As major political actors in Edo State are locked in accusations and counter-accusations in the hot race for the Government House Benin, the state capital, HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE gives an inkling into why there is more to the uncanny rivalry among the dramatis personae.
THE die, no doubt is cast and the cast of characters in the Edo State political firmament are locked in a super struggle for survival. Whoever goes down in the primary election scheduled for June and the actual election in September may as well kiss goodbye to politics and seek salvation elsewhere. As the clock ticks slowly away, the actors in the melodrama that seems set on a cliff edge are strategising, knowing full well that any slip will see them crash landing with fatal fractures in the valley of the shadow of no return.
Between the supporters of the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, it is a bitter battle to the end. None of the feuding factions is ready to concede an inch. In the last one year, the antagonists have been baying at each other and there seems to be no let down. Both Oshiomhole and his protégée, Obaseki used to be as close as lips and teeth and were united as one fist, ready to crush any opposition until things fell apart over sundry issues. Now things are no longer at ease between both gladiators.
For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has been in the opposition in the last 12 years, losing the forthcoming election in the Heart Beat State means losing it all. In the dog-eat-dog world of Nigerian politics, only the strongest survive to eat on the dining table, while the opposition, like an orphan, struggles hard for the crumbs. Of course, everybody loves a winner who doles out candies, while the loser is avoided like a plague.
Supporters in the different feuding factions waited nervously for the outcome of last week meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC. The meeting was scheduled to deliberate on the mode of primary and other issues of the ruling party in Edo and Ondo states. When the meeting, chaired by Oshiomhole, ended, a statement was issued: the direct primary mode where all card carrying party members will vote for the aspirant of their choice was adopted. Governor Obaseki’s camp canvassed for indirect primary where only a chosen few will select the candidate.
Dissatisfied with the NWC decision, Mr Anslem Ojezua, the Edo State APC factional chairman loyal to Governor Obaseki promptly served the first salvo in anger when the news of the resolution of the NWC filtered in. Ojezua was unequivocal: “It is not the National Working Committee that decides the mode of primary for states. It is the state chapter that decides the mode. We have met at the state and adopted the indirect mode. We resolve to conduct the exercise through the indirect mode so as not to endanger the lives of our members and people.”
Ojezua remarked that, with the obvious bad blood between the governor and the national chairman, it was clear as snow that he (Oshiomhole) will not be a fair judge in the matter, vowing that he and his supporters will not give in but take action to stop the national leadership of the party from having its way. The legal practitioner explained that at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party last year, state chapters were given express permission to decide the mode of primary that suited them and notify the national, adding that it was in strict adherence to that resolution that he met with stakeholders and adopted the indirect mode.
Ojezua was, however, silent on whether he would head to court to challenge the decision or his exact next line of action but sounded a note of warning: “We have several options. You will note that some of the leaders disagreed. We are in a democracy and not military garrison. We will take steps to stop them. We will definitely challenge it. It is illegal.”
Again, the factional chairman, who insisted that he is the one and only authentic chairman of the party in the state, said that it was obvious that the national leadership of the party was not neutral and was the reason why it didn’t deem it fit to consult the state chapter and hurriedly came out with the mode, and also gave waiver to one of the aspirants who re-join the party only late last year.
Retired Colonel David Imuse, the factional chairman loyal to the national leadership, countered, explaining that it was wrong for an aspirant to determine how the primary will be conducted.Imuse argued that the stand of Obaseki and his supporters is like the case of a candidate in an examination dictating for his examiner that he wants it in theory while the examiner insists on objective. He queried: “How does that work out? Obaseki is just one of the aspirants. Mind you, APC has many aspirants jostling for the party ticket and the NWC is supposed to be the umpire. How can one of the aspirants, an interested party, determine for the party the mode of the primary? Does that make sense?”
The retired military doctor vehemently denied that NEC surrendered its powers to conduct the party’s primary election to states, adding such a move was clear violation of the ruling party’s constitution which unambiguously vested the powers to decide the mode of primary to the NWC. He said: “The constitution of the APC is supreme. It gives the exclusive rights to conduct presidential, governorship, National and state Houses of Assembly primaries to the NWC. It is only the primary of council polls that the states are allowed to conduct.”
Suspense in the camp of PDP faithful
It will be recalled that the PDP was embroiled in a fresh uproar in the buildup to the conduct of congresses at the ward and state levels. The acrimony, occasioned by the disputed congresses, culminated in litigation. But, in spite of a court ruling directing that the status quo be maintained until March 31, 2020 when it was to decide on an application by the PDP against a suit filed against it, the party held its state congress to elect new state leaders for the party. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Aikhuenegbe Anthony Malik, warned the party against conduct of the congress and Justice Joy Okeaya-Inneh of the Edo State High Court, sitting in Ekpoma, ordered status quo be maintained till March 31, when the court would rule on whether to strike out the suit filed by Honourable Sylvanus Eruaga against the February 1, 2020 ward congresses of the party. Besides, a few elements also raised issues with some youths, under the umbrella of PDP Youths for Justice, threatening to hold parallel congresses and primaries if there was no transparency in the conduct of congresses designed to set up new executives. Senator Odion Ugbesia and Fred Okah were said to be strong contenders for the post of the then outgoing state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih.
But the PDP appears to have overcome the hiccups generated then. So, it is in realisation of the wrath that awaits the main opposition party that the die-hard faithful have been holding series of meetings in a determined bid to pull the rug off APC’s feet and return to the seat of power where it was master between 1999 and 2008 under ex-Governor Lucky Igbinedion and Professor Oserhemien Osunbor. With the exit of Chief Anthony Anenih, the former chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), former Governor Sam Ogbemudia and other notable men of “timber and calibre”, the party has, no doubt, fallen out of serious reckoning from the Edo political landscape.
But the chairman, Dr Anthony Aziegbemi differed sharply, emphasising that sunny days lie ahead of the party, starting with the recent successful congress and the seeming APC fatigue in the state as a result of its alleged non-performance in the last 11 years, coupled with its impending implosion as a result of the unending tug of war between Oshiomhole and Obaseki for the soul of the party in the state.
Ahead the June 23 governorship primary election of the PDP in the state, the South-South zonal vice-chairman, Chief Emmanuel Ogidi, was in the state capital on Monday for a strategic meeting and assured all the aspirants of a level playing field. Ogidi, who debunked the rumour presently making the rounds that Governor Obaseki intends to dump the APC for the PDP and run on the ticket of the main opposition party, dismissed insinuations that the party has an anointed aspirant in the person of the incumbent governor for the September election. He, however, said the doors of the party are opened to anybody who intends to defect to the party and will not bar the door, so long as the defector abides by the laws of the party.He said: “If Governor Obaseki comes, we will take him. We can’t drive anybody from entering. Our doors are wide open. I am not however aware that he has started negotiations with us with a view to defecting. If the governor has seen the light and wants to come to the PDP, he is welcome. We have a procedure. There is going to be primary election. The PDP does not award. If you win the primary, you become the candidate. We have started selling forms. The sale of forms ends on Friday. After that we screen. After then, we go for primary and whoever wins is the candidate.”
In the run-up to the 2020 election, the zonal vice-chairman said that the PDP is the king of all that he surveyed on the Edo political landscape. Amplifying Ogidi, Aziegbemi predicted that the PDP would sweep the poll once it remained united as the reality on the ground in Edo favoured a change in guard.
Against the backdrop of this existential threat, it is obvious that the forthcoming election promises to be a titanic battle; it will be tense and interesting. The wish of many stakeholders in the state is that the actors should play by the rules and not resort to self-help so as not to make the people who they promise to salvage, suffer. When giants duel, the grass suffers.
Strength, weaknesses of gladiators
The list of contestants on the platform of the APC includes its former South-South vice-chairman, Pastor OsagieIze-Iyamu; ex-state deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu; former PDP governorship candidate in the 2012 election, Maj-Gen. Charles Airhiavbere; Chris Ogiemwonyi and Mr Saturday Iwulekhue. So far, the contenders for the PDP ticket are a member of the House of Representatives, DrOmoregieOgbeide-Ihama and David Ikhine. Dr. Odubu, a former member of the House of Representatives for two tenures, is a consummate politician with strong grass roots appeal. The former deputy governor under Comrade Oshiomhole has a support base that cuts across l divide and spreads in the 18 local government areas of the state..
Regarded as a household name, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, has a strong political structure built across the three senatorial districts. He was in Igbinedion’s PDP led government that governed the state between 1999 and 2007. First, he was appointed as the Chief of Staff (CoS) and later Secretary to the State Government (SSG). He was believed to have been the brain behind most of the decisions and policy thrust of that administration. The Redeemed Christian Church of God pastor was also credited with the formation of the Grace Group, a political pressure group within the PDP then that rattled the BoT chairman, late elder statesman, Chief Anenih before the group metamorphosed into the Advance Congress of Democrats (ACD) and later the Action Congress (AC) and thereafter, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APC. He played a prominent role in the emergence of Comrade Oshiomhole as governor in 2008 but left the party following irreconcilable differences with the ex-governor in 2015 over his governorship bid. He defected to PDP and became its candidate in the 2016 election but lost to the incumbent. His return to the APC in 2019 generated eddies.
Chris Ogiemwonyi, a former Minister of State for Works under former President Goodluck Jonathan, hails from Orhionwmon Local Government Area like other aspirants except Governor Obaseki but he is relatively not known in Edo politics. Ize-Iyamu, Odubu and Iwulekhue, also come from Orhionwmon Local Government Area while Governor Obaseki hails from Oredo Local Government Area.
Major-General Charles Airhiavbere, the PDP governorship candidate in 2012, joined the APC in 2015 and contested the 2016 primary election but lost. What he lacks in terms of political structures he has in resources to possibly navigate his way through the murky waters of the primary. Arhiavbere is a former director of finance of the Nigerian Army.
Contender, Mr Saturday IwulekhueIdehen carved a niche for himself as a grassroots politician. He participated in a mock primary of the PDP between former governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion and Senator Roland Owie in the run-up to the 1999 governorship election. The former chairman of Orhionmwon local government area between 2004 and 2007, is a leading entrepreneur. He was a commissioner in the Oshiomhole cabinet and the immediate past Edo State representative in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The experience gathered from these positions coupled with his integrity put him miles ahead of other aspirants, but his greatest challenge could be lack of the kind of war-chest required to execute the governorship race.
On his part, Dr Omoregie Ogbiede Ihama, who hails from Oredo Federal Constituency is a second term member of the House of Representatives, a feat that had never been achieved by any politician in the constituency. He boasts of having supporters across the Edo South Senatorial district. He reportedly played a leading role in the emergence of the present Mr Tony Aziegbemi-led PDP state executive committee. But he will need to work extra hard to make incursion into Edo North and Central senatorial districts.
From Edo Central, Engineer Ikhine who signified his intention to seek the nomination of the PDP in the forthcoming election, hinged his ambition on the spirit of zoning. He noted that Igbinedion, from Edo South senatorial district, was governor for eight years, while the party governorship candidates: Arhiavbere and Ize-Iyamu in the last two elections, are from Edo South. He noted that apart from Senator Oserhriemien Osunbor who was governor for only 18 months between May 2007 and November 2008, Edo Central has not been given a chance. Ikhine said: “We are out to set Edo on a new direction. We want to rescue Edo State. Edo Central should be allowed to produce the PDP candidate in the next election. Apart from Osunbor, all the PDP governorship candidates since 1999 are from Edo South. In the spirit of equity, zoning formula and fair play, the next governorship candidate should be zoned to Edo Central.”
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