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ºWhen the fortunes of a political party begins to nosedive, tactical politicians begin to resist uncoordinated strategies. This is more so when the party is enjoying majority acceptance among the electorate and, therefore, steps must be taken to avoid being overrun by 'smaller parties' in elections.

This aptly describes the situation the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), finds itself in the oil-rich Delta State. It is no longer at ease for the once united PDP family in the Big Heart state. There is lack of cohesion among key political players. For the PDP stalwarts, things have since fallen apart and the centre, apparently, can no longer hold. PAUL OSUYI writes

In the beginning (1999), the party had a landslide victory at the polls that ushered-in Chief James Onanefe Ibori as governor. In 2003, the party again swept the polls very clean for the Urhobo chiefm, who hails from Oghara, to return for a second and last term in office.

Many residents of the state see the Oghara-born politician as a successful governor in terms of provision of infrastructure. Thus in 2007, it was time to take a bow and like the popular saying that for success to be complete, there must be a successor, Ibori shopped for a successor.

Seemingly, at a cross-road over the deluge of aspirants for the plum job on the platform of the PDP, Chief Ibori opted for the Secretary to State Government (SSG) at the time, Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan of Itsekiri ethnic extraction. Many applauded the choice because, according to them, Uduaghan had been there from the beginning in 1999, first serving as the Commissioner for Health before his elevation as SSG.

However, several other influential party members felt slighted, insisting that Uduaghan is a cousin of the out-going governor and governance in the state must not be reduced to a family affair. According to first Republic information minister, and an elder of the PDP in the state, Chief Edwin Clark, 'When Ibori decided to impose his cousin on us to cover his misdeeds and corruption, we said no. Uduaghan had been disqualified in Port Harcourt by the Hassan Adamu committee on verification.'

'The same night, Uduaghan travelled throughout the night to Abuja where Ibori had prepared the grounds for him and he was cleared. The congress was postponed and taken to Ogwashi-Uku. That same morning, Ibori invited some of the aspirants, including Omo-Agege, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Pius Ewherido, Uduaghan and Amori.

'Even when Uduaghan was declared the winner, he did not obtain mandatory votes to make him candidate. They had to pressure Okowa to withdraw. That was why he became Secretary to the State Government. These things are very annoying. I am a leader, and how many people are senior to me in Delta state? Then my children will live under discredited people.'

That set the tone for the crisis that has obviously become very difficult to resolve. Many left the party in the build-up to the April 14, 2007 governorship election and worked against its success. Several others remained but did not give their best to the party to coast to victory as they did in previous elections. So, the Democratic Peoples' Party (DPP) capitalised on this loophole to give the PDP a good run for its money.

Although, Uduaghan was eventually declared winner, the DPP candidate, Chief Great Ovadje Ogboru, gave him sleepless nights through court litigations.

Party loyalists view the court litigations, arising from the elections, as a pointer to the fact that the party was losing acceptance among the electorate in the state. The party, as it were, has not convincingly won elections in the recent past to foreclose the work of election tribunals. This became more evident against the fact that the party lost some seats to the opposition parties at the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly. In the build-up to these elections, elusive peace persisted in the party while the gap between aggrieved members continued to stretch. This created two factions - the Chief Edwin Clark faction and the embattled former governor James Ibori's camp, championed by Uduaghan. No genuine efforts were made to reconcile the differences between the two factions.

The state party chairman, Chief Peter Nwaoboshi, is not comfortable with the situation as he would take the larger part of the blame should the PDP be disgraced out of power. He admitted that there was problem in the party. According to him, 'Who says all is well with PDP in this state? From 25 local government areas in the state, which the PDP has, we have now dropped to 13 or are we saying there is no problem in the state PDP? We must get to the root of the problem, which some people are shying away from.'

In August this year, Chief Nwaoboshi, sensing that the situation, if left unattended to, would spell doom for the party in future elections, inaugurated a peace committee, tagged 'Truth and Reconciliation Committee,' headed by former Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Senate Matters, Dr.. Cairo Ojougboh. The mandate of the committee is to unveil the truth about the factional crisis and genuinely reconcile aggrieved members to put the party in good stead for the challenges ahead, part of which is to ensure that the incumbent governor, Uduaghan, hands over to another PDP elected governor in 2015.

'The governor has done two terms; our target is to make sure he hands over to another PDP governor. No doubt, opposition is making in-roads in the state. Now is the time to resolve our crisis and forge ahead,' Ojougboh stated.

Clark's faction welcomed the idea, saying they were not averse to genuine reconciliation and peace in the party. 'The PDP is not owned by one person, we are all members of the PDP. Anybody who is against reconciliation is an enemy of the party. My problem with Uduaghan is not personal but political.'

Also, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Victor Ochei, saw the constitution of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee as timely as it will go a long way to reconciling all aggrieved members and bring those who left the party back to the PDP family. The speaker, who belongs to the Ibori faction, pledged his support for the committee just as he advocated the setting up of PDP Elders Council to help instill internal party discipline.

The governor, on his part, had always stressed the need for peace, unity and genuine reconciliation to revive the party's dwindling fortunes. He was unavoidably absent when the committee paid a courtesy call to Government House, Asaba. His Chief of Staff, Dr. Festus Okubor, who received the committee, restated government's commitment to the peace and security agenda, saying peaceful environment was vital for growth and development.

'We are all witnesses to what happened in the April 2011 general elections in the state.  Thank God that the PDP won.  It would have been a big calamity for all of us if the reverse was the case,' Dr. Okubor stated, adding that 'the party has done well for the state.  It is not good to urinate into a well you will drink from.'

There are indications though that the governor is not favourably disposed to the membership composition of the committee as there are insinuations that he had no input to it. Speculations are rife among party faithful that the governor was not consulted about the setting up of the committee, and that he only got to know on the pages of newspapers.

'That is the height of embarrassment as the leader of the party in the state. Whether they like it or not, the governor remains the leader of the PDP in this state and must be involved in taking crucial decisions such as the formation of this committee. We all want peace but genuine and unbiased steps should be taken to achieve it,' a source said.

The source, who wants to remain anonymous, was doubtful if the committee could maintain neutrality in carrying the assignment and suggested its re-constitution to accommodate all shades of opinions within the party. 'I think what should be done in this kind of circumstance is for both factions to nominate members into the peace committee so that all interest would be taken care of.'

Investigations revealed that Ika South Local Government Area where the chairman of the committee, Dr. Ojougboh, hails from was won by the opposition party, the DPP in the April 26 governorship election but the PDP won the seat at the state House of Assembly, a situation that has further fuelled speculations that some PDP bigwigs in that area allegedly worked against Uduaghan's return to Government House.

Further investigations revealed that the political disagreement between the governor and the speaker on one hand,  and the state party chairman, Chief Peter Nwaoboshi, might be difficult to reconcile after all, following fresh allegations by Nwaoboshi that he was not being consulted in decisions that has to do with political appointments in the state.

He alleged that the governor bypassed his office to recommend ministers, appoint commissioners just as the speaker constituted the committees of the House without consulting his office as the party chairman.

'What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gender. How can commissioners be appointed in the state without my knowledge? For the state party chairman to hear that on television and radio, is insulting. I am a foundation member of the party. I have done a lot, put in a lot and have a lot to offer the party.'

Continuing he said: 'During the time of Governor James Ibori, he set up a committee to screen. I was screened and the party played serious role in it. He consulted widely, advised everybody to come out and show their qualification. I participated in previous appointments; the party was widely consulted then. Why the difference now?'

Nevetheless, Governor Uduaghan told journalists at a press parley that he consulted with the state party chairman on the ministerial nominees. He claimed that he had evidence of the consultation, adding: 'The letter was directed to me to recommend names, and I take responsibility for it. I consulted widely even with the state party chairman before I drew up the list. It was based on an instruction given to me from Abuja.' On the choice of commissioners, he said he needed the guidance of Go`d to be able to select his cabinet and other members of the state executive council in his second and last coming.

Mr. Ochei, on his part, admitted while receiving the members of the peace committee: 'We have all sinned and there is need to purge ourselves too. Some don't even have moral right to accuse others as they are guilty too. There is need to entrench democracy with the tenets of the truth. Those who want to rule should follow due process to emerge. To avoid violence, we should build the party from the scratch.'