Tony Osauzo, Benin
Less than a year to the gubernatorial election in Edo State, the political atmosphere in the state has taken a dimension that is both scary and interesting.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state assumed the reigns of power in 2008 after a protracted electoral legal battle, first as Action Congress, then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and now APC, following the merger of four legacy political parties, namely ACN, ANPP, CPC and factions of APGA and DPP in 2014.
But things appear to be falling apart for the once cohesive APC after eleven years in power in Edo State. The centre is no longer holding, as the party now clearly has two factions with two major actors, the immediate past governor of the state and National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.
In the last general elections, the APC won the 24 seats in the state House of Assembly, a feat the party celebrated to high heavens but which has turned out to be the beginning of the simmering crisis in the party, even though signs of discord had become noticeable earlier in the party.
The descent to the present worrisome level of crisis within the APC started with the inauguration of only nine members out of the 24-member state House of Assembly on June17 this year. The debacle arising from that action has generated political tension within the APC, even as the resolution of the inauguration issue still lies in the horizon.
It is however no longer news that at the centre of the bitter disagreement within the APC family lies the issue of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s bid for a second term in office. While some party faithful align with the governor, others are against his second term agenda.
The issue has now seriously polarised the APC in the state to the extent of physical attacks on party members perceived to be stumbling blocks against the project. This has also provoked counter attacks.
The height of the attacks were the one on the home of the National Chairman in Benin, the attack on party members at Ivbiaro, Owan East, where people were injured and several cars and properties destroyed and the counter attack on governor Obaseki’s convoy two weeks ago at Iyamho shortly after the maiden convocation ceremony of Edo University, Iyamho.
If political analysts thought that the Edo APC family would at some point realise the need for peace and come for dialogue to end the crisis, they were making a mistake as the combatants appear determined to see who wins at the end of the day.
This explains the gale of suspension and counter suspension of party leaders and members in the last few days, with analysts expressing fear that the Imo experience may play out in Edo State.
Recall that like Edo State as the only state in the South-South controlled by APC, Imo State was the only APC state in the South-East until disagreement allegedly arising from greed cost the party Imo State. Will Edo State go the way of Imo State?
In the meantime, leaders and stakeholders of the party have accused the suspended chairman, Anselm Ojezua, of lacking capacity to resolve internal disagreement within the party which has festered, just as they accused Governor Obaseki of plotting to destroy the APC to seek re-election in other political platform.
They also catalogued the governor’s alleged wrong doings, including deviation from the party’s manifesto and apologised to Edo people for alleged maladministration of Obaseki, vowing to seek another candidate to replace him in 2020 governorship election.
But Obaseki’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, in his reaction said the governor remained focussed in governing the state.
He said some of the stakeholders have been suspended from the party and therefore, do not have the right to do what they did.
The internal wrangling in the APC appears to be resonating and causing damage in the Edo State chapter of the PDP, which was waiting in the wings to reap bountifully from the APC crises.
A group which styled itself the “Integrity Group” had raised the alarm that some of the party leaders had allegedly struck a deal with Obaseki wherein the governor would be offered the PDP ticket in exchange for the payment of some billions of Naira.
The group, on account of the alleged ‘deal’ decided to suspend party big wigs allegedly involved from the PDP.
But the PDP in a statement by its State Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, denounced members of the Integrity Group, saying they lacked the powers to suspend the party leaders.
Presently, the Edo State chapter of the PDP is battling to contain the expected backlash the exit of its candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, in the 2016 gubernatorial election would have on the party ahead of the 2020 governorship election in the state.
Pastor Ize-Iyamu is reported to have concluded plans to dump the PDP for the APC. But addressing journalists in Benin City, the state Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, boasted that Ize-Iyamu’s exit will not affect the party’s electoral fortunes, even as he challenged him to be man enough to declare his stand.
Ize-Iyamu has however promised to respond to Orbih’s challenge. This is why the unfolding political drama in Edo State will be both scary and interesting in the weeks ahead.