Palace Watch

Okowa VP emergence tears Traditional Rulers Forum apart.

By Gabriel Omonhinmin

  • Pitches traditional rulers against SMBLF

As political activities leading to next year’s general elections gather momentum, political maneuvering has forced some traditional rulers in Delta North, who are expected to be apolitical to throw their hats into the nation’s political arena.

This has fractionalized the Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum and has pitched the two factions against each other as the political interest and integrity of their son, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, is at stake and needs to be defended.

Okowa, who is the Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, was on the 16th of June, 2022 nominated by the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as Vice Presidential candidate to the party’s flag bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar after intense horse-trading and consultation.

Some leaders from the southern part of the country attributed Okowa’s emergence as an act of betrayal and disrespect to the Southern and the Middle Belt regions of the country.

Leaders of the Southern, Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) on June 16, 2022, issued a damning statement accusing Okowa of the infamous and betrayal role he played during the PDP presidential primaries which earned him the VP slot.

Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark
Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark

The statement was jointly signed by Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, OFR, CON, who is the leader of the Southern, Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum and PANDEF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of the Pan-Yoruba Movement, Afenifere. Dr Pogu Bitrus, President-General, Middle Belt Forum and Ambassador (Prof) George Obiozor, the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.

The statement reads in part; “It is unspeakable and quite disappointing that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is currently Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, and a native of Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area (one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State, would exhibit such barefaced unreliability.

“It bears recalling that the 17 Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressive Congress, APC, under the Chairmanship of the Ondo State Governor, Alakurin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021, and took far-reaching decisions, based on the principles of fairness, equity and justice, the presidency should rotate to the south, at the end of the statutory eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting. The Southern Governors later met again in Lagos, on July 5, 2021, where they reaffirmed their decision, and again in Enugu, on September 16, 2021, to restate the call that the presidency should rotate to the south in 2023.

“It is essential to underline that the Southern, and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, applauded the meeting of the governors, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome; we followed up and issued a similar statement after our meeting in Abuja on the 30th of May, 2021, asking that the presidency should rotate to the south. And went further, on several other occasions, to caution political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, not to, on any account, allow them to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and that we will work against such person or persons.

“It is, therefore, most unfortunate that the Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who should know better; accepted his appointment as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. We do not have anything personal against Ifeanyi Okowa but his action is treacherous and tantamount to despicable pawning of the political future of the people of Southern Nigeria.” The statement added.

Okowa in a carefully worded statement responded to the statement of SMBLF: “I want to respect our leaders; I believe that they have their opinions. I do also believe that they are well-meaning leaders, so I don’t want to join issues with them. But the important thing is that I belong to a political party and I was part of the decisions of the political party and we did agree that the best pathway for us to rescue this nation and rebuild this nation was to throw open the presidential race in our party.

“I had submitted myself to be a politician, to belong to the Peoples’ Democratic Party PDP and ruled by the policy of that party as it is. And since we had all committed to throw the presidential candidacy open and through the process, Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President emerged as the Presidential candidate.

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“The Onus for us is to support him to win. We were not expecting to have a candidate from the north and also have a Vice President from the north. That will lead to further division of the country, and we are talking about rebuilding this country, rebuilding our unity and to a large extent, we had to make the right decisions. And within our party, I think that having submitted myself to be a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, I would have to submit myself to the decisions of the party and that was what has happened.” He added.

In a quick reaction, Obi of Owa, and Chairman of Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum, His Majesty, Dr Emmanuel O. Efeizomor 11, JP, OON said, “Instead of aggravating the already tensed and porous political atmosphere in the country, he aligned with the cautious approach of Governor Okowa in this particular matter and maintained that there is need for all concerned to exercise caution, tact and discernment.

But a fraction of the Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum, led by His Royal Majesty Obi (Prof.) Chike Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba, did not seem to agree with the position of Obi Efeizomor II and took a swipe against the southern leaders.

The factional Vice Chairman, Obi of Abavo, HRM Uche Irenuma, on June 17, 2022, in his palace, described the SMBLF attack on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as malicious and a calculated attempt at smearing the good image of Okowa.

He said “The decision of the SMBLF to declare Senator Ifeanyi Okowa persona non grata was uncalled for and unacceptable to the majority of the people from this region.

The Obi of Abavo was flanked by other traditional rulers from that region, including HRM Daniel Ogbudo, the Obi of Atuma-Igan Kingdom, the factional Secretary of the Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum.

“The action and outburst of SMBLF, which was supposed to protect the interest of its people, depicts personal hatred against the person of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who holds elders, especially Chief E.K. Clark in high esteem. Thus, accusing SMBLF of acting as a script for its paymasters. He further alleged, that “The aims and objectives of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum were not to cast aspersions on deserving and worthy sons and daughters of the region, adding that Governor Okowa’s acceptance of the PDP Vice Presidential slot does not amount to betrayal of his people.

Another first-class traditional ruler from the Southern part of Delta State, who pleaded anonymity, said, “It is unfair and inappropriate for Chief Edwin Clark, to have presided over the meeting where SMBLF reacted to Governor Okowa’s nomination as PDP running mate /Vice Presidential Candidate to Atiku Abubakar, the PDP flag bearer in the forthcoming election the way and manner they did.

He maintained further, that when Timipre Sylva, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources of Nigeria, bought the APC Presidential expression of interest form, the first person he went to see with his form, was Chief E.K. Clark, who happily prayed for the Minister on national televisions.

He asked “if Sylva, a fellow Ijaw man like Chief Clark had been picked or nominated as Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s running mate, would Chief Clark preside over a meeting where Sylva would have been condemned and called names, and tagged a betrayal of the Southern and the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria? The answer is NO!”

“With the precarious economic and political situation facing the country, as President Buhari approaches the end of his disastrous eight years’ tenure as Nigerian President, what is required now, is for Nigerians to vote in a leader, who is compassionate, knowledgeable and focused, who also has what it takes to take Nigeria and Nigerians out of its present political and economic quagmire.”

While this tussle continues, Trumpet Newspaper reliably gathered that the Delta State Traditional Rulers Council led by Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo (Retired) called a meeting to handle the crisis bedevilling the Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum. The Council deliberated extensively on the fractionalization of the Delta North Traditional Rulers Forum and the disagreement among its leadership, especially as it relates to Governor Okowa’s nomination as the running mate to the PDP Flag bearer, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The first Vice-Chairman of the Council, His Royal Majesty, Pere S.P. Luke-Kalanama VIII JP, confirmed that the matter was indeed one of the issues on their agenda at the meeting they held on Wednesday. He, however, declined to give further details of their deliberations saying, “I do not have the authority of the council, to speak on this matter.”

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