Following the announcement of dates for local government elections by the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission, Senior Correspondent OKUNGBOWA AIWERIE examines how the decision by the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) to select candidates by primaries has ignited a fresh crisis in the chapter.
The tempo of political activities in Delta State has increased over the past month, following the announcement by the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) of its intention to conduct local government elections on March 6.
Within the ruling PDP in Delta State, it has been absolute bedlam since its chairman, Kingsley Esiso, during a visit to Sapele executive committee members announced that the party will not conduct primaries, but ‘select’ candidates for the local polls.
Judging from the agitations by aspirants over the party’s decision, it would appear the directive is an unpopular one. Esiso said the move was to forestall rancour within the party, especially amongst defeated aspirants after the primaries.
He said many aspirants may not take kindly to a loss, especially after paying huge sums of money for nomination forms which is non-refundable, hence the decision by the party’s leadership not to hold primaries.
His words: “We decided as a party that we should use our head, do some thinking and come up with a novel idea considering two things; one, that the money paid for the forms is not refundable and because it is not refundable, let us avoid the old practice when we allow everybody that want to aspire to come here and buy forms.
“Secondly, that the process was to forestall incidences that may cause rancour in the party after the primaries due to the huge amount paid for the purchase of forms.”
Esiso said that the party had, in view of these considerations directed ward leaders to lobby all aspirants for the different positions on the need to allow only one person to pick up the only nomination form, adding that the same applied for chairmanship aspirants where the local government leaders were directed to play their role in limiting the purchase of the party’s ticket to just an individual by conducting a process where whoever emerged would be the choice of the people.
He, however, stressed that the outcome of the exercise does not vitiate the ambition of any member, especially individuals not satisfied with the process.
His words: “This does not preclude any other person from coming to buy the form, we will not stop you from buying forms, when that is done, the party will conduct primaries in that ward or local government area. That is to say that they did not agree in that local government area or ward and on the 25 and 26, we will conduct primaries for them.
“It will be noted that when aspirants emerge as the party’s candidate after the primaries, they will then proceed to acquire DSIEC form of which the price is yet to be revealed. What we are doing is the internal affairs of our party and our arrangements for the forthcoming local government elections in the state. DSIEC has released the timetable for the elections and we have set down our own guidelines for our members in accordance with our party constitution.”
But, the decision to allow party leaders a major role in selecting candidates have triggered unending protests, allegations of imposition and threats of a boycott by some aspirants across the three senatorial districts of the state.
Recently, two councillorship candidates for Ward 13 and 14 (Ward 8 Kiagbodo) in Burutu Local Government Area led a protest to the State Secretariat of the PDP in Asaba to register their dismay over alleged imposition of candidates after they had emerged as the party flag bearers for the March 6, 2021, local poll.
Paul Oruma, the PDP councillorship candidate for Ward 13 and Perebi Godwin Gbogiemi councillorship candidate for Ward 14 in Burutu LGA said they were in the State PDP secretariat to present their petition against the imposition of a candidate in any guise.
They said they participated in the councillorship primaries where the PDP guidelines were used as the template to conduct the primary election and they emerged as the PDP flag bearers for Wards 13 and 14.
The councillorship aspirants said they will resist any attempt by Chief EK Clark to hijack the collective will of the people who elected them as PDP candidates by imposing his nephew on the people.
They noted that Chief EK Clark ought not to attempt to impose candidates on the party which he resigned from in 2015, stressing that he is not a member of the PDP having renounced his membership of the party.
Added to the aforementioned protests from Delta South senatorial district, another pressure group in Isoko North LGA, Isoko Renaissance Group (IRG) appealed to Governor Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to give room to the people of Isoko North LGA to choose their candidate for the PDP.
The group, in an open letter Monday, December 28, 2020 to Governor Okowa, alleged that the trio of Leo Ogor, Tim Owhefere and Godwin Ogorugba have perfected plans to subvert the will of the people through imposition of their chairmanship candidate.
In the letter titled, “As The Search For Council Boss In Isoko North Rages”, signed by its Publicity Secretary, Aghogho, the IRG urged the governor to kick out any candidate brought forward by the trio in order to safeguard the interest of the party in Isoko North ahead of 2023.
In Warri North LGA, Delta South senatorial district, the ruling party is in turmoil as ex-lawmaker, Misan Ukubeyinje along with other party leaders, rejected the consensus candidate, adding that the leadership has not picked a consensus chairmanship candidate for the March 6, 2021 council elections in the state.
He said leaders and stakeholders of the party had not met to zone or cede the chairmanship ticket of the party in the council to anybody or tribe.
There had been reports that leaders and executive members of the party have already reached a consensus to cede the chairmanship position to Ijaws in Warri North.
But, the former lawmaker described the development as illegal, baseless and unconstitutional.
He stressed that PDP has not conducted the primaries for those jostling to fly the party’s flag in the council election.
Ukubenyinje called on Governor Okowa and the leadership of the party to disregard the purported consensus candidate as it has no backing of critical party leaders including the immediate past governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.
He noted that former Governor Uduaghan, who is also the coordinator of the committee for the convention of critical stakeholders meeting to fine-tune arrangement for a PDP in-house selection of a consensus candidate was not also consulted.
He added: “Only a few minute persons without the requisite mandate and authority in Itsekiriland took that decision without involving critical stakeholders in the Council area. No meeting was called, but a few minute persons of Itsekiri extraction met and allegedly concede the Chairmanship seat to one Smart Asekutu of Ijaw extraction.”
Ukubeyinje added: “That decision is illegal, baseless and unconstitutional as the only proper to do is the conduct of the party primaries and called on the State party exco and the Governor of the State, Sen, (DR) Ifeayin Okowa to conduct the same to avert a crisis. The authors of the chairmanship concession agenda are only bent on creating unwarranted crisis in the council and make it ungovernable for Governor Okowa.”
He maintained that conceding the chairmanship position to Ijaws is not a panacea for peace but a recipe for maximum chaos.
He added: “A decision of such magnitude can only be taken by His Majesty the Olu of Warri in –Council after a critical stakeholder meeting with the relevant authorities. As a critical stakeholder and legal adviser to PDP in Warri North, no such meeting of critical stakeholders was called.
“Therefore, for anybody or group to say one Ijaw candidate has been picked and a PDP nomination form also issued to him is not only illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional but smacks of imposition with impunity and an insult to our collective conscience as a people.
“This is a democracy. Everyone has a right to contest on a level playing ground. Our amiable Governor should conduct a primary for all interested aspirants and good luck to the winner of the primary.”
In Delta North, cries of imposition have been rife with no less a personality than the father of Delta State, Governor Okowa, accused of allegedly imposing his preferred councillorship candidate in ward 10 in Aniocha South LGA.
The Nation gathered that the electoral college of the PDP had in line with the party guidelines, unanimously endorsed a popular candidate, Peter Sorokwu as the party’s flag bearer.
A party source said: “But to our greatest surprise, the governor’s father ordered the State PDP Chairman, Kingsley Esiso and PDP Chairman Delta North Senatorial district, Mose Iduh to replace Peter Sorokwu’s name with his relative in the ward, one Paul Ezeenweiwe, who hails from an Ika community.
“Sorokwu had undergone different screenings and emerged party candidate, and been certified by the ward and LGA chairmen of the party as the councillorship candidate for the election.
“The LGA leaders have gone to see the PDP chairman, Esiso he directed us to go and see Okowa’s father and appeal to him, which we did twice but the governor’s father refused to bulge. They want to scatter the party.”
But, Esiso and the Delta North Chairman, Mr Moses Iduh denied the allegation, saying it was impossible for someone to impose a candidate in another local government.
Esiso said: “I’m not from that local government, so I don’t know what you are talking about, we have 500 wards in the state, is not possible for me to know the names of councillorship candidates that emerged at the ward level.”
The scenario in Delta Central is no different, following allegations of imposition by a pressure group under the auspices of “The Natives of Ughelli North”.
The group warned of mass protest should there be imposition of aspirants for the chairmanship position in Ughelli North LGA in local polls slated for March 6, 2021.
The group, in a statement by its president, Daniel Awusa and scribe Olokpa Felix maintained that it has uncovered plans by an unnamed political party to impose a candidate against the will of the people.
They said the plan is a failed attempt to disenfranchise the electorate of their voting rights.
Part of the statement reads: “Your Excellency, rumour has it that some leaders in Ughelli North are planning to impose a candidate on the people of Ughelli North. We are saying no to such a plan because it will not happen.”
It stressed that the incumbent administration elected in 2017 with the hope of optimal performance, “but the reverse was the case.”
Awusa noted that as the elected administration under the chairmanship of Godwin Adode winds up, the people are poised to frustrate his return for a second term and “would not allow anything that can put Ughelli North into the second phase of pains, hunger, and insecurity as experienced in the tenure of the outgoing council chairman.”
Continuing, he added: “We are saying that it will not happen because the few leaders are doing so for their selfish end. In the event of an imposition, we are ready for a repeat of the recent #EndSARS protest.”
It urged political parties to conduct free and fair primaries for all aspirants by ensuring a level playing field.
But, another group, Ughelli North Concerned Group for Good Governance (UNCGG) passed a vote of confidence on incumbent chair Godwin Adode, noting that the locality “witnessed tremendous development and has been nearly absolute crime-free since assumption of office almost three years ago”.
But, a chieftain of the party who preferred anonymity accused Okowa of undermining democratic values and killing competition within the party since he assumed power.
He maintained that allowing party leaders to select candidates was a ploy by the governor to get his loyalists into positions at the local government level to pave the way for his stooge to become governor in 2023.
He argued that since Governor Okowa assumed office, his preferred method has been selection rather than allowing free and fair primaries, adding that save for the PDP primaries which brought him to power, no primaries has been conducted in the state.
But, in a swift reaction, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Olise Ifejika debunked the allegations that the local government elections is a ploy to pave the way for Okowa’s stooge in 2023 governorship elections.
Ifejika said consensus method is a unique culture entrenched in the PDP across to the nation to select leaders, stressing that it has eliminated rancour and acrimony in party affairs.
His words: “PDP has a culture of adopting consensus in selecting its leadership. What is a consensus? It is everyone agreeing on an issue. It is a uniquely PDP culture. The simple reason is to discourage people from wasting money, the whole idea is to tone down animosity. It is not fair to insinuate that the issue of consensus is to pave the way for Governor Okowa to plant his stooge in office in 2023. Most times, the governor does not play any role in who emerges; he allows the leaders in the area to make the decision. The PDP system allows leaders in their areas to choose who they find most suitable. It is wrong to insinuate that the consensus method became the preferred method under Okowa. It is even under Okowa there has been a measure of sanity in the party. In the past politicians lost their lives due to violence, but this has diminished.”