The Options before Ogboru - By Felix Ofou
On Monday, July 25, 2011 the election tribunal sitting in Asaba, Delta State threw out the petition by the candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru on the January 6, 2011 governorship re-run election in the state. The three-man tribunal headed by Justice Doris Ogwurike instead upheld the election of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor in the election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) headed by Professor Attahiru Jega.
Predictably, Ogboru wasted no time in declaring his intention to appeal the tribunal's ruling, describing it as a miscarriage of justice. Similarly, the DPP candidate is determined to proceed with his petition against the April 26, 2011 governorship election also won by Governor Uduaghan.
Earlier on Thursday, July 21, 2011 Justice Ibrahim M. Buba of the Federal High Court, Asaba declared that Chief Ogboru's nomination as DPP governorship candidate in the 2007 election was invalid, thereby making him ineligible as a contestant in the January 6, 2011 re-run exercise.
It must be remembered that the Court of Appeal in Benin, Edo State last November 8th following a petition by the DPP candidate nullified Governor Uduaghan's election in 2007 and ordered a re-run which took place on January 6, 2011.
There is no doubt that Ogboru has made up his mind to take Delta State on a long hurl as far as litigation and contests in court are concerned. Nigerians can only look forward to more fireworks.
However, I find it expedient at this stage to join the fray as a result of what may be considered as perceived dangers lurking ahead. I regard it a patriotic duty to advise a man who relishes in the toga of being referred to as the "Peoples General". I am consoled by the fact that history and our unborn children would be charitable in their assessment of my conduct once it is known that I learnt my small voice to the raging controversy as to what Ogboru must do at this stage. Of course, it must be acknowledged that I do not have monopoly of wisdom. Being younger in age to "Great", it may also be considered "unAfrican" to talk to someone older in the manner I have opted to address the matter at hand. My case is made more precarious by the reality that I cannot be truly relied on as an "objective" commentator giving that I am one of the aides of Governor Uduaghan. But everyone would concede that my fundamental rights of expression have not been circumscribed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). If for anything, my right to hold opinions and transmit same through any medium of choice is further reinforced by the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act recently signed into law by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Besides, as one of those (Deltans) that Ogboru seek to govern, it is my belief that I also have rights to tell the man some bitter truths.
In the same vein, the DPP governorship candidate may choose to discountenance this missive as the emotive vituperation of a "small boy" who does not understand politics, or as the ranting of a biased mind. Of course he would have taken a position by that decision, which would mean he opted for the last suggestion that I hope to address in this piece.
For almost a decade, beginning from 2002 when he returned from exile, it is common knowledge that the Abraka born politician who rose to limelight following a botched attempt to overthrow the Federal Military Government of General Ibrahim Babangida, has concerned himself solely with the objective of wanting to be the governor of Delta State. Within this period, he has gradually pooled a cache of hangers on and sycophantic followers who use every moment to re-echo their wish that Ogboru would be the next governor of the state.
Coincidentally, the "Peoples General" as his supporters call him, is said to have turned down other offers, including prospects of becoming either a senator or minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No other office for him is worth occupying other than that of the governor. And he has reportedly vowed not to give up until the ultimate prize is within his hands.
Of course, we must concede that the man has right to contest for any position of his choice in the same manner that he is resolved to challenge every election that he has lost in the law courts. It is clearly within his purview to dream and seek to give life and meaning to it. But it makes no sense for one to want to use his head to break coconut simply because it was shown to him in a dream that he is a "modern Samson" sent by God to deliver His people from bondage.
For 10 years, Ogboru has been in this pursuit, never letting up, and seeking to up the stake each time. Four times within this period he contested for the governorship and lost. In the process, some lost their lives, their houses burnt and others had careers and life savings exterminated, all in the bid to give meaning to a dream. Yet the man is unable to attain the goal. The prize remains elusive.
This is why I believe it is time for Great to separate himself from the maddening crowd. It is time to recede into a cocoon; completely detached from the hullabaloo. It is time to take stock. A time to consider the gains, however moderate (I believe the gains are worth thanksgiving) and also count the losses. No second party should be invited to take part in the process. Just him; the man alone.
In weighing the options, I will ask Ogboru to allow history and his conscience to be the ultimate guide. This is because ultimately posterity will subject his decisions and actions to scrutiny. And he would have only his conscience to face if the verdict does not favour him.
For me, the option of the court which he has adopted as a modus operandi is as simplistic as it is predictive. Everyone jokes about the fact that Ogboru is likely to go to court with the least provocation. And this may be extended to a contest for concubines. I hate to think that the man does not know that while his personal ambition is left perpetually in abeyance, that of his lawyers and hangers on are on the upswing. So many are profiting at his expense.
Unfortunately, some of those once considered minions, but smart enough to use Great as stepping stones have landed on the national stage. Some of them are already nursing the ambition of running for the same governorship that Ogboru has had his eyes on in the last 10 years. Is it not about time that he changed strategy?
Perhaps, he may find it useful to consider the decisions of some notable men who made what today may be regarded as "tactical political mistakes" in the past. Of course, those concerned may not have interpreted the consequence of their actions from the prism that we today evaluate them. But the reality of our conclusions can hardly be faulted.
One of such men, who I respect till date, more for his humility and political sagacity, is former presidential aspirant, philanthropist and industrialist, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; a man who is on record to have made many ministers, senators and governors but has not occupied any public office till date.
Chief Iwuanyanwu turned down offers from the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha to be appointed minister severally, preferring instead to nominate some of his trusted loyalists to take up the positions. And if there was one man from the South East whose chances were very bright to become President of Nigeria during the military era, it was Iwuanyanwu. He was the gateway and clearing house of that geo-political zone.
Sadly, I was once witness to an altercation between two one time aides of the former presidential aspirant at a hotel room in Owerri, Imo State, one of whom became a local government chairman through the magnanimity of the same man. The chairman told his colleague, an ex-commissioner that as Chief Security Officer of his council area, he had more experience than Iwuanyanwu. "Does Chief (Iwuanyanwu) know what it takes be Chief Security Officer? Has he ever attended a State Executive Council meeting like you?" asked the chairman. It was the height of ingratitude to a man who was unquestionably godfather to the council boss.
In as much as one would want to be cross with the ungrateful council chairman, the sense and truth of his comment was not lost on me. I pictured the stature of many who became political giants, including former Imo State Governor and later Senate President, Chief Evan Enwerem and I told myself that Iwuanyanwu's name would only rank next to those in public office even though he made them what they are. That is if you were to strictly follow a protocol order. It was a truth I could not run from.
Fortuitously, I recalled several times key members of Iwuanyanwu's kitchen cabinet had confided in a few of us political reporters that the man had the highest assurances that the presidency would be handed to him. And till date I wished the Igbo high chief had accepted some other less glamorous position instead of being asked to wait for the presidency ad infinitum.
Only recently, a mindless comparison as to who was greater between the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. So divided was the polity that one cannot conclude how the pendulum swung. Some of those who concede the leadership to Awolowo actually do so because you don't speak evil about the dead.
But admirers of Tinubu credit him with a street streak very rare to find in our leaders. They contend that BAT knows how to seize any moment and has the capacity to convert every circumstance to an advantage. No opportunity is missed as far as he is concerned. Sometimes you find him withdrawing. Other times you will think he is even conceding to an adversary. Through deft calculations and political engineering, the former governor has become one of the national leaders to be reckoned with. Indeed, you may ignore him at your own peril.
Yet Tinubu wants to be seen and recognised first as a disciple of the late Awo. In fact, BAT first got to the limelight as a budding Awoist, using the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere as a ladder to get into public office. Now that he seems to have become a man of his own, it is debatable if one can still wear him the toga of being an Awo protege.
Nigerians however would recall that what stood Awo apart from his contemporaries was a seeming rigid and strict mien which made him unbending in the face of overtures from political associates and rivals alike. You could almost tell where he stood on every issue and sometimes, and such rigid positions were considered as being antithetical to the larger interests that he had come to aggregate. Some even would argue that his political stature did not get to the zenith because of a non-inclusive worldview that the late sage maintained.
History today beckons on Ogboru to pause for a while and take stock. From the PDP, he switched to the DPP; there are hints of joining the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) since the DPP no longer exists nationwide, and from the ACN, God only knows where the tide would take him. All in the bid to actualise a so called dream. Will he choose to "stoop low to conquer" or like the dog that fails to hear the hunter's whistle keep running round and round in the wilderness?
While it may not be totally expedient for him to drop his other gown as "leader of the opposition", has the man considered a rapprochement with Governor Uduaghan? What is so difficult in maintaining "constructive engagement" as a strategy for defining his relationship with the Delta State Government? As the popular saying goes, there are no permanent enemies in politics - only permanent interests. Who says that it is only in death that Ogboru and Uduaghan can be united?
It was the same constructive engagement by Tinubu that saw him holding meetings with President Jonathan before the general elections in April, the same reason why despite being the leader of the largest opposition party, he remains a constant face in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja. Continued dialogue has not in any way diminished BAT's political stature. Instead it has endeared him to many more Nigerians. Why cant Ogboru take a cue from a man whose party he seeks to join in the immediate future?
As it is, he may soon discover that his rigid position would ultimately lure some of those elected into the legislature back to the PDP. Just because he failed to provide effective and pro-active political leadership. And for those nursing ambition to be governor in 2015, Ogboru would discover to his peril that he has ceased to have relevance. A clear case of "use and dump" common with politicians in our climes.
Therefore, he may find it beneficial to rein in members of his party in government by embracing dialogue with the governor. A healthy rivalry and cooperation does not amount to selling out. It will only be a test of his will and character to talk and still maintain a safe distance while bidding time for other opportunities that destiny would throw his way.
Now that the pot is still hot, will he be bold to take the gauntlet and disappoint those who have concluded that only death could separate Ogboru from the governorship position? Will he do well to realize that this is a fortuitous moment to change gear and embrace peace and dialogue? Is there any chance that he could look out to see greater possibilities beyond the current limiting ambition?
Notwithstanding what anyone may think or say, it is a measure of his strength of character to accept that continuous beating of "drums of war" would take him no where. It would only make him and his followers to stagnate, albeit indefinitely. And this is a choice he must confront urgently if he truly wants to make progress.
Like it happened to ex-Nigerian leader, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, I would hate to see Great's political stature atrophy in the manner that the former descended from being hailed as the "Great Zik of Africa" to "Zik of Nigeria" and finally, the "Owele of Onitsha". That may become Ogboru's lot following repeated and consistent losses at the courts. But considering the other options would truly make him a statesman, which is what many of his forbears and followers want him to be.
OFOU is Press Secretary to Governor Uduaghan.