DELTA State was greeted by misgivings when it was created in 1991 by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration. The many ethnic groups which constituted the new state held one another in suspicion. The bone of contention manifested in different ways. While some grumbled that the capital of the new state was located at Asaba which they felt was at the fringes, others feared that the Urhobo with their overwhelming population would enjoy the political advantage of producing the governor of the state ad infinitum. Such was the level of distrust that the creation of the state did not elicit the kind of euphoria such a historical landmark ought to have generated. The fears were genuine as later events were to indicate. Less than a year after the creation of the state, the general elections of 1993 produced a governor of Urhobo extraction the person of Chief Felix Ovuodoroye Ibru of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) after a fierce electoral contest against Professor Eric Agume Opia of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Although that dispensation was short-lived, it established the point that population confers political advantage as politics is a game of numbers.
The scenario replayed itself in 1999 and this time in a more compelling manner as the governorship candidates of the two leading parties in the state at that time, Engr. Moses Kragha of the All Peoples Party (APP) and Chief James Ibori of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were Urhobo. The latter went on to win and became the second democratically elected governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007. That the democratic experiment produced another Urhobo as governor generated a lot of apprehension and anxiety across Delta State. While it was natural for the Urhobo to relish their luck, the other ethnic groups resented the idea of Urhobo perpetual political dominance. Thus as the countdown to the end of tenure for Chief Ibori drew nigh, there were palpable anxiety and tension over which part of Delta State would produce the next governor. Would it still be Urhobo? In such circumstances, the notions of justice, fairness and equity usually foreground the sentiment. The thinking, and rightly so, was that the reality of the Urhobo producing the governor of the state in perpetuity was political injustice.
A political stalemate was looming, and suspense was high. Fortunately, the political sagacity of Chief Ibori invented a deus ex machina to resolve the anticipated logjam. Chief Ibori, still considered by most Deltans as a leader ahead of his time, conceived and persuaded the political class in Delta State to adopt a system of rotational governorship among the three senatorial districts of the state. Ibori’s idea became the magic wand that was to ensure the entrenchment of justice, fairness and equity in Delta State. Although the idea was resented in some quarters, the political class mainly found it an equitable compromise. That act which has become a political masterstroke remains the single most important act that stabilised Delta State and put her on the part of development, harmony and fellow feeling.
Twenty-one years into the Fourth Republic, Delta State can be described as one of the most politically stable and peaceful states in Nigeria. The three senatorial districts have taken turns in producing governors in the following order: Delta Central produced Chief James Ibori, Delta South produced Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, while Delta North produced the incumbent, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
Thus the wheel of equity and fairness has been well lubricated, and it is running seamlessly. As 2023 draws near, it is only proper to draw attention to the need for maintaining the rotational governorship arrangement to sustain the peace, unity and development of Delta State. This is the logical thing to do. Delta State is multi-ethnic, and only a neat arrangement which the rotational governorship engendered can make it possible for all the ethnic groups to attain the plum position whenever it is the turn of the senatorial district in which they are located. With this situation, the bigger ethnic groups are able to rein in hegemonic tendencies and recognise the truth that all citizens are equal stakeholders. Furthermore, the minority ethnic groups are reassured of equity by the firm knowledge that they would also hold the position at some point in time through unanimous consent.
The prevailing mood in Delta State today favours the continuation of the rotational arrangement which has become a silver bullet. Governor Okowa, the astute politician, has repeatedly made the point that he would handover to Delta Central. The chairman of the ruling PDP in Delta State, Chief Kingsley Esiso, reinforced that point recently. Logically, the governorship should go to Delta Central come 2023. But this doesn’t seem as simple or easy in some quarters with the red herring that Urhobo politicians have always contested the governorship, so why make 2023 an exclusive Urhobo affair? History will serve us here. The reality is that politicians from all the ethnic groups have always thrown their hats in the ring during primary elections in the past. But at the end of the day, the political class still found a way of building a consensus around rotational governorship. This is the PDP’s selling point in Delta State.
Deltans have signed up for the ennobling ideals of justice, fairness and equity and the attendant peace, unity and development. Since this is settled, what Deltans should do is to align with the governorship aspirant that best approximates the ideals of the Delta State of their dreams. Such an aspirant must be pan-Deltan in outlook.
The person must be development minded, have demonstrable experience in the management of resources, preferably in both public and private sectors but also be abreast with contemporary global aspirations. He or she should not only be able to consolidate on past gains but take Delta State to greater heights. Rotational governorship is the way to go in 2023 to sustain the mantra of “Delta State for all”.