Known as the The Heartbeat Of The Nation, there is no doubt that barely eight days to the start of governorship primaries by the two major political parties, Edo State is in the throes of political upheaval.
To a large extent, the round of crises within the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) was triggered by the political battle between the national chairman, Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole and the incumbent Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki.
In his efforts to escape the various landmines and ambushes laid against his path to a successful second term ambition, Obaseki excited some intrigues within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
Consequently, Nigerians would witness the emerging scenario whereby, while APC is roiled by the strenuous efforts of some national party chieftains to deny the incumbent a second term ticket, some local leaders in the opposition PDP are working underground to supplant Mr. Imasuagbon with a weaker candidate to facilitate Obaseki’s easy come back to the office.
As at last Thursday when the screening committee set up by the APC National Working Committee submitted its findings to the party leadership, the appeal committee was getting ready to handle the expected fallouts from the screening exercise.
From his account and interaction with journalists shortly after undergoing the screening, it was obvious that Governor Obaseki would be embarrassed with disqualification from the June 22 APC governorship primary.
Speaking to journalists at the party’s headquarters in Abuja, Obaseki recalled how he demanded that the national chairman should excuse himself from the political processes leading to the selection of the party’s standard-bearer for the September 19, 2020, gubernatorial poll in the state.
The governor explained that having shown himself as an interested party in the crisis with the Edo State chapter of the party, it behoves the national chairman to recuse himself in the interest of morality, fairness and credibility of the process.
In a gesture that seemed to convey despondency, the governor stated: “As a party man, I have gone through the screening process, but I do not believe that I will get justice, because Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is an interested party in the Edo (gubernatorial) process.”
Either out of clever hunch or deductive reasoning, Obaseki, short of announcing that he was sure to be disqualified, said the question posed by the panel as to why he issued a government gazette that prohibits APC from undertaking direct elections, gave them out.
True to his prediction, the seven-member screening committee led by Prof. Ayuba Jonathan, which drilled Obaseki and other gubernatorial aspirants including Dr. Pius Odubu, Hon. Chris Ogiemwonyi, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Osaro Obazee, recommended the disqualification of Obaseki, Ogiemwonyi and Iduoriyekemwen.
Rationalizing Obaseki’s disqualification by his panel, Prof. Jonathan said although the governor claimed in his nomination form to have obtained a Higher School Certificate (HSC) from an Institute of Continuing Education, Benin, he failed to submit the certificate.
“No educational certificate, such as HSC, is known in Nigerian educational system. Even then, the same HSC was never presented in the course of the screening exercise. The aspirant admitted that he has never collected it.
“The attestation from the Institute of Continuing Education, Benin from where the alleged HSC, which was indicated in the field of attendance as obtained is of no consequence, as it only attests that Obaseki was a student of the Institute. So, what we had was like it was just attendance, it was not a result,” the screening committee chairman stated.
The implication of the committee’s findings is that it went outside its mandate to investigate Obaseki’s entry point qualification into the University of Ibadan.
This could be deduced from the screening committee’s observation that “the Committee received a petition on his University of Ibadan Bachelor of Arts Classics certificate, which he submitted to INEC in 2016 when he first contested as governor. (But) the committee on further probing was presented with an original certificate issued by the University and the original was sighted.”
It would be recalled that when the committee was fishing for evidence to raise the flag against the governor, the issue of anti-party behavior was mooted.
A source within the APC NWC had disclosed that the screening committee made startling recommendations that would lead to not only Obaseki’s disqualification from the June 22 primary, but also his expulsion from the party.
Part of the alleged sins of the governor was that he dragged the party to court both in Edo State and the Federal Capital Territory, without following the constitutionally stipulated procedures for seeking redress in the party.
Another officer of the party revealed that even after appealing against the decision of the screening committee as anticipated, the party leadership resolved to invoke section 14 D (v) of the APC’s constitution, to do away with the governor.
Section 14D (v) states: “Any member who files an action in court against the party or any of its officers on any matter or matters relating to the discharge of the duties of the party, without first exhausting the avenues for redress provided for in this constitution, shall automatically stand expelled from the party on filing such action and no appeal against expulsion as stipulated in this clause shall be entertained until the withdrawal of the action from the court by the member.”
But a reading of the constitutional provision shows that it did not contemplate that an incumbent governor, in the exercise of his functions could authorize his government to approach the courts.
Perhaps having got wind of the plot to sustain the screening committee’s report, Governor Obaseki has announced his reluctance to appeal the verdict of the panel.
When contacted on the developments, Edo State chairman of APC, Anselm Ojezua, said it was up to the plotters to exhaust their impunity, adding the party would meet to review the entire exercise.
In the coming days, it would be seen how the governing APC would resolve its contradictory positions, especially as it appears the party seems wired to stretch its luck and squander its opportunities for a repeat electoral triumph on September 19, 2020.
PDP’s Incipient Confusion
ON the cusp of the internal wrangling with the governing APC, the main opposition party is said to be confused as to how to make the best out of the division on the platform of its most potent rival.
Sources in the party disclosed that some stakeholders in their eagerness to create an alternative platform for Governor Oshiomhole worked for the replacement of Chief Dan Orbih with Tony Aziegbemi as state chairman.
Although the plot to displace Orbih preceded Pastor Ize-Iyamu’s exit from the party, it was gathered that immediately Aziegbemi emerged, discussions with Obaseki’s contacts changed.
The new strategy, according to sources had to do with the idea of throwing up a weak candidate that would not only be prepared to surrender the PDP ticket, but also be a featherweight politically to ensure Obaseki’s victory in the main election.
The PDP had last week screened three aspirants, including Dr. Ogbeide Ihama, Gideon Ikhine and Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon.
While both Ihama and Ikhine were physically present at the party’s headquarters for the exercise, Imansuagbon, who was held back in London, was interviewed through skype.
However, no sooner had the exercise been concluded that words started making the rounds that a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Ihama, has been pencilled to pick the governorship ticket.
Chairman of the screening panel, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, who dismissed insinuations about any favouritism, assured that although the exercise was held behind closed doors, the process was transparent.
Chinda remarked that PDP was not leaving anything to chance, stressing that the party was determined to nominate the best candidate that would win the election and return the party to dominance.
However, following the surprise disqualification of Obaseki, it was gathered that the plot to stop Imansuangbon remains thick.
A reliable source told The Guardian that the plan to ensure Ihama’s emergence at the expense of the Riceman was to ensure that by the time Obaseki exhausts all avenues to run on APC platform, it would be easy to gift him the PDP ticket.
“It is easy to retrieve the ticket from Dr. Ihama than from the Riceman. Imansuangbon is well known and influential, he can create problems for the party if he is asked to surrender the ticket to Obaseki,” the source stated.
But, when contacted, the state PDP chairman, Aziegbemi, said the PDP was too big a party to contemplate such an underhand deal, saying that the party was sure to win the September 19 poll.
On his part, Imansuangbon told The Guardian that he was not aware of the plot to rig him out, saying that it was too late in the day for Obaseki to cross over to PDP.
He stated: “The forms have been picked, screening has been done, we have days to the primaries, how is he going to do it? With due respect to the governor, I empathise with his situation and what he is going through in APC or the gang up in APC.
“I am in London and looking forward to coming in to face the match. I am trusting God and the people, especially the PDP delegates to give me the ticket by voting for me. How will Obaseki come and take the ticket, a free lunch?”
Imansuangbon expressed doubts that with decent party leaders like Prince Uche Secondus, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, such a deal could be struck.
Insisting that it would not be in the interest of PDP to organize a flawed primary, Imansuangbon, who returned to PDP in 20018, said: “I don’t think Secondus and INEC will be party to that. They have shown transparency.
“It is transparency all the way. I don’t really think so but time will tell. I am not bothered. We are going to the primaries, even if he joins today, if Obaseki joins now, he will face the primaries, but how is he going to do it? Forms were not purchased, screening has been done, and a week to primaries? I don’t know.”