…Obaseki moves to broker peace with 14 legislators-elect
…Factions prepare for post primary litigation
…Moles in the two camps create anxiety
By Emmanuel Aziken
Despite proclaiming peace in the last two days, the two major factions in the All Progressives Congress, APC, were at the weekend digging in for what promises to be a major confrontation ahead of the forthcoming governorship primary on June 22.
Governor Godwin Obaseki had on Thursday softened his position with the announcement of a panel to broker peace with the estranged 14 legislators-elect whose seats were declared vacant. However, the governor was yesterday digging in with plans to frustrate the direct primary election proposed by the Adams Oshiomhole led leadership. The state government published a gazette banning all political gatherings of more than 20 persons outside the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin.
The Oshiomhole camp itself was also not letting up on its pressure on the governor as it emerged that it had set the stage for the possible disqualification of the governor from the primary.
The national party yesterday said it would conduct an open screening of all six aspirants who bought and submitted forms for the primary.
The plot one source confided in Saturday Vanguard yesterday centered on the governor’s pre-university qualification papers which were a matter for judicial dispute three years ago. The case filed after the election by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was withdrawn upon revelations that it was a pre-election matter.
Both sides were also preparing for a lengthy post primary litigation with the submission of forms by proxies hoping to be used as props during the post-primary judicial adjudication.
Meanwhile, expectations of the governor crossing over to the opposition PDP were also being narrowed with some prominent officials of the PDP now openly taking positions despite lobby efforts at the national level.
A number of PDP officials led by the influential immediate past chairman of the state chapter of the party, Chief Dan Orbih have relocated to Abuja to counter the lobby efforts being mounted by the governor’s sympathizers for a PDP ticket.
One of the prominent PDP aspirants, Mr. Ken Imasuangbon, Saturday Vanguard learnt, has also vowed to launch a legal onslaught on the party should the governor be given a waiver into the party.
In the gazette published yesterday, Governor Obaseki expressly forbade any social or political gathering in any part of the state involving more than 20 persons at a particular time.
The gazette also stipulated that Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin-City should be the venue for all large political gatherings in the state who must not be more than 5,000.
Such gatherings must also be expressly approved by the governor.
The move inevitably puts a check to the move by the Oshiomhole camp to hold direct primaries across the state.
The governor has opposed the direct primaries and insisted on indirect primaries that would involve only party officials and statutory delegates most of whom are presently allied to the governor.
The gazette cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the need for the restrictions.
Meanwhile, the governor’s antagonists operating from Abuja yesterday launched a direct salvo against the governor with the call for the screening of all documents to be submitted by the aspirants.
The party’s national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu in a statement said the decision to open the documents and certificates of the aspirants to public scrutiny was to ensure that the eventual candidate of the party was not subjected to judicial threats of disqualification.
He said: “In our bid to ensure due diligence and transparency in the screening exercise and learning from our recent shocking experiences, we are determined to avoid any lapses in the process.
“Therefore, we are making the submitted information and documents of the governorship aspirants available to our party members and the public for verification of claims and to support the screening panel with information or any objection to the claims contained in the submission by the aspirants.
“Consequently, the various submissions will be displayed at the Party’s National Secretariat in Abuja and in Benin City, the Edo State capital from Monday 8th to Tuesday 9th June, 2020 for claims and objections.
“We are inviting party members and indeed members of the public to assist the screening committee by scrutinizing the information, credentials and documents provided by the governorship aspirants and availing the Screening Committee of counter and correct information, if applicable.”
One pro-Oshiomhole party activist was effusive yesterday saying that there was no way the governor would pass through. He made insinuations towards past issues raised by the PDP on the governor’s secondary school qualification.
The PDP had dragged the governor to court over the credential used in entering the University of Ibadan. The case, however, suffered a setback as it was alleged to have been a pre-election matter and was withdrawn by the party.
“He would have been gone if the case had been filed on time,” a senior PDP official told Saturday Vanguard yesterday.
Meanwhile, a pro-Oshiomhole enthusiast said that the party would definitely be brought up during the screening.
Meanwhile the party has confirmed the submission of six names for the primary election.
Remarkably, three of the aspirants who submitted forms were from the Oshiomhole camp, a development which gave suggestions that the consensus arrangement around Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu had crumbled.
Besides Ize-Iyamu, Dr. Pius Odubu and Engr. Chris Ogienmwonyi also submitted the forms despite earlier pledging support for Ize-Iyamu.
Hon. Osara Obaze, a former chairman of Oredo Local Government Area and known to be a protégée of one of the richest men from the state, Capt. Hosa Okunbo also picked the form.
Governor Obaseki and an ally of his, former member of the House of Assembly and Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC representative, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen.
“Their consensus has crumbled and you can see that is why Odubu and Ogienmwonyi picked form,” an associate of the governor told Saturday Vanguard.
However, Saturday Vanguard, gathered that the collection of forms by more than one associate from the different camps was part of the calculations by the two camps to checkmate the other during the expected post-primary judicial altercations. The stand-in aspirants are expected to intervene and claim locus upon having paid and collected forms ahead of the primary.
An example of the judicial intrigue playing out in the contest in the state was the development in Abudu, Orhionmwon Local Government Area when a party stalwart last Monday sought to obtain an ex-parte application to bar Ize-Iyamu from the race.
However, the applicants were shocked as they arrived court to meet lawyers for Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole waiting forcing the judge to stand-down the application. The case was subsequently transferred to a court in Benin.
“The two camps have moles in one each other’s camp so they are monitoring what the other is doing,” one source said.
Last Thursday the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Paul Ohunbamu quit the Obaseki government without reason. Despite parroting anti-Oshiomhole assertions in the recent past, sources asserted that he was not really trusted within the inner circle of the Obaseki administration.
Ohunbamu popularly hailed as Equity among his Egor Local Government Area political followers had in the past been an associate of Oshiomhole’s.
It was, however, learnt that he had become increasingly isolated within the Obaseki inner circle.
His replacement as commissioner is the incumbent public relations officer of Uselu Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Stewart Efe. Efe, Saturday Vanguard gathered is not expected to be as restrained as Ohunbamu was and is expected to not only to mobilize Egor for the governor but to present a more combative stance in the confrontation between the two major factions.