The grand reception and award of excellence hosted by the Delta State Traditional Rulers’ Council held Thursday, December 19, 2019 in Asaba, the state capital, has come and gone, but the dust raised by the event will take quite some time to settle. The uncharacteristic outburst by the immediate past governor of the state, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan who was conspicuously missing from the roll call of awardees and prominent sons and daughters of the state invited to the event, once again underscored the no love lost relationship between him and his successor, Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa. The political colouration given the event by the organizers appeared also to have diminished the import of the ceremony. The Chairman of the Traditional Rulers’ Councils, Obi Emmanuel Efeizomor II, had remarked that award recipients were being honoured for their roles in the development of the state. The anger of the former governor and his loyalists however was that if the yardstick to qualify for the award was contribution to the development of the state, he was eminently qualified to make the honours list. Among those honoured at the event by the royal fathers were Okowa, his deputy, Kingsley Otuaro, and the first civilian governor of the state in the present democratic dispensation, James Ibori.
Taking to his Facebook page, Uduaghan noted that the infrastructural projects and enduring peace for which the state Traditional Rulers Council honoured Okowa were indeed some of his administration’s achievements. In a series of posts on Thursday tagged “I shall be unzipping a little today!!!” Uduaghan described his exclusion from the honours list as an attempt to rubbish his contributions to the infrastructure development of the state. He said despite building some of the star projects in the state, including the Asaba International Airport, Government House, Asaba, the two Delta Malls (Asaba and Effurun), and the Dome Event Centre ironically where the award ceremony was held, he was ignored.
In his words, “Julius Caesar, Animal Farm and Things Fall Apart, were some of the books we used in our literature classes at the FGC, Warri. The ‘cuts’ did not kill Ikemefuna or Julius Caesar. The shock of knowing who inflicted the ‘cuts’, killed them!”; “Any ex-governor has the capacity to ensure that his state is peaceful, or create a platform for crisis. You cannot fund and mobilise traditional rulers to Asaba to spite me. All of us get ‘smart cunny.’; “In spite of the lies out there, I was on the driver’s seat in 2014/15 to midwife the current Delta State administration. The critical responsibility of any state leader is to ensure that all actions maintain the peaceful nature of the state”; “I wish you a great ceremony as you use the event centre and Government House complex I built”.
However, investigation by the magazine revealed the real reason why Uduaghan exploded in a seeming unrestrained anger which for obvious reasons had been bottled up since he left office. The bitter experience he had to go through especially his struggle for the PDP senatorial ticket stampeded him out of the party to pitch his political tent with the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Sources close to him said he felt a deep sense of betrayal by not just the traditional rulers, but his younger cousin, Ibori. According to the source “he felt that the so-called grand reception was a grand conspiracy against him with the endorsement of even his own blood brother. So, I can confirm to you that all is not well between them”. According to him, “you needed to see his mood that day; I have never seen him in such fury. And to make it worse, some of the traditional rulers were calling him; I think about three of them. Two of them were saying that they complained about his exclusion. They claimed they did not attend the event because they were not in support of what was going on. There was one that called and said he didn’t know he was not included and oga told him how can you say you didn’t know? It’s not possible you didn’t know. It was advertised, people were invited”.
The magazine learnt that the most painful aspect of it all was the role the Olu of Warri was used to play in the whole ugly episode. Another supporter of the governor told the magazine that people were calling him, mostly his Itsekiri kinsmen saying “you see the way they just ridiculed you today, using the Olu to present the award to Okowa. So, right now, the Olu and some of his chiefs are upset, the Itsekiri people are upset because they have been writing all sorts of things on the social media that he sold out. If you have been following comments on the social media, you will appreciate what I am talking about”.
One of the ex-governor’s erstwhile political aides also hinted the magazine “that since his outburst, a lot of prominent Delta leaders have been calling him and pleading with him to cool down. Some people said he shouldn’t have said all that he said, and that further infuriated him. He told that caller that there comes to a time in the life of a man that you have to stand up for yourself. He said those things he said were from the bottom of his heart, and having said them, he has zipped his mouth back”.
The magazine gathered that Uduaghan was particularly distraught that the governor was carrying his animosity against him too far as if he had committed the worst crime against him for not initially supporting his emergence as PDP candidate, while it was convenient for him (Okowa) to forget that he threw his heart into the campaign that saw to his victory. According to the former aide, his reaction was a bottled-up anger and he went on to narrate to the magazine how he expressed his frustration to a political leader in the state. He quoted him as saying “you can’t just be humiliating somebody. For the past five years I have kept quiet for you. You’ve done all sorts of things. You put on the pages of newspapers, social media, how much debt I left behind which is not true. You’ve taken me to all EFCC offices in Nigeria; I have gone and come back, nothing. You undermined my leadership in my local government. I left the party for you, so, what else do you still want, my life? Until you take my life you will not be happy?”
Some of the former governor’s loyalists are also disappointed at the perceived treacherous action of the traditional rulers and accused the chairman of the Council of partisanship and clannishness being Okowa’s kinsman. One of them lambasted the traditional rulers, accusing them of being “motivated by stomach infrastructure” and warned Okowa to be wary of them because they would do to him exactly what they have done to Uduaghan “because they belong to AGIP” (any government in power). According to the source “these were people who had been calling this same Uduaghan complaining that things are not the same with them since he left office. They were saying to him if not for you, we would not have been driving new Jeeps. They would come to Asaba to collect all sorts of money. Even before now, some of them when they want to travel abroad for medical care, they would still call oga. And he would tell them, your royal highness, you know I am not in government again, and whatever he could afford he would give. The question is, are they traveling again now? Now they are calling to apologise to him. So, what are they begging him for? The damage had been done so, of what use is the apology?”
Recall that sometime in January this year in the heat of the campaign for Delta South senatorial seat, ahead of the 2019 general elections, royal fathers in Isoko North and South local government areas had supported Uduaghan’s candidacy, not on the basis of his APC political platform, but according to the Ovie of Oleh, Anthony Ovrawah Omagha 1, “for who you are”. The Ovie of Ozoro Kingdom on his part, speaking the minds of other traditional rulers in the state, when Uduaghan sought their blessing, noted that as governor, he accorded the traditional institution its due respect as well raised their status to an enviable position in the country. Said he: “the other kings are here to see the man who elevated their status. You’re somebody that fought for the traditional rulers and the sanctity of our culture. We traditional rulers will not forget you in a hurry. You did well as governor”. The question that would, however, agitate the minds of many is for an ex-governor on whom such vote of implicit confidence had been passed for having done well, how come he was not deserving of being honoured when the opportunity presented itself?
Reacting to the development, the All Progressives Congress, APC in the state laid the blame at the doorstep of the incumbent governor. In a statement by its publicity secretary, Sylvester Imonina, the party accused the governor of “desecrating traditional institutions in the state,” noting that in order to cover up his alleged inadequacies, “the Governor inveigled and did cow some of our traditional stools into hurriedly putting up an award ceremony for him and some members of his political family, thereby desecrating the age-long revered traditional institution.” Critics of the award ceremony believed that it ought not to have been politicized by reducing it to a PDP affair. It is argued in some quarters that apart from Uduaghan who was allegedly ‘mischievously” left out, the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, who remains the highest political office holder from Delta State, ought to have also been considered for honour. Describing the award presentation to Okowa by the State Traditional Rulers’ Council as ridiculous, the APC said: “It is preposterous that Governor Okowa was given an award and/or declared the best in a race, he is yet to finish”. Upbraiding the organizers, Imonina told them to “learn to bear hunger at times” as according to him, “that is the only way you can recover your lost crown of honour”. He said APC in Delta State would continue to uphold the traditional institution they were charged with.
Also castigating the traditional rulers for giving out “selective awards”, the immediate past President of the Isoko Monitoring Group (IMG), Agbefe Sebastine asked them to withdraw the awards and apologise to Deltans and Uduaghan. Querying the yardstick for determining “good governance”, Sebastine went down memory lane to reel out Uduaghan’s contributions to the development of the state. In his words, “in the years of the Warri crises that saw lives, properties, and the economy of our domain destroyed, one man was saddled with the enormous task of leading the peace delegation of the government. That individual tried as much as possible to reach out to all who were aggrieved and peace was given a chance. By the mid-2007, the same man became governor and continued with his peace-building efforts. He lived up to his calling, built bridges across community gulfs, which saw improvements in intra-communal relations. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan, a taciturn individual, is not one to blow his horns or selfishly add feathers to his own caps”.
According to him, “the league of traditional rulers that chose to be lopsided at choosing their awardees were quick to forget how egalitarian Uduaghan was as a Governor for eight years noting that “if he was an ethnic bigot, the airport that gulped billions of naira would have been in Abigborodo, his home town. The man chose to do it otherwise because of his quest to develop the State on equal footing”. Cataloguing other achievements of the former governor, Sebastine said being a Deltan and a man of good conscience, “I vehemently reject this insult to Deltans who have traveled on the “Uduaghan buses, those who benefitted from the free maternal healthcare, the over a thousand civil servants who were employed by Uduaghan, those plying the bridges built by Uduaghan, learners who were thought in conducive learning environment under his administration, and most importantly, those whose businesses thrived after he led the delegation that ended the Warri crisis”. He said while Uduaghan may not be the best amongst his equals, “but he is also not the worst. He may not have reached the maxim of governance, but his legacies across the State abound”. He, therefore, dismissed as “callous, myopic, divisive and ruthless to sideline Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, from the selected group of awardees that the traditional rulers across Delta State chose to recognize. Uduaghan will not beg to be so honoured, but whatever the threshold for good governance, the man has gone far and above the standard set by the group”.
Sebastine also described as an “aberration” and “a heist of unimaginable proportion” a situation whereby the Olu of Warri “whose son was surgically removed from the list of persons to be awarded, was put forward to decorate others with “awards for good governance”. He challenged Okowa to mention one legacy project that Deltans could remember him for.
Receiving the award, Okowa remarked that “this is a wonderful day and it is marvelous in my sight; I thank the traditional rulers’ council for the honour done to me and my deputy because my Deputy and I are in a joint ticket”. The governor said no question could arise “that we are honoured with our former Governor, Chief James Ibori; Chief Ibori laid the foundation for the development of our state and I am very grateful for this honour done us. I am glad that you honoured me along with my deputy and our political leader; our peacebuilding efforts would not have been possible without Chief Ibori”. Okowa, however, acknowledged the contribution of his predecessor to the development of the state. Also responding to the gesture by the traditional rulers, Ibori, said “we thank God for this occasion and thank God for our lives. After God, let me thank our Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa; I am thanking him because of his humility and the fact that he is much grounded in governance and for allowing myself and his deputy to share this platform with him today”.
Reacting to the controversy trailing the award ceremony, Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Olise Ifejika, said Okowa never paraded any projects built by Uduaghan. “Uduaghan did not mention Government House and flyover in his statement, and Okowa never told you that he built Government House or he built mall or he built Airport,” he said. Speaking in the same vein, the state Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, said: “the traditional rulers had been in the state since the creation of the state and know the success of each administration, so, we are glad that Governor Okowa was honoured by the monarchs.” Sources close to Uduaghan hinted the magazine that as soon as Aniagwu and Ifeajika saw the Facebook posts, they called him. They could however not give details of their conversation.