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Obaseki and the hurdles to a second term

HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE writes on the hurdles before Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State ahead of the 2020 governorship election in the state.

 

THE 2020 governorship election in Edo State appears to be far away but if the recent adoption of incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the suspension of a governorship hopeful, General Charles Airhiavbere, by the party are anything to go by, the campaign for the party’s ticket may have been kick-started.

Apart from Airhiavbere, if Obaseki was to take a quick glance across his shoulder, he would also see the shadows of two former deputy governors, Pius Odubu and Lucky Imasuen as well as former Minister of Works, Chris Ogienwonyi, hot on his tail. Both Obaseki and Airhiavbere, a former Army Director of Finance, hail from Oredo Local Government Area, even as APC, two weeks ago, resolved to adopt Obaseki as the sole candidate of the party for the governorship election.

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At an enlarged meeting of the party in Benin, the leaders, in adopting Obaseki, argued that the decision was informed by sectoral pace of development in the state. The meeting, which was presided over by the Oredo APC chairman, Mr Godwin Alabi and Secretary, Mrs Magdalene Isekhure, also had in attendance ward chairmen, councilors and leaders from the 12 wards in the local government area.

As leaders of the party, they restated their readiness to pull resources together to ensure that Obaseki not only flies the party’s flag in the governorship election but also wins the election for a second term. They noted: “Considering the pace of development in different sectors of Edo State from infrastructure to education, industrialisation, civil service and judicial reform.”

Two weeks earlier, on March 15, the Ward I executive of the Oredo Local Government Area branch of the APC had suspended Airhiavbere for allegedly indulging in anti-party activities. The former Director of Army Finance had contested on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, in 2012 before defecting to the ruling party in 2015, one week after President Goodluck Jonathan lost to President Muhammadu Buhari. In 2016, he was a governorship aspirant on the platform of APC but lost out to Governor Obaseki.

The ward chairman, Felix Ehigiegba and 21 others accused the General of working against Buhari and other candidates of the party in the just-concluded presidential and National Assembly elections in the state. They recalled that at a meeting on March 3, one of the leaders of the ward, Samson Abu, revealed how Airhiavbere got involved in anti-party activities against the APC.

The chairman conceded that the retired military officer was unavoidably absent at the meeting, insisting that, based on series of complaints from different quarters about his actions of late towards the party, an investigative panel was set up to find out the true picture. Ehigiegba noted that the panel carefully investigated the allegations and came up with its findings and recommendations.

Ehigiegba added: “Based on General Airhiavbere unpardonable actions against the APC and coupled with hard evidence against him, the undersigned executive of Oredo Ward I met and moved a vote of no confidence on General Charles Ariavbere and he is thereby suspended indefinitely from the All Progressives Congress with immediate effect.”

Airhiavbere, however, dismissed the allegations, insisting that they were baseless and were concocted to thwart his governorship ambition in the state, come 2020. The retired general said that he had never worked against the interest of the APC, noting that the charges were the handiwork of his political enemies.

Airiavbere said: “I am not aware of that; I don’t know what could have led to that. There are laid down procedures in the APC Constitution. If that has not been followed, then there must be a gang-up or coup to discourage those that they see as threat. Definitely, it has to do with the 2020 governorship election in the State. That must be a sinister movement against those perceived to be a threat. It is a case of let us take down the heavyweights, let us take them down now.

“That is politics, but that is not democracy. But if we are practising democracy, let us practise it right. It is a case of calling the dog a bad name to hang it. I didn’t contest, so, why should I be singled out? I was not funded to lead any campaign, neither did I hold back any campaign money. There must be a strategic calumny to discourage me from contesting; that is where it is coming from,” he added.

The declaration by Obaseki that he would not use the state money to service a few greedy politicians in the state drew the ire of Henry Idahagbon, a top member of the party and a former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in the state who insisted that it was very unkind for the governor to turn around and call politicians thieves, after helping him to win the 2016 governorship election.

Idahagbon, a former chairman of Egor Local Government Area, said many APC chieftains would have defected to other political parties if not for the intervention of the national chairman of the party. Idahagbon, who was the state coordinator of the national Committee for Buhari Support Group for the 2019 polls, said some top APC members in the state have been called thieves, liars and people that like money by the governor, adding that many of them were persuaded and asked to give Oshiomhole the time and opportunity to look into issues in the state.

He said by the time the governorship election comes up, the aggrieved APC chieftains would ventilate whatever issues they have, noting that they only queued up behind the governor for the sake of President Buhari during the just-concluded elections. “We know when to fight and when to come together. We did not have a governorship election in Edo in 2019. That is a different ball game,” he added.

In what looked like a mass revolt, some aggrieved youths of the party, under the leadership of Comrade Tony “Kabaka” Adun, a former aide to Oshiomhole, had, last July, threatened to withdraw their support for Obaseki in future election for allegedly abandoning them. The aggrieved youths had lashed out at the governor, accusing him of using them to win the 2016 governorship election only turn around and dump them.

To avoid the kind of treatment meted out to Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State, Obaseki may have suddenly come to the realisation that he must build his own political structure instead of relying on the one bequeathed by the APC national chairman by projecting his loyalists, if he has to get a second term.

The governorship election comes up late next year and this, no doubt, is the right time to start building an independent structure. In the process, some toes have to be stepped on or even chopped off as he (Obaseki) is said to be scared stiff that he may be shoved aside by Oshiomhole, just like the APC national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu did to Ambode in Lagos.

The determination to build an independent structure may have been responsible for the shoving aside of the former deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly, Victor Edoror (Esan Central), with an alleged backing of Obaseki and the reason why the godson threw his weight behind some APC aspirants in defiance of the godfather in the recent election.

After a careful survey of Edo political landscape since Obaseki took over the reins of power, the state APC chairman, Anslem Ojezua, said Obaseki has done very well in all facets of governance. He said: “Obaseki has been building on Oshiomhole’s solid foundation. I can see a lot of infrastructure like roads being constructed across the state, leading to the appellation, ‘Wake and see governor’. Edo people now wake up to see heavy duty equipment working in their neighbourhoods.”

On whether Obaseki’s alleged aloofness may cause him the governorship ticket as some party members are rebelling, accusing him of using and dumping them, Ojezua defended: “This is understandable because of his style of governance which emphasises that governance and politics, though complementary, do not blend. I appreciate the fact that politicians, particularly party members, have been patient and understanding so far. That fact is not lost on the governor. I believe that there will be a legitimate way by which those who help to build the party must benefit from the activities of the government.”

However the state chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, sees the governor in a different light as he dismissed his actions as anti-people. According to him, the huge burden of taxation and arbitrary closure of schools and other institutions, which are supposed to generate employment, negated the promise Obaseki made in the heat of campaigns in 2016 to create employment for 200,000 youths in the state.

Under Obaseki, Orbih said the Edo political situation has gone from bad to worse, noting that the interesting thing was that the people never expected anything good from Obaseki right from the start.  The chairman of the leading opposition party in the state pointed out that the governor was the head of Oshiomhole’s economic team and that it is clear that the agenda of the APC government in Edo State is to deprive Edo people their resources and cart away every allocation hence, Oshiomhole’s desperation to see to the emergence of Obaseki, both in the primary and the governorship election of 2016.

“This is a man who promised Edo people 200,000 jobs during the electioneering campaigns. Now as governor, he has been sacking workers, closing down institutions where people are supposed to be gainfully employed. This is the tragedy of Obaseki’s emergence as the governor of Edo State. It is obvious that he does not have the interest of the people at heart,” he said.

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