Nine years ago, he seized Edo politics by storm. He was full of zest, vigour and strength. As a veteran labour leader, he has been a household name for decades. Thus, stakeholders were rooting for him. As the former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, threw his hat into the ring, it was evident power shift was imminent in Edo State. At the close of the historic governorship poll in 2007, the candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC) defeated Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, the victory was allotted to the loser. The people protested the hijack, until the stolen mandate was restored by the Supreme Court. When the unionist-turned politician assumed the reins, he set three goals for himself: massive transformation through infrastructural development, banishment of godfatherism and an efficient and incorruptible government. Having lived up to expectation, the comrade governor was re-elected in 2012. But, as Oshiomhole’s tenure expires early next year, his major challenge is succession.
Politics of endorsement
Few months ago, the governor dropped a bombshell. Acknowledging the imperative of continuity, he endorsed an aspirant. Although he did not mention any name, sources said the governor has a soft spot for Godwin Obaseki, a banker from Benin-City, the state capital, and leader of the Edo State Economic Team. Justifying his position, Oshiomhole said he has the constitutional right as the governor and the All progressives Congress (APC) leader to anoint a candidate. Many chieftains, who share the governor’s view, believe that Obaseki, who has been part of the decision making process in the last seven years, is eminently qualified to continue where he will stop and sustain the tempo of good governance.
The APC primary will be very interesting. The governor has not rescinded his decision to support a candidate. Some stakeholders, who want a technocrat to succeed Oshiomhole, are rooting for the dark horse. But, other aspirants-Deputy Governor Pius Odubu, Blessing Agbonmhere, Charles Airhiavbere, Peter Esele, Chris Ogienwonyi, Don Pedro Obaseki, Omon Irabor and Amadasun Ebugue-are protesting, saying that the governor is partial. They have also alleged that plans are underway to tinker with the list of delegates to favour the governor’s preferred choice.
Unlike 2007, APC chieftains are more confident as the poll draws near. Many believe that the APC has a brighter future in the Southsouth state. The party wields the power of incumbency at the federal and state levels. The performance of the governor has been widely acknowledged, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Lucky Igbinedion of the PDP. Prominent indigenes, including former Bendel State Governor Sam Ogbemudia, have promised to assist the governor in his search for a credible successor. But, will the Iyomho-born politician succeed in his plan? Will the successor the governor is grooming be acceptable to the majority of delegates? Will the party remain the same after the primary?
PDP’s credibility crisis
Sources said the PDP is closely monitoring the APC selection process. Already, the party has zoned its ticket to Benin as the APC has done. “The PDP is waiting for an explosion in the Edo APC. The party thinks that, if the APC primary turns rancorous, it will benefit from defections from the ruling party. If the APC gets it right, the future of the PDP will remain bleak,” said a source.
The PDP is in a dilemma. It appears the chapter faces a bleak future. The party, led by Chief Dan Orbih, has boasted that it will bounce back. For eight years, it has been left in the cold, following its defeat at the polls. Thus, its dream of regaining power has always been aborted. Although the party has two senators, it is a divided house. PDP aspirants, including Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Osaro Onaiwu, Solomon Edebiri and Mathew Iduoriyekemwen, are working at cross purpose. The struggle for the ticket may further weaken the platform. But, if the APC mismanages its primary, two scenario are possible; there may be defections to the PDP and without defecting to the PDP, some members may subvert the party during the election.
No fewer than 10 APC chieftains are warming up for the shadow poll. More are likely to unfold their ambition as the race gathers momentum. APC aspirants include the deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, a defector from the PDP, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, former university don Prof. Osunbor, Prof. Amadasun Ebegue, Blessing Agbonmhere, unionist Peter Esele, Omon Irabor, Godwin Obseki and his brother, Pedro Obaseki.
Osunbor, who hails from Edo Central, is a determined politician. He has experience. But, many APC leaders see him as a new comer. When he left the PDP, many PDP chieftains were taken aback. In the APC, he has not become a force to reckon with.
The factors against him may also work against Airhiavbere, who was in 2012 was sponsored by the PDP leader, Chief Tony Anenih, the acclaimed ‘Mr. Fix it,’ to challenge Oshiomhole. It was a miscalculation. The PDP lost its deposit and the ego of the eminent politician was deflated.
Odubu is an experienced politician. He is a loyal deputy governor. He is popular in the ruling party. But, his fate lies in the hand of his boss and other party leaders. Already, the governor has anointed Obaseki.
Ogiewonmonyi served briefly as the Minister of Works under Dr. Jonathan. He is also close to General Ogbemudia. But, party members see him as an independent minded chieftain, who is not tied to the apron-strings of the governor.
Godwin Obaseki is highly connected. He is from a prominent Benin family. The people of Benin Kingdom; the royalty and chiefs; and prominent indigenes are excited about his candidature.
His cousin, Pedro Obaseki, is a broadcaster and film maker who has made name in the entertainment industry.
Supremacy battle in PDP
A section of the party believes that only the founding fathers can rescue the party. But, another caucus has disputed this claim, saying that the so-called founding chieftains are the architects of the PDP’s misfortune. The second group is of the opinion that many of the founding fathers have dented the image of the chapter, owing to their corrupt tendencies while steering the affairs of the state.
The two groups locked in a supremacy battle have not reconciled. Former Governor Lucky Igbinedion, the arrowhead of the first group, declared that whhoever is going to be the next governor must be one of the PDP founding members. Former Senate Chief Whip Rowland Ovie, who is leading the second group disagreed. He said if the former governor sponsors a candidate, the flag bearer will be tainted. He said his performance in office failure led to the defeat of Osunbor and Airhiavbere in 2007 and 2012. Ovie added: “For the PDP to be seen to have broken ranks with irresponsibility, we have to be sure that our candidate for 2016 will not have any relationship with previous failures of the PDP government in Edo.”
Can the two camps agree on a candidate? Among the PDP aspirants, two stand out. They are Ize-Iyamu and Edebiri. Pastor Ize-Iyamu is the former Secretary to Government. He served under Igbinedion. He is the former Southsouth leader of the defunct ACN. Many people have described Ize-Iyamu as a hardworking politician; a strategist and organiser. In 2012, he was the Director-General of the Oshiomhole Campaign Organisation. He has the support of Igbinedion. But, some elders, including Dr. Sam Ogbemudia and Owie, are looking at another direction. Party insiders have said that Anenih may not be comfortable with his candidature because he had joined forces in 2012 against the Iyasele of Esanland, when he and Oshiomhole rejected godfatherism. He was a believer in the slogan: “No man is god.”
Edebiri, a Bini from Edo South, can be described as a serial contestant. The businessman contested in 2007 in the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and in 2012 ran in the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Since the governor unfolded his succession plan, many APC chieftains who are not favoured by his permutations have been kicking. Pedro Obaseki has urged him to rescind his decision, saying that it could be a recipe for chaos in the party. He reminded Oshiomhole that two of his candidates failed during the last senatorial election, advising him to accept the limitations to his influence. He maintained that only a level playing field at the primary can foster harmony.
The former Works Minister is bitter and more combative. He decried the endorsement of a candidate by the governor, saying that it can divide the party, ahead of the election. He alleged that plans were underway to tinker with the delegates’ list. But, the governor’s political adviser has denied it.
The APC aspirants who have kicked against the governor’s endorsement of Obaseki are not teaming up against the Chairman of the Economic Team. On daily basis, Obaseki is waxing stronger on the field. He has concentrated much efforts on mobilisation across the wards, local governments and senatorial districts. Since Oshipmhole declared his support for him, the governor has not make further statement. Obaseki has continued from there, holding consultations with stakeholders and soliciting for support from traditional rulers, businessmen, potential delegates, women and youths.
While other aspirants are up in arms against him, Obaseki has taken his case to the people. He has presented to them, not as a politician, but a technocrat; tested and trusted. “The project I have embarked upon is inspired by my commitment and passion for service at this time when Nigeria is in crisis,” he said. He said having served Edo in the last seven years under Oshiomole, he knew the enormous power of government, adding that a policy stroke can distabilise a collective dream.
“I have been part of the team that formulated a blue print and implementation plan. We wanted to pay to serve; we did not want to be paid to serve. I went to the University of Ibadan on Edo bursary; nobody asked me to pay back. The way people view government is how to get money from it, not how to use government to create wealth for all.
“Governor Oshiomhole inherited insecurity, poor infrastructure and a civil service will a low morale. We said there was the need for us to plan. To budget is to govern. Poor budgeting has been the bane of our economy. How can we run a government without an engine to drive it? While I was working with the governor, I was not an appointee and I felt I could be more effective without been political,” he added.
Obaseki reflecting on the economic crisis, warning that the challenges of governance in the post-Oshiomhole period will be more challenging. He described himself as the right man to succeed the governor, noting that he understood the Edo situation. He stressed: “In the last seven years, I have been part of the key decisions made by Governor Oshiomhole. The gains may be wiped away, if he is not succeeded by a competent administrator, who understands the foundation and the designs.
“Governance will be more challenging now that resources are dwindling. The standard of governance cannot be lowered. People’s expectation will continue to rise. I am more than qualified, in terms of professionalism, capacity for planning, managerial ability and knowledge of running institutions.
“I have been part of the decision-making and implementation process in the last seven years. I don’t see it as a pay back opportunity, but an opportunity to continue the excellent services of the last eight years.”
Obaseki, who said the gang-up against him will fail, chided his detractors for lack of focus. “I have gone round the 18 local governments. People say they now see me at the wards. They say the person they claim they impose is the person they see and they don’t see other aspirants.”
Denying the alleged plans to distort the delegates’ list, he said: “When a delegate dies, the vacancy is filled. The APC has a process. Some people defected. Their positions have to be filled. They first said I am unknown, I cannot win, the party will lose. Now, ot is about delegates’ list.”
On structure, Obaseki said: “I am in a party. I can’t be in a party and build a sub-party. I rely on the party structure. I have been going to the delegates who will vote for me to get the ticket.”