Delta State, created in August 1991, officially with its capital in Asaba, is a state that runs government affairs from two Government Houses – one in Asaba and the other in Warri.Successive civilian governors beginning with Senator Felix Ibru, the pioneer governor of the state in 1993, administered the state officially from the two houses. In fact, it is on record that former governor Felix Ibru governed the state for the better part of his administration from the Warri Government House, regarded as an annex.
The reason canvassed by proponents of the dual government power base is that the Government House Annex in Warri serves “for administrative convenience” in addressing public issues, especially sensitive issues relating to the oil and gas sector that usually needs ‘prompt’ responses from relevant government authorities.
This notion is buttressed with the argument that with Warri being the state’s economic and commercial nerve centre, the presence of the state government authority base makes it easier for government to address not only issues relating to the oil and gas sector, but also issues relating to security, especially on the waterways.
However, these arguments are impaired by the fact that Delta is not the only oil and gas producing state with complex terrains and prone to coastal security issues and challenges. But the proponents further canvassed that Deltans from the riverine areas of the south for instance, would have to travel all day to the north end of the state bordering the east just to access Asaba, the state capital, to meet up with official government matters (in some cases to deliver hand-to-hand official letters that need the governor’s attention) and most often, do not catch up with official hours. This situation they say, compel the ‘visitors’ to Asaba to incur unnecessary lodging and logistics expenses.
Without prejudice, politics and ethnic interests have been the underlying sentiments that gave impetus to establishing the Government House in Warri, right from when Delta State by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida.
Prof. Itse Sagay, who resounded the implacable position of leaders of thought of the old Delta province, took the rejection of Asaba as capital to a ridiculous level when he accused the then military president, saying, “Babangida used the Delta State capital to pay his bride price to his Anioma in-laws.”
They insisted that in order to assuage the ill feelings of the original ethnic groups that constitute the old Delta Province, the House of Assembly should enact a law authorising the executive to establish an official residence for the governor in Warri or some other central location in the old province as an addition to the present governor’s residence in Asaba.
Five ethnic communities constituted what was referred to as the Old Delta Province namely Ijaw (western), Isoko, Itsekiri, Ukwuani and Urhobo that were brought together by British colonial rule under the Niger Coast Protectorate in the early 1890s, before the British Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was formed in 1900 and their capital then was said to be Warri.
Meanwhile, the call for the scrapping of the Warri Government House emerged as soon as the incumbent governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, took over in 2015 and immediately proposed the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency (DSCTDA) executive Bill to the Delta State House of Assembly.
The bill had provoked an air of renewed ethnic agitations as people of the defunct Delta province suspected the executive bill was a fresh plot to scrap the Delta State Government House Annex in Warri.
At the same time some leaders in the state of Delta North (Anioma) extraction such as Senator Francis Nwajei and Prince Clement Okonjor had criticised the development of a second government house in Warri in whatever guise and called for its closure, as “the constitution of the country never made provision for two capital territories in a state.”
In a swift reaction, the Warri Government House proponents wondered why “an elder statesman like Senator Nwajei would come out to make such statements and standpoint that are capable of heating up the Delta State polity”, recalling that the Naval Base located in Warri used to be a rallying point for government officials in those days and when Delta State was created, it was easy to have an official place for the state government’s presence in Warri.
“The Government House Annex in Warri should not pose any threat to those who are today asking for it to be scrapped. From the tune of the elder statesman from Anioma, Senator Nwajei, we can deduce that perhaps, his statement is coming from the Anioma people and maybe a collective decision in this regard”, Zik Gbemre, an Urhobo interest group activist argued.
He said, “We believe that if the Anioma people feel the need to be on their own and have a state, then they should ask for the creation of their own state and channel their request appropriately, rather than making a preposterous call for the scrapping of the Government House Annex in Warri in the name of the state having two capitals”.
The tension that prevailed compelled the state governor to address a press conference to dismiss insinuations and fears on the status of the Government House Annex in Warri, as he assured that it would continue to function as it had always been under previous administrations, and that the functions of DSCTDA, among others, is to formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the state capital territory.
Governor Okowa said the bill was meant to address the peculiar infrastructure and environmental challenges of the state capital territory without prejudice to the functions of the Government House Annex in Warri or the status of Warri as the commercial nerve centre of Delta State.
In a statement signed by the Manager, Communications, Government House, Asaba, the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa implored all Deltans to ignore the rumours which described as a calculated attempt by political rumour mongers to spread falsehood, engage in cheap blackmail and cause disaffection in the state.