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‘No right-thinking APC member will want Oshiomhole out of office now’

By Michael Egbejule, Benin City
26 March 2020   |   2:16 am
The anti-Oshiomhole protesters are state sponsored; we heard from the grapevine that the Edo State Government sponsored them. These are people recruited from the streets of Gwagwalada and Garki villages.

Henry Idahagbon is a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Edo State and the convener, Edo Peoples Movement (EPM). In this interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, he spoke on the rift between the state governor, Godwin Obaseki and the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole.

A group of protesters recently stormed the All Progressives Congress (APC) secretariat in Abuja, demanding the removal of Adams Oshiomhole. What’s your take on the protest?
The anti-Oshiomhole protesters are state sponsored; we heard from the grapevine that the Edo State Government sponsored them. These are people recruited from the streets of Gwagwalada and Garki villages. Many of the protesters are underage persons, who do not know what the issues are. Many of them do not even know the man called Oshiomhole, neither do they know what APC is about. It would be sheer time-wasting discussing such frivolous exercise relating to the Abuja protest.

But has Oshiomhole done enough to remain in office as national chairman in view of the agitations for his removal?
Oshiomhole has done well for the party. He turned around the fortunes of the party. He has consolidated on the gains of the leadership of the party. For me, there is no reason why any sane thinking member of APC would be thinking of getting Oshiomhole out of office now. He needs this particular time to consolidate and prepare the party for the next general elections.

Why do you say Governor Obaseki is behind the protest for Oshiomhole’s removal?
Edo State Government has made efforts to remove Oshiomhole before. This is not the first time they have planned to remove Oshiomhole as national chairman. During the last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, we were aware that the state governor sponsored a protest, led by a certain special adviser to the governor from Edo South. This particular special adviser was the leader of the protesters. So, if they could do it some months ago, they are capable of doing it again.

Has Governor Obaseki reached out to you as a member of APC over the assassination attempt on you?
Obaseki does not have the capacity to reach out to anybody. That is what we have been saying and we need to get our Edo State people to understand. It will interest you to know that after that incident on January 31, 2020 when assassins came to my law office, I have left the bullet holes-riddled walls unfixed. It will be a memento. Thanks to God that I am alive today.

Recently, I was at the airport when one of Obaseki’s assistants walked up to me at the airport lounge. He saw me and decided to greet me. That same day at the airport, the governor and myself eventually boarded the same airplane. Sadly, he saw me inside the flight and couldn’t call me to say, ‘my brother, I heard about what happened to you. We thank God they did not succeed.’ Governor Obaseki has not bothered to reach out to me or anyone in the party over the attack. Yet, he wants us to support him.

Obaseki and Oshiomhole’s rift has left the party divided in Edo and may scuttle Obaseki’s re-election bid…
The problem of Obaseki in Edo State is not Oshiomhole. Obaseki’s problem is with the leaders and members of APC in the state. If Oshiomhole were to say today that he is reconciling with Obaseki, we will look at him and say, ‘No’. We would ask Oshiomhole that he brought Obaseki three and a half years ago and we didn’t say, ‘No’ to him. We accepted and supported you to deliver Obaseki then. We did all the marketing to make Edo people accept and vote for Obaseki as governor. Now, these same people who worked for Obaseki in 2016 are saying, ‘No’. Let us see how Oshiomhole can return him as governor without members of the party.

Are you saying that there are no chances of reconciliation between the aggrieved party leaders and Governor Obaseki?
There are chances, but Obaseki is not ready to do the needful that can lead to reconciliation. Obaseki sees himself as a governor with divine rights, and whether we, the APC leaders and members, like it or not, he will be governor with or without us. And when you say ‘no’ to him, you become an enemy.

How do you describe his chances of clinching the party’s gubernatorial ticket?
If Obaseki was a good politician, what is expected of him is to go from leader to leader, and beg. Obaseki should not be too big to beg. Without our votes, Obaseki cannot be governor. That is the truth. That Obaseki is the governor today is because all of us came together to say we were going to vote for him. For your information, to tell you how hard it is to win elections in Edo State, during the last presidential election, Obaseki lost his unit, ward, local council area, his House of Representatives constituency seat and lost his Edo South Senatorial District seat even as a sitting governor.

For me, there can only be reconciliation if the governor is humble enough to go to the critical stakeholders and beg them. It is only then we would see if we could find a place in our heart to forgive him of all his transgressions.

You mean Obaseki has a huge task in pacifying aggrieved party members if they must work for him again?
We are the party members and were with him at the beginning of his campaign in 2016. We worked together as a team to ensure victory for APC and Obaseki. I took receipt of what I am about to tell you now. Mr. Osakpamwan Eriyo (a.k.a Nomorelese) donated 10,000 branded Obaseki face caps, 10,000 branded t-shirts, 10,000 vehicle stickers branded with the photo and inscription ‘Obaseki for Governor’ in 2016. Without demanding anything to do this, he single-handedly sponsored these campaign items on behalf of himself and family. In addition, he gave a bus to support Obaseki’s 2016 campaign tour. 

The same Mr. Eriyo, who supported Obaseki with all these, was sent to prison soon after Obaseki became governor. The big question is, how do you go to beg such a person? But no matter how bad things have become, a humble politician will swallow his pride and beg. As a politician, I have knelt down for persons ordinarily I won’t have any reason to kneel for simply because I had to beg for their support. There is a Bini adage, which says ‘You get what you want with your knees.’ It is a common practice in Benin that once you kneel down for a Bini man, whatever the anger, it is easily forgiven. We the Bini do not fight our own. A Bini man will not see you on your knees begging without asking you to stand up and say you are forgiven. Our governor is too proud. He sees himself as having a divine mandate. To him, he was created by God Almighty to come and become governor.

Are you optimistic that the Chief Bisi Akande National Reconciliation Committee would make headway with the Edo crisis?
It is a miracle that Governor Obaseki agreed to submit himself to the Chief Bisi Akande-led National Reconciliation Committee. You would recall that before the Akande-led committee, three other committees were constituted and he kicked against them. So, we thank God for this miracle that Obaseki agreed to meet with the committee. For me, Chief Akande is a thoroughbred politician and a father to all of us in APC. We hope that he is able to effect a lasting reconciliation and peace in the ruling party in Edo State. 

The crisis in Edo is taking a worrisome dimension following the use of explosives, among others, with the attendant threat to peace and security of lives and property. What are your prayers?
We want peace in Edo State. By now, if Governor Obaseki had managed his victory well, all of us would have been campaigning for the gubernatorial election not for the party primary; the primary would have been taken for granted. There would have been no challengers in the contest and all the money he is spending now to buy support would have been used to develop the state.

However, we wish him well. We are here in Edo State, and if he is interested in reconciliation; we are here for him. And if he also wants to crush all of us, by the grace of God, we will survive him.