By Simon Ebegbulem
In an apparent move to reclaim its lost relevance in the politics of Edo state ahead of the the scheduled 2016 governorship polls, the intra-party wrangling within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) may have further widened with the recent emergence of three groups, all said to be united against Chief Tony Anenih.
Anenih, a former Minister of Works and the party’s former Chairman, Board of Trustees, has for several years remained a strong political force not only in Edo but also in the whole country especially between 1999 and 2007.
But with the seeming superior influence of outgoing Governor Adams Oshiomhole who is on the last lap of his second term tenure in the state under the All Progressives Congress (APC), the PDP may have woken up determined to ensure that Anenih no longer calls the shot when it comes to who should hold what positions at all levels of the party in Edo state.
Further spurred by wimps been described as a disgraceful outing of the PDP during the 2015 general elections which has since relegated it to the position of an opposition political party, the Edo PDP says it is committed to a total overhaul of its entire structure to reposition the party for a victorious outing in the 2016 governorship polls.
The battle code named, Redeeming Edo PDP from Collapse, has resulted in the formation of the PDP Adherents, led by a former member of the House of Representatives , Hon. Johnson Abulagba, the Edo New Dawn, led by a former Senate Chief Whip, Senator Rowland Owie, the PDP Round Table, led by a former Chairman of Oredo local government area, Mr Victor Edos Ebomoyi.
According to the groups, they have a common goal which is to ensure that Anenih does not wield ‘undue’ influence during the forthcoming congresses and ensure what they also describe as the injection of fresh blood into the state Executive Council of the party.
Last Wednesday, the Edo New Dawn and the PDP Round Table signed a pact to work together. There are indications that the three groups may eventually merge before the congresses expected to hold this September.
Perhaps, the first battle over who controls the party is the contentious issue of the biometric registration of members which the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP decided will commence in Edo.
The Chief Anenih group to which the state Chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih belongs, had opposed the biometric registration exercise reportedly fearing it might truncate their chances of it winning the primaries. But the three groups insisted that the move is the best for the party and that it should be applied.
It was learnt that the Chief Anenih’s group planned to conduct the congresses on September 12 with a view to returning Orbih and other members of the executive committee. But the plot was said to have suffered a setback when the Acting National Chairman of the party, Chief Uche Secondus, visited the leadership of the party penultimate Wednesday and declared that Edo will be used as a pilot state for the biometric registration exercise.
Though the Orbih-led Executive was supposed to have ended in August 2015, the NWC decided to elongate their tenure by a month, to allow them conduct the biometric registration after which the state congresses are expected to hold.
According to reports, during the meeting, Orbih and his team opposed the biometric registration exercise contrary to the position of the Acting National Chairman who insisted that the biometric registration was the decision of the NWC which would not be reversed.
Consequently, the party appointed High Chief Raymond Dokpesi to oversee the biometric registration programme in the state. Also at that meeting, former two-time Governor of the defunct Bendel state, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, who has over the years absented himself from the activities of the PDP in the state, attended the meeting but Chief Anenih was conspicuously absent.
Over the past eight years, Oshiomhole’s APC has exerted considerable influence in Edo state, a development which a number of PDP members attribute to Anenih’s dwindling influence on the party both locally and at the national level as well as alleged dictatorship and lack of internal democracy in the PDP.
Recent developments in the Edo state PDP may not be unconnected with what party loyalists described as activities of a number of pressure groups as represented in their various memos to the Senator Ike Ekweremadu Committee.
Copies of some of the petitions made available to Saturday Vanguard emphasise what they call the need to return the party to the people, zero tolerance for impunity and practice of internal democracy, factors which some PDP chieftains said Oshiomhole exploited to break the party, forcing some of its leaders into early retirement or abandoning the PDP completely.
They believe that if the PDP intends to make any meaningful impact against the APC in the 2016 governorship election, then some of the proposed reforms must be implemented to the letter.
Furore over governorship flag bearer
Saturday Vanguard learnt that aside various other considerations, the overriding factor behind the current turmoil in the Edo PDP may not be unconnected with the choice of who becomes the party’s governorship candidate, to provide a formidable opposition to the ruling APC.
A number of PDP stalwarts hold the view that the Dokpesi committee may have a herculean task ahead as it has to break the jinx spanning several years that a certain cabal has allegedly held the party in the state. Sources close to the committee hinted that the party may actually be in a state of disarray especially given that two of its prominent members , Ogbemudia and Anenih, have not been known to be regular at meetings.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that the development may not be unconnected with the insistence on the biometric capture of genuine members of the party in the area. “The only way to redeem the party in the state is to retrieve it from the cabal,” the source noted. The biometric registration has started in Edo North and it is expected to move to the Central and then Southern parts respectively.
But some members of the party say that the one week given each senatorial district for the exercise may not be enough to register all members. They have also expressed concern over the N1,000 registration fee and the use of only a particular commercial bank for the payment of the prescribed fee.
According to some of the party men who spoke on condition of anonymity, “the reason for this battle for the soul of the party is the issue of who who becomes the governorship and Deputy Governorship candidates. The fear of these pressure groups is that if they do not act fast, Chief Anenih may impose both the party executives and the candidates for the 2016 governorship polls.”
The party has since zoned the governorship position to the South senatorial district but the Central district where Chief Anenih comes from and the North district are in a serious battle for the deputy governorship position. Edo North PDP leaders argue that they deserve the position since Governor Oshiomhole who is from that area may produce the deputy governorship candidate of the APC.
And, if that happens, they argue, the PDP will have nothing with which to campaign in Edo North which boasts of about 26 per cent population of the state. The former Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Mike Oghiadohme, is also from this zone. Oghiadohme who was at a time, Deputy Governor of the state has been in a running battle with Anenih.
The latter has reportedly ensured that Oghiadohme does not produce leadership of the party in Edo North over the years despite his position in the PDP. Oghiadohme was accused of working against the interest of Chief Anenih when he was Chief of Staff to the President.
But Oghiadohme, Saturday Vanguard learnt, is being backed by most of the stalwarts of the PDP in Edo North, to lead the party and uproot all known Anenih’s stooges including the current state Chairman of the party.
However, in this battle for deputy governorship slot, Edo North is said to have reminded the Central PDP leadership that they have produced all the Ministers and some board appointments during the PDP-led Federal Government due to the influence of Chief Anenih, arguing that this factor makes the area to deserve the deputy governorship position.
But members from Central Edo which is the PDP stronghold appear to support Ugbesia and Philomena Ihenhen. However, there are two opposing PDP groups in the Central district, one loyal to Anenih and the other loyal to a former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen. Onolememen was the leading governorship aspirant of the PDP initially but with the sacking of the PDP-led Federal Government and the zoning of the governorship candidate to the South , he was knocked out of the race.
The PDP calculation is that the only way to match the APC is to zone the governorship ticket to Edo South since the Bini alone are said to boast of about 52 per cent population of the state. Their candidates from the South include Senator Ehigie Uzamere, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Chief Solomon Edebiri, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen and Lucky Imasuen.
However the emergence of the three groups is a big problem for the party. As it stands now, if the forthcoming congress is manipulated in favour of the Anenih group, the three groups will surely have their own executive which will further factionalize the party ahead of the governorship election.
And, that may amount to the party playing into the hands of the Oshiomhole APC. But as it stands now, the three pressure groups appear to be winning the battle with the biometric registration exercise. But Anenih’s foot soldiers will be waiting to strike back during the congresses, in a battle that promises to make or mar the party in the state.