Senate: Uncommon Endorsements for Uduaghan

The odds seem to be working in favour of immediate past governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the Delta South senatorial seat in the red chamber of the National Assembly who is squaring up to the incumbent, James Manager, touted a formidable opponent by reason of his running on the platform of the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, and coming from the largest ethnic group in the senatorial district, Ijaw

By the end of the eighth National Assembly June this year, James Manager, incumbent senator for Delta South senatorial district, would have done 16 years as Senator representing the constituency. And evidently, he is not done yet. He is fighting hard to retain the seat in the February 16 presidential and National Assembly elections. The Senate of the Federal Republic has become his farm. The lure of the bountiful harvest in terms of the mouth-gaping jumbo remuneration package and other perquisites of office enjoyed by members is too attractive to let go the farm for another to take over. And if his threat to violently resist an attempt by the erstwhile sitting governor of the state, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan to wrest the ticket from him in 2015 is anything to go by, Manager, even now, has not back-tracked on his resolve to protect the seat with the last drop of his blood. Interestingly, the same opponent he easily stampeded out of the race in 2015, is the one standing up to him this time around as a major challenger. But unlike in previous contests when he effortlessly had his way, today’s reality is that it would not be a walk in the park for him. This is because since then, a lot of things has changed. One, they both no longer belong to the same party, Uduaghan having taken his political destiny in his own hands to dump the PDP when it became obvious to him that some powerful forces in the party, out of political vendetta, were all out to humiliate him and reduce him to a feather-weight in a party where he was a commissioner, secretary to government, SSG, and governor for eight years, by denying him its senatorial ticket. Secondly, the former governor has been able to achieve what many political pundits never thought was possible – uniting the party which over the years, had been in disarray and working at cross-purposes. The lack of cohesion and unity of purpose had been the bane of the party’s electoral fortunes in the past.  The PDP had hoped to once again benefit from the APC’s intra-party disharmony to over-run it in the coming elections. Unfortunately for it, all the contending forces appear to have aligned to put up a good fight in the elections.
Thirdly, and perhaps very weighty, is the seeming ethnic realignment amongst the group of three (G3) -Isoko, Ijaw, and Itsekiri, popularly called the Three I’s – which make up the Delta South senatorial zone, a development which, from all indications, is working in favour of the former governor. After 16 years of representation by the Ijaw ethnic group, the people of the constituency appear desirous, and indeed determined, for a shift to another leg of the tripod for the sake of fairness, equity and justice. The Isoko, therefore, resolved to align with the Itsekiri in their bid to produce the next senator. And fourthly and most significant, is the record of service of the two frontline candidates scrambling for the people’s votes. Apart from being weary of one man’s 16 years of representation, there has always been the issue in some quarters, of absence of quality representation by Manager in terms of touching the lives of constituents. Some dissatisfied members of his constituency had accused him of being inaccessible and self-centered. For example, a major complaint against him was that as one-time chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC, he never used the position to dispense patronage to the people of the zone but to benefit himself alone.

For Uduaghan however, lines are falling for him in pleasant places with his record of service as governor being his major strength in the electoral contestation. This much is evident in the kind of endorsements he had received from various quarters since he started his consultations and door-to-door campaigns across the three ethnic divides in the last quarter of 2018. Most uncommon of such endorsements was that of traditional rulers from Isoko North and South. They were unequivocal in spelling it out to him that his adoption as their favoured candidate was without prejudice to the political platform on which he is running. Like the dictum which says a child who washes his hands’ clean eats with elders, the royal fathers told Uduaghan he was being endorsed in his personal capacity and not as APC candidate. Spokesman of the Isoko South traditional rulers, Anthony Ovrawah, Omogha 1, the Odio-Ologbo of Oleh, who spoke in vernacular, said Wednesday, January 23 when the former governor paid them a visit, “you have the blessings and support of Isoko nation for the senatorial seat. You’re our candidate for the Senate. We picked you not because of APC but for who you are.” The Odio-Ologbo said “I have opened the door of the Senate to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan because he is an illustrious son of Isoko nation and we have confidence in him. We know him. Isoko nation benefitted immensely during your tenure. You are one of us”. Explaining why he was personally indebted to Uduaghan, the royal father recalled how “when you were governor; you paid me an unexpected visit. I was almost at the point of death. I didn’t complain to you or anyone close to you of any ailment. But as a true medical doctor, you detected I was sick. You insisted that your personal ambulance took me to Oghara Teaching Hospital where I was treated free of charge”. He said before his visit, “my people and I had resolved to throw our support behind you and the Itsekiris. The position belongs to three children. It is the turn of the Itsekiris”.
Speaking in a similar vein in Ozoro at the palace of Anthony Ogbogbo, Idudu 1, Ovie of Ozoro kingdom, royal fathers from Isoko North local government area said they would not forget in a hurry Uduaghan’s support for the traditional institution when he was governor, noting how he accorded the traditional institution its due respect and as well, raised the status of royal fathers to an enviable position in the country. It was therefore a case of one good turn deserving another. According to the Ovie, “the other kings are here to see the man who elevated their status. You’re somebody that fought for the traditional rulers and the sanctity of our culture. We (traditional rulers) in Delta State will not forget you in a hurry. You did well as a governor”. The royal fathers were particularly swept off their feet by Uduaghan’s well-articulated speech in which he unfolded his four-point agenda if given the mandate to represent them. Like the maxim which says, “good talk brings the kola nut out of the pouch…”, the visibly impressed monarchs gave their visitor not just the symbolic traditional kola nut, but “wedged” it in the custom of the people, with a promise of their most desired valued votes. In the words of the Ovie, “you won our hearts with your issue-based speech. We pray God to grant your aspiration with a resounding victory.”
Uduaghan had in his speeches at the palaces of monarchs of the two local government areas, said he was in Isoko land to intimate them of his vision before officially flagging off his senatorial campaign in the areas. He noted that as a former Secretary to the State Government, SSG and Secretary to the State Security Council, and later as a governor of the state, he had deep knowledge of the enormous role traditional rulers play in helping to ensure peace and security. “One of the reasons why I am seeking your support to go to the Senate is that I believe that our traditional institution should have legal backing in their role in ensuring peace in the country. I also believe that as people from oil-producing communities, we should have a major stake in the ownership of the oil and gas companies in our communities. Through this, our communities will benefit more from the oil and gas that is derived from our area”, the APC senatorial candidate told his hosts.
The medical doctor turned politician also promised to push for the cleaning of impacted communities, stressing that based on his experience as a governor, so much could be done to create jobs for unemployed youths in the region, while also ensuring that infrastructure reaches the people of the area. Uduaghan made a solemn pledge that as a senator, he would represent the interest of Isoko Nation and ensure that their pains were addressed by the federal government.
Apart from the traditional rulers, the umbrella body of Isoko ethnic nationality, Isoko Development Union, IDU, a socio-political group, had also endorsed the candidacy of the former governor. The endorsement came two days after that of the monarchs. Justifying the endorsement, President-General of IDU, Iduh Amadhe, noted at the IDU Unity House in Oleh, Isoko South, that “the political representation quagmire at the Senate has been giving us headache. We need someone with proven experience to represent us. I don’t need to make along speech, Your Excellency. But all I have to tell you is that when you get to the Senate, don’t forget Isoko”.  Amadhe, however, was quick to recount how the former governor had always been involved with anything that concerned the Isoko nation. To the former governor who had boasted in a recent interview with the magazine that he was in the race to win, the endorsements by various groups in Isoko land meant a lot given the fact that in terms of population, Isoko is next to Ijaw. So, with a coalition of Isoko and Itsekiri forming a formidable alliance to confront the Ijaw, there is every likelihood of victory. Asked in a telephone interview how he felt about the endorsements, the upbeat former governor quipped “Ah, you can answer that question for me now. Excited. I feel excited; very good”. On the implication of the endorsements, he said with cautious optimism that “I’m expecting a lot of votes from Isoko. And with the traditional rulers endorsing me, with Isoko Development Union endorsing, It’s a very positive sign and it ’s very encouraging”. It is pertinent to mention that the mother of his political rival, Manager, hailed from Isoko.
The Delta South senatorial candidate kicked off his consultation visits September last year from his Itsekiri homestead. At the palace of Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, to intimate him why he was in the race, Uduaghan opined that the Niger Delta needed her first eleven at the Senate, stressing that “Delta South, and indeed all of Niger Delta, cannot afford to pass on this opportunity to send her best hands to the Senate to consolidate on the gains of the Buhari-led APC administration in our rich region”. He said as a two-term former Governor, he would also be available to other ethnic groups who wish to use his influence to get the Federal Government’s attention to their demands. “Politics of inclusiveness is the answer to our cries for even development in the Niger Delta -not a divisive one that has brought our region to its lowest ebb politically”, he told the Olu.
Apart from Isoko land, Uduaghan’s senatorial ambition has also enjoyed massive endorsements from numerous groups in the other two ethnic nationalities of Ijaw and Itsekiri. These include Ijaw Liberation Movement, Ijaw Women for Good Governance, Burutu Political Vanguard for Good Governance, and National Association of Itsekiri Graduates, NAIG, amongst others. Throwing their weight behind the former governor even before he picked the APC ticket, Ijaws, under the aegis of Ijaw Liberation Movement in Ijaw land, expressed their desire to have him represent them “this time around”. The group ’s leader, Peremotebi Simeon, said they wanted their son, Manager, to serve out his four tenures of 16 years in the Senate after which Uduaghan from the Itsekiri nationality, should succeed him. In his words, “ the only dynamic thing is change. I am not saying our brother did not do well or is not doing well, but I believe a fresh candidate will bring something fresh to the table for our own benefit. “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. Above all, we the Ijaws benefitted so much from his government. Now it’s pay-back time as one good turn deserves another”.
Ijaw Women for Good Governance, (IWGG) on their part, said though the incumbent, Senator James Manager had been there for over 15 years, the people of Delta South had not felt his impact in the zone as “every part of the senatorial district smells backwardness” stressing that “the time has come for dynamism to be introduced into representation in Delta South Senatorial District to make our people smile for once”. While stating that they were not really interested from which party the best man emerges from, the women contended that “all we are interested in is who will bring better life to us”. Lamenting that the zone had constantly played a second fiddle to other senatorial districts even though one of their own is representing them, the spokesperson of the group, Janet Waribogu, said there was the urgent need to vote in another experienced politician like Uduaghan to continue from where the current senator representing the zone would stop in the next few months after the general elections. Waribogu said this was necessary to attract sustainable development to the area which “ has faced utter neglect for so long, declaring that “enough is enough”. Chairman of Burutu Political Vanguard for Good Governance, BPVGG,  Ebikapaye Agidee, who spoke to reporters in Bomadi, Bomadi LGA said: “Without mincing words, we are sure that Uduaghan will give us effective representation devoid of bias against a particular ethnic group, as against some people’s thinking. “As a former governor, he displayed all the said qualities and I urge all constituents in Delta South to give him the needed support. His free healthcare scheme, maintenance of peace between Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo, infrastructure development, and many others, had already spoken for him”.
For the aspiring senator, it was a pleasant and welcome new year gift from the National Association of Itsekiri Graduates who on January 1, endorsed him as their candidate. In its 2019 new year message to Itsekiri graduates world-wide signed by its National President, Collins Oritsetimeyin Edema, the association explained that after several consultations with different interest groups and critical stakeholders, it concluded that amongst the four Itsekiri candidates gearing to represent the district, “Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan stands a better chance to wrest power from the incumbent senator who has under-performed”. Appealing to the conscience of his members, Edema said “the 2019 general election is a choice between immediate financial gains and sustainable development…Our choice in the 2019 general elections will either lead to the completion of the dredging of the Warri River or the suspension of the project. Our choice in the 2019 general elections will either lead to the opening of the Warri and Koko ports or the continuous closure of those ports. Our choice in the 2019 general elections will either lead to the commencement of work on the Gas Revolution Industrial Park (GRIP), Ogidigben, or the continuous hopelessness we face. Our choice in the 2019 general elections will either lead to the passage of the bill for the establishment of the Federal Polytechnic, Koko into law or the suspension of the bill. Our choice in the 2019 general elections will either lead to the gazetting and revival of the $5million vocational training center, Egbokodo that is in a sorry state, or the continuous neglect”.
According to the NAIG president, “my plea is premised on the fact that this election is our best chance yet to liberate the good people of Delta South Senatorial District from the incumbent political “Mugabe” hence we should not allow our personal ambition to becloud our collective ambition. It is better to be anti-party than to be anti-Itsekiri. Political parties will come and go but the Itsekri nation will remain. We need to make real sacrifice if the Itsekiri nation is to remain politically relevant in the next four years”. While Uduaghan and his handlers are basking in the euphoria of the various endorsements, the outcome of the February 16 National Assembly election will tell if they translated into winning votes as the incumbent evidently, is not a pushover and has sympathizers even amongst the Itsekiri in particular.

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