BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
The emergence of a retired General as the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate in the forthcoming election in Edo State has put the party in a quandary on how to soothe the support base of another popular candidate.
The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo state is making desperate efforts in reconciling its aggrieved governorship aspirants who participated in the February 25, 2012 governorship primary in the state.
Five aspirants, Prof.Osarhiemen Osunbor, Prof.Julius Ihonvbere, Barr. Ken Imasuagbon, Gen.Charles Airhiavbere (Rtd) and Barr Mathew Iduoriyekemwen, participated in the exercise which saw the former Commander of the Army Finance Corps, Gen.Airhiavbere emerging victorious.
Airhiavbere defeated his closest rival Imasuagbon after he polled 403 votes out of the 725 cast by the delegates. Imasuagbon scored 178 votes, Iduoriyekemwen 94 while Professors Ihonvbere and Osunbor polled 24 and 22 respectively.
The aggrieved aspirants particularly Imasuagbon, and the former State Representatives in the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Iduoriyekemwen, accused the leadership of the party of skewing the process in favour of Airhiavbere, whom they said joined the party only in June 2011. They alleged that delegates many of were under specific instructions to vote for Airhiavbere.
Particularly embittered is Imasuagbon who is reported to have at great expense championed the revival of the party at a time when many were exiting it following the removal of Osunbor as governor by the court in 2008.
A peace committee led by the former Defense Minister, Gen. Godwin Abbe, State Woman Leader of the party, Mrs Lucy Omagbon and former Chief Whip of the senate, Senator Rowland Owie, has been visiting the aspirants and appealing to them to work with the candidate of the party.
The former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, personally visited Imasuagbon at his residence last Friday morning urging him to sheath his sword.
On the other hand, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) also visited Imasuagbon, reminding him that they are both in-laws, therefore he should join him in the ACN, where Imasuagbon was a founding member before joining the PDP, to fight what he described as the final war against the god father, come July 14, 2012.
Few minutes after Anenih left his residence, the Rice Man as Imasuagbon is popularly known, on account of his distribution of rice to the citizenry during festivities, called a press conference to formalize his rejection of the primary.
He said he was not gunning for the governorship of Edo state to enrich himself but to touch the lives of the people of the state and would therefore not accept any offer being dangled at him by the leaders of the party. Several offers have reportedly been made to Imasuagbon to keep him within and not derail the ongoing plans to give Oshiomhole a serious fight in the forthcoming election.
“I want to thank the gallant delegates, men and women that defied the agents of the leadership of the party that truncated the wish of the people. I was cruising to victory in our party primary on Saturday until the leadership decided to pull the trigger and shoot the party by themselves. We were ready for a change, real change until the instruction came. But I want to thank you party delegates especially the people of Edo South, despite the instruction that was given, the women and men of Edo South stood their ground to defy the instruction of the leaders and that was seen in the result that came. I won four Local Governments in Edo South against their so called choice candidate, but we cannot relent on our determination to make a change.”
On the mounting speculation that he was contemplating leaving the party, Imasuagbon declared
“We are putting all options on the table. We will look at all options, very soon I and my people will come out with a statement on the direction to go.”
“The primary of the PDP held on the 25 of February, 2012 is unacceptable to me. What was executed is what I call scientific and environmental rigging, skewed by the leadership of the party.”
However, some see Imasuagbon as over playing his importance. But suggestions in that regard are countered by those who see the quick visit of Oshiomhole to Imasuagbon, his old foe, within 24 hours after the primary as a smart move to win Imasuagbon over.
The problems of the party are also being worsened by the similar disaproval of the primary result by the immediate past Governor of the State, Prof. Oserheinmen Osunbor.
Speaking through his Campaign Organization, the former Governor credited with 22 votes in the primary cried that the “ governorship primary was conducted under coercion and intimidation of handpicked delegates, ostensibly orchestrated to hood wink the delegates towards predetermined result, targeted against the emergence of Prof.Osunbor as the governorship candidate”.
Addressing newsmen on behalf of the organization, Chief Best Ose, Dr F.Ejele and Dr Macaulay Iyare, frowned that “it was utterly laughable to recall how a former governor recorded an abysmal result at the exercise which many described as the most embarrassing display of a primary election charade and wondered if the essence of the process was not to win the forthcoming July 14 governorship election”.
Iduoriyekemwen without going as far as the duo of Imasuagbon and Osunbor equally alleged manipulation.
The state party chairman, Chief Dan Orbih who had until the disavowals been commended for conducting a hitch-free primary that was televised live, declared the primary as the most credible ever witnessed in the state.
“They all know the efforts we made at the state level to ensure a level playing field for all the aspirants. The trut is that nobody was instructed to vote for any particular aspirant. The delegates voted their conscience and it was displayed in the result. If you look at the pattern of voting, many of the aspirants did not win their Local Governments and the truth is that if the leadership had wanted to rig it as some of the aspirants are alleging, all of them would have won their Local Governments.
Besides, that congress was conducted by people sent from the national leadership of the party led by a serving minister. It was not Orbih that conducted the exercise but from where I sat down, I observed that the exercise was free and fair. I expect our aspirants to forget about the result and let us move on so as to vote out Adams Oshiomhole come July 14.”
“I have great respect for the aspirants but you know that in a contest, one person must emerge as the winner. I appeal to them to assist the PDP in this great task ahead”. Vanguard also observed that the candidate of the party, Gen. Airhiavbere has been visiting the aspirants, appealing to them to assist him in the task ahead.
However, any crack in the ranks of the PDP will definitely cost them the governorship election in the state because they are not just battling the man of the masses in the person of Oshiomhole, they are facing a governor who is believed to have performed above the previous PDP Governors.