• Panel screens Ize-Iyamu, Ogiemwonyi, Odubu, Obazee
• Controversy over primary election persists
• INEC warns against violence in Edo, Ondo polls
There was anxiety yesterday among members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as Governor Godwin Obaseki could not return to appear before the committee screening the credentials of the party’s aspirants for the Edo State governorship election in Abuja.
By 7 pm yesterday, Obaseki who had earlier appeared at the party’s secretariat with a retinue of aides to participate in the exercises kept party faithful and a horde of his supporters in the dark on why he did not show up again. But a statement by the Chief Press Secretary said the governor was permitted to attend a meeting of the Governors’ Forum and to call the screening committee when available. But all calls to the committee were not returned by the time the governor was ready.
The governor had arrived the party secretariat at about 1:10 p.m. amidst thunderous chants of “4 plus 4” by hundreds of his supporters who had positioned themselves at the precinct of the office. Obaseki who walked briskly to the conference room venue of the screening exercise, however, left after just about five minutes.
One of his unidentified aides was overheard saying Obaseki would definitely return before the end of the day to take his turn.
The seven-man screening committee led by Prof. Jonathan Ayuba, yesterday commenced the verification of the credentials of Obaseki and five other aspirants, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Dr. Pius Odubu, Chris Ogiemwonyi, Osaro Obazee and Matthew Aigbuhuenze Iduoriyekemwen at about 1 pm at the party’s secretariat in Abuja.
Ayuba, who spoke to reporters before the start of the screening, assured the party faithful that his team would ensure due diligence in the exercise. He urged journalists to be factual in the reportage of the exercise, cautioning that the committee should not be mistaken for a judicial panel of enquiry that has the final say on the aspirants.
Thereafter, three other aspirants – Obazee, Ogiemwonyi and Odubu-who were on the ground took turns to appear before the panellists between 2 pm and 4.30 pm. The trio did not speak to reporters on the exercise.
By 5 pm, Ize-Iyamu, the choice of the camp of the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, arrived at the party secretariat, accompanied by a handful of supporters for the screening exercise.
Nevertheless, Obaseki still has up till the end of Thursday (today) to appear before the screening committee to clear doubts on the authenticity of his credentials.
As the screening was going on in Abuja yesterday, the University of Ibadan (UI) confirmed that Governor Obaseki graduated from the school in 1979.
The university also confirmed that the governor studied “Classics and graduated with Second Class Honours, Lower division.”
A statement by the Registrar of the University, Mrs. Olubunmi Faluyi said Mr. Obaseki gained admission to UI in 1976. “Records of his admission and graduation are intact in the archives of the university”.
A source in the university told The Guardian that there was no doubt that Obaseki attended the university given his activities as a student and after graduation.
The source, who pleaded to remain anonymous, disclosed that Obaseki delivered the alumni lecture in August 2008 and named the Dean of Students Affairs, Prof Keye Abiona, as one of his classmates while some of his lecturers, including Mr. Henry, are still in his department.
The confirmation of the studentship of the governor by the university has cleared the allegation by the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole that Obaseki did not graduate from the UI.
The confirmation of Obaseki’s studentship of UI came as the controversy over whether direct or indirect primary should be adopted to pick the APC governorship candidate raged on.
A founding member of the party and one of the elders in the Edo State chapter, Prince Tony Momoh, said a free, fair and transparent direct primary would enable APC to choose its flag bearer and also resolve the crisis of factions in the state chapter ahead of the September 19 governorship election.
But in a quick response, a strong source from the party told The Guardian that “with a direct primary, the incumbent cannot retain the party’s ticket for the governorship election.”
The comments came barely 12 days to the Edo APC governorship primary as the face-off between Obaseki and Oshiomhole almost reached a “point of no return.”
Oshiomhole had chosen to use direct primary with approval from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but Obaseki and his loyalists prefer indirect primary. The duo has been at loggerheads over who controls the party machinery in Edo.
Momoh, who spoke with The Guardian via the telephone yesterday, said his preference for direct primary, as long as it is properly monitored, is to ensure free, fair and transparent exercise that would resolve the division in Edo APC between the factions loyal to the governor and the national chairman.
“Either it is direct or indirect primary, there is going to be voting at the ward level and there are ways to address this since INEC itself has insisted on conducting the election on September 9. What is important is the transparency, free and fair process in the primary.”
Momoh, however, gave a caveat that the National Working Committee (NWC)-led by Oshiomhole must put into consideration the provisions of the party’s constitution, which stipulate that such a decision like a party primary to elect candidate must be subjected to the ratification of the National Executive Council (NEC), otherwise, “anybody can take the party to court after the direct primary if it is not subjected to NEC ratification and our party will be in trouble.”
When asked if the NWC subjected the decision to adopt direct primary in Edo to NEC’s ratification, the National Vice Chairman for the South-West, Mr. Bankole Oluwajana, said there was a provision in the party’s constitution that “allows the NWC to go ahead with some decisions, which it will later take to the NEC for ratification.”
The APC source said the direct exercise was the easiest way to rig primary. “We saw what the NWC did to the former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode. The Clement Ebiri-led committee that conducted the 2019 direct primary in Lagos told the whole world that the exercise did not hold as at 4 pm but turned around at 6 am the following day to declare results of an election it said didn’t hold.”
Meanwhile, ahead of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, INEC has warned politicians against violence, insisting that it would not declare results where elections are disrupted.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu gave the warning while speaking at a virtual event on Democracy and Elections in West Africa, organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
Yakubu maintained that there would be no point declaring results in a situation where the electoral process is marred by violence, nothing that the commission would not endorse fraud or function outside the minimum standards set for the conduct of credible elections anywhere in the world.
He added that the commission was committed to ensuring free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
INEC had slated September 19, 2020, for the governorship election in Edo State while that of Ondo State was fixed for October 10, 2020
“Where the election is disrupted and the commission cannot vouch for the integrity of the process, we will not go ahead to make any declaration. You (political parties, politicians and voters) either behave for the elections to be concluded in a free and fair manner or we do what the law says,” he said.