Joe Arausi and Abikelegba Odhegolo, two suspended leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Isoko Federal Constituency of Delta State, in the company of a few members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Isoko have endorsed Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State, for a second term in office.
The suspended APC leaders are alleged to have endorsed Okowa in exchange for contracts running into millions of naira.
A top government official, who preferred not to be named for fear of being sacked, confided in SaharaReporters that: "It was a deal struck between the Governor and some leaders of PDP in Isoko, Joe Arausi and Abikelegba Odhegolo, to endorse the Governor, since they were on suspension.
"Thereafter, they defected to the PDP. After much discussion, the Governor agreed to compensate them with contracts worth millions of naira. It was unanimously agreed that the endorsement would look like an APC and Isoko nation affair, and should take place at Joe Arausi's residence in Oleh."
Arausi, once a critic of the Okowa government, is from Isoko South, a member of the Elders' Council of the APC and a former member of the House of Representatives, and Abikelegba Odhegolo, who doubles as a member of the APC South-South caucus and Delta State executive committee member, endorsed Okowa for a second tenure on Tuesday with other PDP members in Isoko.
The endorsement took place at Arausi's residence, Oleh, headquarters of Isoko South Local Government Area of the state, and was attended by Okowa and his entourage, as well as some PDP leaders and members.
In their separate speeches, Arausi and Odhegolo commended Okowa.
"I am the leader of APC in Isoko South and the leader of the APC in Isoko North. On behalf of Isoko people, we have a pact with the Ika people, the people of Delta North to complete their tenure, because we believe in equity. We believe this is the turn of the Anioma people and in the spirit of equity, you (Governor Okowa) should continue till 2023," Arausi said.
On his part, Odhegolo stated: "Our Governor, you are the road master, because your signs are everywhere. Let us leave party issues aside; let us speak with facts. You have performed wonderfully well. The change we talk about in APC is in you, Governor Okowa; your performance has made a lot of us in APC uncomfortable. I am speaking my mind and that of members of the opposition political parties. We have decided that because of your performance, we will work for your victory."
Okowa thanked the two APC leaders and Isoko people for the support.
"This gathering depicts the political prowess of Chief Arausi; it takes leadership to gather members of the APC and PDP. I believe the best way to govern is to continue to ask for the partnership of the people because, with the support of all, governance is made easier; there will be peace and development. I thank all Deltans for their support. It is a thing of joy that majority of our people believe in equity; equity engenders peace, cooperation and respect for one another," Okowa said.
An executive member of Isoko South PDP, who interacted with SaharaReporters via phone and did not want to be named, said: "The whole show was to cause confusion in the APC camp, in Isoko and Delta State in particular. But, I can say authoritatively that Arausi and Odhegolo gained the more in the whole arrangement. They now have contracts running into some millions of aira and when the Governor was leaving, some millions of naira was dropped for them also, though not to the knowledge of everybody."
When contacted on the issue, Arausi said he was in a meeting at the time and so could not speak on the issue. However, one of his close political associates, who did not want his name mentioned as he was not authorised to speak, debunked the reference to contracts for the Governor's endorsement, said: "Though a deal was struck, I doubt if it was in the form of contracts and money. In a few days time, they shall defect from APC to PDP and that's all I can tell you for now.
Meanwhile, the APC State Working Committee, Delta State Chapter, has disassociated itself from the "stage-managed and purported endorsement".
A statement signed by Sylvester Imonina, its Publicity Secretary, obtained by SaharaReporters, read: "Chief Joe Arausi and Hon. Abikelegba Odhegolo, some time ago, had misunderstanding with their APC ward executives over their anti-party dispositions for almost a period of one year. That some members of the SWC of our great party and some leaders of thought from Isoko Nation waded into the political battle of the duo, in view of the fact that the party wanted cohesion and peace at all levels of the party.
"That Chief Arausi and Hon. Odhegolo refused to listen to voice of reason, rather, they resorted to more orchestrated divisive tendencies. That because of the trouble they were fomenting, APC, Oleh, Ward 1 suspended Chief Arausi from the party, while members of the executives of Ozoro Ward 2, in their wisdom kept Hon. Odhegolo at arms length. That Chief Arausi and Hon. Abikelegba were not and had never been part of APC caucus or Leaders' Council in Isoko land.
"There was no member of APC of Isoko Nation that joined Chief Arausi and Hon. Odhegolo in their self-seeking pursuit, as the duo were/are no longer members of the Party. These were the state of things as it concerns the duo before now. Though, it was not the wish of APC that Chief Arausi and Hon. Odhegolo stray away from the party, and journey to political oblivion. However, the party had to stamp her authority on the position of their Wards Executive, since Chief Arausi and Hon. Odhegolo were unrepentant in their unholy ventures.
"APC, Delta State did not, and will not lose sleep over their unwarranted and unsavoury political journey. It was a known fact that within the party, they were playing the role of 'bull in china shop'. Their dispositions towards the party were very unhealthy to the survival of the party. APC Delta State wants to assure all teeming members and supporters of the party that despite the fact that some persons are trying to paint the party in bad light by creating false impression of our great party, the party leadership is doing all within her power to consolidate on the peace and harmony achieved so far in the party."