Heady days for Obaseki as APC guber primary gets close
Hot on the heels of anticipated resurgence of social activities after the ongoing restriction of movement as part of the containment measures against COVID-19 spread would be the rise in momentum of processes leading to Edo State gubernatorial poll. From the look of things around and within the state, the coming weeks and days promises to be interesting times for incumbent Godwin Obaseki, who has not hidden his determination to seek and secure a second term in office, as governor of Edo State.
But for the intrusion of COVID-19 anxieties, the state would have been embroiled in the contentious issue of what method to adopt for the governorship primary earlier scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
At the build up to last month’s botched meeting of All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, Governor Obaseki had convened a meeting of South-South leaders, ostensibly to pencil a likely replacement for the embattled national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Within that period, when it seemed so probable that Oshiomhole was on the verge of losing his stake as the national chairman, Obaseki exulted in his new role as the giant-killer and leader of change-makers in the ruling party.
Obaseki’s allies and foot soldiers, both at the national and state levels, mobilized efforts in the South-South zone to fine-tune strategies aimed at ensuring a seamless exit of Oshiomhole from office as national chairman during the planned meeting, both of the national caucus and NEC. Some prominent stakeholders of the party from the South-South, including the former governor of Rivers State, now Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, were said to be involved in the search for Oshiomhole’s replacement to ensure that the position did not elude the zone.
Although supporters of Oshiomhole, particularly members of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM) and APC National Vice Chairman, South-South, Mr. Hillard Ntufam Eta, warned stakeholders in the zone to stay away from the meeting scheduled for Benin City, investigations by The Guardian showed that the meeting later proved to be the undoing of Obaseki’s camp.
Sources within the party, which pleaded anonymity to respect the reconciliation efforts in the party, disclosed that by insisting that Oshiomhole’s prospective successor come from South/South, the Obaseki camp lost the strategic buy-in of crucial northern stakeholders in the ‘Oshiomhole-Must-Go’ plot.
“We expected that they should have nominated a former governor from the north to support the argument that Oshiomhole’s replacement was a stop-gap meant to reconcile the various points of disagreement in the party,” the source explained. “When we confronted them with the riskiness of their gamble, the South/South stakeholders told us that their people would not be happy with them for throwing away a position zoned to them. At that point we did not have sufficient argument to put across during the meeting with the presidency.”
It would be recalled that the South/South national vice chairman, Eta, had argued in a statement he issued to denounce the meeting, saying that Obaseki was not vested with the party’s constitutional powers to call a meeting of zonal leaders. Etta disclosed that the political leader in the zone, “the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, is not aware of any such meeting. So we are calling on all our leaders not to attend any such meeting because it is ill-conceived and ill-motivated.
“At this point in time, we are focusing on how to strengthen our great party under the leadership of Comrade Oshiomhole and not to destabilise the party.”
With the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari, through the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, a cessation of hostilities was ordered, just as the NEC meeting was adjourned indefinitely to pave way for a healing process under Oshiomhole’s charge alongside the Chief Bisi Akande committee.
Although the semblance of an atmosphere of ‘no-victor-no-vanquished’ was created through the presidency’s intervention, parties to the disagreement seem to have taken the development as a mere postponement of the showdown.
Back to the trenches
The mutual suspicion and antagonism have continued between the main gladiators, notably Oshiomhole and Obaseki, culminating in a recent meeting of leaders of EPM, where plans to ensure that the incumbent does not get APC’s ticket on a platter were explored. Sources at the meeting confided in The Guardian that after examining scenarios that preceded governorship primaries in certain states where the party’s tickets were subjects of hot contention, it was agreed by majority of those in attendance that the Gulak option seemed more potent.
Some of the states where APC had contentious gubernatorial primaries included Lagos, Zamfara, Bayelsa and Imo States. While in the instance of Lagos State the incumbent was denied a second term ticket through the political cleverness of some powerful chieftains, in Imo attempts by the then outgoing governor Rochas Okorocha to impose his son-in-law gave rise to what the Edo Peoples Movement now refer to as the Gulak treatment.
It was gathered that of the two options considered in the meeting held in the home of a governorship aspirant, the Gulak option was preferred so as to “ensure that Obaseki does not feature on the ballot.”
Signs that Governor Obaseki’s second term ticket would be the major cause of renewed confrontation emerged when the Deputy National Chairman (North) of the party, Senator Lawal Shuaibu told reporters after he was readmitted to the National Working Committee NWC meeting that Obaseki was APC’s strongest candidate for the Edo State governorship election.
Shuaibu, who has the support of APC’s state governors, has been the arrowhead of the internal disagreements within the NWC, especially after he wrote the highly inflammable letter charging Oshiomhole of high handedness and lack of capacity to lead the ruling party. It was gathered that most of the first term governors are united in the demand for Obaseki to be handed the party’s ticket without contest in line with agreements at the presidency.
But, sources at the recent Benin meeting resolved that since there is nothing like automatic ticket in APC constitution, Obaseki should be made to face the party faithful during the governorship primary.
In the alternative, Oshiomhole’s supporters were said to have insisted that the only way Obaseki could get an affirmative primary is for him to accede to a set of demands, which the source disclosed were not different from those set out by the immediate past Deputy Governor, Hon. Pius Odubu, during the victory rally in support of Oshiomhole after the reprieve from the presidency.
While declaring that March 16, 2020 as “a day of victory for justice, due process and the rule of law,” Odubu had stylishly reeled out what they considered as Obaseki’s sins against APC stakeholders. After recalling the alleged decision of Obaseki to scuttle his appointment as board chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Odubu declared that the last straw was “the attempt to remove the national chairman of APC.”
He had stated further: “It started with the illegal midnight inauguration of the 17th of June, 2019 where majority of our members-elect were excluded from inauguration and till today they have not been inaugurated.
“He thereafter proceeded to the harassment and attack of party members who are not disposed to his second term bid. Even the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was not spared as he has been attacked severally both in Benin City and in his hometown, Iyamho.”
Apart from the adoption of the Gulak approach to displace Obaseki, it was also gathered that the other highlight of the meeting was a call on the four prominent APC governorship aspirants, including Dr. Chris Ogiemwonyi, Odubu, Gen Charles Aihiavhere and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iymau to harmonise their ambition to ensure the emergence of a consensus candidate to face Obaseki at the primary.
However, special adviser to Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, dismissed the tantrums of the ‘dissidents’, stressing that Odubu “has remained a frontrunner in the factionalisation of Edo State Chapter of APC,” maintaining that it behooved the national chairman, Oshiomhole, to be guided by the tenets of the peace efforts by Mr. President and the party.
State’s party chairman, Mr. Anselm Ojezua, did not take his calls or reply to messages sent to his GSM phone on the implications of the plan to deny Obaseki a second term ticket through the dubious Gulak option.