Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
All eyes are on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the party prepares for the nomination of its candidate for the September19 Edo State governorship poll. In the last few days, anxiety has heightened in the opposition party over the nomination of the standard bearer for the Edo State gubernatorial poll, as interest groups scheme to gain the upper hand in the contest.
The anxiety has been compounded by the overtures from Governor Godwin Obaseki who has been disqualified by his party, APC, to seek re-election in the September 19 governorship election in the state.
Apparently, as a means of boosting the conduct of a rancour-free primary and boost it’s chances in the governorship poll, the leaders of the Edo PDP had said the governorship seat would not be zoned to any particular part of the state. The implication is that aspirants from Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North are free to contest for the opposition party’s gubernatorial ticket.
So far, three aspirants have been cleared to participate in the gubernatorial primary scheduled for June 19 and 20. They are Omeregie Ogbeide-Ihama, Gideon Ikhine and four time governorship aspirant, Kenneth Imasuagbon. The trio were the only ones known to have obtained the PDP Expression of Interest and Nomination forms after paying the prescribed sum of N22million.
Each of the three aspirants believe that they are better placed to deliver Edo State to the PDP in the September 19 governorship poll.
Ikhine, who hails from Edo Central, told journalists in Abuja that the odds favoured him to win the governorship election, once he clinches the opposition party nomination. The governorship hopeful stated that coming from Edo Central, which is one of the strong holds of the PDP in the state, he remains the man to beat.
He said: “as you know in Edo State in the last 12 years, we have been in the opposition. In the last election if you recall, we fielded Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who was from Edo South and we lost that election. Before that, we fielded another candidate from Edo South: that was General Charles Airhiabvere, we lost that election.”
Ikhine added that the scenario in the PDP presently is akin to what obtained during the 2007 election , “when the chairman of the party was from the central and also the governorship candidate then Senator Osariemen Osunbor was from the central and those people won that election. “
He added: “So, if you are a student of history you know when God wants to do his things, His patterns are always right. God does not change His pattern. He does them in the same way.
“So I want to assure you by the special grace of God and by hard work and the strong will he has put in me, the days of PDP being in opposition in Edo State will be over this year.”
Similarly, Ogbeide -Ihama, who represents Oredo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, believes that he is the man to lead Edo PDP to victory in the September 19 governorship poll.
The two-time federal lawmaker, in interaction with journalists, in Abuja, after obtaining the nomination form, said in as much as all the aspirants are qualified to lead Edo State, his antecedents stand him out as the best man to be the PDP standard bearer in the next governorship poll.
“I can tell you that I stand out to be able to win the primary because I have won elections before in the heart of Edo State. My constituency is the capital of Edo State. It may interest you to know that in the first election I won in 2015 was when Adams Oshiomhole was the governor of the state and I was in opposition,;my opponent was the sitting speaker (of the state House of Assembly) from APC.
“ The second one, the same thing the governor (Governor Godwin Obaseki) was from my own constituency and from APC and I won again. Both elections with double digit lead and no court cases. So convincingly, the people of Edo State and especially my constituency which is the heart of Edo State, they have shown clearly that they have confidence in me and I have also been able to show them that I can stand up and represent them,” Ogbeide-Ihama stated.
Fired with this optimism, the aspirants have been up and about canvassing support and wooing the delegates to support them win the PDP governorship ticket.
Obaseki waiting in the wings
However, recent developments in the All Progressives Congress ( APC) seem to be altering the equation in the PDP. In the aftermath of the disqualification of Governor Godwin Obaseki from participating in the APC governorship primary, the contest for the PDP gubernatorial ticket is beginning to assume a new twist.
Obaseki, who has had a running battle with political godfather and national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, was disqualified over alleged discrepancies in his certificates.
Prior to his disqualification, the Edo governor had opened discussion with the PDP on the possibility of contesting the forth coming gubernatorial poll on the platform of the opposition party.
However, sources say that negotiation broke down over demand by Edo PDP leaders for him to drop his deputy, Philip Shaibu. There were equally speculations that the negotiations broke down because the PDP allegedly made high financial demands from the Edo governor.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, at a press briefing, in Abuja, last week, denied knowledge of any talks between the party leadership and Obaseki.
“I am also not aware if we tried to convince Governor Obaseki to join the PDP. “Our aspirants are working hard and penetrating the grassroots. They have moved into all the electoral wards, sensitizing our members and voters and getting ready for the election.
“While our neighbours are quarelling over how to share the booty which they have been looting in Edo State, our party is quietly working hard with Edo people to rescue the state,” Ologbondiyan stated. He dismissed claims that the opposition party made financial demands from the embattled governor.
According to him, “ It is strange and totally misplaced for anybody to make such allegation. I never sat in any meeting where such discussions allegedly took place. The allegation is totally unfounded and it is unacceptable to us as a party.”
Nevertheless, since Obaseki’s disqualification from the APC governorship primary, last Friday, there have been talks between him and some leaders of the PDP on the possibility of his crossing over to the opposition party and contesting the September 19 poll on its platform.
On Monday, the Edo State governor formally announced his resignation from the APC, fueling speculations that he may eventually berth in the PDP. The day before, Obaseki had met with Governors Nyesom Wike and Udom Emmanuel of Rivers and Akwa Ibom respectively, apparently to facilitate his smooth entrance into the opposition party.
Analysts say the planned defection of Obaseki will raise the stakes in the contest for PDP governorship ticket. Already, some leaders of the PDP are reportedly making a strong case for Obaseki to be given the PDP ticket in the event that he joins the party.
Expectedly, the prospect of Obaseki coming into the opposition has unsettled some leaders of the PDP in Edo, especially the governorship aspirants and their supporters.
Though the party has closed the sale of nomination forms for gubernatorial primary, party sources said that he would not foreclose the possibility of Obaseki contesting the primary election should he eventually defect to the opposition party.
The PDP has a tradition of handing over its gubernatorial tickets to sitting governors from other political parties, who join its fold, like was the case with the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, who joined the opposition party from the APC prior to the 2019 general election.
Inside sources told our correspondent that all grey areas in the negotiation between the Edo governor and the party leadership has been resolved. Consequently, the National Working Committee (NWC) , it was gathered, has concluded plans to grant waiver to Obaseki and his deputy to make them eligible to fly the party’s flag in the governorship poll.
Section 50(4)of the PDP constitution( as amended in 2017) stipulates that “ there shall be a minimum of one month membership span for a member to be eligible to stand for election into any public office, except the appropriate Executive Committee gives a waiver or rules to the contrary.”
Therefore, it is expected that once the Edo governor formally joins the PDP, the leadership of the party will grant him a waiver, which will qualify him to contest for the opposition party’s tickets. In the event of Obaseki joining the PDP, either of two scenario are likely going to play out.
One, the other aspirants will be prevailed upon to withdraw from the contest, to pave way for the governor to clinch the ticket effortlessly. The other scenario, is a situation where all the aspirants will slug it out for the PDP ticket in the primary scheduled for June 23 and 24.
Edo State former commissioner for Information, Kassim Afegbua, told our correspondent that in as much as Obaseki is free to join the PDP, things must be done right.
Afegbua, who is one of the supporters of Ogbeide-Ihama rules out the possibility of the federal lawmaker withdrawing from the contest or stepping down for any other aspirant..
“Honourable Ogbeide-hama is very much in the race, he remains the man to beat both in the primaries and in the election. He has a huge following, that is why we will not trade off his aspiration to any body, no matter the temptation.
“ The idea of Governor Obaseki crossing over to the PDP is still in the realm of rumours, but if per adventure he decides to come in, he will be subjected to the vagaries of the process. We at Ogbeide Ihama’s campaign group will not be averse to anyone crossing over to support our aspiration, but we cannot contemplate looking backward to cede the number one position which we presently maintain to anyone, least of all a decampee,”Afegbua said.
He added that “political parties are open to all, but political positions follow certain procedures that are laid down in the party’s constitution and other enabling laws. To contest for gubernatorial position also requires certain procedures that cannot be bent backwards.”
As the horse-trading and negotiations between the PDP and Edo State governor continue, the challenge before the opposition party is how to manage the entire nomination process transparently. Whether or not it succeeds in this task will determine how far it can go in the September 19 polls.