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Monday, March 1, 2021

Edo 2020: A Test Case for 2023 Meltdown

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Godwin Obaseki

The battle between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his estranged godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, in the Edo State chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress has snowballed into a national crisis threatening the very existence of the party with eyes of all belligerents firmly fixed on 2023, writes Samuel Ajayi

“2023 is far, but all major players in the political equation have to be alive and abreast of whatever is happening with the party. If not, some people will wake up and discover they have missed out,” a close confidant of one of governors on the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, told THISDAY earlier in the year.

According to him, since the president is no longer coming back, it is now survival of the fittest. And unfortunately, it is these scheming and permutations against 2023 that is threatening to tear the party apart and render it history even before the first ballot is cast in three years’ time.

At the centre of it all is about who controls the party and its established structures ahead of the convention that will produce the presidential candidate a little less than two and a half years from now. And that was why what started as a “family affair” in Edo State has snowballed into a national political conflagration that is threatening the very existence of the party.

It all started with the cold war between former governor of the state and current National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, and current governor, Godwin Obaseki, who the former almost single-handedly made governor in 2016.

What had started as mere rumour soon became an open fight with each other battling to cancel each other out. While the former labour leader, Oshiomhole, accused Obaseki of being an ingrate, the latter accused him his estranged godfather of meddlesomeness and said he was being persecuted for not agreeing to open the state’s till for them to loot.

And as the battled raged on, Oshiomhole, by proxy, started propping up Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, his former political ally, who later defected to PDP and was their flag bearer in the 2016 governorship election in the state.

Ize-Iyamu’s attempt to defect into APC in grand style was later scuttled by Obaseki, who decreed that Oshiomhole must inform him ahead of any of his visit to the state so as to “provide security” for him.
But Oshiomhole did bid his time and was to later announce that it would be direct primary for the selection of the candidate for the party for the forthcoming governorship election. Obaseki would have none of this. He insisted on indirect primaries and to ensure he had his way he signed a gazette banning public gatherings in the state.

However, the Oshiomhole camp was not sleeping. The screening committee set up returned a verdict of disqualification for Obaseki over irregularities in his NYSC certificate. This was after the attempt to prove that he did not graduate from the University of Ibadan failed.
Obaseki vowed he would not appeal the suspension. Rather, he started negotiating with the opposition PDP and met Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State as well as Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.

Now, if the Oshiomhole camp thought they had had the last laugh, how wrong they were. In a move that caught them unawares, the Court of Appeal sitting Abuja, in a unanimous judgment, delivered by Justice Eunice Onyemanam upheld the March 4, 2020 ruling of the high court.

The ruling, which suspended the embattled National Chairman as the leader of the party had the court saying the trial court had territorial jurisdiction to have entertained the suit as it did. The court also withdrew Oshiomhole’s rights and privileges as national chairman of the party, including his security details.

Now, this judgment had set a series of in-fighting and acrimonious battle for the control of the party. Victor Gaidom, the Deputy National Secretary of the party, has declared himself as the acting National Chairman of the party, even a high court has given his claim a legal backing.

An FCT High Court in Abuja, Thursday, granted him the right to act as the National Chairman of the APC for two weeks. In an ex-parte application, Gaidom sought the leave of the court to take over the secretariat of the party in acting capacity and chair meetings of the National Working Committee until the determination of the motion on notice, marked FCT/CV/6447/2020.

In granting the ex parte application, Justice S. U Bature empowered Comrade Mustapha Salihu, the APC National Vice Chairman (North East) to act as the National Secretary.

Meanwhile, the Oshiomhole camp is insisting that the person that was supposed to be the acting National Chairman of the party is the ailing former governor of Oyo State, Isiaka Ajimobi, and not Gaidom, who the Oshiomhole camp claimed did not resign properly before going to his native Rivers State to pursue his political ambition.

But Gaidom said he was granted a waiver by same Oshiomhole via letter dated 14th September, 2018 in which the suspended National Chairman of the party had written that he was “pleased to convey the decision of the National Working Committee (NWC) to unanimously approve your application for waiver under Article 31 of or party.

“By this decision of the (NWC) to grant your application for waiver, you can continue to discharge your official duties as the Deputy National Secretary while pursuing your political/campaign activities.”
Those who were opposed to Oshiomhole claimed that Ajimobi and the likes of Lanre Isa-Onilu (National Publicity Secretary) and Waziri Bulama (National Secretary) were not properly elected by the party but handpicked by Oshiomhole.

According to the constitution of the party, a meeting of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party should have been called, which would be turned into a mini convention where these officers would have been elected.

But Oshiomhole, knowing he did not have any control over the NEC of the party, refused to call any NEC meeting in over 18 months, whereas, this body is supposed to sit four times a year.
The implication of this is that majority of members of the NWC are loyal to Oshiomhole; reason he wanted one of his loyalists among them to act in his stead.

But other power centres within the party, especially, the governors, are opposed to this. Sources told THISDAY that a former governor and current minister is the brain behind the latest moves to cage Oshiomhole.

The minister, who has kept a safe and respectable distance, from the melee, is said to have enlisted the support of governors (they are in the majority) who are opposed to Oshiomhole to ensure he does not return to the party as the National Chairman.

Sources also told THISDAY that Obaseki too would be sacrificed so as not to make it look as if he has emerged victorious over his estranged godfather.

Beside this, most of the governors on first term are not comfortable with the treatment meted to former Lagos governors, Akin Ambode, which is also being extended to Obaseki with rumours having it that Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is the next in line.

To them, if governors could be so easily removed, then it is clear and immediate red flag for them on first terms.

How the whole thing will pan out remains to be seen. But most shocking is that President Mohammadu Buhari has remained aloof and has not lifted a finger (at least, openly) since the crisis started.

“The President does not care,” a source told THISDAY. “He is on second term. He has realised his ambition and the party can boil for all he cares. That is why everybody is doing whatever he likes and trying to cancel each other out. Whatever is remained of the party is what whoever emerges will preside over.”
This is why neutral observers are now afraid if there will even be a party to control by the time 2023 comes.

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