BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
The choice of the popular retired general given to philanthropy is a double edged sword that the PDP and Oshiomhole who is flying the ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN may from time to time celebrate. In celebrating Airhiavbere’s choice, party apparatchik in the state are counting on the numerical supremacy of his native Bini people who constitute more than half of the state population to wrest the governorship from Oshiomhole.
They are also counting on the war chest reportedly available to the erstwhile commander of the Army Finance Corps.
Supporters of Oshiomhole are also inclined to celebrate the choice of Airhiavbere on the suspicion that the retired army general would turn out to be an easy target!
Airhiavbere picked the ticket after scoring 403 votes out of the 725 accredited delegates. His closest rival Barr Ken Imasuagbon polled 178 votes while the former state Representative in the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mathew Iduoriyekemwen came third with 94 votes. The former presidential aide, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere polled 24 votes while the former Governor of the state, Prof.Osarhiemen Osunbor came last with 22 votes.
Details of the result show that Gen. Airhiavbere who is from the Bini speaking Edo South cleared the five Local Government Councils in the Central Senatorial district and the six councils in the North senatorial district. Ironically, he lost four of the seven councils in his native Edo South Senatorial district. The primary was conducted by the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike and the State Chairman of the PDP in Enugu state, Vita Abba.
The exercise commenced with an opening speech from the state Chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, who commended the five aspirants of the party for their assistance and contribution to the growth of the party. He said the decision to conduct a free and fair primary was partly the reason why the party decided to use 18 ballot boxes for the 18 Local Government Councils.
The former Chairman Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadohme, former senate Chief whip, Senator Rowland Owie, business mogul, Captain Hosa Okunbor and prominent members of the PDP in the state were all in attendance. However, conspicuously absent were erstwhile Governor of the old Bendel State , Dr Samuel Ogbemudia and Elder Sunny Uyigue who until recently was a claimant to the chairmanship of the state executive of the party.
Voting commenced at about 1:30pm and ended 3:36pm. The five aspirants Osunbor, Ihonvbere, Imasuagbon, Airhiavbere and Iduoriyekemwen sat together throughout the exercise until the result of the election was declared.
Remarkably as a sign of goodwill, Governor Adams Oshiomhole who the PDP is preparing to challenge cancelled the monthly environmental exercise scheduled for last Saturday and also approved the use of the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium for the PDP primary.
How Airhiavbere won Airhiavbere joined the PDP in June 2011 shortly after his disengagement from the military and immediately commenced campaign for the governorship. He participated actively throughout the tour of the 192 wards in the state and reportedly also assisted the party financially. He became a favoured aspirant after it was learnt that the leadership of the party was in search of a suitable candidate from Edo South to give Oshiomhole a good fight.
The inclination of the leadership towards Edo South arose from the numerical supremacy of the senatorial district in the state. That inclination was further pushed by the fact that Edo South is conspicuous in its lack of high level representation at both the federal and state levels.
Based on these facts, Chief Anenih reportedly held several meetings with the aspirants to prevail on them to step down for a choice candidate with the capacity to fight Oshiomhole.
In a meeting a week before the primary, at the Benin residence of a national leader of the party who has been severally insulted by Oshiomhole, the national leader reportedly offered N50million to any of the aspirants that may decide to step down from the race. But the aspirants reportedly remained adamant and vowed to participate at the congress.
Indeed as the primary drew closer, it became obvious to the aspirants that there was an anointed candidate and that was when they started kicking. It was also learnt that the candidates refused to step down due to the backing some of them received from several places. It was learnt that while Chief Anenih may have zeroed on Airhiavbere two days before the primary, the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadohme backed Iduoriyekemwen who also is from Edo South, like Airhiavbere.
On the other hand Imasuagbon received the blessings of majority of the leaders particularly those from Edo South. However, on Friday 24th February, 2012, Vanguard was reliably informed that a national leader of the party directed the leadership of the party in the three senatorial districts of the state on how to cast their votes.
At this point, it was obvious that he was not happy with the recalcitrant aspirants and decided to reintroduce his political tactics of fixing elections. By 10pm Friday 24, 2012, the news went round the three districts that the “leader” had directed that Airhiavbere was the lucky guy.
Though the process was transparent but the aspirants believe that the result would have been different if not for the last minute intervention by the respected leader.
The pattern of voting also showed the apparent submission to the wishes of the leader by the delegates. Edo North and Central where the leader’s word is virtually law voted massively for Gen.Airhiavbere while Edo South that has led the rebellion against the leader was largely divided in its voting pattern.
After Airhiavbere was declared winner, Imasuagbon,Osunbor and Ihonvbere stormed out of the venue angrily with Imasuagbon asserting his rejection of the results.
“This is not democracy. I have rejected the result and I will reject it any day any time. But sooner or later, I will tell my supporters our direction,” Imasuagbon popularly hailed as the rice man said. Osunbor and Ihonvbere declined comments immediately.
It was only Iduoriyekemwen who congratulated his brother, Airhiavbere. And in his acceptance speech, Airhiavbere appealed to the other aspirants to join him to deliver the state to the PDP. “I want my two elder brothers (Ihonvbere and Osunbor) and my two younger brothers (Imasuagbon and Iduoriyekemwen) to come and assist me in this task.”
On his part, state chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih commended the five aspirants for “putting up a good show,” adding, “We are a family; the result has shown clearly that the PDP is the party to beat in this state. We witnessed one of the best primaries ever conducted in Edo state.” Having successfully conducted the primary Orbih said he was looking forward to his next assignment of removing Oshiomhole from the Government House next July.