Obaseki, Oshiomhole in Supremacy Contest Over House of Assembly Leadership, Ministerial Nominations

With a truce being brokered by the president, Mohammadu Buhari, and mutual friends of the feuding governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and his estranged political godfather and national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole, all eyes are on the state which prides itself as the ‘Heartbeat of the Nation’ as to who wins the supremacy war between both camps in the intriguing political drama unfolding in the state. The first battleground would be the hallowed chamber of the state House of Assembly where a new leadership is expected to emerge after the formal inauguration of the all APC 24-member Legislature. While the governor is said to favour Frank Okiye, former deputy chief of staff and one-time majority leader of the state House of Assembly, Oshiomhole is believed to be propping up Victor Edoror, a former speaker, and later deputy speaker, for the number three position in the state. However, with the delay in inaugurating the seventh Assembly by the governor which was supposed to have taken place this Monday, a constitutional crisis may be brewing as a vacuum had been created by the absence of the legislative arm of government in the state. This is already ruffling political feathers and causing anxiety in the polity.

Grave vine sources attributed the delay to the fence-mending moves by the governor who had stayed put in Abuja since last week in a desperate bid to once again warm his way into the heart of his former boss and confidant. A reliable source privy to the peace moves hinted the magazine that the governor’s sudden conciliatory move to end the cold war with Oshiomhole is not all about softening the ground for his second term ticket but also propelled by self-aggrandizement. According to the source, “Obaseki went for settlement for two reasons. The first is he wants to work with Comrade to produce an acceptable speaker, and; two, he wants to work with him to nominate ministers and other federal appointees. He thought that having met with Comrade that Friday they would just sit down in Abuja and just announce who would be speaker. But no, he got it wrong”.

The magazine’s investigation revealed that the governor may have seen the handwriting on the wall that he stood no chance in defeating the forces assailed against him, hence his face-saving effort to mend fences with his predecessor.  Having gauged the mood amongst the incoming members of the House and weighed his chances of producing the presiding officers, it must have dawned on the governor that he was fighting a lost battle and so decided to swallow his pride to extend a belated olive branch to his former boss. But his traducers are bent on dragging him down from his high horse and leave him with a bloodied nose. Another source who pleaded anonymity confirmed the speculation that had been making the rounds that the governor’s opponents had collected no fewer than 19 signatures in favour of their preferred candidate as speaker, leaving the governor’s camp with a paltry five lawmakers loyal to it. According to the authoritative source, “we have been in the trenches for the past three weeks; we have been working every day, we have been collecting signatures. I can assure you, we have a comfortable number to take control of the House. By the time this House of Assembly thing is done, Obaseki becomes a lame duck governor till November 12 next year.” 

The delay in inaugurating the House has, however, sparked off controversies as family members, friends and political associates of members-elect who had turned up to witness the event went home disappointed as they were prevented from accessing the Chief Anthony Enahoro Legislative Complex by security operatives, armed to the teeth, who had been deployed there and environs ahead of the expected ceremony. Only workers could gain access into the building. While the state secretary of the party, Lawrence Okah said a letter of proclamation from the governor was still being awaited in line with the law, another chieftain of the party loyal to the governor defended the delay, contending that there was no law that says it must happen at a particular day. In his words, “Is there a law that says it must be on a particular day? They should go and read the constitution. Did it say every state must inaugurate its assembly the same day? That is not the position; it is when the governor writes and proclaims it that it is inaugurated and it is only the governor that can do it. Our own will either be Friday or Monday.”

But a miffed Henry Idahagbon, convener of the Edo People’s Movement, EPM, the anti-Obaseki pressure group within the state chapter of the APC, however, disagrees, stressing that “what is happening in Edo State House of Assembly is a constitutional crisis.” According to him, by law, the tenure of the last Assembly ended midnight on Friday (June 7) “and before that 12 midnight, the governor ought to have issued a proclamation to enable the Clerk to inaugurate the House. As we speak now, the governor is violating sections 4, 5 and 6 of the constitution which provided for the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. In Edo State as we speak today, there is no Legislature; we only have the Executive and the Judiciary.”

Idahagbon, a lawyer and former Attorney-General and commissioner for justice in the immediate past Oshiomhole administration, attributed the governor’s action to the fear that he would not get the numbers to have the speaker. Challenging the statement that there was no law that says the House should be inaugurated at a particular day, the former attorney-general exclaimed: “who said so? He must be an illiterate; Section 105 of the constitution says there is no vacuum. Can you have a governor now go out and there is no other governor to replace him on the same day? Or if a Chief Judge, CJ, goes out, there must be an acting CJ immediately, or the next most senior judge takes over as acting CJ. How can somebody say that? The law abhors vacuum, just like nature abhors a vacuum. When one legislature is going, another one is being proclaimed. Look at Abuja now at the national level. The president issued a proclamation over one week ago and tomorrow (today) now, they are inaugurating the ninth National Assembly. By law, check other states which have all inaugurated; there is no state with this kind of problem that we are having in Edo State”.

Though the governor has continued to deny the existence of a rift between him and his former boss, even doing so perhaps for the umpteenth time after emerging from a consultation with the president where he had sought his intervention, political observers believe he was merely playing the Ostrich by denying the obvious.  A knowledgeable source within the governor’s camp confided in the magazine that Obaseki is indeed panicky about groundswell of opposition against his second coming and had been running from pillar to post for intervention by whoever could help pour oil on his troubled political waters. Apart from the president and leader of the ruling party, Obaseki had also reportedly sought the mediation of former Lagos State governor and leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, as well as Aliko Dangote, the multi-billionaire business mogul. But as far as the EPM is concerned, the window of reconciliation had since closed and it is fight-to-finish.  The group appears not moved by Obaseki’s belated effort at rapprochement, nor intimidated by the personalities involved in his attempt to appease Oshiomhole.

Spurning the governor’s olive branch, Idahagbon, told the magazine unambiguously that “Dangote doesn’t vote in Edo, he votes in Kano or Abuja. So, however, Dangote may have taken the governor to settle with Oshiomhole is not binding on us in the Edo People’s Movement. We stand our ground. We have two cardinal objectives. Number one objective of the EPM is to strengthen the party and restore it to its winning ways; and two, to shop for a replacement for Obaseki in 2020. Nothing has changed to make us look back on those two objectives.”

Asked what would be his position as the arrowhead of EPM if personally prevailed upon by the president, Idahagbon remained adamant and defiant, stating that “the president does not vote in Edo, the president votes in Katsina. We are wearing the shoe; we know where it pinches us. Obaseki was a mistake that we are not prepared to repeat in 2020 and we will tell the president unless the party is not interested in keeping the state which is the only APC state in the whole of the South-south and South-east; if they want to concede it to the PDP, all well and good. We have so many competent people in the party that can replace Obaseki. We are tired of signing MoUs. His government is about earmarking, earmarking, earmarking; as Oshiomhole would say, we want to eye-mark.” As far as we are concerned, we don’t know of any settlement, we are not interested in any settlement. All we are asking for is free, fair, direct primaries.” 

For the governor who had been celebrating series of endorsements by various groups sympathetic to him, surviving a direct primary election could be a daunting task given the massive opposition against him by those who could determine his fate. Not even his visit to the president and subsequent meeting with Oshiomhole accompanied by Dangote offered a scintilla of hope that a truce had been achieved as Oshiomhole was said to be non-committal. His response was said to have been diplomatic and at the same time political. Just as Obaseki had earlier been advised by the president, Tinubu and Dangote to go and sort himself out with Oshiomhole who against all odds installed him as governor, the former governor in the same vein, advised the governor to reach out to the aggrieved party members and leaders and make peace with them, as they were the‎ ones vested with the power to nominate the party’s governorship candidate. The national chairman of the party and leader of the APC in Edo State was said to have reminded the governor that 2020 was still about one year and a half away and he should go and continue to do his work to the satisfaction of the people. Oshiomhole particularly urged him to constitute the boards of government parastatals that had been vacant for over two and a half years as a way of carrying party members along and stem complaints of abandonment. He was also said to have expressed outrage at government-sponsored articles in the media denigrating his person. For the embattled governor, the prevailing situation is that of motion without movement. With the proclamation of the House expected next week, political watchers anticipate fresh troubles for Obaseki for failure to allow the take-off of the legislature as constitutionally provided for.

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