By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
It is now 6 days to the gubernatorial primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State, scheduled for June 18, 2016. Expectedly, the contenders for the ticket are at war. The Benin Leaders of Thought (BLT), a socio-cultural organization led by the Enogie of Obazuwa, Prince Edun Akenzua, had recently endorsed five aspirants of the APC for the epic battle and there is doubt that any of the five will carry the day as it seems in the coming primaries of the party. The BLT, in its recommendation, said the five aspirants “eminently satisfied the state 75 per cent cut off point”.
The five aspirants are the deputy governor of the state, Dr Pius Odubu; Engr.Chris Ogiemwonyi; Osarodion Ogie; Godwin Obaseki and Gen.Charles Airhiavere. And among the five, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who cannot be taken for granted in this race owing to the fact that he needs to anoint his successor, is backing the Chairman of the state Economic Team, Obaseki. And because Obaseki is not a known politician but a technocrat, the governor has been able to galvanize his foot soldiers to deliver Obaseki.
But taking a look at the aspirants endorsed by the BLT, one of them, Ogie, who is the current Commissioner for Works in the state, was prevailed upon by his boss, Oshiomhole, to drop his ambition and support Obaseki. Today, Ogie is the Director General of the Obaseki Campaign Organization. Ogie is a leader in, Oshiomhole political family and well-grounded politically to boost Obaseki’s chances. Of course, delegates loyal to him are today backing Obaseki. As a matter of fact, Ogie coordinated the attack against a former member of the party, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, during the congresses of the state APC in 2014 which forced Ize-Iyamu out of the party. Meanwhile, Ogie and Odubu will be playing mind games ahead of the primary due to the fact that they both understand the delegates. Most of the delegates have been under the control of Ogie who oils Oshiomhole’s political machinery and that was why his followers were bitter when his boss charged him to use his structure to deliver Obaseki. Exhibiting loyalty, Ogie painfully heeded the call and today he is in the field working for Obaseki.
Ogiemwonyi and Odubu command respect in this battle because they have been preparing for it over the years. They are big shots in this race and of course will call Oshiomhole’s bluff and gun for the ticket rather than stepping down for Obaseki. And the reason is not far-fetched. Though Ogiemwonyi, who is the eldest in terms of age among the five aspirants, enjoys close relationship with Oshiomhole’s family, because Oshiomhole’s unwavering support for Obaseki, he decided to pursue his destiny without Oshiomhole’s support. After spending 34 years in the oil sector and, being a former Minister of State Works, he, of course, has the financial muscle and the experience to see to the end of this race. Additionally, it is rumored that he enjoys the backing of the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. Ogiemwonyi is optimistic and roaring to go. Interesting, he has exhibited maturity in this race through his campaign for peaceful elections in the state.
Odubu is presumed to be the most loyal deputy governor in the country until things fell apart between him and his boss, Oshiomhole. Okakuo (warrior), as he is fondly called, is the greatest threat to Obaseki’s ambition just like Ogiemwonyi. Odubu has been a staunch member of the Oshiomhole political family. As a result, he understands how that group operates. But the snag for him is Ogie’s presence in the Obaseki project. Odubu, Ogie and Philip Shaibu, who is now in the House of Representatives, run things for Oshiomhole. It would have been better for Odubu if Ogie had remained aloof but the latter had decided to join his boss to deliver Obaseki.
Unfortunately for the two groups now, things have fallen apart and the center can no longer hold; therefore they are bound to clash in the field. Odubu’s confidence is rising from the fact that he understands the bulk of the delegates, besides there is always this saying in APC that whoever Oshiomhole supports in any primary does not always win. Odubu definitely has this in mind and is working round the clock to fix his boss and Obaseki. But this is a different ball game, the governorship election and not any other election. Oshiomhole as it seems has learnt his political lessons and has rejigged his political machinery to deliver Obaseki.
But Oshiomhole and Ogie know Odubu’s weak points and they will surely capitalize on it. Odubu’s strength lies in the key veteran politicians such as the Political Adviser to Oshiomhole, Charles Idahosa, and Harrison Omagbon, but Oshiomhole has been able to infiltrate that group. Some of the people in that group today are in the Obaseki project. Obviously, Odubu will not step down for anybody, but whether he will be able acquire the muscle to outsmart Oshiomhole and Ogie is another matter. However he is enjoying the support of a former House of Representatives member, Samson Osagie.
They are hoping they will be able to garner the same delegates that voted for Osagie, during his senatorial primary for Odubu. Osagie defeated Oshiomhole’s Chief of Staff, Patrick Obahiagbon, in that senatorial race. They are basking on that confidence that because they gave the governor a shocker by ensuring that Igodomigodo is defeated in that race, that they are prepared to inflict same defeat to Obaseki in Edo South. But Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that Oshiomhole also supported Osagie financially in that race which further empowered him with the support he received from Odubu. The battle between the two groups will be fierce but it is a contest that, at the end of the day, whoever carries the day, they will shake hands and move towards the main election. Okakuo is surely a threat to the Obaseki project but his boss will surely unleash his eight years’ experience in politics on him.
Airhiavbere ran against Oshiomhole in 2012 as the PDP candidate but later joined the APC. He enjoys close relationship with Oshiomhole and he is one man capable of entering into a deal with Oshiomhole. Sunday Vanguard recalls that the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri, and some other Benin chiefs had, in 2012, advised Airiavbere to abandon the PDP and work with Oshiomhole so he can succeed Oshiomhole in 2016. But the retired general, who enjoyed the support of the PDP hierarchy then, shunned overtures. Sunday Vanguard learnt that Oshiomhole admires Airhiavbere’s fighting spirit and the retired general has won the governor’s heart with the way he had carried on with his campaign without bitterness. Airhiavbere is somebody that Oshiomhole will surprisingly back for the governorship outside his traditional foot soldiers like Obaseki and Ogie. Arhiavbere equally has the wherewithal to fight in this primary but he will always strike a balance as regards his relationship with Oshiomhole.
However, considering Oshiomhole’s ruthless political machinery, it would have been better for Odubu and Ogiemwonyi to present one candidate to battle Obaseki who is Oshiomhole’s man. But that may not happen. Oshiomhole is mindful of the experience of former Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan who lost out in the power play to produce a successor. Consequently, he is happy with this situation knowing fully well that the duo are his problem. And while he is expected to garner block votes from the delegates from his Edo North for Obaseki, Edo South, where Oshiomhole also enjoys huge support, and Edo Central will be the battle field for all the aspirants including Obaseki. The June 18 primary of the APC will be a historic battle because whoever wins has a huge advantage to occupy Osadebey Avenue, the seat of power in Edo.