By Dare Odufowokan
As this year’s Edo State Governorship Election draws nearer, Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan, reports that the search for the candidate of All Progressives Congress is becoming more intriguing
The governorship election in Edo State holds later this year. For the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the election is all important and neither of them is willing to leave anything to chance in their now very tense struggle to control the state in the post Adams Oshiomhole era.
But for the ruling APC, it appears there are many hurdles to cross on the way to remaining in power beyond this year. This is because a number of factors, largely within the party, are militating against efforts by both the governor and the leadership of the party in the state, to adequately prepare the party for victory in the coming election.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the incumbent governor, will serve out his second tenure next November. Within his party (the APC) chieftains seeking to succeed him are already strategizing and lobbying political stakeholders as they struggle to get the nod of the party as its candidate in the coming election.
While many are touring the nooks and crannies of the state in pursuit of the endorsement of party leaders and members, others are relying on their trusted aides and associates to help them reach out to prominent stakeholders across the state in their bid to get the party’s ticket ahead of the 2016 governorship election.
Those who have already thrown their hats into the ring for the contest of the APC governorship ticket include: current deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu; Barrister Ken Imansuagbon; Edo State Commissioner for Works, Barrister Osarodion Ogie and Godwin Obaseki, the chairman of the economic team of Edo State Government.
Others are former PDP governorship candidate, General Charles Airhiavbere, (rtd), former Minister of State (Works), Dr. Chris Ogienwonyi, Blessing Agbomere, Comrade Peter Isele, Pedro Obaseki and former governor, Prof. Oseriemen Osunbor, among others.
But in spite of promises by the leadership of the ruling party to work against any form of imposition by conducting a free, fair and acceptable primary election to nominate its flag-bearer, speculation remain rife that Governor Oshiomhole may have made up his mind as to who the candidate of the party would be.
For this reason and many others, there is unease within the party. While a good number of the aspirants have vowed to resist imposition, some prominent chieftains are determined to ensure that the party’s primary election is not influenced by any person or group.
This is just as chieftains from Edo South and Edo Central senatorial districts remain at loggerheads over which zone of the state should produce the next governor of the state while Governor Oshiomhole insists that he, like any other party member, reserves the right to support any candidate of his choice ahead of the primary election that will produce the candidate of the ruling party.
Zoning war looms
The dilemma over which senatorial district should produce the next governor of the state, according to political observers, though a serious one, is not being taken serious by the leadership of the party. According to a chieftain of the party from Uromi in Edo Central Senatorial District, “the APC in Edo State needs to take the people of Edo Central more serious if it intends to win the next governorship election.”
Julius Enahoro, a chieftain of the ruling party in Esanland, said in spite of the unending agitation of the people of Edo Central to be considered for the governorship of the state in 2016, signals emanating from some quarters are of the opinion that a candidate from Edo South is more favored.
“The incumbent governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who hails from Edo North Senatorial District will serve out his second tenure in November, 2016. Now, the succession battle is between Edo South and Edo Central senatorial districts. But the some people feel Edo Central should not be taken serious. We will resist such notions seriously.
“While we insist it is our turn to govern the state, we warn the party not to renege on its promise to conduct an open primary. Anything short of that would amount to crass injustice to the people of our zone. Edo Central remains the only district which has not had the full opportunity to produce the governor aside the 18 months of Governor Oserheimen Osunbor which was short-lived,” he said.
Similarly, the President, Alliance for Good Governance, (AGG), a political pressure group in the state, Comrade Friday Eromosele, insisted that Esan people in the state remain the most marginalized in terms of producing the next governor.
“What we the Esans are asking for is to be given the opportunity to produce the next governor that will take over from Governor Oshiomhole. We have always supported our brothers from Edo North and South senatorial districts in previous elections. It is only fair that we should be extended the same hand of fellowship. The Esans are saying it is their turn to produce the governor as they have not done so since 1979.
“Former governor Osunbor and Barrister Kenneth Imansuagbon are two of the well qualified candidates we have in the race. Imansuagbon has continued to demonstrate that he is ready to rule Edo State judging by his philanthropic gesture to the needy. His annual free rice donation and scholarship award to pupils and students in tertiary institutions speak volumes.
“All these are from his personal funds which he deplores to the welfare of the down-trodden and that alone is responsible for his intimidating rising political profile. If you can recall, he was a major financier of what has transformed into APC today.
“What we expect is for the governor to ignore pressure on him to impose anybody on the party. He should allow all the aspirants go to the field and test their popularity among the delegates. Whoever emerges in a clean primary will be acceptable to all and not the ego-tripping by some aspirants that they have been anointed,” he said.
Oshiomhole’s turbulent body language
Also worrisome is the now unending rumpus within the party over a rumoured endorsement of one of the leading aspirants, Godwin Obaseki, by Governor Oshiomhole as his preferred governorship candidate of the party. Obaseki is currently the chairman of the economic team of Edo State Government. Although the leadership of the party has strived to debunk the rumor, it has simply refused to go away.
Observers of the politics of the state are of the opinion that contrary to the many explanations of the party leadership, the body language and recent utterance of the governor is fueling the fear of party chieftains and members that the primary election may not be free and fair.
Recently, while putting to rest speculations as to whether his party, the APC, will not conduct primaries ahead of 2016 governorship election, the governor further fueled suspicions about his preference for a particular aspirant amongst those jostling to succeed him.
Oshiomhole said while both himself and his party are open to conducting party primaries for all aspirants, it must be made clear that he has the right just as other party members to support a particular aspirant as his preferred successor. He was speaking at a stakeholders meeting which had in attendance several party leaders.
The governor said he cannot be neutral in what affects what will happen in the state after his tenure. He said, “I will never be afraid to take a position and to explain my position. Let me say clearly that I cannot be neutral in matters affecting my environment. If there is anyone of you who is a father of a house who will be quiet on how his house is organised, I don’t envy him.”
Speaking further, he said “in a democracy, whether mature or growing, endorsement is legitimate and democratic. What I owe Edo people is clear to me. Even people who are not from Edo State, whether anywhere they see you, they ask please Comrade guide us, we don’t want to return to the past.”
But reacting to the development, Bini elders, led by the younger brother of the Oba of Benin and Enogie of Obazuwa, Prince Edun Akenzua, under the aegis of Benin Leaders of Thought, stressed the need for the leadership of the APC to ensure free and fair primaries so as to produce a popular candidate that will be generally acceptable to the people of the state.
In a communiqué by Prince Akenzua and Secretary of the BLT, Tosa Ovonranwe, the group stated that anointing a particular candidate as governor as it was being rumoured in the state, may amount to re-introducing god-fatherism in the state, which according to them, must be discouraged.
“BLT believes that god-fatherism in Edo politics was detrimental to the social, economic and political development of the state. God-fatherism is not acceptable to BLT and the good people of Edo State. It should not be reintroduced under any guise. The people of Edo State should be given free hand to determine their next governor. Popular participation bestows responsibility for governing one’s own conduct, develops one’s character, self-reliance, intelligence and moral judgment.
“In a democracy, there is no substitute for popular participation. Even a benevolent despot, who could govern in the public interest, would be rejected by the classic democrat. Man can only know the truth by discovering it himself”, the group said.
And as the crisis rocking the party over who should fly the party’s gubernatorial banner deepens, the confusion in the party was further heightened following the recent controversial suspension of some prominent party leaders and chieftains across the state.
The chairman of the party in Orhionmwon Local Government of the state and his counterpart in Ward 1 of Esan Central Local Government Area, are amongst many party executives and leaders currently battling to escape being sent out of the party by forces opposed to their stand on the governorship candidate debate.
Hundreds of party faithful from Ward 1 Esan Central Local Government recently stormed the state party secretariat in protest against the suspension of the ward chairman, Mr. Isaac Ikhine. They described the suspension as unconstitutional and accused the state party chairman, Aslem Ojezua, of persecuting Ikhine unjustly.
In Orhionmwon, an enlarged executive meeting held by 22 members and party executives described the suspension of the party chairman, Mr. Ehigie Matthew, over allegation bordering on high handedness, and financial misconduct as politically motivated.
They alleged that the signatories to the suspension order did not only lack the power to converge a meeting of the local government executive but that they were financially induced.