Delta 2023: Why Justice and Equity Must Prevail Over Sentiment

2023: Okowa free to choose successor - Ijaw leader

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is a common knowledge that recently, the Ijaw leaders, youths and women predominantly residents in six councils of Delta State, with these councils domiciled within the Delta South Senatorial zone, insisted that their ethnic nationality must produce the next governor in 2023, as they have made huge sacrifices, contributing to the socio-economic sustenance of state and supported other ethnic nationalities over the years emerge governors in the state.

Though alluring in outlook, what however, qualifies as a worrisome, worrying as well as newsy development is that another ethnic nationality in the state, the Urhobos of Delta Central Senatorial zone are also of the views that the year 2023 is their turn to produce the governor. Essentially, their argument comes in double folds.

First is predicated on the ‘alleged political power rotation arrangement in the state between the three senatorial zones’.

The second stems from the first. But focuses on the logic that since the Central Senatorial zone kick started the governorship arrangement in May 1999 when democracy re-emerged in the state and, in 2007, after completing their two terms in office handed over power to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, an Itsekiri man  of Delta South Senatorial zone (Delta South senatorial district is made up of the Ijaws, the Isokos and the Itsekiri ethnic nationalities), who at the expiration of their two terms handed over power to Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta North. It is therefore reasonable to argue that having completed the circle, the position naturally comes back to the Central which was the starting point for another round of gestation.

Tragically unique is that this line of belief has blossomed and flourished, in spite of the recent declaration by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, during the quarterly media interaction, that there was no formal agreement in which zoning was discussed and ratified. And has without doubt, heightened political tension in the state and ‘polarized’ ethnic nationalities against each other.
For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, there are three distinctions to make.

First, in geographical landscape, Delta state could be likened to the ‘proverbial dot’ in the map of Nigeria. But the people, in material terms, have through hard work, planning, improvising established themselves in all sectors-finance, science/technology, sports and education among others.

Appreciably also, it daily manifest signs of a people that have left behind third world challenges of illiteracy and poverty, to become a successful centre for the dissemination and distribution of best human capital resources across the nation.

Secondly, the state, to use the words of Governor Okowa, is a microcosm of Nigeria because she is populated by different ethnic nationalities. She has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions’.

Thirdly and very fundamental is that to arrive at the answer that will give everyman his due without fear of favour, affection or ill-will, this piece will depart mundane and parochial senatorial consideration for a more liberal and sophisticated approach such as demographic validity, ethnic specificity and socioeconomic contributions.

With the above highlighted, it becomes relevant to make a detour and face the kernel of this intervention.

Catalyzing the process will elicit the following posers; are the Urhobos right in their present demand for the number one position in the state, bearing in mind that their illustrious son in the person of Chief James Ibori, occupied same exalted position, for two terms as explained above? Will it be considered right, fair and in line with the spirit/dictates of equity to allow power go back to Urhobo ethnic nationality when the likes of Ijaws, that is unarguably the second largest ethnic group in the state and others such as the Isokos have not enjoyed similar opportunities?  Must the state downplay, fail to give details to, and offer tribal/ethnic relevance and economic contributions on the altar of flimsy senatorial dichotomy?

Beginning with the first question, the answer at the face value is but a simple ‘yes’.  
However, beyond this simple answer, peripheral argument and other cursory perspectives that could not hold water when faced with embarrassing facts particularly, Justice and Equity; there are sincere reasons that characterize Ijaw ethnic nationality’s present agitation for the number one job as not lacking in merit.  

The facts are there and speak for it.

Apart from the above declaration by the state number one citizen(Senator Okowa) that ;“there was no formal meeting where an agreement was reached on zoning and that is the truth as at today, that whatever we are doing or talking about today is about fairness, equity and how to define what is fair and what is equitable and hinged on justice’, the Ijaws going by available records have been active in the socio-economic and political affairs since the days of Western and Mid-Western regions, Bendel State and now Delta State. In view of this spiraling fact, equity and justice should be the defining approach to the above debate.  As argued elsewhere, in the present Delta State, the Ijaw massively supported Olorogun Felix Ibru and Chief James Ibori from Urhobo ethnic nationality, Emmanuel Uduaghan (Itsekiri) and Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa (Anioma) ethnic nationality as governors. 

Away from support given to other ethnic groups to produce state governors at different times and places, the Ijaw ethnic nationality, like other ethnic groups in the state, is in my opinion littered with illustrious, self-contained and quietly influential sons and daughters that can eminently govern the state.
As an illustration, with the likes of Barrister Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, current Deputy Governor of Delta State, Senator James Manager,  four tenure senator ,  Dr. Braduce Angozi, former commissioner of Agriculture, Delta State, Dr. Patrick Akpoboloukaemi former DG NIMASA , Chief Alaowei  Broderick Bozimo, former Minister of Police Affairs,  Chief Sheriff Mulade, National Coordinator  Centre for peace and environmental Justice, Elder Goddey Orubebe, former Minister of Niger Delta  affairs, among others, Ijaw nation cannot be described as lacking in human resources needed to move the state forward.
Presently, the truth must be told to the effect that Delta as a state has benefited from remarkable exploits and contributions of the Ijaw ethnic nationality, Be it in natural resources, human-science and all other fields of knowledge. The state is indeed indebted to them for the wealth of knowledge they provided.

Thus, as the debate rages, one point we must not fail to remember is that the fundamentals of democracy guarantee the individual’s right to go against the masses and say no according to the dictates of his conscience. It also guarantees the right to call for change, when people cling to tradition out of fear and frustration’. Likewise, the present challenge in the state demands deliberate deviation from political party and sectional interest, to achieve collective state interest anchored on equity and justice.

Finally, “the destiny of the ship is not in the harbor but in sailing the high sea’’ and so shall our collective responsibility be, not to destroy this great state (Delta) but join hands to nurture and sustain it. If we are able to manage this situation and other challenges, it will once again announce the arrival of a brand new great state where peace and love shall reign supreme. But, then, no society/state or nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability without fairness and equity!

If this is the true position, I see no reason why other tribes should not support the Ijaw Governorship ambition in the state.  It is a common palace in politics that whoever contributes to the common purse, must draw from the commonwealth.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

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