BY AUSTIN OYIBODE
All artisans in Delta state numbering over 70,000 have unanimously endorsed Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 general elections.
The artisans during an emergency meeting called by the President-elect, Ifeanyi Abanum, and his executive members, said Governor Okowa has done marvelously well in the current administration, hence it has become necessary to join their voice in the endorsement of Okowa for a hitch free ride back to government house in 2019.
The 13 artisan groups include National Automobile Technicians Association (NATA), builders who are professional carpenters, hairdressers, barbers, welders, butchers, printers, installers, laundery men, members of National Union of Tailors (NUT), those in electrical and electronics and spare parts dealers in the state.
The emergency meeting was held at Mademezia hall in Asaba where the body made the unanimous decision and pledged their solidarity with the governor, saying their members across the 25 local government areas of the state will queue behind the governor and vote for him massively in the 2019 election.
The association which has been having running issues with one Godwin Ochonogor, who is a welder and claiming to be chairman of welders in Delta state, has finally been resolved where election was conducted with the representatives of all the groups, leading to the emergence of Ifeanyi Abanum, chairman of National Automobile Technicians Association, NATA, as state president.
Meanwhile, Delta north chairman of welders and blacksmith association, where Ochonogor belongs, Comrade Emeka Paul Isichei, spoke extensively on the welders association and the place of Godwin Ochonogor.
Isichei, with his secretary, Comrade Azuka Chizoba, told journalists that Ochonogor handed over the leadership of welders in Delta north to him as chairman. He showed all the photographs taken during the ceremony where Ochonogor handed over to him.
Asked whether Ochonogor was chairman of welders in Delta state, Isichei said there was never any election that made anyone chairman of welders in the state. He said: “We have not done any election for Delta state chairman. We don’t have welders chairman in the state.
“He was Delta North chairman not Delta state chairman. Ochonogor only stopped at Delta North. That was what I know of him. Not Delta state welders association. I don’t know when they did that election. And I’m still asking where are the people that did the election if there was any? All my executives have said there was nothing like that.”
Isichei, who is an indigene of Asaba, said an authentic artisan president has emerged in Delta in the person of Ifeanyi Abanum, who is the state chairman of National Automobile Technicians Association (NATA).
He said now that the authentic president of artisans has emerged, he has told all welders under his leadership in Delta north that the real president is Ifeanyi Abanum, noting that Ochonogor was only appointed by a few people as there was no election that brought him into office.
He said: “There was no election that led to the emergence of Ochonogor as artisan chairman in Delta state. Just one or two people came together and they looked at him to be the eldest and they just appointed him to be their leader. I have informed all the welders in Delta north that we have an authentic artisan president in the person of Ifeanyi Abanum.
“We believe that this new president will give us light and open opportunities for us. I have seen Abanum as somebody that is transparent and open minded.
“Could you believe that we heard that the government gave welders Christmas bonus, but all the welders in the nine local government areas were given only one bag of rice. That was what they brought to my custody as chairman of welders.
“I was told government released more than 25 bags, I was not called when they were giving the bags out but I was told this is the slot for welders, one bag, the whole Delta north welders, just one bag. It is a shame. I kept the bag of rice since Christmas in the office.
“I want to believe this new body that God has sent will be transparent. I have already seen it in Abanum, he will do it. I believe the truth will be revealed. I’m not against anybody but all I want is what is due to my people be given to them.”
“I know the new president is going to do the best for us. We are wishing him the best, we know he will take us to the right place. If governor is not ready to listen to us, welders, let him listen to the artisan president. Whatever information is coming from the government through Abanum will surely go round.”
The public relations officer of the welders in Delta north, Comrade Monday Akpobasa, said: “Ochonogor’s time has come and gone. We are even suggesting making him a patron to us. He has done his best at his own capacity. He has tried and we thank him. The authentic president has emerged and by the grace of God, he is going to do well.
On him parading himself as still artisan chairman, Akpobasa said things like this must definitely happen. One, he has never been elected before, maybe he has one or two things with the system. But his time has passed.
Uchechukwude Akabude, who is state chairman of barbers and laundry men, traced how Ochonogor emerged as leader of artisans.
Akabude, who was instrumental in bringing Ochonogor to the limelight, said. “I and a few others appointed Ochonogor as our leader. But along the line, we found out that we still have other sectors that have been existing before us.
“So, we asked the executives we appointed to harmonize and work as one. At the end of the day, they failed. And it has been causing issues. We started having different factions in the state.
“The issue almost brought serious problems to us. But at the end, we decided to bring all the state chairmen of all groups for proper artisans association. We were able to get the whole state chairmen of all the groups in Delta state and they have all agreed to start the association.
“By the grace of God today, everything is set, we were able to conduct the election and every group knows where they belong. And the next thing we are planning now is the inauguration day.
“Ochonogor, people are seeing him to be issue, he is not an issue. I and some of the members went to him and discussed some of the issues with him, we asked him to step aside, let us form a formidable group.
“People are angry because his brother is the one communicating between us and the governor. For the sake of his security and to avoid violence, I told him to step down, let us have a formidable house and probably make him as patron.
“So, we are surprised that few days after the our election, we wrote a letter to the governor, and a day after that some of the state chairmen started receiving text messages that Ochonogor still remains chairman until 2/3 pass a vote of no confidence on him.
“We don’t know who is circulating the text because it is bulk SMS. But all the same, we know we have got an artisan association in Delta state. I’m representing barbers and laundry association. Not the chairman but spokesman, we are just trying to bring laundry together.”
Tina Okonkwo from Ughelli North, chairman of hairdressers association in Delta state, said, expressed happiness over the emergence of an authentic artisan president in Delta state.
For her, “it’s good we artisans come together and become one. It will help us to ask anything from the government and get it as one. By the time we are separated, we cannot talk as one. But when we are one, it will help the government to know us better and attend to us faster.
On Ochonogor’s issue, she said: “Ochonogor was opportune to use the artisans as a union. At his time, it was not a union, it came in the name of cooperative. But later, we found out that he was using us, as a union to meet up. That is why I had to step aside. Now that we have emerged as a union, it will help us to speak with one voice when making demands from the government.”
Though Ochonogor is said to still be claiming chairmanship of artisans in Delta through an alleged bulk SMS sent to members of the association, the chairmanship of which he claimed when our reporter contacted him on phone, the new body has waved his claim away as he has never been chairman since his claim of chairmanship over two years ago.
The first election that brought in Ifeanyi Abanum as artisan president was conducted on July 25, 2018 and the inauguration is expected to hold within the month of September 2018.