Five (5) major factors that affected the outcome the gubernatorial election in Delta State and why we might adjudge it as our most free and fairest election ever.
1. Zoning: Zoning played a major role in the emergence of Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP as the winner of the election. Although the idea of zoning is not a sufficient reason why the PDP won the election, however, we cannot underestimate the power of tribal appeal in our political strategizing. With two out of the three senatorial districts, respecting the principle of zoning, it is just to say that the odds were against the oppositions who refused to put this factor into consideration in their choice of party candidates during their party primaries. Many of us might find the idea of zoning as a dubious way of justifying the long held tradition of ‘sharing’ economic benefits and political offices to a few cabals, yet for the ordinary rural voters, zoning is sacred and must be respected as a way of identifying them all as being part of the state. Zoning favoured the PDP, giving them the opportunity to appeal to the vast majority of Deltans, especially in rural areas of Delta North (Anioma), Delta South (Ijaws and Itsekiri), and even part of Delta Central (Urhobos).
2. Political Structure: Experienced political parties know quit right that elections are not won on mere popularity of the candidates, there is more to winning elections in Nigeria than being popular. If popularity was a sufficient requirement, Great Ogboru would have been the Governor of Delta State long before now, he has always being the most popular of his rivals, even among the rural voters, but one thing he has always lacked is his inability to build a formidable political structure that will help him win elections in Delta State. For example, in the 2011 election, Ogboru was the most popular candidate of the two elections (rerun and general election), like he has always being (with exception to this 2015 election), yet he had no structure to help him win his election. His ability to gather so much vote in the 2011 elections was due to the division amongst PDP structures, Gov. Uduaghan’s unpopularity as an under-performing governor, and the mass decamping that gripped the PDP during that time. Yet, he was still unable to win those elections due to circumstances that still remains controversial till date. In the 2015 election, Ogboru of the LP and Otega of the APC came out relying on the ordinary people’s appeal as a way of winning. It doesn’t work in Nigeria. Sen. Okowa of the PDP simply had to rely on the existing PDP structure to deliver him, it worked.
3. Money: We should never underestimate the power of money as a major influencer in the choice of rural voters in Delta State. I have seen rural voters who would come out on election day, get accredited and say to the party agents, ‘look, we know your people have given you money for us, if we don’t get that money, we won’t vote.’ This is not a joke, it happens a lot. I have seen it happen several times. With this kind of mentality among rural voters, politicians and political parties budget as high as millions of Naira per ward for this purpose. Apart from the budgeting for financial inducement of voters, parties also make high budgets for their party agents, opposition party agents, logistics, INEC officials, security, etc. With this kind of financial expectations and the mindset of rural voters, money becomes a major influencer on who wins election in Delta State. Sen. Okowa under the PDP platform that has ruled Delta for over two decades now certainly had enough money to meet with this demand. The opposition parties could not have being able to match the PDP in this regard. A LP party HoA aspirant said to me on election morning, ‘I was not mobilized by my party, how do you expect me to deliver for my principal with mere talking?’. The opposition parties had no money to match the ruling party across the state.
4. Card Reader: The card reader was a game changer and the reason why I believe to an extent, that the election was free and fair. The card reader was a major constraint on all political parties, it gave more powers to the voters and denied both INEC officials and party agents of their traditional way of rigging. Right under my eyes, election results from more than twenty units of Ndokwa East LGA were cancelled due to the officials (INEC) usage of manual accreditation as against the use of card readers as instructed. With such cancellations, the PDP lost over six (6) thousand votes which it had accrued from a fraudulent means. I believe the same thing happened across the state, yet the PDP won the election.
5. Campaign Strategy: One major advantage to the PDP governorship aspirant, Sen. Okowa, was its open manner in which the party HoA primaries were conducted. With popular candidates emerging from the PDP primaries as HoA aspirants, it became easy for Sen. Okowa to rely on their popularity to win his won election. Outside that, the PDP had an effective campaign strategy that saw them touring virtually most of the wards in Delta state than the opposition candidates and parties, giving Okowa and his party the opportunity to reach out directly with the people and establishing a bond among his political structures and the ordinary voters.
These were my observations and I hope future aspirants will learn from them.