Former Minister of Information and astute politician, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, has been in mainstream politics, both at local and national levels, since 1999, when he contested the Delta PDP governorship primaries.
He is also known to have played a major role in all the elections that produced the past and present governors in the state, especially the incumbent, Senator (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa.
In this interview he examined the various tribunal judgments at both the state and national levels and drew his conclusions. Excerpts:
What’s your assessment of the presidential tribunal judgment?
Well, people go to the tribunal principally because of serious challenges arising from any election. There is no doubt about such challenges during the presidential one which we all worked for, in fact, the general expectations was that PDP will win and that was based on some obvious reasons shared by most Nigerians across board. Ordinary persons were fed up, there was a lot of unemployment, a lot of hunger and, of course, it is not surprising to see that the basic area of transportation across the country, the roads and all the rest, all collapsed immediately, not because there were no roads before, they were not maintained.
Many of the roads in this country were constructed not to last for between 25 or 50 years, but what do we have? Contractors finished perhaps in a tenure and within five years, they are all collapsed. The reliance for maintenance was important that was why the federal road network maintenance sector was established and that also collapsed. FERMA was not really in existence, generally speaking life was quite too difficult for the ordinary person who voted for change to use what the APC is known to mouth very much at that time. Yes, there was change, but negative change was experienced. So, the expectation really was that PDP would win, a lot of agonizing feelings everywhere that there was a mistake, that wasn’t to say that PDP was an angel at the time. That was the situation, but it turned out that some substantive issues actually went to the tribunals. We all experienced it, we were on the field and we know everything that happened, but well there are other subsidiaries, but very important issues like the president’s qualification to contest and so on, but the tribunal turned these down. Again, looking at the comments across the board, including the ones coming from the international observers today, they are just laughing that this is a joke. At the level of the presidential tribunal and the Supreme Court, the boundary between laws, facts and the security of the state became bloody at some point, but we hope and my party had stated clearly that they will go to test it for the records, hopefully we will win at the Supreme Court. So, I am convinced that we has a good case, PDP has a case, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has a case and we just look forward that all will be in our favour.
Let us look at the state also, the tribunal has ruled in favour of PDP, how will you describe the victory?
That of the state, I have already quoted on two lines. The first line is the appreciation that the tribunal did what it should do, we thank God that the tribunal did not create its own problem for us. As you are aware, there are some cases the tribunal also creates problems, but they did very well, we give thanks to God. The governor’s mandate was massively renewed, we are quite comfortable with that. We also thank the party members who stood by us through thick and thin of it even with all the prediction that Delta State would be over-run by cows, goats and everybody from outside Delta State and so on, but we thank God it all went well. We congratulate ourselves, especially His Excellency, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa for winning the election. Having said so, I have raised the issue of the 25 local governments in the state, 23 of them are already in our hands and two we allegedly lost, we scored more than 30 per cent in each of those two. The rush to the tribunal, I think Nigeria is the only state in Africa, if not the whole world that if you finish an election you don’t just go home and accept defeat. You finish an election and next is you are rushing to the tribunal even when it’s obvious you don’t have a case. The Delta State governorship tribunal was a distraction and waste of resources, it created problem of focus for governance, but thank God it is all over. The second arm in my view is selfishness. I am from Central Senatorial District, an Urhobo man and since 2003 even though many thought it was 2007, an Urhobo man who happens to be my friend, Chief Great Ogboru, found it pleasurable for himself to consistently distract the attention of the people of Delta State. Immediately after any election he is out and shortly before the election he arrives and the gullibility of the electorate is so high. All kinds of promises were made. I have always said, for example, that the locality were he comes from, Ethiope East, and specifically a university community of Abraka, if only one can find any good work of Great Ogboru in Abraka, we will be happy, but we don’t even find it with all the money allegedly in his possession. I am told he is a fish dealer in those days, before he was associated with the failed coup in 1990, he was alleged to be a big dealer in fish. How many of those cold fish stores has he in Abraka to keep the women busy, we really don’t see Great Ogboru on ground for his intention to govern well. I don’t know whether you know, I have never seen one manifesto of Great Ogboru, I have not read one thoroughly that makes sense to me, except on general issues, on empty promises and incidentally he jumped from one party to another, that party he jumped to has its own manifesto so he has no manifesto except his desperation for power. I am particularly more worried about that because my party, the PDP has already established a convention. I am very clear that the rotation will come back to Central Senatorial District. I just hope he is not going to be playing a spoiler role for the Urhobo nation which happens to be his senatorial district in 2022/2023 general elections. I am afraid about that.
I am worried about that because the forces that had cause the distraction comes from within central senatorial district, not all Urhobos but some element in Urhobo that worries me because these are the same set of people who have been playing the spoiler role in this constituency, thereby, making it difficult for our people to maximize the gains of democracy because of the distractions they often brought to governance. I heard he has gone to Appeal Court. I don’t know what new evidences or legal position he will be presenting at the Appeal Court that had not been presented at the tribunal where he lost. However, going to the Appeal Court is his right, but at the end of the day, he will be wasting a lot of the precious time that would have been directed to good governance. There are so many challenges facing the entire state, facing the Central Senatorial District and we cannot continue to indulge in these kinds of senseless distractions by some selfish individuals.
There is also a school of thought that criticized the judgment of the tribunal, given the fact that PDP lost the Central to APC, they lost in the South too, where the tribunal had ordered a re-run election, what’s your take?
Well, these are speculations, politics is dynamic. If you check the South well, I am not a lawyer at the tribunal. I am surprised about the facts that were built upon the tribunal on behalf of the petitioner. His Excellency, former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, from the records that I saw, he lost his local government in Warri North, is it the two Isokos that he won? Is it Ijaw that the Senator James Manager hails from that he won? But well, it is the privilege of the tribunal to do that. However, I have no doubt that if we repeat that election we will win convincingly. Even the immediate constituency of the petitioner, Dr Uduaghan, which is the smallest in terms of human population, he failed to deliver and mind you, there are three local government areas namely: Warri South, Warri South-West and Warri North, that are co-habited by the Urhobos, Ijaws and Itsekiri. We also have three local government areas of Burutu, Patani and Bomadi that are dominated by the Ijaws and the two Isokos council areas that are still standing firm behind the PDP. I will be very surprised that the people’s verdict in the Delta South Senatorial district would change, so I can conveniently tell you that PDP is very much in charge in Delta South. What that tells you is that no matter how many times you conduct an election between Senator James Manager and His Excellency, Dr Uduaghan in Delta South, James Manager will always come out victorious.
I also learnt that Uduaghan has appealed the judgment, insisting that he should have been sworn-in, well, I don’t know how much that meets in the eyes of litigation, but to my understanding, there is no way he could have been sworn in. The very fact that the tribunal ruled that go and do a re-run, that alone in itself is enough evidence of doubt that this petitioner actually won the election.How about the Central Senatorial District?
As for the Central, the tribunal had said what it wanted to say. Within the PDP we had a lot of disappointment among ourselves, you know Central has eight local government areas and we also know that even at the governorship level, the only two local governments lost to the opposition were from Central (Ughelli North and Ethiope East), but then, we knew there were challenges in Udu, in part of Ethiope West and Uvwie. In trying to speak as objectively as I can, I will tell you that out of these eight council areas, it is only Okpe and Sapele, that we had no issue; the rest six are contestable. But all the same, the tribunal had spoken and I am sure the candidate is likely to go an appeal.
Away from politics now, so many federal roads across the country, especially in South-south zone are in deplorable state. While the East-West road has not been completed, the Warri/Benin highway has collapsed. How do you see this?
I must confess that I’m not impressed with the media coverage and reportage of some of the failed or failing Federal Government projects across the country. I, therefore, want to seize this opportunity to call on the media, civil society and the Nigerian masses to learn how to speak the truth to power irrespective of our political, religion or ideological differences, especially on issues that border on our collective wellbeing. The movement of people, goods and services, are very key in a thriving economy like ours. Demarcation of federal roads wasn’t done today and the state does not have any allocation, especially devoted to maintenance of federal roads. One would have expected the focus of the media, focus of the civil society and focus of the massive movement of travellers to shout on the Federal Government, where is my friend the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola? Where are the Federal Government allocations? You will find out if we want to use ourselves particularly in Delta within the South-south district as an example, nothing came down that I am aware of in these past four and half years of the APC-led administration on the impact of the roads and the state has tried to spend some of its meager resources that the Federal Government would have accepted the responsibility, but it has not. I am aware where the state will engage contractors to maintain federal roads and the Federal Government contractors will chase away the contractors engaged by the state. A human being is not a federal or state human being and the goods and services that are being moved were not moved on the basis of the state or Federal Government. I am saying there are supposed to have been an outrage, anger against the APC as a party and the government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, I don’t know whether it is deliberate, but I know that the media world which is being controlled by the western media do not draw attention to these shortfalls. Someone was talking to me on the Benin/Warri road and was asking where is Governor Obaseki, where is Governor Okowa, I told him what are you talking about? Why are you calling Okowa, Obaseki? Incidentally, he happened to be APC, why calling the governors, call on the Federal Government. Where is the Federal Government, where is the money allocated on these, it is a huge disappointment. We want to thank our governor, he is undertaking a massive repairs and these are roads constructed by the Federal Government and if you find out the soft soil there were areas that were streams in the past, but the same layer of the road is the same thing, the portion that were collapsed would have been treated differently, either you put in some little culverts or bridges on them so that water can flow underneath. Finally, we should know that these roads were not constructed originally by the current traffic just to use the word Dangote trucks. When these roads were constructed Dangote trucks were not on these roads, today they are plying the roads so badly, nobody is talking about taxing them so that the money will be used because we have used tollgates before and the money also disappeared from the tollgates, these roads were not built for these heavy traffic that is on it today and we need to have a more proactive system of governance to tackle these issues.