Edo 2016: Matters arising after the primaries
In Edo State, things are taking shape politically. The first round of what promises to be a major political four-round bout, has held: the governorship primaries. All eyes were on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC’s) primary, where the outgoing incumbent and former labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, scored a bulls eye. His preferred candidate and former aide, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, snatched victory at the coattails of the governor. From the way he went about ensuring the choice of who succeeds him, Governor Oshiomhole did not leave any one in doubt that he was prepared to apply any rough arm tactics. As such, the APC governorship primary was not expected to produce a unanimous verdict.
The challenge of the process and outcome by two of the eleven other gubernatorial aspirants, Chief Chris Ogiemwonyi and the rice man, Kenneth Imasuagbon, means that Oshiomhole has put his choice on the line. And the electioneering campaigns in addition to promises and programme outline by candidate Obaseki would reveal if he is a mere stooge or capable of holding his forte as governor of Edo State. The other side of the challenge for the astute economist is how he defends his candidacy against the general perception that he is Oshiomhole’s protégé. How will Edo respond to an Oshiomhole as godfather?
In rejecting Obaseki’s return as winner of the governorship primary, both Ogiemwonyi and Imasuagbon alleged that the 1,618 votes credited to Oshiomhole’s candidate was a product of electronic fraud that has little bearing on the actual preference of the delegates. The petitioners, whose total tally was 384, believe that given his perceived shadowy political clout, Obaseki could not have garnered such votes from the delegates, most of who confessed that they voted differently. Now, the question is, could these delegates come out in the open to testify enmasse or seek to appear as hooded witnesses before the appeal committee?
It would be recalled that shortly before the June 18 governorship primary at the Samuel Ogbemudia Township Stadium, the governor was accused of inducing delegates to vote for a particular candidate. Again, while the delegates voted, Imasuagbon challenged Oshiomhole to keep to his seat, wondering why he should be gallivanting all over the place when he should be a passive participant in the election. The spontaneity with which the two petitioners addressed a press after storming out of the venue seems to confer some measure of credibility to their claims.
Although 2,873 delegates were expected for the primary election, chairman of the primary committee, Governor Aminu Masarin of Katsina State disclosed a total of 2,582 were accredited to take part in the election. On the shadow of the doubt expressed by Ogienwonyi and Imasuagbon, it would be seen in the course of the appeal committee sitting whether the feat of scoring 1, 618 out of 2, 582 was merited by Obaseki or conferred, especially against the background of the array of heavyweight juggernauts that participated in the exercise, some of who no doubt, must have run as mere pretenders.
Apart from the petitioners, others on the ballot for the APC governorship primary included, incumbent deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu; former governor, Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor, and a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the 2012 election, Major General Charles Airhiavbere (retd.), former national president of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele; Tina Agbarha, Blessing Agbomere, Emmanuel Arigbe-Osula, Prof. Ebegue Amadasun and Austin Emuan.
Given the fact that most of the aspirants were defectors from the opposition PDP, it is possible that delegates did not take them serious or did not believe they are serious to serve the state, rather than their political interests. The outcome of the primary was humbling as it gave the impression that most of the aspirants did not enjoy the confidence of even delegates from their home council areas. Edo has 18 local government councils.
However, prior to the governorship primary, there were speculations that most of the aspirants alongside the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had planned to rally round Oshiomhole’s deputy, Dr. Odubu, to teach the governor a political lesson. If such a plan was feasible, it ended up as an anti-climax. Odubu was able to score a paltry 471, thereby putting a hallo of doubt on the suspense generated by his decision to contest the governorship against the desire and designs of his principal.
Odubu had remained silent after the primary, leaving no clue as to what could be his next move. However, despite his philosophical disposition, could it be that Ogiemwonyi and Imasuagbon are echoing Odubu’s heart by fighting a proxy battle for the cancellation of the governorship primary? That could be plausible against the background of the possibility that should the campaign bear fruit, Odubu would benefit by having another chance to surprise his principal and in the event of a loss, the two would have extracted some concessions from the party so that in the event of ultimate victory in September 10, they would be compensated.
Addressing a joint press conference in Abuja, Ogiemwonyi and Imasuagbon prayed the APC NWC and the party Governorship Primary Appeal Committee for a repeat of the exercise or another round of sorting of all the ballot papers used for the primaries. They even suggested a forensic analysis of the ballot papers and fingerprints on them.
The two petitioners said the appeal was necessitated by claims from a majority of the delegates that the ballot papers used for the primaries were compromised, insisting that only a thorough investigation of the source and credibility of the ballot papers could guarantee the credibility of the process.
While stressing their preference for a criminal investigation, the disaffected aspirants also accused the governor of high-handedness and victimization.
They pointed at the suspension of some ward chairmen, removal of Orhionmwon local government council party chairman, Mr. Matthew Ehigie, and the unlawful suspension of Mr. Gentleman Amegor, the Edo South Senatorial chairman of the party, as part of the bullish tactics employed by the incumbent to return his anointed candidate.
Politics may indeed be the art of the possible. But in the Edo instance and given the war chest available to the incumbent, all the dust raised against Obaseki’s emergence as APC governorship flag bearer would disappear as smoke before harmattan wind. There is however a remote possibility that the aggrieved aspirants may swallow their pride and tag along without considering a defection, but work behind the scene for another candidate against the former chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team becoming governor.
Expectedly, APC, alongside the outgoing governor would move in to douse the bitter breath spewed by the governorship primary, by dangling some carrots to ensure that the party works as a team to face the challenge posed by the opposition. A signal to such an eventuality came when the state’s APC publicity secretary, Godwin Erhahon, released a statement barely 24 hours after the primary, asking the aggrieved aspirants to “forgive all pre-primary offences and cooperate as members of one family to mobilise voters for the party in the forthcoming governorship election.” The publicity secretary noted that the party and its government in Edo State will strive to heal all wounds and pains, be they physical (fiscal?) and emotional.
A lot depends on how soon the rapprochement would take place, because if passions continue to remain high, ego will set in, thereby imperiling every strategy for damage control. For instance, Ogiemwonyi had during the session with journalists decried the desperation of the state government to impose Obaseki at all costs. “We were never against the decision of Governor Oshiomhole, but we were worried with the plans and action of those that were claiming to be acting on his instructions to impose Godwin Obaseki at all costs,” he explained, pointing out the alleged intimidation of delegates and seizure of their Permanent Voter Cards by “agents of the State Government.”
The former minister of state for works disclosed that the intimidation of the delegates by the government sharply increased few days to the primary, when he said delegates were arrested and conveyed into different camps and temporal prisons. While he accused Oshiomhole of interfering with the voting process, Ogiemwonyi also disclosed how some individuals that were not delegates were smuggled into the venue of the election, under the “full control” of the government.
But in tone much like echoing the belief that all was fair in love and war, Governor Oshiomhole denied the allegations, including the seizure of PVCs; choosing rather to shift attention to the next phase of the battle on September 10, 2016, when the entire state would be battle ground.
Perhaps, contrasting the number of delegates that chose the candidate of the opposition PDP with that of APC, Oshiomhole declared that PDP was as light as a loaf of bread. As days go by, leading to the ultimate rumble of September, it would be seen whether the governor was looking at the body instead of the engine of the vehicle conveying Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the PDP governorship flag bearer.
Osagie-Iyamu versus Sheriff
THE leadership squabbles in the opposition PDP may prove unsettling to the party’s determination to re-assert its dominance of Edo. Less than 48 hours after the emergence of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu (POI) as the winner of the governorship primary election organised by Governor David Umahi electoral committee, the embattled former national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, declared the exercise as illegal. He pointed out that the electoral committee was put together by the illegal caretaker committee headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, adding that the ‘party’ would set up the authentic committee to conduct valid primary to choose the governorship candidate for Edo State.
Sheriff, who addressed his letter of protest to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), through the National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, pleaded with the commission not to grant legitimacy to the nomination of Ize-Iyamu, saying that the party was yet to inaugurate the congress committee.
But while Sheriff described the PDP caretaker committee as an illegality, he announced the elevation of some deputy national officers into National Working Committee to acting capacity. The action, which he described as being pursuant to the party’s constitution, may further throw up new arguments about the composition of the NWC.
Consequently, the build up to the forthcoming Edo State governorship poll may be a testing ground for PDP’s cycle of absurd propositions. Although Ize-Iyamu saw the governorship election in the state as a golden opportunity for the party to activate the aspirations and hope of Edo people, his emergence also left some trails of discontentment.
As in APC, Ize-Iyamu’s two rivals, Dr. Solomon Edebiri and Matthew Iduoriyemwem kicked against the outcome of the primary election. While Iduoriyemwem was said to have scored 91 votes, the chairman of the electoral committee, Umahi, said Edebiri got 38 votes and Ize-Iyamu had 584 out of the 713 delegates that turned up for the exercise.
Expressing misgivings about the result, Iduoriyemwem and Edebiri explained that they walked out of the venue before the declaration of result because they learnt that the state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, breathed down on delegates, corralling them to vote for Ize-Iyamu or lose their standing as delegates.
Edebiri said Orbih had pre-informed him that he (Edebiri) would not get the PDP ticket because he worked against him during the state congress when he contested the post of chairman. He disclosed that Orbih began the preceding week to dish directives to party leaders to ensure that they delivered Ize-Iyamu as the PDP governorship candidate, adding that the primary was a conspiracy hatched by the party leadership to impose Ize-Iyamu on the party.
Though Umahi underscored the need for the aspirants to line behind the winner and work as a family to face the main election, he assured that in the absence of an incumbent, PDP governors would give them necessary support.
Edo is the only state in the South/South geopolitical zone out of the PDP umbrella, but other governors in the zone have declared their resolve to win back the state during the September 10 poll. Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who was on the electoral committee, renewed that resolution when he said: “Edo State has always been a PDP state and it will go back to PDP this time. You will never be intimidated.”
On his part, exuding confidence and joy at his eventual emergence as PDP flag bearer, POI noted that a time some people thought PDP was finished, it has shown strength. His words: “The real battle will be in the days and weeks ahead. I want to assure you that we will not fail. There can be no continuity; Oshiomhole’s eight years have come an end.”
That sounds as the final beagle for the impending showdown. All eyes would now be trained on APC and PDP as they wage another proxy political warfare, this time in Edo. And given the way the APC candidate emerged, greater stress and scrutiny would be placed on his every move to know whether he would gel with the masses or tend more towards his god-master. Does he possess tongue-tricks or would he remain ramrod as a technocrat?
Aside, would Edo people look at the candidates in isolation of their backers? In such a likely scenario, Oshiomhole would find that he created undue pressures for his protégé. Obaseki should also know that he has been programmed to bear the cross and crown of the outgoing governor. Oshiomhole shunned modesty in his right to prosecute his succession plan and that may affect politicking in the search for his eventual successor.
Already, Obaseki has announced that there would be a seamless transition by November when he takes office. But despite that optimism, darts have started flying against his ambition to succeed his benefactor. Distraught members of Oshiomhole government are said to be peeved that their master settled for the former chairman of Edo Economic Development Committee, saying that the candidate lacks capacity to govern the state.
But what would prove an intriguing distraction is the recent knee-jerk resignation of former Director General of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Osaro Onaiwu and defection to All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), for the sake of contesting the governorship on that platform.
While many people are left wondering where that one is coming from, Onaiwu cited the leadership crisis in PDP as reason for his sudden about face. Is it possible that he is on a holding stay in APGA? Who could he be standing in for? More of such drama would yet unfold as Edo people get set to prove their famed political maturity.