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Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, on Thursday, emerged as the vice-presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, announced Mr Okowa as his choice for the slot at the party’s headquarters in Abuja. He was chosen over other contenders, including Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.
“I am pleased, therefore, to announce here my choice of Running Mate who will help to lead us to victory next year not only in the Presidential election but also in the governorship and legislative elections. And he will be by my side as I work hard every day to provide our people with security, revive our economy, improve education and unite our country. He has both Legislative and Executive experiences.
“Please join me in welcoming to the ticket the next Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa,” Mr Abubakar said.
Born on July 8, 1959, in Owa-Alero, Ika East Local Government Area of Delta State, Mr Okowa attended Edo College, Benin City between 1970 and 1976. He got the second-best result in the Higher School Certificate Examination in the then Bendel State in 1976.
He later proceeded to the University of Ibadan where he obtained an MBBS in Medicine and Surgery, graduating in 1981 at the age of 22. After his youth service the following year, Mr Okowa worked briefly as a medical officer with the Bendel State Hospital Management Board. He was later to go into private practice when he established the Victory Medical Centre at Igbanke, a border town between Delta and Edo states.
Entry into Politics
Mr Okowa delved into politics when he served as the Secretary of Ika Local Government Area in 1991 and by 1993, he became the Chairman of the Council. Following the restoration of democracy in the country in 1999, Mr Okowa joined the PDP, which formed the government in Delta State headed by James Ibori.
He was first appointed the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources from 1999 to 2001 and was redeployed to the Ministry of Water Resources where he was until 2003 when he was reassigned to the Ministry of Health.
After serving in the three ministries as commissioner, Mr Okowa resigned to run for governor but failed in the primary election. He was subsequently named Secretary to the Delta State Government in 2007 under the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, Mr Ibori’s cousin who won the election.
In 2011, Mr Okowa showed interest in the senatorial election. He won the primary but his election was challenged by some leaders of the party, who preferred Marian Ali, wife of the former National Chairman of the PDP, Ahmadu Ali.
In a rerun, Mr Okowa polled 1,446 votes against 108 votes secured by Mrs Ali. That year, he was elected into the Senate to represent the Delta North Senatorial District after securing 98,140 votes ahead of Ned Nwoko of the DPP, who incidentally recently won the PDP primaries to represent the district. At the Senate, Mr Okowa headed the Committee on Health and also belonged to other committees.
In 2015, Mr Okowa ran for the governorship seat of Delta and won on the platform of the PDP despite opposition from the outgoing governor, Mr Uduaghan, who preferred another aspirant, an Urhobo, the largest ethnic group in the state.
At the time, the Delta North senatorial district, otherwise referred to as the Igbo-speaking area of the state, was favoured to produce the governor, going by the unwritten agreement for rotation of power among the three senatorial districts. Mr Ibori had taken the slot of the Delta Central (the Urhobos) and Mr Uduaghan, an Itsekiri, had taken the slot of Delta South comprising the Itsekiris, Isokos and Ijaws.
Although Mr Ibori was serving a jail term for corruption in London at the time, he allegedly rooted for Mr Okowa against a fellow Urhobo, in keeping with the agreement. Mr Okowa’s victory at the primary was also made possible by the votes of the Ijaws who supported him in the belief that after his tenure, the governorship seat would go to them in their quest for rotation among ethnic groups instead of senatorial basis.
Mr Okowa subsequently won the governorship election with 925,274 votes, beating his closest rival, Great Ogboru of the APC, who polled 215,938 votes. With his election, Mr Okowa became the first Anioma (Igbo-speaking) man to be the state governor. He also became the fourth democratically elected governor of the state after Felix Ibru (1991-1992), Mr Ibori (1991-2007), Mr Udughan (2007-2015). He was re-elected in 2015.
Supremacy battle with godfather James Ibori
Only recently, Mr Okowa was engaged in a battle of supremacy with his godfather, Mr Ibori, over who would succeed him (Okowa).
While Mr Ibori favoured his former Commissioner and former Private Secretary to late President Umaru Yar’Adua, David Edebvie, Mr Okowa favoured Sheriff Oborevwori, the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly. Both Messrs Edebvie and Oborevwori are Urhobo.
Mr Oborevwori went on to beat Mr Edebvie at the PDP primary election.
Analysts say Mr Okowa, by going against Mr Ibori’s choice, is poised to build his own political structure independent of the former governor. It is often said that Mr Okowa is determined to avoid the fate of Mr Uduaghan, who appears not to have his own structure and has not won any election since he left power in 2015.
If anything, with Mr Oborevwori’s victory as the PDP candidate in Delta, Mr Okowa has effectively challenged Mr Ibori’s dominance in the politics of Delta State.
However, it is speculated that Mr Okowa’s choice of Mr Oborevwori may hit the rock as the latter is enmeshed in a scandal arising from the discrepancies allegedly spotted in his credential by Governor Douye Diri-led PDP panel that screened the governorship aspirants in Port Harcourt.
Mr Okowa’s daughter, Marilyn Daramola-Okowa, also won the ticket of the PDP to contest for the Ika North East seat in the Delta State House of Assembly. The Governor’s daughter was returned unopposed in the primary election.
Contending for the vice-presidential slot
To be sure, the nomination of Mr Okowa as the PDP vice presidential candidate will further unsettle the Ibori camp. The former governor reportedly worked against Mr Okowa’s emergence. His camp was said to have lobbied the party’s national leadership against the choice of the governor as Mr Abubakar’s running mate.
But it was not Mr Ibori’s camp alone. Two days ago, the media was awash with reports that the committee set up to recommend a running mate to Mr Abubakar had settled for Mr Wike, who came second in the May 28 primary of the main opposition party.
According to the reports, 16 members of the committee voted for the Rivers governor and three voted for Mr Okowa. Although the committee did not publicly disclaim the report, there were indications that it was sponsored to sway the party to pick Mr Wike against Mr Okowa, who was reportedly the first choice of its leadership.
Despite the opposition, Mr Okowa, true to his first name, IfeanyiChukwu, which means nothing is insurmountable before God, emerged as the PDP vice presidential candidate.
Placate the Igbo
Analysts say the choice of Mr Okowa will go some way in placating the Igbo, who have been agitating for the number one political office in the land. The Delta governor hails from Ika, an Igbo-speaking part of Delta, and his choice may secure some votes from the five South-eastern states for the PDP in the February 2023 presidential contest.