The governorship primaries of All Progressives Congress in Edo State this Saturday is a battle for supremacy between two national leaders of the party
The All Progressives Congress, APC in Edo State is on trial, a trial that would either make or mar the party as it elects its governorship candidate for the September 10 gubernatorial election in the state. Saturday June 18, 2016 is the d-day and the Heartbeat of the Nation is on the tenterhooks. A party which prides itself as one political family appears to be in disarray, and singing discordant tunes in the countdown to the big day. Since the battle for succession began, there had been a sharp dividing line between the “governor’s political family” with its anointed aspirant, Godwin Obaseki, and all other aspirants. These are the incumbent deputy governor, Pius Egberamwen Odubu, Chris Ogiemwonyi, an engineer and former minister of state for works, Oserhiemen Osunbor, professor of Law and former governor of the state, and Charles Airhiavbere, retired Army General and a former governorship candidate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Others are Kenneth Imansuangbon, an educationist, popularly known as the “rice man”, for his rice-sharing gesture during the Yuletide, Peter Esele, former president of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, and Tina Agbara, the only female aspirant.
In the last two weeks however, the gulf seemed to have gotten wider with ominous and disturbing signals emanating from the party to the effect that the contest for the APC ticket is going to be anything but a family affair.
Even amidst assurances by the national leadership of the party that it would conduct a free, fair and credible primary, some aspirants still have their fears and doubt. Last week, as the aspirants returned their completed nomination and expression of interest forms to their national secretariat in Abuja, some of them voiced their concerns and reservations about the possibility of providing a level playing field. Ogiemwonyi and Airhiavbere raised the alarm that Obaseki and his handlers were buying up the permanent voter cards and party cards of delegates. They alleged that a meeting was held last Sunday in Auchi at the residence of Philip Shuaibu, a member of the House of Representatives, where the cards were allegedly collected in exchange for money. Weeks before then, Imansuangbon had raised a red flag on the same issue. This, he followed up, with public awareness announcements on both local radio and television stations, advising delegates not to surrender their PVCs and party cards to anybody.
Ogiemwonyi alleged that some “clandestine meetings” were going on in parts of the state where delegates’ voter cards were reportedly procured. The former NNPC big wig noted that monetization of voter cards had become prevalent in Edo State, citing the Auchi incident last Sunday “in the house of a law maker who is becoming a law breaker”, stressing that “we are still in shock of their desire and what they want to do with these voter cards that they are procuring about two weeks before the primary”. According to Ogiemwonyi, “If they are monetizing PVCs, will there be a fair and credible (election)? That is the question. Corroborating his principal’s allegation, Lukman Akemokue, director of planning and strategy of the Ogiemwonyi campaign organization, insisted at the APC secretariat in Abuja last Monday, that “PVCS are being collected in exchange for votes from the delegates by the Godwin Obaseki campaign organization”. Akemokue said “as a matter of fact, we have tracked data of those whose PVCS have been collected. This is happening in many local governments across the state.”
Ogiemwonyi however contended that “we can nip this thing in the bud; that is why we are here to speak out. And before the process continues like this, let the national office quickly call the various actors to stop this forthwith”.
While other aspirants who seemed to have ganged up against Obaseki are however shouting foul over his endorsement by the governor, investigation by the magazine revealed that some aspirants also enjoy some form of support from some notable leaders of the party both at the state and national level. The state executive of the party, for instance, is torn amongst different aspirants. Even the state executive council comprising the governor’s aides is divided with some supporting other aspirants. Even most intriguing is the fact that the scramble for the ticket of the party has also pitched national officers against the other as prominent national leaders battle for the soul of Edo State ahead of the 2019 general elections, thus further raising political tension within the ruling party in the state.
From the body language of the national chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun who hails from Edo State, it is clear that he and the governor are not together in the Obaseki project; so also his erstwhile deputy while he was governor of the state, Peter Obadan, a chartered accountant and reverend gentleman. There were speculations that the duo has sympathy for different aspirants. From the tone of Obadan’s Democracy Day message on May 29, it was obvious that he had no iota of sympathy for Obaseki. It was gathered that while he is in support of Odubu, his former boss’ sympathy is with Ogiemwonyi. Obadan, a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the APC, said: ”Beloved APC Edo State delegates, think before you make your choice from the list of aspirants who are aspiring to be governor. The APC has a system that manifests transparency. I conducted that of the Lagos State and I know that rigging is not feasible”.
According to him, “Voting is secretly done and it’s a case of conscience. Let no man despise or intimidate you. Money may be offered to purchase your vote, but think”. In a veiled reference to Obaseki who is new in politics, Obadan said “find out if that aspirant has ever attended your meetings or related with politicians in the past before deciding to aspire to be our governor. Did you see him in the past presidential or governorship campaigns? Has he ever mounted the rostrum to campaign? Has he ever voted in his constituency? Why would such now seek the governorship crown? ‘Monkey don work bamboo wan come chop.’ Think. The country has moved beyond the politics of money. Our youths are now well-read and can no longer be deceived with oratory jargon.”
Unlike Ehanire, two prominent national leaders of the party, Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor, and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president to Olusegun Obasanjo, have however chosen to use the Edo APC primary election as a testing ground in their battle for supremacy. Analysing the power dynamics of the ruling party, a party chieftain explained to the magazine that the APC stands on a tripod made up of Buhari, Tinubu and Abubakar . Buhari, he says, plays the fatherly role. “Even if he has sympathy for a particular person, he will not come out to express it and he will not spend his money. The people who will bring out the money are Tinubu and Atiku. What is going on now is that Atiku is supporting Ogiemwonyi and the other person, Tinubu, is supporting Obaseki”. The source is however optimistic that with the combination of Tinubu with a record of political adroitness, and Oshiomole who is the leader of the party in the state, Obaseki would emerge the party’s candidate. “I don’t see how they (other aspirants) are going to do it) except a miracle happens”, he said.
But if eventually an attempt at a gang-up by some aspirants succeeds, a miracle might indeed happen. Political watchers however believe that personal ambitions may truncate such an alliance as each of the leading aspirants from Edo South where the governorship had been zoned could not imagine himself stepping down for the other in order to join forces to fight “a common enemy”. They are Odubu, Ogiemwonyi and Airhiavbere. It was learnt that some superior political powers had approached Odubu to step down for Ogiemwonyi, but he refused. Like a contagious disease, the intrigues trailing the contest for the APC ticket has also infected the Benin traditional council, with the palace chiefs sharply divided over the choice of a candidate. While some chiefs are in support of Odubu, some are in support of the governor’s favoured aspirant and others prefer Ogiemwonyi.
On May 15, 2016, a group of chiefs in the kingdom sympathetic to the APC, Otu Odolevbo-Osioba, worried by the bad blood amongst some aspirants, called on the national secretariat of the party to bar Obaseki and Odubu from the primary election to save the image of the party.
In a statement signed by Jolly Ogbeifun, the Enobore of Ugboko and Jackson Igbinovia, the Osagiobariase of Benin Kingdom feared that “the APC may lose the state to the major opposition party in view of the current political wrangling in the party”, stressing that “we must not be deceived by taking things for granted because it is a well known fact that the PDP is a very formidable party on ground in Edo State”. The chiefs stated that “therefore, we are advising the national body of the APC to as a matter of urgency, ban the deputy governor and the governor’s anointed candidate, Mr. Godwin Obaseki from contesting the primaries to save the interest and image of the party”. They posited that since both aspirants were accusing each other of attempted murder, the accusation and counter accusation would not augur well for the victory of the party in the governorship election.
But in a swift reaction, another group, the Organisation for Greater Edo Project (OGEP), faulted the call for the disqualification of both Odubu and Obaseki from the governorship race by the Benin chiefs describing it as “offensive”. They urged the traditional chiefs to refrain from their nefarious comments. OGEP, in a statement signed by its coordinator, Godwin Osakwe, said the call by the chiefs was “misplaced, ridiculous, dubious and misleading” and warned that “the most revered traditional institution in Africa must not be smeared with mud by inordinately ambitious individuals”.
What may however surprise many is the lack of support for the governor’s preferred aspirant, Obaseki by David Edebiri, the Esongba of Benin Kingdom who had been a strong political ally of the governor. Edebiri, popularly referred to as “the Oracle” stood solidly behind the governor against the PDP and its candidate in the 2012 governorship election, Airhiavbere. An unimpeachable source informed the magazine that Edebiri had told the governor and some of his associates that “the ancestors, the spirit world and the physical have rejected Obaseki”. According to the source, “the Esongba was told to go and talk to them to change their minds and he said when the people are sleeping, he’s talking to them, discussing with them”. The source was deeply concerned that “he is very determined that Obaseki cannot be governor”. He was however confident that “when Obaseki becomes a candidate, he will change his mind”.
Though in principle the governorship ticket of the party has been zoned to Edo South, political observers believe that aspirants from Ishan-speaking Edo Central could spring a surprise. The district had been agitating for a shot at the governorship, insisting that it is their turn. Apart from the short stint by Osunbor whose tenure was terminated by the Court of Appeal barely one and a half years in office, the area has not produced a governor since the advent of democracy in 1999. The area parades about five aspirants notably Osunbor, Imansuagbon and Esele. A socio-cultural organization, Edo-Okpa Vanguard, in a statement by its national coordinator, Don Peters Evbota noted that Edo South had produced two governors in the persons of Oyegun and Lucky Igbinedion while Edo North produced Oshiomhole. According to the group, “there is no doubt that the people of Edo Central have been marginalized in the governorship of the state and that is the reason why we appeal to our delegates to ensure that an Esan man emerges the candidate oif the APC. APC delegates must help us correct the imbalance in the distribution of political offices in Edo State”.
Reacting to the allegation of buying up of PVCs, Shuaibu accused the rival aspirants of ignorance. He wondered why the Obaseki campaign organization would buy up delegates’ PVCs when they are not needed to vote. According to him, “I think those people are boasting of deep pockets, but we have deep ideas and ideas rule the world. so, it is a battle between deep pockets and big ideas”. But Samson Osagie, Odubu’s campaign director general, in a statement last Wednesday, dismissed Shuaibu’s response as deceptive. According to Osagie, a former member of the House of Representatives said the aim was “to manipulate the election by dispossessing delegates of their legitimate property and handling same to touts or Agberos to replace validly elected delegates of the party”.
Curiously, the state publicity secretary of the party, Godwin Erhahon confirmed the alleged mopping up of delegates’ PVCs. In a statement last Tuesday, Erhahon, a former state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, said “investigations by the secretariat revealed that the collection of PVCs from delegates is being undertaken by the campaign organization of a particular governorship aspirant. The purpose, according to reliable source, is to distribute the cards to loyalists of the particular aspirant to impersonate the delegates at the primary”. The party official hinted that “should their aspirant lose out in the primaries, they also intend to withhold the PVCs till after theSeptember 10 election to sabotage whoever emerges as APC governorship candidate at the primaries”. Erhahon called on the leadership of the party “to be pro-active and ensure that desperadoes do not succeed in their plot against the party”.
The political brinksmanship became messier a day after as Erhahon introduced another dimension to the PVC mop-up saga. Last week Wednesday, he raised the alarm over alleged plan by some desperate leaders to kidnap delegates and take them to shrines where they would be induced to take oaths to support a particular aspirant. In an interaction with journalists, the journalist turned politician said “there are plans to call delegates to meetings a day or two before the primary and from there, they will also kidnap them and put them in hotels from where they will take oaths, give them money and whatsoever and then return them to the venue of the primary already intoxicated and seduced”. He advised delegates not to honour invitation to such meetings and also report to security agencies, threats to their lives.
In the face of misgivings by most of the aspirants, the leadership of the party has however continued to assure of a free and fair primary election. Oyegun had consistently assured that the elections would be free and fair as the aspirants visited him in his office after picking their nomination forms. Similarly, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, retired army general and former governor of Osun State, who was the chairman of the reconciliation committee sent to the state to broker peace between the governor and his deputy, reminded the party faithful that being in the opposition was not a pleasant thing and urged them to sink their differences. Oyinlola posited that “we must allow a level-playing ground. That is what is going to happen. God forbid! We should not lose election in Edo State”. The national publicity secretary of the party, Senator Osita Izunaso told Ogiemwonyi while receiving his nomination forms that “as far as the issue of making this election free and fair, you can take that for granted. And we are doing our best to ensure that there is no crisis in Edo State”. Allaying the fears of aspirants, Izunaso said the party would “ensure that there is peace, there is tranquility and that (the primary will produce) the best candidate, not the candidates that will only win the primaries, but the candidates who will win the elections”. With the D-day just a few days away, the people of Edo State are waiting with bated breath to see if the APC would acquit itself.Follow Us on Social Media