…Accuse Obaseki of attempt to Close Political Space
Ahead of the 2020 governorship election in Edo State, a coalition of gubernatorial aspirants on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, with the exception of the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, has thrown its weight behind the Senator Ahmed Lawan National Reconciliation Committee of the party stating that it “wholeheartedly welcome” the urgent intervention of the committee. And in demonstration of their avowed unequivocal support for the committee, the aspirants, namely Pius Odubu, immediate past deputy governor of the state, Charles Airhiavbere, a retired Army General and former governorship candidate, Christopher Ogiemwonyi, an engineer and former minister of state for Works, and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, and former governorship candidate in the 2016 election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said they were indeed prepared with their memoranda for presentation to the committee and urged every genuine stakeholder of the party to cooperate with it.
At a well-attended press conference on Thursday at the Press Centre of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, the aspirants who were joined by other stakeholders of the party, said: “We collectively desire a party that is stable, virile and viable for us to realize our individual and collective aspirations so as to provide effective, efficient and productive leadership for our dear state”. The 10-member Ahmed Lawan Reconciliation Committee was a child of necessity having been set up Wednesday, December 18, 2019, to look into the lingering crises in many state chapters of the party, notably Edo State. The APC in the state had been engulfed in a serious crisis following a nocturnal inauguration of the state House of Assembly and election of principal officers by the faction of the party loyal to the governor. Several efforts to resolve the crisis had been unsuccessful due to the rejection of several interventions by the governor’s faction. The Ahmed Lawan Committee was the latest effort at reconciling the two factions ahead of the governorship election in the state this year.
A terse statementby the APC National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, announcing thesetting up of the committee said it was raised after due consultationswith the party’s stakeholders. “This, he said, “is in line with the November22, 2019 resolution of the party’s NEC. The First (Interim) APC NationalChairman, Chief Bisi Akande, would serve as the Vice-Chairman. Other members ofthe committee are Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase; SenatorUmaru Tanko Al-Makura; Senator Kashim Shettima; Minister of State forEnvironment, Sharon Ikeazor; Alhaji Nasiru Aliko Koki; Senator KhairatGwadabe-Abdulrazak; Senator Binta Garba and Senator John Enoh (Secretary). Thecommittee is empowered to address grievances of party members and resolveexisting conflicts, all with a view to fostering unity and oneness within theparty”.
No sooner the new committee was raised however than the Obasekifaction of the party kicked, saying that it rejected the committee because someof the members were allegedly already biased. Commending the President, Muhammadu Buhari and the National Working Committee under theleadershipof Adams Oshiomhole,immediate past governor of Edo State,“for the various peace initiatives they haveinstituted but which have surprisingly been rejected by the Governor of EdoState who has even gone ahead to institute court actions to stop these peaceinitiatives”, Odubu who spoke on behalf of other governorship aspirants,expressed their desire for “a party that is stable, virile and viable for us torealize our individual and collective aspirations so as to provide effective,efficient and productive leadership for our dear state”. According tothem, “we also believe, and quite rightly too, that the attempt to close thepolitical space and shut the doors against potential contestants for the officeof the Governor of Edo State by the incumbent governor is antithetical tothe established norms of democracy” positing that “we must all be allowed tosubject ourselves to the democratic process without let or hindrance”.
Expressing their concern about developments in the state under the current administration as de facto and bona fide leaders and critical stakeholders in the party who had individually and collectively committed their lives to the service of the state and nation in different capacities in the past, the governorship hopefuls said: “we, therefore, consider it imperative for us to leave our comfort zones to add our voices to the solutions that will restore peace and unity among Edo people once again”. They recalled that since the middle of 2018, the ruling party had been embroiled in “needless crisis arising from the deliberate alienation of party leaders and members from the Government the party worked hard to install in 2016 through the wishes of Edo People”.
They noted that “ofparticular concern to us is the inability of the state House of Assemblymembers of our state elected on the platform of our party to perform theresponsibility of lawmaking for which they were elected since June 2019”stressing that “this is unprecedented and does not represent the progressivecharacter of the Edo People”. The governorship aspirants also observed “withgreat trepidation the orgy of politically-motivated violence across the Statetargeted at members of our great party who dared to hold opposing views fromGovernment” describing it as unacceptable in a democratic setting.
While frowning at “the litany of attacks on the person and office of the National Chairman of our party and the onslaught against prominent Edo sons and daughters perceived as threats to the second term ambition of the Edo State Governor”, they pointed out that “as stakeholders, we have made both individual and collective efforts at restoring sanity to the polity but it appears that as we inch closer to the elections, the apprehension in the land is on the increase. We, therefore, commend our traditional institution in Edo State which took various steps to promote peace and unity in our state. At this point, we wish to place on record that Edo State and its people remain one of the most politically sophisticated, enlightened and pragmatic in the Federation and we cannot sit back and allow our State slide into abyss”.
They pledged their continued unalloyed support and confidence in the leadership of the party in the state “headed by Col. Dr. David Imuse (Rtd) and at the National level under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole”. They also thanked Buhari and other national leaders of the party “for their insistence on party supremacy” noting that “the successes that have been recorded by the party across the country, particularly the recent inclusion of Bayelsa and Imo States into the comity of APC States, must serve as impetus for us to retain Edo State with firmer grip in the 2020 gubernatorial election”. They expressed their commitment to ensuring full compliance with the party directives as the party goes into the election “and urge our brother, Governor Obaseki that in a multi-party democracy, everyone, no matter how highly placed, must be subject to party laws and rules. Therein lies the respect, order, and decency in the inter-relationship between government and the people”.
However, in his reaction, the factional chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua, described the press conference as the latest resort by the Oshiomhole faction as “aimed at extricating themselves from the consequences of the crisis, which they caused” adding that “their action is taken in realisation of the fact that all attempts they have made in conspiracy with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to destabilise the government in Edo State and create political distraction have failed”. Ojezua posited that “in general, Edo people and members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) both at home and abroad understand the agitation of these individuals and are in firm support of Governor Godwin Obaseki and his administration”. On some of the issues raised at the conference, Ojezua said it was unfortunate that the “dissidents” do not understand the concept of party supremacy, asserting that “the supremacy of the party is embedded in the rules contained in the constitution of the party, and not rested on any party officer, no matter how highly placed. Everyone who is a member of the party must bow to the party’s constitution”. According to the factional chairman whose removal had been ratified by the national working committee (NWC) of the party, Ojezua insisted that “bowing to the whims and caprices of any individual no matter how highly placed when such a person is acting in violation of the constitution of the party does not amount to upholding party supremacy. Party supremacy does not rest in Abuja alone but must be respected at every level of the party, from the ward, local government area, state, and national levels. The national officers of the party, no matter how highly placed, must subject themselves to the supremacy of the party at these levels”.
Faulting the governorship aspirants on their support for Imuse, Ojezua noted that “in one breath, they speak of the rule of law, yet in another, they pay tribute to one Col. David Imuse (rtd) as chairman of the party in the state when there is a subsisting court order restraining him from parading himself as Chairman of the APC in Edo State. That same court ordered for status quo of Anselm Ojezua’s chairmanship of the party be maintained.” On the call for a fresh proclamation of the House of Assembly, Ojezua said, “these individuals who claim to be apostles of the rule of law, have repeatedly condemned the proclamation of the Edo State House of Assembly by the Edo State Governor, when a court of competent jurisdiction, specifically the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, not only upheld the proclamation but also restrained the governor from repeating the process. Even the current Chief Justice of Edo State, Hon. Justice Edigin, subjected herself to the authority of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly, which these so-called democrats have continuously vilified”.
Reiterating its rejection of the Ahmed Lawan National Reconciliation Committee, Ojezua said, “It must be known that we are not averse to reconciliation. However, the constitution of any National Reconciliation Committee must be done with respect to the dictates of Natural Justice. Parties to a dispute should not be allowed to adjudicate on matters where they have shown reasonable interest. This is the defect of the Reconciliation Committee set up by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and a few associates within the National Working Committee”. The embattled factional chairman said, “while we support the constitution of a Reconciliation Committee to clear the mess caused by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and a few dissidents within Edo APC, it will be best constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the National Leader of the party, as was decided in the last National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja.”
Also joining the fray, the major opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, berated the governorship aspirants, describing them as “a group of professional governorship aspirants” who “in a feeble attempt to sound as statesmen, made and classified their party issues as Edo state problem”. In a statement by the state publicity secretary of the party, Chris Nehikhare, the PDP said it condemned “in all its ramifications, the loose use of ‘restore peace and unity among Edo people once again’, stating that “Edo people are united against your arrogance and impunity. We are living in peace with ourselves. It’s your lot in APC that are disunited and living in chaos! There is no apprehension in the land. The apprehension is in your party as Edo people have decided to reject any and all the three factions that exist within your party. The apprehension you feel is the imminent sack of your party!”
Nehikhare said the PDP was glad the APC acknowledged that Edo state and its people remained “one of the most politically sophisticated, enlightened and pragmatic in the federation”, adding that “what beats my imagination is the audacity with which you think these people will still vote for you after your crass display of political arrogance, vindictiveness, wickedness, and treachery… Truth be told, how can you still seek votes from a people your internal quibbling has traumatized? You have left 14 constituencies unrepresented in the state house of assembly and your government has deliberately abandoned projects that will benefit the people. How will you justify seeking for votes? You have by your admission said Governor Obaseki and APC have failed”. The PDP accused the ruling party of lacking democratic tenets and advertised it to realize that “the desperation being exhibited by all of you, including the governor, to grab your ticket at all cost is because you believe you can win Edo State whether you are voted for or not… We know that even as we have been clamoring for the electoral bill to be signed into law, you have been urging Mr. President to stall till after Edo elections. Edo people will reject you and no matter how sanctimonious you want to sound or look, Edo people know that you are the problem”.