As the date for the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary draws nearer, gladiators in the Edo State chapter of the party, including Governor Godwin Obaseki, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Simeon Odubu among others, are making preparations for the final showdown to clinch the party’s ticket.
It is going to be a foretaste of the main battle in which no fewer than 18 political parties have so far expressed readiness to participate in the governorship polls that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled for September 19, 2020.
Stakeholders have expressed preparedness for the exercise, just as INEC maintains that there will be no room for postponement of the election. INEC Public Relations Officer in Edo State, Mrs. Tina Obamogie, disclosed that though the guidelines are in place, there are other areas of interface with political parties to fine-tune strategies for a hitch-free primaries.
She said though most of the umpire’s meetings and interactions with the political parties are virtual, adding that the commission’s election party monitoring department is in touch with the 18 political parties in the state.
With INEC guidelines in place, Publicity Secretary APC Edo State, Pastor Joseph Osagiede, said the party had three methods of primaries, emphasising that the indirect mode of selection as ratified by the party’s National Executive Committee would determine the emergence of its governorship candidate.
On his part, Edo State PDP Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, said irrespective of the interruption of the party’s activities by the Covid-19 pandemic, the party was working out modalities for hitch-free primaries.
According to INEC’s timetable for Edo State governorship election, collection of forms by political parties commences at INEC headquarters on 16 June. Conduct of party primaries, including resolution of disputes arising from the primaries is on 6 July while political parties are to commence campaigns in public on 21 July 2020 amongst other activities.
To this end, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has announced Monday, June 22 and Monday, July 20 for its governorship primary elections in Edo and Ondo States.
According to APC National Organizing Secretary, Emma Ibediro, the cost of its nomination and expression of interest forms is for N22.5 million cumulatively.
While there is no separate charge for running mates, female and physically challenged aspirants were, however, given a 50 per cent rebate.
National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, who in a statement said, “The Commission deliberated extensively on a policy framework that will guide its operations, activities and engagements with critical stakeholders in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the electoral process in Nigeria, reassured Nigerians of it’s resolve and determination to provide the requisite guidance, innovation and leadership in conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on this, the commission will on Thursday, 21 May 2020 issue a policy framework for engagement with stakeholders, the conduct of the two end of tenure governorship elections, outstanding bye elections and future electoral activities.
“The commission reiterated its commitment to conduct the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections on 19 September and 10 October 2020 as contained in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities released on 6 February 2020.
“The commission is committed to fulfilling its constitutional responsibility of conducting elections but without jeopardizing the health and wellbeing of citizens, stakeholders or its valued staff.
“The Commission will accelerate consultations and engagements with political parties, civil society organizations, security agencies and health authorities as soon as its Policy Framework is finalized this week.
“We again urge everyone to remain safe and healthy by complying with all the guidelines and protocols issued by the health authorities”. With all now set for the battle for the soul of Edo State, there is no gainsaying that tension is mounting among supporters of both factions loyal to Governor Godwin Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and immediate past governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September 28, 2016 poll, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu ahead of the APC guber primary scheduled to hold in the coming days.
Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu cannot forget the month of September easily as they faced each other in what could be described as the most interesting guber contest which saw Obaseki emerge Governor on September 28, 2016 polls in the state.
With another September in the offing, promising to be the battle of the titans in the state, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu would see another fight to finish as they patiently work and pray in earnest to see who the odds will favour come September 19th.
Obaseki, who is the incumbent governor of the state and on a mission to rescue Edo from leaders and party strongmen determined to return the state to the days of abysmal failure by his predecessors, having fought hard to bring to an end the era of godfathers in the state, amidst outcry by political proponents opposed to his governance style.
Ize-Iyamu, who is perceived to be anointed as a consensus candidate from among the four guber aspirants loyal to the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, is counting on support from powerful forces from outside the state and APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Obaseki, who appears undaunted by his political detractors, has remained committed in his service to the people, without losing sleep over the plot to deny him a second term ticket for re-election. Obaseki and his supporters have waged war against all perceived political opponents and camps against his government and his re-election bid leading to the sack of many of his aides, commissioners and appointees in his government.
The sacked commissioners were alleged to be loyalists of the APC’s national chairman; they include Joseph Ugheoke (Energy and Water Resources) and Osahon Amiolemen (Commissioner for Infrastructure). Others were Dr. David Osifo (Health), Mika Amanokha (Youths and Special Duties), Mariam Abubakar (Budget), Emmanuel Usoh (Wealth Creation, Cooperatives and Employment), Dr. Christopher Adesotu (Science and Technology).
The Obaseki-led government immediately nominated the following persons as replacement for appointment as commissioners – Damian Lawani, Joe Ikpea, Felix Akhabue, Moses Agbakor, Momoh Oise Omorogbe, and Marie Edeko, with others appointed Special Advisers including Magdalene Ohenhen, Osaigbovo Iyoha, Andrew Momodu and Ojo Asien, who could stand as his most trusted and loyal men and women in the fight ahead .
Obaseki had, in the wake of the crisis in the state, accused Oshiomhole of being behind his many travails and plots to deny him a second term in office based on the rift between the duo.
But Oshiomhole, having lost interest in his former godson, Obaseki, to return for a second term, had found new friends who he seems to now favour despite the fact that among these newfound friends were those who were once his biggest nightmare apparently being in the opposition during the general election in the state.
Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, until the return of the latter to the APC, were two politicians who were at daggers drawn, and had nothing in common until Oshiomhole welcomed Ize-Iyamu into the ruling party, a move perceived by many as a political vendetta against Obaseki.
Ize-Iyamu, who defected to the APC officially last November, was received by the former deputy governor of Edo State, Odubu, who represented Oshiomhole at his GRA residence in the state capital. Odubu, who is a top contender for the governorship ticket, had been penciled down as a favourite candidate and replacement of Obaseki by a faction of the APC loyal to Oshiomhole but the odds seems not to favour him the way things stand.
The four major aspirants namely, Chris Ogiemwonyi, Odubu, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (rtd) and Ize-Iyamu, who belong to a political camp working against the re-election bid of Governor Obaseki have intensified effort to clinch the APC guber ticket against all odds. But Ize-Iyamu, who defected to the APC seven months, has become a threat to other aspirants in the APC faction loyal to Oshiomhole.
Describing the defection of Ize-Iyamu to the APC in November 2019, Comrade Oshiomhole said his return to the ruling party was a plus for the APC. He said Ize-Iyamu’s arrival has helped the party gain more supporters and strength in the forthcoming governorship elections to hold in September.
According to Oshiomhole, “As I stand here now, I am taller now than I was just yesterday, because we have harvested to our party, people who were part of the foundation of the APC. Those who participated in the negotiation for the merger; not only have they returned home, they have also used their connection in the other party they were in to move people who have always been on that side to come and join us.”
In the build up to the party’s primary election, a mock primary was held at the residence of a chieftain of the party and former deputy governor of the state, Lucky Imasuen where a consensus candidate arrangement was reached.
Though the outcome of the meeting wasn’t favourable to some party leaders following disagreements by the delegates, it was widely reported that the exercise ended in deadlock.
Some delegates who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity said the exercise initially didn’t get the endorsement of all and sundry including some top aspirants jostling for the APC gubernatorial ticket.
Sources revealed that the reason for the disagreement was not farfetched as it concerned the emergence of the last defector into the party as the consensus candidate.
They argued that the exercise was not transparent, hence the need for it to be rescheduled to enable leaders take stock of all that transpired and avoid a repeat.
Among issues raised by those opposed to the emergence of Ize-Iyamu during the mock primary of the APC faction under the auspices of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), were incidences of alleged invasion, while some other attendees claimed “heavy financial inducement” by two of the aspirants.
Dismissing any act of misconduct and irregularities, a staunch supporter of one of the contestants, Henry Idahagbon, nevertheless denied the alleged invasion, and claims of “heavy financial inducement” by two of the aspirants. Idahagbon said the meeting deadlocked for “lack of transparency” by the organisers.
His words: “In their attempt to choose a consensus candidate, the meeting ended in a deadlock because the process was not transparent. We have only asked that the leadership should go back to the drawing board to make it transparent.”
Insisting that no sponsored hoodlums disrupted proceedings, Idahagbon added: “All the four aspirants came together and addressed the leadership about their concerns. Thereafter, they left.
“The leadership adjourned the sitting and they reconvened at 1:00pm at another location. There were no thugs, no intimidation. The meeting ended with fun, backslapping and laughter. We are all friends. There was no rancour whatsoever.”
An APC governorship candidate in the Edo governorship elections, Airhiavbere, said the decision to reschedule the butchered primary of a faction of the All Progressives Congress APC in the state was to ensure transparency in the process for the emergence of a consensus candidate.
Airhiavbere, who debunked reports that he had withdrawn from the governorship race, said the four major aspirants jostling for the APC governorship ticket are not engaged in any rivalry or disagreement but united in their efforts to wrestle power from the Obaseki-led government.
He maintained that all the four must present a common front to confront Obaseki if they must succeed in their task for a change in the governorship of Edo State. Airhiavbere also said he had no reason to withdraw from contesting the election, scheduled for September 19, noted that he was very much in the race regardless of the outcome of the butchered mock primary, which was unfavorable to him.
“We are going ahead with consensus candidacy arrangements,” he said. “Nobody emerged because we could not gather in view of the social distancing policy of government.”
On the strength of the arguments for and against the APC mock primary by the faction of the party which left some of the aspirants divided amonst themselves, the Edo chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) vowed to arrest and quarantine of all the four aspirants by the relevant health authorities after holding a mock gubernatorial primary with members of 20 in attendance in alleged violation of government’s social distancing order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.
Edo State publicity secretary of the party, Osagiede, said the ruling party had contacted the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to search for the participants and isolate them accordingly for “defying government’s regulations on public gathering of more than 20 persons in the state after it held her mock primary.
Osagiede said, “The information did not reach us in time that there was such a gathering. By the time the information got to us, they had started fighting within themselves and that was what led to their dispersing. We have since informed the NCDC, whose responsibility it is to arrest, quarantine and isolate them to determine if they are safe to be in the society.”
The four aspirants who expressed dissatisfaction over the move to ensure they were arrested and quarantined by relevant health authorities, have challenged Obaseki over alleged evidence of gathering of 50 people at the mock primary.
According to the factional group Obaseki should stop dragging the name of Oshiomhole into the mock primary, saying he was not involved. One of the party’s leaders and APC governorship aspirant had, in a statement, said, “We, the under-listed represent the several thousands of APC leaders, stakeholders and members in Edo State whose determination to replace Mr. Godwin Obaseki in the forthcoming gubernatorial election is unwavering.
“Our attention has been severally drawn to publications by Governor Godwin Obaseki and his agents in a section of the press, alleging that the National Chairman of APC, organized a “mock primary” in Edo State on April 30, 2020, purportedly to pick a candidate for the Gubernatorial election in Edo State.
“He further alleged that the meeting had over 50 persons in attendance, thereby flouting his government’s directives on the fight against Covid-19 pandemic in the state.
“We hereby vehemently deny any involvement of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in our activities. We also state emphatically that there was no crowded meeting of 20 persons or more by this body of APC leaders anywhere in Edo State in recent time.
“We hereby challenge Mr. Godwin Obaseki to prove his allegation of a crowded “meeting of more than 50 persons” by releasing a video of such event. The twisted narrative by Mr. Obaseki is meant to drag the National Chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole’s name into our activities in order to blackmail him.
“Given these and many other destructive tendencies, we, as respected leaders of the party, are consulting among ourselves and we will come up with one of the many aspirants, whom we will mobilize and vote for at the forthcoming primaries in June to replace Mr. Godwin Obaseki.”
Another chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo state, Mr. Tony Audun, also known as Kabaka, has said that only the emergence of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the APC candidate would guarantee victory for the party at the poll, because according to him, Ize-Iyamu has his supporters spread across the three senatorial districts of the state.
“If we don’t want to lose the governorship election, Edo State APC leaders should wake up from your slumber. I cannot fight for the present (Obaseki) government to come on board. And be fighting again for my party to stand. A lot of members of the opposition parties are waiting for Ize-Iyamu to pick the APC ticket so that they will defect to the party.
“People will say, Pastor just returned to the party. It is not like that; it’s by his contacts across the three senatorial districts in the State. I remember when we all joined hands to campaign to bring Obaseki on board in 2016, it was very difficult for us to succeed.
“If we don’t want to gamble with this election, Ize-Iyamu is the right candidate. When we joined hands to fight him in 2016, we won with a narrow escape. Now a lot of persons are now on the side of Ize-Iyamu. If you love your party and not your interest, you should join Pastor.”
Ize-Iyamu, who is seeking the party’s ticket to contest the state’s governorship election billed for September, has assured that there will be no hard feelings should he lose in the party’s primary scheduled for June 22nd. A statement by his campaign organisation in Benin City said Ize-Iyamu has resolved to offer full support to whoever emerges winner at the primary, adding that he would abide by the party’s decision of the process.
Governor Obaseki’s travail and gang up by a few politicians he described as greedy and disgruntled plotting to deny him a re-election is not unconnected with the inauguration of 10 out of the 24 members of the state House of Assembly and alleged outburst not to share tax payers’ money to party leaders among others.
Fourteen members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly are yet to be inaugurated even though they have demanded presidential intervention into the crisis rocking the Assembly with no headway. The affected lawmakers-elect had accused Obaseki of crossing what they termed ‘the red line’.
They also claimed that the governor was a threat to democracy, while faulting the inauguration of 10 out of the 24 members of the House by the governor.
The yet-to-be inaugurated lawmakers elect, who did not hide their disaffection for the governor, also accused Obaseki of working against the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the symbol of democracy represented by the legislature, adding that he must not be allowed to continue for a second term in office.