The seething pot is now spilling its content in Edo State as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) prepares to hold its primary election that will lead to the emergence of the party’s governorship candidate ahead of the gubernatorial election billed to hold in the state in September.
Following the frosty relationship between incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki and former Governor Adams Oshiomhle, who is now the National Chairman of the APC; the struggle for the party’s 2020 guber ticket has been fierce from the very beginning.
For almost two years now, the tempo of politicking within the party, marked by vitriolic scheming and plotting, with abundant allegations and counter allegations flying around among party leaders and chieftains, has left several political alliances broken, with erstwhile political allies and associates now sworn enemies constantly engaging in verbal warfare. Of course, some new converts have been won into the party on both divides of the struggle, yet many party faithful live in fear of the party’s primary election.
So fierce is the current contest for the ticket within the APC that many pundits are predicting the possibility of the ruling party going into the election much weaker than it currently is if nothing is done to ensure a less rancorous shadow poll. “Both the actual primary election and its fallouts must be carefully managed if the APC in Edo State is to go into the September gubernatorial contest in good stead. Already, we can all see the danger posed to its outing at the polls by all the intrigues going on within,” a chieftain of the party lamented.
Given that the September election has over 20 political parties participating, the unending uproar generated by the contest for the APC ticket has left many observers wondering if the party’s chieftains are not dissipating much needed energy on its internal scuffle than preparing for the general election. “It is unfortunate that at this crucial time, we are still wasting precious energy and resources fighting ourselves than planning what to do to win the general election,” Alfred Elague, former State Secretary of the Alliance for Democracy (A.D), said.
Obaseki has long declared his desire to seek another term in office before finally obtaining a nomination form during the week. He is being challenged by five other chieftains of his party for the gubernatorial ticket. The development climaxed months of raging political battle amidst claims that some prominent leaders of the party in the state are poised to stop the governor’s re-election bid on account of his disregard for the party and its leaders in his current term. “Now, it is clear that Obaseki will not be gifted the ticket. He will have to fight for it,” Elague said.
Worries amidst intrigues
Following Obaseki’s declaration to seek re-election and the decision of the APC faction believed to be loyal to Oshiomhole, to adopt a consensus candidate ahead of the primary election, many had looked forward to seeing only Obaseki and one other aspirant slugging it out for the ticket at the primary election slated to hold later this month. This position was further strengthened with the announcement by the Oshiomhole group that its screening committee has picked a former Secretary to Edo State Government (SSG), Osagie Ize-Iyamu, as a consensus candidate.
Ize-Iyamu was recently granted waiver to contest in the party’s gubernatorial primary election by the national leadership of APC. His clearance by the Oshiomhole-led NWC is still being challenged by the Obaseki faction of the party. The Nation learnt during the week that plans are in top gear by supporters of the governor to drag both Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu to court over the controversial waiver granted the later by the NWC. “The party is courting more trouble by the day. We are opposed to the waiver granted him (Ize-Iyamu) and we will challenge it legally,” a source vowed on Monday.
A state official of the party, Ikuenobe Anthony did not mince words in declaring that the waiver fell short of constitutional requirement of the party, cautioning against Ize-Iyamu’s participation in the primary election. According to him, article 31 of the party’s constitution gives only the NEC of the party the power to grant such waiver. But supporters of the former SSG pooh-poohed such argument, saying all is well with the clearance. “They should go and read the constitution well,” an ally of the aspirant said.
It didn’t take long for the promised legal fireworks to start. On Thursday, a Benin High Court rejected an exparte application seeking to restrain the APC from recognizing Ize-Iyamu as an aspirant in the party’s governorship primary election scheduled for June 22, 2020. The exparte motion was instituted in the court by Kenneth Asekomhe, the State Deputy Chairman of the party, Benjamin Oghumu, Mathew Ogbebor and Unweni Nosa. Defendants in the suit are the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Justice Emmanuel Ahamioje, the presiding judge who failed to grant the exparte motion of the plaintiffs, however, adjourned the matter to June 17, for the hearing of the substantive case. Ahamioje adjourned the case following the objections to the granting of the plaintiffs’ exparte motion by Henry Ogbodu (SAN) and West Ehigie Idahosa, counsel to the defendants. He, however, gave the defendants 10 days to file their reply while the plaintiffs were given two days to respond to the processes of the defendants.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Ken Mozia (SAN), had in an originating summons prayed the court to restrain Osagie Ize-Iyamu from parading himself as an aspirant entitled to participate in the primary election. Other demands of the plaintiffs are for the court to restrain APC from recognising Osagie Ize-Iyamu as its aspirant in the primary election as well as restraining the APC from granting a waiver to Osagie Ize-Iyamu to participate in the party’s forthcoming primary elections. The Nation gathered the Obaseki camp is working had to get a favourable judgement before June 22nd.
With Obaseki seemingly the sole candidate of his faction of the troubled party in Edo State, Ize-Iyamu was screened alongside other aspirants, including a former Minister of State for Works, Chris Ogiemwonyi; ex-Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr. Pius Odubu, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (rtd.) and Solomon Edebiri, who withdrew from the race before the screening proper by a committee headed by Senator Francis Alimikhena, the representative of Edo North Senatorial District. As stated earlier, he emerged the consensus choice.
But another twist was introduced into the unfolding political drama within the party when, contrary to expectations in most quarters that the stage was now set for a two horse race between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu in the primary election, six chieftains of the APC in Edo State stormed the party’s headquarters in Abuja to obtain nomination forms with each declaring readiness to compete in the June 22 primary election.
This development, according to Philips Ajayi, Edo State Coordinator of Democracy and Justice Centre (DJC), has further presented APC in the state as “grossly disunited and troubled ahead of the guber poll.”
Aside Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, other APC chieftains who obtained nomination forms in Abuja are Osaro Obaz, Dr. Pius Odubu, Matthew Iduoriyekemwe and Chris Ogiemwonyi. While Odubu and Ogiemwonyi participated and agreed to the process that produced Ize-Iyamu as a consensus candidate, Iduoriyekemwe is a well-known associate of Governor Obaseki.
“The emergence of these people as aspirants has further compounded the confusion going on within the APC and it is in the interest of the leaders of the party to wade in now,” Ajayi said while predicting a primary election that will be trailed by controversies.
But checks by The Nation suggest that the decision of some of the unexpected aspirants to remain in the race may not be without the consent of their various factions. According to a reliable party source, “these are actually part of the strategies being deployed to ensure that we leave nothing to chance in the forthcoming political battle.
We have discovered that the people we are up against have a lot of tricks up their sleeves and we don’t want to be caught unawares. There is no problem with our consensus arrangement at all. Just wait and see how things will turn out.”
The Nation gathered that following fears that the Obaseki camp may stop at nothing to get Ize-Iyamu out of the way even if he wins the primary election, it was decided that a fallback position must be created by the pro-Oshiomhole group so as not to leave the governor as the sole beneficiary of such occurrence.
“This is actually the reason for the aspiration of one or two other persons from our camp,” our source said, adding that, “also, we are aware of the fact that it is Governor Obaseki and his handlers that prompted Iduoriyekemwe to enter the race. We will beat them in their own game.”
Sources within the governor’s camp confirmed the claim about Iduoriyekemwe’s sudden aspiration to The Nation. “He is not working against Obaseki. They don’t know what they are saying. There is no crack within our walls. We have our strategies and that is one of it. At the appropriate time, you will understand what is happening,” our source said. Speaking on his aspiration, Iduoriyekemwe himself said, “I am in the race because the party denied the incumbent (Obaseki) the right of first refusal. Since the party has thrown open the race, I am also contesting.”
Meanwhile, all the six governorship aspirants have now returned their expression of interest and nomination forms for the party’s governorship primary. The National Organising Secretary, Emma Ibediro, received the nomination forms from the aspirants on behalf of the party’s NWC.
He said the party realised N135 million from the sale of the forms at N22.5 million each. This has put paid to any hope of the fierce struggle for the ticket being resolved as a family affair as being hoped for by some concerned chieftains. “Now, it is clear that we will go to the primaries and fight ourselves before the major political war. I hope this will not tear us into pieces before the general election,” Elague lamented.
But in spite of claims by the aspirants and their factions that they are all committed to a peaceful primary election, there are strong indications that the process may be marred by violence and more crises.
With the disagreement and bad blood between Obaseki and his erstwhile political godfather, Oshiomhole, worsening by the day, it is left to be seen how supporters of the duo would be refrained from charging at each other soon.
Ajayi, who has been involved in mobilizing the people of the state for a rancor-free election, said if stakeholders don’t find a way to reassure the voters, apathy may mar the process.
“The current situation is not good for the party. But it is Obaseki who has the major work to do if he loves the party. He is the governor and Oshiomhole remains his leader. What is expected of him is to go from leader to leader, and beg. Obaseki should not be too big to beg. Without these people, he cannot remain as governor.
During the last presidential election, Obaseki lost his unit, ward, local council area, his House of Representatives Constituency seat and lost his Edo South Senatorial District seat even as a sitting governor. So, those hailing him aren’t telling him the truth and his stance is a threat to the victory of APC,” he said.
But it appears the governor thinks otherwise as he is still hauling verbal missiles at Oshiomhole even as he is faced with the task of fighting the fiercest electoral battle of his life.
On Thursday, after what sources claimed were days of moving round in his bid to force the NWC to change the mode of primary election from direct to indirect without success, the Edo State governor warned the party’s National Chairman, who has a voting right at the primary, to stay away from on the day of election to avoid crisis. He suspects Oshiomhole of planning to influence the process.
“I’m calling on Oshiomhole to recuse self from the Edo governorship process because he is an interested party. It is against natural justice for a man to be a judge in his own case,” he said. He equally faulted the decision of the NWC to adopt the direct primary mode in Edo.
Insisting that the APC NWC cannot impose on the state, he said “the NEC is the one that is responsible for picking the kind of primary that is used to determine the candidate of a party in a governorship election.”
But Oshiomhole has insisted that there is no going back on the decision to adopt direct mode of primary election in his home state come June 22. According to him, the decision was backed by the party’s constitution.
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Speaking with journalists at the party’s secretariat in Abuja, after the NWC meeting with some governors of the party, the National Chairman denied any opposition to the decision by any aspirant in Edo State. He added that there has not been any letter submitted by Obaseki to protest the APC NWC decision.
“Obaseki is not here but issues of primaries are well spelt out in our constitution and we are following it as strictly as possible. So, nothing to worry about at all. You are speculating (on Obaseki’s rejection of direct primaries), I don’t have any letter or document to that effect. These are very formal matters. Stop spreading (speculations?),” he said.
This is just as several newspaper reports claimed that Oshiomhole and the NWC had rebuffed appeals by some governors on behalf of Obaseki to have the indirect mode of primary election in the state. “If it is true that Oshiomhole refused the request made by the governors on behalf of Obaseki, then the face-off between the duo is obviously far from over,” a party leader said on Thursday.
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