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Journey To Delta Govt House Culminates Today With One Winner
Published Mar 23, 2023 IN Column, SATURDAY COVER,
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 BY AWELE OGBOGU IT all started as expressions of interest by aspirants, but today, Saturday, March 18, 2023, Deltans head to the polls to elect one of the candidates, who is expected to emerge as the Fifth Executive Governor of the state. The Governor of Delta State is elected using a modified two-round system. To be elected in the first round, a candidate must receive the plurality of the vote and over 25 per cent of the vote in at least two-thirds of state’s local government areas. But if no candidate passes this threshold, a second round will be held between the top candidate and the next candidate to have received a plurality of votes in the highest number of local government areas. Delta State, whose next leadership is sought after by a myriad of political aspirants, is a diverse state in the South South geo-political zone of the country, with rich oil reserves, although in the last eight years, the state government embarked on a vision for domestic diversification agenda, as encapsulated by the Stronger Delta Agenda. Ahead of the guber polls on Saturday, March 18, 2023, political and legal minds in the state have dissected the potential experiences under the current I.N.E.C. experimentation with the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the electronic transmission of results. Although it was greeted with high hopes of a free and fair conduct of elections in the country, as envisaged by the Electoral Act, it has courted widespread controversy, since the Presidential and National Assembly elections, held around a fortnight ago. The electoral umpire had made repeated promises to Nigerians that it would upload results from polling units at real-time to the IREV server, as well as make effective use of the BVAS machines, but the verdict of many voters so far, is that it was not to be. Hence, many Nigerians, once beaten, as the saying goes, are weary, meaning that not a few who participated in the Presidential and National Assembly elections, were seemingly disappointed with the whole process, but pundits who spoke to The Pointer on the Saturday, March 18, gubernatorial elections, harped on the need for INEC to redeem itself. Moving forward, many were pre-occupied with their permutations for the polls, such as how the build-up to the elections, the politics of rotation and geo-political configuration, in which Delta Central Senatorial District appears to be the beautiful bride, parading virtually all the candidates, safe for one or two from another senatorial district, as well as such other factors as the age brackets of the candidates and gender affirmation could play out for good or otherwise for candidates aspiring to be Delta’s fourth executive governor come this Saturday. Preparations On February 26, 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable, setting out key dates and deadlines. Months later, on 27 May 2022, INEC made a slight revision to the timetable, allowing parties extra time to conduct primaries. 28 February 2022 was for the Publication of Notice of Election, while 4 April 2022 was the first day for the conduct of party primaries. 9 June 2022 was the final day for the conduct of party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from them. 1 July 2022 was the first day for submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online portal, while 15 July 2022 was later moved to 18 March, 2023, principally due to a lawsuit arising from INEC’s handling of the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023. Primaries: Ahead of the Delta State governorship election on Saturday, March 18, 2023, political party primaries were scheduled for between April 4, 2022 and June 9, 2022, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominating Speaker of the House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori on 25 May, while the All Progressives Congress nominated Senator for Delta Central, Ovie Omo-Agege on 26 May, among other parties. The year prior to the APC primaries were categorized by party rivalry between Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and several other Delta APC politicians led by a federal minister, Festus Keyamo and Great Ogboru, who accused Omo-Agege of hijacking the party to guarantee his victory in the 2023 gubernatorial primary. The two groups held separate parallel party congresses in late 2021 but Omo-Agege, a high-ranking senator, had his faction’s congress recognized as legitimate by the national party and he announced his gubernatorial candidacy in April 2022. On the primary date, Omo- Agege was the sole candidate. However, Ogboru left the party to become APGA’s gubernatorial nominee. About a month later, Omo- Agege picked Friday Osanebi as his running mate. On the other hand, analysts viewed the PDP primary as having aspirants with the vast majority of candidates coming from Delta Central but two exceptions from Delta South. On 16 March 2022, the national PDP announced its gubernatorial primaries’ schedule. Forms were to be sold until 1 April but the party later extended the deadline four times before reaching a final deadline of 22 April. After the submission of nomination forms by 25 April, candidates were screened by a party committee on 28 April while 2 May was the rescheduled date for the screening appeal process. Ward congresses were set for 29 April and LGA congresses were rescheduled for 10 May to elect delegates for the primaries. Candidates approved by the screening process advanced to a primary set for 25 May, in concurrence with all other PDP gubernatorial primaries. Pre-primary analysis noted over a dozen candidates contested an indirect primary at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba that ended with Oborevwori’s victory, with results showing him winning over 70 per cent of the delegates’ votes. On 23 June, Monday John Onyeme, the immediate past Chairman of Delta Board of Internal Revenue was announced as Oborevwori’s running mate; Onyeme was noted to be from the northern region and an ethnic Ndokwa, the group expected to get the PDP deputy slot. Aspirants: Sheriff Oborevwori, House of Assembly member for Okpe (2015–present) and Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly (2017–present), running mate—Monday John Onyeme, erstwhile Chairman of the Delta State Board of Internal Revenue. Helen Agboola Onokiti (Accord Party), Running mate: Iweanya David Okolie; Jenkins Duvie Gwede (Action Alliance); Running mate: Timis Tonbra Okonma; Emmanuel Samuel Ogba (Action Democratic Party), Running mate: Gift Valentina Okeh; Annabel Cosmas (Action Peoples Party), Running mate: Udoka Francis; Efeoghene Shedrack Ekure (African Democratic Congress),Running mate: Happiness Okoro; Ekene Eze (Allied Peoples Movement), Running mate: Oghenefegor Patrick Upama; Great Ogboru (All Progressives Grand Alliance), Running mate: Chinedu Sydney Allanah; Sylvester Umudjane (Boot Party), Running mate: Dorcas Ekpe; Kennedy Kawhariebie Pela (Labour Party), Running mate: Julie Nwabogo Efemena Umukoro; Goodnews Agbi (New Nigeria Peoples Party),Running mate: Bolaji Anthony Alabi; Emmanuel America (National Rescue Movement), Running mate: Blessing Tochi Njoagwuani; Immanuel Edijala (People’s Redemption Party), Running mate: Glory Ndidi Umerah; Kenneth Gbagi (Social Democratic Party), Running mate: Ishoma Rosemary Oshilim; Sunny Ofehe (Young Progressives Party), Running mate: Eloho Chalele; Emmanuel Okoh (Zenith Labour Party), Running mate: Eziunor Onyefudsaonu. Political Campaigns After the primaries in June 2022, observers stated that PDP aspirant, Sheriff Oborevwori focused on unifying the state. Analysts also took cognizance of two notable minor party nominees—longtime politician, Great Ogboru (APGA) and former Minister, Kenneth Gbagi (SDP), while also appraising the obvious power shift, as all prominent candidates were from the Central district. Gender Affirmation Only two women have presented themselves for election as the fifth executive governor of Delta State. They are Helen Agboola Onokiti (Accord Party) and Annabel Cosmas of Action Peoples Party. Deputy Governorship slots are occupied by Action Democratic Party’s Gift Valentina Okeh, African Democratic Congress- Happiness Okoro; Boot Party’s Dorcas Ekpe, Julie Nwabogo Efemena Umukoro of LP, Rescue Movement’s Blessing Tochi Njoagwuani, Redemption Party’s Glory Ndidi Umerah, Ishoma Rosemary Oshilim of SDP, Young Progressives Party’s Eloho Chalele. But as it was pointed out, this does not depict the true picture of the lot of the female gender in Delta State, as evidences were given of how women and girl-child development was accorded priority attention by the Okowa Administration in the last eight years, with the aim to better their lot, especially in the areas of education, including technical education, job and wealth creation programmes, entrepreneurship training and development of agriculture. Pundits have rather appraised the national implementation of the National Policy of 35% Affirmative Action for Women. It was rather asked: “to what extent has the 35% Affirmative Action for Women been realized in Nigeria, taking due cognizance of how poverty has festered in the last eight years, thus earning Nigeria the infamous appellation as the poverty capital of the world. With the benefit of hindsight, it was observed that the 35% Affirmative Action for women has not be realized in Nigeria because of high poverty rate and low literacy rate among women, as well as non-application of compulsory party-based implementation strategies. Affirmative Action (AA) refers to policies that take care of race, ethnicity or gender into consideration in an attempt to promote equal opportunity in socio-economic and political life; It is a policy project aimed at countering discrimination against minorities and disadvantaged social groups. The origin of Affirmative Action is traced to the Civil Rights Movement. Several socio-economic variables have been blamed as being major determinants of the extent to which women participate in politics. Some of these socio-economic variables include literacy rate, patriarchal system, culture, race, religion; violence, night meetings, blackmail, rigging; societal attitudes, social cohesion and social capital, as well as the poverty rate, earnings/ Income, opportunity, cash benefits, property ownership/rights of inheritance, household division and others. Nonetheless, it is a policy strategy designed to correct an existing imbalance and prevent possible discrimination against a disadvantaged group or minority, based on sex, race or even religion. Recall that Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, deputy chief whip of the House of Representatives, said the country needs a president who is committed to 35 per cent affirmative action for women. It was while a bill seeking affirmative action to ensure that 35 percent of women are involved in all governance processes was rejected by the National Assembly during the voting on constitutional amendment bills. Speaking with reporters, Onyejeocha said Nigeria could take a cue from countries that have made political parties create room for women in governance. “The solution to the whole issue of low women participation in politics is that Nigeria needs a president who is committed to affirmative action for women.” Age Factor Of the major political parties, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori of the PDP was born on June 19, 1963, Ovie Omo- Agege of the APC, August 3, 1963. Is age really a factor to be reckoned with? On March 25, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said that it had disqualified three political parties from participating in the 2022 Osun Governorship election. The affected parties were the Action Alliance (AA), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and African Democratic Congress (ADC). INEC explained that the disqualification of the ADC and APGA were disqualified based on the fact that the candidates nominated for both parties did not “meet the age requirements for the office of Deputy Governor as enshrined in the Constitution”. A similar event occurred in 2019 when the Commission announced that it was disqualifying some of the Governorship and Deputy Governorship candidates in the Bayelsa and Kogi gubernatorial elections because they failed to meet the minimum age prescribed by the Constitution for those positions. In February this year, Mr. Obinna Nwosu, one of the aspirants for the Abia Governorship position in the 2023 general elections, announced that he had stepped down from the race because he was ineligible for the position due to his age. “My attention has been drawn to the fact that, due to an alteration in the NOT TOO YOUNG TO RUN BILL, I am no longer eligible to run for Governor at the age of 32”, he said in a statement he himself signed. With repeated cases of disqualification of Governorship and/or Deputy Governorship candidates or voluntary withdrawal of aspirants, as in the case of Nwosu, due to the issue of age, it was important to examine the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) in relation to its stipulations on the minimum age requirements for elective positions in the country. Prior to the 2019 general elections, the Nigerian constitution puts the minimum age for any individual who wishes to be the President at 40 years. For Governors, the constitution states that such individuals must be at least 35 years of age; the Senate, 35, while the minimum age for the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly were pegged at 30 years. However, according to Yiaga Africa, these age requirements shut the door on a large number of Nigerian youth who constitute the majority of the country’s population and registered voters. As a result, in May 2016, Yiaga Africa began pushing for The Age Reduction Bill, which is popularly known as the Not Too Young To Run Bill. The Bill sought an amendment to Sections 65; 106; 131 and 177 of the 1999 Constitution to lower the age limit to contest for elected offices. After a prolonged bureaucratic process, on May 31, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law. With the signing of the bill, the minimum age requirements for elective positions were reduced except for the positions of Governors and Senators. The age qualification for the office of the President was reduced to 35 years, while the House of Representatives and State House of Assembly were both reduced to 25 years. However, Governorship and Senate positions were retained at 35 years. Geo-political Configuration: An informal zoning gentlemen’s agreement started by the PDP in the state in 1999 sets the Delta Central Senatorial District in a vantage position to produce the next governor as Delta Central has not held the governorship since 2007. This internal arrangement of the PDP have obviously been copied by other parties, ostensibly, out of the attempt to compete with the dominant party in the state. Delta State is made up of five distinctive ethnic groups, namely: Urhobo, Igbo, Ijaw, Isoko and Itserkiri. Like other states of the federation, Delta is divided into three senatorial districts – Central, North and South, have been referred to as the triangle. Two of the three senatorial districts are, to a large extent, ethnically homogenous. These are: Central District, predominantly inhabited by the Urhobo ethnic group, and North District, mainly populated by the Igbo. Conversely, the South District, made up of four ethnic groups – the Ijaw, Isoko, Itserkiri and Urhobo, is distinct in its ethno-cultural configuration. Since the creation of Delta State in 1991, the Urhobo have produced two democratically-elected civilian governors of the State. These are: the late Olorogun Felix Ibru and Chief James Onanefe Ibori. Felix Ibru was elected governor a year after the creation of the State on the platform of the defunct and resurrected Social Democratic Party (SDP). Ibru governed Delta State from 1992 to 1993 during the short-lived Third Republic. Chief James Onanefe Ibori, the second Urhobo from Delta Central, governed the state from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In the era of the defunct Mid-West Region, prior to the creation of Delta State, the Urhobo produced two unelected governors, Chiefs Samuel Jereton Mariere and David Ejoor. The Itserkiri, on their part, have produced only one democratically-elected governor in the person of Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, who succeeded Chief Ibori, also on the crest of the PDP. The incumbent governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, who took over from Uduaghan, is an Igbo from the North of the State. Okowa equally won the seat on the platform of the PDP. Through Okowa’s emergence from North, the governorship seat completed a triangular rotation across the three senatorial districts. The Gordian knot, which political power brokers in the State appear to have informally adopted, was seen to be guided by a triangular rotation along senatorial districts. As to how the candidates would fare at the polls, the answer is best left to the conscience of the electorate, who are obviously keen in preserving the culture of periodic elections as one of the fine tenets of democratic practice and towards a greater Delta State.

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