Benin City — Political tension in Edo state is heating up daily as political gladiators rally behind their supporters ahead the April 14, 2013 Local Government Council election in the state.
Being an Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) controlled state, the leadership of the party has been busy preparing themselves for the election.
Though as it seems, it may be a one way thing for the party because the party had actually uprooted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the entire 18 Local Government Council.
The result of the April 14, 2012 governorship election where Governor Adams Oshiomhole won in the 18 Local Government Councils and the 192 wards in the state, buttresses the point that the PDP in the state had been swallowed by the ACN ruthless political machinery led by Oshiomhole.
There was an initial confusion in the state PDP as to whether the party was going to participate in the election or not, when the then PDP Director of Publicity of the party, Okharedia Ihimekpen, came up to say that the party would not be participating in the Local Government election against the decision of the state Executive of the party led by Chief Dan Osi Orbih.
Following his comment, the state Publicity Secretary, Pharm.Matthew Urhoghide, distanced the party from Ihimekpen's comment, insisting that the party will be participating in the election.
According to him, "the only problem we had initially was that the State Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) held a meeting with political parties but we were not invited. We made our grievances known to them but that does not mean we are abstaining from the election.
The SEC met and we decided that we are going in for the election because we believe that it is the best thing for us as a party due to what happened in the last governorship election. We have to rebuild the party starting with the LGA elections.
The PDP is the biggest party in the country even in Edo state, so we cannot say we are not participating in the election.
If you look at it critically, the PDP is the only party in the state because even in the ACN today, all the members were all PDP. So Ihimekpen is on his own, what he said was his personal opinion and not that of the party because he has no right to speak for the party and he has been warned in the past from doing so".
Few days after Ihimekpen's comment which the party described as "unguided", he was removed as the party's Director of Publicity and was directed to return all property belonging to the party.
However, expressing the party's preparedness for the forthcoming election, Urhoghide told Saturday Vanguard last Monday that "what we are doing now is that our aspirants are collecting the forms at the ward levels and after that, we intend to screen them and fix a date for the primaries.
We are not scared because this is a local election, any party can win if you present a candidate that is popular among the people. My only appeal is that the ACN should play according to the rules. In a local election, you allow the people make their choice and not impose candidates on them. As people at the grass root, they deserve good leaders that will develop the rural areas".
Also declaring the readiness of the party to clinch some chairmanship seats, two time former chairman of Owan West Local Government Council and chieftain of the PDP, Dan Asekhame, said the party will strive to win some councils in the forthcoming polls "at least as a mark of respect for our national leader, Chief Tony Anenih".
According to him, "I want to encourage our chairmanship candidates and members of our party to put in every thing possible in this coming local government election.
The problem the PDP had in the state before now is what we can describe as political wreckage because there are too many people on board. PDP stands a chance of winning many councils because of the crisis in the ACN today. Our candidates should disregard the fears that the ACN may manipulate the process because this is a local election. Only popular candidates will be accepted by the people".
On its part, the ACN leadership urged the party leaders to agree on consensus candidates in their respective councils in order to make the primaries tension free.
It was learnt that Governor Adams Oshiomhole made it clear to the leaders that popular candidates must be allowed to emerge and warned against extortion from aspirants. But the resolve by the leaders to come up with consensus candidates almost back-fired when most leaders disagreed in their respective Local Government Councils on the choice of candidate.
In his Etsako West LGA, Oshiomhole had it hot with Usman Shagadi, the leader of the ACN in the area, when the Governor backed one Hassan Kadiri while Shagadi pitched tenth with Barr.Elamah. In Akoko Edo, Senator Domingo Obende and House of Representative member, Peter Akpatason also disagreed on the choice of candidates. In Uhumwonde, it was the Political Adviser to the Governor, Charles Idahosa VS Sam Iredia.
In Ikpoba Okhai, the former Chief of Staff to the Governor, Osarodion Ogie was accused of imposing Mrs Itohan Osahon Ogbeide. But Ogie dismissed the allegation, saying that her candidature was generally accepted by the leaders of the party in the council.
However, the tension was more in Orhiomnwon where the state Deputy Governor, Dr Pius Odubu and the South South Vice-Chairman of the party, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu comes from. The duo are reportedly eyeing Oshiomhole's seat in 2016.
Therefore the battle for the soul of the Council is well understood.Though the two leaders agreed that the chairmanship slot be zoned to Orhiomwon East, they disagreed on the choice of candidate. While Odubu is backing one Nosa Okunbor, Ize-Iyamu is backing Saturday Idehen.
But the Orhiomnwon Vanguard for Good Governance in a statement signed by Philip Edobor, described the situation as unfortunate, warning that if the disagreement continues, it may cost the council the opportunity to produce the governor of the state in 2016.
The group further faulted the ceding of the chairmanship ticket to Orhiomwon East, complaining that "since the inception of this democracy in 1999, Orhiomwon South is yet to produce the chairmanship of the council. The South has always been marginalized which is not good for us".
However, the issue of consensus candidates in the ACN created the impression that the leaders were imposing their stooges on the people. It was not surprising therefore that after the Governor traveled outside the state after the meeting with the leaders, he came back to the state to meet more challenging problems within the party. There was crisis in almost all the Local Governments.
The only council that there was no crisis was Oredo, where Osaro Obaze was unanimously endorsed by all the leaders.
This Local Government election is the first Oshiomhole will be conducting since his inception as Governor of the state in 2008. He has made tremendous efforts in cleaning up the state EDSIEC so as to conduct a free and fair election.
He has equally expressed passion on the need to have Council chairmen that will stay in their domain and ensure the dividends of democracy to the people at the grass root.
Having made all these efforts and his visions for a truly democratic Local Government Council, Oshiomhole did not want to destroy his efforts with the crisis in the councils.
Consequently, he made swift effort to solve the brewing problem. Since last week Sunday, the governor has been holding marathon meetings with party leaders from the 18 Local Government Councils and settling crisis. Some times, the meeting lasted till 3am the next day.
He brought his wealth of wisdom, power of persuasion and his oratorial prowess to bear in settling these cases.
The people accepted his judgments after each decision is reached.
Though in trying to resolve the disagreements arising as a result of the coming chairmanship primaries of his party scheduled for today (Saturday 9th February 2013), some are seeing the governor as an emerging god father in the politics of the state.
People are particularly concerned recalling the fight against god fatherism which he embarked upon shortly after he was sworn in as governor. And in the state today, Oshiomhole can beat his chest to say he has retired many political god fathers who were calling the shots in the politics of the state while he was at the NLC.
But his handling of the disagreements in his party so far seems to have been very successful as protests by aggrieved party members seems to have stopped though there are still few cries of marginalization particularly in the Ijaw speaking areas.
A former militant leader in the state, Gen Ezekiel Akpasibewei, advised the leadership of the (ACN) in Ovia South West Local Government Council of the state, to share elective positions between the Binis and the Ijaws in the area in order to avoid crisis.
He regretted that though the Ijaws in the area have candidates for the chairmanship position, they decided to ask their aspirants to step down due to what he described as the ethnic politics that is being played in the area.
He urged the leadership of the ACN to take a cue from style of leadership of Governor Adams Oshiomhole who waged a war against ethnic politics during his governorship campaign, stressing that the Ijaws in the Council deserved to be given some positions because 'during the governorship election, all of us worked for the Comrade Governor and not only the Binis".
Akpasibewei who was the former leader of the deadly Under-dogs before he was granted amnesty, recalled that "we want the positions to be shared because we all worked equally during the governorship election and so all positions must be shared in order to avoid break down of law and order.
"For justice and equity, the governor is from Edo North while the deputy is from the South. So same is applicable to the politics of Ovia South West. The Ijaws of Ovia South West cannot only be remembered when there is work alone to do but must be part of the sharing process. We must discontinue the issue of tribal politics."
What we want is transformation and that is what the Comrade Governor is doing in the state. We are from the Ijaw axis and we also have aspirants but based on issues of tribal politics, we asked them to hold on while we see what will happen".
However, no matter how critics views Oshiomhole's handling of the internal issues of his party, he has succeeded in putting in place a political structure in the entire 18 Local Government Council which will enable him produce a successor of his choice in 2016.