By Ndubuisi Orji
The battle line has been drawn between the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiohmole and his political adversaries in the state, especially within his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The battle is to determine who would be the APC gubernatorial candidate in the September 10, Edo State governorship election.
The Edo State governor, who is a former president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is a veteran of many battles. His life both in the labour movement, where he gained his fame and in politics has been one of struggle.
For Oshiomhole, the next Edo governorship election is not like any other battle he has undertaken. It is a make or mar battle. This is because his continuous relevance in the politics of the state depends on the outcome. For him to survive politically, he has to win the battle first in his party, and go on to win the main election.
At the last count, no fewer than 14 governorship aspirants have indicated interest to govern the state on the platform of the party. They include Charles Airhiavbere, a retired army general, who was the PDP candidate in 2012 but defected to the APC after the last general election. The incumbent deputy governor, Pius Odubu; former Minister of Works, Chris Ogiemwonyi; former governor of the state, Professor Osareimen Osunbor; Austin Emuan; a film maker, Don Pedro Obaseki; an educationist, Kenneth Imasuagbon, who is aspiring to lead the state for the third time; Omon-Irabor Casely; Chris Iyare; Prof. Ebegue Amadasun, Blessing Agbomhere, Peter Esele, Former President, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the chairman of the state economic team, Godwin Obaseki.
Expectedly, all the aspirants and the various power blocs in the party are strategizing and scheming to gain the upper hand in the fight to decide who will be the party’s governorship candidate.
In the process, blackmail, subterfuge and all manner of underhand tactics are being deployed.
The governor has not left anyone in doubt about his desire to have his preferred candidate emerge as his successor.
Earlier in the year, there were speculations that the governor has settled for Obaseki as his successor. But till date, the former labour leader has neither confirmed nor denied his support for Obaseki. However, the reactions that trailed the speculation indicate that it is not going to be a roller coaster ride for the governor.
Tension has heightened within the party since it emerged that the governor may queue behind a particular aspirant. The development is already generating bad blood in the Edo APC, with party chieftains spoiling for war over the development.
Although many within the party have admonished Oshiomhole to create a level playing field for all the aspirants, the governor had made it clear that he cannot be neutral in the contest for the APC ticket.
Speaking on the development, Oshiomhole said: “Should I as a governor have not such right to have a voice and a say on the choice of my successor? I cannot be neutral in matters affecting my environment.
“Even people who are not from Edo State will always tell me to guide them so that Edo will not go back to the past. I will never be afraid to take a position and to explain my position on the basis of my conviction. In a democracy, whether matured or growing, endorsement is legitimate. What I owe Edo people is very clear to me.
“I have heard several things about my person, some said he has anointed one of the candidates, some now call me god father. There is no question that the governorship candidate of this party will be produced through primaries”.
A chieftain of the APC in the state and former member of the House of Representatives, Mr Nosakhare Osahon wants the governor to thread softly on the issue of the nomination. He confirmed to Daily Sun that the governor’s choice on who will be the APC governorship candidate is generating ripples in the party.
“I want to confess to you that we have issues at hand of who comes in after the present governor. It is being rumoured that the governor has a candidate. And in fact, in one of the statements when some chiefs visited him, he also declared that it is not wrong for him to have a candidate. In order words, he has somebody in mind. I think probably he has not assessed the gravity of such confessions by him. Because for a man like him to say he is interested in a particular person even if it is by error, it carries a lot of weight. And so that is why people are concerned”, Osahon, who represented Ovia Federal Constituency in the last session of the National Assembly stated.
The former lawmaker added that the governor’s speech had brought about division in the party.
“As soon as he made that statement, many people now say so long as this is the choice of the governor, they will go after it. And it is not good for the polity. Many people are in the race. He would not have made that statement because it is undemocratic. It is like he campaigning already. I see it as unfortunate. That is the issue we now have. It is like imposition.
It would not look as if the people are allowed to lead. We are afraid that we are returning to the days of godfatherism.”
He said that members of the party would not allow the governor to have his way, noting that anything short of a level playing ground for all aspirants would be disastrous for the party.
“ If a choice that is not that of all is made, it endangers my party. I will tell you that the other party is praying that the imposition comes through. But we will not allow that. He should allow the people lead”, Osahon added.
Even the Benin Leaders of Thought, a group of eminent Benin sons, also frowned at the speculation that the governor may have settled for a particular aspirant ahead of the gubernatorial contest.
Addressing journalists in Benin, Chairman of the group and Enogie of Obazuwa, Prince Edun Akenzua, said although the group disbelieved the rumour of Oshiomhole’s alleged imposition of an aspirant, the issue has excited the imagination of observers of Edo politics in recent times.
The group recalled that Governor Oshiomhole had on the Thursday November 12, 2009 edition of the Vanguard newspaper said that “what makes governance difficult is that some leaders are imposed on the people. That situation creates absence of support. And people will become cynical about you”.
The group noted that it was against that background that it was taken aback by the rumour that the governor has anointed his successor in this year’s gubernatorial race.
It said the governor, like other citizens, has the inalienable right to support any aspirant of his choice even though that right should be exercised in a manner that also respects the right of other people to freely choose who will govern them.
The Benin Leaders of Thought therefore, said it believed “that godfatherism in Edo politics was detrimental to the social, economic and political development of the state. Godfatherism is not acceptable to BLT and the good people of Edo State. It should not be re-introduced
under any guise.
“The people of Edo State should be given free hands to determine their next governor. Popular participation bestows responsibility for governing one’s own conduct, develops ones character, self-reliance, intelligence and moral judgment. In a democracy, there is no substitute for popular participation.”
Ahead of the gubernatorial primaries of the APC, there have been allegations that Oshiomhole wants to manipulate the delegates list to ensure that his preferred aspirants emerge victorious. Specifically, the governor is accused of planning to substitute 900 of the 3023 delegates.
But Obaseki dismisses the claim. He told journalists recently that it is the same delegates list that was used in the last general election that will be used for the governorship primaries.
According to him: “It is unfortunate the way some people have just decided to sit somewhere and be crying foul on the pages of newspapers. The delegates’ list that was used for the last elections is what is going to be used for the party’s primary. I don’t know how it is going to be possible for anyone to substitute names on that list. When a delegate dies, do you allow that vacancy? There is a process of filling that vacancy. There are some people who defected to other parties but the guidelines of the party are very clear on how to fill such vacancies. So, I don’t see how one can sit at a place or go to Abuja and change a delegates’ list, which has 3,023 people on it.
The gubernatorial hopeful added: “I will tell you that I don’t see how anyone can change the delegates list. But if they have any evidence of substitution, they should come out with it because 900 out of 3,023 is about 25 per cent. We should realise that politics has gone beyond all these, it is now about ideas.”