By Ken Edokpayi
The much expected ward congresses of the All Progressives Congress, APC, across the state may have come and gone, but it was obviously one exercise that left soured taste in the mouths of quite a number of party leaders and members.
The reasons for this sad tale are not far-fetched: there was a complete abandonment of the rationalizing principles of internal democracy and fair-play, coupled with an amazing theatrical enthronement of thuggery, back-biting, witch-hunting and the absence of due process.
Almost in all the wards across the state, the congress exercises, meant to elect the party officials at the ward levels, were characterized by glaring, deliberate irregularities, which further brought to the fore, and escalated the sectional interests of the different contending factions in the party. Expressions of violent disagreements as a result of calculated disenfranchisement of bonafide members of the party by these contending forces, to freely and willingly choose their preferred officials, defined the order of the day. These were further heightened by sporadic firing of tear-gas that later degenerated into staccato gunshots that scared away scores of party members from the venues of congresses, and with quite some others going away with different degrees of injuries.
With these scenarios playing out in several other locations across the state, especially in Edo South senatorial districts, Edo people woke up the next day to unbelievable commendations of the exercise by some high ranking party leaders in the state, including the State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his Deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu, who said the congresses held across the state were peaceful and orderly! What is more, the State Police Commissioner, Mr. Foluso Adebanjo also surprisingly labeled the congresses as free and peaceful across the state, underscoring the seeming, vicious connivance of a section of the APC party leadership and membership to fool Edo people and subject them to ridicule. Pray, tell me, would the Commissioner of police in the state classify the gun-shots that rented the air in several of the congress centres across the state fireworks to celebrate the peaceful congresses? This, truly, is sacrilegious.
However, as if to indict these people that they were lying brazenly, the APC leadership, rising from a hurriedly scheduled damage-control stakeholders’ meeting on Wednesday, 9th April, 2014, said, in a press statement signed by its Interim State Publicity Secretary, Comrade Godwin Erhahon, that congresses held in Edo South senatorial district be cancelled and that Saturday the 12th of April had been fixed for rescheduled congresses in the seven Edo South local government areas of Oredo, Ikpoba-Okha, Egor, Ovia North East, Ovia South West, Orhionmwon and Uhunmwode. This he maintained was sequel to the complaints and protests by the various contending factions.
In the Edo Central senatorial district, the congresses were relatively peaceful, as the contending interests may have properly harmonized before the Tuesday ratification day. A former Transition Committee Chairman in Esan North East, Mr. Anslem Adima, described the congress in the locality as 95% successful and peaceful, urging those who lost out in the position grabbing, to align with others who won to move the party forward in the senatorial district. However, a former youth leader of the APC in Uromi, who simply gave his name as Ebosele, said the congresses were not free and fair, and insisted that the aggrieved APC members were likely to find their ways back to the PDP, which he said “are now effectively practicing internal democracy.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, 10th April, 2014, some protesting members of the APC in the Edo South senatorial districts gathered at the Oba Ovoranmwen Square, at the gate of the Edo State House of Assembly, specifically, to register their displeasure at the decision of the party leadership to cancel congresses held in Edo South senatorial district.
The irate party members, brandishing banners with various inscriptions chanted “we no go gree o, we no go gree!” in obvious disenchantment at the cancelled congresses. The crowd had to disperse as it became obvious that the leadership of the House were equally locked up in another damage-control meeting at another location in the state capital.
In the interim, as expected by political watchers in the state, the leadership of the APC has fingered the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as responsible for its woes and inability to conduct a free, fair and peaceful congress across the state. Interim State Publicity Secretary, Comrade Godwin Erhahon, noted in the party’s recent press release that the APC was aware of attempts by the PDP to infiltrate its ranks through the congress.
Read part of the press release: “The APC is particularly monitoring PDP bargain with one of its faction in Edo South, whose leader PDP has promised Senatorial ticket for himself, UBTH Chief Medical Director for his wife and lucrative role in Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organization under which some of his supporters have been shortlisted for different assignments, if the outcome of the congress does not favour his governorship ambition in APC,” insisting that all the premature press statements issued by some of the APC protesters, to disparage and blackmail the party, even before they complained formally to the authority, were part of the grand plot to bring down APC for PDP.
Erhahon noted that the allegation that the State Congress Committee from Abuja, appointed ward congress committees from supporters of one faction only, was equally part of the destabilization agenda “because all APC stakeholders, including those who are now complaining, unanimously mandated the committee to pick names randomly from list of ad-hoc staff who performed APC membership registration exercise in February.”
Meanwhile, it would be recalled that even the membership registration exercise of the APC in February 2014, was yet another sore point in the life of the fledgling party in the state, as accusations and counter-accusations equally characterized the exercise.
The contending issues during the membership registration exercise and the ward congresses have always been the violent clashes of interests between party forces loyal to the State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and others loyal to Pastor (Barrister) Osagie Ize-Iyamu-led faction.
It had earlier been speculated by political watchers that the registration exercise would be as tension-soaked as well as it would be crisis-ridden, because long before the exercise, and especially in anticipation of the party congresses and primaries later in the year, the Edo APC had been factionalized along the Oshiomhole, Ize-Iyamu and Odubu lines.
Said a political commentator, Mr. Sunny Ighede, in a chat with The Navigator, shortly before the membership registration exercise, in February, “the crisis that has consumed the state APC today was long expected. As an out-going governor, Comrade Oshiomhole is hell-bent on nominating and anointing his successor, irrespective of what other party leaders would say. From his actions all this while, especially after the first two years of his first tenure, Oshiomhole became somewhat of a dictator, trying and succeeding in imposing his will, thoughts and body-language on all and sundry in the party. Soon, it became very clear that he wanted to anoint a successor, which unfortunately was not anyone amongst those very many of the party leaders and members were suspecting.
“At a time, the Deputy Governor, Pius Odubu, could no longer hide his dreams to succeed Oshiomhole; that dream was natural, at least a Deputy trying to take over from his former boss, is healthy thinking. Then also was Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a powerful and influential leader in the party, who had been nursing the gubernatorial ambition long before the arrival of Comrade Oshiomhole on the platform of the then Action Congress.
“So, before the commencement of the membership registration exercise, these three forces and personalities were expected to play highly decisive and crucial roles. So, the tension, crisis and violence, really, did not come to me as a surprise.”
Mr. Ighede traced the crisis to the “selfish” fight over what he called “the ownership of the political structure. “Every politician,” he noted, “who feels he is a leader who should be calling the shots, should establish, control and fund his own structure, men, women and youths who would answer him night or day. Granted in 2007, Oshiomhole practically had no political structure in the Action Congress, which he crossed to from the Labour Party. He took part in the AC congress that threw him up as the gubernatorial candidate of the party, merely two weeks to the congress in a party, where Matthew Atamah, Kenneth Imazuagbon and Charles Idahosa, had established and firmed up their supporters. Without mincing words, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, who effectively called the shots in the AC party then, availed Oshiomhole the opportunity of using his own (Ize-Iyamu’s) structure. I do remember that that was how Oshiomhole emerged the gubernatorial candidate of the AC at that time.”
Mr. Ighede opined that Oshiomhole may have had to contend with so many other issues, one of which was probably the dearth of key, loyal members, whom he could influence to deliver his candidates at the congress and primaries, where these members would be the authorizing delegates.
In his words, “This reasoning actually fuelled the desperation to appropriate members to himself by all means, including fraudulent ones, to out-scheme other contending influences and leaders in the party. It explained why, for instance, at the same registration centre, there would be two canopies: one for his own supporters and the other for supporters of Ize-Iyamu! It even got to a point where thugs of both divides unleashed violence on themselves, with some reportedly engaging in a shooting spree right there at the governor’s office when the atmosphere became too charged. We saw cases of membership cards’ booklets, which were supposed to contain a hundred membership cards, reduced to 40 and in some cases 30 for a unit! Obviously some persons had yanked off some of these booklets before bringing them to the registration centres; this could only mean fraud in capital letters.”
In his own interview with The Navigator, a Benin-based social critic, Mr. Pius Igiehon, lashed at Gov. Oshiomhole for “his obvious hypocrisy and anti-democratic antics” insisting that as the leader of the party in the state, “a party that prides itself as different from others,” he was supposed to ensure that “things went well, fairly and appropriately. In fact, right now, he should be ashamed that his leadership in the state could not conduct a simple membership registration of his political party. If he could not supervise an exercise, supposedly as simple as that, what temerity has he to venture into criticizing the INEC over election time-table?”
He noted that what the crisis-ridden membership registration exercise and party ward congresses had shown was “a deliberate unpreparedness of the Oshiomhole-led leadership of the APC in the state to depart from the odious path and mistakes of past political alliances, and forge the expected change needed to emancipate our people from the apron string of political jobbers and corrupt leadership. This failed membership registration exercise has taken the APC back to the starting block, where we would begin to ask questions about the readiness of the alliance to bring about the change it mouths.”
Igiehon explained further, “To identify members of a political party, there is need for documentation. Documentation of members of a political party is the simplest exercise any party can carry out. Therefore, membership registration is a responsibility a party can exercise. The All Progressives Congress, APC, is a party that says it wants to bring about change. It is surprising to note that the just concluded registration exercise of the party in Edo State is a huge disappointment, particularly in Oredo local government area, where you have a Comrade Governor.”
While maintaining that since the inception of his government, Comrade Oshiomhole had always professed democracy and the rule of law. “The party’s membership registration exercise and the ward congresses,” Igiehon remarked, “was another opportunity that presented itself for the governor to make amends to several other anti-democratic antics held against his name and person in the past; but yet again he failed to utilize the chance, preferring instead to exhibit his uncouth, anti-democratic whims. It is a huge disappointment. How can he explain a ward congress exercise which equally ended in gun-shooting and scores of injuries to party members? ”