…Gov moves to scuttle direct primary; *Bans gatherings of more than 20 persons;
…Says, party primaries can only hold in Benin;
…NWC kicks, says Gov can’t override the Constitution, set to take further action;
…To publish aspirants’ credentials to avoid Bayelsa experience
By Omeiza Ajayi
The battle for the Governorship ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC in Edo state has assumed a dangerous twist with the two sides to the dispute not only refusing to shift grounds but also taking steps that could make the party lose to the opposition.
Ahead of the June 22 primary election, Gov. Godwin Obaseki has issued supplementary regulations on the control of infectious diseases, placing a ban on the gatherings that have more than 20 persons.
While the ban is seen as a move to stop the direct primary option as decided by the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee NWC of the party, the governor, in a bid to have his way with indirect primaries ordered that political parties wishing to conduct primary election must obtain a letter of approval from him and must only use a facility in the state capital that has at least 10, 000 seating capacity.
With direct primary, APC members would be voting in the 192 political wards spread across the local government areas in the state, but the state’s new regulations have now limited gatherings in the local governments to not more than 20 persons.
The governor said the order titled “Supplementary Regulations made Pursuant to Regulation 19(B) p the Edo state Dangerous Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020” is “for the good order, safety, security and public health of and, in Edo State”.
According to the Supplementary Regulations, COVID-19 infections continue to rise in spite of deliberate and painstaking efforts of the Government of Edo State, in collaboration with relevant health agencies in the country and well meaning members of the private sector.
The state government said as part of its COVID-19 response efforts, it had caused an epidemiological study to be conducted by a team of epidemiologists, the report of which was presented to the Edo State COVID-19 Response Team on Tuesday 24th March, 2020.
According to the governor, the result of the epidemiological study suggested, among other things, that COVID-19 infections in Edo State would peak around the 28th of June, 2020.
Part of the Regulations states: “Whereas, the State COVID-19 Response efforts have been data-based and prosecuted with full cognisance taken of the report of the said study as well as of other research efforts sponsored by the Government of Edo State;
“Whereas, there has been an increase in the tempo of political activities occasioned by the fast approaching gubernatorial elections in Edo State;
“Whereas, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC has announced the date of the gubernatorial election and directed political parties to conduct their primaries and has, accordingly, issued Guidelines for the conduct of Party Primaries which take cognisance of the ongoing efforts to stem the tide of the pandemic and emphasize public safety and mitigation of health risks from COVID-19;
“And whereas, in line with the focus and objectives of the INEC Guidelines afore-referred, it is needful and expedient to make special provisions, by way of supplementary regulations, for the health and safety (particularly as they relate to the COVID-19 Pandemic) of the people of the State as well as officials of INEC who would be participating in the Primaries of the political parties in the State;
“Now therefore, I Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, in exercise of the powers conferred on me by Regulation 19(b) of the Main Regulations and all other enabling laws and powers in the foregoing behalf, do hereby make the following Supplementary Regulations:
“In line with Regulation (1) of the main Regulations, gatherings or social contacts of persons beyond a maximum of 20 persons within the Local Area remain generally prohibited.
“Provided that in respect of political gatherings for the purpose of conducting primaries for any of the parties desiring to field candidates in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, gatherings of more than 20 persons may be allowed, subject to the written approval of the Governor, if such gatherings: do not exceed 5,000 persons; hold in Benin City and in a single facility with a large seating capacity of not less than 10,000 persons; are provided with adequate health, safety and sanitary facilities, and are COVID-19 Response compliant with social distancing policy, hand-washing and proper use of facemasks fully observed”.
According to the governor, anyone who violates the regulations commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine as prescribed in Section 5 of the Quarantine Act Cap Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, or to such non-custodial sentencing as may be prescribed by Court or a combination of the said punishments.
NWC kicks, set to meet
When contacted, National Organising Secretary of the Party, Barr. Emma Ibediro whose office is saddled with organising party activities and assisting relevant committees to conduct primary elections said he would not want to pre-empt the decision of the NWC.
“When NWC sits, we might consider it and take a decision on the matter. I do not want to pre-empt the NWC on the matter”, he said.
National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu on his part described the regulations as a none issue. He said where the laws or orders of a state conflict with the nation’s constitution, such laws or orders shall, to the level of their inconsistency, be null and void.
According to him, primary election is a constitutional matter and has a time frame within which it must be conducted because candidates must be picked to stand for elections in order not to have a vacuum when the life of an administration expires.
He said; “The issue of the primary is a constitutional issue. So, if we are implementing the Constitution as INEC has directed, there cannot be any order that can supersede that. It is a constitutional matter that a government must terminate at a particular time and that elections must also hold at a particular time”.
Why APC can no longer change its mode of primary
The situation in the Edo APC is such that the party can no longer change its date for the primary election from June 22.
Section 85. (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that; “A registered political party shall give the Commission at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under this Act”.
INEC in its timetable and schedule of activities released since February 6, 2020 had stated that in Edo, political parties would conduct primaries between June 2 and 27.
The implication is that since parties are required to give at least a 21-day notice to INEC ahead of their Primaries, the APC can no longer write to the electoral umpire to change its date and mode of primary election.
Already, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party PDP in the state is positioning itself to reap from the crisis in the APC.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that some leaders of the party are working to block the chances of Gov. Obaseki defecting to the party should he lose the ticket in the APC. But the governor has repeatedly said he would remain in APC and fight it out, assuring that he would emerge the party candidate if the party holds free and fair primary.
“As it stands, we are working to conduct a credible primary election so that we can have a formidable candidate. We are working to win the election, but at the same time, who says what happened in Zamfara cannot happen in Edo?”, queried a PDP official who pleaded anonymity.
sMeanwhile, the Obaseki group has launched a legal battle to oust his main rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu from the race on the grounds that the NWC erred in granting him a waiver to participate in the contest.
The pro-Oshiomhole group on its part has also launched a legal battle to disqualify the governor from the race over an alleged case of certificate forgery and perjury.
In the originating summons, the plaintiffs are Edobor Williams, Ugbesia Abudu Godwin and Amedu Dauda Anakhu while the defendants are the APC, INEC, the Inspector- General of Police IGP and Gov. Obaseki.
Publication of Credentials
In an apparent move to rattle the governor and give spine to the case instituted by Edobor Williams and others, the Oshiomhole-led NWC has decided to publish the credentials and other particulars of all the six governorship aspirants in Edo to allow members of the public file claims and objections that would assist the work of its screening committee.
Although the NWC in a statement on Friday issued by Issa-Onilu said the move was to ensure due diligence having learnt from its recent shocking experiences.
The six aspirants who have bought, completed and submitted the Party’s expression of interest and nomination forms are Gov. Godwin Obaseki, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Dr. Pius Odubu, Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi, Hon. Osaro Obazee and Hon. Matthew Aigbuhuenze Iduoriyekemwen. The party stated; “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.
“Recall that in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines, APC had earlier released its time table and schedule of activities for the conduct of the 2020 Governorship Primary Elections in Edo States.
“Accordingly, sales of nomination and expression of interest forms began at the APC National Secretariat from Wednesday 20th May to Tuesday 2nd June, 2020”.