The contest for the governorship ticket of the APC seems very competitive because all things being equal, there are insinuations that the party’s candidate would likely win in the September governorship election.
This is because the achievements of Governor Adams Oshiomhole in the last seven years, compared to the failures of the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, are still fresh in the people’s memory. Besides, there are many issues the APC can put forward to win the votes and support for its candidate over other opponents.
Such issues include the appointment of some individuals from the state under the current APC controlled federal government. First, the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, is from Edo State; the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, is from the state; the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof Julius Okojie, is from the state, coupled with the various investors the state has attracted recently, among others.
However, the biggest challenge the party would face is the choice of the right candidate and how it will handle the different factions or problems that may arise after the primaries.
Those contesting the primaries include the state deputy governor, Dr Pius Odubu, retired Major General Charles Airhiavbere, former minister of state works, Dr Chris Ogiemwonyi, ‘Rice man’ and school proprietor, Mr. Ken Imasuangbon; former governor Prof Oserherme Osunbor, and chairman of the state Economic Management Committee, Godwin Obaseki, among others.
Whoever picks the APC ticket would depend, to a large extent, on two personalities – the party’s national chairman Oyegun, and Governor Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole is said to be backing Obaseki. The national chairman had assured all the aspirants of a level playing field and that there will be no imposition of candidates. Oyegun made this known in Abuja when some of the aspirants visited him last month. As political developments unfold, many have come to realise that the national chairman is favourably disposed to supporting former works minister Ogiemwonyi, who is also said to be the candidate of the most powerful Benin chiefs.
Deputy governor Odubu is also a force to reckon with, having been in office for 16 years. He was a member of the House of Representatives for eight years and deputy governor for another eight years. Many believe these achievements cannot be toyed with or ignored.
Odubu has an ambition to succeed Oshiomhole but the incumbent has not hidden the fact that he won’t support him for the job and would rather support Obaseki.
Social commentator, Rev Olu Martins, says: “There was nothing really wrong in the governor supporting anybody for the job, but he needs not whip everybody into line.”
An APC leader in the state, Chief Osarenren Osagie, said the governor will be making a big mistake if he fails to recognise his deputy as a force to reckon with. “He is not someone you can push around,” he said.
As the crisis between Oshiomhole and his deputy rages, they have decided to come out in the open to fight each other. First, the accused his deputy of plotting to assassinate him, an allegation Odubu denied.
Oshiomhole’s Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media and Publicity, Mr. Curtis Eghosa Ugbo, was last week arraigned before an Oredo magistrate’s court for criticising the governor on the internet and unlawful possession of a double barrel gun.
Ugbo, 47, who is attached to the office of the deputy governor and a supporter of Odubu, was arraigned on a three-count charge of publishing an article against the governor in a manner likely to cause breach of peace and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 249 (d) of the Criminal Code, Cap 48, Vol. II, laws of the defunct Bendel State 1976, as applicable in Edo State.
Recently, thugs attacked the deputy governor’s entourage in Auchi. About seven people, including a policeman, an operative of the Department of State Security (DSS) and six other people, were reportedly injured in the attack at Etsako local government secretariat of the APC.
Spokesman of the state police command, DSP Abiodun Osifo, confirmed the incident, but the Edo State government in a statement by the state commissioner of information, Kassim Afegbua, said: “Our attention has been drawn to newspaper reports and subsequent press statement by the Odubu campaign organisation on the alleged assassination attempt on Dr. Pius Odubu, the deputy governor of Edo State and a gubernatorial aspirant of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
“While we condemn in very strong terms the ugly incident at Auchi, we note, however, that the conclusion of the Odubu campaign organisation on alleged assassination attempt appears hasty as preliminary reports suggest that the fracas was caused by thugs loyal to the Odubu campaign organisation imported in two truck-loads to Auchi, who attacked other party loyalists not sold to the deputy governor’s aspiration.
“The governor has already directed the Commissioner of Police to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the incident and whoever is found culpable will be made to face the full wrath of the law, no matter how highly placed. It should be understood that democracy is all about inclusive participation and contestation of ideas, and not rule of the gun. Every gubernatorial aspirant who truly wants to govern the state must live by the rules of the game and not the size of his guns and political thugs. Campaigns are generally a very interesting aspect of democracy; hence, it must not be reduced to bloodletting.”
APC national chairman Oyegun, had sent representation to the state, expressing concern over the development. The fact finding team, led by a former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, said they were in the state “with a specific mandate to bring the great APC family in Edo State together once again.”
He said: “Reports from Edo State chapter of our party in the last few weeks have not exactly been edifying. When you came, you gave every Edo man a reason to believe once again in participatory democracy as the best form of government. You brought peace, you brought development, and you brought understanding across all divides. “Unfortunately, the last few weeks appear to be undoing what has taken so much energy, commitment and sacrifice to put in place in the last eight years.”
Though the governor received the delegation, he told them that their visit was not necessary.
It is instructive to note that while many of the aspirants want to rely on one godfather or the other, one candidate that will rather rely on the support of the ordinary people Airhiavbere. Many youth and women organisations in the state have appealed to the national leadership of the party to allow for a free, fair and credible primary, pointing out that that is the only way Airhiavbere can win the ticket.
Chairman of Edo Professionals, Odigie Irabor, said the choice of Airhiavbere was because he is a grassroots politician, who has used his foundation to help the poor, helped many poor market women to secure soft loans for petty trading, and sponsored many indigent students in school as well as provides vocational training for youths irrespective of tribe.
Many are of the view that the only way to reduce the political tension in the state ahead of the governorship election is to bring a new candidate, while many are of the view that a free and fair primary devoid of any imposition or godfatherism will give the APC victory at the polls.
The issue of tribe has always been an issue in Edo politics and it is expected to play a leading role in who becomes the next governor. The Benin people of Edo South constitute over 60 percent of the voting population. The PDP zoned its governorship to Edo South but the APC is yet to do so, although there is an understanding that it will come to the Benin speaking area. This is an advantage for Odubu, Gen Charles Airhiavbere and Obaseki who are all Bini.