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Monday, April 11, 2022

Between Okowa and Ibori: Fallacies and Fiction - ITREALMS

Commentary@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!

It is another election era and merchants of falsehood and political fallacies have crawled out of their holes to stink up the air with their toxic tales. One of such noxious fallacies is that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is Chief James Ibori’s political godson. How rancid and insipid can some tales be? And how illogical, even mischievous, can hawkers of such stories be?
But if such unfounded spin is to cause a rift between Okowa and Ibori, they got it all wrong. They need to work harder and think much deeper, at least to sound a bit believable, as they undertake their ill-will voyage to sow seed of discord between these two friends that stick closer than brothers.

Granted, Delta is notorious for political treachery, lies, utter falsehood and dissembling by jobbers seeking attention and shouting fire where there’s not even as little as a spark. For those who care to know, including the mentally indolent mob who go about spinning such yarn, Okowa is not anybody’s political godson. Rather, Okowa is a child of God Providentially shepherded into politics by his Father, the Almighty God. If anything, he and Ibori, are friends, soulmates, contemporaries, and it shows in the mutual respect they show to each other to the acclamation and admiration of other politicians. Both share a friendship that transcends the realm of partisan politics. It’s a friendship that has been tried, tested, and burnished in the foundry of sincerity, confidence, and respect; something rare these days within the Nigerian political circle.

Therefore, nobody should try to put a wedge between both leaders, either by imposing one as father over the other or by insinuating that one should take instruction from the other. To try to do so amounts to committing political hara-kiri on the part of the mischievous mob. Okowa and Ibori are adults whose paths have crossed over many decades and whose influence is felt across the length and breadth of the nation. Any political jobber huffing and puffing just to put them apart for whatever reason should be seen for what he or she is: An uninformed political wayfarer with the vilest of values.

However, as one who is old enough and versed in Delta political history, it is pertinent to situate the story of Okowa’s political odyssey. It’s the story of courage, intellect, consistency, diligence, and value system that verges on godliness with contentment. That’s the story of Okowa’s political life. It’s the story of a man who humbled himself before God and man; a man endowed with calm temperament, a great listener who would rather stoop for others for the sake of peace, rather than usurp their position.

A brief recap of Okowa’s political career will suffice. After graduating and qualifying as a medical doctor in 1981 at the young age of 22, a record at that time, from the University of Ibadan, Okowa worked with the then Bendel State Hospitals Management Board as a Medical Officer. He would later cross over to private practice as Director, Victory Medical Centre, Igbanke in 1986. Young Okowa is driven by service to humanity. It’s a passion that has defined his life. He was in the habit of giving free medical services to the poor and vulnerable in his practice.

It was his benevolence and large-heartedness that motivated some public-spirited persons to conscript him into the political space where in 1991 he won the primary election for the chairman of his local government but was denied then by the powers that be. He was compensated with the position of Secretary, Ika Local Government Council. Providence smiled on him when Delta State was created six months later. He contested and was elected the pioneer chairman of Ika North-East Local Government Council. And he was just 32 years old. Ibori had no hand in Okowa’s emergence as secretary and later Chairman of his local government. Neither did any of those now squirming like tadpoles in Delta politics and claiming to have commanding influence over Okowa, one of Nigeria’s most meticulous and calculative politicians.

In the heady days of the late military dictator, General Sani Abacha, the Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM), a left-wing political party, was one of the five political parties recognized by the Abacha junta as he steeled himself to morph into a civilian dictator. Okowa was the Delta North Coordinator of the GDM at that time, a testimony to his political popularity in the state. The same Okowa would later join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998 when it became clear that the Abdulsalam Abubakar military administration was serious with midwifing the 4the Republic. As an influential member of the party, he played his role in the 1999 elections which produced Chief James Ibori as Governor of Delta State.

Under the Ibori government, he served as Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources (July 1999 – April 2001), Water Resources Development (April 2001 – May 2003) and Health (September 2003 – October 2006). Okowa resigned to contest in the 2007 Delta State PDP governorship primaries. It was here that his political influence was put to test. He put up a strong showing that made it impossible for himself and his opponent, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, a cousin to then Governor Ibori, to win the party gubernatorial ticket except by a run-off. In that primary election, Ibori backed his cousin, Uduaghan. Okowa ran on his own steam and was heavily projected to clinch the ticket in the run-off before elders in the PDP prevailed and a consensus was reached to hand the ticket to Uduaghan. Okowa was perceived to have a greater political clout in Delta than Uduaghan and a gentleman-agreement was reached for Okowa to sacrifice the governorship ticket. He did.

And if anybody was ever in doubt of Okowa’s powerful political stature in Delta, a true test came in 2011 when he was elected Delta North Senatorial District candidate in the January 2011 PDP primaries with 942 votes, beating Marian Amaka Ali, the wife of then PDP national Chairman, Senator Ahmadu Ali. Okowa’s victory at the primary was against all projections. The power brokers in PDP at the national and state levels could not stomach the humiliation handed down to their chairman. A re-run was ordered. This time Okowa went bullish and showed that he was the Real McCoy in Delta politics. He scored an intimidating 1,446 votes, against 108 votes for Mrs. Alli. He would follow this impressive run in the April 2011 election for the Delta North Senatorial seat, amassing 98,140 votes, ahead of his closest rival, Prince Ned Nwoko of the Democratic People's Party, DPP, who garnered 67,985 votes.

Similarly, the odds were stacked against him in 2014 when Okowa, once again, sought to become the governor of Delta State. Many political actors and observers thought he was on a futile mission but being the consummate grassroots politician that he is, he surprised the bookmakers with a stunning victory at the December 8, 2014, PDP primaries. He topped this by winning the governorship election in 2015 with an impressive 724,680 votes. 

Those who underestimate Okowa’s political sagacity do so at their peril; the man is a political machine that should not be trifled with.

*Contributed by Onome Umukoro, who wrote in from Warri

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