With the tempo of political activities revving up a notch in Delta State as the 2019 election looms, Senior Correspondent, Okungbowa Aiwerie, examines the prospects of some aspirants and the issues that may shape the election
POLITICIANS in Delta State are leaving nothing to chance in their bid to claim the sole tickets of their respective parties, as the 2019 General Election inches closer. To this end, many have begun consultative visits to sell their candidacy to the electorate.
In the Delta South Senatorial District, which comprises the Isoko, Itsekiri, Ijaw ethnic nationalities and minority Urhobos, the battle for supremacy appears a straight fight between former Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, incumbent Senator James Manager and Michael Diden a.k.a “Ejele,” who is the incumbent legislator representing Warri North Constituency in the state’s legislature.
The three aspirants, incidentally, are all influential members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
While Manager is of the Ijaw ethnic group, Uduaghan and Diden are Itsekiris.
Although Manager has been coy over his ambition, Uduaghan and Diden have not hidden theirs, and have intensified underground moves to woo various groups.
Despite his coyness, it is safe to assume that the incumbent senator is eyeing the coveted senatorial seat, and will deploy enormous resources to get re-elected.
Recently, while speaking with reporters in Warri, Uduaghan hinted of his readiness to contest the forthcoming election.
He said, “I am ready for election. If I get the nomination of the party, I will contest”.
It is however unclear yet which political party platform he wants to use because there have been speculations he may have dumped the ruling PDP for the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). But Uduaghan has neither denied nor confirmed his alleged romance with APC.
The Nation gathered that secret consultations between the ex- governor and the ruling PDP kingpins and some Itsekiri leaders may have held following the endorsement of many pressure groups.
But what are the chances of these three aspirants? Given the cries of marginalisation by the other ethnic groups in the zone, how will the PDP resolve the impasse? Will the other three ethnic groups allow James Manager an unprecedented fifth term in office? In the event of a tie breaker, who will the Urhobos in Delta South throw their weight behind?
Undoubtedly, the cry of alleged marginalisation in Delta South will become more strident as election draws closer. This alleged marginalisation was re-echoed in a recent interview by ex-Secretary to the State Government and ex-Nigeria Labour Congress President, Delta State Chapter, Mr. Ovuozourie Macaulay, an Isoko man.
He said “It will be unfair for any Ijaw man to show interest in the senatorial seat for 2019, having occupied it for 16 years. I think the matter is between Itsekiri’s and Isokos,” he said.
Also the apex socio-cultural pressure group, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought (ILoT), through Edward Ekpoko, has thrown their weight behind the clamour for James Manager not to contemplate a return to the Senate, saying “Manager has overstayed at the Senate and it is time for him to go”.
According to the group, “It is the turn of the Itsekiri ethnic nationality to produce the candidate to represent the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Isoko ethnic nationalities that make up the Delta South Senatorial District at the NASS”.
Of the three ethnic nationalities in Delta South, the Itsekiris and the Urhobos are the only groups that have not represented the district at the NASS under new democratic dispensation. While Isoko enjoyed one term under Senator Stella Omu in 1999; neither the Itsekiris nor the minority Urhobos have tasted the position since 1999.
Ordinarily, based on the number of wards in Delta South, it is easy for the Ijaws to claim the senatorial seat, but should there be a gang-up between the Isokos and the Itsekiris and the minority Urhobos, then the Ijaws will face a herculean task holding on to the seat.
The Ijaws have 40 wards, the Isokos 24 wards while the Itsekiris have 18 wards. The Urhobos have six wards.
But politics in Delta State is not only about numbers, other extraneous factors play significant roles in determining who gets what.
Although, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, then the serving governor, had in 2015 indicated interest in running for the senatorial seat, he nonetheless, pulled out of the race at the eleventh hour citing his desire to allow “peace reign” in the state.
A two-term governor, Uduaghan wields enormous influence within the PDP and in the state. He could leverage on his political clout, cultivated over the years across the senatorial district, to clinch the ticket.
He recently got a boost from an unlikely source following an endorsement by Ijaw Liberation Movement in Ijawland.
Its coordinator, Peremotebi Simeon, said, “We had followed Dr. Uduaghan’s painstaking effort to develop our area, nay the whole state, while he was governor of Delta State. We are also aware that he stepped down for our son to continue a few years ago, so he is the most suitable person for the job now,” he said.
Also, The Nation gathered that the former governor has a huge war chest with which to prosecute his election, coupled with the influence of ex-Governor James Ibori, he may get the ticket easily.
But some Deltans say his failure to install his successor and many of his political allies into elective position during the 2015 election, count against him, and for this reason they discount his chances.
Senator James Manager is a seasoned politician. He was the pioneer PDP Chairman in Delta State and one time commissioner under ex-Governor James Ibori. For the past 16 years, Manager has been Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and also, since the creation of the ministry, he has held the position of Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs.
But some political analysts blame him for not supporting the emergence of an Isoko person after Okowa won PDP primaries in 2015 and as such may not get the backing of the Isokos in 2019; crucial for his reelection .They claimed he backed another Ijaw man for the position of Deputy Governor.
A political activist, and coordinator, Delta South Coalition for Progress, Dr. Tosan Omojuwa, has this to say about James Manager chances in the forthcoming 2019 elections, “As Senator Manager did nothing to support the emergence of an Isoko candidate for the position of Deputy Governor, the Isoko people also owe him no moral obligation to return him to the Senate”.
Another major stumbling block to Manager’s ambition is the cry of marginalisation among the three ethnic groups in Delta South. How he navigates this clear and present danger to his aspiration remains to be seen.
Of the three aspirants, Diden, the lawmaker representing Warri North Constituency, appears to lag behind in terms of experience and national clout.
But he is a proven grassroots politician with a large youth followership across Delta South. He is an enormously wealthy businessman, prepared to deploy huge resources in the pursuit of his political ambition. Diden is admired for his courageous approach to politics.
It will be recalled that in the run-up to the 2015 gubernatorial elections, Diden, against the wishes of then Governor Uduaghan, publicly supported Okowa’s candidacy against Uduaghan’s backed gubernatorial candidate, Tony Obuh, when it was dangerous to so do.
An Okowa loyalist and member of his kitchen cabinet, Diden became a state legislator in 2015.
Some analysts believe that Okowa may be the one behind his ambition and with the party machinery firmly in Okowa’s hands; it is not impossible Diden may have the last laugh.