Mood Swings in Edo as Party Primaries Approach

Adibe Emenyonu and Demola Ojo write on the state of the parties in Edo State as primaries ahead of the forthcoming governorship election, inch closer

Early last week, the national leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), released their guidelines for the governorship primary elections ahead of the September 19, 2020 elections in Edo and Ondo States.

Although there are other political parties that will feature candidates in the election, so far, only the two dominant parties – the PDP and the APC – have unveiled their guidelines, an indication that the battle at the end of the day is going to be a two-horse race.

For the APC, the primary election is slated for June 22, while the PDP fixed its own for June 23 and 24. Already, three aspirants had indicated their interest to become PDP’s standard-bearer.

They are Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, member, representing Oredo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives; Mr. Gideon Ikhine, an Engineer and former senior Staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon, lawyer and proprietor of Abuja-based Pacesetters group of schools.

In the APC, there’s the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; retired Army General, Charles Airhiavbere; former deputy governor and two-time member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Pius Odubu; former Secretary to State Government, Edo State, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu; and former Group Executive Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Chris Ogiemwonyi.

From all indications, all the aspirants from the two political parties are no pushover, because of their individual pedigree. But one thing that is significant, which may derail the ambition of some of them is the zoning formula.
In the APC, for instance, while all the aspirants are from the south senatorial zone of the state, the PDP is different in the sense that amongst the three, one – Ogbeide-Ihama – is from the south, while the other two, Imansuangbon and Ikhine are from the central district.

Edo south commands a large chunk of the voting population in the state, more than the two other zones of central and north put together, hence the permutation from the parties to field a candidate from the south.

This, no doubt, is not a foolproof plan, as those from the central are angling that the PDP should forgo the idea of bringing a candidate from the south, because according to them, the zone has had a fair share of the highest political office in the state right from the time of the late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia till date.

Besides, they are of the view that the central senatorial district has always remained a PDP stronghold against all odds since the current political dispensation.

Against this backdrop, political elements from the central zone and like minds from other zones, are now calling on the party leadership to narrow the ticket to Imansuagbon as the candidate of the party, because of his outreach and his liberal political leanings.

In order to encourage this cause, the youth arm of the party said they had begun to contribute funds to purchase the nomination form for Imansuangbon. The youths from the three senatorial districts said the gesture was to appreciate and reciprocate Imansuangbon’s goodwill.

Addressing journalists in Benin City, Coordinator of the youth arm of PDP, Idemudia Clifford, said the project included some market women, artisans and professional bodies that have benefited from the school proprietor over the years, and have pledged to support the funding and campaign to ensure his emergence as the party’s candidate.

Idemudia explained that their support for Imansuangbon was because they knew he was the best person that could defeat the ruling APC and any other person the party wants to project as its candidate. “The time is now for Edo PDP to take over government through the ballot and the only person we the youths believe can lead the party to victory is Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon.

“He is a household name in the state. He has been consistent in reaching out to the poor and the needy in the society. Our desire to raise the money for his nomination form is to show our gratitude and to tell him we are truly behind him.

“Many people across the state have called in to pledge their support. And those calling are actual voters willing to put their money to support his aspiration.”

In APC, first, there is no love lost between the governor and most party leaders in the state, mostly because of the governor’s protracted war with his benefactor and national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole. Secondly is the array of aspirants, who want to unseat him because of this inability to marry governance and party politics at the same time. But many of Obaseki’s supporters have said it was either him or no other candidate. In an interview with THISDAY, Matthew Iduoriyekevwen said those fighting the governor were doing so, because of personal grudges and nothing else. He however contended that, because Obaseki had performed creditably well, he deserved a second term.

Also, the immediate past national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun has thrown his weight behind the governor, saying President Muhammadu Buhari has firmly endorsed the agreement reached to settle the disruptive leadership crisis at the national level that was threatening the very existence of APC.

“The relevant part of the agreement was that both governors of Edo and Ondo have performed creditably and should be returned unless they do not so wish.”

Oyegun added that consensus should be built behind the incumbent governor of Edo State, because one, he has not offended any aspect of the APC constitution nor has he in any way brought the party to disrepute, adding that Obaseki has performed in an exemplary manner among others.

But those against Obaseki did not buy Oyegun’s sermons. For instance, Washington Osifo, member-elect for Uhumwonde state constituency, who is among the 14 members of the House yet to be inaugurated, said Oyegun should not bring in the name of President Buhari in his support for Obaseki, because in the first place, the president never made such allusion or comment.

He said Buhari was a democrat, who had always told party leaders to subject themselves to party supremacy and constitution as the best way to go, adding that someone who preaches such message in the open could not turn around to say otherwise either covertly or overtly.

Osifor further asked where Oyegun was, when Obaseki defied all entreaties from party leaders including President Buhari, National Assembly leadership and the party NWC to issue fresh proclamation so that those yet to be inaugurated could be inducted.

To him, the sermon was too late, because the former APC boss refused to advise Obaseki but instead chose to back him in all the governor’s political misdeeds. “If he wants to support Obaseki let him say so and not drag the name of Mr. President into it.”

Chris Azebamwan, Publicity Secretary of Oshiomhole’s faction of APC in a WhatsApp message to THISDAY, said it was not in the character, upbringing or culture of people from his place to take elders to task especially with persons with the towering stature and credentials like Oyegun. He, however, noted that he was at a loss as to understanding why Oyegun would make utterances that portray him as a mouthpiece or hireling of Obaseki.

“That the forthcoming primaries in the state would be credible is not in doubt. It is neither desirable, nor in the interest of anyone to compromise the process, and in so doing, give room for the courts to intervene and upturn the results. The leadership of APC is determined to conduct credible primaries.

“However, the more worrisome part of Pa Odigie-Oyegun’s outburst is his claim that as part of the reconciliation process, an automatic ticket was promised to Godwin Obaseki. To the best of my knowledge, Chief Odigie-Oyegun was not at the meeting where reconciliation was discussed. “He is no longer a principal officer of the APC, and is in no position therefore, to lay claims to the inner workings of the Party. In addition, one would have expected Chief Odigie-Oyegun to name or identify those he claims are contriving a crisis in Edo State.”

In spite of all the claims and counter claims, the outcome of the primaries for both the APC and the PDP would decide who becomes the candidate to fly the respective party’s flags for the September 19, 2020 governorship election in Edo State.

Now, the Odubu, Ize-Iyamu Bout
Gone are the days, when the main threat to a Nigerian governor being re-elected came from an opposition party. The precedent set by the landslide defeat of erstwhile governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, to a challenger within his party and now current governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in the lead up to the 2019 elections, means sitting governors cannot rest on their oars come nomination time.
This is the case in Edo State, as preparations intensify for the gubernatorial election to be held September 19. Governor Obaseki knows he needs to first scale the hurdles within his party, before contemplating a re-election bid in September.

The APC under whose banner Obaseki contested and won elections in 2016 was also the party under which Ambode lost to Sanwo-Olu in the Lagos primaries late 2018.
Following Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, expressing its readiness to go on with elections in September despite evident uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the APC, last week, fixed June 22 as the date for primary elections. Sale of forms to governorship aspirants was to commence May 20 and will end June 2.

The Back Story
Stakeholders and analysts are keeping a close eye on the APC primaries, because of the glaring cracks within the party at state level, which has attracted widespread attention. For months now, Governor Obaseki has had running fallout with Oshiomole.

Oshiomole is not only Obaseki’s predecessor as governor, he – with much persuasion and lobbying – sold his anointed successor to party faithful and supporters, who were not convinced about Obaseki’s suitability for the job.
Despite the fact that Obaseki was the head of Oshiomole’s Economic and Strategic Management team for eight years, many of the state’s party members and supporters leaned towards the then deputy governor, Pius Odubu.

It however didn’t take long for those with misgivings to feel justified. Obaseki accused Oshiomhole of meddlesomeness and an overbearing desire to influence his government.

He threatened to remove Oshiomhole from the Edo State APC after instigating his suspension and was even the protagonist of a plot that almost saw Oshiomhole removed as National Chairman of the APC early this year, but for the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Following the narrow escape, Oshiomhole struck a conciliatory tone, especially because influential ministers from the South-south region were involved in his travails. But this should not be misinterpreted as the power tussle being over.
In fact, Oshiomole is believed to be backing either Odubu or Ize-Iyamu as an alternative ticket bearer to the incumbent governor. Both lawyers are reputed to have the party support to defeat Obaseki in a primary election and the grassroots following to successfully prosecute a gubernatorial campaign.

Apart from being deputy governor for eight years, Odubu represented Edo State at the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007. A loyal party man to the core, Odubu was recently nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari as Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and later confirmed by the Senate. The President, however, put this and other appointments on hold and approved an interim board to look into transactions under previous boards.

For many, Odubu’s large following, despite his preference for a low profile, and his aversion to conflict, make him a natural choice in what many see as a fait accompli in the battle to unseat Obaseki.

But Ize-Iyamu’s much publicised return to the APC in November last year, after a five-year sojourn in the PDP has thrown all permutations into disarray.

Oshiomhole allegedly encouraged Ize-Iyamu to return to the party in a bid to frustrate Governor Obaseki’s return as governor, and personally came to receive him in a planned mega rally that was derailed by the governor. Those in the know believe only the promise of the party’s ticket would have compelled Ize-Iyamu to return to the party he abandoned in 2014 to “go back home”.

The pastor is a foundation member of the PDP in the state and a staunch follower of former governor Lucky Igbinedion, who appointed him Secretary to the State Government during his eight-year tenure. He later pitched tent with the Action Congress, which transformed into the Action Congress of Nigeria and later morphed into the APC.

Ize-Iyamu rose to become the National Vice Chairman (South-south) in the APC, until his departure to PDP in 2014 with hundreds of his loyal supporters. He was the PDP’s candidate in 2016 against Obaseki but lost at the polls.

Party Man versus Returnee
The question is, which one of these gladiators will step aside for the other? Those within the party believe Odubu’s loyalty has earned him the chance, while he also boasts a strong following that could sway elections his way. Despite misgivings about Ize-Iyamu’s devotion to the party’s cause, his support base across party lines might be an advantage in a general election.

But Ize-Iyamu is also seen as a polarizing figure within the party’s ranks, with a recent open letter to President Buhari by “Concerned Edo APC Stakeholders” which was published in the newspapers, highlighting his weaknesses.
Stating their concerns, the group loyal to Obaseki bemoaned the fact that Ize-Iyamu returned to the party “just three months ago,” as against others who stayed behind to help build the party. They doubt his financial capacity to prosecute a campaign and have misgivings over the fact that he served as SSG to Igbinedion.

They also drew attention to the fact that he was Director General of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign in Edo State, as well as that of Atiku Abubakar. They went as far as accusing him of being a PDP mole, with plans to return to the PDP if he becomes successful. The big picture, they claim, is to capture Edo State and make the South-south a completely PDP region.

The “Concerned Stakeholders” described Ize-Iyamu as “a serial decampee who runs to different parties every year and runs out immediately he loses,” pointing out that Oshiomhole himself has campaigned incessantly against him and badmouthed him in the past.

Party faithful seem more receptive to the candidacy of Odubu as an alternative. An accomplished lawyer and student of governance, Odubu is a doctor of jurisprudence, who has shown excellence right from his youth.

Although the APC has not yet decided on what type of primaries it will hold – direct, indirect or consensus – there is no denying the fact that if there’s any chance of defeating the incumbent governor at the primaries, Odubu and Ize-Iyamu need to present a common front.

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