Contrary to the earlier belief that the June 22, 2020 primary election of the All Progressives Congress, APC, would be a two-horse race between the deeply embattled incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki and his main challenger in the 2016 governorship election, Osagie Ize-Iyamu who was the candidate of the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the field is getting crowded with more aspirants picking nomination forms. Ize-Iyamu had Wednesday last week picked his nomination form following his emergence, the previous day, as the consensus aspirant amongst the eight aspirants loyal to the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole. The coalition of governorship aspirants had agreed to support whoever emerged as their representatives.
Curiously few hours after Ize-Iyamu picked his form, an unknown Abuja-based group picked one on behalf of Obaseki. The group, known as Obaseki Mandate Forum said most of the members of the group were card-carrying members of APC in Edo State. Some female appointees of the governor also claimed they purchased a form for him. Since then, there had been twists and turns in the political landscape of the state with many more aspirants throwing their hats into the ring. Mathew Iduoriyekemwen, former NDDC commissioner, and one-time majority leader in the state House of Assembly raised eyebrows when he picked a nomination form. Iduoriyekemwen is a strong loyalist of the governor. He is indeed the Chairman of Obaseki’s membership mobilization committee charged with wooing members into the party following the dust raised by the return of Ize-Iyamu and thousands of his supporters to the party. Political watchers however believe that the former law maker, who is known for his spoiler role in the past, may have another intrigue up his sleeve in the countdown to the primary election. A few days ago, another member of the APC, Osaro Obazee, this time loyal to Oshiomhole, also picked a nomination form. Obazee, former chairman of Oredo local government council, who was not known to nurse governorship ambition, like a bolt from the blues, caused a stir when he walked into the party’s secretariat to obtain a form. This development was to jolt into action other aspirants who were hitherto bound by the terms of the consensus agreement, to jettison it. An inside source told the magazine that the decision of Christ Ogiemwonyi, former minister of state for works, to pick a form was in reaction to Obazee’s action.
“He believed that if there was anybody on our side other than Pastor that should be our consensus candidate, if another form should be collected for whatever reason, it should be one of those who took part in the screening process, and for that matter, somebody who came second which is himself and not Obazee who didn’t participate at all in the screening process”. According to the source, though Ogiemwonyi assured that he is still bound by the agreement, some of the aspirants believe that because of the rancor and issues Obaseki’s camp is having against Pastor, they believe that his candidature may develop ‘K-leg’ so because of that, they are saying let me go and position myself too in case of any eventuality”.
The loyalists of the governor are doing all they can to get Ize-Iyamu disqualified on the allegation that he is not a member of the party and that the waiver granted him was illegal and they are ready to go to court to scuttle it. Pius Odubu, former deputy governor, was to follow Ogiemwonyi’s footsteps as he too picked a form on Monday.
The magazine gathered that Ogiemwonyi came second at last Tuesday’s screening exercise, while Odubu came third. Sources close to the Oshiomhole faction of the APC tried to convince the magazine that the decision by the duo to pick a form was not an act of rebellion against Oshiomhole’s leadership. He said as a matter of fact, Ogiemwonyi had informed Oshiomhole at around 10.30 Monday morning about his intention to pick a form. Odubu was also said to have done the same before going ahead to pick a nomination form. All the eight aspirants had jointly contributed the N22 million to pay for Ize-Iyamu’s form.
With this development, five aspirants would be challenging Obaseki for the ticket of the party; that is if other aspirants do not join the fray before the close of nomination. The last few days had been quite engaging for Obaseki who had been running from pillar to post seeking intervention of party leaders and brother governors in his travails. Not only was he able to mobilize some of his colleagues to the Lagos residence of a national leader of the party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to push for an automatic ticket or a “right of first refusal” as his minders call it, he was also at the presidential villa to present his nomination form to the president, Muhammadu Buhari which he gleefully made a show of, and perhaps get him to issue an “executive order” to land him the ticket of their party on a platter of gold.
Interestingly, his loyalists interpreted what transpired during the presidential visit as a “tacit endorsement” by the president of his second-term bid. Adaze Emwanta, one of the governor’s aides who appeared on a Channels Television programme Politics Today, on Monday, said “It was a tacit endorsement by Mr. President based on an initial agreement that the governors of Ondo and Edo, much as they should be given a right of first refusal, the process of their primaries should not be hijacked”. His co-panelist, Ehiozuwa Johnson Agbonayinma however pooh-poohed the suggestion. Agbonayinma, a former member of the House of Representatives, and now a special adviser to the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, argued that “Meeting of governors and the President does not mean endorsement of Obaseki’s candidature”. He posited that “President Buhari is the leader of the party and anybody can visit him. It’s not true the president has endorsed Obaseki. Mr. President will never do such a thing”.
Dismissing a recent claim by the immediate past national chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun to the effect that the president had endorsed Obaseki and his Ondo State counterpart for a second term in office, Agbonayinma insisted that Oyegun is not the spokesman for President Buhari. He argued that “For him to say that, if anything of such should even happen, I think there are proper ways, and those who are responsible to disseminate that information to the public”. He described the statement as a political trick and mischief “intended to put the president in bad light”. Agbonayinma said as an aspirant today, what Obaseki ought to be doing if he wants the people to vote for him, is to convince them. “Tell them what you are going to do to add value to what you have done before not to start saying to Edo people ‘oh I deserve it, I must have, it is non-negotiable”.
One issue that has however remained contentious is the mode of primary election to be adopted. While the governor and his supporters initially kicked against the direct method announced by the party’s NWC, there appears to be a discordant tune from that camp as the governor a few days ago moderated his position to say he was at home with whatever method is adopted. He was said to have made a volte face after his meeting with the president though his foot soldiers are still insisting on indirect primaries.
Emwanta who maintained that it is the duty of the National Executive Committee, NEC of the party to determine guidelines and mode of primary, asserted that “I expect that the national leadership under Buhari to allow indirect primary. I assure Nigerians that come 22nd of June, Godwin Obseki by the grace of God, will be re-elected by the members of the APC through an indirect primary”. But as far as Agbonayinma was concerned, it is the NWC that has the constitutional right to say what they have done, “and what they have done is direct primary”. Challenging the governor and his supporters, the former federal lawmaker said “If they think that they are popular and the people of Edo State want them, let them go and test the waters”.
But unlike his close aides who are still spitting fire and bile, the governor, in the last few days that he had been seeking soft-landing, appeared to be sobering up and so, conciliatory in his utterances. Now in the mood for peace after it dawned on him that he might be losing out in the power game, Obaseki told state house correspondents after meeting the president that he was ready to reach a truce with all aggrieved members of the party. His utterance was however not without a tinge of his usual arrogance.
“It is unfortunate that he (Oshiomhole) is taking the position he has taken. I believe that he was misguided. I am his governor and it is my responsibility to seek peace for my state and with all my citizens. I will continue to strive for peace. I will continue to pursue peace for the sake and interest of our people and I am open that we should talk about how to move things forward”. Admitting that “the relationship is still frosty”, Obaseki said “but I am doing all I can to try and make it warm just for the sake of Edo people. I am committed to whatever it will take to have peace and not to lose lives in Edo. Within the law, whatever I can do that is constitutional, I will do”.
Apparently unimpressed, Agbonayinma however dismissed his statement as “medicine after death”. He recalled how he often spoke to the governor that “it is cheaper to have peace than war. The same thing I spoke to our leader, my boss, because we both worked with the former governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. But unfortunately, I would say that politicians, as I often say, there are three principal tenets of democratic doctrine – loyalty, participation, and commitment to your dear people… If you are opportune to be in a position, don’t forget those that helped you; that gave you the ladder to climb. Don’t destroy the ladder, don’t destroy the people. A day will come that you might need it back”.
According to Agbonayinma, “It is just too unfortunate that my very good brother and governor of Edo State is coming to say this today that he’s willing to talk peace. Let me tell you, this is what we have been asking for for a long time; that what is going on in Edo State is so sad. I think the governor should have been able to do that at that time. This is medicine after death. So much bad blood, a lot has gone down the drain. And unfortunately, how do you now reconcile after you have castigated, you have abused at a time it was not needed; spending taxpayer’s money, Edo’s money to fight a cause that does not mean anything”.
Emwanta however disagreed with Agbonayinma that his principal was just waking up to talk peace. The constitutional lawyer said “from the beginning, my governor has always maintained one thing that he’s ready for peace”. The peace he seeks is however with strings attached to it. “But if that peace means compromising the trust of Edo people, if it will mean allowing agberos to come back to the street as revenue collectors, if it will mean allowing godfathers to dominate the political space as against the social contract he has with Edo people, that’s the only thing he cannot compromise. And I think it’s important for us to know that his statement today is not different from what he has always maintained”.
Agbonayinma has an ally in the former chief of staff to the governor, Francis Taiwo Akerele who recently resigned from the government over alleged administrative lapses. Akerele chuckled at the report of the governor’s readiness to make peace with Oshiomhole. He said on Tuesday that his position that dialogue and fence mending was the way out of the crisis had vindicated him. He said he had always maintained that the crisis between the governor and Oshiomhole was political and could always be resolved through dialogue “But at the end, I was called all sorts of names by people who want to make money and enjoy themselves during the crisis”.
According to Akerele, “My position has always been that we are one big family. Oshiomhole is our father; not just being a former governor of the state but also the current national chairman of our party and that Governor Obaseki remains the leader of the party in the state. I said Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is our man anytime any day and he is best of friends with Godwin Obaseki and what was happening was a normal political disagreement which is settleable. Every other issue is subsumed under this sub-issue.
“I had maintained that in any case, no matter the degree of war, dialogue and peaceful settlement remain the ultimate. But rather than taking this step, I was vilified by some persons who believed that the only way to show loyalty is how much they attack somebody who is opposed to their principal. And in any case, you will now discover that what they do or say is for pecuniary interest and not necessarily to help the course of their principal.”
Emwanta however insisted that “What the governor wants is a level playing field so that we don’t lose Edo State. If he’s preaching peace, what he’s really saying is that we have a national chairman whose state is going into election and the national chairman should not play opposition politics. He should put all his efforts in ensuring that APC wins Edo because the people of Edo State have said it is Godwin Obaseki that they want”.
And talking about opposition politics, there are strong indications that the governor might be weighing his options in view of the hazy signal from his recent peace shuttles. The rumour was thick in the air last weekend that the governor may have picked a nomination form of the main opposition party in the state, the PDP, which had scheduled its primary election for June 23 and 24. When a factional chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua was asked pointedly on Sunrise Daily, Channels Television breakfast programme on Tuesday if the PDP was an option, he prevaricated, stating that “In politics, every option is open to a politician so long as it’s a collective decision”.
According to Ojezua, “While that is not a decision that I will have to take on my own, I think that everybody will have to sit down and take a decision”. And that decision, it was learnt, is already being made. The magazine learnt on good authority that Obaseki and his minders are vigorously pursuing the PDP option. A credible source hinted the magazine that top officials of the party left for Abuja on Tuesday, perhaps to dot the I’s and cross the t’s with the national leadership of the major opposition party on the governor’s likely defection ahead of closure of nomination for its party primary.
For some time now, there had been speculation that the PDP was reserving its ticket for Obaseki which the state chapter of the party had vehemently denied. An inside source however volunteered to the magazine that Obaseki had been carrying out discreet negotiations with the national leadership of the party. Recall that sometime last week, Emmanuel Ogidi, zonal vice chairman of the party for the South-south paid a visit to Benin to meet with the state executive. After the meeting, he told curious journalists that the party’s doors are wide open to the governor should he want to cross. “If Governor Obaseki comes, we will take him. We can’t drive anybody from entering. Our doors are wide opened. I am not, however, aware that he has started negotiations with us with a view to defecting. If the governor has seen the light and wants to come to the PDP, he is welcome”, Ogidi said. The next few days will however unmask the masquerade and lay bare the face behind the veil.