By Solomon Avwioroko

 

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HE Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan

One fact that makes politics so thrilling is the egos that sometimes go with it. Every party wants to gloat over how fortified its political fortress is even when cracks on its walls have become perilously deepened. But that is the beauty of the game. Unlike the game of soccer and other sports events, where emotions are easily emitted over a loss, the players in politics are known to be so adroit at the show of stolidity that all is very well even when it is obviously not. This presumption seems to depict the current scenario in the Delta State People’s Democratic Party, PDP, since Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, a two-term and immediate past Governor of Delta State under the PDP,  defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Adams Oshiomhole, the APC national Chairman, was quoted as saying he would “not lose sleep” over the outburst of defections that took place recently from the APC to the PDP. He has however said just now that he was only quoted out of context. That he only said he would not lose sleep over those who defected to the PDP in pursuit of their personal political interests rather than the interest of the nation and the people they represent. If Oshiomhole has dismissed what he was earlier quoted to have meant by that statement, then he has indirectly acquiesced to the fact that the APC, no matter how it may try to conceal its wound, has indeed been injured by the recent gale of defections from the latter to the PDP. It is this wound that the APC has been fighting to get healed by ‘wooing’ into its fold some of the ‘big fishes’ on the other side. So far, the catch has been so great with the recent defection of Senator Godswill Akpabio and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, former two terms and immediate past Governors of Akwa Ibom and Delta States respectively. And just some few days ago, the APC boat swelled up with the defection of Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, also a former two-term Governor of Kano State.

But the PDP seems to show that its political feathers are not in any way ruffled by the sudden defection of these bigwigs from the party. This kind of political ego, I presume, is a very pernicious one as it has the tendency of covering up on the surface a deeply-cut wound that is already festering on the inside. Methinks this is the current situation with the PDP in Delta State with its glitzy display of stoicism that all is well.

While the APC camp is gloated in the confidence that the party has gained much ground in Delta State with the defection of Dr. Uduaghan, the Delta State PDP has come up with a two page advertorial signed by six PDP leaders from the three senatorial zones under the aegis of THE DELTA 2019 POLITICAL CREDIBILITY GROUP, in the Vanguard newspaper of Friday August 31, 2018. The advertorial which was titled, NOW THAT UDUAGHAN HAS LEFT THE PDP…., was heavily worded to denigrate and disparage Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan by reducing him to a complete weightless political entity of no value to the PDP both in the past, present and future to come. They wrote: “The truth is that, with all due respect to him, Uduaghan as a politician has been in the real politics of Delta State. Yet, as it is well known to all truly politically savvy Deltans, it is not as if Uduaghan was ever actually a force to be reckoned with in the politics of Delta”…..”Uduaghan cannot deny that he is the product of the single-minded insistence of his younger cousin and former Governor, James Ibori, to be succeeded by his brother. Without Ibori, not even Uduaghan himself can stand before Deltans to claim that he has ever on his own merit, been a politician of any note, pedigree, weight, clout or substance in Delta State”.

The insinuations above seem so incisive that one begins to wonder how much water can such wild assumptions hold for a man who with his younger brother, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, was a pioneer player in the Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM, which later formed a larger part of what eventually became the PDP before the party was fully peopled in Delta State after the 1999 elections. The fact cannot be gainsaid that a lot of those politicians who came in the train of the GDM in most of the PDP controlled states are today the big weights which cannot be dispensed with, in the party in such states. In Delta State, Dr. Uduaghan falls into that category.

Aside this pioneering pedigree, Dr. Uduaghan started to traverse the seats of power in the Delta State PDP governments since 1999 till 2015 when he left the government scene. Between 1999 and 2003 (Ibori’s first tenure), Uduaghan was the Commissioner for Health for four years. In 2003 (Ibori’s second tenure), Uduaghan became Secretary to the State Government, SSG, for three years until he vacated the seat (perhaps to prepare for the governorship race ahead in 2007) for Ovie Omo-Agege who took over in January 2007. Dr. Uduaghan ran the Delta State government as a Governor for eight years all under the PDP before he quitted in 2015.

And one cannot but imagine how a man who has come this far in Delta State politics could be so trivialised as one with no political weight and substance. The PDP must realise that the strength of a chain is not in the length of the body but in the different links it is made up of. A two-term Governor in any state of the Federation is too big a star to suddenly fade into the twilight of political history no matter what may becloud his position. Except it is another form of escapism to soothe the pains associated with the loss, it is just too dangerous a conclusion for some people in the PDP to start thinking that Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan is a political Lilliputian whose departure from the party is of no significance.

Very close sources have revealed that the bulk of the people who invested in Uduaghan’s campaign in 2007 were those he empowered while he was a Commissioner and SSG in the first and second tenures of Chief Ibori as Governor. It was said that a good number of these group of people, irrespective of ethnic leanings, formed a thick web around the Uduaghan’s administration for the eight years that he stayed in power as Governor. Many of such people, as the sources have revealed, whether still actively in government or not, remain fanatical loyalists to the ex-Governor till today. The source has revealed reliably, that even if it is a hard decision to make, there are bigwigs within the PDP who cannot resist Uduaghan’s call for defection to the APC once their interests have been defined.

This could be the confidence Uduaghan bears when in one of his speeches recently, he was quoted to have described himself as a “political John The Baptist” who has come to the APC as a forerunner to prepare the way for other bigger weights in the PDP to come in. The PDP has not taken that statement lightly knowing that it came from the mouth of the immediate past Governor of the state. Since then, there have been some unfounded stories giving rise to speculations that top on the list of the expectant APC is Uduaghan’s younger cousin, Chief James Ibori, the predecessor to Uduaghan himself. Although the PDP has grossly debunked such rumours, the Umbrella House still seems to be uncertain of the complete severance of ties between Ibori and his elder cousin as such separation has never occurred all through their childhood days and all through their days in UNIBEN down to the political scene. And with the palpable reticence that Ibori has maintained since after Uduaghan’s defection, there is the fear that something secret could be fishing. A prominent PDP leader in the Okowa administration, Prof. Sam Oyovwaire, has said recently on an interview with newsmen that he has met with James Ibori who “was sorry for the defection of his elder cousin (Uduaghan) and had asked people to pray for him.

Nevertheless, a Chieftain of the PDP from Opuraja community where the Professor hails from in Okpe local government area, seems to have taken a cursory study of Oyovwaire’s comment against the facts available to him and said: “It is either Oyovwaire is ignorant of what might be playing on now clandestinely in the state or he was speaking with tongue in his cheek.  He concluded by saying that with the current political situation on ground in Delta State, it is only God, Uduaghan and Ibori who can tell the wave of tsunami that will soon deflate the PDP of not only its leadership might but also of its numerical strength in Delta State.”

This line of reasoning may be the reason why the August 31 publication in the Vanguard by the PDP also pointed out that: “While we have no reason at this point in time to believe Ibori will actually follow his cousin into APC, we must make bold to assure him that should the contrary be the case, then we are quite pleased to remain where we are in PDP, where we belong with our Governor, Senator Dr. Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa, and all our leaders in the state”. However, Dr. Uduaghan himself has said it severally that if not for the persistent restraints from Ibori, his departure from PDP was long overdue. But this assertion does not seem to satisfactorily allay the apprehension in the PDP as some of them still stand to believe that there is something Uduaghan and Ibori know that they (PDP) have not been able to unravel. Whatever the case may be, observers from within and without are watching as the political drama unfolds. And whichever way the wind might blow, one thing that is certain to some political pundits who have studied the present scenario holistically, is that with the exit of Uduaghan, PDP in Delta State cannot remain the same again. They strongly believe that it is like opening up a big gully on what has made up the foundation of the Delta PDP since 1999.

Against the backdrop that Uduaghan has recently scored his administration above the Okowa’s administration on Channels TV, there are sections of the state who strongly believe that Uduaghan’s scorecard far outshines that of the present administration especially in the health, education and transports sectors, where Deltans got the benefits of the maternal and child health initiative that paid for a baby’s well-being from conception to the age of five; the establishment of the Delta State Teaching Hospital, Oghara; free primary and secondary education (including free enrollment fees for primary and secondary schools’ final examinations); the boost of education infrastructure which saw the commissioning of over 13 Model Secondary schools, over 54 primary schools and the introduction of #5 million per year as post-graduate incentive for First Class degree graduates. And for transports, aside the subsidized rate for transportation through urban mass transit service across the state, the Asaba Airport is also credited to his eight years administration.

Going by these laudable achievements, there are strong opinions which heavily rely on this record as factors that still speak for the ex-Governor and make him still very relevant in the Delta political space. If these opinions are popular enough amongst the people then Uduaghan’s defection could be deemed a big plus to the APC come 2019.

Although, Uduaghan may have debunked the flying allegations in the PDP that he defected out of the scare of losing out in the coming PDP senatorial primaries with Michael Diden and James Manager, two bigwigs running for the Senate in the Delta South where he hails from, it is assumed that the ex-Governor may have deeper reasons for his decision than he claims in public.

In any case, since his defection, Uduaghan has not concealed the idea that politics is a game of interest. Joining a new family now, which is particularly dominated by his former political foes, Dr. Uduaghan is prepared to chart a new political course with his followers by coming into the progressives train of the ruling party in Nigeria and hopefully in Delta State come 2019, in order to strengthen and elongate the life of the career he has begun since 1999.

—  Solomon Avwioroko, a journalist, writes from Warri