Thursday, May 30, 2019 1:02 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Politics, as the saying goes, is about interest. Following the swearing in of Governor Ifeanyi Okowafor a second term in office, it behoves me as a journalist who has lived and monitor politics in my beloved state to write about the role dynamism, common good and public interest played not just in his recent electoral victory but also continues to play in the politics of Delta State; and the political capital he and other politicians could make out of it. Call it Zeitgeist or what you will, that spirit of mutual co-existence, of common interest, of agreement and faith in the system that oils the political machinery of the state is what drives politics there and will continue to do so for decades to come.
It would be recalled that after my near-death experience in 2011, when I encountered armed robbers (one of my several encounters) on my way to Asaba to cover the general elections as a senior writer of TheNEWS magazine, with a sense of patriotism I witness firsthand the role multiplicity of voices and the need to find a common ground play in the political dynamics of the state. Still,I remember with nostalgia, albeit tinged with mixed feelings -that of regret and gratitude – as I sat at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Asaba, all eyes, brooding and listening with rapt attention as former Governor Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan was being declared winner of the 2011gubernatorial elections.
There was wild jubilation across the state and a palpable sense of satisfaction on the faces of Deltans. There was a sense of accomplishment writ large on the faces of a large spectrum of Deltans. This I deduced was not because Uduaghan was the messiah or an Itsekiri man but because he happened to be the touchbearer of the dynamics that has over the years moved the state since inception. That dynamism is beyond any individual or parochial sentiments such as ethnicity, religion, nepotism or locale. But unfortunately Uduaghan couldn’t make use of his eight-year stay in power as a launching pad to etch himself in the consciousness of Deltans.
Though I was distraught, disheveled and ruffled after that robbery incident that had happened the day before, I still remembered vividly the kind of geniality and confidence that Okowa had displayed when, as part of the media team registered by INEC monitoring the elections, we met and chatted him up as he was casting his vote. That geniality and camaraderie he displayed is associated only with statesmen and astute politicians. And It occurred to me at the time that he was a man to watch.Then the medical doctor-turned- politician was contesting for a seat at the senate against Ned Nwoko, the billionaire lawyer currently in the news for reasons other than politics.
That Okowa has been able to move from the politics of the local or Gemeinschaft as a senator representing Delta North Senatorial District to that of the metropole/centre or Gesellschaft as governor of the state is due to his political craftsmanship and astuteness. His political trajectory right from when he was a former local government chairman, Commissioner in three different portfolios, Secretary to the State Government and senator also speaks volumes. His victory at the polls is a vindication of the dynamism that drives politics in Delta State. It was also based on that fact that I told a childhood friend and brother with whom, growing up in Ozoro, in Delta State, I had shared dreams for the growth and development of the state and the country that Great Ogboru was walking a tightrope, when he told me he was rooting for him and was optimistic he would win the guber polls. I gave him reasons why I felt Ogboru’s chances were slim. Those factors aren’t different from what I have postulated here. After the results were released he gave me a call and said I was right after all.
Though one may be tempted to attribute Okowa’s victory in the last election to the power of incumbency, the intra party wrangling within the state chapter of the All Progressives Party and other spurious, negligible factors, the fact remains that he won because of that same dynamism that had produced and propelled James Onanefe Ibori, Uduaghan and him (in his first tenure) as governors. That dynamism has nothing to do with membership of the ruling party because when Ibori won in 1999 there was no ruling party at the time. What was at the time was a state trying to discover itself, a state trying to define ways by which the various ethnic groups that make up the state can coexist, and a state trying to reinvent itself after the hoopla that had greeted the creation of the state and the siting of the capital in Asaba.
The dynamism, which is not just peculiar to Delta State but also other states in the South-south geo-political zone, is not partisan but a function of the cosmopolitanism, the sheer modernistic principles – what German sociologist and philosopher,FerdinandTonnies, calls Gesellchaft, as opposed to Gemeinschaft, – that came alongside the creation of the state and the siting of the capital in Asaba. That principle, as I have said before, goes beyond parochial sentiments. It goes beyond one’s origins. It goes beyond one’s self-centred tendencies. It has to do with the search for its soul, a search or a common ground based on mutual agreement, without which the state can’t survive. It has to do with mass mobilization and populist politics.One may also be tempted to attribute that dynamism to succession politics or the foundation that Ibori had laid, while that may not be far from the truth, the fact remains that over the years Deltans have found common ground, which I would rather call common or public interest, which they are not in a hurry to change.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Delta State is a melting pot of various ethnic groups and cultures angling to produce who occupies the government house and oversees the affairs of the state. Bur rather than be a minus this multiplicity of ethnic groups and voices has become not just a plus but also a force for the realization of the common good.Rather than turn their differences into avenues mischief making, the people of Delta Sates have over the years find a common ground and make socio-political capital out of it. Rather than be divisive they have put the common values they share into good use. What then is politics but what David Easton, the American political scientist,says is the authoritative allocation of values(whether written or unwritten)?
The joy of every Deltan today is that anybody can aspire for any political position no matter the circumstances of their birth or where they come from. That has been the unwritten code that throbs in the heart of every Deltan. That dynamism is what produced Okowa in the just concluded gubernatorial elections.That dynamism is what determines one’s popularity as well as whether one will win an election or not. That is why anybody could win in elections in the state no matter the party they belong in or the ethnic group they belong in or the religion they profess, as long as they have mass appeal and have shun all parochial tendencies. No one ethnic group has sole hold on power, just as no individual is anointed unless they are generally accepted by the people. In Delta State sovereignty rests with the people, not with any ethnic group or individual..
One lesson to be learnt from the last elections in Delta Sate, If the voting pattern is anything to go by, is that one has a brighter chance of winning If one is contesting based on merit, achievement and past records other than one’s ethnic origin or parochial sentiments. These are issues that constitute public interest. It has also shown that to make political gains one has to be broadminded, be ready to make sacrifices, concede some privileges and be open rather than narrow -minded and close. As the cliché goes, one must be ready to gain some and lose some.One has to move out of one’s cocoon, one’s comfort zone or what Richard Joseph, the American political scientist, calls prebendal politics. One has to have mass appeal. One has to be accepted by people other than one’s kinsmen or people in one’s neighbourhood. This is something politicians could learn from. This is something those struggling to gain political prominence and win elections could learn from. This is something Nigeria as a geo-political entity couldlearn from and make political capital out of, as she tries to build a nation and discover her soul.
-Nehru Odeh, journalist, writer and media consultant, is the author of The Patience Of An Embattled Storyteller. He can be reached on 08136137920 (SMS only).