APC faces litmus test in Edo

A number of uncertainties are dogging the preparations of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Edo governorship election, scheduled to hold on September 19. As the ruling at the centre and until recently in the Southsouth state, all eyes are on the APC. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI catalogues the drama that has so far been witnessed.

The forthcoming governorship election in Edo State may end up as a dress rehearsal for 2023 general elections, particularly for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

The internal crisis within the Edo APC has gone from bad to worse. Indications are that the crises within the governing party would be the biggest factor that would determine the outcome of the election which is scheduled to take place in the South-south state on September 19.

An avalanche of court cases is frustrating the party’s preparations for the election. The crisis took a new dimension after the Court of Appeal in Abuja upheld Oshiomhole’s suspension as the National Chairman last Tuesday.

An FCT High Court had on March 4 granted an application by six members of the APC in Edo State suspending the former Edo State governor from office.

A three-member panel of justices led by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem held that Oshiomhole’s appeal challenging his suspension was unmeritorious.

The APC is clearly divided in Edo State and the national level. The crisis has divided the governors elected on the platform of the party. Thirteen governors are said to be backing the Abiola Ajimobi-led National Working Committee (NWC), while seven others are opposed to it.

The seven governors who have branded themselves as “reformists” are desperate to hijack the party’s structure ahead of 2023 general elections.

It was the upholding of Oshiomhole’s suspension by the Abuja Court of Appeal that compounded the matter. The party thought it had everything under control.

Governor Godwin Obaseki had been tactically shoved out of the party, after the party’s screening committee disqualified him from contesting in its primary, due to what it described as discrepancies in his academic qualifications. No one saw the Appeal Court judgment coming.

But, it has opened a fresh crisis in the party at the national level. The judgment implies that Oshiomhole’s membership of the APC and his continued stay as its national chairman is in jeopardy.

According to legal experts, the implication of the judgment is that the former Edo State governor is not of good standing as a member of the APC; since he has been suspended in his ward, he cannot continue to function as the national chairman or any other position within the party.

Oshiomhole’s Ward 10, Etsako Local Government Area of Edo State suspended him in December 2019 and the matter ended up in court.

The suspended national chairman claimed to have retired several godfathers. But he is now accused of trying to become one.

He had pursued with zeal the frustration of Obaseki out of the party. But the Appeal Court ruling appears to have taken the wind out of the sails of the party’s preparation for the September 19 election.

With Obaseki’s resignation from the party and last week Tuesday’s Appeal Court judgment, the two principal parties to the Edo State APC crisis are out of the party. What does this portend for the party in the forthcoming governorship election? Only time will tell.

No doubt, Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is in pole position to grab the APC ticket, if the court case questioning his membership of the party is determined in his favour.

In spite of the uncertainties dogging the party’s preparations for the election, observers believe it would do everything within its power to win the September 19 governorship election.

But, a replay of the Zamfara scenario may be in the offing. This is based on the accusation of the Deputy National Chairman (North), Lawal Shuaibu that Oshiomhole violated the party’s constitution by unilaterally appointing a national secretary; the office is an elective position.

Shuaibu said: “We had a convention in 2018 and another is due this year. What is the hurry in appointing an acting national secretary when we have a daily elected deputy national secretary who has been acting in that capacity since December 2018, in line with Article 14.4 of the constitution on page 52?”

The Deputy National Chairman added: “With regards to Edo and Ondo governorship primaries, there is already absence of transparency.

The regulations issued that will guide the processes are already in violation of Article 20 (v) on page 76 of the APC Constitution as amended, where only the National Executive Committee (NEC) is the only organ empowered to approve such guidelines and regulations, which includes the mode of nominating our candidates. I am crying for the APC inside me.”

These are some of the issues that may rear its ugly head in court during post-election litigation. The litigation may see the candidature of Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate nullified in the long run.

If the APC manages to win the election, such nullification would pave the way for the candidate that came second to be declared the next governor of Edo State, if he fulfils the requirements in terms of getting a two-thirds majority of votes statewide.

Obaseki was disqualified by the APC Screening Panel due to discrepancies in his results. Two others aspirants – Chris Ogiemwonyi, a former Minister of State for Works, and Mathew Iduoriyekenwen, a former Majority Leader of the Edo State House of Assembly – were also disqualified by the panel.

It, however, cleared Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu; Dr. Pius Odubu, a former deputy governor and Osaro Obazee, a former local government chairman in the state, to contest the APC primary.

The Screening Committee, headed by Prof. Jonathan Mamu Ayuba, decided to disqualify Obaseki following a petition by Chisimdi M. Chima of Shores and Savanna International Law Firm.

A few minutes after the panel submitted its report, Obaseki vowed that he would not appeal his “unjust disqualification” by the committee. He described the panel’s action as “a mockery of the democratic process”.

The Edo crisis is an ill-wind that does not favour any of the parties. Though Obaseki has moved to the PDP party to realise his ambition, his bid for the second term is likely to be undermined by the darts Oshiomhole would be throwing at him.

Ize-Iyamu, on the other hand, would also be caught in the crossfire between his principal and Obaseki. For instance, the campaign swipes Oshiomhole took against him during the 2016 contest would come in handy for the Obaseki camp.

Oshiomhole spoke glowingly about Obaseki at the same campaign; praising his integrity and the contribution he made to whatever he, the former governor, achieved in his eight-year tenure.

It promises to be an interesting contest, in the sense that it would be a rehash of that of 2016, with Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu swapping platforms.

As an incumbent governor, Obaseki’s performance is likely to be determined by his popularity rating among the Edo people and other issues that would shape the campaign between now and the September 19 date for the contest.

The campaign proper would commence after the emergence of the candidates and their ruling mates. Three months is ample time for the campaign of any of the parties to generate momentum and convince the electorate to back its candidate.

What is certain nevertheless is that Obaseki cannot be underrated. For one thing, the incumbency factor is in his favour. Defeating an incumbent governor can be a tough nut to crack because they are on the ground and usually have access to funds to finance their campaigns.

For another, the fact that the N700 million fraud case against Ize-Iyamu is coming up in court at this point in time may not augur well for his reputation.

Besides, the strength of the PDP in Edo as demonstrated during the last general elections suggests that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the state.

However, the opposition party is also likely to witness its own internal crisis. Obaseki has secured a waiver for himself and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, to contest the party’s primary for the September 19 governorship poll.

The Edo State governor is believed to be negotiating to contest the election with Shaibu as his running. It is not clear whether his wish would be granted by the party.

But, whichever way it goes, what appears like an impending handing over of the party’s ticket to Obaseki is likely to generate crisis in the fold after the primary, which has been rescheduled to hold on Thursday, June 25.

The PDP had earlier slated its primary for Saturday, June 20, but last Thursday (June 18), it decided to shift it to accommodate the interest of its new member, Governor Obaseki.

Obaseki and his predecessor, Oshiomhole has been at loggerheads over issues bordering on the governor’s second term bid.

The disagreement between the former governor and the successor he single-handedly installed had defied every attempt by the party bigwigs to reconcile them. The feud has polarised the Edo State chapter of the APC.

The battle of supremacy between Obaseki and Oshiomhole came to a head two Fridays ago when the governor was disqualified from participating in the party’s primary scheduled to hold today (Monday).

The situation in Ondo is not too different from that of Edo State. In the case of Ondo, the primary, which is scheduled to hold on July 20, is also a source of apprehension to the party.

The crisis in Ondo APC is directly linked to the unresolved issues arising from the 2016 governorship primary that produced the incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu as the party’s flag bearer for that year’s contest.

The Ondo governor, it is said, has not helped matters. He has been accused of marginalising those who worked against his ambition to govern the state four years ago.

Thus, Akeredolu has been accused of highhandedness and maladministration, as well as anti-party activities during the last general elections. Thus, he appears to be facing an uphill task to get the party’s second ticket.

The greatest threat to Akeredolu’s second term bid is mainly from a splinter group within his party, the Unity Forum.

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