By Ozioruva Aliu
THE emergence of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as consensus candidate of a faction of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State loyal to the National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has increased the stakes in the governorship race in the state.
It also implies that the party’s governorship primary election, slated for June 22 ahead of the main election holding in September, would literally be a fight-to-the-finish.
The development ended weeks of negotiations among the eight men who had indicated interest to contest for the governorship ticket of the APC.
They include a former Deputy Governor, Pius Odubu; a former Minister of State for Works, Mr Chris Ogiemwonyi; ex-Secretary to Edo State Government, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu; Mr Solomon Edebiri; Mr Saturday Uwalekhue; Professor Ebegue Amadasun and Mr Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma.
The former aspirants had a consensus last Tuesday in Abuja where Ize-Iyamu was said to have come tops after screening by a committee set up for the selection exercise.
Ize-Iyamu has picked his nomination form which we gathered was purchased for him by the former aspirants.
The screening committee was headed by a former Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Francis Alimikhena while members included a former Deputy Governor, Mr Lucky Imasuen; Gen. Cecil Esekhaigbe (retd); ex- Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Mr Thomas Okosun; a former Minority Whip of House of Representatives, Samson Osagie; ex-member of House of Representatives, Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon, and Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Peter Akpatason.
With this agreement, the battle for the party’s ticket would now be between Governor Godwin Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu on June 22.
Whosoever emerges from the primary election will slug it out with the nominee of the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September election.
The battle for the PDP ticket is not as tense after Ize-Iyamu who was the party’s candidate in the 2016 governorship election in the state quit. Ize-Iyamu had faced Obaseki in that year’s election.
Meanwhile, it is speculated that the governor may defect to the PDP to actualise his ambition of clinching the APCC ticket fails.
The consensus climaxed the move to stop Obaseki for running for second term on the platform of the APC after he became estranged with Oshiomhole, his predecessor, who had helped him to get office in 2016.
Only last Wednesday, Obaseki said no man could stop his second term bid.
“I am not a violent person. But I am confident that the way I got into power is the way I will return”, he said on a television programme.
“God gave me power. If He wants me return I will continue. No man can stop me. Power comes from God”.
There are genuine fears that the primary election may be scuttled as Obaseki’s men are querying the choice of direct primary election and the status of Ize-Iyamu as a member of APC.
Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that one of the options is to challenge the validity of his (Ize-Iyamu) membership in court despite the waiver granted him by the National Working Committee (NWC) and his claim that he had registered in his ward shortly before defecting to APC. Obaseki’s Special Adviser on Political Matters, Chief Osaro Idah, said the choice of direct primary was not properly done even though he believed the governor is popular enough to clinch the party’s ticket.
He said: “The members of NWC of APC can’t make such declaration, because it is not within their rights. The constitution of APC is very clear on who has the right to do so.
“The party at the state level has the right to determine the mode of governorship primary election it prefers, which is subject to the last meeting (in 2018) of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of APC in Abuja, where the instruction was approved. Since then, nothing has been said by NEC. Nothing has changed.
“The NWC of APC met and recommended to NEC for approval in 2018. Since then, NEC has not met to change the decision. Members of NWC cannot on their own make a compelling order. To take such a crucial decision, members of NEC must meet.
“Last year, when the governorship election in Kogi State took place, it was Kogi APC that decided on indirect primary election.
“What has changed? Governor Obaseki is not scared of direct primary election because he will win, but we want the right process to be followed and the right thing to be done. We want the extant law to be obeyed.”
Similarly, a chieftain of the party, Mr Oteghe Adams, said: “This man (Obaseki) has performed exceptionally well. Obaseki has done exceptionally well. We will defend Obaseki because he is fighting for the common man.
“He is fixing our schools, fixing our roads, creating jobs, building confidence in the youths, giving voice to the voiceless and speaking out for the silent majority. Don’t you think he deserves to be rewarded?’’
Style of politics
There is a gulf between Obaseki and many members of his party who have described his style as politics of exclusion.
Many politicians of note in the APC across the three senatorial districts of Edo are against his second term.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the governor, after losing his Senior Special Assistant on Anti-Human Trafficking, Solomon Okoduwa, who resigned his appointment, and later his Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, may lose more supporters in the next few days if what is happening in his kitchen cabinet is anything to go by.
There was, according to reports, a recent quarrel among some members of his kitchen cabinet but when contacted, one of them, a former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kabiru Adjoto, said: “The tongue and teeth quarrel and they also settle. But the story that somebody was slapped is not true.”
It was reliably gathered that some of the kitchen cabinet members were reaching out to the opposition group against Obaseki.
The major challenge to Obaseki’s second term bid is the failed attempt to remove Oshiomhole from his position as National Chairman of the APC.
It was reliably gathered that the permutation of the governor and his loyalists was that the replacement of the National Chairman would pave the way for the nomination of Obaseki as the candidate of the party in the Edo election, hence the litigations that led to the recent scuttling of the National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting of the party.
Two of Obaseki’s supporters had boasted to Sunday Vanguard, late last year, that Oshiomhole would not be the National Chairman of the APC by the time Edo governorship primary election would be conducted.
It was also gathered that the plan to register 500,000 new party members in the state was to be carried out once Oshiomhole was removed.
Fourteen of the 24 state legislators loyal to Oshiomhole in the Edo APC crisis are yet to be inaugurated more than one year after their election. Their seats have been declared vacant for challenging the manner the House was inaugurated at midnight.
After the failure of the plot to remove Oshiomhole, the governor was said to have gone back to the drawing board to adopt new strategies.
This, however, suffered a setback when his Chief of Staff (CoS), Mr Taiwo Akerele, suddenly resigned, citing administrative reasons for his action.
Akerele’s resignation has led to the dismissal of many appointees linked to him while those remaining go to work daily expecting the worst.
Some, who are still in office, were said to have pledged loyalty to Obaseki before they were told to continue after serious interrogation by the office of the Deputy Governor.
The resignation of Akerele would remain a sour point as it took the Obaseki government by surprise.
Even though a replacement was immediately announced, the governor, close aides said, least expected it.
Akerele’s resignation substantially reduced the reach of the governor in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area – one of the areas in Edo North Obaseki was expected to make inroads.
The place has become vulnerable as, apart from Senator Domingo Obende who, with his supporters, has remained solidly behind Obaseki, notable leaders, like Akpatason and a former member of the House of Assembly, Anselm Agbabi, are in the opposition.
Akerele is expected to play a role in the emergence of the APC candidate in the state for the September election.
Obaseki’s supporters had hoped the aspirants opposed to him would not arrive at a consensus.
But Ize-Iyamu’s emergence has changed the permutation.
Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that some powerful interests in the party want Ize-Iyamu.
Ize-Iyamu’s entrance into the race shortly after he joined the APC changed the narrative as he became the aspirant to beat.
He came to the party with the structure he used as governorship candidate of the PDP in 2016 against Obaseki.
READ ALSO: Oshiomhole: Why APC postponed NEC meeting
Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that some powerful interests in the party want Ize-Iyamu because they believe that with him winning the Edo election, the integrity of the APC can be maintained .
With 2023 elections already in mind, the power brokers, it was gathered, want to use Edo to expand APC’s influence in the South-South having lost Bayelsa State to the PDP.
The entry of Ize-Iyamu into APC generated so much attention to the extent that the state government made frantic efforts to stop it, including placing a ban on all forms of political rallies and meetings in both private and public places.
A day before his entry into APC, there was violence in Benin City, a situation that led to the police aborting the event.
There were attacks on several persons believed to be supporters of Ize-Iyamu.
Oshiomhole was subsequently declared a persona non grata in Edo and government issued a statement saying he must get permission before he visits the state, claiming his presence was sparking violence.
Shortly after this, a venue was chosen for a rally in Auchi, Etsako West Local Government Area but violence also erupted there.
Another venue in Irrua, Edo Central was destroyed although that turned out to be a decoy as the organizers, learning from what happened in Auchi, actually had an alternative venue which was the country home of a leader of the party, Chief Francis Inegbeneki.
Inegbenki’s private residence in Benin City was attacked with substances believed to be explosives and, a few days later, the home of the state secretary of the party, Lawrence Okah, was bombed.
Before then, the building housing the legal office of Henry Idahagon, a former Attorney General of Edo also opposed to Obaseki and is a leader of Edo Peoples Movement, a platform vigorously opposed to the governor’s second term bid, was attacked by gunmen.
Several other business centres in the building were destroyed.
Many used pellets were reportedly recovered from the area by security agencies.
There were several attacks and sometimes disruption of meetings called by persons believed to sympathisers of Oshiomhole.
All these attacks were never publicly condemned by the state government but rather it said they were self-inflicted.
In February, the Benin-City residence of Oshiomhole in Oko-Otun area of the GRA came under siege as the two entry points from Ikpokpan and Dennis Osadebey Road were blocked by trucks believed to have been deployed by the state government.
One of the trucks was later set ablaze and abandoned for several days.
The blocking of the road was a continuation of attempts to stop Oshiomhole from leaving the airport on arrival from Abuja to attend a burial party in Benin-City.
The APC National Chairman had been escorted from the airport by heavily armed security operatives.
But the Special Adviser, Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, said at that time: “We don’t know anything about this. Our concern is that the National Chairman came to Edo State and did not inform the government about his presence.
“He is the National Chairman of our party and courtesy demands that he informs the government about his presence.”
Even though his aides have severally denied it, Sunday Vanguard can authoritatively report that there were moves by Obaseki to leave the APC and talks were on with some leaders of the PDP for him to fly their flag in the September election.
But the governor was said to have slowed down his move when the idea of removing Oshiomhole as the National Chairman came up.
For the first time in the history of Edo, two ministers were appointed: Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba.
Obaseki’s critics believe he is not leveraging on the goodwill these appointments could bring to the state and his administration.
Closely related to this is the role he allegedly played in the opposition to the appointment of Odubu as the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
He was alleged to have coordinated other governors from the South-South to stop the inauguration of the board even after clearance by the Senate.
Sunday Vanguard could not independently confirm the veracity of the claim.
But one of the lawyers, who went to court to challenge the composition of the Board, is now one of Obaseki’s Senior Special Assistants.
The governor recently made many appointments, a development seen as a strategy to get more followers.
However, the outcome of the primary election would determine how far Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu can go in their individual’s ambition to fly the APC flag in the Edo September governorship election.