Perhaps the biggest clog in our wheel of progress as a people is not leadership incompetence, as bad as that is. It may not even be the flawed 1999 Constitution, which concentrates political and economic powers on the federal government while treating the states as appendages of the centre. Nor is it the unwieldly bureaucracy at the national and sub-national levels of government, which continues to constitute a bottleneck to the effective implementation of government policies and programmes.
Our albatross, in my considered view, is the inability of the average Nigerian to rise above petty sentiments and primordial loyalties in the national conversation. The lack of rigour, sincerity, and objectivity in our public discourse is disturbing; we readily sacrifice the truth on the altar of political expediency. The average Nigerian will rail against corruption among public officials but sing a different tune when his kinsman or political benefactor is involved. And when journalists, members of the fourth estate of the realm, are caught in this web, reason takes flight, labelling replaces dispassionate analysis, and facts are twisted to push a particular narrative, all the while obfuscating the issues. In the end, the reader is further misinformed and misled, and the cycle of ignorance and confusion is perpetuated.
It is in this context that I see Pegars’s “Train of Two Traitors” published in The Nation of Monday, June 20.
To start with, the fact that Governor Okowa hosted the Southern Governor’s Forum in May 2021 where they agreed on the need for a southern president in 2023 does not mean that he convened the meeting. The chairman of the Southern Governors Forum is Ondo’s Rotimi Akeredolu and there was no time that events after this meeting suggested that Okowa took the glory for the decision and, therefore, postured as a “hero.” For the record, the governors subsequently held further meetings in Lagos and Enugu in July and September 2021 respectively, where they reiterated their call for a southern president.
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But as the saying goes, 48 hours is an eternity in politics. Since September 2021, a lot changed in the political dynamics of the PDP top of which was the decision of the party to throw open the presidential contest. Having emerged as the presidential flagbearer in a free, fair, and credible primary, it was imperative that Atiku chose his running mate from the south, with Okowa, Nyesom Wike, and Emmanuel Udom as frontrunners. Besides, as encouraging and reassuring as the so-called Asaba Accord was, agitations for the presidency to be zoned to the southeast were promptly shot down by southwest politicians and their media hirelings, fueling speculations that the motives of the APC governors were not altogether altruistic.
It is obvious that Okowa’s traducers of which Omatseye is a front-liner are, for whatever reason, determined to drive a wedge between him and former governor, James Ibori. He uncharitably accused Okowa of working against the daughters of Ibori and Emmanuel Uduaghan at the recent party primaries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Delta today, anybody who wants to win an election must work hard for it. Gone are the days when the powers that be would hijack the process and impose the candidates of their choice.
Before Okowa came on the scene, Delta PDP as in other states, was notorious for imposition of candidates and doctoring of results in the party primaries. But all that changed with the coming of Okowa. Beginning from 2018, party primaries in the state have been free, fair, transparent, and credible, thereby reducing the level of litigations arising thereof. This trend was sustained in the 2022 primaries, and it is on record that some close allies of the governor lost out.
Omatseye’s insinuation of Ibori’s resentment of Okowa’s emergence as PDP’s vice-presidential candidate is unfounded. As a matter of fact, his daughter, Erhiatake, was among the first set of people to congratulate the governor on his emergence as Atiku’s running mate on her verified Facebook page. Describing Okowa as an “amiable governor,” she enthused that his selection “is a testament of your high level of acceptance across the nation.”
Although an Itsekiri, Omatseye is clearly alien to the politics of Delta State. For him to suggest that Okowa betrayed former Governor James Ibori for not supporting David Edevbie who was endorsed by the Urhobo Peoples Union for the 2022 gubernatorial primaries is proof of that. The UPU is not a political party; it is just another of many socio-cultural associations that exist in the state. Their decision is not binding on the PDP or even the delegates. Is Omatseye not aware of other Urhobo groups that endorsed the eventual winner of the primaries, Sheriff Oborevwori?
As I noted earlier, Nigerians don’t seem to know what they want. On the one hand, we desire proper democracy where the will of the people is respected and sacrosanct. On the other hand, we gripe and whine when our candidates lose in a free and fair election.
Omatseye, again uncharitably, pooh-poohed Okowa’s claim to being Igbo. His narrative clearly showed that he does not understand the contemporary history of the civil war let alone the unique origin of the Ika people traceable to Nri in Anambra State, as well as the indelible role of the occupational force of the old Bini empire/kingdom in their history. Who would now tell him that Agbor and Owa are two distinct clans of the Ika people or that the Anioma people are a sub-set of the Igbos across the Niger? Is it not on record that the late Ambassador Ralph Uwechue from Ogwashi-Uku was once president-general of Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo?
It was former USA vice-president Mike Pence who made popular the assertion that you may be entitled to your opinion, but you are certainly not entitled to your own set of facts. In respect of the N150b bridge finance facility, it is the amount the federal government owes Delta State and has scheduled payment on a quarterly basis over a five-year period starting from when the first tranche is released to the state.
With galloping inflation and to preempt devaluation of the sum, the government approached a bank for this money to enable it complete critical infrastructure projects that were listed in a memo to the state House of Assembly. The total amount will, of course, be discounted but then, as the saying goes, a bird at hand is worth two in the bush. Is there any right-thinking person in Nigeria who does not know that N150billion today will not have the same value next month, let alone five years from now? Meanwhile, the state is yet to access the funds because the first instalment is still being expected from the federal government.
The Okowa administration deserves to be commended not condemned for this initiative, which will save the state billions of naira and avoid the ugly spectre of unfinished/abandoned projects. It is certainly more desirable than the scenario with the APC-led federal government, which is currently borrowing to service debts.
Ekwugum is manager, communications, Government House, Asaba.