2011: CLARK, UDUAGHAN SPOIL FOR SHOWDOWN IN DELTA
Senate President David Mark is no longer a political neophyte. Mark, a third-term member of the upper chamber of the National Assembly, surely understands political dynamics and ermutations.
He was quick to decipher that politics hung clearly in the air at the palace of the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwatse 11 on Friday, April 30, 2010. Mark, who was a special guest of honour at a reception initiated by the Itsekiri Progressive Union to celebrate one of its own and Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, left no one in doubt that he understood that the occasion was one in the series of political activities lined up to draw up support for Uduaghan's second term aspiration in 2011.
The senate president swiftly took the bull by the horns while making his remarks at the occasion which had all the trappings of politics. To the admiration of Uduaghan and his political associates, including the leaders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state, Mark said the governor had performed creditably and delivered on the mandate given to him by the people of the state on April 14, 2007.
'Governor Uduaghan has performed and will continue to perform. I appreciate everyone who has continued to support him thus far. And I urge you all to make his second term mandate a fait accompli,' Mark added.
Deafening applause greeted Mark's pronouncement and the gathering, especially the acolytes of Uduaghan, went into thunderous jubilation. The organisers and the beneficiaries of the initiative felt fulfilled that the nation's number three citizen had thrown his weight behind the governor amidst growing clamour for a change at the highest political level in the state.
The event at the palace of the Itsekiri monarch was preceded by similar actions designed to drum up support for the governor. The youths of the five ethnic nationalities in the state, under the aegis of Delta State Youths Consultative Assembly, at a rally held at Amukpe, near Sapele, on February 20 endorsed the governor for another term. Staccato of endorsement of the governor followed in quick succession as the Izu-Anioma, a socio-cultural group of the Delta North Senatorial District, and some politicians of Isoko extraction, also joined the foray. The Isoko initiative spearheaded by a member of the kitchen cabinet of the governor and Commissioner for Power and Energy, Mr. Ovuozorie Macaulay, climaxed in a rally held in honour of the state's chief executive. Similarly, Uduaghan led top officials of the state government and leaders of the PDP to Lagos on Monday, April 5 when the Ijaws in Lagos, led by the President of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, Mr. Joseph Evah, also gave the governor a clean bill of health to contest the 2011 governorship election.
Although Uduaghan's associates confidently asserted that the endorsements by stakeholders were natural reactions to his monumental achievements, those opposed to Uduaghan argued that there was nothing to celebrate about his administration. They further stated that the masterminds of the endorsement rallies were being hired by the governor and his associates to create a false impression within and outside the state.
With the extinction of the opposition parties in the state, the real challenge for Uduaghan ahead of the 2011 election lies within the PDP. The main opposition party in the state, Action Congress, had become a carcass following the exit of its flag bearer in the 2011 gubernatorial election, Mr. Peter Okocha, from its fold. Okocha, an ally of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, is said to be set to return to the PDP. It is convenient to say that the 2011 election in Delta State is set to be a contest between PDP and PDP.
Already, the PDP in the state has been polarised into two, with the Abuja-based politicians and their sympathisers, particularly those who have been sidelined by the governor, led by the foremost Ijaw leader and convener of the Niger Delta Leaders, Elders and Stakeholders Forum, Chief Edwin Clark and the home-based led by Uduaghan and his embattled predecessor, Chief James Ibori, struggling for the soul of the ruling party. All notable opponents of Uduaghan and gubernatorial hopefuls of the reigning party had queued behind Clark, an avowed enemy of Ibori and by extension the governor, for political direction and sense of belonging in the PDP in the state, which they argued had been hijacked by Ibori, and his successor.
It was feared that Clark was planning to use his contacts at the federal level to reform the party in the state to pave the way for a new lease of life in the Government House, Asaba, in 2011. The followers of Clark, who had relocated to Abuja in the wake of the succession crisis in the presidency, believed that his widely acknowledged closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan is a political asset which could be tapped to unseat the governor in 2011. The former Minister of Information has become a reference point following the emergence of Jonathan as Nigerian leader. Prominent Deltans, including the governor and his associates sneaked into his Abuja abode for recognition and attention. A competent source close to Clark said the governor made futile efforts to persuade the Ijaw leader to be part of the team he led on a condolence and solidarity visit to Jonathan last week. It was gathered that Clark turned down the offer on the basis that it would send a wrong signal to his supporters.
Already, a number of gubernatorial aspirants have emerged on the side of Clark to slug it out with Uduaghan for the ticket of the PDP. As at the last count, they include a retired naval officer, Rear Admiral John Kpokpogri, a former Chairman of Burutu Local Government Area and former Commissioner for Agriculture in Ibori administration, Chief Braduce Angozi and a former Commissioner and Secretary to the State Government under Ibori administration, Chief Ovie Omo-Agege. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godsday Orubebe, is also rumoured to be planning to unseat Uduaghan from Clark's camp. Although Orubebe has not publicly declared to run for the governorship race, it was learnt that some past council chairmen and former public office holders were persuading him to run for the governorship election. A political pressure group, Mass Movement for Change, inaugurated last week in Ughelli, the headquarters of Ughelli North Local Government Area of the state, was also believed to be preparing the ground for the minister. Orubebe, an ally of Clark and Jonathan, was a former chairman of Burutu Local Government Area of the state and a former Special Adviser to Ibori on Urban and Regional Planning. He fell out with Ibori and Uduaghan when he joined the Clark-led group to file a legal action bordering on corruption against them.
The MMC, made up of some credible and frontline politicians, in its mission statement, however, said it was not working for any particular aspirant. In the communique signed by 50 of its members on Sunday, the group reeled out alleged corrupt practices by the present administration in the state and said it was ready to spearhead the campaign for a change in the leadership of the state in 2011. Led by two former members of the state's House of Assembly, Chief George Oyefia and Mr. Misan Ukubeyinje, the group said, 'MMC is embarking on a campaign to the nooks and crannies of the state to enlighten the society of the dangers to the society of the unbridled corruption in government quarters, on the sanctity of the ballot paper and the need to ostracise persons with wealth acquired from unknown or unproven sources.
'MMC is out to support the candidacy of a God-fearing person who has the grassroots background and support and who is committed to the rapid socio-economic development of the state.'
A reliable source in the Clark's camp said there was an understanding codenamed 'Anybody but Uduaghan', in which they vowed to work harmoniously to install any of them as governor in 2011 and prevent Uduaghan from securing a second-term mandate. The Clark-led group was touting rumoured opposition of Uduaghan to the emergence of Jonathan as Nigerian leader as a veritable opportunity to ease him out of the Government House in 2011.
Political pundits also posited that the greatest obstacle to the governor's second term bid is the present travails of Ibori, who is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged graft. It was gathered that the fate of Ibori constituted a major setback to the future political plans of the governor. Ibori, regarded as a political strategist, messed up the calculations of old politicians and dissenting ethnic leaders to install Uduaghan as governor in 2007. The Uduaghan's camp had relied on Ibori for the repeat of the political feat in 2011.
Besides, pundits also argued that the inability of Uduaghan to empower his associates, particularly those who spearheaded his election, may work against him. Only a few politicians and business associates were said to be feeling the impact of the government as many of his allies frequently complained that he had distanced them from government. Even some members of his kitchen cabinet were said to be grumbling that he failed to raise their lives beyond subsistence level. The aggrieved persons easily found their ways under Clark's umbrella in Abuja.
However, another source in his camp said the governor was not losing sleep over the gang up against him. One of his aides said those opposed to his boss were of no political consequence, adding that they were the same set of people who opposed him in 2007. He boasted that his boss would effortlessly floor them in 2011, adding that the political machinery of the state remained firmly in the possession of Uduaghan and Ibori.
Nonetheless, findings showed that Uduaghan was not leaving anything to chance as he had embarked on widespread consultations and constructive engagement with the relevant stakeholders at the state and federal levels, especially with the aggrieved parties within the state. Sources in Government House, Asaba, stated that the governor met the leaders of Delta Central Senatorial District, where the opposition to him was pronounced, last week, to seek truce. It was gathered that the governor sought advice on how he could pacify the zone, made up of the Urhobo ethnic nationality in the state. Investigation showed that he planned similar meeting with the leaders of other zones.
Besides, the governor was said to be seeking amends with the Presidency. To this end, he has become more visible in the activities of the Presidency in order to worm himself into Jonathan's heart. He joined the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to accord the visiting President Jonathan a befitting reception last week in the oil-rich state.
Similarly, the governor joined his wife, Roli, to receive the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who was invited by the Delta State First Lady for the foundation laying ceremony of some projects, Master Care Multi-purpose Project and public presentation of Master Care foundation book in Asaba, on Thursday, May 13.
Uduaghan's associates believed that the visit of the First Lady to the state and his frequent public appearance with Jonathan indicated that the report of a frosty relationship between them was a media hype.
'Those who said our Oga (Uduaghan) is a stranger in the Presidency are probably not in tune with reality. You can see that the First Lady was here in Delta State and the governor was with the President throughout in Rivers State. You can see their closeness. The opponents of the governor are just wasting their time. Even the governor does not require an elaborate campaign because his achievements are there to earn him a second term ticket,' added a source in Uduaghan's camp, who craved anonymity.
Underneath the facade of confidence being displayed by the loyalists of the governor lies the inherent fears over the political future of his group. The Uduaghan's group in the PDP in the state is is said to be jittery due to the latest development in the Presidency and the national level of the party. It was feared that the reform could spread to the state. As a plan B, it was said that Uduaghan is considering the possibility of contesting on another platform in case he was denied the ticket of the PDP during the party's primaries.
But the governor radiated confidence that the contest for his second term would be a walk-over during the reception at the Olu of Warri's palace as he said, 'I have taken up the challenge to do more and do better. We have done something but the best is yet to come.'
Pundits are not under any illusion that the clash of the titans lies ahead in Delta State as 2011 general election approaches. And unfolding events in subsequent months would shape and determine the political direction of the state.