•The governor deserves re-election – Sen. Obende
•He’s too arrogant, he must go – Idahagbon, co-convener, EPM
Since 2008, Action Congress (AC), then later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and now All Progressives Congress (APC), has held the reigns of power in Edo State when it dislodged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), thus making Edo the only state in the South-South region outside the control of the PDP.
Except for 2015 when some key members led by Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu left the party to join the PDP as a result of irreconcilable differences, the APC has tried to keep its ranks together hence its retention of power for over 10 years running.
But now, things are no longer at ease and the centre appears to be falling apart in the Edo APC, as the peace and unity once enjoyed by the party is being threatened ahead of next year’s governorship election in the state.
Events leading to the current state of affairs in the party started soon after the inauguration of the Godwin Obaseki-led government in November 2016, following a disagreement between the then youth leader of the party, Eriyo Osakpanmwan (a.k.a No Molest) and the state government over Eriyo’s alleged unsavoury comments and threat to the life of a top government appointee during a meeting in Government House, Benin City.
Consequently, Eriyo was arrested and sent to prison for several months and was subsequently removed as state youth leader of the APC. Not long after, another youth leader, Rotimi Adams, popularly known as Shaaba, was arrested for illegal possession of firearm and also sent to prison after he allegedly caused a breach of public peace by firing gunshots at Third East Circular Road junction in Benin City.
These incidents, coupled with the government’s decision to jettison the previous administration’s policy of contracting out revenue collection in markets and motor parks, sent an early signal to party members who survived on government patronage that such era was over. Following the new policy thrust, local government councils were empowered to collect such revenues and this is said to have significantly improved the councils’ Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
Soon, party members who lost out in the new scheme of things in terms of patronage, began to complain. This was the stage when the then newly elected national Chairman of the APC and former governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, arrived the state from Abuja during his first visit, on his way to attend a private function in Delta State.
Addressing a large gathering of party faithful who had come to receive him at the Benin Airport, Oshiomhole, while acknowledging the role of the youths as foot soldiers of the party in the state, sued for calm and promised to interface with his successor in office, Governor Godwin Obaseki, with a view to addressing some of their complaints which bordered largely on lack of patronage from the new administration.
Rather than improve, the relationship between the government and some members of the party appeared to go worse, with several key leaders complaining of being sidelined or replaced with new leaders in their local government areas and wards. In particular, Tony Kabaka Adun, popularly known as Kabaka, chested out and took on Governor Obaseki, describing him as “use and dump governor”.
Kabaka, one of those who benefited from government revenue collection contract in the past, while addressing journalists in Benin, alleged that the governor had performed below average, adding that most of the roads for which he was claiming credit, were constructed by NDDC and SEEFOR and threatened that Obaseki will be paid back in his own coin at the polls. In reaction, the state government took a swipe at Kabaka, who it said lacked skills to fit into the new scheme of things in the state, stating in clear terms that “the era of free money” was over.
For sometime, the political atmosphere within the APC seemed calm until Saturday, May 1 when a group in the party, Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), convened a meeting in Benin City to articulate their feelings about the Obaseki’s administration. Coincidentally, it was the same day the governor returned from his one month vacation and declared at the Benin Airport while speaking to journalists that there was no feud between him and Oshiomhole and that all was well in the state APC, saying those who say there is problem are peddlers of ‘fake news’.
But in a reaction to the EPM meeting, the state government in an advertorial signed by Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Osarodion Ogie, said the Obaseki administration “will never sacrifice the state’s collective patrimony to gratify the greed of individuals who have constituted themselves into mischief-makers in the state chapter of the party to blackmail the government and the party”.
But in its reaction to the government position, the EPM while saying that the Obaseki’s administration has ‘crossed the Rubicon’, accused the governor of waging a cold war with the national chairman of the APC and former governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who ‘anointed’ him governor.
Besides, the group also accused the governor of alienating leaders of the party from his administration, abandoning key projects started by Oshiomhole’s administration, such as the Benin Storm Water project, the Five Star Central Hospital, among others, as well playing anti-party for allegedly romancing top PDP leaders like Chief Gabriel Igbinedion and Chief Tom Ikimi, who recently endorsed the governor for a second term during their separate visits to the governor in Government House.
They are also not happy that the economy of the state is now in the hands of strangers allegedly outsourced from other states by the governor.
However, in a communique issued at the end of their meeting convened by Hon. Charles Idahosa, another APC group of leaders who are supporters of Governor Obaseki, accused the EPM of trying to cause tension in the polity and jeopardise the fortunes of the party in the state.
Specifically, the leaders accused the EPM of trying to cause disaffection between Oshiomhole and Obaseki where non exists, spreading false rumour of rift between the governor and leaders of the party in the state and insinuating that the governor was responsible for the poor outing of the party in the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the state.They appealed to “those aggrieved members to look for better and more productive ways in resolving their personal problems rather than put the party at risk”.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, one of the advocates for Governor Obaseki’s second term, Senator Domingo Obende in reference to the brewing crisis in the Edo State chapter of the APC, said the teeth and the tongue can quarrel. While noting that politics is about personal and group interest, he said when things happen, there are bound to be reactions and counter reactions.
“For me, we will resolve these issues before long. I tell people, sell your product in love, not with hatred. The current governor was introduced to us and we worked for him with all our hearts. The question is, is he doing the work for which he was elected? The answer is yes. He is working”.
Senator Obende however observed that the missing gap is what the party needed to fill. “The party is the father. I believe the party will put people together and look at the issues and the matter will be resolved. Even in war, when we have killed in millions, they still go to the negotiation table to resolve issues.
“If a party member complains he is having pain or toothache, you give him panadol rather than aggravate his pain. To me, I believe the issues will be resolved”, Obende stated. But another of Governor Obaseki’s supporter who would not want to be named was rather angry at the turn of events and blamed Oshiomhole. “He brought Obaseki, Shaibu; Secretary to Government, Ogie. What he did in Edo, he stopped other governors from doing. In the East, we lost the only leg we had in Imo. In Rivers, and Zamfara, the APC could not field any candidate because of impunity. Is this the party he inherited? He should go and resign.
“Is it not funny the Obaseki you brought is working and everybody is applauding. How can a party be angry because its governor is working and just because he is not sharing money to party leaders? When you pass Ring Road, don’t you feel happy now? Just because Kabaka is no longer allowed to collect money, he is angry”, he alleged.
Speaking on the state of affairs in the Edo APC, former Publicity Secretary and one of the chairmen of legacy political parties that founded the party in Edo, Comrade Godwin Erhahon, said “nobody can pretend that there is no crisis in the party. The problem is that, Governor Obaseki made himself very cheap tool for mischief makers. When he came in, in an attempt to ward off people who will tell him the truth, he organized crooks and sycophants around himself and those ones misled him against so many people. They lied to him and he believed.
“So he has become enemy to those who would have been bold to tell him the truth. As sugar is detrimental to the health of an adult, so praise-singing is to the health of a leader, that is any good leader who will not want to hear the other side. It gets to some stages in life you must also taste bitters otherwise, you will die of diabetes very easily. I think that is what is manifesting in what we have now.
“How do you come into a system and you say that nobody within the party is fit to advise you and then you are running a party with a clique. Members of those cliques are not on ground even in their own wards. That was what manifested in the presidential and national elections.
“They were now celebrating the 24/24 of the house assembly saying that is because of the achievements of Obaseki. They refused to place the praises on where it actually belonged. If Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was declared a winner of the presidential election, even those around him at the government house would have deserted the party ahead of the state assembly election.
“So, our having 24/24, the credit should first of all be given to President Muhammadu Buhari whose popularity in the North gave us the victory at the presidential level. If we had lost the presidential election, it is just like in 2015, if Buhari had lost and Jonathan took over, is there anyway we would have won the subsequent elections? That is the reality but they believed in sycophancy. What is the problem? Godwin Obaseki prefers to sit there in government house, then he has those cabals of liars and hustlers who will come and lie to him, yet he believes without bothering to come out to say let me find out. It happened to me.
“He did not bother to come out to say let me hear this other person. He will just be carrying the enmity and acrimony and gradually he finds himself an enemy of the majority of the leaders of the party but instead of him to easily retreat and retrace his steps, he said he was going to retire so many other politicians. Those who he wants to retire are the ones who want to even dismiss him now, not even termination politically. That is the problem and he still has the opportunity to humble himself.
“Comrade Oshiomhole and I, you know we are friends today, we are antagonists tomorrow but he has his own credit. So, whatever it is, it is too early for them to confront each other or for the Obaseki to say who is Oshiomhole? It is too early and this idea of telling people very cheap propaganda that the people want him to share party money and so on and that he is not here to share government’s money, that is not true, after all, as at today, the security vote that he collects is not less than N500m monthly. Is that part of the money he uses to develop Edo State? If you can manage over N500m security vote, unaudited, unaccounted for, one would have thought that because he does not want to use government’s money, you are only using N50m and not N500m.
“So, all those ones are petty campaign. Most of the elders who should have the courage to intervene, they have been alienated for a long time and those who misled him into alienating those who are relevant to the party, have dug trenches around him and which if he is not very careful, he falls into either ways. That is the truth.
“In the presidential election, how many of those who are with him in his kitchen cabinet won their units because they themselves have become enemies of the people in their units and in their wards and because they just believe that they are now in power, they have a neophyte like Godwin Obaseki who does not know what politics means. He does not know that when people are over clapping for you, you have to be very careful; particularly the people who come and lie to you about the other people. That is what is happening. The only solution that I believe is for the governor to humble himself and reach out.
“When somebody constantly tells you that others are bad and that he is the only one that is good, as a leader, you have to be very careful and when he comes to lie to you, find out from elsewhere to know and if the person said do not tell him,” you should know that such person is lying but you are interested in just being instigated against somebody without hearing from the person who is so indicted. That is his problem.
“And you hear some of our leaders particularly from Edo South open their mouths so wide, they claim to be what they are not. How many of them are consistent? Today they will tell you Oshiomhole is their Lord, tomorrow when Obaseki now dances close to them or they are expecting something from him, they will say do not mind Oshiomhole and others.
“Obaseki is my name sake, he is a Benin man like me, each time I see him I call him my younger namesake and because of that, I have my own sympathy and interest in him but is he ready to listen to the truth? He is not ready to listen to anybody who will be frank with him.
“Those who are drumming for him, I can tell you when the chips are down, they will surrender. They do not have what it takes to sustain serious battle. That is the truth. That Obaseki will crush them is a lie because the people Obaseki has alienated, are too many.”
If Sen. Obende and Comrade Erhahon are conciliatory and believe the situation of Obaseki is redeemable, Henry Idahagbon, one of the conveners of EPM, thinks otherwise.
When asked “If the governor calls for dialogue will you embrace peace?”
His reply was “We have gone beyond that level. What we want is a free, fair, open primaries in Edo State. Direct primaries as it was done during the National Assembly elections. If Obaseki wins in the direct primaries, I will pack my bags and I will go to Ghana on exile for four years and when his tenure is over, I will return but if he losses, he should pack his bag too, go to either Lagos or Port Harcourt to stay”.
Reminded that Obaseki could win the primaries and that people are saying what happened in Lagos cannot happen in Edo, Idahagbon said “I was the secretary, national committee for the election of Godwin Obaseki, Governor Ambode was the chairman, the co-chairman was Mallam el-Rufai of Kaduna.
“In the area of money, the whole Edo State is like a local government in Lagos State, in the area of performance, Ambode has built the best roads even better than the federal government of this country- Epe-Lagos Road. Any time I drive on that road, I pray for Ambode and say to myself that if I had the opportunity I will come and vote for him in Lagos but any river that forgets its source gets dried up, Ambode forgot his source. He was a very arrogant person.
“Our own Obaseki here is far more arrogant than Ambode and in any case, he is not a student of political history. His only knowledge is restricted to stock buying and selling. Prof. Osunbor actually drove on this same path of Obaseki. His own was even more refined. Osunbor alienated all politicians, he called us Anenih people and when the chips were down, some of us were consulted by Anenih on what will be the fate of Osunbor and eventually he has to leave the office and Oshiomhole became the governor of the state. So, what we want, is the direct open primaries.”
Meanwhile, the two major characters in the unfolding party drama, Governor Godwin Obaseki and Comrade Oshiomhole, whose supporters are at war, are yet to speak out. Perhaps, when they speak, the war will end or escalates ahead of next year’s gubernatorial contest in the state.