With the insistence by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the timetable for the off-season gubernatorial election in Edo slated for September 19, 2020 remains sacrosanct, stakeholders have increased the quantum of consultation. Alignment and realignment of forces are on a very high scale.
The Edo gubernatorial election promises to be interesting and at the same time tense given the crisis that has rocked the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), for close to a year now.
The battle is expected to be joined by outside influence based on utterances and body language in some quarters.
For a very long time now, Governor Godwin Obaseki and his political godfather and predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, have not been the best of friends. Their differences seem to be irreconcilable as several peace parleys initiated by important personalities within and outside the state felled on their faces.
Obaseki is a first term governor seeking re-election. Oshiomhole on the other hand is the National chairman of the ruling party.
Recall that the state chapter of the broom party had split into two factions, each loyal to either of the two power blocs.
On the merit of re-election, Obaseki is said to have acquitted himself well in terms of living up to his campaign promises. This much has been said by Anselm Ojezua, who chairs the mainstream faction of the party in the state.
The other day, Ojezua said that the governor’s remarkable achievements in the past three years in office, will guarantee him victory in the forthcoming election.
“I think he has introduced innovation in governance and he has introduced reforms to a point where we are producing human capacity development which is the biggest reform any entity can have,” he said.
According to the state APC chairman, “I will score him excellent in his first term and, certainly, his achievements so far will earn him the second term.”
Speaking in tandem, John Odigie-Oyegun, a former national chairman of the party, in a full page advertorial published in national newspaper on Thursday, May 21, 2020, said: “He (Obaseki) has not offended against any aspect of the APC’s constitution nor has he, in any way, brought the party to disrepute.”
Among other reasons he pushes for the governor’s re-election, Odigie-Oyegun said: “He has performed in an exemplary manner. In his time, there has been peace and freedom for the ordinary Edo man and woman from harassment by official thugs. In addition to improving all aspects of infrastructure in the more rural areas of the state, he has significantly impacted on job creation by opening up opportunities for our youths in the rapidly expanding high-tech industry. Also, since the crisis, the governor’s popularity has grown tremendously, for obvious reasons, and across party lines.”
According to the chieftain of the party, “Through him (Obaseki), Edo State must prove that our democracy can only survive if we do not create a situation where an individual or a small group can make or unmake our governors or other elected officials at will.”
Alleged sins of Obaseki
It was gathered that the major plank for the impasse between Oshiomhole and Obaseki has to do with the latter’s decision to block avenues of revenue leakages which the former allegedly allowed during his own dispensation.
There was the allegation that there used to be wrong pricing in procurements and even in the award of contracts in the old order, resulting in loss of huge revenues. Obaseki believes that was so much inefficiency in the system, which made the state to suffer huge financial losses. Moreover, there was also the issue of “stepping on toes”.
“Some people who felt they were owners of the state empowered some boys who were going about collecting all manner of levies. They made life very difficult for market women and indigenes doing small businesses to eke out a living. Even in Government Reserved Areas (GRAs), they were very powerful; wielding so much power, extorting people all over the state. Some of them were said to have their counting machines in their homes. They impoverished the state by their activities,” a politician from the state said, craving anonymity.
The politician also said that the state had drastically cut the cost of building roads.
“We can build three roads now with even less cost than they used to build one road in the past. If there is no economic growth, we get stuck. Oil has run out. We must do things that could help us create wealth. As you cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg, there is no way we can build a new Edo without dismantling those negative things that hampered the progress of the state in the past. There are entrenched interests that are being dislodged and they are fighting back.
Don’t forget that our governor is a private sector person, he cannot help but see that Edo is run and run very well,” an official of the state government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“There was this thinking in some quarters that those boys were the backbone of government, and Governor Obaseki said no; it is not possible. He told them that they have created non-state actors and that they have become a threat to democracy. So, he decided to dismantle such illegal structures and the masters began to cry out. I must tell you that the well being of our people were threatened by the activities of these boys. If you want to change an old, negative order, you have to fight. To get peace, you have to go to war. That is the story of Nigeria today and that is what is playing out in Edo today,” the official further said.
Concern mounts over primary
Odigie-Oyegun is concerned about the quality and transparency of the primary election that will produce the candidate.
He pointed out that “transparency must start with the guidelines as to how the primary elections will be conducted. This is yet to be issued, even though dates have been announced. The nature of the primary election in Edo State will determine the shape and survival of APC as a political party. It will show Nigerians and, indeed, the world whether APC is a party of truth, change and progress, driven by the principles of fairness, social justice and equity, or if it has become a party that believes and promotes business as usual!”
The immediate past National Chairman of APC also made a passionate request he believes could give legitimacy to the outcome of the primary.
“He said: “Given the widely-known peculiarities of Edo State, if a consensus cannot be built behind the incumbent, everything must be done to ensure that the persons in leadership of the party at the centre who are part of the contrived crisis in Edo State must not even remotely be allowed to plan, participate or supervise the primary be seen even by the blind man, to be free and fair, otherwise, there would be political consequences. Allowing any member(s) of the national leadership who have been involved in the contrived crisis in Edo State would equate making such person or persons a judge or judges in their own case. This is contrary to the principle of natural justice and will be naturally resisted.”
In another advertorial by Concerned Edo State APC Stakeholders, titled, ‘Oshiomhole’s unforced losses and fate of APC in Edo 2020 gubernatorial election,’ the group called the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari to “the endless, unprovoked battles Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has continued to wage against the Edo State chapter of the APC.”
The group alleged that the party’s losses in Taraba, Zamfara, Rivers and Bayelsa States were orchestrated by Oshiomhole as a result of his leadership style. They said that there was a similarity in the pattern that led to the party’s poor outing in the above-listed states, urging the President to intervene in Edo’s case before APC loses it to the opposition. Ten members of the said group penned their signature on the full-page advert.
The observations came on the day Senator Lawal Shuaibu, deputy national chairman, North, alleged that the party was increasingly resorting to “illegalities” by Oshiomhole. Shuaibu described the party at the moment as a nest of lawlessness.
He raised the alarm that the national chairman’s behavior may cost the party the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States if the situation is not immediately addressed.
Factional group replies Odigie-Oyegun
But in a swift response to Odigie-Oyegun’s observations and propositions, a faction of the party in the state sympathetic to Oshiomhole, said that nobody promised Governor Obaseki an automatic ticket as part of reconciliation in the state chapter of the party.
Publicity Secretary of the faction, Chris Azebamwan, said, “we are constrained to respond to statements credited to Chief John Odigie-Oyegun at page 8 of The Nation newspaper of today, 21st May, 2020 and his full-page advert on the same subject at page 10.
“It is not in our character, upbringing or culture to take an elder to task. Especially an elder with the towering stature and credentials of Pa John Odigie-Oyegun who retired as a Federal Super-Permanent Secretary, has been a State Governor and served as National Chairman of a major political party. He celebrated his 80th birthday recently, and we wish him many more years of service to the nation.
“Against this background, one is at loss to understand why Chief Odigie-Oyegun would make utterances that portray him as a mouthpiece or hireling of Godwin Obaseki. That the forthcoming primaries in Edo State would be credible is not in doubt.”
According to Azebamwan, “the more worrisome part of Pa Odigie-Oyegun’s outburst is his claim that as part of the reconciliation process, an automatic ticket was promised to Godwin Obaseki. To the best of my knowledge, Chief Odigie-Oyegun was not at the meeting where reconciliation was discussed. He is no longer a principal officer of the APC, and is in no position, therefore, to lay claims to the inner workings of the party.”
Ambode’s pill for Obaseki?
Political watchers are saying that the powers that be in the party at the national level may be plotting to administer the same pill that demobilised Governor Akinwunmi Ambode during the primaries in Lagos State last year. Obaseki and his supporters are said to be unaware of the alleged plot. It was alleged that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the party, is interested in Edo State and had pointedly told Obaseki that he (the governor) would not come back.
“I must tell you that Governor Obaseki is in for an epic battle. Don’t forget that the judiciary has been compromised that once a result is announced, that becomes the end of the primary. The best bet for Obaseki is to begin now to make sufficient noise and ensure that direct method of voting at the primary that promotes eye service is not approved,” Thompson Adams, a political affairs commentator, said.
According to Adams, “Obaseki should capitalise on the crack among members of the National Working Committee (NWC) to get some of them on his side, so that they could resist any untoward decision aimed at shoving aside the governor. I am not also sure Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State, will also get fairness when it comes to the primary. Both of them must work very hard to return.”
Another analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity said that this is not the time to seek reconciliation with Oshiomhole, as whatever is done now would be seen from the prism of just wanting to win election.
“It is past the time for reconciliation. The battle must be eyeball to eyeball. No pretense. We all saw what happened to Ambode. He tried everything to please Jagaban, even to the point of ridiculing himself in public. But they had already made up their mind on him. The primary for me is war. Obaseki must not shy away from it,” the pundit said.