Comrade Sunny Ofehe has recently entered the public eye in the oil-rich Delta State. Google his name. Go to Twitter or Facebook you would see volumes of things on him lately. The man has been fierce in his campaign.
Over the years, he had become increasingly concerned about the downtrodden people of the Niger Delta region and when you talk about the intellectual part of the Niger Delta struggle, he is a touch campaigner.
The Niger Delta question has been a subject of debate at the European Union Parliament, credit to him who made it possible for Shell to be summoned the first time to explain their role in the region.
Ofehe, a human and environmental rights activist has carved a niche for himself as a humanist. He has a Pan-Niger Delta vision which he has been pursuing over the years using his “Sunny Ofehe Foundation” and Hope For Niger-Delta Campaign, HNDC, which he founded in 2005 to push for a better deal for his people.
He became a pro-democracy activist when June 12, 1993 Presidential election was annulled and in the wake of military clampdown on student protesters/activist who also protested against the execution of renowned author, playwright and human right activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others popularly known as Ogoni nine (9), Ofehe who mobilised students of the University of Benin to protest these incidents, fled the country to seek political asylum in The Netherlands.
Just recently I learned he is eying a political seat come 2019 in oil rich Delta State. I went to town to find out if it is true and the result is that; the media has been awash with his activities, ongoing consultations.
I was just a bit surprised when I first heard of his aspirations. I thought of it and realize the awareness, the campaigns about allowing young people to run for elective position have actually reawaken the consciousness of many a people who see political game as venture for a class of people.
Ofehe is a man who has lived better part of his youthful life fighting causes, championing campaigns, and doing a whole lot about the underdeveloped Niger Delta and how the International Oil Companies, IOCs that had battered the region can account for their atrocities.
Can this man “fare well” if he enters into the mockery waters of Nigeria politics? This question brings about another. Does he has the wherewithal? Is his bank account swollen enough to settle party chieftains, “buy delegates”, settle youths, officials, face an incumbent Governor, dismantle the “politics of zoning” built by Ibori, consolidated by Uduaghan and now Okowa?
My thoughts are overwhelming as yours.
The incumbent Governor is already gearing up for reelection after two years in office, many others gladiators in Delta North Senatorial District including former Speaker, Rt. Hon Victor Ochei are warming up. Okowa as an incumbent would not find it easy because the forces against him now are more than ever before. Then this Ofehe guy?
In Nigeria, the first thing people talk about in election is money. What can he offer in terms of monetary gains if we work for him. Nobody want to know what ideas you have or your agenda. Nobody want to know what led you into the race but everybody would say, particularly, when you are not a moneybag, “don’t waste your hard-earned money on this venture”.
So at it is now, they are asking; does he have the billions Okowa has mustered awaiting 2019 reelection?
Ofehe that I know is a fine breed and a real deal for any political position because he has impressively carried out his works that have inspired many including this writer. His aspirations is gaining momentum by the day even though he is a neophyte in the political space. He has the clout to march any old timer in debate, he is eloquent and very sound. His oratory prowess is superb, that those who want to square up with him in “political mesmerising” would have to go listen to some of his tapes.
If elections are won in Nigeria by what candidates can actually offer, Ofehe is the man to beat. He is a real deal for Delta State but whether he can pull the carpet of honour from Okowa’s feet is left for Deltans to decide.
As the Executive Director of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC), one organization that preached non-violent struggle in the Niger Delta in the darkest days of militancy, Ofehe talked peace to the youths and help midwifed the Amnesty Programme that enable youths lay down their arms for demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration programme of the Federal Government.
Victor Ebikabowei Alias ‘General’ Boyloaf can attest to how Ofehe lured him out of the creeks to embrace the Amnesty Programme after he brought three Americans and a Dutch camera man to the then dreaded “MEND Camp” in the creeks to interview him on why they were doing what they did then and the need to accept the olive branch. This was when the Niger Delta region was a “no go area”.
Ofehe has been consulting those that matters in the political equation in the country including holding a private meeting with former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in far away Dublin, Ireland, few weeks ago and meeting leaders and stakeholders in his home state where a clamour to retire the “old brigades” who hold the state to jugular is steaming.
The rationale behind the meeting is still shrouded in secrecy but Ofehe posted pictures on his Facebook page with Obasanjo saying the “meeting was part of his consultations”.
In the oil rich Delta State, the clamour to retire some of the “old politicians” made by one man who created a political dynasty by his election as Governor in 1999 has been very high apparently because the poor foundation he laid had over the years eroded the state of good and purposeful governance.
Just a little x-ray of Ibori, Uduaghan and Okowa as they stand in the road to 2019.
James Ibori, a maverick politician, though now an ex-convict remains a very powerful and influential old timer in the politics of Delta State that cannot be easily wished away.
Ibori, despite his “shortcoming” while in office (1999-2007) and the eventual “money laundering and corruption charges” that took him to Jail in the UK, has emerged as most powerful politician in the South South and godfather of Delta State politics.
Those who threw him into prison know his worth, that’s why they often tell gladiators who want to hold political positions in the state to always consult him first. A serving Senator even boasted how he made Governors, Senators and others while in jail! This, however has been contentions and has been refuted by those mentioned.
But fallout of a very top secret meeting recently indicates that Ibori is currently chopping for someone outside the window to correct his mistakes. This appear to be one of the conditions for his reparation and amnesty from the nation state. Whether he would back Okowa’s reelection when the chips are down remains unsecured though he had earlier endorsed him.
Besides Ibori, former Governor Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan had also endorsed Okowa who recently expressed delight that he was a lucky governor because he enjoys the support of former governors of the state. He is very correct, he is the most luckiest, economic recession or not!
Ibori fought serious battles all through his tenure with leaders, and elders in the state, including militants and then security agencies. All these battles were designed to unseat him. Uduaghan also inherited the battles including the “Chief E.K Clark war” which made front-page headlines during my days in the defunct Compass Newspaper.
So I think Okowa is actually the luckiest. He enjoyed an exponential level of support from youths, clergymen traditional rulers who line up for state events, and the two former Governors are always beside him. He also enjoys “media sympathy”, though, he is not press incline ostensibly because it is reasoned that the decline in monthly allocations from the federal government had affected performances in this much- publicized “economic recession” era!.
Besides pockets of protest in the state over insecurity, communal crisis, unpaid salary arrears of primary school teachers and council workers in the state of which blames are being shifted here and then, he is home and dry but merely basking on “goodwill or endorsement packs” to retain the Government House plum job.
Uduaghan, a strong force in Delta politics, although was disappointed by so-called “power of incumbency” in 2015 to clitch a Senate seat and make a successor, still have a faint grip on party structure and followers. Some of these loyalist are even serving in the present administration but unfortunately Uduaghan’s relationship with Okowa appears to be frosty apparently because of alleged subtle probe of his administration by Okowa.
Recalled that Uduaghan had sometime ago following report that he was having a “running battle” with his successor had said there is desperate attempt to undermine his legacies, maintaining however that his achievements and legacies will continue to speak for him and continue to endear him to the people of the state.
Uduaghan, in a statement issued by his former Chief Press Secretary , Sunny Ogefere, said: “For some time, there have been overt attempts to rewrite the history of governance in Delta State, especially the eight-year tenure of His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, CON, immediate past Governor of the state, through outright falsehood and mischief”.This might explain why it is difficult to know whether they would remain in “one accord” till 2019.
Then enters Ofehe again. He is relatively new in the political calculus of Delta. I don’t think if Okowa or Uduaghan and their likes know him well enough. He has never held any political position before as that’s the only visa to be around corridor of power.
He is a newcomer who has no idea how the “old timers” decimated the wealth of the state into private accounts. He is not party to how successive governments stole the treasury so dry that the state is bleeding of billions of naira debts.
Pundits say the state would never come out of its indebtedness when these old horses are re-circled. “Ofehe is standing to fill the gap created by the “old brigade” and salvage things. He is the one standing outside the mainstream politicians that they talked about. What Delta State needs is someone outside Ibori’s enclave who can instill fresh innovation, creativity, dynamism, resourcefulness to build the state and must be free from the razzmatazz of crude politicking, a topnotch politician said.
The only problem young people, and the likes of Ofehe who are seeking elective political office for the first time would face is the so-called politics of “godfatherism” which had been embedded into our body-politics.
Can he contend with this? Who is his political godfather? Can he withstand the power play and many more as it is customary with Nigeria elections? Your answers to all these are as good as mine.
I don’t know how much he has to march a man who sits to appropriate the collective wealth of the people to return himself to power but what I know is that he has the clout, he has the exposure, he has the reach and he can spring surprises.
These were exactly what Ofehe alluded in his lecture paper recently when he said youths seeking political office encounter difficulties in clinching party candidature due to undemocratic primaries, imposition/substitution of candidates and disregard for democratic norms and principles. This can be attributed to the zero-sum nature of politics in Nigeria.”
The campaign for the passage of the “Not Too Young To Run Bill”, prodding young people to be more active and go into real time politics which had gone through the second reading in the Nigeria House of Representatives has become very apt to his cause and Ofehe has been one of those who had also lend voice in recent event in Vienna, Austria where he called on Nigerian youths to take active part in election process by contesting for public offices at state and national levels.
Ofehe has remain resolute to the cause of the downtrodden people of the Niger Delta and his choice to seek an office in Delta state is fueled by his passion, he said adding in a recent event, that government needs to be sincere to the fact on ground by investing more on youth development, do less of the blame game strategy, and allow the youths to gain access to the political process for more adult-youth engagement and partnership for growth and advancement for the nation.
Take a peek at Ofehe. His exploits around the globe, more so, his daring ventures including how he made presentations on the situation in the Niger Delta to the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Niger Delta at the Nigeria House of Representatives and eventually invited 15 Honourable Members of the Committee led by Hon. Abdul Ningi to the Netherlands and the European Union Parliament and Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
One of his exploits that is now a policy programme by the Federal Government is the Modular Refinery thing. In 2009 he made a daring trip to discover how the illegal refineries business was thriving in the Niger Delta and recommended the current modular refineries backed by the Nigerian government as the only solution to curb the menace.
Moreover, in 2010, HNDC, the organization which he had used overtime to put the Niger Delta question at the international spot light, organized the first ever international conference on Peace in the Niger Delta in The Hague, The Netherlands. The conference brought together experts and policy makers to design a blue print for peace in the region.
After the conference, which this writer was also part of, Ofehe facilitated the visit of the Dutch Member of Parliament to the Niger Delta region to experience the impact of gas flaring on the health of the ordinary people. The visit prompted the Parliamentarians to summon Shell to a Parliamentary Hearing in The Hague in 2011. He was invited to speak at the hearing which questioned Shell inability to follow international standard in their Niger Delta operations.
His efforts to the people of Niger Delta region at the European Union, back to Netherlands where he ensured Shell is questioned for its atrocities to the region is legendary and would remain in the sands of time. These might explain why the media have been awashed about his aspirations to bring his experience to governance and to fix the decadence that successive governments have created in his home state.
Although he has not formally declared his intentions, the consultation campaigns have received massive buzz within the state but only time would tell how this would eventually play out.
Written by Joe Ogbodu