2019: Uduaghan, Manager in Renewed Hostilities

The race for who picks the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party,  PDP, for the Delta South senatorial zone has started in earnest and the storm is gathering over what political watchers believe would be one of the mothers of all electoral battles in Delta State.

The picture is getting clearer who the major contenders and pretenders are. For now, on the line up are the immediate past governor of the state, Emmanuel Uduaghan, James Manager, pioneer state chairman of the PDP, and present occupier of the senatorial seat, and Michael Diden, popularly known as Ejele.

While Uduaghan and Manager by their political antecedents can be classified as the front-liners, Ejele is perceived as a pretender out to play the role of a spoiler in furtherance of the political interest of his sponsors. A source who should know hinted the magazine that Ejele, though he has always denied it, is indeed a pawn in the political chess game of the governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who, it is believed, is yet to lay his card on the table as to where his sympathy lies.

Ejele, who represents Warri North constituency in the state House of Assembly, gained political visibility and ascendancy under Uduaghan. But with Uduaghan on his way out, for Ejele, it was time to move on and chart a political future for himself. He took a gamble to pitch his political tent with Okowa who in his estimation, had the best prospect of clinching the governorship ticket at the time. His reading of the political barometer was accurate. Okowa not only clinched the PDP governorship ticket, but went ahead to win the election. Today, the both enjoy a cosy relationship. With the 2019 general elections around the corner, Ejele evidently has a role to play in deciding who picks the ticket between Uduaghan, his Itsekiri kinsman, and Manager of Ijaw extraction who has clung unto the senate seat since 2003, and therefore doing his fourth term as a senator.

Uduaghan and Manager are however, no strangers to each other in electoral contest. They are familiar political rivals as far as the struggle for the Delta South senatorial seat is concerned. By an unwritten agreement, the senate seat is supposed to rotate among the three ethnic groups that comprise the South senatorial district namely Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri . Since 1999 when the present democratic dispensation began, only the Itsekiri are yet to have a taste of the pudding. Indeed from 1979 till date, the Itsekiri had enjoyed only one slot out of five – Franklin Atake (1979). The two other ethnic groups had shared equally the remaining four. While Isoko had been represented by Francis Okpozo, now late, and Stella Omu (1999 – 2003) the Ijaw had been represented by Edwin Clark, now Ijaw national leader, and incumbent senator, Manager (2003 till date).

It is therefore in the light of this that the Itsekiri had been agitated over their apparent marginalization in the political equation in the senatorial district. Curiously, the Ijaw ethnic nationality which had held tightly to the seat since 2003, is not about to let go. It is indeed even more resolute to hold onto it in 2019. The magazine gathered that the resolution was taken at a recent gathering at the Kiagobdo home of their leader, Edwin Clark where it was also decided that the position of deputy governor presently occupied by one of their own, Kingsley Otuaro would not be relinquished for a long time to come. They resolved to resist any attempt by any of the other ethnic groups to wrest the positions from them. If anyone doubts their capability to make good their threat, such a person only needs to ask Uduaghan who in 2015 was brow-beaten out of the race by threat of unleashing mayhem on his supporters if he dared use his power of incumbency to pick the PDP ticket. The man of peace that he is and who worked tirelessly to restore peace to the hitherto crisis-ridden state, had to beat a retreat because according to him, his ambition was not worth the life of any of his loyalists.

For Manager and some of his Ijaw kinsmen, equity, fairness, justice and brotherliness do not exist in their political lexicon. To Manager, the senate has become his birthright and sole inheritance to the exclusion of other stakeholders in the district, which he intends to keep in perpetuity. Already in the last lap of his fourth tenure, Manager is seeking another term that would give him five terms of 20 years!

In the countdown to his exit from office in 2014, Uduaghan had attempted to follow what had become the tradition of governors who retire into the senate. At a media parley with journalists, he had announced his interest in going to the senate believing that he stood a chance as according to him, it was the turn of his Itsekiri ethnic nationality to represent the senatorial district. Manager, however, used a combination of threat of violence and the presidential connection to stampede him out of the race. Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw was then the sitting president. It was alleged that during a confrontation between the duo in his office, he had advised the then governor to step down, promising him a federal appointment in his second term but he never made it back to make good the promise.

As the former later explained, his decision to beat a retreat in his first attempt was not out of cowardice but “to allow peace reign.” Indeed, it was a case of one who fights and runs away living to fight another day. Uduaghan is back in the political boxing ring and this time around, he seems prepared to give it all it takes. However, some of the odds there had worked against him then are still very much there. Though Manager no longer has the federal might behind him, he may however, want to leverage on the not so cordial relationship between the governor and his predecessor in office to get his support.

Though they appear to put up friendly disposition in public, the magazine gathered that Okowa has not really forgiven Uduaghan for not initially supporting his governorship ambition though he later worked very hard to ensure his victory at the polls. Besides, who Okowa decides to throw his weight behind would also be influenced by his relevance to his second term election. A source hinted the magazine that Okowa might go with the Ijaw whose support in 2015 went a long way in delivering the governorship to him both at the highly contentious primary election as well as the general election. He is still banking on a repeat of that working relationship. In that case, Manager may be a major beneficiary of such a partnership. That is why it is believed in some quarters that Ejele was drafted into the race by the governor to checkmate Uduaghan by dividing the Itsekiri vote at the primary election.

Political observers, however, believe that the present intriguing political situation may have put Okowa somehow in a dilemma given the frosty relationship between Clark and James Ibori, former governor of the state to whose political family the governor belongs. Ibori it was, whose last minute intervention in the PDP primary election swung the pendulum of victory in his favour. One not to go back on his promise and a gentleman’s agreement, the former governor made good the promise he made to Okowa when in 2007 he made him to step down for Uduaghan when there was a tie during the PDP governorship primary in Ogwashi-Uku. He had assured him that after Uduaghan, it would be his turn and he did not waver when the time came to deliver even when his cousin, the then governor wanted to make him renege on it by propping up another person. Ibori also, it was who first endorsed Okowa for a second term in office as soon as he returned home from the United Kingdom after he had served out his prison term.

Speculations are, however, rife the political relationship between the governor and Ibori may be going through some strain which may not be unconnected to the Clark factor. Okowa is torn between loyalty to two arch political enemies. The magazine learnt that the resistance by Clark and some of his Ijaw kinsmen to Uduaghan’s senatorial ambition is as a matter of fact a continuation of Clark’s hatred for Ibori for which he hounded him to jail. The elder statesman is said to be aghast that in spite of his attempt to destroy him, Ibori returned to the state even a more towering political figure. Rather than diminish in political stature by his ex-convict status, he is being idolized and treated as a hero. The magazine gathered that the game-plan by Clark and his co-travelers is to demystify Ibori and set his political family in disarray counting on the support of the governor. Whether Okowa will back-stab Ibori and bite the finger that fed him, time will tell.

A close ally of Ibori wondered why Clark who at his age should be building bridges of unity and friendship should be so consumed with hatred for someone who accorded him so much respect as a father and elder statesman when he was governor that he would not rest until he totally destroys him. According to him, “the Ijaws are very ungrateful and Ibori is not happy with them; with all that Ibori did for them which eventually landed him in trouble until he was jailed. It was because of Alamieseigha that Ibori went through the travails that landed him in prison. When DSP Alamieseigha was arrested in London it was Ibori who said the sister should bail him and it was from there they started investigating the sister; where she got the money to bail him. Ibori moved the headquarters of Warri Southwest from Itsekiri to Ijaw land. Even a few days ago, he went to Bayelsa to settle a quarrel between the state government and Ammasoma, which is Alamieseigha’s town. If not for Ibori, E. K. Clark would not have been alive today. He was seriously sick when Ibori was in government and he had to fly abroad. Yet he would not allow him rest. Even during his trial in London, Clark was always sending a lawyer (names withheld) to worsen his case. That is how bad the old man hates Ibori.”

The Isoko and Itsekiri ethnic groups who are at the receiving end of the Ijaw over lordship are not, however, resigned to their fate and may be united in their common predicament. A prominent Isoko leader confided in the magazine that the two groups would team up to fight the Ijaw hegemony stressing that “unless they rig the election, there is no way they can defeat us”. According to him, “the agreement amongst the three I’s is for the thing to be rotated. But since Manager came in, he destroyed it whereas it was that rotation that brought him. The arrangement was that no one ethnic group would do two more than two terms so that it can go round. After Omu went once, some elements went for Manager because the mother is partly Isoko. They frustrated Omu from going for a second term. After going once, he decided not to allow another person have it again for life. So that is the dilemma we are in now. But we have decided to work together; if Isoko is not going, Itsekiri will go and Isoko will support the candidate. But the feeling is that Itsekiri should go. The thing about Ijaw is they have adopted violence in their agitations and that is what they use in intimidating others. They forget that nobody has the monopoly of violence. Some of us just believe in equity and fairness as basis for harmony amongst diverse groups and interests.”

However, it is not all Ijaws that are in agreement with the hard stance of their kinsmen and leaders. The political development has indeed divided the Ijaws as some groups insisted on fairness and justice. A group, Ijaw Liberation Movement (ILM) has thrown its full weight behind Uduaghan. Leader of the group, Peremotebi Simeon expressed his kinsmen’s desire to have the former governor represent them “this time around”. Simeon who said they were excited having their son serving his fourth tenure totaling 16 years, was, however, quick to add that Ijaw is not the only ethnic group in Delta South. “There is no doubt in our minds that it is the turn of another section to represent us. That is fair game. I am not saying our brother has not done well, or is not doing well; but I believe a fresh candidate will bring something fresh to the table for our own benefit”. Speaking further, Simeon acknowledged Uduaghan’s “painstaking efforts” to develop Ijaw land, and indeed the whole state while he was governor”, adding that “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.”

In announcing his decision to resuscitate his senatorial ambition April this year, Uduaghan, 63, and a medical doctor, was optimistic and confident that he would pick the PDP ticket and go ahead to win the election. He pledged to carry his constituents along by involving them in the lawmaking process and holding town hall meetings every six months. “I am going to sign a contract with my people; the Senator-Citizens Contract. I have a group of lawyers who are already working on it. I am a grassroots politician; well-known and trusted by the people”. Not a few would wonder the source of Uduaghan’s optimism. Would Ibori be able to fix it for him as he fixed it for Okowa? Or would Uduaghan be stopped again this time around? Time will tell.

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