BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) primaries in Edo state may have come and gone but there are several controversies trailing the congresses in the state, with the Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole battling to clear himself from allegations of imposition of some candidates. The primaries were conducted for the House of Assembly and National Assembly seats in the 192 wards in the state.
Prior to the primaries, there was tension in the party due to the candidates involved in the contest and the position of the leaders with respect to some of the candidates. Particularly, the primaries became tougher due to the factionalization of the party.
The battle for the soul of the party in the party was between the new and old members of the party. The old members believed that those who fought them in the last election when they were in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before decamping to the ACN should be given tickets at all.
The battle of wits was especially pointed in Edo South where Pharm..Mathew Urhohide and Rasaq Bello-Osagie were respectively pitched against their 2007 opponents Senator Ehigie Uzamere and Rep. Patrick Obahiagbon for the Edo South Senatorial and Oredo Federal
Both Senator Uzamere and Rep. Obahiagbon were elected to the National Assembly on the platform of the PDP but decamped to the ACN last year.
The majority of new members from the PDP fought vigorously to be allowed to contest. This faction of the party is led by the former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and now the South South Vice-Chairman of the party, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. This group also received the sympathy of the Governor who relentlessly reminded members of the party that all of them came from one particular party or the other and it would be bad to discriminate against those who joined the party from the PDP, particularly when the ACN constitution did not stipulate that such members be banned from aspiring for positions.
However, unknown to the Governor the hatred for the new comers by the old members was deeply rooted. It was like a war between the ACN and the PDP and that played out in the primaries.
Worried by the relentless propaganda by these new members that he was supporting candidates such as Senator Uzamere, Patrick Obahiagbon and Rep. Samson Osagie, who came from the PDP, the Governor, opted for direct primaries where all ACN card carrying members would decide the fate of the aspirants. He argued that it would be better to conduct the exercise that way than allowing only delegates to vote, saying that the delegates may be bought over by the aspirants but it would be difficult to buy over as many as ten thousand votes in a Local Government by any of the aspirants.
That system, however, was to the disadvantage of the old members because the delegate system would have favoured them as their patron, the Deputy Governor was in control of most of the delegates.
The Governor prior to the primaries debunked the allegation saying “if you are old in a community and there is a contest in that community, you should use your connection as an old member in that community to defeat the new member who just came, but if you relax and allow the new member in that community to defeat you, what has that got to do with Oshiomhole?”.
However, the primaries came and it was entirely a battle between the Pastor Ize-Iyamu led faction and that of the Deputy Governor. Ize-Iyamu’s foot soldiers seem to have worked for those said to have been anointed by the Governor in the three senatorial districts. In Edo South the Ize_Iyamu group were able to deliver Senator Uzamere and Samson Osagie but met a brick wall in ensuring that Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo) was delivered.
Irrespective of the direct primaries, the exercise was trailed with complaints and protests. Some of aspirants who lost said the one man one vote campaign of the Governor was just a smokescreen to deceive the people of the state. In Egor/Ikpoba Okhai, ACN youths protested accusing the leadership of the party of imposing a 70 year old man as a candidate for the House of Representative seat at a time when the National leadership of the party is handing over power to the youths.
They alleged that no primaries were held in that areas but people were named as winners. A committee was however set up to look in the complaints of members but many believe that it was a kangaroo committee which was set up to ridicule the members who lost after the names of those who emerged have been sent to Abuja.
Vanguard observed that a House of Representative aspirant, who appeared before the panel penultimate Monday, lambasted the committee members and walked out on them.
Governor Oshiomhole, who addressed newsmen penultimate Thursday on the allegations that he imposed candidates, was not perturbed. He insisted that his campaign for one man one vote was still intact irrespective of attempts by those who failed in the primaries to attribute their failure on his door step. Oshiomhole said: “My campaign since my involvement in partisan politics and seeking election in this office has been centered around my opposition to god fatherism and one man imposition and our campaign for one man one vote. I remain committed to these because we don’t have many alternatives.”
“Consistent with this policy, we looked at the ACN constitution and it was very clear that ACN constitution provides for direct primaries. That is to say that every member of the party has the right to vote for a candidate of their choice. Because if you allow only delegates to vote, it will be easier for aspirants to pocket them.
Consistent to our commitment to one man one vote, we insisted that the primaries must be held across the 192 wards of Edo state. For the first time in our political history, people queued up to choose their leaders. Whereas the PDP national convention the total delegates there was about five thousand, in the ACN direct primaries, in one Local Government for House of Assembly, the members who participated was about ten thousand.
You can see the qualitative difference. However I am aware that because it is the first time we are experiencing this, there is no way it could have gone on without hitches. And you will recall that a day before the election, I invited the aspirants and warned them.
First, that they must avoid rigging, they must avoid the use of thugs and they must avoid any form of violence. I reminded them that this is like a friendly match and so if the purpose of public service is service, then you cannot impose your self on the people.”