Tony Osauzo, Benin
There is growing anxiety among the members and supporters of the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), ahead of the screening of the party’s aspirants who purchased forms to contest the governorship primary with the ultimate hope of securing the party’s ticket.
This is because of the controversy over the mode of primaries the party should adopt and the seeming collapse of the consensus arrangement, which initially threw up Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the consensus aspirant, when seven governorship aspirants opposed to Governor Godwin Obaseki’s second term bid met to agree on Ize-Iyamu, following a screening committee report in which he came tops.
It would be recalled that while the APC National Working Committee (NWC) approved direct mode of primaries for the state governorship ticket, Obaseki opposed it, preferring the indirect method instead.
This has brought the NWC and Obaseki on collision course. In spite of widely reported move by the governor to settle with the National Chairman of the APC and his former boss, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and other top leaders of the party, the governor’s actions in the last few days have left no one in doubt that he is prepared for war.
For example, last week Monday, the Obaseki’s camp had approached the state High Court at Abudu with a view to obtaining an injunction to restrain the APC from conducting the June 22 scheduled governorship primaries in the state.
The move was, however, thwarted following the presence of lawyers representing Oshiomhole and the APC NWC in court, as well as civil society groups and youths who thronged the premises of the court.
Citing insecurity, the presiding Judge, Justice Vestee Eboreime, adjourned the matter to Tuesday last week. But this was just a decoy, as a factional state vice chairman of the APC loyal to Obaseki and a governorship aspirant, Pastor Kenneth Asemokhai and Hon. Matthew Iduoriyekeemwen, respectively, surfaced at a Federal High Court in Benin City on that day with their lawyers to argue a motion exparte seeking for an injunction to restrain the APC NWC, Oshiomhole and INEC from using the direct mode to conduct the governorship primaries in the state.
They cited the spread of COVID-19 and APC 2018 NEC resolution, which according to them, gave states the power to suggest mode of primaries, adding that they have suggested the indirect mode in which 4,000 delegates would participate.
Again, the presence of NWC and Oshiomhole’s lawyers in court after they got wind of the case, and demanded to be served, stalled the hearing of the motion exparte.
The presiding Judge, Justice M.D Umar then ordered the APC and Oshiomhole’s counsel led by H.O Ogbodu (SAN) to file their papers and adjourned the matter till tomorrow.
Determined to scuttle the APC governorship primaries, unless the party does their bidding, the Obaseki camp filed another exparte motion at a Benin High Court, seeking an injunction to restrain Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu from taking part in the primaries and the APC, its NWC and Oshiomhole, from recognizing Ize-Iyamu as a governorship aspirant of the party.
The motion which was filed by the factional Vice-Chairman loyal to Governor Obaseki, Pastor Kenneth Asemokhai and two others through their counsel, Ken Mozia (SAN), came up for hearing last Thursday, but was again stalled when suddenly, the APC and Oshiomhole’s counsel led by H. O. Ogbodu, appeared in court and demanded to be served.
Following the legal argument that ensued between counsel on both sides, the presiding Judge, Justice Emmanuel Ahaomoje gave the defendants 10 days to file their responses and two days to the plaintiffs to file their reply. He then adjourned the matter to June 17 for legal arguments.
What is playing out in the Edo State APC governorship primaries has surprised many because the same direct primaries that is being contested was used to nominate the party’s candidates for the National and State Assembly elections last year.
But reacting to the observation, state factional Chairman of the party loyal to Governor Obaseki, Anselm Ojezua, a lawyer, agreed, but noted that the party did not have the current hostility allegedly being perpetrated by Oshiomhole last year.
“Last year we didn’t have the hostility now being perpetrated by Oshiomhole. We resolved on indirect primaries, but Oshiomhole said he didn’t see our letter. We agreed to use direct primaries because then we were together and we didn’t want to embarrass him.
“Now, the battle line has been drawn. A man who has exhibited fraud can’t be trusted. We have evidence that he wrote a letter to INEC on 19th May whereas NWC met on May 21st. He took the decision alone on direct primaries”, Ojezua alleged.
He said deriving authority from the APC 2018 NEC resolution, the State Working Committee (SWC) of the party has written to the NWC of its decision to use indirect primaries for the nomination of governorship candidate.
“The Constitution of the APC allows states to decide which mode of primaries they prefer depending on their peculiarities and we have decided on indirect”, Ojezua said.
When asked if it was difficult to conduct direct primaries, Ojezua said it is not, but because of the prevailing COVID-19.
But when the question was put to him whether INEC would use indirect mode to conduct state governorship election, since his faction of the APC is giving the Coronavirus pandemic as excuse to demand for indirect primaries, Ojezua requested that the question should go INEC.
When asked to react to Ojezua’s allegation that Oshiomhole alone and not APC NWC took the decision to impose direct primaries on Edo APC, the state factional chairman of the party that wants direct primaries, Col. David Imuse (rtd), said: “I don’t respond to comments borne out of sentiments. Whatever you want find out from the National Working Committee”.
Notwithstanding, reacting to the insistence of Governor Obaseki on indirect primaries, factional State Secretary of the APC on the side demanding direct primaries, Lawrence Okah, said that Obaseki is asking for indirect primaries because he knows he is not popular.
“Why he wants indirect primaries is because he has compiled a list of his stooges he has been paying stipends as delegates. If he is popular as he claims, let him come out and face members of the party in a direct primaries”, Okah said.
Meanwhile, as the controversy over the mode of primaries rages, things appear to have fallen apart in the camp of seven governorship aspirants of the Edo APC opposed to Governor Obaseki’s re-election bid, who earlier endorsed Pastor Ize-Iyamu as their consensus governorship aspirant.
Trouble reportedly started when it was perceived that Obaseki may have funded Matthew Iduoriyekemwen to suddenly enter the governorship race for a motive.
Consequently, a new entrant, Hon. Osaro Obazee, was drafted into the governorship race from the consensus camp. This was said to have angered two members of the camp, Dr. Pius Odubu and Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi who felt betrayed and argued that instead of asking a new comer to buy nomination form, any member of the group of seven who participated in the consensus arrangement should have been asked to do so.
Following the crack in the camp, Governor Obaseki is said to be exploiting the possibility of further dividing members of the group.
Two top ranking members of his government were last week programmed to meet with Odubu to woo him to support the governor’s re-election bid with a commitment to pay Odubu all his entitlements and benefits which the administration refused to pay him in the last four years.
All effort to ascertain from the former deputy governor if his promised pension has been paid to him failed, as Odubu would not pick calls nor reply SMS sent to his mobile phone.
Beside Odubu, Obaseki has embarked on a fence-mending mission as last minute effort to salvage his second term bid, which currently appears bleak.
He made one of such visits to Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, one of the aspirants in the consensus camp, in his house in Benin City on Thursday.
Indeed, the governor also has a load of worries, as the spokesman of his government, the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Paul Ohonbamu, suddenly resigned from his administration last Thursday.
According to the ex-Commissioner, he took the decision to step aside for the good of Edo people and in pursuit of happiness. His resignation brings to two, the number of cabinet members who have resigned in less than two months, the first being Mr Taiwo Akerele, former Chief of Staff to Obaseki.