Seemingly unending maneuverings ahead of party governorship primaries in Edo State this week have created deeper fears over the fate of the likely candidates of APC and PDP, report Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu and ‘Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor
Following Friday’s formal defection of Governor Godwin Obaseki to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the picture of the grand battle that would be fought in Edo State during September 19 governorship election is becoming clearer.
With current realities in which the major antagonists in the intricate political battle, Governor Godwin Obaseki and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole are no longer in the same party, casual observers said the coast seems clear for Obaseki to emerge the candidate of PDP his new party and for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to emerge the candidate of APC, if alleged pressure on immediate past Deputy Governor, Pius Odubu, to step down for him materializes.
But informed insiders said even if these permutations sail through, the muddy issues raised during the prolonged rough leadership battle in Edo APC have left a situation where Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu’s candidatures in PDP and APC respectively may also be considered high risks. This is mainly because of the likely litigations against their candidatures.
It has been gathered that following these complexities, more intrigues are still likely to play out before this week’s primaries in APC and PDP and after the governorship election proper.
For example, some informed observers of the prolonged bitter battle in APC before the governor’s exit from the party and his defection to PDP told The Nation yesterday that the development may not be the end of the political intrigues in both the APC and PDP as the situation may have rendered the governorship tickets of the two aspirants as high risks for the parties.
It would be recalled that when Obaseki resigned his membership of APC, followed by Shuaibu, some PDP leaders said they were yet to approve the deputy governor’s request to be Obaseki’s running mate on PDP platform. In fact, insiders said it was the “tough negotiations on the conditions that that delayed Obaseki’s declaration for PDP until this Friday.” The source also said even the currently agreed conditions are not generally accepted by major stakeholders in Edo PDP.”
For example, the three screened and cleared governorship aspirants of PDP in Edo, Kenneth Imasuagbon, Gideon Ikhine and Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, earlier in the week said they were not ready to step down for Obaseki, insisting they “will slug it out at the primary where indirect mode would be used at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin.”
Opponents’ grouse against Ize-Iyamu
Although many consider Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu very popular within and outside Edo APC, his opponents with APC seem determined to fight against his emergence as the party’s standard bearer on the allegation that he is not technically a member of APC. They alleged that the former Chief of Staff and Secretary to and APC government in Edo State is not an APC member because, according to them, he left the party but when he returned, it was not formalized. Based on this allegation, the argued that it was wrong for the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party to grant him waiver to contest for the party’s governorship ticket.
Commenting on this allegation, an insider source said “when Ize-Iyamu returned to APC, Governor Obaseki frustrated his efforts to formally re-register his membership at appropriate quarters.”
Another source from the state also said on Friday that another ground Ize-Iyamu’s opponents may base their fight against him “is the argument that now that Oshiomhole is suspended, everything he did while in office may be considered null and void and of no effect.
“Aside this,” said the source, “the current battle over who is the real National Chairman of APC will finally be a major factor in the whole power play. But whatever is the case, it seems certain that APC may be troubled by seemingly endless litigations. Already, we have witnessed primaries litigations. Nobody would be surprised if we have post primary litigations and pre and post-election litigations.”
As at Friday, when a Benin High Court’s ruling on Ize-Iyamu’s membership of APC was being expected, there was speculation that if he loses the case, and if the court, presided over by Justice Emmanuel Ahamioje, disqualifies him, the development will make way for the immediate past Deputy Governor, Pius Odubu, to emerge as APC’s candidate. A source claimed there is the possibility that if this happens, Ize-Iyamu may pursue his ambition of contesting the governorship on the ticket of Social Democratic Party (SDP).
How all these would play out still remains to be seen.
Obaseki’s candidature as high risk for PDP
With his declaration for PDP after holding close door meetings with the party’s leaders, many believe today that Governor Obaseki seems poised to pick the party’s governorship ticket.
But informed analysts said even if he succeeds in flying the flag of the party and even if he also succeeds in winning the governorship election on the ticket of PDP, it may just be the beginning of the many legal hurdles he may have to contend with.
For example, it is known that parties have rules guiding participation in elections and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made it clear that parties must follow the rules.
Commenting on how this may work against the governor, our source said on Friday: “Obaseki just joined PDP today. This means that he did not take the mandatory Expression of Interest Form. It also means that he did not participate in the party’s screening exercise. So, if he gets waiver, will all this not work against him and PDP in the long run? Don’t forget also that before his defection to PDP, the process of participating in primaries for this year’s governorship election in Edo has closed according to INEC timetable.”
Given all these, there is the fear that even if the screened aspirants are finally persuaded to step down for Oshiomhole and even if he contests and wins the governorship election, all the issues about certificate controversies, perjury and the rest may be used against him and the PDP at the long run in the light of Bayelsa’s recent precedent. This is even more intriguing because it was the same PDP that initially raised the issues against Obaseki in 2016.
Dark clouds hang over primaries
Hours to the scheduled primary elections of APC and PDP in Edo State, there are still dark clouds of uncertainty over the feasibility or otherwise of the exercises. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reiterated its readiness to monitor the shadow elections as prescribed by the constitution, observers say recent happenings within the two leading political parties appear to be major barriers to the conduct of the exercises.
While Obaseki’s moves to pick PDP’s gubernatorial ticket is reportedly tearing the opposition party apart, the unending crisis rocking the ruling APC finally spilled to the national level following the resignation of Obaseki from the party and the confirmation of the suspension of National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole from the party, by the Appeal Court. The threat by the Edo State Government to prevent the conduct of direct primary in the state is not abating even as the APC insists it will not change the mode of primary election adopted by its national leadership.
This is just as INEC says it will not extend the deadline for the conduct of primaries and submission of party nominations for the September 19 governorship election in the state. Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, stated this at the end of a virtual consultative meeting of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja. He reminded political parties fielding candidates of the need to conclude their primaries for the nomination of candidates in the next 10 days.
“The deadline is Saturday, June 27, 2020. I must stress that the date is firm and fixed. There will be no extension. While the conduct of primaries and nomination of candidates will be the sole responsibility of political parties, our officials will monitor the primaries as required by law. Already, INEC has published the date and mode of primaries for each of the 15 political parties that indicated their intention to participate in the election. Similarly, there will be no extension of time for political parties that fail to submit the names and other details of the candidates that emerge from their primaries using the dedicated portal created by the Commission. For emphasis, the deadline is 6 p.m. on Monday, 29 June 2020,” he said.
PDP and Obaseki’s moves
As part of moves to smoothen his path to PDP ticket, Obaseki has been meeting with prominent chieftains of the party. And with each meeting, he inches closer to his target of displacing other aspirants in the quest for the party’s governorship candidacy in spite of being a late entrant into the race. And it appears the PDP, especially its leadership and stakeholders at the national level, are favourably disposed to handing over the guber ticket to him without much ado. Since his exit from the APC, he has won a number of PDP governors and chieftains to his side in his struggle to get re-elected as governor on September 19.
After prominent leaders of the party met on Thursday to discuss Obaseki’s reported desire to join the party, sources said the meeting was largely for party leaders and elders to share notes on Obaseki’s coming into the party and how he should be treated. Many of those at the meeting were people the governor has met in the course of his interaction with PDP stalwarts since resigning his membership of the APC last Tuesday after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Prominent PDP leaders he met include Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus and the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal, among others.
Even after his eventual defection on Friday, it seems not everybody in the opposition party happily awaited the governor’s coming. Some chieftains of the party, especially within its Edo state chapter, are not pleased with what they described as “seeming plot at the national level to impose Obaseki on Edo PDP as gubernatorial candidate.” The unwillingness of these people, some of whom are gubernatorial aspirants, former and serving federal and state legislators and former and current state party executives, The Nation learnt, is casting doubts on the peaceful conduct of the party’s primary election.
It was learnt that a powerful clique within the state chapter of the party, led by a former state chairman of the PDP, is determined to ensure that Obaseki does not emerge as the candidate of the party. “The governor is not in the good book of some prominent PDP leaders, especially here in Edo State. With most of them, he had running battles before his current travails. For this, it has been difficult convincing these people to forgive the governor and accept him as the candidate of the party. They are ready to have him as a PDP member, but not as the PDP governorship candidate,” our source claimed.
Speaking on development within the party as regards the defection of Obaseki and his supporters into the PDP, state chairman of the party, Tony Aziegbemi, said there would be no automatic ticket for Obaseki. He said, “There is nothing like an automatic ticket for anybody; it is like that in any democratic environment, and there is a process as laid down by the constitution of the party and that we will follow.”
Aziegbemi’s mention of due process and constitution, some pundits warned, should keep Obaseki on his toes. And the fact that he is up against an automatic ticket being handed the governor, they say, speak volume. The new PDP chairman is an ally of former state chairman, Dan Orbih, who never hid his dissatisfaction with Obaseki’s administration of the state.
“The camp of Dan Orbih, our former chairman, among other groups, may not find it easy supporting Obaseki’s candidacy. You will recall the many verbal and legal tussles the duo engaged in while Orbih was still PDP chairman in Edo.” said a source.
Reacting to the development, a governorship aspirant of the PDP, Ken Imasuagbon, said earlier that the governor was welcome to join the party but that he must “join the queue and forget any thought of being given the guber ticket automatically. He said he would resist any attempt to hand over the party’s ticket to Obaseki ahead of the state governorship elections. The Nation gathered that Imasuagbon may not be alone in his resolve although the national leadership of the party has invited aspirants to a meeting to discuss the matter.
So far, three aspirants have been cleared to participate in the gubernatorial primary scheduled for June 23. They are Omeregie Ogbeide-Ihama, Gideon Ikhine and four time governorship aspirant, Imansuangbon. The three aspirants earlier obtained the PDP Expression of Interest and Nomination forms after paying the prescribed sum of N22million. “Each of our three aspirants believes that they have what it takes to deliver Edo State to the PDP in the September 19 governorship poll. PDP is not lacking in quality contenders and as such, we don’t have to dash our ticket away to a new comer,” a party leader from Benin-City said.
“Any attempt to manipulate the party’s primary would be met with serious resistance; there will be no PDP primary or whatever if the party’s leadership tries it. This is neither a military coup nor are we in military rule, the governor must subject himself to the party’s primary; he will need to queue with the other aspirants if he wishes to join, but certainly not handing him the ticket automatically,” Imansuangbon had said during the week.
While talks are on among his supporters on how to fast-track his defection into the PDP so as to ensure he is able to seek election on the party’s platform on September 19, opponents of the governor are warning that his candidature may spell doom for the party at the governorship election. Those speaking up against the candidature of the governor within the PDP are worried that the issues advanced for this disqualification by his former party, the APC, are still germane and can be used to checkmate the PDP before, during or after the election, if he, Obaseki is fielded by the party.
The Nation also gathered that some PDP chieftains opposed to Obaseki’s candidature may be preparing to challenge his aspiration in court should the party’s NWC grant him waiver as being planned. “His aspiration will be challenged on the strength of the fact that the primary election is a process. Before the election proper, forms were obtained and submitted; screening was done and aspirants were cleared. The governor didn’t participate in all these and the time for all that has elapsed. How can he just jump into the race midway? If that happens, we will challenge his aspiration in the interest of the party,” another source said.
Another issue generating controversy even among PDP members willing to have Obaseki as the candidate, is his alleged request to be allowed to run with his deputy, Shuaib. The Nation gathered that this is not going down well with most members and chieftains of the party, and may work strongly against the governor’s chances of landing the guber ticket. “PDP will never give out everything just like that to new comers. If truly he is asking to retain his deputy, then he is not being considerate at all. What will be our own gain in the whole arrangement then,” a party executive asked.
APC’s festering confusion
APC is not without its own share of worries. Although events of Thursday suggested the party may have resolved the leadership crisis created by the removal of Oshiomhole, pundits insist the last is yet to be heard of Victor Giadom’s claim to Acting Chairmanship. According to a concerned observer, “Notwithstanding that a Federal Capital Territory High Court, sitting in Abuja, granted Victor Giadom his request to act as the National Chairman of Nigeria’s ruling party, the APC for two weeks, the possibility that this claim by Giadom can still scuttle the entire primary election process is still very high. It is in the best interest of the APC to lay that matter to rest effectively if it wants to be spared another Rivers experience. This is because, should a court declare the current leadership illegal, everything, including the nomination of a candidate by them, will become illegal.”
Deputy National Secretary Victor Giadom, had on Wednesday declared himself the acting National Chairman of APC. His claim came few hours after National Deputy Chairman (South), Senator Abiola Ajumobi, was announced Acting Chairman of the party by the NWC. Gaidom said he assumed office as a result of a March 16 Abuja High Court order in suit no FCT/HC/M/6447/2020 which empowers him to act as the National Chairman. He told reporters at the national secretariat in Abuja that he had cancelled the screening and appeal committees on Edo State Governorship election and announced that the Deputy National Organising Secretary, Muhammad Sani Ibrahim, will acts as the National Organising Secretary.
Hours later, the party’s National Working Committee ratified Abiola Ajimobi as the Acting National Chairman. It also disowned Victor Giadom, insisting that his membership of the NWC ceased when he resigned to contest the Deputy Governorship position in Rivers State. The APC National Vice-Chairman (South-South), Hilliard Eta, who addressed the media soon after Giadom left the party Secretariat, said preparations for the Edo Governorship primary was on course. Giadom was also relieved of position as Deputy National Secretary on the strength of his earlier resignation.
The Ajimobi-led NWC went ahead to inaugurate the party’s Primary Election as well as Appeal Committees. National Vice Chairman, South-South, Ntufam Hillard Etagbo Eta who performed the ceremony on behalf of the Acting National Chairman urged the committees to ensure a credible exercise. Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State chairs the Primary Election Committee while Prof. Mustapha Bello would serve as the Chairman of the Appeal Committee for the primary election.
It was also gathered that efforts are in top gear to ensure that Oshiomhole gets a reprieve from the judiciary ahead of the September governorship election. This is to ensure that the process is not encumbered by any legal issue arising from his suspension and his involvement in the process leading to the nomination of the party’s candidate. This is just as some party sources claimed Giadom and his supporters are also hoping to get the court to enforce his right to the chairmanship position in acting capacity following the exit of Oshiomhole.
“The worst is not over for APC yet. These legal tangos, if not handled carefully, are capable of skyrocketing into a situation where the party’s eventual candidates may be disqualified. It is in the interest of the party for all its chieftains to stop the claims and counter claims. At this point, a legal ambush from any quarter is dangerous for the party. You will recall the incidents that led to the disqualification of APC candidates in Rivers and Zamfara states during the 2019 general elections. The party and its warring chieftains must carefully watch it,” a source cautioned.
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