By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
The leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State embarked on marathon reconciliation meetings ahead of the September 10 governorship election in the state throughout last week with Governor Adams Oshiomhole at the helm of affairs. And as it appears, the party is completely united following the decision by the deputy governor of the state, Dr Pius Odubu, and his supporters to sheath their sword and work for the victory of the party. Odubu, popularly known as the Okakuo (Warrior) of the Universe, was understandably unhappy because his boss decided to back the Chairman of Edo State Economic Team and financial guru, Mr Godwin Obaseki, to clinch the APC ticket for the election.
After the primary where Obaseki emerged, the leadership of the party set up a committee, led by Prince Malik Afegbua and other top leaders of the APC from the three senatorial districts, to make peace with angry members, particularly Odubu, Dr Chris Ogienwonyi and Kenneth Imasuagbon, with a view to having a united house before the party flags off its governorship campaign this weekend.
While nine of the governorship aspirants out of the twelve who contested the primary backed Obaseki immediately, Ogienwonyi and Imasuagbon kicked against the result while Odubu decided to remain calm while consulting with his followers.
However, the candidate of the party, Obaseki, made frantic efforts to meet with Odubu twice and the party leader did not fail to express his displeasure about how badly he was allegedly treated with his followers during the build, up to the primary. Obaseki also met with Ogienwonyi but disclosed his difficulties in speaking with Imasuagbon who left the state immediately after the shadow election. But Oshiomhole was particularly worried with the seeming aloofness of his deputy who is equally a foundation member of the APC in the affairs of the party.
There was this anxiety in the APC due to the situation of the deputy governor. There was this belief that if he was not appeased before the election, the victory of the party may be hanging in the balance. Obviously the PDP was watching the situation very keenly, hoping the gulf between Odubu and the APC deepened so as to capitalize on it to hit the party, particularly in Edo South. The Orhiomwon-born politician is a grassroots man and capable of inflicting devastating blow on the ambition of Obaseki if taken for granted.
Oshiomhole, who recognized this fact, went after his deputy with a view to bringing him back on board after Sunday Vanguard learnt that Odubu kept members of the reconciliation committee in the dark as to his next move. Oshiomhole was said to have approached one of the veteran politicians in Ovia South West, Engr.Evbuonwan, to help bring Odubu to the table for discussion. The meeting between the trio and few other leaders of the party, including the Director General of the Obaseki Campaign Organisation, Osarodion Ogie, held last Sunday. The Sunday meeting culminated in the Tuesday meeting with select APC leaders across the three senatorial districts present and it was at that occasion that the governor and his deputy addressed journalists together, the first time since after the primary of the party. The peace accord was sealed and it was jubilation inside the hall by APC leaders.
Oshiomhole, who addressed the party leaders, recalled: “The deputy governor and I have worked together for seven and a half years and we have struggled together as candidate, running mate since, 2007. And we have worked together, dined together, socialized together. For some time now it has been in the news that the deputy governor and I have not been in good terms. Watchers of Nigeria politics will agree that Pius and I have had an extremely cordial relationship and I have said, without any prompting that, in my working with Pius, I found him to be absolutely loyal, dedicated and committed. Nobody was able to infiltrate us and nobody ever came to settle a quarrel between the deputy governor and I in the past seven and a half years.
Some times when we joke, we don’t relate as boss- subordinate but as brothers. But we went through an electoral primary to celebrate internal democracy that distinguishes the APC from the rest. Pius and I fought many battles, political battles as well as battles to reposition this government and together we can effortlessly point out what our stewardship accomplished for the benefit of the people of Edo. Which I believe necessarily formed the foundation for the electioneering campaign that is about to begin. Having worked so hard and related so closely, there is no question Pius and I in and outside government will remain friends and comrades.
“As part of my own atonement and to demonstrate my commitment to our friendship, some of the people who were affected in the cause of this contestation I have decided to reinstate them to their former positions. I believe that when a leader shows compassion and demonstrate spirit of forgiveness and calls his younger ones, pat them on the back and say ‘return home’, it is not a mark of weakness, it simply shows that we are ever conscious that as humans there are times to make mistakes and times to correct them. So I have taken those steps in the interest of our great party and my honesty of purpose. The primary has come and gone, we all knew that even if all twelve were angels, only one angel was required and, in choosing that one angel, no body requires to give reasons why he preferred one angel to the other and that is simply what has played out in our party”.
Reacting, Odubu described Oshiomhole as his elder brother and urged his followers to forget the past and work for the victory of the party. He said “I am now back home”. While thanking the governor for reinstating his loyalists to their jobs and the N10 million donated to one of his security men who was shot in his eyes when he was attacked in Auchi, Odubu said, “Yesterday belongs to the past and we have decided to put the past behind us. I want to reaffirm my commitment to APC and to each victory at all elections”.
The Tuesday meeting was followed by an enlarged reconciliation meeting of Wednesday, where the governor met with leaders of the APC across the 18 local government of Edo and urged them to prepare for the September election just as he took a jab at the PDP and its candidate, Ize-Iyamu. The governor said: “Whether campaign of the PDP for the forthcoming governorship election in Edo is dead on arrival”. He said the APC is the only party that offers hope to Edo people, adding: “Whether you like it or not, the PDP engine is dead on arrival. The early morning signals are clear. For the first time since 1999, a candidate was being presented to the people of Edo for the most important single job, and the key pillars were there fastened to their chairs and their tables, none of them could stand on their feet to say one word. Has the Oracle not spoken?
“Also, the ‘applicant pastor’ said we have our fathers here and he called the fathers and you know when a child calls more than one father, you know what he is! But if you have three fathers seated next to each other, none of your fathers could stand up, take the microphone and said, ‘yes you are my son; I present you’. Did you observe that? Has papa not already disowned his child? Did papa testify for the child?”.
Following the marathon meetings, Oshiomhole appears to have been able to secure unity within Edo APC ahead of the governorship election. And the leadership of the party has anointed the member representing Etsako Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Mr Philip Shuaibu, as Obaseki’s running mate. The youthful lawmaker is expected to watch the back of his boss politically when they are voted into power.