The immediate past Governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa has dismissed claims he betrayed the Southern region of the country in events leading up to the 2023 presidential election.
Dr Okowa was speaking with senior journalists recently when he said he made some mind-blowing revelations of all that transpired prior to the February presidential election.
Addressing issues, the immediate past Delta State Governor responded to claims of betraying the South by accepting the position of Vice-Presidential candidate after hosting a meeting of Southern governors.
Okowa said: “I don’t think there was any betrayal, people give the wrong communication. In the first instance, the meeting we held in Asaba never talked about the issue of a southern president. The meeting we held in Asaba was to discuss the issue concerning herdsmen and the need to find a stop to it and I agree that the question was that they knew if they brought the meeting to Delta with my person all sides will come.
“But it was actually the meeting in Lagos but people just misconstrue the two. It was in a follow-up meeting in Lagos that the issue came up and it was not actually part of our agenda but we did not know people had their own views, you know politics was coming.
“When we had finished, under ‘Any other business’ the matter was thrown up and we just found that a lot of us were ambushed but a majority actually had their way…I don’t want to relate it to partisan politics now because some people in the PDP had supported it.
“And then the issue came out and it was introduced first by the governor of Ondo state supported by the governor of Ekiti state and then it followed through and then one or two PDP people also made their comments. But for us, we could see that that matter had been discussed before, and it is part of politics though and we let it go.
“Of course, when the majority says this is what they want…because for us in the PDP, I’ll tell you the truth behind the whole thing. If you’re going to back a situation, you must ensure that that situation is right for your party and that was the question I raise when people say it was a betrayal – there was no point where we said everybody agreed 100 percent or we were going to go this way.
“I belong to the PDP and for me as a person and for the majority of the people in the PDP, they believed that our pathway to victory was to have a northern candidate and a southern vice. Why?
“Because we were not a majority. I want to give you the reason. If within the northern part where you have the greater population – we had only 5 governors in the PDP and the APC had 14 governors – if you throw up a southern president we would have lost the north totally and there was no just way we were going to progress – that is politics as different from sentiments.
“And then if we took a northern president probably the issue of this north vs south, we would have been able to douse it in our own political reasoning and then we could fairly compete in the south.
“That was our reasoning at that time and we felt that, first we had to get back to power in the presidency and we thought that was the pathway to it. In the south here, we had eight governors in the PDP.
“When we sat down, our analysis was that the best pathway to the presidency was to have a northern candidate probably to reduce the effect of the massive votes for the APC in the north as we saw in 2015 and 2019, and then struggle for positions in the south and get to where we were going to get.
“The only thing that turned our reason back was when Obi came out from the south east and there were a lot of feelings, sentiments that came in among the Christians. I want to be very frank with you, among the Christian population, that caused a huge number of Christians that we were going to go for a southern Christian president which impacted very strongly in the southeast and in the south-south; and these two zones are mainly PDP and it ate very deep into our votes in the Southeast and in the South-South and that is what led to the loss of the elections.
“So, sometimes in politics it is not about sentiments, it is about planning and political mathematics. If there was no Labour Party and we presented a Southern candidate and the APC presented a Southern candidate, we would just have kissed the election goodbye because they had the strength to overwhelm us in the North.
“But the Christian and Southeast votes which were mainly votes that came in on sentiments ate very deeply into the PDP and our initial calculation failed.
“So, we were thinking politics. So, truly that the decision was taken in Delta State was not true. It was in Lagos and the decision that was taken here for which the meeting was called to host them to enable all governors come was to discuss the issue of grazing and how to stop it. It was when we took the second meeting in Lagos that the issue of Southern presidency came. I don’t want to go to the depth of that discussion because I know that a few of us were ambushed.
“Indeed, there was no way the issue of Southern presidency could have been discussed between APC and PDP sitting in a meeting. Politics is not played that way. After all, you don’t discuss with your opponent on where to pick your candidate.
“It couldn’t have been possible for me to sit with APC to say ‘where are you taking your candidate from, ok, I will take my own from there.’
“It is never done and that is why I used the word ambush.
“When I heard the response from Chief E.K. Clark I responded that I respect their opinion, but the question is that they belong to a group and I belong to the PDP and I have consented to be a member of the PDP. So, my first interest, yes thinking about Nigeria as number one, but the next is about the interest of the PDP, not the interest of APC, neither I will serve the interest of any other group.
“I have already committed myself to the PDP, it is the interest of the PDP that I needed to serve. If I find it that I cannot serve the interest of the PDP I will exit. That’s the body I belong to and that is the body I will have to listen to in my political journey and when I am tired of listening to that body I will exit”.
On the state of his relationship with former Governor James Ibori, especially over the 2023 Governorship election in Delta, Okowa revealed how he [Ibori] worked against the PDP and why he rejected Olorogun David Edevbie.
Okowa said: “I don’t like to talk about it but obviously there’s no doubt that we didn’t work together. The former governor worked for the APC in the governorship, we went into the primaries not agreeing on the same candidate, we talked about it but he did not want to shift grounds on his candidate, that’s the truth and I did not agree with that candidate for basic reasons which I made clear enough to him and also to his own candidate.
“I did not hide it, till tomorrow I speak about it in truth not because I thought I was a god that needed to install somebody. David (Edevbie) is my friend. We were with the former governor in his tenure together as commissioners but in 2014 when it became obvious that it was the turn of the Delta North, Delta Central and Delta South had had their turns and I heard that David was going to run and he was indicating interest.
“I went from Abuja with three of my friends to visit him in Lagos and I said ‘David, please, it’s only fair, I know that there are so many people competing but I’m coming to you as a friend. It will not be fair if you run. Gov James Ibori has been there Gov Uduaghan has been there, it’s obviously the turn of the Delta north, why don’t you allow us to have our space so that we can all be said to be part of the state.
“Thereafter we can all work for you to become governor’
“He came to meet me in the hotel even though I wanted to meet him in his home. It was a one and a half hour meeting and at the end he said ‘I will not run anymore, I will support you’. I thanked him and left back to Abuja and we continued and I found that because Delta North people had felt it was their turn because that was the impression we were given, there were so many of us in the race, about 15 of us.
“And then suddenly, next thing we heard was that they had endorsed David but this same David had committed himself to me so we went into the race, very tough race but God enabled me to win. I didn’t take it strongly, we had all worked together and I won the election and he became my commissioner for finance.
“So in the second year I started hearing that he was holding meetings in Lagos and occasionally in Benin and other places where they were already prepping him to be governor without anybody discussing with me and that meeting continued.
“In the first instance, he did not want the zoning to Delta North so if the zoning was going to continue, he’s my friend but he shouldn’t be the one to benefit from the zoning he did not want. Because then without mincing words, I got a delegation from the Ijaws who backed me and said ‘because of what the Delta central did this to you, why would we not do it to them, why don’t we support somebody from somewhere else’ and I saw that was politics.
“Me I believe in what is just and I told them outrightly it will be difficult to do what you asked for because if God eventually enabled me to be governor to complete this tripod, it’s best for us to allow God’s will to continue.
“It’s very unfortunate, I thank you for what you did for me but luckily even as they worked for me, I never made a commitment that I will make anybody governor because I’m careful in what I do so it will be difficult for me to support someone outside central but my only mindset is that somebody who did not believe in the zoning cannot be the one to benefit from it and I made it clear to the former governor.
“That’s how we continued. So the only time he wanted us to sit down to discuss it was about 12 days to the election primaries when he wanted us to come up with a new candidate but that time I had already started supporting him (Sheriff Oborevwori). I told him sir, I though we discussed initially and you were not ready to move from where you stood, it was just this person and nobody else, it will be difficult for me a few days to the primaries to tell the person I am supporting, stop I am no longer supporting you. I am not used to that kind of politics in my life. I don’t know what the people will call me.
“And you know David came to me and I told him how you made a commitment to me (2014) and you didn’t return to me only to see you as my strongest contender as we moved into the primaries! If there was no conversation, no visit, I wouldn’t have…but we sat together and you made a commitment and you just turned round without recourse to me. I think he just felt that it was victory already for him, so there was no point talking to me. But it was not about me, it was about Delta North people. Today, everybody feels, we are all part of the system because everybody has been part of the process”.
Assessing INEC’s conduct of the 2023 presidential election, Okowa said: “I think INEC did a great work ahead of the election and they raised the hopes of Nigerians and the global community and I believe that they tried to that extent.
“The chairman and his team were under pressure and it appeared to us that they were able to hold back the pressure as they moved in and ensured with civil society that they got the legislations passed. They improved on the previous card reader that we had and even improved on the BVAS.
“So, we all thought that they were going to give us their best, even though it may not be fool-proof. And they worked hard. They had conversations, they spoke to the parties and they spoke to Nigerians but suddenly as we approached the election and on election day, we were told the server was no more working.
“The law as it is written by INEC was very clear, you are to use your electronic transmitted figures to compare every manual result because they were supposed to go hand in hand, right from the RAC right to the Local Governments to the States and then to the federal level; but suddenly the server didn’t work anymore that day. It’s funny.
“So, that extent is it a question of a failed process. I don’t think the process failed, I think the process was manipulated. We believe so but they didn’t want to tell us all the truth.
“As we know the law as it is written (just that we may not be bold enough to interpret the law), if you realise that it failed, you should have postponed the elections. But by insisting, something must have gone wrong. Either there was internal sabotage or there was an internal collusion, it is just one of the two”.