Tony Osauzo, Benin
Contrary to expectations that the warring groups within the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would soon reach a common ground and resolve the lingering crisis in the party ahead of the 2020 governorship election in the state, the crisis has taken a frightening dimension that may lead to the disintegration of the party if the combatants fail to urgently retrace their steps.
Signs that peace was in sight manifested when Governor Godwin Obaseki led his cabinet members to pay Sallah visit to his predecessor and National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in his country home at Iyamho in Etsako West Local Government Area of the state.
At the end of the visit, the impression members of the public got was ‘all is well’ as the two major actors in the crisis claimed they had nothing against each other, with Oshiomhole blaming the media for creating factions in the party in the state.
The disagreement in the party came to public knowledge in May when a pressure group within the party, Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), reeled out alleged litany of wrong doing against the administration of Governor Obaseki and threatened to shop for another candidate to replace him if he failed to address the issues raised.
The problem of the party however grew worse when only nine of the 24 elected members of the state House of Assembly were inaugurated on June 17 with the resultant declaration of the National Assembly to take over the functions of the Edo Assembly. What followed was an avalanche of court cases yet to be resolved.
After Governor Obaseki’s visit to Comrade Oshiomhole, there was cessation of hostilities between the warring camps until the former governor granted a widely publicised interview which Obaseki considered was ‘hostile’ to his administration and later went ahead to declare that his second term ticket was a sealed deal and ‘non negotiable’.
Though there have been attack and counter media attacks by the warring groups within the party, last Saturday’s alleged invasion and attack by suspected thugs on the National Chairman of the APC at his home in Benin City, has further raised the political temperature in the state chapter of the APC.
Addressing some party youths who had come to resist the attack shortly after the incident, Oshiomhole urged them to assist President Buhari maintain peace, adding that the masterminds of the attack were bent on creating crisis in the state but lacked the numbers to fight dirty.
Critical observers believe that the crisis in the APC is being compounded by Governor Obaseki’s recent resort to sacking of a wide range of political appointees both at the state and local government levels in a bid to flush out disloyal party members to entrench himself and secure his second term ticket ahead of the 2020 gubernatorial contest.
The action is said to have caused more bitterness among the affected members and their supporters, even as other party faithful are eagerly waiting to benefit as replacement for their sacked colleagues.
Endorsing Obaseki’s comment that his second term ticket is guaranteed and non negotiable, Chief of Staff to Obaseki, Mr. Taiwo Akerele said those opposed to the governor were Abuja politicians who are not on ground and lacked the capacity to stop the governor from securing a second term ticket.
“We are in APC, we are in charge of APC in Edo. We are in charge of the party structure. Those people making noise are not in charge of Edo APC”, he said.
But responding, a former Commissioner for Education under Comrade Oshiomhole as governor and member of Edo Peoples Movement, Gideon Obhakhan, said “All members of EPM are firmly rooted in their respective units, wards, local government areas, as well as the state.
“This became evident in the series of EPM inauguration recently carried out across the 18 local governments in Edo State, which sent jitters into Obaseki’s camp and forced an emergency meeting of the State Executive Committee of the APC to be held. EPM has a crop of party leaders who are capable of ensuring that Obaseki does not get a second term ticket and we are committed to ensuring that we replace governor Godwin Obaseki on or before November 2020.
“If they truly believe that EPM cannot send Obaseki packing, why are they jittery? Why is the party issuing public statements relating to EPM? Why are they chasing and trying to intimidate members of EPM? Obaseki should start winding up as there is certainly no second term ticket for him”.
How the crisis may affect the APC
Interestingly, many members of the APC are focused on how their factions will win the party’s ticket at the primaries but are not bothered about how the crisis in the party may likely affect its electoral fortunes if left unresolved.
Though supporters of Governor Obaseki have insisted the governor would remain in the APC and slug it out, many party chieftains who are his supporters have threatened that if he is denied a second term ticket, that would mark the end of the party in the state.
The interpretation is that the governor and his supporters may either move enmasse to another party or remain in the APC and play the spoiler’s role in the event that he is denied a second term ticket.
On the other hand, if the crisis is not resolved and Obaseki gets a second term ticket, those opposed to him may seek their exit and plot with other parties to snatch victory from the APC at the polls. Either way, the scenario is scary for the APC in the 2020 gubernatorial election unless it takes urgent steps to put its house in order.
In this regard, how the party’s leadership handles its threat to outlaw the EPM, while ignoring Obaseki/Shaibu Movement (OSM) and other similar pressure groups in the party, will either enhance the peace process or cause more damage for the party.
PDP waiting in the wings
While the APC seems to be overconfident that it controls the political reins of Edo, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party that once held sway in the state, is busy plotting how it can take advantage of the crisis in the APC to wrest power from the party.
Consequently, the party at its well-attended stakeholders meeting hosted by a former governor of the state, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, a fortnight ago in Benin City, resolved not to zone its chairmanship and governorship positions during the party’s congress and primaries next year.
The decision, according to the party, is to encourage credible and quality candidates participate in the elections.
Nevertheless, the coming months will unveil the shape of political developments in the APC and in the state in general.