By Tony Eluemunor
Question: Is His Excellency Governor Ifeanyi Okowa fighting Chief James Onanefe Ibori, over anything, including who becomes the state’s Chief Executive on May 29, 2023?
Answer: “If wishes were horses” for the All Progressives Congress (APC) that would be true. The truth is that the relationship between Governor Okowa and Ibori has been on since the early 1990s, and it is as strong as ever. They were not brought together by chance.
Ibori and Okowa have come a long way. They are veterans of many political battles. They have shown uncommon loyalty to their friendship, and the common interest of their common political family. They have shown a strong feeling of support and allegiance to each other. By loyalty here, I mean a heroic devotion and faithfulness to a cause, to a philosophy and to their persons. Look at it this way; real watchers of the political space would have noticed that Okowa himself rises to the fore whenever the PDP experiences a crisis of leadership and wranglings, and them withdraws to the background until another crisis emerges. His actions are not informed by Okowa’s personal interest. That was Ibori’s style while he was governor. If Ibori had a constituency, it was the entire Niger Delta, which he wanted to speak with one voice. He still wants the unity of purpose for the South-South.
And on their unalloyed unity of purpose and mutual loyalty to each other and their political family, I will draw from deep personal experiences. When Okowa and former Gov Emmanuel Uduaghan ran neck to neck in the primaries to choose the 2007 Governor of Delta state, some people must have advised Okowa to raise hell, but he laughed it off and moved on. When the Ibori crisis began, and even the President from South-South, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan declared him wanted “dead or alive” (a veritable death sentence), Ibori fled Nigeria for the love of his life. It is on record that Ibori had convened a meeting in Asaba in February 2004, which was “scattered” when Chief A. K. Dikibo was assassinated as he was coming for that meeting on how to insist on a South-South President. Jonathan showed no interest in that meeting but later became THAT president.
So, as Jonathan was President, any who wanted to advance politically should have distanced himself from Ibori? Right? Wrong! Okowa showed his loyalty to Ibori in the most defiant way possible; he employed Ibori’s daughter, as an aide, not in his constituency office in Delta North Senatorial District but in the Senate. Today, that daughter of Ibori is a member of the House of Assembly, Asaba; she contested and won the electoral battle while her father was in a London jail. Till today, she calls Okowa her “political father.”
Then one day, I met Okowa as Prof. Sylvester Monye was launching his tertiary institution, African Institute for Public Policy, in Onicha-Ugbo. Okowa was there as was Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Dr Ibe Kachikwu. I approached Okowa to ask his views about the school and introduced myself. He stood up from his seat and embraced me, saying: “Thank you Tony for what you have done for James (Ibori), no, you did it not only for James but for all of us in his political family. You are the only man standing, the only voice. James can never thank you enough. Only God can thank you enough for what you have done for us”. Then he gave me his card, and asked me to call him anytime. I called Okowa only once since then; someone said he had approached him for some funds for some pro-Ibori campaign and Okowa agreed to support the scheme when he was assured that I was part of it; and he was calling me in case Okowa should check with me. Immediately he dropped, I called Okowa to dissociate myself from that scheme and told him that I have never approached any of Ibori’s friends for any monetary assistance.
On Ibori’s side, I remember one Saturday morning when Ibori called me from London. The fight against Okowa’s becoming Governor was gathering steam. The Delta state “area great-grand daddy” a Chief, was busy addressing press conferences as fast as anybody dropped $5,000 dollars into his palm. His mantra was that no Ibori’s associate would be Governor. Ibori asked me for my reading of Okowa’s chances; I told him that Okowa would emerge victorious at the primaries if and only if “Abuja did not intervene. Only Abuja can stop him.” Then I waited for his opinion, but I waited in vain because Ibori does not talk much; he acts. A few days later, he called again, reminded me of our last conversation and said authoritatively; Abuja will not intervene against Okowa”. I knew then that Ibori the political master planner had acted where it mattered. He said there was a promise on power rotation and he would do all in his power to see that that promise was kept.
Saturday January 15 was very busy for me. Friends and associates kept calling over a Vanguard story titled: “DELTA 2023: Okowa, Ibori face off on successor”.
Many on the other side of the Delta State political fence must have had their hopes raised that the state’s chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was about to crash. The All Progressives Congress spent some N250 million to prosecute just a House of Assembly by-election, for a seat around Warri town; Warri Constituency 1 of the Delta State House of Assembly and lost.
Again, the Isoko South Local Government Area Constituency I bye-election for the Delta State House of Assembly held on Saturday, September 11, 2021, and the APC not only lost, but the PDP triumphed.
So, the hope of the APC in Delta state is that the division within the heart and soul of the Delta PDP, a fight in the Ibori camp, which will bring them victory at the governorship election IS on now and will only widen as the days and months inch towards next year’s election. What a forlorn hope. Okowa and Ibori know what Obasanjo’s internal fight did to the national PDP. Obasanjo “won” in 2007, but the party and himself and Nigeria lost in 2015. Nigeria’s economy is in the gutter now. Thanks to Obasanjo’s style of politics. But that is not the Ibori/Okowa plan. They are team players.
I know that there is this urban legend which has been accepted in Nigeria as the gospel truth; that Chief Bola Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos state, handed out the victory in the 2015 presidential election to President Muhammadu Buhari, APC’s standard bearer. An urban legend remains exactly what it is, no matter how widely accepted it is. A lie is a lie is a lie.
The truth is that Obasanjo’s attempt to take over the PDP from the control of his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, and some certain state governors, weakened the party irreparably. That was in preparation for the vilest and most momentous bribery and corruption scheme that ever defaced Nigerian history. Members of the National Assembly were openly, assiduously and insidiously bribed to amend the constitution to allow a third term for the nation’s president. Once that scheme from hell was defeated, after “a fool and his money” had been “parted”, as the well-known saying goes, Obasanjo went on a PDP destructive mode.
His Man-Friday, Col. Ahmadu Ali, whom he had made the PDP National Chairman indulged every whim that Obasanjo’s hard heart could dream up. A party that should have been seeking for more and more members to enhance its readiness to face a general election went on a weeding out binge and denied faithful members such as Atiku Abubakar membership of the party. They were simply deregistered.
So, by the time the 2007 election came, the once gargantuan PDP was a sick and sickening shadow of its once vibrant self. Then, Obasanjo’s successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died and his Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan stepped into the President’s Office. He not only continued dancing to the same drumbeats that Obasanjo had ululated to, smashing up what remained as the core of the party, he could not even read the direction of the wind, thus betraying the wisdom in the saying; “you don’t need the weather man to tell you to which direction the wind is blowing”.
Jonathan was so taken in by the power of his office that his ears listened to the advice that only came from those who had attempted to hijack the PDP but failed; people such as Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai. Thus, he sacked Mrs. Farida Waziri from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s Chairman’s office and appointed Ribadu’s sidekick, instead. That effectively ended a much-needed look into the quality of Ribadu’s stewardship. Yet, today, every Nigerian knows that the EFCC under Ribadu was Obasanjo’s vicious attack dog and was as rotten as the contents of a public latrine. He also replaced the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman as soon as he acquired the power to do so. In the end, his supporters were right there as INEC was releasing election results, to complain that the election that swept Jonathan out of Aso Rock was neither free nor fair. So, Jonathan’s removal of Prof Maurice Iwu was of no national benefit. In 2019 the election became laughable. It was worse than anything Nigeria had ever witnessed. Jonathan, with his PhD degree, was just a puppet but he didn’t even know the puppeteirs.
As Jonathan, too, set out to stamp his own ill-advised authority on the PDP, he began to bully governors such as Chibuike Amaechi, then of Rivers state. He could not even read the handwriting on the wall as some governors deceived him again and again that Rotimi Amaechi would be easily disgraced out of his position as the head of the Governors’ Forum. As Jonathan became more autocratic, and more ineffectual as President, five state Governors rebelled against him and teamed up with certain others to form the All Progressives Congress. The signs were there that many Northern members of the PDP would dump the party if Jonathan muscled his way through to become the party’s presidential candidate.
Drunk with power, Jonathan went ahead with his quest. Of course, when the election came, he failed woefully. He had been misled into wounding the PDP even more than Obasanjo wounded it. The PDP which people like Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi and a few others designed to cure Nigeria of the disease of regional parties and regional alliances that gives rise to unnecessary regional dogfights had been mis-managed by Obasanjo and Jonathan. It was a national and consequential betrayal as they fought for personal (as against national) power and glory.
The result is easily seen today. Talks of sectionalism ricochets everywhere. Nigeria is ailing. The great PDP party which did not belong to any part of the country has been brought to its knees by the character-deficiency of two persons who had no business being President but who became President all the same.
That is what a dogfight caused by nothing but personal ego can do to a power base. In 2007 Obasanjo and his booth-lickers were busy applauding themselves. When Jonathan won the PDP presidential primaries, he must have thought his wisdom was of Solomonic dimensions. Now, it is obvious that they lied to themselves …and allowed Nigeria to be damaged considerably as a result. That is what muscle-flexing does to a power base. It debases it!
The PDP power base in Delta state will not be debased! There is no Obasanjo there, there is no Jonathan there.