By Olisa Ifeajika
SAT, 03 OCT, 2020-theGBJournal-It is like a movie, a clear case of ironies and absurdities. In 2016, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta told a delegation that visited him that as a good party man, he was concentrating on the governorship election coming up in Edo then. That was when Osagie Ize-Iyamu was contesting on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That statement struck Adams Oshiomhole on the wrong side and he made Okowa the butt of his acerbic comments to the extent that, till date, he still behaves as if Okowa is a ghost stalking him.
The irony is that then, Okowa spoke in defence of Osagie Ize-Iyamu who was PDP’s governorship candidate against Godwin Obaseki, All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate. This time (2020), the situation changed. Oshiomhole has neither forgotten nor forgiven Okowa who rolled out his political machine in favour of the former opponent of the PDP, Godwin Obaseki – Okowa and Oshiomhole fought the same battle but on different fronts and with different weapons and strategies.
While Oshiomhole was at his garrulous best, the usually reticent but political maestro, Okowa, concentrated in real-time politics. He was at his organizational best. He ignored Oshiomhole’s tantrums and went to the political field even without Obaseki,the candidate. In fact, during his thank-you visit to Asaba, immediately after his victory at the Sept. 19, 2020 polls, Obaseki acknowledged that Okowa simply single-handedly appropriated two local governments in Edo State to himself – campaigning from ward to ward.
But, there were many behind-the-scene manoeuvres too. First, Okowa took Obaseki to the PDP in Edo. It is rare, perhaps impossible, to find persons already set for the primaries of their political party queue behind a “stranger” from another political party who has come to displace them. It took the very best in Okowa’s political armoury to make them come around as aspirants in the party were unrelenting in their resolve to go for the primaries. Getting them to abandon their ambitions took long periods of hard bargaining amid threats and grandstanding.
Finally, Okowa succeeded. Those involved are men and women of means, you can appeal to but cannot buy them over. Success eventually came, but it turned out to be a lesser challenge than the next. Chief Dan Orbih is immediate past chairman of PDP in Edo. Expectedly, by Nigerian standard, there was no love lost between him and Godwin Obaseki then, a governor under the banner of the APC. Thawing the ice was equally herculean but more troubling than getting the hierarchy of PDP in the state to accept Obaseki’s candidacy. A whole day went into bringing the big fish to accept his arch political enemy, Obaseki. When Okowa began, Obaseki was asked to stay out of it. It was after several hours of softening the ground that Obaseki was allowed to step in.
Bringing former Chairman of PDP in Edo, Chief Dan Orbih, to align with the “new ambition’’ in the party in the state was at a cost. The National Vice-Chairman of the PDP, South-South, is from Delta, but because Orbih could not be kept at bay in the affairs of the PDP when Obaseki is governor, Okowa pulled a political masterstroke – for smooth and safe landing, the Deltan leading PDP in the South-South had to give way to Dan Orbih in placation, and pronto, Okowa appointed his displace subject as special adviser to him. This was not all. Okowa also took Obaseki to Port Harcourt to persuade his brother governors from the region where he is their chairman, to accept Obaseki as a brother and support his ambition under the party. This was the change that was needed as the South-South governors and other PDP governors nationwide threw their weight behind Obaseki.
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole, rather than busy himself repairing the damage he had done to the reputation of Osagie Ize-Iyamu in the past, spent all his time to lampoon Okowa, accusing a man who is very parsimonious with spending State funds, especially if unbudgeted, of spending his State’s funds to make Obaseki governor. But contrary to Oshiomhole’s virulent outbursts, the consummate political personage, Okowa, was spending his God-given talents in lobbying, persuading and deploying effective powers of direct communication and shrewd political maneouvering, not cash, to achieve results. On one of his campaign forays, Okowa was confronted by some stone-throwing cudgel-wielding violent youths of the APC. They pelted the campaign convoy with stones and came close to smashing vehicles. Okowa was unruffled. The security details were under strict instruction not to pull the trigger. They confronted the unruly youths calmly and made way for their principal, who was unmoved as he continued on his campaign trail just as the youths were unrelenting. They regrouped and laid a more solid ambush. But appreciative youths from the community, led the campaign team through a different road from where the APC rascals had laid siege.
The question is: why was Okowa so deeply involved. First is that the fraternal ties between Edo and Delta, “blood’’ brothers of the same father, Bendel, before the split, still endures. Most neighbouring towns in Edo to Delta communities speak Ika, which is Okowa’s dialect. Beyond this, is the harmonious ties of both sides, which have endured, with the icing on the cake that Okowa is the current chairman of the governors in the South-South. He mobilized the people, especially in the two local governments contiguous to Delta where Ika dialect is freely spoken, and he achieved tremendous success.
As a testimony to Okowa’s exploits in the election, a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Edo, who is also a member of the House of Assembly in the defunct Bendel State and member of the 2014 National Conference, Chief Chris Agbonwanegbe, attributed Ize-Iyamu’s loss in his own Orhionmwon Local Government Area to Governor Okowa’s intervention. According to him, Okowa was on ground to assist in sensitizing citizens of boundary communities who had people from Delta – the Igbankes, Ika and Ukwuani – to vote for PDP.
Indeed, in more ways than one, Okowa is the real architect of the victory of Obaseki against the intimidating war chest of the ruling APC. Characteristically, he has remained silent but the re-elected Obaseki, who is the beneficiary, the PDP family in Edo, the South-South and the country surely know the real source of the victory. It was a personal victory of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. It should be added that Oshiomole was also taught some lessons. He has been profoundly diminished and devalued.
OLISA IFEAJIKA is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa