MATTHEW OCHEI takes a look at the lingering crisis in Delta State Peoples Democratic Party between the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s anointed candidate and that of the former governor, James Ibori, for the 2023 governorship election
The current political development in Delta State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party can easily be described as one that has pitted bigwigs against each other, and by so doing may have put the political party in harm’s way ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
The power play between two leaders of the party in the state; the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and former governor, James Ibori, over who produces the next governor of the state, has continued to generate furore among members.
Okowa, who is completing his eight-year tenure in May 29, 2023, had anointed the incumbent Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Mr Sheriff Oborevwori, to succeed him against James Ibori’s candidate, David Edevbie. The state chapter of the party has not experienced unity since it held its governorship primary.
There are fears among PDP members in the state that the name of the party’s governorship candidate may not be in the list of the Independent National Electoral Commission ahead of the general elections following the cold war between two leaders of the party in the state.
Recall that INEC had published names and particulars of candidates nominated by their political parties on Friday July 22, 2022 without the name of any PDP aspirant as candidate. Neither Sheriff Oborevwori, who won the party’s ticket at the primary nor David Edevbie, who came second, made the INEC list, despite a High Court judgment that granted Edevbie’s prayers by disqualifying Oborevwori, and declared Edevbie as the party’s candidate.
Members of the PDP in the state are currently in a panic mode as they are patiently waiting for the end of the crisis. However, an Appeal Court sitting in Abuja on Friday, August 19, 2022, had reserved date for judgment to ascertain the authentic candidate of the party.
The Judge, after hearing the addresses from the two parties, announced that he would communicate a date for the delivery of judgment to the parties. But the Court of Appeal on Monday restored the Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Francis Oborevwori, as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state.
The Appellate Court, while delivering the verdict, voided and set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court which on July 7, 2022 nullified his nomination on the grounds of certificate forgery and perjury. Justice Peter Ige, who delivered the Court of Appeal’s judgment, held that claims against the Speaker were criminal in nature and must be proved beyond reasonable doubts.
The Appellate Court also held that David Edevbie, who instituted the Federal High Court suit, ought to have approached the court via writ of summons to enable resolution of disputes and not by originating summons where only affidavit evidence was required. Justice Ige said issue of certificate forgery and faking of documents allegations against the Speaker were such that required witnesses from those who issued the certificates and the alleged fake documents.
At a special thanksgiving service held at the Government House Chapel, Asaba, shortly after the victory, Oborevwori said anything ordained by God cannot be upturned. He said, “I have come to the chapel to appreciate God for giving me victory. It is the Almighty God that gave me the victory at the court. It is victory for everybody in the state. It is God that gives power; nobody can upturn what God had ordained. Delta State is one. By the grace of God, in 2023, we shall come here again (Government House Chapel) to give thanks to God.”
With the recently development, the people of Delta State and political observers are waiting for Edevbie’s next move on whether he will accept the judgment in good faith or proceed to the Supreme Court which is the final arbiter of justice.
Reacting to development, the Executive Assistant on Communication to Delta State Governor and a strong supporter of Oborevwori, Fred Latimo, said the issue on the ground would not affect PDP victory come 2023.
He said, “We don’t have fear because Sheriff Oborevwori’s name is already with INEC. We objected the judgment of the High Court and filed a stay of execution. How can you rule on the issue of alleged certificate forgery without consulting the authority that issued the certificate, just like Godwin Obaseki vs Osagie Ize-Iyamu where the University of Ibadan was brought in?
“Edevbie should be patient. If at the end of the day, the Supreme Court say Edevbie is right, then so be it. Already Oborevwori’s name is with INEC but Edevbie’s name is not with INEC and by August 19, he can no longer summit his name and Sheriff of course will be our candidate and rest assured that the PDP will win.”
Also, the Director of Strategic Communications, David Edevbie Campaign Organisation, Fred Edoreh, said they were optimistic that Edevbie would win come 2023 irrespective of all odds.
“Our lawyers will study the judgment and then advise us on what step to take next over the matter. We are optimistic that we are on course. I don’t believe that the crisis will affect the PDP in the 2023 election because after the judgment, the party will become one and everyone will work together to deliver the PDP. Based on the case on the ground, we are optimistic that Edevbie will win. It is a clear case,” he said.
A political analyst in the state, Peter Legacy, argued that if the power tussle between the two political leaders continued, it would be easy for the opposition to grab power from the PDP.
He said, “Firstly, I believe that the PDP in Delta State and by extension the national level should be conscious that the litigants, Mr David Edevbie and Sheriff Oborevwori, are both members of the PDP and would have to be circumspect in managing the two members of the party.
“Edevbie has the right to contest the credentials of his opponent in court. He is not challenging the integrity of the primary election. As a matter of fact, he acknowledged that he came second. In that, to me, it was a vote of confidence in the PDP on the election conducted. You wouldn’t deny the fact that in as much as there are great party men and women behind Sheriff, there are also PDP men of influence behind Edevbie.
“The disagreement is happening at a time the PDP is battling to galvanise the party and ensure it is united to wrestle power from the All Progressives Congress at the federal level and also make it impossible for the burgeoning APC in the state to get power. You cannot deny the obvious millage being handed the APC and other political parties in the state if this power play is not well managed.”
Legacy observed that the issue of succession had never been a tea party in Delta State, saying, “We must not downplay the fact that Ibori is a prominent PDP leader. The power tussle, as it were, should be done with respect and consideration.
“I said that succession is not a tea party in Delta State because when you trace the antecedence, the pattern is irregular. It is obvious that Ibori succeeded in choosing his successor; the same cannot be said in the case of the former governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan. Governor Okowa was practically not the successor to Uduaghan’s choice yet Okowa he is a governor today.”
He added that while there were arguments in favour of the governor producing his successor, Okowa should be cautious of the fact that he was a beneficiary of that disruption. Legacy urged Okowa and Ibori to be considerate and avoid taking extreme decision in the matter, adding that Ibori should concede some space to his protégés and allow them to operate in order to diffuse the political tension in the state.
Meanwhile, some political pundits were of the view that what happened during Uduaghan’s era regarding his successor might repeat itself while others said it might be a repeat of the political event in Bayalsa State where the APC was disqualified which led to the emergence of Governor Duoye Diri of the PDP.
Recall that Okowa was not the choice of Uduaghan, who had sacked some of his commissioners for supporting Okowa’s bid. Surprisingly, Okowa won the primary, defeated Edevbie and others became the governor after the 2015 general elections.
Following Uduaghan’s system of politics, Okowa had sacked many commissioners and advisers who were supporting Edevbie governorship ambition. The immediate past Secretary to State Government, Mr. Chedu Ebie, was not spared.
Recently, the Commissioner for Higher Education, Prof. Patrick Muboghare, was sacked for supporting Edevbie governorship ambition, a development, pundits said, might affect the 2023 election in the state if the two leaders did not manage their selfish choice of candidates very well.
One of the PDP chieftains in Aniocha South Local Government Area of the state, Mr Sunday Okafor, told Sunday PUNCH that the power play between the two leaders was destroying grassroots politics.
“With the look of things, the PDP might not have a governorship candidate and if the court eventually gives judgment in favour of one of the candidates, there may be mass defection after the judgment which will definitely affect the election. In 2021, when Okowa won the primary, nobody took him to court over any matter. So, Uduaghan did not have any choice but to support Okowa in the general election.
“But, this is a different thing where the person who took part in the primary is challenging the legibility of Sheriff Oborevwori. I also think that our leader, James Ibori, should have allowed Governor Okowa to produce his successor like he (Ibori) did in 2007. Ibori singlehandedly brought his brother, Uduaghan, and imposed him on the people of Delta State, even when it did not go down well with most of the party chieftains then,” he explained.
However, Muboghare told journalists after his sacking that Okowa made a mistake for dabbling into the politics of the state instead of concentrating on national politics now that he (Okowa) had been chosen as the vice-presidential candidate of the party.
“Okowa should have concentrated on national politics now that he is vice-presidential candidate of our great party, the PDP. I know who will be the next governor of Delta State,” he emphasised.
A younger brother to the Deputy Speaker of Delta State House Assembly, Mr. Felix Ochor, on Monday 22, 2022, dumped the PDP on the grounds that the party did not have a governorship candidate in the state for the 2023 governorship election. Announcing his defection at a meeting with the APC deputy governorship candidate, Friday Osenebi, in Asaba, Ochor said he dumped the PDP because of the crisis in it.
“I made this decision (leaving the PDP) because of the crisis in the party which I cannot continue to bear. With the look of things, especially the court cases between Sheriff Oborevwori and David Edevbie, it is obvious that the PDP does not have governorship candidate come 2023,” he stated”
A political observer, Mr Marvin Ejor, said Ibori ‘‘is fighting to the course because he still want to remain in the as a leader not minding how it is affecting the state politically.’’
He said, “To me, I will advise Ibori to allow Governor Okowa to produce his successor instead of the PDP to lose the seat to the opposition. He (Ibori) produced his successor and it is out of place to be preventing Okowa from doing same. Both Okowa and Ibori should have respect for each other and respect the state as well.”
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, had told journalists in the state that Okowa was never a political godson to Ibori but rather a political associate.
Also speaking, the Youth Leader of the state PDP, Mr. Victor Okemena, urged Edevbie to stop wasting his resources challenging Okowa’s anointed candidate in court. He said, “The Appeal Court judgment is a welcome development and victory for the nation’s democracy, as the trial court erred in law by first assuming jurisdiction to entertain the suit when it ought not to. Edevbie should wait for another time and should not waste his resources in the court over this case.”
He further sought support from the people of the state, especially those in the PDP, who have divided interest in Edevbie and Oborevwori to come together and work for the unity and development of the party, noting that the PDP understood the true meaning of democracy which he said would soon come to manifestation through the Abubakar Atiku/Ifeanyi Okowa presidential bid.
The youth leader called on Edevbie and other stakeholders of the party to close ranks and open themselves to genuine reconciliation with Oborevwori and the party, maintaining that the greater interest and unity of the party should be paramount in the mind of everyone. While reaffirming his support and solidarity for Okowa’s anointed candidate governorship bid, Okemena said they were optimistic that Oborevwori would emerge the next governor of the state after the 2023 election.
Another political analyst and Convener of Ugo-Anioma Solidarity Movement in the Delta, Victor Sorokwu, said that the disagreement war was likely to affect the chances of PDP come 2023. “What we see playing out in Delta PDP between Oborevwori, who is the governorship candidate and the main contender, Edevbie, is covertly a proxy war between the former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, and the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to protect and entrenched their varied political interests.
A major sore point in the political imbroglio is the fact that the leadership of the PDP both at the state and national seems to have pitted its tent with Okowa/Oborevwori camp in spite of the fact that the primary election should have been treated as a family affair.
With the possibility of Edevbie’s lawyers approaching the Supreme Court to challenge the judgment of the Appeal Court, if feelers from the camp are giving deeper consideration, reconciliation by the two camps may be elusive. Giving the no-love-lost scenario, the Delta PDP would be engaging the 2023 general election with fractured feet which is likely to give impetus to the main opposition, the APC.
As the political intrigues continue to play out in Delta State PDP, observers are asking whether the Ibori political dynasty will continue to exist, or whether if will it be the end of his political dominance in the state? Only time will tell.