By OBINNA EZUGWU
Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki is, in many ways, a man on trial. And as he fights to ensure he doesn’t become the first one term governor of the state since 1999, the odds, which recently stacked against him while suspended APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole was still in the saddle, have suddenly swung in his favour.
Screened out of the All Progressive Congress (APC) primary scheduled for June 22 by the party’s screening committee headed by Professor Jonathan Ayuba amid allegations of certificate fraud – the committee had particularly said the governor was ineligible on account of inconsistencies on his certificate from the institute of continuous education and wrongful spelling of his name on his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate – he had little choice in the party.
Obaseki’s main adversary, the now suspended national chairman of the party and his predecessor in office who coincidentally made him governor, Oshiomhole, had proved to be a formidable foe. Obaseki knew he could have achieved nothing by way of appeal and decided not to take the route. And in any case, the party’s appeal committee, as well as the National Working Committee then led by Oshiomhole, consequently validated the disqualification. With his back effectively against the wall, Obaseki, on Monday, announced his resignation from the party.
“I have officially resigned my membership of the All Progressives Congress after meeting with the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari” the governor announced on Monday. “We shall continue the battle to protect the interest of Edo people and sustain good governance in the state.”
But the drama took another turn on Tuesday when an Appeal Court sitting in Abuja validated Oshiomhole’s suspension from office as National Chairman of the party, a decision that threw the APC into a leadership crisis of sorts. The Appeal Court had in its ruling on Oshiomhole’s appeal, upheld an earlier ruling of an Abuja High Court on March 4, 2020, which suspended him and ordered him to stop parading himself as National Chairman, even as it upheld the withdrawal of his rights and privileges as national chairman, including security details. In the meantime, a faction of the party in his Etsako ward where he was suspended, has now lifted the suspension.
The court judgment was seen, in some sense, as a win for Obaseki. But whatever benefit the governor could have derived from the suspension has apparently been lost on account of his resignation, and the circumstances surrounding the decision.
Although Buhari had agreed to a meeting with Obaseki, BusinessHallmark learnt that he later changed his mind because Obaseki had first gone to meet Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt, a key member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) amid speculations that he was about to join the party.
“The governor and the deputy governor resigned from the APC and the circumstances surrounding the resignation there at the villa will make it impossible for them to return,” a special adviser to Obaseki told our Correspondent.
“We learnt that the president blanked him out and did not meet him. But the Chief of Staff met him and told him, “Well since you have started meeting with the opposition, go and continue with them.” He had an appointment to see the president but before the date, he had gone to see the opposition, so the president blocked him out.
“That’s why it might be difficult for him to say he wants to come back. It would have been easier if he didn’t say he was resigning.”
Oshiomhole had meanwhile, opted to appeal the decision of the appellate court. In a statement on Tuesday night by his spokesperson, Victor Oshioke, Oshiomhole said he had engaged lawyers to fight it.
“Today the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja passed judgment on the purported suspension of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as a member of APC by three former Exco members of APC Ward 10, Etsako West Local Government Area, Edo State. In the said judgment, the Appeal Court upheld the decision of the lower court,” the statement said.
“Lawyers for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole have immediately set in motion processes to appeal the judgment in the coming days. It is pertinent to state categorically that today’s judgment does not invalidate decisions and actions taken within the top echelon of APC at any time before now.”
Regardless, the suspended chairman is largely out of the picture, even if temporarily – given that his ward has lifted his suspension – but it changes little for Obaseki who is opposed aggressively by the various political figures in the state APC who are upset with his decision not to patronise them with contracts after they had helped him to win power in 2016.
Obaseki had decided to put an end to the practice of settling party leaders, insisting that he had only come to serve Edo people and not to feed ‘greedy politicians’ in the state. In addition to awarding contracts directly to real contractors as opposed to party leaders. He also ended the practice of using thugs to collect levies in markets.
But the decision proved to be his undoing in the APC. Now rejected by the party members in the state, and especially Oshiomhole who has since recruited Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to contest on its platform, Obaseki’s future has become most uncertain, even as he has wide support in the state. But hope may have come in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Obaseki vs Ize-Iyamu: Governor better positioned.
After initially encountering obstacles in his bid to pitch tent with the PDP, Obaseki, last week, officially announced he had officially joined the party, and is almost certain to fly its flag in the September election, in what is billed to be a tough contest between him and Ize-Iyamu, the favoured APC aspirant.
The state PDP is head over heals. Reacting to the governor’s defection last week, Elder Emma Ogidi, the opposition party’s National Vice Chairman, South South, note that, “His coming will be so welcome because he is coming with assets. The party thinks that they can play God. That’s why they cannot see what we are seeing. I walk in the streets, I see people commending Obaseki everywhere.”
Indeed, Obaseki from available feedback, is popular in the state. And only last week, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin took an unprecedented step by issuing a statement concerning the lingering political crisis in the State.
The Oba being in a sense, the father of all in Edo who could not be seen to be taking sides in any political matter, had historically stayed away from politics. But by his statement on Thursday, he has felt compelled to break this protocol. And it can only be because he has been sufficiently provoked by the events in the state’s polity.
His statement has huge implications, and going by the content of it, which essentially is a condemnation of the menace of ‘godfatherism’ and ‘consensus candidate’ in the state’s politics, it is obvious that it is a subtle warning to Oshiomhole to desist from troubling Obaseki.
The Oba in the statement, refuted reports that his palace had prevailed on some aspirants to step down for a particular candidate in the primaries of one of the main parties, while calling on politicians to end “Ghana Must Go Politics.”
Although it has been out of power since 2009, the PDP has remained strong in the state, winning every presidential election there since 1999. In 2016, Ize-Iyamu who was PDP governorship candidate, by many accounts, won popular vote, but lost to the strong armtwisting by the APC and its then incumbent governor, Oshiomhole.
By Obaseki’s defection, the power of incumbency at the state level now resides with the PDP, which will give the party a strong footing in what is expected to be a contest between Edo and Abuja power. While the federal government controls the important instrument of coercion, Obaseki’s support in the state may prove to be the difference. But nothing is certain.
There is yet another dynamic of Edo politics, which may favour the governor. The state is made up of three zones, as represented in the three senatorial zones of Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North. And ideally, power is meant to rotate among the three. The Edo South is peopled by the Binis who are 60 percent of the state’s population, an overwhelming majority.
The Edo Central is peopled by the Ishan, who are 25 percent of the population, while the Edo North where Oshiomhole comes from has a number of ethnic groups and are only about 15 percent of the population.
The Ishan who have not had power in the state, save for the short time Oserheimen Osunbor was governor, expect that when Obaseki completes second term in 2024, they will take power. Lucky Igbinedion who was governor from 1999 to 2007 is Bini. Thus, as it stands, most Ishan people are for the governor, knowing that should Ize-Iyamu emerge, they may have to wait for another eight years.
Meanwhile, the Binis are also mostly with Obaseki, a fact further validated by the intervention of the Oba. Oshiomhole had first incurred the anger of the Binis by ‘forcing out’ Chief John Oyegun, a Benin Chief, to become APC national chairman. Attempting to force another Benin son out of office, even if the intended replacement is yet another Benin son, may not sit well with the people.
The governor, will not, however, have a smooth sail in the PDP as other aspirants have since refused to step down for him.
Leadership crisis brews in APC
Meanwhile, following the validation of Oshiomhole’s suspension by the Appeal Court, the APC was on Wednesday thrown into leadership crisis with three acting chairmen emerging in succession. First to emerge is former Oyo State governor and Deputy National Chairman, South, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, followed by Deputy National Secretary of the party, Chief Victor Giadom and later National Vice Chairman, South-South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta.
Ajimobi who is currently indisposed and hospitalized had first emerged acting chairman, with the NWC relying on Section 14(2)(iii) of the APC Constitution 2014 (as amended) to appoint him into the position following the resignation of Chief Segun Oni from the party.
Section 14(2) of the APC Constitution (2014 as amended) provides that the duty of a Deputy National Chairman of the party, among others is to assist the National Chairman in the discharge of his duties. In Section 14(2)(iii), the constitution states that the “Deputy National Chairman shall act as the National Chairman in the absence of the National Chairman from his zone.”
In another twist, however, Chief Giadom, announced himself acting chairman, arguing that the original High Court decision which suspended Oshiomhole, had recognized him as acting chairman, and therefore, since the Appeal Court upheld the decision, he was now acting chairman of the party.
Giadom proceeded to declare as invalid the screening processes which led to the disqualification of Obaseki from the party’s primary polls. The party chieftain arrived the secretariat at about 10am with a retinue of security aides, flanked by Deputy National Organizing Secretary of the party, Muhammad Sani Ibrahim, a non-member of the NWC, who has been seeking to oust the National Organizing Secretary, Emma Ibediro.
He declared that: “Consequently, I bring to your notice that on the 16th of March 2020, Hon. Justice S.U. Bature in suit no FCT/HC/M/6447/2020 had ordered that, with the earlier suspension of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, I, Chief Victor Giadom should act as National Chairman of our great party. That order could not be immediately effected at that time because of the temporary reprieve Adams Oshiomhole got from the Court of Appeal on the same date.
“However, having removed the temporary reprieve yesterday by the Court of Appeal, considering the fact that we cannot allow for a vacuum, I most humbly inform you that I have assumed office as Acting National Chairman of our great party in compliance with the order of the court.
“I, therefore, most humbly solicit the support of the entire leadership and members of our great party in achieving this very important responsibility. I want to assure all party members that the All Progressives Congress will obey court orders/judgments so as to bring sanity to our great party. Time for selective compliance with court orders and judgments is over.
“Our party, the All Progressives Congress, will no longer allow local quests for the control of power to influence our decisions. As your Acting National Chairman and presiding officer in the NWC, we therefore cancel the decision of the Screening and Appeal Committees of the former chairman of the party on the Edo primaries. This is in strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that forbids anyone who is interested in a cause to be a judge in that same cause.”
However, moments afterwards, 16 out of 21 members of the NWC met at the meeting hall of the National Executive Committee and announced the National Vice Chairman, South-South, Ntufam Hilliard Eta, as acting national chairman.
Those who signed the declaration were the National Secretary, Arc. Waziri Bulama; Hilliard Eta; the National Vice-Chairman; Southeast, Hon. Emma Eneukwu; National Vice-Chairman, Southwest, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana; National Vice-Chairman, Northwest, Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir; National Vice-Chairman, North Central, Alhaji Suleiman Umar Wambai; National Organizing Secretary, Barr. Emma Ibediro, and the National Legal Adviser, Babatunde John Kwame Ogala.
Others were the National Welfare Secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Kabir Masari; National Treasurer, Alhaji Adamu Fanda; National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu; National Financial Secretary, Alhaji Tajudeen Bello; National Auditor, Paul Chukwuma; National Women Leader, Hajia Salamatu Baiwa Umar-Eluma; National Youth Leader, Alhaji Sadiq Abubakar and National Disabled Leader, Misbahu Lawan Didi.
According to Eta, the NWC reaffirms Senator Ajimobi as acting national chairman of the party, but that in his absence, the NWC resolved that he should pilot affairs of the party. The Eta led NWC went ahead to declare the office of the Deputy National Secretary of the party vacant because, according to it, Giadom had resigned to participate in the 2019 general elections as running mate to the party’s governorship candidate in Rivers State, Pastor Tonye Cole.
The Eta led NWC also named a seven-member primary election committee for Edo State to be headed by Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, while Professor Mustapha Bello would serve as the Chairman of the Appeal Committee for the primary election. But the state chapter of the party has since rejected Uzodinma, warning him not to step foot into the state.
Members of the primary election committee are Sen. Ajibola Bashiru (Secretary), Alh. Abdullahi Abass, Hon. Ibrahim Sabo, Hon. Ocho Obioma, Hajia Amina Lantana Muhammed and Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye. Other members of the Primary Election Appeal Committee are Dr. Kayode Ajulo (Secretary), Hon. Umar Ahmed, Nasiru Ibrahim Junju and Hon. Rasaq Mahmud Bamu.
However, on Thursday, Giadom obtained a Court of Appeal order reinstating him as the national chairman in according with the subsisting order of the High Court in March, which further complicates the situation for the party. But yet, the NWC subsequently obtained another court order restraining from office as acting chairman.
The NWC is said to now have the support of 13 governors of the party, while seven are against it.
With the primaries at hand observers believe that this may be another Zamfara for the APC, because without a clear leadership in place, the fate of the party hangs in the balance, as any action taken against the ruling of the court could be overturned later.