As All Progressives Congress (APC) prepares for its primaries ahead the September, 2016 Edo State Governorship Election, some aspirants for the party’s ticket and their supporters have continued to express fears over Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s alleged endorsement of one of the aspirants, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, threatening that anything short of free and fair primaries will endanger the fortunes of the party at the governorship election.
Aside Obaseki, who is the head of the economic team of Oshiomhole’s government, other prominent aspirants for the ticket of APC in the governorship election include the Deputy Governor of the state, Dr Pius Odubu, Mr. Kenneth Imasuagbon (fondly called the Rice man), former governor of the state, Prof. Osarhiemen Osunbor, Works Commissioner, Osarodion Ogie, former Minister of State (Works), Dr Chris Ogiemwonyi and Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, amongst others.
The tension over Oshiomhole’s alleged preference for one of the aspirants, which has been building up since late last year, when it was first rumoured but was stoutly denied, gathered steam in January this year, when the governor was reported as openly supporting Obaseki and for making government facilities and aides available to him to promote his ambition at the expense of the other aspirants.
Insiders told our correspondent that this allegation, which is the major subject of contention within the party in the South-South state today, is giving the leadership of APC concern as some of the aggrieved aspirants have allegedly reached out to top leaders of the party outside the state, warning that they would resist any form of imposition.
A top campaign official of one of the high-profile aspirants, who revealed the current moves by the concerned aspirants, told our correspondent this week that “Oshiomhole’s open support of Obaseki has split the party along ethnic and ideological lines. From what we are seeing, it seems clear that the governor is trying to change the goalpost in the middle of the game. This is not acceptable to us. Everybody knows that the calibre of aspirants in the race for APC ticket today was made possible because the governor initially and openly promised to allow a level playing field, to ensure that only the best and most popular candidate would emerge APC flag bearer. If what we are seeing is real, someone is poised to breach that sustaining trust.”
Calling on President Muhammadu Buhari and the national leadership of APC to wade into the matter urgently to save the party in the state, the source, who is a campaign director of one of the aspirants asked rhetorically, “Will President Buhari, APC chieftains and national leaders of the party allow Governor Adams Oshiomole to go ahead and impose a candidate in Edo APC? Is it not common knowledge that he is sponsoring delegates to favour his candidate? So, why are the leaders folding their hands and watching this dangerous development, knowing the obvious consequence of destroying the party’s chances at the real governorship election?”
The source added, “We all know that the governor came in with a populist ideology as a labour leader, fighting for the welfare of the people and so they embraced him and the party but it seems he has turned out to be a capitalist. In his actions, especially on this issue of how his successor would emerge, he is not walking the talk as he now sees himself as alpha and omega. He should allow people’s will to prevail and shouldn’t be allowed to truncate Buhari’s change mantra.
“When he called Anenih, Ogbemudia and Igbinedion godfathers, Edo people believed him. Is he now the godfather? We are worried, not just because of our personal aspirations but because of the likely effect of this action on the fortunes of APC in the state and on the overall politics of the state. It is not enough to suspend and intimidate party chairmen and APC chieftains in the state. What we and the party national leaders should be concerned of is how this development will impact on the party in the state. If you ask me, it will impact negatively. It will be better for all of us, including the party and the governor, if free and fair primary election is allowed in Edo and if the governor retains his father image for all the aspirants. This way, APC will remain united and strong.”
Already, some recent reports confirm sharp disagreement between some APC chieftains in the state and governor’s close associates and aides on the alleged plot to foist Obaseki. For example, it was recently reported that while Anselm Ojezua, Edo APC Chairman, denied that the governor would impose a candidate, the state Attorney– General and Commissioner for Justice, Henry Idahagbon, confirmed the governor’s support for the aspirant. Ojezua was quoted in an earlier interview as saying, “the governor would never consider handpicking a candidate when he should be playing the role of an impartial arbiter in a most sensitive issue as a candidate to succeed him. All the over 20 candidates in the race are all Oshiomhole’s favourities,” he said. But in a later report, Idahagbon was quoted as saying that the governor had thrown his weight behind Godwin Obaseki.
What may influence the parties’ choices?
Preliminary investigations into the current sentiment of both the political leaderships in Edo State and amongst the common people show that the issue of who will succeed Oshiomhole would be determined not only by the calibre of the aspirant but also by the unity of either the ruling APC or the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the election. The fact is that the two political parties now have strong roots in Edo State. So, none of the two leading parties would afford serious disunity amongst its leaders during the election. As a result of this reality, which some insiders said may be decisive, the two leading political parties in the state may be forced to weigh all options and likely effects before electing their candidates. This explains why some national leaders of APC are expressing concern over the alleged plans to impose a candidate; a development they feared may negatively affect the unity of the ruling party during the governorship election.
The opposition PDP will not wait to celebrate such disunity in the camp of the ruling APC. Confirming this, Tony Edosoma, a grassroots PDP leader in Edo Central, said, “We understand there are threats in APC that if some of their governorship aspirants confirm the governor imposed one of them on the party, then the rest will work against the party. For us in PDP, we have always known the celebration and the noise in APC in Edo State will not be forever. Whether or not they fight amongst themselves, PDP will regain Edo State’s Government House this year. If they fight themselves over imposition, it will only make the task of dislodging them easier for us,” he boasted.
Also, considering the widespread belief that APC-led government of Adams Oshiomhole performed very well, bookmakers are of the opinion today that an APC candidate, if generally accepted, will be on a better footing than other candidates during the September governorship election.
But our findings show that aside performance of the outgoing governor and the current popularity of his party, APC, people’s sentiment on the need for what they described as “fair zoning,” will play a major part. This is a major challenge that all the parties must take into consideration in the election of their candidate if they hope to win the governorship election. In this case, Edo Central Senatorial District is being favoured by many leaders for the sake of equity and fairness. Dr. Eugene Iyare, a political commentator in Benin, told our correspondent on Thursday that the quest for Edo Central to produce the next governor of the state in 2016 “is non-negotiable.” He explained that the agitation is “for the purpose of justice, equity and fair play.”
According to him, “Edo Central had only occupied the governor’s office for only 18 months. The people of Edo Central are therefore demanding to be allowed to produce the next governor to take over from Oshiomhole in 2016. Honestly, I think the people of Edo South, which had occupied the position for over nine years when Lucky Igbinedion held sway and Edo North presently completing its eight years in that office in the person of Oshiomhole, should not argue about it. It is the turn of Edo Central.”
Given these contentions, insiders said the parties must take the people’s sentiment into consideration before determining who will fly their gubernatorial flags.
Summarizing the situation in APC, Chief Eric Obaseki, a retired civil servant in Benin, told our correspondent that “although other parties may field candidates, the battle would most likely be between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So, the major task before these two parties is the task of picking the right candidate from the right zone. From what I have seen so far, apart from ensuring that the candidate has what it takes to step into the big shoes of the Comrade Governor, zoning may be the major consideration here,” he said. He added, “From the calibre of aspirants so far, there is no doubt that we have qualified people vying to succeed the comrade governor. But fair is fair, any of the parties that fails to consider where its candidate comes from may pay dearly for it.”
So as Edo prepares for the governorship primaries amidst intense pressure on who emerges the parties’ flag bearers and how they emerged, our investigation shows that the leading aspirants for Oshiomhole’s job from APC today include:
As the head of Governor Oshiomhole’s economic team, Godwin Obaseki is considered a very close aide of the out-going governor. He is the aspirant the governor is accused of throwing his weight on at the detriment of the others. This has made him one of the leading aspirants for the ticket today.
But our enquiries reveal that the governor’s efforts to sell his candidacy may have suffered serious opposition from powerful stakeholders.
Besides criticism arising from an attempt to impose him on others and on the state, Obaseki’s critics said he has no background and experience in politics. They said he has no supporters and is not known like the other leading aspirants.
But his defenders insist he fits the bill because Oshiomhole is looking for the best man, especially a technocrat or someone with private sector background, with a firm grasp of the relevant issues today to succeed him.
A lawyer, philanthropist and former aspirant to the Edo State Government House in the April, 2012 election, Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon has emerged the major aspirant in the race for APC governorship ticket. This is because apart from his distinguished private sector background, as a foremost educationist in Nigeria, Imasuagbon has made a unique mark as a genuine philanthropist. One of his philanthropic gestures has earned him the name, the Rice Man. This has, according to insiders in Edo State, made him the man of the common people. He is also said to be very popular, amongst the youths in the three senatorial districts of the state, most of who have benefitted from his continuous I-pad gifts and scholarships.
A respondent said even when there is no election at sight the Rice man still gives out during festivities, like Christmas, New Year, Sallah, etc. During these festivities, he distributes thousands of bags of rice to the less privileged in the three senatorial districts in the state; a gesture he explained was to put smiles on the faces of the poor during the festive periods.
Asked to explain why he gives out rice to the people, Imasuagbon said, “This is my own commitment to fighting poverty in my state. I came from a home where there was no rice to eat but now that I can afford rice, my commitment is that to the extent God permits, I will always give food, every time, to the poor in Edo State and if I had enough money, I will send it to other parts of the country to put smile on the faces of the people.”
Another factor that may go for the Rice man is his wide experience and strong political structure in Edo State. He is one of the few aspirants for APC ticket that can combine grassroots popularity with the right political connection and experience. Besides these, his private sector background fits into what insiders said Oshiomhole wants for a successor. He is also from Edo Central; the zone many say should produce the next governor of Edo if fairness and equity are to be given their pride of place.
Besides these two aspirants, other visible aspirants for the ticket include, the deputy governor, Hon. Pius Egberanmwen Odubu, from Urhomehe in Urhonigbe North Ward, Orhionmwon Local Governrnent Area of Edo State, the former governor of the state, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, from Edo Central, Chris Osa Ogiemwonyi and Major-General Charles Airhiavbere (retired), the PDP candidate at the 2012 Edo State Governorship Election.
Pius Egberanmwen Odubu
Considered by many as one of the frontline aspirants on the platform of the ruling APC is. Odubu, a lawyer who served two terms at the House of Representatives, is currently the Deputy Governor of Edo State.
Another top APC aspirant is Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor. He was elected Senator for the Edo Central constituency at the start of the Nigerian Fourth Republic, on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In April 2007, he was elected Governor of Edo State also on PDP platform but only spent 18 months on the seat before he lost at the tribunal and the Appeal Court to Oshiomhole.
Chris Osa Ogiemwonyi
An engineer with over 30 years of work experience in the oil and gas industry, who retired as Executive Director (Exploration and Production), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), before his appointment as Minister of State for Works, Chris Osa Ogiemwonyi has consistently harped on his desire to render service to the people. But his critics have said that he cannot boast of the kind of solid political structure that would enable him win the APC governorship primaries.
His response to this is however instructive. He had said, “I hear that and I laugh when I hear it; structure, what is structure, these are human beings. What is going to play out now and tomorrow in Nigeria is not how deep you are in politics, but people are going to respect the character of the person
Major-General Charles Airhiavbere (retired) was Commander, Corps of Army Finance and Accounts at the Army Headquarters. An accountant, he was the PDP candidate at the 2012 Edo State Governorship Election. Now in APC, he is seen as one of the aspirants whose supporters are already deeply involved in consultations.
With such array of highly qualified aspirants, and their consistent call for a free playing ground observers say the threat over alleged plot to impose an aspirant over the other APC governorship aspirants should not be overlooked by Oshiomhole and APC national leaders. It remains to be seen how the current tension will be resolved before the primaries.