As Olorogun O’tega Emerhor deliberated his 2015 run for the governorship of Delta State, he may have envisaged that his chances of winning were limited because his new party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was not well accepted in the South-South geo-political zone.
But because winning was not his singular goal, this Urhobo politician who is well-established in the business world committed so much resources into the race with a view to establishing the then emerging APC on a strong footing in Delta State. While believing that the support of Urhobo nation is crucial to the success of his gubernatorial run and his mission of rescuing Delta State, Emerhor also wanted to raise the prestige, profile and power of Urhobo nation in the Delta political arena so that Urhobo can resume it’s pride of place in the politics of State and country. And by so doing, the majority ethnic group can also rescue itself from many years of marginalization and effectively lead the efforts to free Delta State.
Historically, the Urhobo nation always ally with major political parties. These were the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) up till the 2003 elections.
In return Urhobo had tremendous influence in the politics of State and country. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was appointed Federal Minister of Finance in the 1st republic; Chief Patrick Bolokor as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the 2nd republic, Chief Felix Ibru was elected the first Executive Governor of Delta State in 1991 and Chief James Ibori, another Urhobo son became governor in 1999.
Urhobo nation was also rewarded with some very critical industrial projects such as Delta Steel Complex, the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, the Ogorode Power Station at Sapele, the Delta Electric Power generation Station at Ughelli, and the expansion of the Warri Port during the second republic because of its support for NPN, the then ruling party.
But all that changed in 2003 when Urhobo threw away it’s much cherished life-long armour as mainstream political player and embraced non-major parties that existed as protest groups that had no national appeal. Dissatisfied with PDP performance in the governance of Delta State, the Urhobo nation turned it’s back on PDP and went all out for candidates of these non-major political parties in all elections since 2003 in attempts to dislodge PDP from the state.
First, it was with Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003 and thereafter the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) in 2007 and 2011. The Urhobo people invested heavily in cash and votes. But it was all for naught, as the result has been a series of stunning defeats that eventually diminished the power, influence and relevance of the Urhobos politically. Sadly, the Urhobo nation has not fully recovered from this decline till date.
Seemingly condemned to political wilderness unequalled in its illustrious history, Urhobo was made to play second fiddle in a state they championed it’s creation and in which they are the majority ethnic group. The cost of this long romance with non-major political parties that has spanned four election circles has been heavy in terms of inadequate Federal presence, representation or appointments. But more importantly, this impact was felt by a loss of relevance and influence in the politics of State and country. Governors emerged in Delta State without the support of the majority of the largest ethnic group. This should never have happened. But with Urhobo unable to lead, Delta lost its way. And that should be the primary concern of every patriotic Urhobo son and daughter, and not personal ambition.
It was against this background and in a desperate attempt to regain it’s leading role in Delta politics and position itself in the mainstream of Nigerian politics, the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) made the famous Uvwiamuge declaration that the Urhobo people will only support a national party that nominates a candidate of Urhobo extraction for governor. And for Emerhor who sought to return Urhobo to mainstream party politics and rescue Delta State, a governorship race, win or lose, would in his estimation do the trick.
And when Emerhor won the governorship ticket of a national party, APC, he expected to be endorsed by the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU). But that was not to be. Instead UPU again endorsed the candidate of Labour Party, another non-major party for Governor and again Urhobo failed to achieve its political objective of producing the governor in 2015. But because Otega Emerhor saw opportunity in APC where others saw obstacles, he seized it as a calculative businessman, and today there is more light at the end of the tunnel for the Urhobo nation and Delta State as a whole.
Fast-forward to today, more than two years after, Emerhor’s decision to run for Governor and invest in APC has started to bear critical fruits that are changing the political landscape in Delta State. Urhobo has not just found its way back to a major political party but with Chief Great Ogboru and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and their supporters in Labour Party now in APC, Urhobo has now aligned with the ruling national party following the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
Key federal appointments are now coming to Urhobo, notwithstanding that other ethnic groups also receive consideration. The growing influence and relevance of Emerhor in Delta political sphere across the three senatorial districts has now turned Evwreni, his home town, and that of the first governor of former Midwest, Chief Samuel Jereton Mariere, into the Mecca of progressive politics in Delta State. A political revival of the Urhobo nation is truly underway. And Emerhor deserves full credit for the Urhobo resurgence as well as the real possibility of political liberation of Delta State. The stage is now set not only for Urhobos, but the entire Delta State to become a state with pride again.
However, the possibility of Urhobo nation regaining it’s previous leadership role in State politics, and accomplishing it’s mission to free Delta State will depend largely on what Urhobo decides to do with the 2019 general elections, and in particular the Governorship election. Any mistake could ruin everything for Urhobo and this will further plunge Delta State a into the abyss.
Indeed, with its revamped status as the stronghold of APC in Delta State, and 2019 presenting Urhobo with a real opportunity to reshape the Delta political landscape, Urhobo will have to choose carefully how it plays it’s politics. The critical question it must address is whether it will stick again to its past tradition of going it alone as ‘big brother’ to strive for the governorship in 2019 or if its political future will be better served by playing smart politics and demonstrating that it can build reliable alliances with other ethnic groups which will create a coalition that can result in success.
Would the large followership of Urhobo progressives in particular emulate the Emerhor smart strategy and adopt a selfless approach that should pave the road to Urhobo’s return to prevalence? Or will they cling to the old selfish cul-de-sac approach that has for the past five elections isolated and made Urhobo irrelevant? And which in essence, has allowed the PDP to remain in power unchallenged? This is the big question of the day.
The prevalence of Urhobo in Delta politics is unstable now and a lot is at stake for 2019. This is time to think hard and deep! Would it not be in the best strategic interest of Urhobo progressives to first dislodge PDP from power in 2019? Or is it going to continue to revel in failed politics that had almost brought it to near irrelevance?
Urhobo can no longer act alone in pursuit of its goals of being a potent player in the political future of Delta State. It must now reckon with the fact that it singularly does not have the numbers nor demographic threshold that can make it act alone. If it must win, it can only do so with the support of other ethnic groups. And, after five failed attempts with small parties that do not have a national spread, it must realize once again that it must align itself with any of the national parties to win.
It is my contention therefore that it is no longer in Urhobo’s long-term interests to continue to support any Urhobo governorship aspirant operating in small or regional parties, neither will it be best for it not to bring into its political equation the effect of power rotation among the various interest blocs in the three senatorial districts; especially at a time when the rest of the state are more comfortable with the idea of power rotation.
To enhance its political clout, Urhobo has to accommodate and engage with minority ethnic groups in other zones to build strategic alliances that can re-shape the politics of Delta State for years to come even if that means Urhobo has to support a non-Urhobo candidate when it is essential to do so for success.
It is time to bring to the fore the interest of Urhobo, and it does not have to be about the ambition of any one person. Whether there is an agreement on power rotation or not, this matter is not about the constitutionality of zoning or fairness of our electoral process; it’s not about PDP or APC, rather it is about the general well being of the people. For Delta progressives as a whole, it is more about winning in order to have the chance to correct the direction which the state is moving and be able to raise the living standards of all Deltans.
Make no mistake, in an election which is more likely to be a resemblance of 2015 contest and not the 2011 scenario, putting forward an Urhobo candidate would be a dumb thing to do. There is no way a Delta Central APC candidate can defeat Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of PDP given that the majority of the voting public has huddled into their ethnic corners since that 2011 election, and now believe in power rotation as was evident in the 2015 general election when they voted along ethnic interests. It is therefore not sound to think that they will do otherwise in 2019. Delta North will still vote along the line of communal interests in 2019.
How can Urhobo nation look our neighbours, the Aniomas in Delta North, the Ijaws, Isokos and Itsekiris in Delta South in the eyes and tell them to vote against their own communal interests, when it is intent on voting in line with its own interest? How can we expect them to vote against power rotation when it is their only hope for now to produce their own governor in the future. It doesn’t seem right to expect the Isokos and Ijaws for who have never benefited from power rotation and wish to benefit from it in the future to now vote against it. Even the Itsekiris who campaigned for and benefited from power rotation cannot be reasonably expected to shot it down. How can we even expect minority voters to take APC seriously if it does not align with them on a matter as clear cut and important to them as power rotation?
The eyes of the rest of Delta are on Urhobo, especially the progressives, and what it will do in 2019. If they can be imaginative and strategic about the way they vote and use 2019 to build strategic new relationships and partnerships, especially with Anioma whose turn it is to produce the governorship for another term, it would regain the confidence of ethnic minorities and its commanding role in Delta politics will be assured.
It is disheartening that despite its huge demographic advantage, the candidate for governor supported by Urhobo lost five consecutive times. The main reason for this is that Urhobo progressives in the opposition parties had always presented an Urhobo candidate only. And again because the trend line suggests that the chances of an Urhobo candidate winning the 2019 election are nearly zero, doing this again in 2019 would be a strategic and tactical error that would set Urhobo back for many years. This is an obvious fact; and pretending otherwise or being head-strong about it seems silly and amounts to a selfish endeavour that may cause a revenge against Urhobo in future. The other ethnic groups are more conscious now, more than ever before.
One of the odd consequences of thoughtless repetition of an action is that “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten”. Unfortunately, some have not learnt any lesson from the failure of the past five elections. Some key players in this debacle have decided to continue doing what they have been doing, expressing a desire to run for Governor again in 2019 without any iota of consideration for the larger or strategic interests of the Urhobo nation or whether it will again help to entrench the PDP in power in Delta State for longer. Any such attempt to lure or deceive Urhobo back into political isolation must be resisted by all Urhobo Patriots. And a coalition of partisan and non-partisan Urhobo progressives must now rise to chart a new strategic course for Urhobo.
The days are long gone when Deltans used to look to Urhobo for political leadership. We abdicated that leadership responsibility when we embraced minor political parties and decided to go alone. Now is the time for Urhobo progressives to join hands with other ethnic groups to build a winning coalition to defeat Okowa’s PDP and free Delta State. It is only by so doing that Urhobo will again rise to its rightful place as the pre-eminent political powerhouse.
Olorogun O’tega Emerhor understands this very well and he has made a smart, strategic and selfless decision not to seek the governorship ticket of APC that he can easily win. And buoyed by the achievements of his 2015 run for Governor in returning Urhobo to mainstream politics, an emboldened Emerhor is already making moves to shape the next one and only serve as king-maker. Emerhor warning that ignoring zoning and power rotation would be at our own peril clearly shows that he is committed to forming alliances and building a winning coalition where Urhobo majority votes would decide who in Delta North APC wins the governorship in 2019. This is also predicated by the fact that his choice will be affected by candidates that will do a single term only in line with the existing power rotation in the State, as this guarantees that Urhobo will rightly take their turn in 2023.
Emerhor decision to put his ambition aside so that APC would pick a candidate in line with the existing power rotation order would restore the pride of Urhobo and should be applauded. It is the only reasonable path for rescuing Delta State from those who have held it hostage. It is the correct decision at this critical time in the history of Delta State.
Indeed the time has come for strategic positioning and the trends Emerhor personifies are strategically going to rescue Delta State and truly restore greatness. They’ve already done a lot in this direction. And if other Urhobo progressives really want to send Okowa and the PDP packing, they should embrace selfless politics and rally round Olorogun O’tega Emerhor.
Those Urhobos who are interested in becoming Governor will have to make their own decisions on whether or not to run for Governor in 2019 but before embarking on another wasteful journey, they should make an effort to understand that because Delta Central is the hot-bed of opposition politics in Delta State, Urhobo progressives owe it a duty to Urhobo and Delta State to use the 2019 election to build a progressive winning coalition. And it is in the best interest of Urhobo not to seek the governorship now. Such a move has become necessary so APC can broaden it’s coalition by appealing to more non-Urhobo voters and Urhobo too can lead Delta State out of its present predicament.
In a nutshell political realignment is underway and a new reality is emerging. For Urhobo progressives who are interested in becoming governor of Delta State, 2019 is not the right time. Those who have indicated interest should have a rethink and shelve their ambition for a period of at least four years. This is the new reality and those who fail to discern the outlines of this new reality could end up powerless and irrelevant.
Written by Godwin Anaughe, an APC Chieftain in Delta State