The ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP in Edo State has been making frantic efforts to ensure a hitch-free and harmonious governorship primary election on Thursday. Already, the governors of Oyo and Bauchi States, Seyi Makinde, and Bala Mohammed, are on ground to oversee the exercise which would be conducted using the indirect mode. Desperate effort to reach a consensus that would produce a newcomer into the party, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki was unsuccessful as two out of the three aspirants hitherto jostling for the party’s ticket refused to step down for the governor. Only one aspirant, Gideon Ikhine succumbed to pressure and pulled out of the race on Monday.
Kenneth Imasuangbon, a lawyer and educationist, had remained adamant. He vowed not to step down for the governor, declaring that it is indeed Obaseki who should step down for him. On Wednesday morning, the proprietor of Pace Setters Group of Schools, Abuja, issued a statement denying that he had collected $2 million bribe from the governor to step down for him. He alleged that the rumour was being spread from the governor’s camp to sway the votes of delegates in his favour.
According to him, “The governor knows I am popular with the delegates and he is doing everything possible to change this. For the sake of emphasis, I have not, and will not consider accepting any money for me to step down from the race for the PDP ticket. I also understand that they are trying to manipulate the delegates list to their favour. I want to warn that if they try it, we will do everything possible to resist it and we shall meet in the court of law”.
The case of a leading aspirant in the party, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, a member of the House of Representatives, is however intriguing. The duo of Ogbeide-Ihama and Imasuangbon had been a hard born to crack by leadership of the party but the former appeared to have soft-pedaled. The federal lawmaker, who had earlier secured a restraining order from a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, barring Obaseki from participating in the party’s primary, was to withdraw the case on Wednesday to allow for out-of-court settlement and it was consequently struck out by the presiding judge, Justice Emmanuel Obile.
The nature of the settlement was however not disclosed. Though many had interpreted it to mean that Ogbeide-Ihama would be stepping down from the race, emerging signals however indicated that the federal law maker is still very much in the race. Though a statement released earlier in the day by Ogbeide-Ihama was interpreted in some quarters to mean that he had stepped down for Obaseki, but it was unambiguous that it was rather a strong indictment of the leadership of the party over the treatment meted out to loyal members of the party, particularly the three aspirants because of Obaseki. His handlers were therefore unequivocal that he would participate in the primary election.
Kassim Afegbua told TELL that “out-of-court settlement doesn’t include his stepping down”. Afegbua, a former information commissioner, asserted that “He’s going to contest the party’s primary. Imasuangbon is contesting. It’s only Gideon that is stepping down”. Political pundits however believe that anything could happen before daybreak given unfolding events in the party. Just Wednesday evening, Dan Osi Orbih, immediate past state chairman of the PDP was announced the acting zonal vice chairman, South-south following the constitution of a caretaker committee by the national leadership of the party. Orbih had been the major promoter of Ogbeide-Ihama’s governorship project. He was believed to be positioning himself as his running mate before Obaseki came into the party to upset the political apple cart. His appointment is seen as part of the out-of-court settlement which culminated in the withdrawal of the case by Ogbeide-Ihama.
The governorship aspirant, who was most favoured to pick the ticket of the party before the entrance of Obaseki, did however not hide his feelings on the development in the party which had dimmed his hope of clinching the ticket. In his well-articulated statement, Ogbeide-Ihama gave a narrative of how his governorship project began and expressed disappointment at the turn of events which had made nonsense of his time, efforts and resources.
According to him, “Before I embarked on this project to serve our state in executive capacity over a year ago, I consulted extensively with leaders within and outside our party, and with the assurances and promise of support I got, we embarked on the tedious and demanding process of reaching out and building relationships and alliances with our members across the 18 local Governments of the state. This year-long exercise culminated with another ‘meet-the-delegates tour’ across the state last week, after which we came back to prepare for primaries.
“Suddenly, the brewing plan by certain ‘leaders’ in our party who, for certain reasons, had decided they were going to stop my ambition by all means shockingly materialized with their bringing the Governor into the party on the same day we were to have primaries they had influenced to be postponed. I have spent quite some time in politics and I understand that due to its dynamism, sudden strategic calculations may necessitate re-alignments and the need to make sacrifices. What I found difficult to understand was the brazen manner in which a process that was a few hours to completion could be bastardized, established rules and due process turned on its head, hard-work and efforts treated so inconsequentially, and key stakeholders treated so shabbily and disrespectfully, all in the bid to enthrone what had all the clothing of illegality. No dedicated member of the PDP deserves to be treated that way”.
Ogbeide-Ihama further stated that “Even with such travesty and injustice, my loyalty to the party was my first consideration and I expected that necessary actions would be taken to manage an already ugly situation. If anything changed, the least that was expected was that a meeting would be called where issues could be tabled and discussed, especially pertaining to the internal and external dangers related to the process that brought in the governor. Nothing of such was done. That a man marries a new wife does not mean the old one must be sent packing ingloriously, forgetting that she contributed to the attraction the new wife saw in the man in the first place”.
“My action is not an affront to the party or its leadership as some people may decide to interpret it, but rather a last attempt to save the party from making a major blunder that could lead to series of lawsuits with a possibility of disqualification of the party from participating in the September 2020 Edo Governorship Elections. I state unequivocally that I was very happy to welcome our governor His Excellency Godwin Obaseki into the party. PDP remains a progressive umbrella that is open to everyone that can add value to our common goal, and I believe our governor offers such value”.
On the restraining order barring the governor from taking part in the primary election, Ogbeide-Ihama contended that “What this injunction is about is the flawed process that has been adopted to put the governor on the ballot for the primaries. A dispassionate and critical look at the process adopted to allow him participate in the primaries will show that probably as a result of the rush to make it happen, a couple of illegalities may have been made which could create legal loopholes for our opponents or aggrieved parties to exploit. It is expected that we learn lessons from the situation in the last elections with the opposing party in Zamfara and Rivers States.
“Sentiments must never override due-process, justice, equity, and legality. Established rules should not be twisted or broken at the whims and caprices of anyone who feels like it, for whatever reason. No serious system will thrive in such practices. It will be a shame and most painful to a lot of us and the Edo people in general if the PDP goes ahead with the primaries coated with irregularities just to have the whole process canceled at a later date through legal action. That, I believe will be a major setback and greatly demoralizing for our dear party and those passionate about it”.
And with Ogbeide-Ihama and Imasuangbon putting their feet down to vie for the party’s ticket, an excited Afegbua told the magazine “So, I’m happy that PDP aspirants are going ahead to contest the primaries. I’m a supporter of Ogbeide-Ihama and I hope we are able to pull through”. Afegbua however declared that “If by any stroke of the imagination or manipulation Obaseki emerges as a candidate, some of us would not work for him”.