As the gubernatorial election slated for this year, 2020, approaches in Edo State, IDRIS UMAR MOMOH and CHURCHILL OKORO examine the crisis rocking the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state and the possible consequence on the party.
“On your marks, get set, go!” This is the directive members of registered political parties in Edo State are expecting to hear from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in few months’ time for the commencement of the 2020 off-season gubernatorial election in the state.
The electoral umpire’s directives will entail the commencement of party primary elections to nominate candidates that will fly parties’ flags.
Following the November 11, 2008 election appeal court judgment that upheld the invalidationof the declaration of Governor Oserhiemen Osunbor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the winner of 2007 governorship election by the lower tribunal in a petition filed by Adams Oshiomhole of the then Action Congress (AC), Edo, like some states in the federation, has had its governorship election different from the normal INEC general election’s timetable.
Other states that fell into the same category are Anambra, Bayelsa, Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun. With the conduct of elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states in November 2019, the next state to fall in line is Edo.
Like political intrigues and gimmicks that characterise every election in Nigeria, pundits say that the forthcoming election in the state may not to be different.
The crisis, which is very pronounced in APC, is now building up in PDP ahead of its state congress to elect new executives to pilot its affairs at the ward, local and state levels, following the expiration of the present executives.
The APC crisis, which started as a rumour towards the end of 2018, when the state governor, Godwin Obaseki was quoted to have said that the Edo State Government House was not a bank, while addressing group of market women on a courtesy visit to his office, however, came to the foreduring the struggle for the principal leadership positions in the State House of Assembly.
The choice of Victor Edoror as the speaker of the House by Adams Oshiomhole group was rebuffed by Governor Obaseki’s group whichp refered the choice of the incumbent speaker, Frank Okiye. The unresolved struggle snowballed into the proclamation and inauguration of the now controversial 7th Edo State House of Assembly.
While the governor and his supporters argue that the inauguration of the house was done at about 3-4 pm in July 17, 2019, the Oshiomhole camp insists that it was done at about 10pm, few hours after about 20 members-elect held a press conference to protest the alleged continuous delay in issuing a proclamation letter to the clerk of the house for its inauguration by the state governor.
The internal wrangling within the APC was further aggravated when majority of the party leaders and elders felt being alienated from benefitting from the party’s spoilshaving worked so hard to ensure its victory during the 2016 governorship election in the state.
Although it was initially dismissed as rumour, orchestrated by the media and fifth columnists by the two main actors, Adams Oshiomhole and Godwin Obaseki, it has defied all known reconciliatory efforts by the party leadership at the state and federal levels, religious bodies as well as traditional institutions in the state.
The crisis has also factionalised into Oshiomhole and Obaseki camps. It has also resulted in the formation of Obaseki/Shaibu Movement (OSM), Edo People’s Movement (EPM), slogans like 4 +4, 4 +4 Torgba, 4+1, the resurrection of “No Man is God”, Edo is not Lagos, Edo is Lagos, among others.
The questions on the lips of many political watchers and indigenes of the state, when and how the crisis will end; who will be the ultimate losers and winners? What effect will it have on the fortunes of the APC, especially on the party at the election?
The governor, who has not hidden his ambition to re-contest for the election, remains the man to beat.
As part of the strategies put in place to actualise his dream, he had last year sacked over 250 grassroots aides to flush out those allegedly loyal to the Oshiomhole camp and reappointed his trusted loyalists. Also, some members of the state executive council were relieved of their post while some council elected chairmen were removed over trumped-up financial allegations while a good number of executive members of the state chapter of the party allegedly not loyal to the governor have been suspended and replaced by those who believe in the 4 +4 Torgba agenda of the governor.
Suspension of 14- EDHA members-elect and declaration of seats vacant
This was another strategy by the state governor to solidify, consolidate and assert his leadership of the party in the state as well as to weaken his opponents.
The battle was taken to the House of Assembly because of the fear of losing control of the leadership of the House. This was also responsible for the controversial inauguration, which has since become a subject of litigations at various courts in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State; Benin and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Disbandment of Edo People’s Movement
Worried by the growing political popularity and the perceived threats of the group, the governor deployed his sledge hammer by banning it from carrying out any of its activities in the state. The pressure group, under the APC, was founded by loyalists of Adams Oshiomhole for the purpose of shopping for the governor’s replacement.They have never hidden their disdain for the governor’s alleged mismanagement of the party’s goodwill.
Constitution of Boards
One of the political freebies whichhas now become conventional to placate and empower party loyalists after electoral victory at all levels of government are board membership and committees. This is one of the areas APC leaders and elders have picked hole on the governor’s style of political leadership in the state. They felt that one of the immediate ways to appreciate and compensate them for a work well done at the governorship election was the appointment into various boards and committees. But, surprisingly, three years after being sworn-in, the governor late last year constituted and inaugurated about 10 board members out of over 30 boards existed in different state parastatals. The governor’s camp has argued that the current administration in the state was averse to the unconstitutional ways things were done in the immediate past administration.
Approval of constituency project fund for state house of assembly members
As against what transpired in the 6th Assembly, when the lawmakers complained of non-approval and release of constituency project funds which frustrated provision of necessary dividends of democracy to their various constituents, the state government as contained in the approved 2020 budget estimate now graciously approved the sum of N6billion for constituency development programme to be implemented by the State House of Assembly and the ward development committee during the fiscal year.
Constitution of 39-man mobilization committee
This committee chaired by Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, a former two-time member of the state House of Assembly, and Abdul Kadir Giwa as the secretary, has as its key mandate to woo genuine and committed members to the party ahead of the governorship primary elections.Members of the committee were drawn across the three senatorial districts in the state. 15 from Edo South, 13 Edo North and 11 Edo Central.
Anselm Ojezua, the factional chairman of the party who inaugurated the committee at the party secretariat located at Airport, Benin City, on January 3, 2020, said the committee was to mobilise members to swell its membership ahead of the 2020 governorship election in the state.
He listed the terms of reference of the committee to include- embarking on serious membership drive, identifying and interfacing with notable persons of substance across the state who have shown genuine interest to join the party, developing a programme of action to receive them at all levels of engagement from the ward and state levels, and doing all that is necessary to achieve the objectives for which the Committee was set up.
Alleged plan to defect to PDP
The governor’s romance with the main opposition in the state has allegedly been interpreted to mean planned defection to the party.The governor’s association with Gabriel Igbinedion, the multi-billionaire, Esama of Benin, and Tom Ikimi in the Government House last year generated a lot of insinuations, not only within APC but also in the PDP fold. The governor’s recent meeting with a PDP senator, Ordia Clifford, representing Edo Central in the National Assembly as well as alleged romance with the Delta State and Rivers State governors in the south-south have been said to be a pointer to his planned defection to the party, should his party fail to give him the return ticket.
It was further alleged that the governor has been given conditions to fulfil before he could be guaranteed the party’s ticket. Among the alleged conditions is payment of non-refundable N5billion, scarification of some key positions like deputy governor, SSG, among others to the party.
Although the state chapter of the PDP has refuted the allegations, the state government has failed to react to it.
The Oredo Local Government chapter of the party had last December endorsed the governor as its consensus candidate for the party’s primary election. This was said to been brokered by the governor himself.
Other factors the governor is banking on to give him the party’s ticket, according to his loyalists, are the ongoing road construction across the state, massive reforms and investment in education sector, which has so far resulted in the training of over 11,300 primary school teachers, rebuilding of about 240 schools and deploymentof bespoke technology in the classrooms.
Recall that his sterling performance in education got various recognitions. He was given the best governor award by the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT). He was said to have attracted over 300,000 children in the state’s public schools, through his reforms.
He was also said to have constructed 401 roads across the state, which stretch for 626 kilometers,through the ministry of infrastructure and Edo State Employment and Expenditure for Result (SEEFOR). He has also created over 170,000 jobs out of the 200,000 promised in the first tenure during his electioneering campaign.
They opined that if re-elected for another four years, Obaseki would turn the state into an (economic) Eldorado. They also contended that if his predecessors since the present political dispensation in 1999 can rule for eight years, the current governor must also be allowed to do the same.
The governor’s complaints
In the course of the protracted crisis, the governor decried his inability to nominate members into the Federal Government boards, agencies and parastatals. He alleged that all the members were unilaterally nominated by his predecessor, Oshiomhole, who is now the national chairman of the party. He said he has not been given free hand to nominate his commissioners and other aides by Adams Oshiomhole and that his predecessor has continued to attempt to hijackthe party from him, even though as governor, he was the recognised leader of the party in the state.
Some factors that could work against the governor’s chances
Attacks on perceived opposition
One of the undoing of the governor, according to analysts, is his inability to tolerate criticism from perceived opposition or enemies. The analysts pointed to the attackon EPM members during their meeting in Ivbiaro community in Owan East Local Government Area after obtaining a valid permit from the authorities of the Nigeria Police in the locality.
They also said that the planned demolition of a hotel owned by Tony Adun (aka Kabaka) over his (Adun) alleged verbal attacks on his government, was also in bad taste. The planned demolition was however, stopped by court who restrained the government from carrying out the action pending the determination of the substantive case.
He was also alleged to have joined other governors to protest the nomination of Pius Odubu, the immediate past deputy governor of the state as a chairman of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by President Muhammadu Buhari. His critics are of the view that he would have protected the nomination irrespective of who influenced it in the interest of the state and that of his Edo South Senatorial district.
They also alleged that apart from being among the protesting governors, he also allegedly masterminded the protest by some groups in Ovia North-East Local Government Area against the nomination of one Peter Ekhator as the executive director of the commission.
Frustration of the Oba of Benin’s peace move
Observerssaid that as the Oba was pleading with President Muhammadu Buhari when he led Edo traditional rulers and Council of Chiefs on a courtesy visit to the Presidential Villa, the governor was at the same time sacking political aides who were allegedly loyal to Adams Oshiomhole. Their contention was that the sacking of aides at that material time the Oba and other traditional rulers in the state were with the President was an affront to the authority of the monarch.
They also point to the arrest of the state commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora, Osewengie Ero by INTERPOL over alleged laundering of $2 million in France last month.They averred that whatever defence or excuses adduced by the state government to exonerate itself or clear its name from the commissioner’s ordeal are untenable and add to nothing.
The strength, popularity and hold of the former governor and national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole across the state, nay the party, is undisputable. Oshiomhole’s emergence as the national chairman of the party further expanded the frontiers of his political popularity beyond the state.
He and his supporters are banking on his status in the party to dislodge the re-election ambition of the governor.
His supporters who founded the EPM are of the view that the incumbent governor has abandoned the political philosophy of the party which is anchored on continuity and obedience to partystructures and compensations for hard work. This, they said, was lacking in the Obaseki’s administration.
Some of the complaints against the governor are the abandonment of the N30billion Benin water storm projects, abandonment of party leaders and elders, deviation from the continuation programme of the party as demonstrated in all facets of governance by the former governor.
Strategies to forestall Obaseki’s re-election
Part of the strategies was the suspension of Anselm Ojezua, the chairman of the party in the state and some loyalists of the state government.
To ensure that the governor has a match during the party primary election, the Oshiomhole’s camp has wooed to the party, the former PDP governorship candidate in the 2016 election,Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The formal defection of OsagieIze-Iyamu to the party generated another round of crisis in the party. The group believed that Ize-Iyamu’s goodwill and political popularity cut across the political and ethnic divides in the state.
The defection of Ize-Iyamu also witnessed defection of several old friends and members of PDP to the party.
Is Edo on Zamfara, Rivers’ route?
The fear of the electorate is that if the crisis is not resolved on time, the forthcoming governorship primary election of the party will be a repeat of what befell the party in the two states where the supremacy struggle between the former governor, Abdul Aziz Yari and Senator Marafa shattered the party’s dream in Zamfara; as well as in Rivers, whereRotimiAmaechi, minister of Transportation and Senator Magnus Abe “buccaneered” the party’s chances.
The mishandling of the situation in the two states by the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC, and the grandstanding of the national chairman, proved very costly for the party when the chips were down. Pundit said that what becomes of APC in Edo in the coming election depends so much on the wisdom to handle the delicate situation on ground.
Analysts are of the view that if the party fails to conduct a credible primary election, it will be an easy ride for other opposition parties.
“I foresee the Zamfara and Rivers episodes repeating in Edo, unless the principal actors in the crisis rein in their pompous nature. The likes of Oshiomhole may want the crisis to escalate so that the governor could be so frustrated to jump ship. Once he is pushed to the wall to the point that he joins another party, they have got him. Then, the election is as good as won. Of course, you know that there is no more election in Nigeria under the APC. On the election day, they will send thugs to kill and hijack the ballot boxes and every other thing will be history. So, the governor will be shooting himself in the foot if he makes the mistake of defecting to any opposition party. Let him stay there and struggle it out,” an analyst said, craving anonymity.
IDRIS UMAR MOMOH and CHURCHILL OKORO