Whose political force will produce Omawumi Udoh’s successor?
By Ejiro Ernest
In the wake of the unexpected demise of Mrs. Beatrice Omawumi Udoh, the Member representing Warri South Constituency I in the Delta State House of Assembly, the political landscape of the constituency has suddenly opened up a mosaic of possibilities as to her likely successor in the House. While a multiplicity of aspirants is already networking for the post, the two frontrunners are undoubtedly, Godwin Abigor of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Michael Tidi of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
Surprisingly, Robinson Ariyor, who many had speculated would become the All Progressives Congress, APC’s, candidate for the race having flown the party’s flag in the last election, has indicated that he would not be running, a decision that came as a big surprise to watchers of political trends in the area. Certain stakeholders have indicated that the firebrand lawyer sees the demise of Omawumi Udoh as a rather very sad development and that he would prefer someone from her own political family to complete her term in the House of Assembly rather than for someone of his pedigree to be seen to be trying to take advantage of her sad passing to scheme his way into the House.
While several commentators have held that such a disposition betrays political naivety on the part of Ariyor given that politics is a dirty game in which even the death of a person can be legitimately taken advantage of by his or her enemies, others have pointed to the fact that Ariyor has always been known for his strongly held views of honour, decency and decorum, and as such should be respected as a man of genuine integrity who should receive the appropriate political recognition going forward.
Another political player who has lost no time in throwing his hat into the ring is Mofe Edema, the current Local Government Chairman of the late Omawumi Udoh’s constituency, Warri South. Unfortunately for Edema, not only is he not a match for the likes of Godwin Abigor and Michael Tidi, he has been severely criticized for greedily eyeing the post of one of his deceased constituents at a time at which he is still a sitting chairman of her constituency and should be more concerned with according her a befitting burial.
Another candidate currently being touted for the post is Mrs. Shola Daibo. While her sponsors have been projecting her as a fitting replacement for the late Omawumi Udoh given that thus, a woman would be replacing a woman, others point to the fact that she and Udoh never saw eye to eye while the latter was alive and that it would be unwholesome for Daibo to replace someone she was opposed to till death simply because they are both women.
It is instructive that those pushing Daibo are also doing so on the basis that she came a distant third during the PDP primaries in which she actually got only one vote as a sentimental consolation for her efforts in order for her not to seem like a complete failure during the exercise against the late Omawumi Udoh. This reasoning has however been punctured by the fact that a bye-election both in law and historically in electoral tradition, is an entirely fresh political tussle without bearing to what hitherto transpired as would have been the case in a rerun election.
As such who came third or whatever during the primaries of any given political party is completely of no consequence whatsoever for the purpose of conducting a bye-election. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that even in the PDP constitution there is absolutely no basis for such imposition and many commentators have pointed out that upon the death of the late Senator Pius Ewerhido, persons like Senator Igoyota Amori who came second in the substantive election did not automatically get the PDP ticket which rather went to Senator Emmanuel Aguariavwodo.
As for Godwin Abigor, it has been pointed out that it would be most unfair for Abigor to take over Udoh’s post now that she is dead. Abigor and his paymasters are accused of hounding and tormenting her right up to the point she passed away and many feel that giving Abigor her post now that she is dead would amount to rewarding his camp for harassing her in life.
This is more so given that the woman’s house in the legislative quarters in Asaba was burnt by miscreants suspected to be Abigor’s supporters immediately he was sacked from the House of Assembly by the Court of Appeal. Additionally and equally rather unfortunately for Abigor, reports have been rife in Warri and environs that Abigor’s supporters were celebrating upon news of her demise, something that did not go down well with her grieving supporters and sympathizers alike.
In any case, pundits have speculated that those touting the names of persons like Daibo and projecting them as desirable flag bearers for the PDP are actually trying to play a fast one on the Okowa led PDP administration in the state, confident that she has no political credibility and is, as such, most unlikely to win the election in the constituency. In fact, the entire idea of presenting such persons is believed to be orchestrated by the sponsors of Godwin Abigor whose real agenda is for him to fly the APC ticket and defeat someone like Daibo should she get the PDP ticket.
The problem with Abigor running under APC is the fact that he is seen as former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s right-hand man and that Uduaghan is insisting on his winning the race if only to prove that he remains a force to be reckoned with in the politics of Delta. More crucial from a political standpoint is the fact that should Abigor win, especially against someone like Tidi, he would have ended up defeating a candidate of the Governor Okowa led PDP, with whom Uduaghan is perceived to be having ongoing disagreements with.
The calculation here is that an Abigor victory would amount to a disgrace to Governor Okowa and a precursor to what is likely to happen at the gubernatorial level come 2019. By the same token, should Tidi defeat Abigor, which a very likely possibility is going by facts on the ground in Warri, it would signpost the ascendancy of the Okowa political machine over his traducers within the constituency and by extension, Delta South as a whole.
Compounding issues for Abigor is the fact that many stakeholders in Delta APC are not necessarily in support of his aspiration. Many of them view his attempts to join their party at this late hour as opportunistic and therefore quite unreliable from a strict loyalist standpoint.
Influence of Uduaghan and loyalty to O’tega
Moreover, many have questioned why former Governor Uduaghan should be sending his boy to join their party when he himself is yet to join. It was recently rumoured that even the likes of Chief Ayiri Emami had raised eyebrows about Abigor joining the APC on the orders of Uduaghan when the latter is yet to join, pointing out that as a committed APC stalwart, he Ayiri had been quite disappointed that Uduaghan is yet to join the party and prefers to continue to sit on the fence even though it is the same Uduaghan who encouraged him to decamp from PDP to APC in the first place.
Perhaps Abigor can hope for succour in someone like Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, the de facto leader of the party in the state and its gubernatorial candidate in the last election in the calculation that Emerhor would be quite enthusiastic for APC to produce an elected official at state level preparatory to 2019.
However, even Emerhor is speculated to be uncomfortable, like other stakeholders of the party in the state, of an Uduaghan boy becoming the first elected official of the party at state level and as such would prefer an authentic member of the party to fly its flag in the bye-election. This may not be surprising since, were Abigor to emerge victorious and become a member of the House of Assembly; his loyalty would undoubtedly be to Uduaghan and not in any genuine way to Emerhor or even APC as a party, when his master Uduaghan is still reluctant to decamp as pointed out above.
This brings us to Michael Tidi. Tidi happens to be an aide to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and actually has an office right within Government House Asaba where he generally reports for work on a daily basis. This has given rise to speculation that he would naturally be the Governor’s choice especially against the background of the fact that he remains an unapologetic defender of the Okowa administration, a tendency that has made him quite unattractive to Abigor’s open and secret backers who are rumoured to continue to have serious differences with the Governor.
Unfortunately for Tidi, stalwarts of the PDP in the constituency, such as Dr. Joseph Otumara, are determined that he must not be the next member representing the constituency in the House of Assembly, having worked tirelessly for the late Omawumi Udoh against Abigor, their candidate of choice in the last election.
Anti Otumara, Uduaghan factor
Tidi’s supporters’ counter that Otumara is a leader of questionable loyalty in the PDP given that as party stalwart in the constituency, he worked for Abigor of SDP against Udoh, the candidate of his own party, PDP, unlike Tidi who stood tirelessly by her side during her struggle with Abigor despite having been her major opponent during the 2011 polls.
They additionally allude to the fact that Tidi is morally entitled to aspire to the position as the member of her political family who had once contested against her and later returned to become her staunchest supporter against Abigor and the political juggernauts that bankrolled his campaign.
They similarly reiterate that for Uduaghan to have punished Tidi so severely after the 2011 polls, which he is believed to have actually won, and wickedly refused to compensate him for dropping his election petition against Udoh, only for the same Uduaghan to seek to dump the same Udoh like a piece of political rubbish in 2015 in favour of Abigor, entitled Tidi to support her especially as she was firmly in the camp of Governor Okowa, then the gubernatorial candidate of the PDP.
According to them, rather than those who hounded the woman till her death in a London hospital inheriting her post, someone from her political camp should be the one to serve out the remainder of what would have been her term had she lived on.
Unenthusiastic Tidi and lukewarm Okowa
The problem with their position is that despite Tidi’s closeness to Governor Okowa, the Governor has not indicated in any way that Tidi is his preferred candidate, more so when persons like Otumara whom Okowa seemingly cannot do without in Warri are not rooting for his aide.
Tidi, himself, is arguably not exactly in a position to help matters, given that thus far, he has woefully failed to conduct himself in the manner of a typical Nigerian politician. On the contrary, he seems torn between concentrating on evacuating his late leader’s body from London back to Warri for a befitting burial and at the same time striving to protect her political legacy from the vultures now circling to feast on her vacated seat, instead of abandoning her corpse to her family and concentrating on claiming the post for himself as any well tutored Nigerian politician should be doing.
In fact, to the shock of most people who know him as a genuinely tough, fearless go-getting writer, intellectual and politician, he actually broke down crying profusely upon being told of Omawumi Udoh’s death. Even though his grief was quite genuine as attested to by his fellow party members and even members of the opposition alike, it nevertheless revealed a softer side to Tidi which in the opinion of certain stakeholders, makes him unsuitable since a typical politician would simply pretend to be devastated and then immediately begin focusing on who will replace her in the House of Assembly.
Furthermore, with Uduaghan not ready to countenance Tidi to succeeding Udoh, it is highly unlikely that Okowa would have the nerve to push his own aide to challenge Abigor in defiance of Uduaghan and would rather prefer to let Uduagan call the shots even if this proves to be quite politically costly to him at the end of the day.
Grandmaster Okowa will not concede
Tidi’s supporters however counter that such a move by the Governor is highly unlikely and entirely inconsistent with his pedigree as an astute grassroots political grandmaster, arguing that the Okowa they know would not empower the sort of enemies that are not likely to become his friends and would only use such empowerment to fight him when it matters most, being implacable enemies to whom no concession is enough to turn them into friends.
It is therefore quite clear that the sad and most unfortunate death of the resplendently beautiful and resourceful Omawumi Udoh has opened up a political vista the likes of which we do not often see albeit in just one of the 29 constituencies represented in the Delta State House of Assembly.
Scions of Uduaghan and Okowa lock heads
Clearly, this is a race between Godwin Abigor, scion of the Uduaghan political machine, who has already tasted the sweetness of the post albeit very briefly, and has occupied various positions of political power in the present dispensation, and, Michael Tidi, aide to the incumbent Governor who once fought the late Omawumi Udoh for the post and yet became her chief supporter when those who initially supported her against him later vociferously turned against her in favour of Abigor.
If I were to indulge myself by playing counsel cum advocate for all sides, what would my Machiavellian advice to each be?
On Abigor, I would insist that over his dead body should he allow Tidi, a close ally of Udoh to defeat him. He may have been defeated at the polls and then in court by Tidi’s constituency leader, Udoh, but now she is dead and the world is for the living and not the dead. Indeed, this is his moment, especially with the likes of Uduaghan and Otumara solidly behind him.
Uduaghan just has to insist that, this being the moment for his resurrection in the political firmament of Delta, Abigor, his boy, must get there whether or not Okowa, the party or anyone else for that matter thinks otherwise. He was after all a potentate in Delta and must be given his due no matter whose ox is gored. If he cannot insist on Abigor winning, he will only be demonstrating that Okowa is actually a better politician than himself and but for the instrumentality of Ibori, who favoured him over Okowa, Okowa would have ended up as Governor after Ibori far back in 2007!
On Tidi, I would advise that, despite his popularity and grassroots appeal, he might as well consider quitting the race what with his Governor and current boss, Okowa, sitting on the fence and unlikely anytime soon to muster the courage to challenge a Hurricane Uduaghan on the latter’s turf. It is indeed sad that his former ally and leader, Omawumi Udoh is dead and it is indeed commendable that in death he inadvertently displayed his true fondness for his erstwhile political opponent by genuinely weeping for her as opposed to the rivers of crocodile tears that might have been shed by those now scheming to take her seat.
Unfortunately for Tidi, such disposition is not appreciated in this clime and all his genuine sorrow is immaterial in the cold calculations of the nitty-gritty of naked politics in Nigeria. His boss, even though the Governor, cannot withstand Uduaghan in Delta South and even if he wins the genuine vote Uduaghan will definitely have his way this time around. Unfortunately for him, his madam is dead and her enemies may likely inherit her post if care is not taken.
For the long suffering people of Warri, I can only say, ignore my advice to both political gladiators and insist that this time around, your voices will be heard in Warri South and the candidate of your choosing will replace Omawumi Udoh. Just vote for the candidate that best represents your interests in the House of Assembly regardless of the antics of demigods in the constituency.
Lest we forget the dead and be like those now scheming to feast on her carcass, may the sweet soul of Omawumi Udoh rest in peace as our Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to comfort the Husband, children, family, friends and constituents she left behind. Amen!
Ejiro Ernest Ofoye, Esq a public affairs analyst wrote from Warri.