or one who has shied away from getting actively involved in Nigerian politics, someone who had rejected all political appointments and had privately vowed, long ago, not to get entangled in it, I am sorry to report I got lured, tempted beyond self interest and found myself in the steamy, sweaty room of this seemingly demonic Nigerian enclave. I temporarily, finally, decided to throw aside the cloak of non-partisanship, and taste, first hand, Nigerian politics in all its glorious and gory dimensions. I got myself swamped in the small, troubled and dirty pond of Delta State politics. What an eye opener it turned out to be. But no, I didn’t fall in love with it.
We have a local adage, which loosely translated says getting involved in the village square dance usually starts with an innocent shaking of the head, a tapping of the foot or hand claps. All involuntarily, it seems, until one gets lured by the rhythmic drums, the sonorous minstrels, and the enchanting dance steps of the active participants. Before you know it, you are one with the crowd stomping and swaying and gyrating, singing and dancing the night away. So it was with me.
It all started innocently. News came that the governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, was trying to play God like most politicians who hold political offices in our clime. He was accused of trying, singlehandedly, to choose his successor. Buried in that, for those who know Delta State politics, is an affront on the sensibilities of the people, especially supporters of the Odidigborigbo of Africa, Chief James Onanefe Ibori who most Deltans regard as the leader of the political elites of the state. It turns out that Okowa and Ibori could not agree on the candidacy of Chief Ibori’s preferred candidate: David Edevbie.
If you know Delta State politics, you already know that James Ibori is the clone of Bola Ahmed Tinubu who holds Lagos politics in a vice grip. He holds sway in all matters politics such that even when he was in prison in the United Kingdom, he still decided who got what and when in the state. He was highly revered and most Deltans had shut eyes to all his faults. He was well loved and respected. Not to them the odium and infamy which other Nigerians attach to him. So Deltans rose up against Okowa. The belief was that Ibori not having his way is disrespectful and an attempt to reduce his influence and retire him from dominance of the politics of the state. His adherents saw it as an attempt to demystify him, and consign him into political irrelevance.
Let’s take a step back. To his credit, Chief Ibori who was governor of the state from 1999 to 2007 instituted a triangular zonal arrangement in his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, whereby, in turns, the senatorial zones are to present governorship candidates exclusively. Ibori was from Delta Central, he was succeeded by Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan from Delta South who in turn was succeeded by Dr Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa of Delta North. The ball, this time, returns to Delta Central where the three zones in Urhobo were expected to bring forth someone from the Okpe, Sapele and Uvwie axis. The two other zones Ethiope and Ughelli federal constituencies have had their share in Jereton Mariere, Felix Ibru and James Ibori.
David Edevbie is not from the favoured Okpe zone but Ibori insists it must be him. This irked some Deltans, including yours sincerely. It caused a rumpus among his supporters and Deltans generally.
But then the Delta Central senatorial zone, Chief Ibori’s home zone, set up a screening committee, headed by Ibori’s right hand man, Chief Ighoyota Amori, for all the candidates from the zone, who were interested in vying for the position. A deluge of names showed up but were finally pruned to three: David Edevbie, Sheriff Oborevwori and Kenneth Gbagi. Eventually, they all went into the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party. Chief Ibori supported David Edevbie; Governor Okowa supported the dark horse, two-term Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori, while Kenneth Gbagi, a foundation member of the PDP and former federal minister stood on his own strength.
Sheriff Oborevwori won with a landslide. Then the war started. And the PDP set itself on the path of self immolation. Mud slinging. Tons of court cases. Factions sprouted like locus beans and the centre could no longer hold. Life long friends found themselves on different divides, became enemies. Opportunists prowled and preyed on the divisions. The stage was set for political drama of epic proportions. The worst acrimony to hit the party which had held sway since 1999 in the state.
The winning candidate, Sheriff Oborevwori, became the victim of massive demonization, abuse and denigration. For a man who has an MSc in Political Science, for a legislator who has been a two term Speaker of the House, the ruse was sold that he was an “uncertificated illiterate”. The claim is that Sheriff was not his original name, that his WASC result belonged to someone else and that he never saw the four walls of any university; that the results he parades, belong to someone else.
The public bought the lies spread all over the social media. Until the truth, like dawning light started rising like a sphinx. His classmates, teachers, lecturers and professors, unlike those of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, started coming out to testify that indeed it is true Sheriff Oborevwori was either their classmate or student. One of his lecturers, who is now the dean of their faculty wrote to testify to the many security agencies sent to all the schools to investigate him, that indeed, Sheriff Oborevwori graduated with a second class, (upper division) degree.
But the battle and the cases elongated into bitter ego contests. Betrayals were rampant. Decamping from the PDP became the order of the day to the joy and excited hope of the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is the formidable opponent of the PDP and its candidate, Sheriff Oborevwori. An adept political player, the DSP never relented in his quest to exploit the cracks in the PDP to cement his own quest to be the one to occupy Osadebe House, the Delta State Government House, come May 29th, 2023. Somehow, Delta Central became the battle ground. The north and south stood solidly behind the PDP candidate.
Both Omo-Agege and Oborevwori are from Delta Central occupied solely by the state’s largest ethnic group, the Urhobo. The difference is that, while the PDP candidate represented the Okpe-Sapele-Uvwie side of the Urhobo three federal constituencies, the APC candidate is from the same zone as Jereton Mariere and Ibru who have previously been governors .
Those who know me know that once I put my heart and mind to something, I will always side with the oppressed. So it was a given that I will take the side of the badly maligned Sheriff Oborevwori, the street wise guy who by a dint of divine favour, serious hard work and focus rose from the streets of Effurun and Osubi village to be Governor-Elect of Delta State two days back.
With him I traversed all the rivers and creeks and oceans of Delta State; met all the traditional rulers and chiefs; all the indigenous groups; pounded the streets and villages; knocked on doors; witnessed first hand the Sheriffication of Delta State. I was an eye witness to deviousness and betrayals, to how funny and devilish some of those who call themselves political friends and party members can come to your house on a Monday, eat breakfast with you, take pictures with the candidate and post on social media; come for a meeting on Wednesday morning at 11am and same day at 2pm decamp to the opposition party!
Let’s end it here for now and leave all the intrigues of the election proper for another day.