BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
Edo State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC), led by Prof. Stanley, penultimate week, announced March 3 as the date for elections in the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
The pronouncement charged the political situation in the state, particularly in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which, immediately, brought out its guidelines for the aspirants of the party. Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems confused as to whether to participate in the election or not after one of its leaders said “it will be a waste for any candidate in the PDP to spend his money in an election where we already know the result, especially with what happened in the neighbouring Delta State where the ruling PDP cleared the entire Local Governments”. In response, the Chairman of the EDSIEC assured all the parties that his commission will conduct free and fair elections and warned against violent acts during and after the polls
Following the INEC pronouncement, the leadership of the APC came up with its guidelines. Chairmanship aspirants are to pay N250,000 as nomination fee while Councillors are to pay N50,000. The candidate must have also won his or her ward in the 2016 governorship election in the state. However, there is tension in the party following the directive by the leadership of the APC in the state to bar all former chairmen, former councillors and other former officials in the administration of Local Government Areas from contesting the elections. The decision was announced by the Edo Chairman of the APC, Anslem Ojezua, at a meeting he held with leaders of the party in the 18 Local Government Areas of the state. Former House of Representatives member, Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo), represented Governor Godwin Obaseki[ Local Government, Oredo, at the meeting.
Ojezua, who addressed the party leaders, said the decision was reached after consultations with the state leader of the party and immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and Obaseki. “The leadership of the party decided to take this decision in the best interest of the administration of Local Government Councils in the state whereby we intend to ensure that the ongoing reforms in the Local Government level as regards revenue collection which the governor introduced to ensure that Local Government Councils are self-reliant, and are able to pay their salaries, are not disrupted¨, he said.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that Obaseki is opposed to the former Local Government administrators coming back to head the Councils due to what he described as the debt crisis they plunged the Councils in the past. Before now, the governor has been advising them to exclude themselves in this contest as he does not intend to supervise a state where councils are not unable to pay workers’ salary. The decision of the party has plunged many of the councils into confusion, particularly Egor and Ovia North East and South West Local Government Areas, where about six former Local Government administrators, including three former , were in the race. Sunday Vanguard observed that the leadership of the party in Egor, led by the member representing Egor in the House of Assembly, Crosby Eribo, embarked on marathon meetings with a view to finding a candidate that met the requirement.
Though the decision of the leadership of the party is being resisted in some of the Local Governments following what they described as an alleged attempt to retire some persons who worked doggedly during the governorship election from politics. Besides, there are some party members who were not picked as Commissioners during the constitution of the state Executive Council by Obaseki and assured of going to the Councils but the new law by the party seems to have jeopardized that dream. Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that some members of the party have vowed to head to court to contest the decision which they see as puncturing their fundamental human right.
The position of Oshiomhole, who is the state leader of the party, on the cmatter is not clear but as it seems the former governor may find himself in a crossfire with some of the former chairmen who are his dogged loyalists and political foot soldiers and who assisted in holding their councils solid while ensuring victory for Obaseki during the governorship election. Besides, those affected in Edo North and South are querying how that decision will be applied in Edo Central where the party lost most of the wards to the PDP. They felt it would be unfair even after they won their wards and units to be asked to step down, while those who lost their units and wards in Edo Central are given the opportunity to produce chairmen and councillors.
But anybody who understands Obaseki’s policies since he assumed office will know it will be difficult for him to shift ground on this matter unless his party leader, Oshiomhole, is able to convince him that the decision may affect the party in the 2019 general elections. Sunday Vanguard gathered that the governor wants to start on a clean state in the councils, particularly after the auditing carried out in the councils from 1999 till date indicated mismanagement of funds by the former management of the councils. The truth is that the reforms the Obaseki administration commenced in the councils are yielding fruits as most of them can now comfortably pay workers salary. And from all indications, he does not want to disrupt the progress made so far in the councils due to his strong belief that the former chairmen and councillors may have the old mindset to go back to the councils to loot. Obaseki is sincerely reasoning the economic part of it but the party leaders opposed to it are looking at the political implication the decision may have in the 2019 elections.
However, the tension in the party went down last Friday after the leadership of the party reversed the decision banning former chairmen and councillors from contesting the Local Government elections. It was learnt that the party considered the litigations that may hit the party if the decision was allowed to stay. The development was received with wild jubilation as aspirants who had lost hope due to the ban rushed to the party[ secretariat to pick nomination forms.
Though the PDP in the state is yet to take a position on whether it will participate in the election, it has indicated interest in heading to the court after the state Chairman of the PDP, Orbih, said the Edo State House of Assembly cannot validly amend the state Local Government Electoral Law to abridge the length of notice of the Local Government polls just as he urged former chairmen of APC and councillors who were barred from contesting the elections to protest in court. The PDP also alleged that members of the EDSIEC were card carrying members of the APC. But dismissing the opposition party’s claim that the amendment to the Local Government Electoral Law, made by the Edo State House of Assembly on December 12, 2017, was done in violation of the mandatory provisions of the Rules of the House on law making process.
But the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Paul Ohonbamu, recalled that similar amendment was done under the administration of Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbo in 2007. “The amendments disenfranchised certain people who were caretaker committee chairmen from contesting in the election and nothing was said about it then. The function of the Edo State House of Assembly is to make laws according to the rules of the house in the interest of all Edo people and this they have done. The PDP should approach the court of law for proper legal interpretations if they are confused and not engage in acts of rascality. The PDP should not create tension where there is none. The house has the duty to amend laws.” Adding that “it is not the duty of political parties to decide on legal issues. They know they are finished and have attained the age of menopause and are merely brandishing expired talisman. So I want to advise the PDP to go to court and test the waters for proper interpretation of the law”, Ohonbamu said.
On the PDP’s opposition to the number of days of notice to parties and other stakeholders before the election, the Commissioner said, “If PDP says it has to be 90 days, they should go to court, their objection is nothing but an escapist route. The PDP can claim the sky and moon, but it is the duty of the Judiciary to interpret the law. They are finished and down. When they were in power, they caused serious plundering of the economy. Today they are looking for how to come back to power to continue their plundering. The Edo State House of Assembly will continue to make laws for the common good of all. The PDP cannot draw us back. Edo people are not ready for their faulty interjections. I enjoin them to go to court to test the veracity of their claim”.
As campaigns for the elections kick off, some aspirants already have the support of the majority of their leaders. In Oredo, Dr Tom Obaseki, brother to the Edo incumbent governor , is enjoying the support of the Igbo, APC youths and the immediate past chairman of the council, Osaro Obaze. They agreed that Obaseki possesses the best credentials to lead the council which is the largest in the state.
However, some party members say the chairmanship position cannot be ceded to ward 4, In a counter position, party leaders, including Obaze, described the argument as unpopular. One of them told Sunday Vanguard, ¨Oredo is the biggest Local Government Area in Edo and is the heart of the city. Therefore we need the best candidate and that person is Tom Obaseki. We don´t care whether the governor and the chairman are from the same ward; all we want is competence. When President Obasanjo was in power, his daughter was a senator and both were from the same zone. So that argument does not hold water”.
In Etsako Central, Mr John Akhigbe, who is said to have received the endorsement of Oshiomhole and the deputy governor of the state, Comrade Philip Shaibu, is also in safe hands.
Meanwhile, in a caucus meeting of the leadership of the APC, held on Friday and preside over by Oshiomhole, Obaseki was said to have directed party leaders to nominate their best candidates as he wants competent people at the Local Governments and nothing more.