There are strong indications that the immediate past governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan might be on his way out of the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to join the All Progressives Congress, APC. Here, we serve you the inside story of Uduaghan’s defection move and the compelling reasons why he might be taking a walk from the PDP.
For some weeks now, ‘defection’ has been the buzzword in our polity with the spate of cross-carpeting by politicians from one party to another. But in Delta State where speculations had been rife for over a year now that the immediate past governor of the state might be dumping the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for the All Progressives Congress, APC, it’s been a waiting game and vacillation. From the magazine’s observations and investigations, Uduaghan’s contemplation to leave the party is not unconnected with his strained relationship with his successor, Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, fellow medical doctor and member of the same political family – the James Onanefe Ibori political family – who had since the inception of his administration, allegedly consigned him to political wilderness and irrelevance. Though Uduaghan played a very active role in the election that brought Okowa to office, morally and financially, the incumbent governor never forgave him for not supporting his candidacy in the selection process. And his animosity towards his predecessor showed clearly about 10 days before he officially took over the mantle of leadership when he allegedly orchestrated the disappearance of the state’s accountant-general, his Ika kinsman, about two weeks to the expiration of Uduaghan’s administration. The political shenanigan crippled governance in the state ahead of hand-over and greatly embarrassed and humiliated the then out-going governor. It is little wonder therefore that since he left office May 29, 2015, the relationship between the duo and their loyalists had been anything but cordial in spite of the façade they tried to put up in public.
The magazine’s investigations revealed that Uduaghan may have resolved to move out of the PDP where he was one of the founding fathers in the state because he had been treated with utter disrespect, and more importantly, he could no longer find accommodation there to further his political career. The former governor who had attempted to retire to the Senate as it had been the tradition with fellow ex-governors, was stampeded out of the race because of threat of violence by the Ijaw kinsmen of the incumbent senator, James Manager who at the time was doing his third term and was insistent on returning for another term thereby denying other two ethnic groups in his Delta South senatorial district – the Itsekiri and Isoko – an opportunity to represent the district in line with an unwritten rotational agreement.
The magazine gathered that Uduaghan had borne the hostility and disrespect to him with calm equanimity in the early days of the Okowa administration hoping that on Ibori’s return from the United Kingdom where he was serving a prison term, he would broker a truce. However since Ibori’s return, rather than get better, the gulf between him and the governor had been widening. About a few weeks ago, the media was awash with the news that Uduaghan was set to dump the party to pitch his tent with the APC where he had reportedly been offered automatic ticket to the Senate which had been elusive in the PDP because of the governor’s alleged support for somebody else. The possibility of the former governor actually taking a walk from the party suddenly dawned on the leaders setting them in panic mode. Series of meetings were initiated to hear the grievances of the former governor, broker peace between him and his successor, and at the same time to persuade him to stay put on the sentiment that he cannot abandon a house he helped to build to be a tenant elsewhere.
With these interventions, it appeared that Uduaghan had had a change of mind. At least that was the impression political observers were given when it was reported in some national dailies penultimate week that he had buried his decision to leave the party. Uduaghan had told the Vanguard newspaper when asked of his rumoured defection plan that “It is not true that I would be defecting either today (Wednesday) or tomorrow, but there has been a lot of interventions going on from the likes of Chief Ibori, the governor (Okowa) and some party leaders. In the last few days, they have been talking and I am listening to them. So basically, some elders have intervened on the matter, and I am listening to them”. But if the ex-governor was indeed swayed by the interventions and was reconsidering his stance, sources close to him hinted the magazine that this thought fizzled out August 11, 2018 following what transpired at the 70th birthday ceremony of a chieftain of the party and former senator who represented Delta North at the National Assembly, Patrick Osakwe in his hometown, Ugiliamai in Ndokwa West local government area of the state. At the ceremony which also doubled as a grand reception for Ibori, the source said any discerning mind would get the message that the party was not being sincere in their dealings with Uduaghan.
In their speeches, both Ibori and the governor had stated that the PDP was one large family strengthened by brotherly love where an individual’s ambition cannot subsume collective interest, emphasizing that members of PDP believed in the supremacy of the party where collective interest supersedes personal interest. In the words of Okowa, “when we continue to partner together, we add value to this family, the PDP family; the family means well for our state.” Ibori on his part, said, “We must understand that Delta is a very complex state. We must learn to subsume our personal interest for the good of the state. Those who are vying for political offices should go and look for delegates and get their support because Chief Ibori and the Governor cannot help you; get your people to support you to enable you win.” The source strongly believed that “those speeches were directed at my principal. And we have been telling him that they don’t need him in the PDP. Now that he has almost completed his moves to join the APC, they are running around pretending that they are interested in him and value him. They are deceiving him and want to keep him in PDP and further rubbish him”. The former governor’s loyalist wondered where all the people now dancing around him were when he was being treated like a leper “in a party he helped to build and a government he worked out to install”.
Though it was reported in a national daily Thursday, August 23 that Uduaghan had confirmed dumping the PDP, a source in the former governor’s camp pooh-poohed the report. He told the magazine that no such decision had been taken, stressing that “he is still consulting”. According to him, his final decision would be based on what happens between now and a few days. “In their meetings with him, he gave some conditions; and as far as I know, those conditions have not been met and he can’t wait forever for them because, given the election timetable released by INEC, time is running out”, he told the magazine. Though the source was not forthcoming on the specific demands put before them by Uduaghan, one of his staunch supporters complained about how the former governor was strangulated financially by the refusal of the governor to pay him his entitlements as a former governor, how he was reduced to a nonentity in his local government during the various congresses of the party, and how his loyalists were being treated as pariahs in the party by the governor, his supporters and political appointees.
According to the source, such was the disdain the governor had for Uduaghan that for the first two years of his leaving office, he was not able to see Okowa for a one-on-one discussion. “He was snubbed by Okowa”, he lamented, adding that “even on the two occasions he agreed to see him, the attempts ended in grave humiliation”. Recounting his boss’s ordeal in those two encounters, he told the magazine that “the first one was at the new Delta State governor’s Lodge in Lagos. He kept oga in the sitting room where there were so many people, including some of his aides, and he wanted him to start talking to him there when there were about four other private sitting rooms where he could take him to for privacy. Of course he couldn’t have been discussing with him in their presence. So he left. It was clear he was not interested in granting him audience. The second one was in his office in Asaba and it was the same scenario and humiliating treatment. As he was sitting down, the deputy governor came in and sat down. Apparently, he had invited the deputy governor to sit in the meeting. Even when our oga indicated that he wanted to see him in camera, the governor brushed it aside saying that he and the deputy governor were the same. So, again, he left”.
That was the stalemate until the return of Ibori. The magazine gathered that when Ibori called a meeting to reconcile them, Uduaghan reportedly told him that Okowa’s camp was the problem and narrated how since the inception of his administration, his boys had been abusing him and his loyalists. He reportedly accused the governor of being vindictive because of their differences ahead of the 2015 governorship primary election. The magazine gathered that the meeting was a stormy one as a very enraged Uduaghan went down memory lane to remind Okowa how he too did not support him in 2007 for the PDP ticket which the two of them hotly contested for with late Pius Ewherido and he did not crucify him for it. One of the former governor’s former aides who claimed to be privy to what happened after the 2007 primary election, recalled how Uduaghan moved swiftly to appease Okowa. “When Uduaghan was declared the winner at the primary in the early hours of the morning, he drove straight to Okowa’s house with some of us but they said he was in one hotel owned by the late Young Igbrude. He went to meet him there. He was said to be boiling and very angry but he pleaded with him that they should work together. He said he was going to Oghara first to see Ibori”. It was learnt that it was at the Oghara meeting with Ibori that Okowa was assured it would be his turn after Uduaghan’s two terms as governor and it was on the strength of that understanding that he agreed to work for Uduaghan, an agreement Uduaghan tried to jettison in 2015. The magazine was told how Uduaghan’s wife, Roli also went to Agbor same day to see Okowa’s wife to talk to her. That was how the duo put what happened at the primary election behind them to work together, with Okowa heading the campaign as the director-general. He later served as secretary to the state government before going to the Senate. The magazine gathered that after the hot exchange of words, Okowa agreed to settle all the money and other entitlements owed Uduaghan, including house, and cars. But as it turned out, it seemed the promise was not meant to be kept religiously. The source regretted that, “up till today, he didn’t pay” stressing that “Whereas he was entitled to three cars, he brought one car and one pick-up. So, over the years, he had just been bearing all the ill-treatment because he did not want to rock the boat”.
But perhaps most touchy and disconcerting for Uduaghan was the issue of his senatorial ambition which according to the embattled former governors supporters, Okowa had tried hard to frustrate by allegedly propping up another aspirant, Michael Diden, popularly called Ejele from his (Uduaghan’s) Itsekiri ethnic group and a former protégé, to challenge him. The magazine was told how it was that when Uduaghan made up his mind to take another shot at the senatorial seat, Okowa was the first person to be consulted hoping that he would have put aside old animosity and considering the fact that they had both come a long way. He was however said to be rudely shocked by the governor’s attitude towards his ambition. To his utter bewilderment, he was said to have been told by the governor that he should realize his biggest problem would be Ejele. A bemused Uduaghan reportedly reminded Okowa that he was the governor and whatever power Ejele could boast of was the one derived from him as the governor, and bolstered by the money he makes from him. According to our source, “Oga also drew the attention of the governor to the fact that Ejele does not have a big or strong ethnic group behind him because the Itsekiri is the smallest ethnic group unlike the Ijaws and that he only needed to rein in Ejele and he would obey him”. The source was miffed that “this is the same Ejele Uduaghan made and had managed for almost 16 years now being used against him”. The governor’s response, the source hinted, was that he merely mentioned Ejele so that Uduaghan would know how to deal with him. It was on that note, the magazine learnt, the meeting ended, leaving Uduaghan in no doubt that the governor was out to undo him by flying the Ejele kite.
Apart from the perceived lack of support from the governor, Uduaghan had also been circumspect about the PDP leadership’s agreement with serving National Assembly members to give them automatic tickets which seems to foreclose the ambition of other members of the party. This, it was learnt James Manager is latching on by not wanting to let go even after four terms of 16 years in the Senate. Political observers believe that except there is a strong resistance at the state level given the peculiar nature of each senatorial district on rotation of seats, there would be no room for anyone else and this is what Manager appears to be exploiting. These scenarios might have gotten Uduaghan thinking that he needed to take his political destiny in his own hands by exploring other possibilities. It is in the light of this that the APC option appeared more attractive and tempting to him, more so when overtures were being made to him by the key stakeholders both at the national and state levels.
So, while the PDP leadership and stakeholders appeared to be vacillating over keeping him in the party, like a beautiful bride, the APC had intensified its pressure to woo him into their fold by dangling before him not just the carrot of an automatic senatorial ticket, but also leadership of the party in the state given his status as a former governor. An unimpeachable source informed the magazine that the overtures to Uduaghan had been on since the national chairmanship of John Odigie-Oyegun, and had become even more aggressive under the incumbent, Adams Oshiomole. If Oshiomole is obsessed with anything, especially since he took over from Odigie-Oyegun, it is for the ruling APC to take over the oil-rich states of the South-south geopolitical zone and he would do anything to realize it. That is why the APC went into wild celebration when the erstwhile minority leader of the PDP, Godswill Akpabio from Akwa-Ibom State defected to the party. Apart from the chummy relationship that had existed between the former Edo State governor and Uduaghan during their tenures, of greater interest to the APC national chairman is Uduaghan’s political clout. Given the role played by the former Delta State governor in delivering massive votes to former president Goodluck Jonathan especially from the coastal communities, Oshiomole believed that his coming into APC would be a great asset to the party. Another crucial reason Oshiomole is interested in Uduaghan, the magazine learnt, is that given the present frosty relationship between the Senate and the presidency, the APC is determined to forestall such a development in the next political dispensation through deliberate recruitment of trusted people into the National Assembly. A source close to the leadership of the party told the magazine that “in this vein, we are being very selective in the various states of people we give tickets of our party to. We saw how loyal till the end Uduaghan was to Jonathan and we believe somebody like him can be trusted and be counted upon to be loyal. That is why we are rooting for him and we are hoping he will join our party”.
However, while the APC seems to be enjoying its romance with Uduaghan and looking forward to consummating the union, the Ibori political family is not at ease with the prospect of the immediate past governor of the state abandoning the family. Perhaps worst hit and most troubled is Ibori, the head of the political family himself, who is also a younger cousin of Uduaghan. The magazine learnt that since it became clear that Uduaghan was serious about dumping the party, the Oghara-born politician who had been able to weld the family together since the formation of the PDP in 1998, even during several years of his absence, had been busy trouble-shooting. He is said to be prevailing on his successor in office not to defect to another party. The magazine learnt that the situation is such that the issue is turning to a family affair. Prominent members of the Ibori political family had also waded into the matter with Ighoyota Amori,political adviser to the National Chairman of the PDP, explaining that “We have held several meetings, both in Asaba and Oghara, and of course, Lagos where he (Uduaghan) has actually expressed some of the things that make him want to leave the party for APC. And we have appealed to him to have a rethink because all his political associates are still in PDP. That is where he belongs”. In an interview with Vanguard newspaper, Amori posited that “it is the PDP that brought him up to the political limelight he is enjoying today. He cannot for one reason or the other jump ship to another party” adding that “We have told him that he cannot live outside his political family”. Amori expressed concern that “If he goes away, these people become his political opponents and it is not healthy for us”. While noting that the family had been together for over 20 years, Amori insisted that “there is no issue that cannot be addressed. These are the situations we find ourselves every time as politicians”. It, however, remains to be seen if Uduaghan would be swayed by the sentiments of family ties or keep a straight face and follow his heart to do what seems best for him under the circumstance he had found himself.