief Okunbor. The choice of Okunbor was later to change when the trio of Uduaghan, Nwaoboshi and Chief E. K. Clark switched their support for Sir Tony Obuh. Ibori has reportedly rejected the choice of Obuh. But that may be cosmetics.
Obuh’s entry into the governorship race has dramatically changed the political dynamics in the state, thus forcing erstwhile foes to unite with the aim of causing a possible reversal of the choice of Obuh. It is not clear yet how things will pan out in the face of this new development, but given the fierce, slippery and unpredictable nature of PDP/Delta politics, it is not out of place to assume that the combined weight of these gladiators may eventually force the governor’s hand, especially if the Presidency shows enough interest.
Whatever, the case may be, only time will tell if the adoption of Sir Tony Obuh by the governor would prove to be a politically sagacious one, given that the Presidency and the greater majority of Deltans would prefer someone who is not of the sleazy Ibori political machinery. Another angle is that the Anioma traditional rulers are rumoured to be not in support of Obuh’s choice. Will their views matter? Only time will tell.
Ok, let’s liquidate this Delta State governorship argument. I walked into them at a neighbourhood pub where one occasionally goes to have a feel of the neighbourhood vibe. Nothing is as boring as having to watch an English Premiership, or La Liga or Super Eagles match all by yourself in your sitting room – your spouse and children having gone out on an outing. You would never appreciate the dexterity of a Cristiano Ronaldo on the ball, and the thunderous shouts that usually greet it if you have never had to watch him at a pub or viewing centre in between bouts of beer and “nkwobi” or “isi ewu”. This very pub kind of makes you develop your own nkwobi and isi-ewu dexterity, if you are not high on self-discipline.
In my case, I do not take the beer, but this particular pub offers some other alternatives. The joint offers everything from nkwobi to Alomo and Orijin – not free of charge oh if you know what I mean. The joint’s prices are a little above street value, but considering the environment, and the range of exquisite dishes on offer, they are worth it. The prices are the owner’s way of warding off “area boys.” Paradoxically, hefty, barrel-chested area boys are the first you encounter at the entrance gate. Yet there is peace and an unnerving calmness in the environment. Strange!
I walked in, looked to my usual corner but noticed a couple having what seemed like an evening tete-a-tete, and made a turn for another corner seat. And there they were – two Anioma brothers, engrossed in their usual political argument! I have never stopped wondering how it came to be that my side of Lagos is populated by brethren from Anioma. Hardly would you walk down a street without running into one Anioma brethren or another. It is like Shomolu-Fadeyi-Onipanu axis of Lagos where Aniomas have practically taken over. But since Shomolu-Fadeyi-Onipanu has become old Lagos, Aniomas there are beginning to migrate to the newer areas of Lagos.
Anyway, these my Anioma brothers asked me to join them at their table and confessed they had been talking about me. What for, I asked, and one of them answered that when Emeka Esogbue posted the prelude to my interview with him they had been expecting from me a definitive statement on the Anioma governorship aspirant to support, but that when the interview was eventually posted, I gave no indication of whom I was supporting for the governorship. And they asked pointedly, “bros, na who we go support”? “Tell us.” And “Why are you not openly campaigning for any of the Anioma governorship aspirants as some writers like you do”?
I was dumbfounded to say the least. Now, who am I? I am neither a political seer nor do I remember ever undertaking an apprenticeship in political fortune-telling. I am also not a political contractor, jobber, apologist, lobbyist, publicist or area father. But these questions from these bright young Anioma brethren threw me aback. Right that moment, it dawned on me that perhaps the multitude of Delta State governorship aspirants from Anioma geopolitical zone has left Aniomas themselves confused on whom to follow. No wonder my mail/inbox are filled with questions concerning Delta State politics and the Anioma governorship aspiration.
The truth, however, is that I do not think I know much about Delta State politics. I am simply a political realist who looks at issues on the ground, analyze them the best way I can and suggest a way forward. But such a venture in Nigerian politics, however, is suicidal given its slippery terrain, the chicanery and under-hand dealings that attend it. In Delta State, it is even worse.
Anyway, I made an attempt to address my brothers’ questions. First of all, I told them that when the time comes, they should vote their conscience regardless of political party and that they should vote based on their conviction of the honesty, integrity, political strength and personal strength of character of the aspirants. Contrary to my belief in earlier years, I admonished them not to vote based on party manifesto because party manifesto has never worked in Nigeria, except perhaps in the First and Second Republics, and even at that, it was only with Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group and UPN.
My counsel was based on my conviction that a party could have a fantastic people-oriented program, but if the same party throws up a political vagabond as its governorship or presidential flag bearer, then that party’s manifesto has gone out the window. On the other hand, a disciplined and sincere flag bearer can deliver a lot to the people even without necessarily following his party’s manifesto. The former has been the dominant paradigm in the post-military Nigeria politics. As a matter of fact, all current political parties in Nigeria can conveniently be said to have, on paper, people-oriented programs, but what has been our lot since the return of civil rule in 1999? I am sure the 15 solid years of PDP’s comprehensive misrule is enough to signpost where we are. Sadly, the opposition parties have fared no better. A tragedy for Nigeria!
The second question why I am not openly campaigning for any aspirant right now is simply because doing so is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. Political campaigns right now ought to be restricted to within the parties themselves, as aspirants try to sell themselves within their party echelon.
Secondly, openly campaigning for a particular candidate, even before party primaries, might make one suffer a disappointment later on if your candidate fails to win his party’s ticket. It will also effectively alienate one from a great many Anioma brothers and sisters who may have decided on their preferred candidate.
Thirdly, I am an official of a non-partisan organization that forbids its officials from open political partisanship until after party primary elections, when one is free to get involved.
Consequent upon all these, I would keep my preferred candidate to my chest until the political parties have picked their flag bearers through their party primaries. If my preferred candidate emerges after primaries, I would then get involved in campaigning for him/her. If he/her does not, I would look at the available flag bearers and decide who is a better choice.
But beyond all this, I do not just campaign for someone without conviction like most people do. My campaign/support has to be based on my conviction that the person would deliver dividends of democracy to the people. He/she does not have to be my brother or sister, neither does he/she have to come from my village or belong to my political party of choice. In the case of Anioma, there is, realistically, only one party that can produce the governor. That party is PDP. Therefore, I am supporting all the Anioma governorship aspirants without exception. I hope one of them gets picked as PDP flag bearer.
However, looking critically at the Anioma aspirants themselves, I would conclude that only about three of them are serious contenders with a fourth as a possible dark horse. So how do you solve this logjam without breaking the Anioma bloc vote? This is where my political arithmetic comes in.
That arithmetic tells me that taking reality on the ground into consideration; it will make better sense to have a Sir Tony Obuh with the political strength and machinery of a Senator Ifeanyi Okowa. Sir Tony Obuh has the governmental machinery, while Senator Okowa has the grassroots/geopolitical reach. So why are these two not doing business together? Why is one not stepping down for the other? These two should have an agreement signed, sealed and witnessed by Governor Uduaghan and Anioma Royal Fathers. And the deal is this: whoever wins the party primaries/governorship election should nominate and support the other for ministerial appointment. The governorship seat is not the only political office available. Only one person can occupy it at any point in time. So why not face reality and more on?
A caveat! This political arithmetic is predicated on PDP zoning agreement which has ceded the governorship seat to Anioma in 2015.
(to be continued)