There is uneasy calm within the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP in Edo State. Between the national and state leadership of the party and party members, there is feeling of distrust. But for the last minute change in plan on Wednesday, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki would have met with some party members who called themselves “middle level leaders” but the meeting was unfortunately postponed because the governor was out of the state. The meeting, which TELL authoritatively gathered was at the instance of the party’s foot soldiers at the grass roots, was to demand from the governor what is in it for them after he had succeeded in picking the party’s ticket following negotiations with their leaders. One of the aggrieved leaders of the party in Edo Central senatorial district of the state, who hinted the magazine about the scheduled meeting, complained that they were completely left in the dark about how their leaders negotiated with the governor before they gave him the ticket and forced the three original aspirants to step down.
Speaking before the meeting was postponed, he said “Yes, for the first time tomorrow, we will meet as a party with him. We members of the PDP on ground here, we have not met with him; we have not discussed anything with him, no terms, nothing. As a political party, we didn’t meet with him to say give us A, give us B, or go and give us this amount of money. And there is nobody in this state chapter of PDP that he gave N1,000 to. Nobody would believe it but this is a statement of fact. So, we now, the middle level leaders of the party are putting pressure on our leadership; what did you people discuss? He has not even seen us. The only person that the man has seen – he met with our state chairman, (Tony Aziegbemi) he met with the former chairman, Dan Orbih, and he met with Senator Odion Ugbesia, and the three aspirants. Outside these people, there is nobody GO (Godwin Obaseki) has spoken to either on phone or one-on-one; I can tell you that authoritatively”.
“So, for the first time on Wednesday, we will be holding a meeting with him to ask what is in there for us; ticket has been given to you. So, before we go out to start campaigning, considering the fact that campaign is not going to be done the normal way because of COVID-19. Before I go into town to start talking to people to vote for you, I should be able to know what I will get”.
Recall that Obaseki had negotiated his way into the major opposition party within one week of his disqualification by the Professor Jonathan Ayuba-led Edo All Progressives Congress Governorship Primary Election Committee by meeting party leaders in Port Harcourt and PDP governors in their various states leaving the state chapter of the party as mere spectators. He picked his membership card June 19, a day the party was initially scheduled to hold its primary election. Thereafter, leadership of the party was said to have given him stringent conditions before he could be granted waiver and pick the party’s ticket. The stakes became higher when two out of the three aspirants became adamant, insisting that they would not step down for the governor who they noted was coming into the party when all the processes leading to the party’s primary had been concluded.
To make the matter more complicated for the governor and party leaders, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, a member of the House of Representatives whose chances of picking the PDP ticket looked very bright, especially coming from Edo South senatorial district like the governor, the leadership of the party was said to have engaged in intense lobbying and persuasion to get him to withdraw the case he instituted in Port Harcourt for an out-of-court settlement. He had secured an injunction barring the governor from participating at the governorship primary. Kenneth Imasuangbon, a lawyer and educationist who had also been headstrong, bowed overnight to pressure, reportedly after some negotiations. Gideon Ikhine, an engineer and business man, had earlier withdrawn from the race thus leaving Obaseki the sole aspirant by the time the party went into its primary election June 25 after two postponements.
But while the leaders of the party were upbeat about the governor’s entry into the party, more so with speculation of billions of naira changing hands, the foot soldiers grumbled, as they felt shortchanged in the entire transaction. They believed that as the foot soldiers who would do the field work, their interest ought to have been factored in but unfortunately they were allegedly left in the lurch. The source said they insisted on meeting with the governor “because the cards must be laid on the table to know where we stand with him knowing his kind of person”.
According to him, “It’s not as if we as a party trust him considering what he also did to his people where he’s coming from. But because we are interested in getting back to government house, we say let’s get there first. We have been in opposition for too long. If we don’t get this one now, it will make our party fizzle out in the state. That was the reason why some of us supported the idea of his coming to take number one and number two. His coming is a miracle. This is a government we have been fighting for in the past 12 years. Without firing a shot, no snatching of ballot box, no fight at collation centre; governor just take him leg come meet us for parlour”.
The governor indeed took more than the two positions as the party also conceded to him the position of secretary to the state government and chief of staff. The magazine gathered that at a virtual meeting with PDP governors where the deal was sealed before his defection, Obaseki had insisted on retaining his present SSG, Osarodion Ogie, and chief of staff, Osaze Uzamere who had been in the trenches with him in the battle with the APC.
His brother governors were said to have been peeved by his perceived arrogance in making his demand and one of them reportedly chided him that if he had been offered only one position where he was coming from, he would not have needed to approach them for their party’s ticket. It was learnt that it was consequent upon this that the financial demand made on him by the party was humongous, while other demands were also made.
So, in pulling through the out-of-court settlement which was handled by the national leadership, Ogbeide-Ihama who had gone to court in respect of planned change in delegates list to accommodate Obaseki’s interest was told to look at the bigger picture and withdraw the case. According to the source, “He was told you can still go back to your House of Reps; then let’s negotiate other things. They put pressure on him in Port Harcourt and he withdrew the case”. Contrary to the allegation that he was compensated with between $2 and 3.5 million (USD), the source insisted that “Nobody has even told Ogbeide now you will take N10 million, you will bring this; no”. The governor had in his acceptance speech as the party’s candidate appreciated his co-aspirants for their sacrifice, claiming that they stepped down for him without demanding anything from him.
But another source who spoke to the magazine pooh-poohed the claim, maintaining that all the aspirants were “settled”. He contended that “is it possible in Nigerian politics that people who had invested so much not only in the party when the governor had not even dreamt of joining them, and also spent so much on their aspirations, would just agree to walk away empty-handed when they are not into charity or father Christmas? I can bet my life on it that they were handsomely paid. Such things are not what you do in the open and the people concerned would not even admit or talk about it. But some of us know it was not just an empty handshake. Let them stop playing on our intelligence”.
While controversies surround how much the PDP ticket actually cost the governor with figures ranging from eight to N15 billion flying around, what could however not be disputed was that Ogbeide-Ihama visited the governor a day or two after the withdrawal of the case. A source who should know told the magazine that the visit was one of the settlements reached in Port Harcourt whereby it was directed that Dan Orbih, immediate past state chairman of the party, should take Ogbeide-Ihama and some few leaders to visit the governor at government house on getting to Benin. Orbih, who was said to be positioning himself as Ogbeide-Ihama’s running mate, was later compensated with the position of national vice-chairman, South-south zone care-taker committee.
“So, Orbih went to government house with him and the pictures are everywhere. Then the following morning or two days after, the governor invited him for a breakfast meeting in his house; nothing more than that. If probably they say the governor discussed position with him, fine. How much is he going to give to him? Okay if he gave him money, those of us supporting him before that time, how much is he going to give to us?” the source queried.
He however admitted that the governor single-handedly bankrolled the primary election. “As we were doing primaries that day, the governor helped the party for transportation, mobilization, and payment of delegates, and that cannot be said to be money you are giving to the party. He gave N100,000 to every delegate. Compared to the N350,000 he gave to each APC delegate in 2016, this was rather small”. Two thousand and twenty-four (2,024) delegates participated in the primary election amounting to N202, 400,000 disbursed.
Informed sources however told the magazine that the real negotiation with the governor actually took place after he had picked the party’s ticket. The three governors who came to conduct the exercise were said to have handled the negotiation. They are Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State governor and chairman of the primary election committee, Seyi Makinde, Oyo State governor, and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Muhammad Matawalle. The trio stayed back till very late Sunday evening before departing for their respective states to finalise the matter. Political watchers contend that with the tough demands made on the governor, he had wittingly offered himself to political sharks to prey on.
Apart from billions of naira being touted to have been extorted from him such that an angry Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike described the party leaders as “tax collectors”, a party source confirmed to the magazine that “it was still part of the settlement that the governors were doing and that is why they didn’t go on time. Even after Makinde left, Mohammed and Matawalle stayed behind to conclude it”. Giving details of the negotiation, he said “That was where they agreed that he would give our 18 LGA party chairmen the position of Special Assistants (Political). He has done that and he even backdated the appointments by three months. Then the 192 ward chairmen, he is also going to make them SAs to council chairmen in their respective local government councils. That hasn’t been done but hopefully this week, they will do that”.
The magazine was told that the real intention of the governor was to commit the local government council chairmen to paying the salaries of the ward chairmen but his colleagues disagreed with him insisting that they must be on the state government’s payroll. They argued that additional burden should not be placed on the council chairmen whom they were aware had been indebted to the existing workers they have. The governor had no choice but to agree. Part of the commitment that the governors were also able to extract from Obaseki was that the PDP would be given slots for about three or four commissioners.
“Then the issue of not treating us the way he treated APC was well addressed. They did not pretend not to know that he did not treat the people well in his former party. So, our governors will now be the one to work on that. Right now he’s a member of the PDP Governors’ Forum. If we complain that come and see what this man is doing o; it is not what we agreed on that he is doing, they will take him up on it at their meeting and point out to him this is how we are doing in our respective states, so do it like this and you won’t have problems with these people”, the source stated.
Sources close to the governor however confided in the magazine that whatever terms the governor has agreed to right now “is only temporary”, stressing that “it is a political marriage of convenience which is not expected to last. Somehow, the governor will wriggle out of it”. Before he eventually dumped the APC, Obaseki had visited President Muhammadu Buhari to inform him of his next line of action following his disqualification, and it was rumoured then that what he discussed with him was that as soon as he wins the election, he would return to the ruling party. According to one of the sources, “We are not aware that Obaseki promised the president that after winning re-election he would return to APC. Maybe it is to get support from them so that they would not militarise the election. You know, he could also say a lot of things to get to the position; once he gets it, it becomes a different ball game. Because at that point, the president is no longer coming back; he is going, so it’s only Tinubu and others that are left and he doesn’t like Tinubu. But we will put machinery in place to checkmate all of those things. For somebody that is running an election, he would promise all sectors a lot of things to be able to get what he wants. Once he gets it too, it becomes a different ball game”.
Interestingly, a member of the PDP has frowned at the concessions his party had to grant the governor in order to accommodate him. Kassim Afegbua, erstwhile spokesman of the PDP presidential campaign organization who has been very critical of the governor and vowed to work against him, accused him of hypocrisy. Chiding Obaseki, Afegbua said “You see, I don’t like people who preach one thing and they do another. You are coming in, you appointed PDP local government chairmen as senior special assistants with N100,000 salary and you are backdating it to April – three months without working; yet you are going to pay them. That’s sheer waste of public funds and there has to be prudent management of taxpayer’s money. This money does not belong to him; it belongs to the people. So, why would you backdate somebody’s appointment three months backwards?
“If you want to preach equity, you want to preach probity, accountability and prudent management of resources, you have to show it. You don’t have to just mouth it. It was convenient for him to blackmail people by saying they were asking him to share government’s money; but now, here you come in PDP you are already giving appointments and backdating it to April. Did they work in April for you? Did they work in May, and did they work in June? So, why are you backdating appointment letters? Just because you want to hijack the process of the primaries, like it is for the highest bidder. That shouldn’t be. There has to be a process”.