By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The meeting with Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, one of the most enduring political gladiators from Delta State was long in expectation.
Since he emerged with a bang during the later years of the James Ibori administration in Delta State, Omo-Agege had metamorphosed into a political phenomenon in Delta State.
After returning from the United States in 2002, Omo-Agege rose within a span of three years to the apex of government. From being an executive assistant to the governor in 2003, he rose to become a commissioner and then Secretary to the State Government, SSG, in 2007. It was that kind of ascendancy that gave his person the air of gravitas that commanded the prospect for high office in Delta State.
However, whatever momentum he generated was obfuscated by the political demons that seemingly trailed him, well until recently. That was because it was all motion but little movement.
His campaigns for the governorship of Delta State in 2007, 2011 and 2015 either as aspirant or candidate, indeed consumed much energy; but in a political terrain as Delta State, it was the more you looked, the less you saw of Omo-Agege.
It was a strategic political alignment with another similarly politically traumatized wayfarer, Chief Great Ogboru, famed as the Peoples General to squash the political demons in 2015.
The tactical decision to lift his eyes beyond Delta State towards the national plane saw him battle for the Delta Central Senatorial seat, on the platform of Labour Party in the 2015 general election.
The seat was initially declared for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s Ighoyota Amori but reverted by the courts in 2016.
Omo-Agege arrived the Senate with a bang with a steadfast agenda to enthrone political probity in the electoral space.
Following Senate plenary and a string of committee appointments mostly focussed on putting finishing touches to the 2017 budget plans of the Federal Government, Senator Omo-Agege, a scion of the famed Justice James Omo-Agege, now late, sat down for an interview.
Given his delayed inauguration, it was not surprising that Omo-Agege came with much energy to the Senate.
“Coming in here, we knew that we had lost close to about eight months and needed and wanted to hit the ground running and that is precisely what we did to catch up with my colleagues.”
Though delayed, his drive he coyly confesses was partly framed by his experience.
“As you know, I was a victim of electoral theft and I said never again were we going to allow that and having gotten here we said that we were going to push for comprehensive review of the Electoral Act to give all contestants the opportunity to contest freely and win or lose freely. So far we have been able to achieve that.”
Senator Omo-Agege’s bill to amend the Electoral Act is only one of about five bills that he has injected into the Senate system. He is also the author of the Dormant Accounts Bill and co-sponsor of the bill to establish the Electoral Offences Commission among others.
Remarkably, his Electoral Act Amendment Bill has found favour in the top echelons of both the presidency and the legislature.
The Electoral Act amendment bill, for example, aims to provide a leeway for complexities like the scenario that erupted after Prince Abubakar Audu was stopped by death from claiming victory in the Kogi State governorship election in November 2015.
The bill also spells out provisions on qualifications for elections which are put firmly in the hands of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Asked in what way his enthusiasm is driven by his electoral experience, Omo-Agege coyly recoils saying:
“We have never been able to allow peoples votes to count. People go into elections, they win but they are declared losers. People who did not win are declared winners.” However, though he stops shy of saying it, the experience of being a victim of electoral theft as he told your correspondent is not too far away.
Having been elected on the platform of Labour Party, he recently crossed over to the All Progressives Congress, APC at a time the party’s fortunes have been seriously challenged by the difficulties in the economy and security.
“Moving to the APC was not a difficult choice for me to make. From day one, when I got in here, I made up my mind to work with President Muhammadu Buhari. His agenda became my agenda and I took it upon myself to do everything within my powers to see that he succeeds. Now to say that people believe that they have not done well, that they have not fulfilled the promises made in respect to the change agenda, if you ask me, I have a slightly different view. The problem that the president has is the problem of communication,” he submitted.
He accused the PDP in Delta State of ‘stealing’ the goodwill from the APC programmes.
“He promised direct cash transfer, but he has executed on that. The problem that we are having is that the beneficiaries do not even know or they are being misled that the programme is not an APC programme. Take Delta State for instance. The people who are running the programme in the office of the VICE-PRESIDENT are treating it as a very, very apolitical programme and it shouldn’t be that way.
“If you go to Delta State now, in every ward, you have about 388 beneficiaries of President Muhammadu Buhari’s social intervention programmes and this includes the direct cash transfers, the N-Power among others.
“But guess what? These beneficiaries believe that it is the Okowa government that is doing it like the School Feeding Programme. Even the debate we have been having here is that even cooks being recruited in PDP states are selected in a partisan way. At the end of the day, the beneficiaries will think that it is the PDP led government that is providing these programmes.”
He also defended Buhari’s economic programmes stoutly. “The question people have not asked is that who caused this recession? People need to know that if President Muhammadu Buhari had not won the election, that if Jonathan had won the election that in two, three months after the inauguration that Nigeria would have been worse than Greece.”
“Mr. President was dealt a very bad hand; the economy had to go down because, under the last administration, the treasury was turned into an ATM without a pin! People were just coming in freely to loot the treasury. In addition to that, you had the misfortune of challenges in the Niger Delta where we were now producing less than we had done under Jonathan, even the price of the product had collapsed in the world market.”
Senator Omo-Agege was challenged on his denunciation of the PDP given the fact that he was until the end of the last decade a member of the party who aspired for various political offices through the party.
Responding, he said:
“We were never given the opportunity to ventilate. Do you think even those in the PDP were happy the way the economy was being run aground? You think they were happy? You think people were happy the petroleum sector was run as if it were a personal fiefdom? You think people were happy with that?”
Even if the APC at the national level has the facade of peace, the same cannot be said of the local chapter in Delta State. The state chapter has been enmeshed in a series of crises since some former PDP members came into the party after the 2015 general elections.
Senator Omo-Agege refused to be dragged into the crisis saying he remains a new member despite being the highest elected political office holder of the party in the state.
“I entered the party formally on March 7, 2017. There have been challenges and those challenges are still there, but I have not gotten my full brief but my understanding is that there is a move towards reconciliation and I believe that it will succeed.”
As the session neared an end, Omo-Agege was asked about the prospects for his party in the forthcoming state constituency election in Warri.
“We are very confident that if we do the right thing that we will win and by doing the right thing, I mean that if we present an acceptable candidate, popular candidate who is on ground, there is no reason we should not prevail.
“As we speak we don’t even know who we are running against. So, we are preparing in that race just to win it. But if you ask me who our opponent will be, we don’t know. Because we know that the Sheriff PDP, the legitimate PDP, that they are going to be fielding a candidate and I also learn that the Makarfi PDP represented by the governor of the state in Delta will also field a candidate.”
Asked how the APC could breach the PDP’s near invincibility in the Delta South, he retorted:
“Rephrase your question. Given the fact that PDP has been declared winner in the past is different from winning election in the past. You only win elections when those elections are not challenged and when challenged, you prevail. That is when you can say that you have won an election. But when you rig election and people don’t challenge you, then people go away with the assumption that you won and won free and fair.”
Do you mean PDP has been rigging, he was asked?
“Absolutely, there is no doubt about that. We went through several sessions of litigation and my case was not in any way different from Ogboru’s case for instance. My own wasn’t different from other people who contested for House of Representatives or House of Assembly, but they didn’t have the will and the guts to fight their cases to the logical conclusion beside Ogboru and I.”
He said that the APC with people like him have the capacity to stop what he claimed as the PDP’s rigging machine. “Yes, we do. I won’t give you details, but we do. PDP they know that the era of writing results in Delta State is over. They know that they have people like us to contend with now. We are not saying that we must win at all costs, but if you must beat us, beat us free and fair. But if we beat you, let us walk away with the result. What we are not going to allow is for you to write results for an election that you did not win.”