By Solomon Avwioroko
One fact that makes politics so thrilling is the egos that sometimes go with it. Every party wants to gloat over how fortified its political fortress is even when cracks on its walls have become perilously deepened. But that is the beauty of the game. Unlike the game of soccer and other sporting events, where emotions are easily emitted over a loss, the players in politics are known to be so adroit at the show of stolidity that all is very well even when it is obviously not. This presumption seems to depict the current scenario in the Delta State People’s Democratic Party, PDP, since Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, a two-term and the immediate past governor of Delta State under the PDP, defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Adams Oshiomhole, the APC national Chairman, was quoted some time ago as saying he would “not lose sleep” over the outburst of defections that took place recently from the APC to the PDP. He would however clarify that he was quoted out of context, that he only said he would not lose sleep over those who defected to the PDP in pursuit of their selfish political interests rather than the interest of the nation and the people they represent. If Oshiomhole has dismissed what he was earlier quoted to have meant by that statement, then he has indirectly acquiesced to the fact that the APC, no matter how it may try to conceal its wounds, has indeed been injured by the recent gale of defections from the latter to the PDP. It is this wound that the APC has been fighting to get healed by ‘wooing’ into its fold some ‘big fishes’ on the other side. So far, the catch has been great with the recent defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, former two-terms and immediate past governors of Akwa Ibom and Delta States respectively. And just some few days later, the APC boat swelled up with the defection of Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, also a former two-term governor of Kano State, and then many more from different states.
But the PDP seems to show that its political feathers are not in any way ruffled by the sudden defection of these bigwigs, as they are often called, from the party. This kind of political ego, I presume, is a very pernicious one as it has the tendency of covering up, on the surface, a deeply-cut wound that is already festering on the inside. This appears to be the current situation with the PDP in Delta State with its glitzy display of stoicism that all is well.
While the APC camp is gloated in the confidence that the party has gained much ground in Delta State with the defection of Dr. Uduaghan, the Delta State PDP came up with a two-page advertorial signed by six PDP leaders from the three senatorial zones under the aegis of THE DELTA 2019 POLITICAL CREDIBILITY GROUP, in the Vanguard newspaper of Friday August 31, 2018. The advertorial which was titled, “NOW THAT UDUAGHAN HAS LEFT THE PDP….”, was acerbically worded to denigrate and disparage the ex-governor as a completely weightless, inconsequential and valueless political entity in the past, present and future partisan electoral politics of Delta. They wrote: “The truth is that, with all due respect to him, Uduaghan as a politician, has been in the real politics of Delta State. Yet, as it is well known to all politically savvy Deltans, it is not as if Uduaghan was ever actually a force to be reckoned with in the politics of Delta.” The statement continued, “Uduaghan cannot deny that he is the product of the single-minded insistence of his younger cousin and former Governor, James Ibori, to be succeeded by his brother. Without Ibori, not even Uduaghan himself can stand before Deltans to claim that he has ever on his own merit, been a politician of any note, pedigree, weight, clout or substance in Delta State.”
The insinuations above seem so incisive that one begins to wonder how much water such wild assumptions can hold for a man who, with James Ibori, was a pioneer player in the defunct Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, which later formed the largest part of what eventually became the PDP before the 1999 general elections. It cannot be gainsaid that many former GDM politicians who are now in many PDP-controlled states are today the big weights who cannot be dispensed in a hurry. In Delta State, Uduaghan is in that category.
Aside his pioneering pedigree in PDP, Uduaghan has traversed the corridors of political power in Delta’s PDP governments since 1999 till 2015 when he left office as governor. Between 1999 and 2003 (Ibori’s first tenure), Uduaghan was the Commissioner for Health for four years. In 2003 (Ibori’s second tenure), Uduaghan became Secretary to the State Government, SSG, for three years until he vacated the seat (perhaps to prepare for the governorship race ahead in 2007) for Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who took over in January 2007. Thereafter, Uduaghan led Delta State as a Governor for eight years – all under the PDP – before he quitted in 2015.
And one cannot but imagine how a man who has come this far in Delta State politics could be so trivialised as one with no political weight and substance. The PDP should realise that the strength of a chain is not in the length of the body but in the different links it is made up of. A two-term Governor in any State of the Federation cannot be an inconsequential political entity. Extreme circumstances exist, he cannot just fade into the twilight of political history. Except it is another form of escapism to soothe the pains associated with the loss, it is just too dangerous a conclusion for some people in the PDP to start thinking that Uduaghan is a political Lilliputian whose departure from the party is of no significance.
Very close sources have revealed that the bulk of the people who invested in Uduaghan’s campaign in 2007 were those he empowered while he was a Commissioner and SSG in the first and second tenures of Chief Ibori as Governor. It has been said that a good number of this group of people, irrespective of ethnic leanings, formed a thick web around Uduaghan’s administration for the eight years he led Delta. It is believed that many of these people, whether still active in government or not, remain fanatically loyal to the ex-Governor. The thinking is that even if it is a hard decision to make, there are bigwigs within the PDP who cannot resist Uduaghan’s call for defection to the APC or support for the APC once their interests are taken care of.
This could be the confidence Uduaghan bears when in one of his speeches recently, he was quoted to have described himself as a “political John The Baptist” who has come to the APC as a forerunner to prepare the way for other big weights in the PDP to move to the APC. The PDP has not taken that statement lightly. Since then, there have been some unfounded stories giving rise to speculations that top on the list of possible defectors is Chief James Ibori, who led Delta for eight year and handed over power to Uduaghan in 2007. Although the PDP has grossly debunked such rumours, PDP’s umbrella house still seems to be uncertain of the complete severance of ties between Ibori and Uduaghan as such separation has never occurred before in their childhood and adult lives. And with the palpable reticence that Ibori has maintained since Uduaghan’s defection, there is the fear that something secret could be fishing.
Adding to the confusion, a prominent PDP leader in the state, Professor Sam Oyovwaire, recently said that Ibori who “was sorry for the defection of his elder cousin (Uduaghan) and had asked people to pray for him.” Nevertheless, another chieftain of the PDP from Opuraja community where Oyovwaire hails from in Okpe Local Government Council, seems to have taken a cursory study of Oyovwaire’s comment against the facts available to him and said: “It is either Oyovwaire is ignorant of what might be playing on now clandestinely in the state or he was speaking with tongue in his cheek.” He concluded by saying that, “With the current political situation on ground in Delta State, it is only God, Uduaghan and Ibori who can tell the wave of tsunami that will soon deflate the PDP of not only its leadership might but also of its numerical strength in Delta State.”
This line of reasoning may be the reason why the referenced August 31 publication in the Vanguard also pointed out that: “While we have no reason at this point in time to believe Ibori will actually follow his cousin into APC, we must make bold to assure him that should the contrary be the case, then we are quite pleased to remain where we are in PDP, where we belong with our Governor, Senator Dr. Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, and all our leaders in the state“. However, Uduaghan himself has said it severally that if not for the persistent restraints from Ibori, his departure from PDP was long overdue. But this assertion does not seem to satisfactorily allay the apprehension in the PDP as some of them still stand to believe that there is something Uduaghan and Ibori know that they (PDP) have not been able to unravel. Whatever the case may be, observers from within and without are watching as the political drama unfolds. And whichever way the wind might blow, one thing that is certain to some political pundits who have studied the present scenario holistically, is that with the exit of Uduaghan, PDP in Delta State cannot remain the same again. They strongly believe that it is like opening up a big gully on the foundation of the Delta PDP.
On the question of good governance, many strongly believe that Uduaghan’s scorecard far outshines that of the present administration especially in the health, education and transports sectors. Under Uduaghan, many Delta got the benefits of a maternal and child health initiative that paid for a baby’s well-being from conception to the age of five; the establishment of the Delta State Teaching Hospital, Oghara; free primary and secondary education (including free enrollment and final examination fees for pupils and students in primary and secondary respectively); the boost of education infrastructure which saw the commissioning of over thirteen model secondary schools, over fifty-four primary schools and the introduction of five million Naira per year as post-graduate incentive for first-class degree graduates. Uduaghan has himself publicly scored his administration far and above Okowa’s. The Okowa government disputes these facts but that simply confirms the deep political cracks that forced Uduaghan to move from the PDP to APC.
Ironically, some in the APC are wary of Uduaghan’s real intentions. Apart from Chief Great Ogboru and the APC’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who show great confidence in him, many leaders and members of the party are believed to be raising questions about Uduaghan’s sincerity of purpose in the party. They reason that it is suspect for Uduaghan – a two-term former governor – to decamp into the APC almost alone. They cite how Senator Godswill Akpabio, also a former two-term governor of Akwa-Ibom State (like Uduaghan), is making it almost impossible for the PDP to retain that state in the 2019 general elections against Uduaghan’s noncommittal attitude in the APC. Speaking on this perspective on the condition of anonymity, a respected source in the Presidency said, “Haba, do you yourself trust him? He is just plainly insincere and selfish. Something close to a mole. He may be trying to use the APC to climb upstairs and undo us in a major way in the State. But we will not allow that to happen. APC is 100% ready to win Delta. We will not tolerate some of the things they use to do in that State.”
Uduaghan’s case is no doubt a complex irony. Vilified in PDP for strengthening APC electorally, yet not so much trusted in APC to sincerely add good electoral value to them! Maybe it is this irony that defines his political force. In any case, since his defection, Uduaghan has not concealed his belief that politics is a game of interest. For now, it may just be safer to let the man his admirers call Asamaigor be. As he pursues his political interests, hopefully Deltans will be well-served by them.
Avwioroko is an award-winning journalist.