Barely few days after he joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Edo State governor has run into another crisis point that might endanger his candidacy for the September 19, 2020 gubernatorial poll.
Checks by The Guardian revealed that frontline governorship aspirant on the erstwhile opposition party, Mr. Ken Imasuagbon, is spoiling for war and has resolved to fight the governor´s plans to pick the PDP ticket. The Guardian further learnt from very authoritative sources that some prominent PDP leaders, including a former president, a former Senate President, chairman of PDP Governors´ Forum among others have started reaching out to the Riceman
It was learnt that after Mr. Gideon Ikhine from Edo Central, was prevailed upon by Ishan leaders to step down for the governor, all attempts to convince the member of House of Representatives, Omoregie Ogbeide Ihama, and Imasuagbon to follow suit hit a brick wall.
Sources, however, hinted that Ogbeide Ihama approached a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to challenge Obaseki’s qualification to participate in the governorship primary scheduled for tomorrow.
Although it was an ex parte order, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt said the decision as to the governor’s members of PDP and participation in tomorrow’s primary would be taken today after hearing the arguments of both sides.
The plaintiff contended that Obaseki joined the party after the sale of forms had been concluded, stressing that only those who purchased the forms during the stipulated window should be allowed to participate in the primary election.
Hon. Ogbeide-Ihama enjoined the court to order that the primaries be put on hold pending the determination of the motion on notice. But, not satisfied with the desperation, Justice E. A. Obile, demurred from granting the prayer, even as he directed that the motion be served on the defendants, including Governor Obaseki through newspaper publication.
IT was also gathered that Imasuagbon told PDP leaders that asking him to step down amounts to asking him to sacrifice 16 years of struggle to better the lots of Edolites. In a telephone conversation, the Edo State PDP chairman, Tony Aziegbemi, told The Guardian that there was no form of pressures on the aspirants to step down for Governor Obaseki to emerge as the party´s consensus candidate.
On the issue of alleged attempts to smuggle strange delegates into the process, Aziegbemi explained that everything was being done according to the spirit and letters of the PDP constitution.
Confirming that only one of the original governorship aspirants that were cleared for the primary before Obaseki joined has stepped down from the race, Aziegbemi stressed that the primary would go ahead on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
He said: “We are going ahead with preparation for the governorship primary. The event would hold next Thursday; there is no issue of strange delegates, everything is being done according to the constitution.
“If the constitution says members of the House of Assembly and local government council chairmen should be automatic delegates, we would abide by that. If the constitution says there should be no such integration we won’t violate that provision.”
But contrary to Aziegbemi´s optimism that PDP would have a rancour-free primary, the frontline PDP governorship aspirant, Imasuagbon, told The Guardian that he was in the race to win, stressing that after crisscrossing the 18 council areas of the state canvasing for delegates’ support, “I cannot chicken out at this stage.”
Imasuagbon described Obaseki´s entry into PDP, as a source of discord, pointing out that there was no way the governor should be on the ballot barely one week after joining the party.
“I am prepared to fight for the preservation of the democratic principles. It is a shame that after 21 years of Nigeria´s democracy we are still engaged in transaction politics.
“PDP was prepared to win the governorship, so Obaseki should come in as a virus. He should not claim to be fighting godfathering and yet be working hard to institutionalize cabalism. This is June, which we have recognized as Democracy month; I am prepared to pay any price to sustain the people’s faith in democracy.”
Imasuagbon maintained that in a normal democratic setting, “there is no way Governor Obaseki should be rewarded with a party´s ticket shortly after being booted out by his party.”
The forthcoming governorship election in the ‘Heart Beat of the Nation’ is therefore turning out to be a unique time to take stock and count costs. Would it be a contest between political platforms or intellectual content and capacity of the candidates? Interestingly, history has reversed itself for a repeat contest. While Governor Obaseki moved away from APC to PDP, his 2016 rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, picked the abandoned broom in APC for a governorship return match on September 19, 2020.
Will his membership of PDP turn out to be Obaseki´s saving grace or will Ize-Iyamu´s emergence on the federal governing APC become the governor´s undoing?
Edo electorate would be the ultimate arbiter. And from the look of things, Obaseki´s personal style of governance and track record of performance in the past four years would no doubt form part of the basic consideration for voter preferences.
Obaseki’s PDP gamble
GOVERNOR Obaseki’s journey to PDP was fortuitous. By the time APC leaders exhausted their internal mechanisms by disqualifying him from the party’s governorship primary, the perception was that the governor was the victim of godfather power play.
The victimization helped in no small way to coalesce a groundswell of public goodwill around the governor. Armed with that enormous people-power, Obaseki became the rallying point of Edo State people, nay-nationwide mobilization against godfathering and godfatherism.
The groundswell of public support and massive outpouring of positive sentiments paved the governor’s way into the opposition PDP, which actually gave a good account of its presence in the state in the 2019 general election. Positive vibes were reflected in the composure with which the governor found his way to the PDP. At exactly 2.25pm that fateful Friday, Obaseki drove quietly out of Government House and headed for the opposition party’s secretariat in the state.
Fortunately for him, the governor’s second term does not harm the zoning sensibilities in the state, because going by the constitution he has just one term in office. Fresh aspirants from Central and South would alter the zonal balance and create the opportunity for needless furore in 2024. Analysts believe that such facts are what the PDP need in talking to Barrister Ken Imasuagbon and Ogbeide-Ihama.
In a statement, the Governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said the governor’s motorcade drove through major roads leading to the PDP secretariat on First East Circular Road, Benin City, amid cheers from ecstatic citizens that lined both sides of the road.
While announcing his presence, the governor said: “I am here to inform you that upon my resignation from APC, having consulted widely from within the state and across the country, I have decided to become a member of PDP.
“I am here to go through the formalities of registering as a member of this great party. I know that upon taking membership of this party, I automatically become the leader of the party; that is the constitution. I read it thoroughly last night.”
The governor assured the people that he was “prepared to provide leadership that will lead the party to victory,” adding that as a ruling party in Edo State, we will make sure that the level of progress, growth and participation in the political system by our people is unrivaled in this country.
But, what most of those that battled Obaseki in APC did not want to comment on and admit is the level of development he has ushered into the state. The general impression among the people is that the governor has performed creditably in his first four years in office.
By moving away from APC, which is enmeshed in not less than six court cases and leadership crises, Obaseki’s strategic decision is now being examined by stakeholders, particularly aspirants who doubt that his candidacy would serve the political interest of PDP.
Stress on contrasts
YET, it could be said that Obaseki’s choice of PDP comes as the next best option to realize his governorship ambition and the people of Edo State. The electioneering debate in the state would be anchored on the testimony of Oshiomhole, whose overbearing influence rekindled the godfather phenomenon in Edo politics. During the 2016 campaigns, Oshiomhole declared that “Obaseki brought what we did not have,” explaining that the peerless financial wizardry of the governor helped the state to achieve wonderful milestones in economic development.
From June 19, when the governor joined PDP to September 19, when the governorship poll would be held is exactly four months. In the course of those four months PDP would have as its campaign theme in the content of Obaseki’s achievements in his four years in office.
Long before he crossed over to PDP, Ebonyi State governor and chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, Mr. David Umahi, warned Oshiomhole to desist from distracting the governor, stressing that the track record of Obaseki´s performance is a huge guarantee that he would be re-elected for a second term. Coming into PDP therefore, Obaseki has shaken off the distractions of a godfather and would be free to give Edo people his best, by deepening his good governance initiatives.
Apart from curtailing the excesses of motorpark touts that made life impossible for Edo people, most residents of the state said the governor restored security and sanity to Benin City and the entire state. The governor is said to have worked for the people instead of bending backwards to accommodate the greedy demands of political jobbers and godfathers.
Edo people readily count the following as Governor Obaseki’s achievements: the renovation of Ogbemudia stadium, Urban renewal, innovating education, Edo Innovation hub, completion of abandon 40-year old secretariat, Edo Production Centre, Benin Enterprise and Industrial Park, Government Science and Technical College, Emotan Gardens, and infrastructure among others.
In December 2019, Obaseki told journalists that his administration decided to renovate Ogbemudia Stadium and develop other mini-stadia for demographic reasons.
He said: “We take sports seriously in this state, because 72 per cent of our population is under 30 years of age, and that is why we are building 20 mini-stadia across the state. Therefore, four of these mini-stadia can be used as practice fields for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.”
The forthcoming governorship poll in Edo State should be a referendum on Obaseki’s four years in office, rather than the present refrain on failure to gratify the hubris of godfathers.
With the governor’s claims of visible achievements in the areas of education, health, agriculture and human capital development, the September 19, 2020 poll offers a window of opportunity to interrogate those claims and change the narrative.