Secret agenda driving trouble ahead Edo guber poll
Clash of old and new powers
Forty days to the September 19, 2020 off-cycle gubernatorial election in Edo State, the state has already attained the status of a huge theatre, the theatre of grand political ‘war’. Although the contest appears as a straight fight between the people and politicians, the combatants are of different categories. They include the governorship candidates of the two major political parties, governing All Progressives Congress (APC)-turned opposition and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which moved from opposition to incumbency.
Then there are the frontline combatants, Governor Godwin Obaseki and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who swapped positions as candidates of PDP and APC respectively. It is however those lining up behind these two contenders as unofficial candidates that infuse the forthcoming election with the character of war.
They include the immediate past governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who fell from grace as APC national chairman, the 14 lawmakers-elect that were unable to be inaugurated for political reasons and the people of Edo State, who insist that they are capable of selecting their governor without anybody’s goading.
Clash of egos, incumbency
While Oshiomhole, the 14 absentee lawmakers and political actors that were denied sundry benefits see the governorship as their last opportunity to regain relevance and clout in the state, some other notable APC chieftains who feel hurt by the fall of their ally, Oshiomhole, want to use the poll to reciprocate the former chairman’s kind gestures to them.
Oshiomhole feels that the build up to the September 19 poll affords a golden opportunity to apologise and remedy the ‘mistake’ he made in 2016 by supporting Governor Obaseki to succeed him. The former national chairman made a song and dance of that claim during his visit on the Oba of Benin, Ewuare 11, where he did the kneeling drama, pleading for the monarchs’ ‘pardon’.
On his part, Obaseki in a show of contrition during a state wide broadcast said, “I cannot be governor and not be governor,” stressing that while he acknowledges the fact that Oshiomhole was one of the human instruments God used to make him governor, his former benefactor did not want him to breathe the air of gubernatorial free will.
Speaking to Edo people at the height of the House of Assembly crisis, the governor outlined the crux and genesis of the political unease in the state.
He stated: “I have endured so much as a governor. As a governor I have not been able to nominate somebody for a federal appointment, meanwhile federal appointments are made every day. I will sit down here and they call from the Senate, are you aware of this? I keep quiet.
“I cannot be governor and not be governor. I should be able to make decisions and I have made decisions, which in my view are in the best interest of Edo State. Even within our polity, is it not ironic that in a state, where we have one party ruling, and perhaps all the 24 seats in the House of Assembly, we have this kind of crisis? Thoroughly embarrassing!
“And at the centre, we have our own person, who suppose to superintend this. So, if your children are fighting and you cannot come and settle them, then what authority do you have to even be a father?
“Even if I was the worst governor in Nigeria, but I am the only governor for my party in the entire South-South and Southeast, even I were a mad man, will you or whoever it is at the top not protect and cover me? Are you the one that will create destruction at home?
Sources disclosed that it was the attempt to make Obaseki a perpetual puppet by putting him under his master’s shadow that the governor rebuffed. That led to the race to foil a predetermined leadership of the House of Assembly.
The Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, told journalists recently how he resisted plots by Oshiomhole to impeach Governor Obaseki. Shaibu disclosed that after begging Oshiomhole to no avail to discard any grievance against Obaseki for the singular reason that the governor was doing well for Edo people, it became clear to him (Shaibu) that the former APC national chairman had declared war against the governor.
“The plan was to remove Governor Obaseki at the onset and replace him with his deputy, but I refused, because betrayal was not my will nor nature. I told Oshiomhole that I will stand with Obaseki come what may,” the deputy governor stated. That was the beginning of the crisis, to divide the Assembly and render the Governor a puppet.
And defecting to PDP immediately after his disqualification in APC and clinching the party’s governorship ticket, the other five PDP governors in the South-South geopolitical zone, saw Obaseki’s entry as a golden opportunity to have the entire member states of BRACED Commission under the big umbrella and embraced him.
But, those close to Oshiomhole, particularly the former Commissioner for Agriculture in the state, Comrade Abdul Oroh, insist that it was Obaseki’s failure to recognize party leaders who worked for his election and continue with Oshiomhole’s developmental paradigm that stoked the crisis. They are also not happy with the sacking of Oshiomhole from the office of APC national chairman, which they blamed on Obaseki’s concerted efforts alongside some colleagues in the Progressives Governors’ Forum. All of that, plus the more than one year redundancy of the 14 absentee lawmakers inflamed the polity.
Add to that squad the unofficial national leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, state governors that are beholden to the former national chairman, particularly Alhaji Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Senator Hope Uzodinma, and those desirous of retaining Edo within the APC fold.
With the unfolding scenario, the buildup to the guber poll simulates a war situation.
Office of godfather
Oshiomhole’s determination to oust Obaseki and continue to have a say in Edo politics is understandable. So, it is not just about an election, but an opportunity for a long list of actors to remain relevant. But the negative impact of his prominent involvement in the campaigns have caused some members of the Progressives Governors’ Forum to ask the former national chairman to reduce his dominance of the podium so that the electorate could hear from the APC governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
PGF, in a statement signed by its Director General, Dr. Salihu Lukman, enjoined the former national chairman “to guard against any action that could lead to anarchy in Edo State.”
While observing with pain that Oshiomhole was conducting himself in a manner suggesting that the governorship election is an extension of his personal battle with Governor Obaseki, the PGF DG expressed apprehension that his (Oshiomhole’s) conduct could jeopardize the chances of the APC in the poll.
Reviving a failed ambush
Apart from validating speculations in various quarters that the initial attempt to divide the state Assembly was for mischief purposes, the Deputy Governor’s revelations proved true during last weekend’s failed plot to revive the impeachment saga. It also suggests that Oshiomhole, a good labour tactician, did not abandon his old plot.
It was a clever ambush by forces loyal to Oshiomhole, because while Governor Obaseki was campaigning in Edo North Senatorial District of the state, the 14 lawmakers-elect, alongside three others headed to the Assembly complex to hold legislative session.
The Guardian gathered that the 14 lawmakers had through a letter by their counsel, obtained an advisory from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Hon. Abubakar Malami SAN, advising the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to provide adequate security for the purpose of inaugurating the concerned members and subsequent sittings of the Edo State House of Assembly.
Sources in the Oshiomhole camp said the lawmakers did not disclose fully the particulars of the purported sitting, even as the AGF’s advisory did not vitiate the pending cases and judicial pronouncements on the Assembly crisis.
But, in a statewide broadcast on the development, Governor Obaseki said the planned invasion was an attempted coup d’état, stressing that it amounted to treason and a clear breach of the Nigerian Constitution.
He maintained that his administration will continue to take all necessary steps to defend the rule of law and tenets of democratic ideals, noting, “The people rose as one to prevent the desecration of our democracy.
“It is however worrisome that certain persons are willing to plunge the society into avoidable anarchy and conflict just to satisfy their illegitimate objectives.”
The shift of the battle to the state Assembly has thrown up the question whether, in view of the declaration of the seats of the 14 absentee lawmakers vacant after more than 180 days outside the Assembly, they are still entitled to automatic membership.
Further, having failed to settle the Assembly crisis when Obaseki was still in APC, could the party deploy extraneous force to reinstate the lawmakers-elect without doing violence to existing matters in court and the constitution?
Edo Assembly: Rehashing a troubled past
EDO State House of Assembly came into national limelight for two historical developments, including the election of its first female speaker and quick turnover of floor functionaries.
The cycle of leadership crisis, which came to redefine the Assembly, began even before the tenure of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, but it exacerbated after he took over as governor from Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor in 2008.
Member representing Uhunmwode state constituency, Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie, who became the first female Speaker of the Assembly, was elected at the impeachment of Victor Edoror in May 2016.
After about 84 days as Speaker, she was prevailed upon to step down to serve as the Deputy Speaker for the emergence of Justin Okonoboh. The move followed a motion of “urgent public importance, for a change in the leadership of the House” by Folly Ogedengbe.
In the crisis, 16 lawmakers made up of 13 APC and three Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members impeached Edoror, who served as Deputy Speaker in preceding fifth Edo House of Assembly, for alleged high handedness and financial recklessness.
It was in a bid to rebuild a political balance destroyed by Edoror’s removal that Mrs. Ativie was elected and Okonoboh, who was Edo Central Senatorial District, became Deputy Speaker.
Ativie dismissed the claim that her emergence was to achieve zonal balance, stressing that Edoror and his then deputy, Bright Osayande, were dipping hands into the public till of the Assembly.
But in July 2016, when Ativie stepped down, Okonoboh, a first timer emerged as Speaker, the rules of the Assembly had to be amended. He spent 11 months in office.
Okonoboh was accused of lacking the courage and confidence to table issues of lawmakers’ welfare before Governor Godwin Obaseki, a situation which the lawmakers said gave rise to the “poor financial status of the Assembly.”
A new Speaker in the person of Kabiru Adjoto, was elected. In his remarks after inauguration, Adjoto said he and his colleagues came together to ensure that the institution is not violated at the expense of the interest of an individual.
Edoror, who was earlier impeached, was made deputy speaker. However, Adjoto’s attempt to retrieve some vehicles attached to the office of Speaker revealed the underlying force behind the recurrent crisis in the House of Assembly.
Ativie, who retained custody of the vehicles, including a Toyota Prado Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), a Lexus 2016 model SUV and two Hilux vans, claimed that the then Governor Oshiomhole ceded them away to her as reward for stepping down for an Esan candidate to become Speaker.
FOLLOWING the crisis surrounding the inauguration of the Eighth Edo Assembly, some former lawmakers regretted the instability in that arm of government, noting that “when Oshiomhole was elected, he came hand in hand with trouble.”
Despite the fact that the former labour leader operated with few numbers of legislators in executing the legislative demands of his office, he was accused of using his former office as National Chairman of APC to lay some legislative ambush against his successor, Obaseki.
Instances of his intrusion in the legislative arm are as follows: In 2010, nine out of 24 members were induced to impeach the speaker, Hon. Zakawanu Garuba, as governor Oshiomhole warned the National Assembly against poke-nosing into the affairs of the Assembly
In 2013, Oshiomhole relocated the Edo State House of Assembly to the Government House under the minority leadership of Hon Uyi Igbe, which engaged a contractor to remove the roof.
In January 2014, Oshiomhole also secured the passage of the state budget of N123.2 billion with just nine lawmakers as well as approval for the establishment of a Private-Public University in his home village, Iyamoh-Uzarrue. N29 billion was also approved as take of grant for infrastructural development.
Then in 2015 the same nine-member Assembly gave approval for N21billion loan. And with just one year to the end of his tenure as governor, Oshiomhole reportedly got eight members out of the nine to tamper with the ownership structure of Edo State University, Iyamoh, and it is not clear till date whether it is privately owned or not.
Having knowledge of such interferences it is left to imagination why Obaseki decided against designs to dictate the leadership of the Assembly.
The stonewall raised by Obaseki against making a second proclamation for the start of the Eighth Assembly led to the current dichotomy between the 10 lawmakers loyal to Obaseki and 14 others supporting the former national chairman.
With the Edo State governorship election barely 43 days away and Obaseki having moved from APC to PDP, thereby gifting the former opposition party with the power of incumbency, it is no surprise that the Oshiomhole camp saw the recent impeachment of the deputy speaker, Mr. Yekini Idiaye, as a determined effort to shut them out permanently.
Idiaye and three others had endorsed Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the APC candidate for the September 19 governorship poll, just as they were accused of succumbing to inducement from Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole, who boasts of his experience as a former labour leader, has to employ some street wisdom in tackling his successor, who he described as a snail in a contest with tigers.
But, at each turn, Obaseki comes out with strategic stoppers, such as the current efforts to rehabilitate the Edo State House of Assembly, an obvious move to stave off the attempt by his detractors to level the odds before September 19, 2020 when governorship poll holds.
Sources said apprehensions that a likely victory by Obaseki in the forthcoming poll would seal the fate of the 14 absentee lawmakers-elect spurred the invasion of the legislative complex by security agents.
Observers expressed the belief that having been dislodged as national chairman by his former protégé; Oshiomhole is determined to fight like a wounded lion to defeat Obaseki in the forth-coming gubernatorial poll so as to reclaim whatever remains of his tattered political clout in the state.