Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, it appears Delta State is heading for the most competitive gubernatorial election if the popularity and weight of the various candidates for the election is anything to go by.
Delta State has been ruled by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999 and the party has boasted over the years that the state belongs to PDP and that no political party has the muscle to wrestle the state from its grip.
For many years and through several elections, that claim has been established and proven to be the true reflection of the people’s choice as PDP often dominated the political space of the state.
From the reign of Chief James Ibori till date, every governor that has ruled the state belongs to the Ibori political family. When Chief Ibori left office in 2007, he handed over to his cousin, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan who also handed over power to the current governor, Okowa but not without intrigues and power play that have since divided the Ibori political family.
In 2007, there was a gentleman agreement that Uduaghan would hand over to Okowa who keenly contested the primary election with Uduaghan and Ibori had to prevail on Okowa to step down for Uduaghan.
Towards the 2015 governorship election, Uduaghan had a different plan as he preferred a different candidate from the Delta North in the person of Tony Obuh of blessed memory who was then the permanent secretary, Government House and Protocol in the state.
Dr Uduaghan later shifted support from Obuh to David Edevbie two days to the primary election, probably to spite the Delta North politicians who stood their ground that Okowa was their preferred choice.
A lot of political maneuvers took place and Chief Ibori, who was then in the UK prison, called on his loyalists to ensure Okowa was delivered.
At the end of the day, Okowa won the primary and went on to win the gubernatorial election in the state.
The division within the party became more visible on his assumption of office as he clearly embarked on a vendetta mission against his predecessor.
He started to undo many things his predecessor did like relieving the last batch of workers employed by the Uduaghan administration of their jobs.
Okowa never forgave Uduaghan and David Edevbie, who dared to stand against him in the 2015 PDP primary and as the 2023 elections drew close, the division began to take its toll on the party’s chances to maintain the dominance of the political space of the state.
Okowa has shown his desire to weaken Ibori political family and set up his own. After his first term in office, he started to do away with Ibori loyalists gradually while empowering his own loyalists from all parts of the state while also, making sure that Uduaghan never had any breakthrough in any of his political moves.
As 2023 drew near, the race for the PDP gubernatorial candidate began with alliances with various political groups within the party and it soon became obvious that Chief James Ibori was in support of David Edevbie while Governor Okowa had the speaker of the State House of Assembly, Sheriff Oberovwori in mind.
This pitched Chief Ibori directly against Governor Okowa and it was a matter of time before PDP became a divided house in the state.
Another force within the PDP is Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, one time minister of State for Education. Kenneth Gbagi was the first to set the ball rolling by openly declaring his gubernatorial ambition.
He later fell apart with Okowa before the PDP primaries and decamped to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where he picked the ticket as the party’s governorship candidate.
Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi has accused Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on numerous occasions of being deceitful. He accused Okowa of promising him the position of being the next governor, thereby pushing him to kick-start the process of running for the office. He revealed that Okowa later betrayed him and was not willing to provide a level ground for all the aspirants at the primary.
At the primary, it was the highest bidder that carried the day and the party machinery was clearly deployed to ensure that the governor’s preferred candidate emerged victorious.
Since the primary which the deputy governor, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro participated in, it has been observed that there has been a sort of cold war between the governor and his deputy. In fact, the deputy governor is rarely seen these days.
Chief Ibori, seeing how his loyalists were bullied and rendered inactive before and during the primaries, is said to have vowed to get back at Okowa during the election and all efforts to reconcile the Okowa group with the former governor were unsuccessful.
As it stands today, the Delta United Group, a formidable group within the PDP with members across the state has pulled out of the PDP and pitched their tent with the APC gubernatorial candidate.
This group is made up of mainly the Ibori political family and they have vowed to work against Okowa and his preferred candidate.
There has been mass exodus of party members from PDP to APC as a result of the infighting that rocked the PDP and to make matters worse for the PDP, the party’s candidate, Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, is also enmeshed in controversies bordering on falsified credentials. The discrepancies found in his various documents ranging from his names to educational qualifications have been used by the opposition to campaign against him.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the deputy Senate President, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate for the election had his fair share of in-house crisis earlier, even before the APC primary.
The crisis within the APC started before the 2019 elections and it persisted until recently. It was the crisis that forced Chief Great Ogboru out from the party while the likes of former speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Victor Ochei and Dr Cairo Ojougbo were alienated from the party.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was accused of hijacking the entire party structure in the state and so many APC leaders and members became inactive.
Shortly after emerging the APC gubernatorial candidate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege began to mend fences by reaching out to aggrieved party members and the move has yielded positive results as most of the party stalwarts that left or became inactive in the wake of the crisis, are all back in the fold.
While some Deltans have commended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege for the many projects he has attracted to Delta central, some have equally argued that the senator only focused on his community. They claimed most of the projects were taken to his Orogun community.
Findings have, however, revealed that there is no community in Delta central that has not felt the impact of Omo-Agege through one project or amenity.
Omo-Agege is a major beneficiary of the crisis that rocked the PDP as many members have since joined forces with the APC flag bearer.
Chief James Ibori is allegedly working with Omo-Agege and it is not surprising that all his loyalists have moved to the Omo-Agege camp.
Chief Great Ogboru is the candidate of APGA in the gubernatorial race in Delta State. He is not a green horn in the political arena in the state as he has contested every governorship election in the state since 2003.
Chief Ogboru was the APC candidate in 2019 and parted ways with the party to join APGA where he picked the ticked to contest in the gubernatorial election.
Ogboru was a thorn in the flesh of the People’s Democratic Party in the years past but with the emergence of Omo-Agege and Gbagi, the popularity of the APGA candidate seems to have dwindled. It is very doubtful if he has the level of followership that made him a formidable force in the past.
Another major force in the coming election is the Labour Party. The party caused a major sensation in the presidential election some weeks back and other political parties are weary of the LP.
The candidate of the party in the state, Ken Pela, is relatively unknown in the politics of the state but relying on the force behind the Labour Party, the LP is hoping to cause an upset in the governorship election. Pela is also from Urhorbo and has a female deputy also from Ndokwa, Prof Rose Umukoro.
As at the time the presidential election was held, less than ten percent of Deltans knew the name of the Labour Party candidate and as a result, the APC and the PDP have tried to woo the Labour Party in the state to adopt them in the governorship election but the requests were allegedly turned down despite hundreds of millions of Naira said to be dangled in the deals.
Most observers of Delta politics have frowned at the Labour Party candidate’s non-challant attitude towards the race as he has failed woefully in the area of campaign. They attribute this to banking on the popularity of Peter Obi to win the election, just as it happened during the presidential and National Assembly election where relatively unknown Labour Party candidates emerged victorious.
The campaign has been very vigorous and with the weight of the Labour Party in the presidential election, both the APC and the PDP have intensified their campaigns and are deploying every trick at their disposal with the aim of currying the favour of the electorate.
The Delta State government has even paid N10,000 into the account of each civil servant in the state as a way of appealing to them for support in the coming March 18 election.
Whether it amounts to vote buying or not, the very near future will clarify that.
Religion has also been employed as a tool to whip up the sentiments of the electorate.
The PDP propagandists have been telling Deltans not to vote for Omo-Agege because he is an idol worshiper. A claim the deputy Senate President debunked and the Parish priest of St. Jude Catholic Church, Effurun, Rev. Father Mark Ikeke had to issue a press release to confirm that Omo-Agege is a member of his parish.
Most of the candidates are from Delta central and both Omo-Agege and Oborevwori are ethnic Urhobos from the central and they have both looked towards Delta North for running mates.
As the Ndokwa people had never produced a governor or deputy governor, both Omo-Agege and Oborevwori picked their running mates from the ethnic group in the persons of Friday Osanebi and Monday Onyeme respectively.
As it stands now, the forthcoming governorship election in Delta State will no doubt, be the most keenly contested in the history of the state and for the first time, it will not be a two horse race as it used to be. There are more than three strong contenders for the seat of the governor this time.