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Edo’s political impasse and Obaseki’s race against time, interests

Edo’s political impasse and Obaseki’s race against time, interests

Mr. Godwin Obaseki

• My re-election a done-deal, says Obaseki
• Oshiomhole plotting direct primary

Recently, the deputy governor of Edo State, Philip Shaibu, declared that former governor and his ex-leader in their labour movement days, Adams Oshiomhole, was not a good mentor. The comment was made as part of a vitriol that gushed off Shaibu while he spoke of how he made several sacrifices in the past for his former boss, putting his life and that of his family members on the line in the process.

While the comment was partly a response to Oshiomhole’s recurring utterance that Shaibu had betrayed him, it is essentially a fallout of the power feud between Oshiomhole and his successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki, that has engulfed the state, strained relationships and is now taking a disturbing turn ahead of the next governorship election in the state.

A few days ago also, governor Obaseki threatened to expel Oshiomhole from the party since the party’s national chairman has remained recalcitrant over his overbearing nature in the affairs of Edo State. In fact, he boasted that he would deal with Oshiomhole should he continue to meddle in matters relating to Edo politics and All Progressives Congress (APC) for which he (Obaseki) is the leader. He told him clearly that APC does not belong to Oshiomhole and everyone has as much right as Oshiomhole in the party’s stake.

With the political class, especially those with allegiance to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), divided along two lines, what with the barrage of counter-threats emanating from both camps, with reconciliatory moves not making headway, and the hierarchy of the party at the national level seemingly feigning ignorance of the crises, the melodrama is sure to go to the wire.

Before emerging as Edo State governor, Obaseki was a core finance professional, who did not always like politics. But ex-governor Oshiomhole, in his quest to bolster his team at the time, convinced him to test the waters when he made him chairman of the state’s Economic and Strategy Team in 2009. By the time Oshiomhole began his search for a successor, in his estimation, Obaseki towered above others as someone with what was needed to carry on with his good deeds. He endorsed Obaseki and canvassed support for his candidacy.

From the onset, all was seemingly well with the duo. While Obaseki started walking unaided and with assured steps, gaining more foothold on the state, his predecessor’s influence and powers also grew beyond the state, as he went on to annex the national party structure as the chairman. But their romance was to be short-lived. Things have since degenerated such that the two gladiators no longer see eye-to-eye.

With Obaseki now nearing the completion of his first term and gearing up for a re-election, Oshiomhole and his allies are plotting to pull the rug from Obaseki’s feet by ensuring he gets the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode kind of treatment during the primary election of the APC – stalling his emergence as the party’s candidate for the 2020 governorship election.

According to competent sources in Edo State, some of the plans being considered include adopting the direct governorship primary through which outcomes could be controlled to edge out Obaseki or hold a parallel primary election where the preferred candidate of the power brokers would emerge. A number of stakeholders in Edo APC have, at separate times, confirmed the impending moves. Hon. Abdul Oroh, a former Commissioner for Agriculture under Oshiomhole and member of the House of Representatives put it bluntly that, “whether by direct or indirect method, Governor Obaseki cannot win the governorship primary.”

Oroh said that if Governor Obaseki does not apologise to party stakeholders that he has offended, even if he decamps to another party, he still would not return to the Government House in 2020.

Lawmaker-elect in the Edo State Assembly, Washington Osifo, also said that the governor was fighting too many political battles and was losing the support of many APC leaders in the state. Osifo, who is part of the 15 lawmakers-elect excluded from the controversial inauguration of the state assembly in last June because of the power tussle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole, also accused the governor of poor performance, claiming that he lacked the capacity to run the government.

Osifo alleged that Obaseki’s style of leadership has led to exclusion and division among the political class in the state, adding, “There is no job, there is no cohesion in the party, and there is no love among party members. Now, the time is coming for re-election and he says he wants a second tenure and people are saying no. We cannot condone this exclusion for another four years.”

He added: “Today, no traditional ruler goes to the Government House because a circular was issued that none of them should come. Politicians did not go, traditional rulers did not go, but when elections are coming, you send politicians to go and talk to traditional rulers to help you win election. How is that possible?

“He is fighting too many fronts. Do you fight when you are going into election or do you make peace? Politics is a game of number. And you cannot mobilise for yourself; you need party men to mobilise for you. If Obaseki wants to win this election, he must stop this division.”

In the same vein, former Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Tony Momoh, who is an Edo State indigene and founding member of APC, said Governor Obaseki risks losing the return ticket unless the crisis in Edo APC was resolved before the party primaries.

Momoh expressed worry, adding that unless the crisis was resolved on time, the ruling party may also lose the state.

Obaseki’s camp has, however, not been quiet. His men have also been loud in reassurances to whoever cares to listen that they would shame the Oshiomhole train. An APC chieftain in the State, Charles Idahosa, expressed optimism that the governor would get the party’s ticket whether through direct primaries or indirect primaries, noting that it is the party in the state that decides what pattern it will use to conduct its primaries.

At the height of their counter-reaction, Oshiomhole, the national chairman, was purportedly suspended from the state chapter of the party, an action that the party has refused to respond to or acknowledge till date.

The governor himself was once quoted as saying that he would win a second term, despite the opposition from the APC national chairman and his supporters.

“The last time an incumbent ran for governorship in our party in the state, it was a consensus,” the governor told a section of APC leaders in Oredo Local Government Area. “It will happen again; we will all agree on consensus. Whether direct or indirect primary, you, the people, will vote. Our plan is on the election, not the primaries.”

Disturbed by the turn of events between himself and his predecessor, Governor Obaseki bemoaned how their relationship had now degenerated into a situation that the latter sought to permanently eradicate godfatherism from the state.

Obaseki said: “Comrade Oshiomhole came to me, asking that we join forces to fight and bring an end to the practice of godfatherism in the state. The partnership helped us in changing the narrative of development in the state. This led me into politics. I am into politics to better the lives of Edo people. We believed Oshiomhole and followed him to fight godfatherism.

“He said godfatherism is not good. But today, he is saying godfatherism is good. He said, ‘let the people lead’ but today he wants to lead the people, against their interest. Any politics that doesn’t benefit the majority of the people is bad politics. The resources we have in the state are to be used for the benefits of the people of Edo State, not a few politicians.”

Determined to show his supremacy in the power tussle and send Obaseki into political oblivion, however, Oshiomhole had long hatched and launched plans to upstage and disgrace his protégé. Part of the plan was the botched mega-rally, which was to hold in Benin City on Friday, December 13, last year, where a former governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Tony Omoaghe, Donald Boih, among others, were to be officially received into the fold of the ruling party. The move was part of the bigger plan to shop for Obaseki’s successor and swell Oshiomhole’s support base.

There is also the factionalistion that has rocked the state chapter of APC and witnessed the emergence of a factional chairman who would do the bidding of the Oshiomhole group when the chips are down. It would be recalled that the embattled chairman of the other faction of Edo APC, Anselm Ojezua, who is no longer in Oshiomhole’s camp, was recently prevented from attending a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, alongside other state chairmen.

As the drama unfolds, with master and protégé trying to outfox each other, party bigwigs have confirmed that Governor Obaseki has started reaching out with a view to placating them and securing their support in the run-up to the primaries.

To be sure, just as it was in the case of Lagos State, the progress and development of Edo people is not at the heart of the ongoing feud. It is fuelled more by personal goals and self-aggrandisement.

However, Obaseki said his re-election for a second term is a done-deal, saying he was not worried about the next election but to reposition the next generation of Edo people so they could play in the global arena. He made this known last Sunday at a Town Hall Meeting organized by Edo professionals in Lagos called Unuedo Renaissance.

According to the governor, “The problem of Edo is not resources; it is not an opportunity. We had all of these. We have everything. Our problem is that people have been thinking so shortsightedly. The military governors did not know when the next coup would be, so they never tried to make an attempt and the politicians are only concerned about the next election.

“For us, we are not thinking about the next election because by the grace of God that is spoken to already. We are thinking about the next generation: where will Edo be in the Year 2050? How would we be positioned by 2050? How would we overtake Lagos by 2050? It is possible.

“For us, it is clear; what we need to do is to plan. They said those who fail to plan, plan to fail. So, it is about having rigorous regional and urban planning. We didn’t meet anything but we are going to leave behind a lot.”

Speaking to journalists after the event, Governor Obaseki described his meeting with the Edo people in Lagos State as a form of accountability and not a political move. He noted that there is misinformation about his administration as a result of power contest and therefore it was important to get them corrected.

“My meeting with the Edo people in Lagos State is just about accountability,” he said. “They have the right to know what is happening in their state. As we approach the election, there is a lot of misinformation as a result of contest for power. So, it is important to let them know, put out the facts, engage them, get their concerns and indeed their feedbacks were profitable.”

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