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Oshiomhole, Obaseki in battle for survival

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Former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole has vowed to throw everything at his disposal to stop the re-election of his estranged political godson, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki. The governor defected from the APC to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) on the eve of its primary. He has some hurdles to surmount to get a second term. The election is also a must-win for the APC, to save Oshiomhole from becoming politically irrelevant. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines what is at stake in the contest for the Osadebey House.

 

ALTHOUGH both of them are no longer in the same political platform, former All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole and his erstwhile protégé, Governor Godwin Obaseki, are still engaged in a battle of supremacy. As the two principal actors in the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, they are fighting to save their political careers. Whichever way it goes, one of the gladiators will go down. This explains why both sides are fighting to gain the upper hand.

Oshiomhole, who was recently removed as APC chairman, based on a court interpretation of his suspension at his ward, must ensure that his party wins the election to continue to remain relevant in Edo politics. Before the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC), President Muhammadu Buhari took a position that sounded like humiliation to him and those backing him, by endorsing Victor Giadom as acting chairman of the APC. President Buhari said the law was on the side of Giadom, a deputy national secretary in the dissolved NWC, who fought aggressively against Oshiomhole’s leadership. If Obaseki secures his second term mandate, it would be a double humiliation for Oshiomhole and a retirement from politics.

The former national chairman is now ready to throw everything at his disposal in the campaign to stop Obaseki and the PDP from continuing to occupy Edo Government House. He gave the above indication recently when he relocated to the state to solicit for votes for the party’s candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. He told party supporters that gathered to welcome him at his Iyamho country home in Etsako West Local Government that his preoccupation now is to see that the state returns to the APC.

His words: “I have come home to join you and start the process of reclaiming the house back to the family of APC. If you people say yes and God says yes, there is no man born of a woman that can say no. So, now, I have only one mission: to bring Edo back to the path of sustainable development. We want to return to the government of the people by the people and for the people.”

The utterances of Oshiomhole who governed the state for two terms, between 2008 and 2016, can be understood against the background of the events in the last four years. He almost single-handedly engineered the emergence of Obaseki as a governor to succeed him when he left office in 2016. At the time, Obaseki did not stand any chance picking the ticket in an open contest because he was widely considered as an “outsider” in the party and in Edo politics. But, Oshiomhole insisted that the man he recruited from the banking sector to help him fashion a blueprint for his administration was the best man for the job.

Out of frustration, Ize-Iyamu, who had a bright chance of becoming the APC candidate at the time, defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and eventually emerged as its flag bearer for the election. He faced the then anointed candidate of Oshiomhole (Obaseki) in 2016 and lost.

Four years after, Oshiomhole is not a happy man. He fell apart with Obaseki over the control of party structures after he (Obaseki) became governor. The quarrel persisted until about two months ago when Obaseki was disqualified from contesting the APC primary; a development that compelled him to switch to the PDP, and promptly picked up its ticket to run for the election. With this development, the stage is now set for a rematch with Ize-Iyamu, who had defected to the APC from the PDP late last year.

In a move widely interpreted as an opportunity to redeem his image, Oshiomhole was recently named among a 49-member APC Campaign Committee for Edo State, led by Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje. The former governor is now preoccupied with the ambition of removing Obaseki from Government House and installing the man he vehemently prevented from becoming governor four years ago. He said he supported the aspiration of Obaseki in 2016 to ensure the continuity of his projects and programmes. He admitted that he made a mistake by supporting Obaseki to become governor and that he is now determined to rectify the error. Addressing the crowd at Iyamho, the former governor said: “I have made a mistake by supporting a man who has no vision for my people.

“So, I want to correct my mistakes by making sure that a servant of God, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is elected as governor and kick the snake out of Government House. From now till September 19, I am here in Edo State because a political lion I am, I am not scared of anything.”

He said Ize-Iyamu is not a stranger to Edo politics and that he has all it takes to bring the state back to the path of sustainability.

He added: “Ize-Iyamu campaigned for me in 2012 and I won in all the 18 local government areas. He knows the roots, unlike the current governor, who just became governor and does not know the efforts people made to make him governor. We will kick out this MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) governor and replace him with a pastor who will sweep out the Coronavirus party by the grace of God.”

Oshiomhole has also accused Obaseki of highhandedness against the APC members that worked for his emergence four years ago.

His words: “The governor is demolishing the houses of our members, while others are being jailed on trumped-up charges. These are the people who fought for him to become governor.”

He added: “I even pleaded with those who are being prosecuted to take it easy; that they should not burn the house we all laboured to build because they wanted to smoke out the snake. But, now, the snake has been smoked out of the house.”

For Obaseki, winning the election is not going to be a walk in the park. Though he has moved to the PDP and secured its ticket, it is not yet Uhuru for the Edo State governor. He still faces stiff opposition within his new party, as many members are averse to his emergence as the party’s flag bearer. In this regard, Obaseki has been described as a general without troops; he has no political structure to drive his ambition.

Former Commissioner of Information Kassim Afegbua is one of the PDP members in Edo that is not happy with the manner Obaseki came into the party and was made its flag bearer overnight. Peeved by Obaseki’s emergence as the PDP candidate, he has openly opposed his adoption and vowed to join forces with the APC to ensure his defeat in the election.

Afegbua who has since been suspended by the party said: “We will join hands collectively with the APC candidate to ensure that Godwin Obaseki does not return. I am a PDP member, but I will vote APC. A man with the humility of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is better than a governor who fights everyone who disagrees with him.”

He added: “How can someone who did not buy nomination form, who came in when the sale of forms had closed, screening had closed, congresses for the election of delegates had closed, and all of a sudden, because he has state resources to spend, rules were bent to accommodate him and made to become the candidate? Only yesterday Edo PDP scored Obaseki F9 in its sectoral analyses, and today, the same man who scored F9 all through in terms of performance, has suddenly become the head of the PDP corner.

“A governor who the PDP challenged in 2016 for discrepancies in his submissions has suddenly become the candidate of the party. How do you explain such a scenario? For me, I still hold the view that Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama had better opportunity to pull through, if they had allowed Obaseki to settle for another party. It would have been a matter of three candidates and PDP would have had a better grip. I was shocked to see all three aspirants stepped down in the face of pressure. Even Kenneth Imasuangbon, who was shouting on top of his voice that he would pull through, buckled suddenly and swallowed his misplaced pride.

“The same governor, who has been accusing his former APC leaders of wanting him to share money, came to PDP and started doing the same. Delegates were given money, situations were traded off, and everyone was fighting head over heels for peanuts.”

Like Afegbua, many PDP members are not happy over his coming into their party. Reports last week also suggested that the party’s 192 ward chairmen were threatening to defect to the APC, if the governor fails to redeem the promise he made of giving N10 million each to the party chieftains at the grassroots within 48 hours. The governor was believed to have made the promise on the eve of his defection to the party. It was a verbal agreement and the money is intended as a mobilisation fee for the ward chairmen to reach out to their constituents for the coming election.

Obaseki also suffered another setback with the resignation of Patrick Iyoha, the director-general of his campaign organization. Iyoha was also a member of the Edo Waste Management Board. Many members of Obaseki’s cabinet have been resigning since the governor defected to the PDP. Prior to Iyoha’s resignation, three commissioners of the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Area Development Commission had also resigned their appointments. They are Osamwonyi Atu, Emmanuel Odigie and Rilwanu Oshiomhole. Also, many special advisers and senior special advisers have resigned. Most of them claimed their resignations were based on personal reasons why some said they could not bow to pressure to defect to the PDP from the APC.

Obaseki has responded to Oshiomhole’s accusations. He said Oshiomhole is not happy with him because of his refusal to allow him to have a third term by proxy. The governor who spoke through his Special Adviser know Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie said the former APC national chairman was disappointed because the governor refused to be used in his (Oshiomhole’s) quest to become a godfather in Edo State politics.

In a statement, Osagie described Oshiomhole’s adverse comments as an expression of frustration over his failure to achieve his goal to govern the state for a third term, using Obaseki as a proxy.

He said: “In 2016, when Oshiomhole nominated and supported Obaseki, his hidden motive was to use Obaseki, who he thought would be a pawn in his game to defraud Edo people and enthrone himself as the ultimate godfather of Edo politics at the expense of the will and wishes of Edo people.”

Osagie said Obaseki’s refusal to mortgage the interest of the majority of Edo people for the satisfaction of Oshiomhole is the root of the hostility.

He said: “If Oshiomhole had made any mistake of supporting Obaseki in 2016, it is to the extent that he thought the governor will submit himself as a tool to be used to hold the collective will and best interest of all Edo people hostage and for this Obaseki owes Oshiomhole no apologies because the interest of Edo is and will always be greater than the interest of one man.”

Given Oshiomhole’s determination to regain relevance in the APC, the governor has a tough battle on his hands to secure his re-election. Besides, Ize-Iyamu is not a neophyte in Edo politics; he is an experienced politician, with a strong connection with voters across party lines.

 

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