Show of Political Strength as VP Yemi Osinbajo, other APC Chieftains Storm Edo for Grand Rally…

Idahagbon says rally a message to Obaseki as to who Authentic members of APC are

Nigeria’s number two citizen, Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, state governors, members of the National Assembly, some members of the national executive council, as well as the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, are some of the chieftains of the ruling party expected in Benin-City, Edo State Friday at a grand welcome rally in honour of Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG who is leading thousands of former Peoples Democratic Party members into the APC. Ize-Iyamu, the first vice-chairman, South-south zone of the APC is being received in grand style following his resignation from the major opposition party, the PDP, on which platform he contested the 2016 governorship election against incumbent governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki. With Obaseki at daggers drawn with his predecessor and political benefactor, and fence-mending between Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu, some political gladiators see the scheduled rally as a show of political strength meant to send a message to the governor where the power  to determine who clinches the party’s ticket resides.

The scheduled rally had in the last few days thrown up controversies as the governor claimed he was not aware of it, while the state secretary of the party, Lawrence Okah insisted the governor and his deputy were properly informed. Okah had also raised the alarm that the state government had perfected plans to disrupt the rally and unleash mayhem on party members using thugs allegedly recruited from Kogi and Delta States. He accused a former speaker of the state House of Assembly and a security aide to the governor of coordinating the sinister plot. But despite threat of violence, the state publicity secretary of the party, Chris Azebamwan said Wednesday that the rally would take place as planned because all the needed conditions for such a rally had been met.  Azebamwan said Anselm Ojezua was no longer  competent to speak as state chairman of the APC haven been removed, and advised members of the public to ignore his statement denouncing the planned rally.

“Anselm Ojezua ceased to exist as the state chairman of the APC since November 11 when 11 members of the State Working Committee passed a vote of no confidence on him which has since been ratified by the relevant organs of the party. I have already issued a disclaimer on that. The leadership of the APC have met and we agreed that the rally is going on to receive thousands of defectors and new members who are planning to join us. Are there no other parties in the state? Don’t they hold rallies? Do they need to take permission or inform the state government that they are doing rallies? In this circumstance of holding a rally, all you need to do is to inform and get the permission of the police which we have done; so, the rally is going to hold” the publicity scribe said. Ojezua had urged members of the party and the public to discountenance the much advertised rally.

VP Yemi Osinbajo, Oshiomhole and Omo-Agege Photo Collage
VP Yemi Osinbajo, Oshiomhole and Omo-Agege Photo

However, an upbeat Henry Idahagbon, former attorney-general and commissioner for justice, and an unrepentant opponent of the governor said the rally is a strong message to Obaseki. “And the message is clear. We are the authentic members of the APC in Edo and that is why we are happy that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is joining us; we are receiving him with fanfare. We believe his coming into the party signals the end of PDP in Edo State, so the governor should as a matter of urgency retrace his steps and come back to the original party that brought him to power”. Reacting to the governor’s denial of knowledge of the planned rally, Idahagbon said the party had no reason to disbelieve its state secretary that the governor was communicated that people were coming to join the party, stressing that “and any case, it’s been a matter for the press and adverts for some couple of days; he can’t claim ignorance of it. If not direct knowledge, he has constructive knowledge of the event. But I can assure you that he was informed”. On Obaseki’s boast that either by primary or indirect primary he would clinch APC ticket, Idahagbon’s response was “let’s get to the river first; when we get to that river, we will cross it”.

Amidst fear of likely violence, some members of the group of 14 lawmakers-elect say they may not attend the rally for fear of their lives. They had to take refuge in Abuja following spate of attacks on them by suspected agents of government. One of them who spoke to the magazine on condition of anonymity, said gleefully “Iron wants to meet iron on Friday but I won’t be there; some of us will not be there because we would be targets”. Recalling the violent attack on them sometime this year as a result of which they fled to Abuja, the lawmaker said “what they did to us at the Golden Tulip Hotel, it was God that saved us. It was like a civil war. I will not be there; maybe some of my colleagues would be there. They said anywhere they see us, they should attack us”.

Washington Osifo, spokesman of the group of 14, however, confirmed to the magazine that he would be attending the mega rally, and described Ize-Iyamu as one politician with “cross-party appeal”. Osifo, a former commissioner for education, said he would not blame people who associate his returning to the party with his governorship ambition because he once contested. He was however quick to add that “governorship issue is a decision for all of us to take. Ize-Iyamu has cross-party appeal. He was a founding member of PDP and APC, and he was the first vice-chairman, South-south of APC; so, naturally, you would expect he has foothold in both political parties. Both PDP and APC are homes to him because he contributed to the building of both homes. He’s one man that has cross-party appeal”.  

As the haemorrhaging opposition party losing thousands of its members to the APC with Ize-Iyamu leading the exodus, the PDP also decided to join the fray, taunting the factionalized APC of inability to put its house in order. A statement by the state publicity secretary of the PDP, Chris Nehikhare noted that in the last 24 to 48 hours, Edo people had been inundated with threats and counter-threats “from the at least three factions that exists in a party that is known for its intolerance and propensity for violence, maiming, and arson” which it said has led to the non-representation of up to 14 constituencies in the state house of assembly since its proclamation.

According to the main opposition party, “they are now upping the ante by boasting and accusing each other of importing thugs from Kogi State. We are all aware of the antecedents of Kogi APC thugs. We hereby call on the police and other security agencies to be at alert as the built-up tensions by the disgruntled factions in Edo APC can only deliver sorrow, tears, and blood”. While advising that a proper and effective security arrangement be put in place “to checkmate these “tatatata political” misfits”, the PDP said it sympathised with Edo people “who are now made to feel insecure and bear the brunt of the naked and crude power-play within a party that was foisted on them”. Nehikhare concluded that there is however light at the end of the tunnel as Edo people will have a chance to vote and chase “these crazy bald heads” out of the town in a few months.

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