By John Oghojafor
Politically, Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State is uniquely distinctive, especially among the PDP members, as it has over the years, carved a niche for itself in terms of peace and stability before, during and after elections. It also prides itself as one Local Government in the state where electoral malpractice is minimal.
This, The New Diplomat gathered, has been due to the respect accorded to the opinions of leaders and elders of the party in the area, their ability to jointly take decisions on political issues and an alleged age-long respected tradition which equitably distributes elective and appointive positions among the four axis that make up the Local Government Area. But this age-long respected tradition that has fostered peace and stability among the Okpe PDP is being torn apart by uncontrolled selfish interest among the leaders.
It would be recalled that, with the forthcoming Local Government election around the corner, the state ruling PDP had instructed party leaders and elders in all the 25 local government councils in the state to meet among themselves and pick, by way of consensus, suitable aspirants as candidates of the party, to prevent the rigours of open primary. However, while the approach appeared successful in some Council areas like Sapele, Warri South, Uvwie among others, things seem to have fallen apart in Okpe Local Government Area, as the leaders and elders could not this time around, resolve and reach a consensus to produce the party chairmanship candidate for the January 6, 2018 Local Government election.
In a closed-door meeting convened by the number one PDP leader of the PDP in the area, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, in his country home at Opuraja on Monday October 2, 2017 which was attended by selected party leaders, elected and some important political appointees, the agenda was to resolve and pick from among the councillorships from various wards and chairmanship aspirants who are contesting on the platform of the party. The meeting which had heavy security presence, started in the morning but as at 7.30pm when it ended, they could not reach a decision for a consensus chairmanship candidate for the party. The New Diplomat gathered that they, however, were able to resolve all the councillorship positions except one where gender balance compliance became an issue.
But why, after nearly 12 hours deliberations, the respected leaders of the party failed to decide on who to fly the party flag in the forthcoming chairmanship election? Journalists confronted the Local Government party chairman, Chief Efe Uko as he was hurrying to leave the venue, but he declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting, referring newsmen to go speak with the number one PDP leader and convener of the meeting, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire. Again, it was like another brick wall, as the former Minister of Information under Ibrahim Babangida regime, referred journalists back to the party chairman who had already left, stating that it made no sense for the party chairman to refer newsmen to him. However, after much pressure, the Professor of Political Science, who is known as the ‘Father of Government’ (FOG) in the state, opened up.
According to him, the forum was able to resolve nine out of the ten wards councillorship candidates, adding that the remaining one ward would be resolved in the next few days. He however admitted that the leaders and elders’ forum could not reach a consensus decision on the chairmanship candidate of the party, stating that the party hierarchy at the state level may be involved and an open primary, according to the party constitution, may be the way out of the logjam.
Said he: “As for the chairmanship aspirants, well, we have two primary aspirants – the incumbent Hon. Godwin Ejinyere, who is seeking a renewal of his tenure for another term of three years and the challenger, who, incidentally, was the same challenger three years ago, Chief J.J. Scott. But this forum has examined the situation thoroughly, decisions have not been taken and it is highly like these things will be reported upstairs.
“By upstairs, I mean the party at the state level. They may be involved, they may not. They could be involved in the sense that it might be forced to do primary if, according to our constitution, if we cannot work out a consensus which we have not gotten out of today’s meeting. So, there might be primary if we cannot work out a consensus. Or, other interventions from the leadership from within here in this forum and also from upstairs as it were.
“All I can say is that the PDP leadership in Okpe has held a fruitful meeting and deliberations. Incidentally, one interesting dimension is that originally there were four aspirants. Two of them actually stepped down for one of them, the incumbent chairman for a second term renewal. Incidentally, one should say that, using their own testimonies, that they know that the Councils have not really had enough resources. So to even talk about performance and all that is a misplaced criterion of judgment because that had not been much resources.”
When asked about the alleged established tradition among Okpe PDP that no Council chairman serves more than one term in office, Prof. Oyovbaire said:
“People throw around statements and it is left for the journalists to research. Since 1999 we have had four elected chairmen. The beginning of the tenure of this dispensation, we had Hon. Fullman Akpere who came on board and had a very rough time. Eventually he ran one and half years and one Hon. Onofe completed the tenure. And then, there was a caretaker committee. When it was reopened, Hon. Efe Uko who is now party chairman took over.
“After Efe Uko, there was another transition. And then, when it was reopened again, Hon. Otirhue came on board. Otirhue was then the third elected chairman. After his tenure, there was another round of transition committee until the present chairman came on board. At that time, Otirhue tried but he dropped out of the race. And so the same two persons, the current challenger and the incumbent chairman slugged it out at that time.
“So, the issue is not whether nobody has had a second tenure therefore it is a practice. And let me say so, it is really bad politics when you constantly have fresh men ruling you. Why would the President of Nigeria has a second tenure because that is the executive side of the constitution? The governor will have a second tenure and all of us worked for the governor. And when it comes to the local government then you say he is not entitled to a second tenure.
“The constitution is very clear. The executive arm has a second tenure as a matter of principle. So, there is nothing in the books to say that there is no second tenure. It is just part of cheap politics for anybody to want to mount a podium and say no second tenure. If a second tenure is inaugurated today, it will still become a practice. So, I don’t think it is something we should be proud of that each time we have an elected chairman, he is a new person who probably has no experience before.”
Attempts made by The New Diplomat to reach out to the two major chairmanship aspirants to comment on the outcome of the meeting was not fruitful as the incumbent, Hon. Godwin Ejinyere refused to pick calls made to his cell phone. The other contender, Chief J.J. Scott said he was not in the mood to talk but would rather wait for the decision of the party.
Another top leader of the party who, however spoke anonymously, averred that the issue of a second tenure for Okpe Local Government Council was an age-long settled issue which, according to him, has been responsible for the peace and stability of the party in the area.
According to him, Okpe was divided into four axes, adding that in the spirit of equity, it is unfair for one axis to hold two or more elective offices while the other axis has none. He recalled that during the meeting convened by Prof. Oyovbaire, a decision was reached that the leaders and elders should cast ballot to pick the candidate of their choice among the two contenders, but according to him, Prof. Oyovbaire and a few others rejected that option. He also recalled that when the two contenders were asked if they would abide by the decision of the leaders in the meeting, Chief Scott accepted to abide while the incumbent chairman, declined, saying that he was aware that more than two third of the leaders did not like him.
Our investigation has revealed that the Local Government Party chairman has gone to Asaba to brief the party leadership in the state and it is very likely, the state exco may opt for an open primary for Okpe PDP chairmanship race.
Meanwhile, the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC), has fixed January 6, 2018 for the Local Government Election in the State.