By Basil Okoh
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953).
Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, at the Cenotaph in Asaba last week, decided not to go gentle into that good night with two years left in his eight year tenure as Governor of Delta State.
He broke all bounds of political nicety, decorum and diplomacy to hit out at his perceived enemies and political competitors. And then out of deeply held angst, he went into gossips and ethnic slurs that should have been left to his surrogates.
It was an unforced political error, setting up an ethnic and regional fire that he himself should now be putting out in secret. He did not need to give that speech that broke the myth of his seeming political invincibility in Delta State. That speech showed him up as petty, termagant and full of fear for the future.
Okowa threw down the gauntlet without caution, but his challengers will tell him that he is Governor but cannot play God by determining who succeeds him and at what time political activities should start for the Governorship campaigns in Delta State.
During his first try for the Governorship, he started the conversation to succeed James Ibori one year after Ibori’s re-election in 2003 and cranked up his own political hustling in 2005 for the primaries in 2006. So what has changed other than that his name will not be on the ballot for 2023?
The speech gave his growing number of traducers ammunition to pile in the accusations of ethnic bigotry and nepotism that has trailed his governance of Delta state. Okowa should know that as Governor, he does not speak for Anioma but for Delta State and must learn to sometime disclaim his own ethnicity for the political good.
But we plead that we should interpret that speech differently. Okowa is just unable to let go of the power he craved for so many years. He has held the power for six of eight years and is suddenly realizing the transience of it all.
The imminence of the end of authority, the loss of the appurtenances of public office and public attention, the end of the parade of power and the long retinue of guards and cars, is dawning on him and he is unable yet to reconcile himself to the prospect of return to ordinariness.
He appears unable to tolerate the thought and talk of a successor. He is yet able to face the imminent prospect of a heir who will take his place and enjoy the razzmatazz of office that he is now accustomed to and is about to leave. It is the African way. If there must be a heir, Okowa must be the one to choose him, not some ethnic gang-up that will do damage to the fancy idea of his own invincibility.
This is the reason for railing against the early search for a successor. The search for a successor cannot possibly be a distraction to his rule. All regime must end someday. And all life too must have an end.
When Governor Okowa warns that the next Governor of Delta State must love Asaba and live in it, he was setting up rules of his own which nobody gave him. He was also by that rule playing up to the gallery, holding up the Anioma ethnic card, to defend his self dealing love for Asaba and Anioma.
By that warning also, Okowa is playing a game of dangerous mischief, pretending to be the champion and protector of Anioma and rallying the people of Anioma to hate and oppose any incoming Governor that he himself does not anoint. He is also rallying Anioma people behind his yet to be defined political interests and setting them up against the rest people of Delta State.
Anioma people cannot be made to accept without question, Okowa’s choice of a future Governor of Delta State or be made to inherit his political enemies.
After the regrettable practice of Felix Ibru as Governor, James Ibori and particularly Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan lived fully and governed Delta State from Asaba. No question. So Anioma people will wonder why that snide remark on Asaba by Dr. Okowa that is capable of bringing ethnic splintering.
Anioma people do not need Okowa to open wounds and make enemies for it about Asaba. James Ibori did tell Urhobo people in the early days of his rule that Asaba was the Capital of Delta State, that he would live in it as capital of the state he was elected to govern and that there was nothing he or any of his Urhobo people could do about it until a state is created for them.
Anioma is a welcoming place just as every other community in Central and Southern Delta State. Our shared culture and traditions should not be allowed to be ruptured by any politician. We are too integrated to allow such nonsense. No politician should be allowed to set one community up against another one for his self interest covered up as ethnic interest. No one will be allowed to stand between me and my “usi” and “owho” soup. My mother was named Usoboh and my maternal family called Jesse and up to this day, no one can change that for me.
Every Hotel and Cinema in Agbor in the sixties, including the famous Mikado Cinema were owned by Urhobo and Itshekiri. There are more Urhobo in Agbor today than in Mosogar town. Agbor has had many centuries of peace with all the ethnicities in Delta State.
The only Chief in Agbor history who was not an indigene was Chief Jereton Mariere, an Urhobo. The longest street in Agbor is named after him. My only quarrel is that the Urhobo, Ijaw, Itshekiri and Isoko are not bringing their investment funds to Agbor anymore and that should change.
Okowa is showing warning signs of regret and frustration in his looming disengagement from Governorship of Delta State. He has spent a long time since 1989, when he packed up his medical practice in Igbanke now in Edo State, to join in politics, moving successfully from one office to another higher one. The Governorship was the crowning glory of his successful foray in politics and he appears unable to come to terms with leaving it.
He is now in a quandary on his next political move and showing many signs of frustration as the Asaba Cenotaph rage shows clearly. He needs time to exhale before engaging in the next move. Let him take his future progression and the coming disengagement from the Governorship of Delta with care and equanimity.
Okowa will yet climb, particularly because he has made good impression of his ability to achieve good organization at the national PDP stage. But his strategies will have to be clearly different from the tactics and strategy that brought him to political prominence at the local and state levels.
A bigger playing field is opening for him as the Delta State field is closing. And it is the national arena. He must not twist his playing foot before meeting his bigger and more critical audience.
***Basil Okoh can be reached at email@example.com and @basilokoh on Social Media.