As Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu Square off on Edo Governorship

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Adibe Emenyonu writes on the emergence of Godwin Obaseki and Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the main candidates in the September 10 governorship election in Edo State

Although, there are other political parties gunning for the occupancy of Osadebe Avenue, the seat of government in Edo State, the two dominant parties are the ruling All Progressives Congress in the state and the Peoples Democratic Party. On June 18, APC conducted its party governorship primaries amid tension. At the end of the exercise, Godwin Obaseki, currently chairman of the Edo State Economic Team, beat 11 other aspirants, to emerge the APC governorship candidate.

‘Dark Horse’
Regarded as a dark horse in political circles, Obaseki beat prominent aspirants, like the deputy governor of the state, Dr. Pius Odubu; former governor of the state, Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor; former Minister of State for Works, Dr. Chris Ogiemwonyi; PDP candidate in the 2012 governorship election in the state, who later defected to APC, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere; political maverick, Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon, otherwise known as “rice man”; and former president of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Peter Esele.

Obaseki scored a total of 1,608 votes to clinch a victory, while Odubu got 471 votes. Imansuangbon got 247 votes, Ogiemwonyi 137 votes, Airhiavbere 11 votes, Paula 10 votes, Osunbor nine votes, Esele and Amadasun, eight votes each, Agbomhere five votes, and the only woman in the race, Justina Agbara, three votes.

According to chairman of the APC governorship primaries committee, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, a total of 2,771 delegates were on the list, while 2,582 delegates were actually accredited and voted in the election.

Peace Strategy
Many people had envisaged crisis before, during and after accreditation of delegates and subsequent voting. But such was averted following an innovation introduced by the electoral committee to conduct accrediting at three different locations before voting at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City.

For instance, delegates from Edo South senatorial district were accredited at Agbado Primary School, along Akpakpava road, Benin City. Their counterparts from Edo Central had their accreditation done at Idah Primary School, Obama road, GRA, while the North senatorial district delegates were accredited at Inaguero College, Sapele road, all in the state capital, Benin City. With this arrangement and the efforts of the various security agencies, it became difficult for the thugs to operate freely. Moves to truncate the exercise were, thus, thwarted.

Emulation
On June 20, PDP conducted its governorship primary in a similar fashion as APC at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, where Pastor Osagie-Iyamu was declared winner and, thus, candidate of the party with a total vote of 584 votes. PDP also adopted the APC model of accreditation of delegates at three different locations, namely, Okada House, Urubi Street for delegates from Edo South, JB Estate, GRA for delegates from Edo North, and the state party secretariat at First East Circular road for delegates from Edo Central.

Ize-Iyamu defeated other two aspirants, the president of Nigeria Institute of Welders, Dr. Solomon Edebiri, who came third with 38 votes, and two-time state lawmaker and former commissioner representing Edo State on the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, who scored with 91 votes.

Battle Line
Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu are set to do battle with each other on September 10 over who becomes the next governor of Edo State after Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

Ize-Iyamu, a great mobiliser of votes, no doubt, secured the votes of the PDP delegates because of his antecedents. In 2007, he was instrumental to the formation of Grace Group with the slogan “No Man Is God”, which later fussed with the then Advanced Congress of Democrats, Action Congress, which later became Action Congress of Nigeria, the platform on which Oshiomhole contested and won the governorship election. ACN later merged with All Nigeria Peoples Party and Congress for Progressive Change as well as factions of All Progressives Grand Alliance and Democratic Peoples Party to form APC.

When Ize-Iyamu left APC and went back to PDP, the party hierarchy, which hitherto did not want to see him because of the role he played in the 2007 governorship election, accepted him as a force that could give the Oshiomhole-led APC a run for their money. That was why during the primaries, he was said to have been favoured by the party’s leaders, who, as gathered, instructed delegates to ensure he won the delegates election.

That alleged instruction was behind the anger of the other two contestants in the race. They saw it as a betrayal because, according to them, Ize-Iyamu, though a member of the party prior to 2007 general election, had left the party since then only to reappear last year because he could not fulfil his governorship aspiration in APC.

A handsome young man and pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church, Ize-Iyamu says he is ready to upset the apple cart to favour PDP. In his acceptance speech, he boasted that the days of APC in Edo was over, adding that the September 10 election is PDP’s chance to keep the aspiration and hope of the people alive.

Odds Against Ize-Iyamu
But a former Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Government of Edo State during the administration of Chief Lucky Igbinedion, who is widely believed to have grossly underperformed, Ize-Iyamu has a lot of explanations to make to convince the Edo electorate that he would be better than his former boss.

Besides, Ize-Iyamu would have a difficult time convincing the other aspirants, who are aggrieved, to work with him in the battle ahead. Shortly after the declaration of the result of the primaries, one of the contestants, Edebiri, declared that the result as unacceptable, alleging that the state executive of the party, led by Chief Dan Orbih, coerced delegates into voting for Ize-Iyamu. Edebiri said the exercise was a conspiracy by the leadership of the party in the state to impose Ize-Iyamu.

According to Edebiri, “Orbih threatened few weeks ago that he will make sure that I do not get the ticket because he accused me of working against him during the party chairmanship congress. He promised that he will ensure I do not get the ticket. Last week, he started giving directives to party leaders to deliver Pastor Ize-Iyamu.

“Even last night, my coordinator in Akoko Edo refused to come to Benin because his leader told him that the leadership of the party directed that Pastor should be delivered. And he did not come. People sent me text on the pitch that Orbih was telling people where to vote. Even the leadership of the party, I drew their attention to it. It is a conspiracy of the leadership of the party to impose Pastor on the party. I do not see why I should celebrate falsehood; Orbih is not a fair leader. He threatened to do it and he did it. If anybody wins without interruption then it is fine but this one is unacceptable to me.”

Ize-Iyamu is also currently is enmeshed in controversy over a N700 million 2015 presidential election campaign fund that came to Edo State, which was allegedly signed by him. Severally in the build up to the party primaries, he had been invited along with other leaders of the PDP in the state for explanations regarding the money.

Another odd against Ize-Iyamu and PDP in Edo State is that there is currently no clear-cut leadership of the party at the national level following the crisis that has engulf it. As it is, the gladiators in the war of attrition, ousted national chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and newly appointed national caretaker committee chairman, Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi, have vowed to fight on. And concerns are mounting over the effect of the crisis on the party, especially, during the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.

Unfavourable Conditions for Obaseki
Obaseki also has his own problems. Nearly all those that contested the primaries with him feel he is a usurper who is not well grounded in politics. He is believed to have been unduly helped by Oshiomhole.
Before the primaries, there were accusations and counter accusations among the contestants regarding the propriety or otherwise of the aspiration of Obaseki. Some said he was not a party man and politician, but only a technocrat who by chance found himself in government as chairman, Edo State Economic Team.

There was protest by other contestants when Obaseki was declared winner of the primaries. Those who championed the protest were Ogiemwonyi and Imansuangbon. During a joint press briefing, the two contestants declared their rejection of the result. They called on the national leadership of APC and the party’s Primary Appeal Panel to order a repeat and a forensic analysis of all the ballot papers used at the primaries. They alleged that the ballot papers used for the primaries had been compromised.

“A criminal investigation has become necessary because the party members hold the view strongly that no one individual or group should be allowed to destroy the good image of APC and its leadership that is committed to free and fair primaries, internal democracy and democratisation in Nigeria,” Ogiemwonyi and Imansuangbon stated.

They also accused agents of the state government of victimising party officials and delegates believed not to be in support of the governor’s anointed aspirant before and during the primaries. Ogiemwonyi and Imansuangbon claimed that some of the acts of victimisations included the suspension of some ward chairmen, removal of Orhionmwon local government party chairman, Mr. Matthew Ehigie, and suspension of APC Edo South senatorial chairman, Mr. Gentleman Amegor.

They also cited alleged attempts by agents of the Edo State government to substitute names of authentic delegates for the primaries.
Ogiemwonyi and Imansuangbon stated, “We are grateful to the national leadership of our party, because the inability of these agents of Edo State to achieve their subversive aim as listed above, was as a result of the principled stand and determination of the national leadership to sustain internal democracy in our party and ensure the conduct of transparent primaries.

“However, and most sadly, these agents of Edo State government were not ready to give up their desperate ambition to impose a candidate on all good men and women of APC. Surprisingly, the next step of these agents was to forcefully seize the Permanent Voter Cards of APC delegates for the gubernatorial primaries.

“There was never a time APC delegates voluntarily and willingly surrendered their PVCs to these agents of Edo State government. All the PVCs that were obtained were by the process of the application of the coercive apparatus of Edo State government.

“The intimidation of APC delegates by Edo State government heightened few days to the gubernatorial primaries, when the APC delegates were arrested and conveyed to different locations that served as camps and temporary prisons. The delegates were not allowed to communicate with the outside world and regular sermons were delivered to them by their captors, on the dangers that will befall them if they refused to vote the anointed candidate, if and whenever they are released.”

It was, however, gathered that the inability of the other 11 aspirants to drop their ambitions for a single person to slot it out with Obaseki was what robbed them of victory.

Reconciliation
The APC leadership has begun a reconciliation move to douse tension and assuage the grievances of the aspirants and members.The move, THISDAY learnt, is not unconnected with the advice of the governor of Katsina State and chairman of the election committee, Masari, who during the submission of his committee’s report to the national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, strongly recommended reconciliation among the APC family in Edo State.

First to be met in the fence-mending exercise by Obaseki was Odubu. He was visited by Obaseki, his campaign director general, Mr. Ogie, and some leaders of APC. At the meeting, the deputy governor was said to have given his words to his visitors that he will not leave the party, pledging that as a true party man, he is ready to work for the party and its candidate in the September 10 election. Odubu, reportedly, assured that what was paramount now was ensuring victory for the party and its candidate

However, a source said Odubu advised Obaseki and the party leaders to quickly move to reconcile aggrieved party members, especially the victimised ones.
Another team, comprising the governor and the state working committee, is said to have concluded plans to also meet with the deputy governor and other aggrieved persons.

According to the five-page report of the Masari committee, “There is an urgent need for the party to set up a high-powered reconciliation team to meet with the state governor, all aspirants and other stakeholders in order to strengthen the party and restore harmony for a successful election.”
APC in the state has inaugurated a reconciliation committee to reach out to members who may feel aggrieved by the outcome of the governorship primaries. Chairman of the party in the state, Mr. Anselm Ojezua, said in a statement that the committee was chaired by Prince Malik Afegbua, a member of the party’s Board of Trustees. Other members of the reconciliation committee, according to the statement, are Hon. Lucky Imasuen, Mr. Austin Omofuma, Hon. Charles Idahosa, Hon. Theophilus Okoh, Senator Damingo Obende, and Hon. Lawrence Okah.

Ojezua stated, “The governorship primaries of the All Progressives Congress in Edo State on Saturday, 18 June 2016 has been the most successful primaries ever conducted by the APC in Nigeria. It was peaceful, transparent, free and fair. We give thanks to the Almighty God for His comprehensive control of the entire process, our thanks also goes to His Excellency, Alhaji Bello Masari, the governor of Katsina State and chairman of the committee that conducted the primaries; through him, we extend our gratitude to each and every member of the committee that worked to ensure the successful conduct of the event.
“We remain eternally grateful to all delegates ably led by the Comrade Governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, for the patience, perseverance and outstanding conduct throughout the process, which lasted almost 24 hours.

“The result of the election is a clear indication that the APC in Edo State is strong and united contrary to the falsehood earlier peddled in the media that Edo State APC was in crisis.”
Ojezua said he had inaugurated the reconciliation committee to reach out to all aggrieved members. “This is in order to position the party to confront the general election which comes up on the 10th of September 2016.”

Advantage
The greatest advantage of APC and its candidate seems to be the performance of Oshiomhole, which many have praised and PDP may find difficult to convince the electorate it can surpass. Besides, there is a general expression of confidence in the APC national leadership and the national electoral committee that conducted the primary election by all the aspirants, even those that have reservations about the outcome.

Disadvantage
The case of APC is unlike the situation in PDP, where the aggrieved aspirants and members do not only nurse grievances against the candidate that emerged, but also against the national leadership and the electoral committee sent by the national body. One of the aspirants, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, has rejected the outcome of the primaries, which produced Ize-Iyamu.
Iduoriyekemwen, who came second in the primary election, which was conducted by the Markafi-led committee, pledged his loyalty to the Sheriff leadership of the party, adding that he would participate in the primary election of the group scheduled for June 29.

The former Majority Leader in the state House of Assembly described the primary election as a “comedy” which was “clinically manipulated” to favour a preferred candidate of the state leadership of the party.

According to him, “Having looked at all the processes, starting from the clinical manipulation and rigging of the primary, I hereby fully dissociate myself from every process that led to that so-called primary, which ended on June 20.
“Myself and members of my team across the state reject the outcome and we pledge our loyalty to the authentic leadership of the party headed by His Excellency, Ali Modu Sheriff. They have drawn up the programme for the PDP primary and I hereby declare that myself and my team are participating in that primary.”

Iduoriyekemwen and the member representing Egor/Ikpoba Olga Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Ehiozoje Agbonayima, had been suspended from PDP. Agbonayima, it was learnt, was suspended beause he backed the collection of nomination and expression of interest forms from the Sherriff faction of PDP.

The State Working Committee of the PDP said penultimate weekend that it suspended Iduoriyekemwen “from the party for one month, pending further disciplinary action in accordance with chapter 10 of the Peoples Democratic Party Constitution of 2012 (as amended).”

Announcing the suspension at a press briefing, the publicity secretary of PDP in the state, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, said, “All members of the party in the state are enjoined to disregard the antics of Alhaji Modu Sheriff and Matthew Iduoriyekemwen in their desperate attempt to discredit the outcome of the governorship primary held on 20 June 2016 at which Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was duly nominated as the candidate of our great party.”
It does seem the PDP would be its own greatest opponent at the September 10 election in Edo State