Any keen observer who has visited Delta State – at least I know of Asaba – recently would have noticed the signposts dotting virtually every corner bearing inscriptions to the effect that Anioma people of the state say it’s their turn to produce a governor for the state come 2015. This campaign, apparently being championed by a group called Anioma Peoples Network, in anchored on the fact that Anioma people are yet to produce a governor for the state since its inception.
To be clear, Delta State, which came into existence on August 27, 1991 when the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, split the former Bendel State into two – Delta and Edo States – comprises mainly Urhobo, Itsekiri, Anioma, Ijaw and Isoko ethnic groups. These ethnic nationalities are administratively grouped into three senatorial districts: Delta North, Delta South and Delta Central. The state consists of 25 local government areas, which are grouped as follows according to senatorial districts: Delta Central (Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Okpe, Sapele, Udu, Ughelli North, Ughelli South, and Uvwie); Delta North (Aniocha North, Aniocha South, Ika North East, Ika South, Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West, Oshimili North, Oshimili South, and Ukwuani); Delta South (Bomadi, Burutu, Isoko North, Isoko South, Patani, Warri North, Warri South, and Warri South West).
Since its creation, the state has been governed by the following people: Luke Chijiuba Ochulor, military administrator (August 28, 1991-January 1992); Felix Ibru, first civilian governor (January 1992-November 1993); Abdulkadir Shehu, acting military administrator (November 17, 1993-December 10, 1993); Bassey Asuquo, military administrator (December 10, 1993-September 26, 1994); Ibrahim Kefas, military administrator (September 26, 1994-August 22, 1996); John Dungs, military administrator (August 22, 1996-August 12, 1998); Walter Feghabo, military administrator (August 12, 1998-May 29, 1999).
With the return to civil rule in 1999, James Onanefe Ibori, who was sworn in as governor of the state on May 29, 1999, held power for eight years, which ended May 29, 2007. He was succeeded by the current governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan.
Now to the argument. We have to disregard the military administrators since their appointments were arbitrary, and many of them were not Deltans in the first instance. With that in mind, it is easy to see which ethnic groupings have ruled Delta since inception. Felix Ibru, the first executive governor, is Urhobo. He hails from Agbarha-Otor in Ughelli North LGA, which is in Delta Central. Similarly, James Ibori, the second executive governor, is Urhobo. He hails from Otefe in Oghara clan, Ethiope West LGA, also in Delta Central. The current governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, is Itsekiri – even though it is widely believed he rode on the back of his mother being Urhobo. He hails from Warri North LGA, which is in Delta South.
So, clearly, the Urhobo (and by extension Delta Central) have ruled Delta State for about 10 years; the Itsekiri (and by extension Delta South) are now completing their eight years, which expires in 2015. The only zone yet to have a shot at the government house is Delta North, which is home to the Anioma. And one thinks that it’s on this basis that the Anioma quest should find its meaning, since arguing on the basis of ethnic group would throw up the question as to whether the Isoko and the Ijaw do not as well deserve the governorship seat as much as the Anioma – even if the former two are regarded as minorities in the state. So, in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, the people of Delta North (and this happens to translate as the Anioma) deserve the right to rule Delta State come 2015. That’s the fair thing to do. It may also be the logical thing.
Unfortunately, however, politics most of the times is not about fairness or logic – or even justice. Democracy itself is a game of numbers where the majority always carries the vote – not minding whether they are right or wrong. So, the Anioma people should go beyond the signposts and create an understanding and form alliances with other ethnic nationalities in the state. They need that support to make headway in their quest. (I should believe they are already doing this because Anioma has very intelligent and fine-minded politicians who are very good bridge builders).
Otherwise, zoning itself has come under serious question and has been put to the test in many parts of the country in recent times. And in many instances it has crumbled under the weight of other considerations. At the federal level, the debate that raged within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the build-up to the 2011 presidential elections is yet to ebb – and one sometimes believes it’s partly the cause of the 2011 post-elections violence in the North and what we still witness in that part of the country today. The matter is yet to be settled because the so-called Northern elders are at it again. For instance, the following words are credited to Ango Abdullahi, spokesman for Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF): “President Jonathan should just be ready to either pack out or jump out of Aso Rock. He should be ready to fight a unified north in 2015.”
Imo and Benue States equally present worthy case studies. In Imo, where it is “understood” that the governorship seat should rotate among the three zones of the state – Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe – this “holy understanding” was desecrated in 2011 by the masses themselves. When the nation returned to democracy in 1999, Achike Udenwa, who is from Orlu, mounted the leadership saddle in the state. When his eight-year tenure ended in 2007, it was to be the turn of Okigwe, and, to honour that, Ikedi Ohakim was thrown up. Ohakim’s misdemeanours, however, denied him a second term in office. It was expected that another Okigwe man would be allowed to complete the tenure – either that or power would devolve to Owerri zone which has not ruled since the inception of the 4th Republic. Then came Rochas Okorocha, the man of the people, and overnight the whole zoning arrangement crumbled like a sand house. And Okorocha might still make it again in 2015 if he bothers to try.
If one says Imo is different because it’s a homogenous state, the same cannot certainly be said about Benue, which is made up of predominantly Tiv, Idoma and Igede ethnic groups (with the Etulo and the Abakwa in the minority). Yet in this state, the Tiv have dominated power since 1999, first in the person of George Akume, and now in Gabriel Suswam. Not even the strong opposition put up by the Idoma in 2007 could reverse this trend. And the Tiv may continue to dominate for as long as they wish.
While the above examples do not lead to the conclusion that zoning has been killed and buried in the country, they point in the direction that zoning can always be superseded by other factors. So, while the Anioma people are right in their demand for equity (just as we all hope that we will someday have an egalitarian society, if not on earth, at least “somewhere beyond the blues” – to quote Jim Reeves), what stands out clearly is that they have a lot of job to do if they are to actualise their dream. Power is not given, it is taken. In the end, no matter how convincing the arguments sound, the decision of who governs the state will be the people’s. Yet, one wishes the Anioma good luck in their quest.
Oluigbo is of the Editorial Department of BusinessDay, Lagos.
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