Obaseki and challenge of next anchor-point
The forthcoming governorship election in Edo State, particularly the fight for the ticket of governing All Progressives Congress (APC), has rekindled the conversations about the mistakes technocrats encounter in partisan politics.
Shortly after his controversial disqualification by the National Working Committee (NWC) of APC, Governor Godwin Obaseki initiated discussions with opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a possible defection and assimilation of his supporters.
Part of the preliminary talking points between PDP leaders and the embattled governor was on the issue of what becomes of his deputy in the consideration of his second term gubernatorial ambition.
Talks about whether Obaseki should be allowed to select his running mate or on account of the fact that he was just joining the party, he should pair up with an old member became a bit knotty to disentangle.
Obaseki, Shaibu and PDP aspirants
If there is any lesson Obaseki could learn from the Abiola debacle, it is about the issue of taking early stand on who deputises him on any new platform that he might settle for to actualize his dream for a second term.
The governor had, shortly after his vindictive disqualification from the APC governorship primary, visited two of his Niger Delta colleagues, namely Governors Nyesom Wike and Udom Emmanuel of Rivers and Akwa Ibom States. So, while there is every possibility that PDP would be the next platform of choice for Governor Obaseki, there are indications that his shuttle diplomacy to PDP chieftains in the South-South geopolitical zone was ostensibly to seek support for his joint ticket with Phillip Shuaibu be accepted as a package.
But apart from the fact that Shuaibu, the current deputy governor hails from Edo North Senatorial District, out of the three governorship candidates that were screened and cleared for the governorship primary, while two are from Edo Central, only one hails from Edo South as Obaseki.
Even though the zoning arrangement favours the current Edo South and Edo North pairing that brought about the Obaseki/Shuaibu government, some PDP chieftains are apprehensive of a possible replay of the 2007 scenario when Lucky Igbinedion and his supporters unwittingly powered Adams Oshiomhole to victory.
National Deputy Vice Chairman (South/South), Chief Emma Ogidi, noted that Obaseki´s entry into PDP adds value to the party in Edo State, stressing that other considerations should be secondary.
However, some PDP chieftain insist that gifting Obaseki and Shuaibu the governorship ticket without round table discussions on the modalities of welding a seamless integration might prove fatal to the party´s ambition to regain its foothold in Edo State.
It was gathered that prior to the surprising turn of events in APC, which culminated in his outright qualification, Obaseki was making alternative plans to ensure that his political witch hunters did not use a rival platform to embarrass him. Part of the initial plan, according to sources, was for PDP to throw up a weak candidate that would easily surrender the ticket to Obaseki. That was why, sources explained, Dr. Ogbeide Ihama was prodded to join the governorship race.
Since Barrister Kenneth Imasuagbon and Ikhina are from the Edo Central Senatorial District, there is no way any either of them would be disposed to serving as running mate, which therefore makes it easy to push alternative offers on the discussion table.
On the issue of whether Obaseki´s disqualification by APC could limit his easy access to the PDP ticket, Governor Wike drew the attention to the irony of the situation in APC with the wide claim that the incumbent governor was disqualified by people who did not have certificates.
Some observers argued that the Edo State APC crisis vis-a-vis the disqualification points to the low level development of Nigeria´s party politics.
A pro-democracy and environment activist, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, said in sane climes, what the party does in relation to an incumbent is to examine whether he succeeded in delivering the goods before allowing him access to another term.
“It is curious that nobody is talking about Obaseki´s performance,” he said, “rather, they are depleting energy over the degree certification of a man that contested previous election on the same platform. Was forgery involved? That is the only question the law could interrogate, especially when the constitution said the minimum qualification is the ability to read and write or evidence of having gone to school to a secondary school level.”
Shortly before the Court of Appeal upheld the suspension of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman, Governor Obaseki had announced his resignation from APC. As his membership ceased, the succeeding development in the party must have left the governor confused as to how to proceed: Should be continue the ongoing discussions with PDP leadership or beat a retreat to take cover under the famed federal might?
Sources within the APC NWC claimed that the decision to activate the legal ambush against Oshiomhole was informed by the presidency’s belief that the suspended national chairman had crossed the red line.
There were also suggestions that the former Director General of President Buhari Campaign Organisation and current Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, exploited the situation to get the upper hand in his battle for the soul of the party alongside some APC governors and a national leader of APC.
The contest of interests played out as the claimants to the position of acting national chairman, especially Chief Victor Giadom and Hillard Etta struggled to win the goodwill of APC chieftains and assert their authority in the National Working Committee (NWC). The party’s national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, had while citing Section 14.2 (iii) of the APC constitution, declared the former Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, as the acting national chairman.
But no sooner had the national publicity secretary of the party announced Ajimobi as acting national chairman than two other officers, Chief Victor Giadom and Hillard Etta, appeared on the scene, claiming that the position was zoned to the South/South geopolitical zone. The two chieftains, Giadom and Etta, divided the NWC along the political interests that favour two contending presidential aspirants for the party’s ticket in 2023.
Etta, after dismissing Giadom’s claim to the position of national chairman, upheld the screening exercise undertaken by the panels on Edo State governorship, which was ratified by the NWC. Etta also went ahead to appoint a seven-member panel headed by Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, with Senator Abimbola Bashir as secretary for the Edo State governorship primary billed for June 22, 2020.
Among the 15 NWC members in attendance were the national publicity secretary of the party, Mr. Lanre Issa-Onilu, the national treasurer, Mr. Adamu Fanda, the national women leader, Hajia Salamatu Baiwa, and national organising secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Ibediro. But Giadom had earlier, while declaring himself as the Acting national chairman of the party, explained that the appointment of Senator Ajimobi as acting national chairman could not stand, saying that “it is illegal and unconstitutional.”
As a rival acting national chairman, Giadom, who was with the deputy national organising secretary, Muhammed Sani Ibrahim when he addressed journalists, further declared Obaseki’s disqualification from the Edo State governorship primary as null and void. He directed governorship aspirants of the party in Edo State to report to the APC national secretariat in Abuja for a fresh screening exercise in line with the party’s constitution.
Torn between the new opening for a detour to APC and the challenge of offending PDP leaders he had consulted as part of his moves to join the opposition party, Obaseki announced on his twitter handle that he was yet to declare for another platform after quitting the governing party.
Not long after his clarification, some youth and women groups in Abuja told journalists that they had purchased the governorship forms for Obaseki to fly the flag of African Democratic Party (ADP) in the Edo State governorship poll of September 19, 2020.
Although governor Obaseki held meetings with the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and the party’s national chairman, Prince Secondus, in Abuja on Wednesday, it was obvious that the Edo State governor had been caught up in a new dilemma. Analysts believe that what to do with his loyal deputy and the size and reach of PDP must be weighing heavily on his mind, even as the confusion over who is the authentic acting national chairman continues.
Back in Edo State, two governorship aspirants, Ogeide and Ikhine, have already announced their decision to step down for Obaseki to pave way for his eventual emergence as the PDP standard bearer. Would Obaseki cling to Shaibu for a joint ticket and jettison PDP or go for a new platform? What if there are pressures for him to return to APC, given that Oshiomhole has been put on a leash?
How would the wrangling over the position of acting national chairman affect his candidacy, especially given Oshiomhole’s assertion that his suspension did not translate to the suspension of the APC NWC and actions they have taken? Perhaps as he contemplates his next step, Obaseki needs to borrow some insight from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, when he was asked to join the presidential race, said: “If you are faced with an ambush, move on.”
Even at that, as the squabble over the position of acting national chairman continues, chieftains of the party, including Mr. Anselm Ojezua and Osita Okechukwu, insist that the APC constitution was clear and unambiguous about what happens in such circumstances. Okechukwu contended that although the APC constitution empowered the deputy national chairman from whichever zone that produced the national chairman to act in the absence or incapacitation of the chairman, Ajimobi’s nomination was not endorsed by his zone or ratified by the APC NEC.
He explained that even when the NWC could act for NEC’s emergency situations, the recruitment or replacement of party’s functionaries was not part of the special circumstances.
“NWC is to execute decisions of the higher organs of the party, including the NEC and National Convention. But unless it delegates any official responsibility, NWC should not arrogate to itself the power to enlist member or members of NWC,” Okechukwu stated.
Ojezua, who is not only the Edo State APC chairman, is also a party to the litigation that ratified the suspension of Comrade Oshiomhole. He said that commonsense and due recognition of the stipulation of the constitution should warrant that the next officer after Ajimobi should act in his absence.
“All they need do is just go to the constitution and they will find out. The chairman is supposed to have two deputies; one is in place that is not in controversy. So, why should there be controversy. If the president travels, is it not the vice president that would act? I don’t think there should be any controversy. We can save ourselves needless conflicts. We have a party and the party is subject to rules,” Ojezua stated.
The state chairman noted that ordinarily the timelines set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which indicated July 2, 2020 for the submission of names of candidates should not put pressure on the state chapter if only the national leadership had done what it ought to.
He stated: “Every thing we do must be guided by rules. It is the inability of the leadership of the party to obey its own rules that led to all these. If an organ does not have the power to make certain decisions, let it refer them to the very organ that has power to do so. That should not be a problem