Obaseki vs Oshiohmole: Power tussle that’ll define the 2020 gov contest in Edo

The road to Edo State Government House through the next governorship election may be stormy considering recent political happenings in the state and with some chieftains of ruling All Progressives Congress against Governor Godwin Obaseki’s move to return for a second term, SOLA SHITTU writes:

It is not unusual for an incumbent governor to seek reelection for a second term in office, and so last week, Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, announced his intention to do so.

And the pronouncement was made with a bold statement that it was not “negotiable” because according to him, he was deserving of it.

“I have said it clearly and I told my cabinet members that the second term for me is non-negotiable. I am demanding it because I deserve it and I think I have earned it. We need to have it so we can continue what we are doing today. I want to assure you that this is a fight in which we will prevail. We will fight and succeed. If anybody thinks I will back out, he must be daydreaming because it is not my fight; it is a fight for the right purpose. I am not going to back off because I know victory is sure,” the governor said.

The governor said what people had accused him of was not focusing on ‘stomach infrastructure’ but never about implementing a wrong policy.

“We earn less today than we did in 2016 when we came into power, so where is the money to waste? We know how much we inherited as debt; we have to service them. Some people sit and say we should focus on ‘stomach infrastructure’. I said no, that I would rather focus on mental infrastructure,” he stated.

But that did not go down well with his opponents, many of whom are in his party, APC, and known as Edo Peoples Movement. This movement is led by Mr Henry Idahagbon, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the administration of Obaseki’s predecessor, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, who is now the National Chairman of APC.

The group had vowed to ensure that Obaseki does not return for a second term and called on the state chairman of the party, Mr Anslem Ojezua, to resign his position. According to the group, he failed to find a solution to the crisis bedevilling the party due to his selfish interest.

EPM leaders had in a statement signed by a former Minority Whip of House of Representatives, Mr Samson Osagie, and a former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr Thomas Okosun, alleged that Obaseki did not do well three years into his administration and that he attempted to damage the APC brand by giving Edo people the impression that he was doing well by being deceptive.

“So, Obaseki is only dreaming to think that because he is the custodian of our collective patrimony, he will intimidate us and hoodwink Edo people….” a statement by the group had said.

The group declared that some of its members would contest in the next governorship election to ensure the end of Obaseki’s administration after his first term in office.

Therefore, some people in the state already view Obaseki’s pronouncements as capable of stirring up a hornets’ nest, especially considering his recent disagreement with Oshiomhole.

Oshiomhole had accused Obaseki of sacking the only person he nominated into his cabinet. But it appears that Obaseki tactfully instructed his aides not to reply to his former boss, probably, as there was no attack on the former by the governor’s aides. 

Some analysts believe it was a good move if that was the case because Oshiomhole would easily floor the governor in a messy fight.

Obaseki, however, used the opportunity handed to him by Nigeria Union of Teachers, who awarded him as the best governor for 2019, to announce his ambition for second term.

Few days later, the governor sacked over 250 Senior Special Assistants and Special Assistants across the 18 local governments and three senatorial districts of the state. It is also believed that the move was political, calculative and a strategy to get rid of ‘moles’ and gain a foothold in the grass roots through the fresh appointments to be made. Many of Obaseki’s supporters also saw the sacking of the SAs as a masterstroke, which they noted would prepare the ground for the 2020 governorship election.

“The battle line is drawn; we will now separate the wheat from the chaff,” one of the aides sacked said.

Asked if he was bothered by the sacking, he said, “I am now jobless but I’m cool with it.” He, however, expressed confidence that he would return to the political scene in a big way.

Obaseki had while announcing the sacking of the aides noted that fresh appointments would be made within 30 days. But Obaseki was not done; as soon as he returned from Abuja where he received his NUT award, he suspended Chairman of Esan West Local Government Area, Mr Patrick Aguinede, for alleged corrupt practices. Aguinede’s suspension is the third of such moves by the governor in three months.

Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Monday Osaigbovo, who confirmed the suspension of Aguinede, said he was suspended for a period of two months to allow investigation to be carried out into the allegations made against him. According to the commissioner, Aguinede allegedly failed to fully remit funds collected as internally generated revenue.

“The statistics he gave as the number of tricycles and motorcycles operating in Esan West was 3,000. If he collected N150 each from them, that amounts to N9m monthly but Aguinede was remitting only N4.5m,” he had alleged.

But in a quick response to his suspension, Aguinede said he had accepted it in good faith and was ready to appear before any probe panel set up to investigate the allegations.

Meanwhile, it is not yet clear if APC would grant Obaseki the right of first refusal as was granted to his predecessor, Oshiomhole, considering the number of individuals interested in the race. Obaseki has, however, vowed to defeat any opponent presented by EPM, which has in turn vowed to unseat him.

However, it appears that Obaseki is not unmindful of the task ahead of him on the road to Edo State Government House for a second term and certainly not unmindful of the grumbling political class who had complained about being ignored.

Besides the sacking of the aides, the governor responded to some agitations made by political leaders by constituting boards of Edo Development and Property Authority, Local Government Service Commission, Law Service Commission, Edo City Transport Service, Technical and Vocational Education Board, Health Management Board, State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, and Waste Management Board. The appointment was meant to reward loyal party members and further prepare the ground for the party’s primary election.

Obaseki, while inaugurating the boards, said, “In 2016, I had no doubt in my mind to jump into the fray and continue what we had started. What I didn’t realise was that the rot was so deep and fundamental. It was not just a rot that expressed physical expression. It became cultural.”

But his recent declaration to contest in the next election was also monitored closely by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, which held a stakeholders’ meeting at the residence of a former governor of the state, Mr Lucky Igbinedion, the same weekend Obaseki was in Abuja for the NUT’s Governor of the Year Award.

A PDP chieftain, Mr Victor Oyofo, who spoke with journalists after the meeting, said the meeting was crucial to define the future of the party in the state and to set up themselves to regain the governorship position in the state come 2020.

“We will win in Edo because the people have seen what APC represents. I mean if you want to travel between Benin and Auchi, you will have to spend more hours than you can imagine. Of course, there is the insecurity situation like kidnapping and even farmers can no longer go to farm so people are tired of APC.

“We are only going to take up the responsibility of relieving them of duties they couldn’t perform.”

The state chairman of the party, Mr Dan Orbih, who confirmed that PDP was closely monitoring what was going on in the state chapter of APC, said, “No doubt leaders of PDP and leaders of Edo State are watching the events in the state; they feel highly concerned about the disappointment and about the type of government the people of Edo State have now. We decided to put our heads together to do everything right to ensure that next year, we will have a PDP government in Edo State.”

Meanwhile, a Benin-based human right  activist and legal practitioner, Mr Douglas Ogbankwa, has said Obaseki is entitled to seek re-election, but added that the dynamics are different from the situation when he contested about three years ago.

“There are many issues that come into the picture regarding Obaseki’s bid to seek re-election. The fact that it is the party that nominates a candidate, according to the Electoral Act, is one.

“Secondly, National Chairman of APC (Oshiomhole), who controls the party machinery, cannot be ignored in this matter. The various political forces that ensured the emergence of the governor then are no longer together. These are political forces that cannot be ignored,” he said.

According to him, the current situation in the state House of Assembly whereby 12 lawmakers out of 24 have been sitting presupposes that the majority of the elected lawmakers are not with the governor.

“The crisis in the House of Assembly can set off a chain reaction that will affect the governorship primary of APC in the state,” he said.

But another lawyer and former Journalist, Mr Jefferson Uwoghiren, said with the development programmes of Obaseki, it was not surprising that he would seek another term in office.

He said, “Across the state, people can acknowledge his firm attention to details. His calm and non-disruptive style of managing people and resources has been the hallmark of his administration.

“A close analysis of the few discordant complaints by a few of his party members does not show or include the lack of capacity or performance. It is about his insufficient appreciation of their contributions to his emergence as the state governor. But that is insufficient to derail his good work for the people of Edo State.”

According to him, it would have made more sense if Obaseki’s critics had accused the governor of being corrupt.

“Obaseki is the biggest revelation of Oshiomhole’s administration and it’s to his credit that his successor is performing well. Any attempt to derail the development train in Edo State will result in heavy embarrassment for APC,” he added.

 

Punch

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