BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
As the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State concludes its congresses this weekend, with the incumbent Chairman, Anslem Ojezua, retaining his seat, the leadership of the party will be focusing on the 2019 national and state assembly elections. Unlike many other states, the governorship election in Edo will not hold in 2019 but 2020.
For the APC, what happened during the 2015 National Assembly elections in the state is still very fresh in members’ memory. With the huge resources deployed by then President Goodluck Jonathan, with a view to crippling Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s political structure in Edo, the PDP captured two senatorial seats, Edo Central and Edo South, leaving only one for the APC, Edo North, Oshiomhole’s domain.
In the House of Representatives election , the PDP picked the entire three seats in Edo Central while in Edo South, PDP captured three seats (Ovia, Oredo and Egor/Ikpoba Okhai federal constituencies) while APC picked Uhumwonde/Orhiomwon federal constituency. But the PDP member representing Egor/Ikpoba Okhai, Johnson Agbonayinma, has since defected to the APC. As things are now in Edo South, the PDP and the APC have two House of Representatives members each. For the state House of Assembly election, APC held its ground, capturing 20 seats while the PDP took four.
For the APC, however, the 2019 National Assembly elections promise to be a payback time. It was alleged that over N2billlion was deployed to the state by the powers-that-be in the PDP in 2015 to dislodge Oshiomhole. The plan was for the PDP to pick majority seats in the Edo House and the National Assembly to enable the ruling party at the federal level to impeach Oshiomhole before the end of his tenure. But while they succeeded in picking majority seats in the National Assembly elections, they lost woefully in state House of Assembly election following the defeat of President Jonathan by President Muhammadu Buhari. Oshiomhole is still pained by the fact that the PDP had the upper hand in Edo then and he is expected to unleash his foot soldiers on the party in the next elections.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the leadership of the APC in Edo has been shopping for credible candidates to replace the PDP National Assembly members, particularly after the senator representing Edo South, Matthew Urhoghide, recently moved a motion to impeach Buhari.
Baptism of fire
The 2019 general elections will be the baptism of fire Governor Godwin Obaseki will be facing since he assumed office. He is from Edo South, the senatorial district with the largest votes in the state, and, therefore, will lead the attack in the area for the APC. He is expected to sack Urhoghide who is not only from his senatorial district but also from the same Oredo Local Government Area with him. Oredo records the largest voters in Edo with over 400,000 registered voters in 2015 and whatever happens in Oredo affects the fortune of any of the parties in any election.
However, apart from Urhoghide, Obaseki will keep a watch on the man who ran against him in the 2016 governorship election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. It is strongly rumoured that Ize-Iyamu may dislodge Urhoghide to pick the PDP ticket for the senatorial election even though he has denied nursing such an ambition. Ize-Iyamu still believes he is more popular than Obaseki in the South and, in order to solidify his political machinery ahead of the 2020 governorship race, it will be better for him to run for the Senate. In terms of infrastructure, however, the governor is consolidating on the achievements made by his predecessor, Comrade Oshiomhole.
He is building roads and attracting investors to the state. However, Ize-Iyamu is banking on the seeming angst among the leaders of the APC in Edo South and the thousands of APC youths, who feel abandoned by the Obaseki administration. It was learnt that he had since commenced payment of monthly stipends to the aggrieved youths with a view to courting them in the next elections. The governor does not believe in stomach infrastructure popularly known as “elalobo” in Edo. Ize-Iyamu intends to capitalize on the disenchantment within the APC due to government anti-stomach infrastructure policy to break the ruling party in the 2019 elections.
But Obaseki and other APC leaders are not sleeping. They intend to file out credible and popular candidates capable of flooring Urhoghide or Ize-Iyamu to pick the entire National Assembly seats in Edo South. Top among the list of senatorial aspirants in the APC is Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo). Igodo, as he fondly called, was Majority Leader in the state House of Assembly between 1999 and 2003 after which he went to the House of Representatives. Obahiagbon is from Oredo East while Urhoghide is from Oredo West.
Obahiagbon is one man so loved by Nigerians, particularly APC governors and leaders across the nation, that they pleaded with Oshiomhole to return him to the National Assembly. It was not surprising therefore that he has received the blessing of Obaseki, Oshiomhole and other leaders of the APC for the senatorial ticket. Though there are rumours that the former state representatives in the Board of the NDDC, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen; Senator Ehigie Uzamere may join the race, it seems the coast is clear for Obahiagbon.
Another assignment for Obaseki is to sack the incumbent PDP House of Reps member in his ancestral home of Oredo, Ogbeide Ihama. The APC has some tested politicians to do the job. Among them is the current member representing Oredo West in the state House of Assembly, Chris Okaeben, and a former Chairman of Oredo Local Government Area, Osaro Obaze. The pair are loyalists of Benin-born business mogul, Captain Hosa Okunbor. It is believed that Obaseki and Okunbor will decide who among them will go for the duel or pick a former House of Reps member, Rasaq Bello-Osagie, who also is in the race. Though it is not yet uhuru for Ihama in his PDP, it was learnt that former Governor Lucky Igbinedion is positioning his in-law, Mr Victor Enoghama, to pick the ticket ahead of the incumbent lawmaker.
But one unique thing in Oredo is that no incumbent has had a second term in the House of Representatives and that should be a big concern for Ihama. He is from Oredo East and the APC may have to pick a candidate from Oredo West to dethrone him. It is obvious that the technocrat governor, Obaseki, will not allow himself to be surrounded by PDP lawmakers in his domain, particularly after he was embarrassed with the motion moved by Urhoghide for the impeachment of his party leader, Buhari. He will require the political sagacity of the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie; the state Secretary of the APC, Lawrence Okah; Chief Osaro Idah; Charlesa Idahosa, the Omagbons of Ovia, and the supervision of the political leader of the state, Oshiomhole, to deliver APC candidates in the South.
In Ovia federal constituency, it is going to be a battle between two deep pockets. The incumbent member, Omosede Igbinedion of the PDP, is the daughter of the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. Tactically, the APC has resolved to field a business mogul and former Commissioner for Investment during the administration of Oshiomhole, Mr Denis Idahosa, to face Omosede. Idahosa, a philanthropist, donated his salaries to youths and mothers throughout his tenure as Commissioner and he is seen as the only man that can wrestle power from Omosede whose father’s influence in Ovia is very strong.
Idahosa, who is also the leader of the APC in Ovia South-West, accused the incumbent Reps member of alleged incompetence, saying, “I decided to run because she has given us the worst representation in Ovia. Each time serious issues are discussed in the House, she is never around, as she is flying all over Africa and America. Because she is from a rich home, she does not understand the hardship being faced by Ovia people and that is why she has not done anything to attract any project to Ovia or employment for our people. I supported her to win but I have discovered that we made a big mistake in voting her in and now I want to come in and help my people in Ovia because we are in dire need of effective representation”.
In Egor/Ikpoba Okhai, the incumbent, EJ Agbonayinma is in the APC and Sunday Vanguard learnt that he has been given the nod to go for second term by party leaders. The APC leader in Egor, Mr Crosby Eribo, who was asked to step down in the race for the ticket in 2015 in favour of Mr Paul Ohonbanmu, who is currently the Commissioner for Information and Orientation in the state, feels he needs to be rewarded for his loyalty to the party this time around with the ticket. However, in that APC family right now, Eribo, Ohonbanmu and the current House of Assembly member in Ikpoba Okhai, Henry Okhuarobo are eying the seat and none of the aspirants can be taken for granted.
In Uhumwonde/Orhiomwon, Patrick Aisowieren is the APC House of Representatives member in the area. But his seat is being threatened with the interest shown by the only woman in the state House of Assembly, Elizabeth Ativie, from Uhumwonde. Apart from that, the leadership tussle between him and the former Deputy Governor of state, Dr Pius Odubu, in that axis is not healthy for his political ambition. Ize-Iyamu, who is from Orhiomwon, is lining up PDP aspirants like Larry Ogieva to face the APC. Only over confidence and alleged neglect of leaders such as Odubu and Charles Idahosa can inflict defeat on the APC in this axis, otherwise the party has the capacity to defeat the PDP.
Edo Central, an area known as the domain of the PDP due to the influence of the former chairman Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, incumbent PDP senator, Clifford Ordia, is from the old Okpebho. As a result, APC leaders are thinking of pushing a candidate from the same Okpebho relying on the calculation that the old Agbazillo had produced two term senator in the person of Odion Ugbesia. They believe that Okpebho needs to compete two terms in the interest of equity and fair play.
Therefore, the APC is pushing a former candidate of the APC, Chief Francis Inegbeneki, for Senate. Other aspirants include Theo Okoh and Prince Joe Okojie from the Agbazillo clan. However, Inegbeneki, who expressed optimism in picking the APC ticket a second time, said, “Everybody knows I lost the last senatorial election because of the money the PDP brought to rig. That is what affected us in Edo South. This time around they cannot rig and I will defeat their candidate”.
No go area
Edo North is a no go area for the PDP. The incumbent APC senator, Francis Alimekhena, is from Etsako clan like Oshiomhole and the deputy governor of the state, Philip Shaibu. It is obvious that if Oshiomhole is voted in as the next National Chairman of the APC, as it seems, that might rejig the current political situation in the area. Oshiomhole and other leaders may move the senatorial seat to Owan axis which will favour Prof. Julius Ihonvbere. If that happens, the party may look for another job for Alimekhena.
And in the House of Representatives in Edo North, the current Deputy Whip of the House of Representatives, Pally Iriase, will be concluding his second term. Iriase is from Owan East and representing Owan federal constituency. APC leaders intend to move the ticket to Owan West and that will favour Mike Ohio-Ezomo. In Akoko Edo, the incumbent lawmaker, Peter Akpatason, is facing a strong challenge from the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Alhaji Kabiru Adjoto. Akpatason intends to go for third term but that is being resisted and the ticket favours Adjoto who is one of Oshiomhole’s dogged field soldiers.
Obaseki’s second term
As Edo head towards 2019 elections, all eyes will be on Obaseki because his second term ambition will depend on how victorious his party will be in the state and National Assembly elections. However, APC’s biggest weapon is the popularity of Oshiomhole and the developmental strides of the governor which even the blind can see.