By Tony Eluemunor
I was wondering whether it would not be an over-kill to write about President Mohammadu Buhari again, after I had focused exclusively on him for some weeks now. Actually, I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read Mr. President in the newspapers of Tuesday 12, March, scoring the 2019 general elections high when the Katsina state‘s Governor Aminu Masari visited him to personally tell him of his re-election.
Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (right) and Former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, during a reception in organized by Chief Benjamin Elue in honour of Chief James Ibori, at Obior, Aniocha South LGA
I almost could not believe my eyes as I read Buhari saying he “would want to be remembered as a leader who kept his word that elections in Nigeria must be free, fair and credible.” Has Buhari been living on planet Mars? If not, why would he have described last Saturday’s Governorship and State Assembly elections across the country as successful? Did he actually say what follows? “I have maintained a position that elections must be free and fair and people have the right to make their choices and vote their consciences. I am happy they understood the message and did just that.”
Hey, did President Buhari not know of the scores of people who died owing to electoral violence? Is he really unaware that the Nigerian Army is right now investigating the high-handedness some persons wearing its uniform (whether rightly or illegally is part of the investigation) unleashed in Rivers state and elsewhere? If Buhari does not know that the elections of this year were about the worst ever to deface Nigerian history, then only a fool would expect an attempt at electoral reforms from him. And that is tragic!
Such words on an election in which human blood was hugely spilt made our President appear terribly heartless. I’m surprised his media handlers released this statement which made him appear callous, into the public domain, and had it not been signed by Femi Adesina, I would have termed it an internet fraud perpetrated by social media miscreants to damage the President’s reputation. But enough; a phone call swayed my decision away from focusing on Buhari once again, and to return to my Delta state roots.
Since Okowa’s victory was officially announced on Monday, it had been the major news trending in the Saint Anthony’s College, Ubulu-Uku (SACU) old students WhtasApp forum. Wednesday, I had posted that I was visiting Oghara just to thank Chief James Onanefe Ibori for the unflinching support he granted Okowa who personified the aspiration of the entire Anioma people of Delta North Senatorial District. Mr.Okonji Ogeah, a master footballer while at SACU, whom I had not seen since the mid-1970s when we passed out from that village school in the Aniocha-South LGA of Delta State, that had earned a Mid-West state wide respect in academics, football, athletics, Lawn and Table-Tennis, school debates, drama and cultural displays even, phoned. He commended me for going to Oghara to “represent Anioma” by thanking Ibori for supporting Okowa. He said Ibori, by that gesture, showed he loved the entire Delta state and was no ethnic bigot.
It was absolutely clear that under a free and fair election, Okowa would be re-elected by a wide margin any day. If so, why was it important to thank Ibori for his support? But to begin to answer the question here is to start the story from the end instead of from the beginning. Four years ago, there was the fear that former President Goodluck Jonathan would stop Okowa’s forward march in Nigerian politics because of his closeness and loyalty to Ibori. This time around, the fright was that Buhari was unleashing the military on the state to upturn the will of the people. That goes to show how various versions of undemocratic mess has stymied Nigerian politics despite the passage of time.
Pan back to 2015. Chief Ibori was in a London jail where he had been rail-roaded into because of his national restructuring calls on behalf of the Niger Delta geo-political zone, though the persecution against him was spruced up as an anti-corruption fight. Many of those who applauded the lies and pot-shots against him then, are protesting the high-handedness of today’s central government. His successor, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, opposed Okowa’s emergence as the next governor. There had been an understanding in the state chapter of the PDP that power would rotate between the three Senatorial Districts, to reduce the rabid rancour that made the ethnic groups mortal enemies. As Ibori was being sworn in as Governor in May 1999, blood flowed freely in Warri. So, from day one, Ibori and his co-travellers (including Okowa and Uduaghan) knew that unity, cooperation, inclusiveness and rotation of power, should be the norm in the state, just to reduce the contention between the state’s ethnic groups.
Remarkably, at the 2007 governorship primaries Okowa had to step down for Uduaghan for their political group to maintain a united front. That Uduaghan would later forget this gesture surprises those who have followed this matter from day one. Neither he nor Okowa has said what they quarrelled over for it is unthinkable that only malfeasance would have made Uduaghan to so loath Okowa that he had to leave the PDP, under Ibori’s leadership to join APC and oppose what Ibori supported. Uduaghan’s ambition as he followed Ibori into politics, was to be a Doctor to the Governor. He achieved much more than that, becoming a commissioner, a Secretary to the State Government, and then a two-term governor.
Really, Uduaghan’s leaving the PDP for another party did not sour up his personal relationship with Ibori, after all, Ibori has managed to maintain a labyrinthine relationship with peoples from diverse political and ethnic backgrounds that it is a wonder how he keeps tabs of all of them. Or how many Deltans still remember that the man who defeated the PDP Senatorial candidate from Ibori’s Delta Central District, Ovie Omo-Agege, became Ibori’s aide in 2003, when he returned from the US? My best guess is that he still remains Ibori’s friend.
And that brings us to the main point of this essay. May people think it of little consequence to exercise their God-given right to withdraw their support from anybody or any cause—in pursuit of a personal advantage. But Ibori does not. He has refused to forget A K Dikibo or DSP Alamieyeseigha. He has refused to abandon any cause he has believed in. To him a word given to another, carries the weight of a bond. Thus when in 2015, many turned against the bid of both Okowa (to become) and the Anioma people (to produce) the next governor of Delta state, Ibori stood his ground that a promise made earlier must be respected. He maintained that stance in 2019. But once victory was won, he did not gloat; “the victory belongs to the good people of Delta state who voted massively for Okowa,” he enthused. Okowa maintained that stance in 2007, when ambition did not tempt him from dumping the Ibori political family which he has belonged to since the late Gen Sani Abacha transition to join another party and fight against Uduaghan’s governorship candidature. On this, he and Ibori appear to be kindred spirits, no wonder they have been together since the truncated transition of the Abacha administration.
For now, Uduaghan has jettisoned his pride of place in Delta PDP as Ibori’s lieutenant and successor. Give or take the next two years and the search will begin for the 2023 Governor, but Uduaghan would be outside looking in. But the Bible has an applicable statement on this: “And (Uduaghan’s) place, let (Okowa) take.” By then Uduaghan would be like many former State Governors; they have no voice in their former domains…because they overreached themselves while playing the godfather. Subtlety has its virtues.