Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
Were his business successes undocumented, the profile of Great Ovedje Ogboru might have been chalked down as one of only near-misses.
In the 60s and 70s, he attended Municipal Primary School, Port Harcourt, Christian Missionaries Society (CMS) Primary School, Abraka and Local Authority (LA) (now Oharisi) Primary School, Ughelli. After that, he proceeded to Government College, Ughelli from 1971-1975. Subsequently, he worked as a primary school teacher. He thought for four years in Owodoawanre Primary School, Ughelli.
By the mid-80s, he owned a string of businesses including a fish trading firm, a bureau de change and a joint fisheries company with Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR. By his thirties, he was already a multimillionaire – in dollars.
But two things happened in quick succession. In 1989, he was honoured as the highest individual donor to the Namibia Solidarity Fund which went a great deal in helping Sam Nujoma and the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) prosecute the lengthy Namibian War of Independence. Within a year, he had signed a business deal with the Soviet government.
So when the Major Gideon Orkar coup of April 1990 failed to unseat the Babangida regime and the authorities accused him of being the coup’s financial mastermind, it was not too hard for the allegations to stick, given his antecedents. Ogboru had to run away to London and remained in self-exile for the next decade
A serial contender for the position of governor of Delta State since 2003 under the platform of Alliance for Democracy, the Democratic People’s Party (DDP) in 2007 and 2011 (including the rerun) and the Labour Party in 2015. Every time, he has come second to the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The election tribunal must be used to this man’s name by now”, read The ScoopNG’s headline in April 2015 after he announced yet again that he would contest the electoral victory of Ifeanyi Okowa, the winner and current governor of the state.
By all indications, Ogboru reportedly won the 2007 elections but rigging and electoral violence was orchestrated by the powers that be to steal his mandate, say.
There were many reasons to believe this was true. First, his widespread acceptance across the state; his part in the 1990 coup and the popularity of the Ogboru dynasty contributed to this. Furthermore, while he is an Urhobo from Abraka in the Delta Central Senatorial zone, his mother hails from the Igbo-speaking Delta North senatorial zone. His wife, Stella Ebi Ogboru, is Ijaw from the Delta South senatorial zone. So even before contesting, his ethnic affiliations had already won him lots of votes.
Also at the time, many Deltans were frustrated by the monumental corruption instituted by the PDP under eight years of James Ibori. There was also massive distrust by the Urhobos, the largest ethnicity in the state for Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ibori’s maternal cousin and a minority from the Itsekiri ethnic group. But thanks to his cousin’s political clout and the strength of the PDP’s structure at the grassroots, Uduaghan won convincingly.
In 2015, the coast seemed clear for Ogboru but PDP’s Ifeanyi Okowa, a candidate from Delta North which had never ruled before and a member of the Ibori old guard won. This time, Great Ogboru had to share votes from the Delta Central region with O’tega Emerhor of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) O’tega Emerhor, who also hails from the region, and Okowa. The dual candidacy deepened the rift in the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) and also unwittingly aided the PDP’s triumph.
It has been insinuated in certain quarters that his continued failure points to the inability of the electorate to discern good from bad and a prevalence of Stockholm Syndrome with the PDP being the abuser. Perhaps this is so but there might be other factors at play.
After elections, Ogboru simply disappears on some overseas trips and rarely attends tribunal rulings until it is a fresh electoral cycle and time to campaign again. His brother and right-hand man, Turner Ogboru does all the groundwork. Another brother, Julius ogboru defected from the DPP to the PDP under the Uduaghan administration, even serving as a Senior Special Assistant to the governor.
His crisscrossing has not helped matters either. Barely two years after losing an election as the flagbearer of the LP, he has decamped to the APC. With each movement across party lines, his foot soldiers reduce and his support continues to thin. By 2019, James Ibori, the undisputed godfather of politics in the state returns and Okowa with the power of incumbency could still retain his seat. The future looks bleak for Ogboru, ‘The People’s General.”
Matter-of-factly, Great Ogboru has been the king of near-misses since 1990; it doesn’t seem like the 2019 polls will bring about a change of fortunes.