Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Uduaghan: Three times a governor

Assistant Editor, Dapo Falade, chronicles the events leading to the success of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan at the April 26 poll and who will, on May 29, be sworn in as the governor of Delta State for the third time, a legal ritual he had twice performed in 2007 and 2010, and a feat yet unequalled by any other governor in the country.

IN the build-up to the gubernatorial election in the oil-rich Delta State, the battle for the control of the state could be rightly described as a two-way thing. Within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state was the camp of the incumbent governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, versus the old war horse, Chief Edwin Clark, on the one hand, and a very stiff and formidable opposition from Chief Great Ogboru of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and Chief Ovie Omo-Agege of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), on the other. So stiff was the opposition that many analysts were of the opinion that Uduaghan may eventually kiss the canvass at the end of the election.
However, and to the consternation of not quite a few people, the sitting governor was declared the winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and he will, on May 29, be sworn in for a second term of office. In the keenly contested election, Uduaghan polled 525, 793 votes to beat his archrival and main critic, Ogboru, who scored 433, 834 votes, while Omo-Agege trailed behind the duo with 15, 526 votes.

Born on October 22, 1954, Emmanuel Uduaghan was a founding member and Chairman of the All Nigeria Congress Association for the Warri South Local Government Area, a founder and executive member of the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM), and a foundation member of the PDP. On August 6, 1999, former Governor James Ibori appointed him as the state Commissioner for Health and on June 6, 2003, Uduaghan was appointed Secretary to the Delta State Government by the same governor.

In the 2007 elections, he contested against Omo-Agege, a frontrunner for the gubernatorial seat and Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the first runner-up, who later became the SSG and is now a senator in the National Assembly. With population not on his side, Uduaghan was not given even the slimmest chance, but against all odds, he emerged victorious in the election and he was sworn in on May 29 as the state governor, albeit in an election described as controversial and inconclusive.

He, however, had what could be described as his greatest political nightmare on November 9, 2010 when he vacated his office as the Federal Court of Appeal, sitting in Benin, Edo State, annulled his 2007 electoral victory and ordered a governorship rerun in the state, less than six months to the expiration of his first term tenure. However, the governor contested the January 6, 2011 rerun where he emerged the winner and was subsequently sworn in for the second term as the numero uno political office holder in the state.

The rerun election was nonetheless not a smooth sail for Uduaghan as he had a running battle with Chief Clark, a foremost Ijaw national leader and an influential chieftain of the PDP who had vowed that he would ensure that he (Uduaghan) would not return to the Government House. He also had to contend with the Minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, along with a large chunk of Urhobo politicians who constituted the largest ethnic group in the state, having about eight local government areas.

Added to the ‘enemies’ from within the PDP family, Uduaghan also had a formidable opposition from Ogboru who gave him a good run for his money. But against all odds, the man once again won the election and he became the sitting governor, preparatory to the April 26 polls.

It was this at the background that all the forces once again regrouped, joined forces and went back to the drawing board to prepare for another onslaught against the man, Uduaghan. In Delta State, ethnicity remains a major factor in determining who wins any electoral contest, particularly the number one political seat. It was indeed the main factor used by the erstwhile governor of the state, Ibori, in choosing his successor (in the person of Uduaghan) in response to the clamour for power shift prior to the 2007 elections. Ibori, an Urhobo, which is the largest ethnic group in the state, and having been in power for eight years, then installed Uduaghan, who is from the minority Itsekiri in the Southern Senatorial District, also made up of Ijaw and Itsoko ethnic nationalities.

This is where Great Ogboru comes in. He is from Urhobo, a tribe that accounted for about 60 per cent of the registered voters in Delta State. While many described him a detribalised Nigerian, several others averred that his fellow Urhobos saw his candidacy as a means for the ethnic group to reclaim their birthright but which they lost out in the siting of the Delta State capital in Asaba in a very dubious and controversial circumstance.

However, against the prevailing political calculations and in spite of the assurance given again by Clark that the governor would lose out, Uduaghan not only retained his seat in the aftermath of the April gubernatorial polls, but also, according to the INEC result, convincingly won in 12 out the 25 local government areas of the state. After series of wide consultations, even with President Goodluck Jonathan and other party leaders, both within and outside the state, and with rigorous campaigns and strategies, Uduaghan not only defeated Ogboru, the man who had on three occasions challenged his political supremacy, but also humbled Chief Clark.

The  collation/returning officer for the gubernatorial  election in the state, Professor Abhulimen Anao, who said that the results had been duly authenticated, declared Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan winner, having polled the highest votes cast in the exercise. He however observed that the skirmishes in some parts of the state did not allow elections to hold in some areas, culminating in the loss of about 35, 000 votes, while invalid votes stood at about 33, 000. The total votes garnered from the 25 local government areas indicated that Uduaghan of the PDP secured 525, 793 in 13 local government areas against that of the DPP gubernatorial candidate, Ogboru who got 433, 834 votes cast in 12 local government areas.

As a reflection of the ethnic bias in determining the electoral fortunes of politicians in the state, the PDP won in the Delta South Senatorial District and in the three councils in Warri- Warri North, Warri South and Warri South-West, which were said to be the strongholds of the PDP. In the three councils, he polled 58, 634, 65, 508 and 65, 150 votes as against his closest rival, Ogboru’s 1, 920, 25, 585 and 10, 552 votes respectively. On the other hand, Ogboru’s DPP floored Uduaghan in most of the Urhobo communities in Delta Central Senatorial District where even the state deputy governor, Professor Amos Utuama, was resoundingly defeated in his homestead.

Uduaghan also won largely in Delta North Senatorial District in the gubernatorial election in the state. Some analysts are of the opinion that the success of Uduaghan in that district, and which played a major role in the overall victory of the PDP in the state, was due to the resolve of the people of the district to give their total support for Delta South where Uduaghan hails from and allow the district to complete its two-term tenure. Thus, it was said to have been done with the hope that Delta North would have its own full term from 2015 when it would be their turn to occupy the state Government House.

While Omo-Agege, the ACN gubernatorial candidate, had since accepted the outcome of the election and  congratulated Uduaghan on emerging victorious, Ogboru is yet to come to terms with reality as he claimed that the election was fraught with massive rigging and  various forms of malpractices. Thrice, he had given the medical doctor-turned politician the battle of his life and thrice Uduaghan had come out stronger.

Quite aware of the opposition against him, and in view of the fact that some of the losers were still licking their wounds over the loss, Dr Uduaghan pleaded with candidates of opposition parties to bury the hatchet and join hands with him in the task of moving the state forward. While receiving his Certificate of Returns from the INEC in Asaba, the returning governor had charged every well meaning Deltans to put politicking behind them, now that elections were over and partner with the state government in its determination to make the state great.

Elections have been won, certificates have been given, swearing in will come and work begins, Delta State belongs to all of us. Delta State does not belong to Emmanuel Uduaghan alone nor does it belong to Senator Manager alone; Delta State belongs to all of us and all hands must be on deck to ensure that we develop our dear state.

“My good friend, the Imo State governor (Ikedia Ohakim), after losing election in his statement, said that what is important is that Imo State must move forward. Let me use that to appeal to our people; we are doing everything possible to reach everybody who is aggrieved.

“Let us all imbibe the attitude of ensuring that Delta State moves forward because if you destroy Delta today you can never, never be able to govern a state that is fractured. If you think you can govern it in future, accept what has happened and let us move forward and by the grace of God, the sky is our limit, in Jesus name,” he had said.

Appealing against resorting to violence, he had also said“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to our people that elections are won and lost through the ballot box and fortunately, there are avenues for putting forward your grievances and those are the law courts. I want to appeal that we should go to the law court to put forward our grievances because resorting to violence does not help anyone. Delta State is so sensitive that something very little can lead to violence.”

But will the people of Delta State, particularly the likes of Chief Edwin Clark, Godsday Orubebe and the critical opposition heed the clarion call from Uduaghan, the man who would, on Sunday, May 29, make history as the first man in the country to be sworn in on three different occasions as the duly elected governor of a state?

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