By Omoniyi Salaudeen
ALL is now set for the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the July 4 deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for submission of names of candidates for the September 10 Edo State governorship election. Baring any sudden change of arrangement, the party’s primary would hold on June 18.
A total of 12 aspirants are said to have so far returned their nomination and expression of interest forms to the National Secretariat of the party. Among the key contenders for the Edo State Government House are the state deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, Kenneth Imansuangbon, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (rtd), Godwin Obaseki and Chris Ogiemwonyi. Others are Comrade Peter Esele, Austin Emuan, Senator Oserheimen Osunbor, Emmanuel Arigbe- Osula, Blessing Agbomhere, Prof. Ebegue Amadasun and Tina Agbara.
In the whole power game, the stake is particularly high for aspirants of Benin extraction. Apart from the alleged tacit consent already given to the Edo South Senatorial District to produce the next governor, six out of the 12 front runners in the race are from the ancient city. They are Dr. Pius Odubu, Chris Ogiemwonyi, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (rtd), Prof. Ebegue Amadasun and Emmanuel Arigbe-Osula. All eyes are now on Obaseki, the Chairman of the state’s Economic Team as the governorship hopeful.
Obaseki’s alleged endorsement by Governor Adam Oshiomhole is said to be largely accountable for the prolonged disquiet in the party over some last couple of months. A new twist was further added to the whole scenario when one of the aspirants, Chris Ogiemwonyi, a former Minister of State for Works, pointedly accused Oshiomhole’s so-called ‘anointed’ candidate of buying and mopping up of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). He also called on the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to arrest a serving member of the House of Representatives from Edo North, Philip Shuaibu, who he accused of buying the PVCs on behalf of Mr. Obaseki, threatening to show video evidence to back up his claims. This, he said, was “to disenfranchise the voters who are scheduled to take part in the forthcoming primaries”. Obaseki had since denied sponsoring anyone to help him buy up voter cards.
Prior to the scheduled primary, the face-off between Governor Oshiomhole and his deputy over the allegation of candidate imposition had compelled the national leadership of the APC to set up a fact finding and reconciliation committee headed by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola to wade into the looming crisis and reconcile the aggrieved members in the state. The mandate of the committee was to unravel the cause of the dispute between Oshiomhole and his deputy and to also find lasting solution to the crisis which had engulfed the party ahead of the September 10 governorship election in the state. Prince Oyinlola had disclosed that the negative press emanating from the state necessitated the decision by the national leadership to send the delegation to the state, saying the intention was to resolve the crisis in order not to give the state back to the PDP.
Oshiomhole had accused defectors from the PDP of being the brain behind the crisis. Giving an insight into the genesis of the crisis when the reconciliation committee paid him a visit in his office, he said: “The truth is that this might be the wish of our enemies. The more dangerous enemies are those who have purportedly joined the APC, but their soul is in the PDP. By their choice of language, style and tactics, it is clear that they wish to be in APC while actually working in futility, hoping that they can discredit APC so that their own party that we have grounded, dismantled and rested can hopefully be revived. I have no doubt that the God that we worship and who directed our thoughts and empowered us to dismantle the PDP rigging machine, that God is on duty. And as long as He is on duty and we served him sincerely, no man born of a woman can undo what God has done. “I like to remind you that when we arrived here in 2007, everybody in this state told me it was not possible to dethrone the PDP, that they had the money and they boasted of it. We were also told they had the control of the military and they celebrated it. They had control of the police, the immigration, and that they had everything. They zoned Edo State to various warlords. Different parts of Benin City were partitioned to different warlords. I brought my skills here as a labour man and we fought. They stole my mandate, I pursued them. I reclaimed it and I became a governor. In 2012 we went for the real battle and for the first time in the history of the Midwest Region and the old Bendel State and Edo State, no living or dead politician has had such uncommon support or goodwill, translating to electoral victory across all the 18 local government areas, including the enclaves of the three ruling families that I used to address as godfathers. I accomplished this feat in spite of their federal might in Abuja.”
Now, the challenge before the party is how to address the crisis of confidence that has crept into the selection process. Despite the assurance of a level playing field promised by the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, some candidates are still not sure of what the outcome of June 8 primary would be.
Ahead of the D-Day, a seven-member Screening Committee chaired by a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chibudom Nwuche, has been inaugurated for the governorship election primaries. This committee alongside a three-member Screening Appeal Committee chaired by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora was inaugurated by the party’s National Organising Secretary, Osita Izunaso, at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.
Other members of the Screening Committee are Olubunmi Adetunmbi, Caleb Zagi, Mary Enwongulu, Aisha Aliyu, Kizito Martins and Oyibo Obasi, who will serve as the secretary of the committee, while the Mamora committee has Nkechi Nwaogu and Abubakar Moriki, the secretary of the committee.
A statement by the APC on Wednesday says that the APC National Organising Secretary has charged the seven-member Screening Committee to carry out a comprehensive check on all documents submitted to the party by the 12 aspirants. According to the release, all candidates must meet eligibility requirements provided by the 1999 Constitution (as amended), 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) as well as the party’s constitution and the party’s 2014 guidelines for the nomination of candidates for public office.
Izunaso assured that all aspirants would be treated fairly and justly during the screening exercise. He said: “Today, we have assembled very eminent personalities of our great party to undertake this important assignment for us. “The APC governorship primaries for Edo state will be on 18th June, 2016 in Benin while the screening will commence this afternoon (Wednesday) in Abuja. We don’t want any interference with your job that is why we are not conducting the screening exercise in Benin. It has always been our tradition to conduct the screening outside the state.
“You have a very big task. If you bring an aspirant that is not qualified and he or she runs the election on our ticket and wins, and the other people go to court, our party will lose to a party that came second, so your duty is very critical,” Izunaso said.
The chairman of the Screening Committee, Nwuche, also speaking in the same vein, said the litmus test for the success of any political party was premised on the fairness of its candidate selection processes and overall adherence to the principles and practice of internal party democracy. “What makes a party strong is the justice it dispenses in the selection of candidates and the screening exercise is the first in that process. What killed many parties in the past including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is injustice. In APC, I know that that will not be here,” he added.
Although the opposition PDP has its own share of the crisis, many political stakeholders believe that the acceptability of the outcome of the primary by the concerned aspirants would determine the success of the party in the September 10 governorship election.