Nigeria: Oshiomhole vs Obaseki - Inside Feud Tearing APC Apart

One year to the governorship election in Edo State, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is already split into two factions, following the crisis pundits say erupted over who gets the party ticket for the 2020 gubernatorial election. The splintering of the party, it was gathered, was as a result of the proxy war between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is currently National Chairman of the ruling APC.

One faction is loyal to Oshiomhole, while the other is loyal to Obaseki.

The cold war between the duo is also traced to Oshiomhole loyalists who are said to have been protesting against alleged unfair treatment by the current governor after the departure of Oshiomhole from Government House, Benin.

Interestingly, Obaseki was the head of Oshiomhole's economic team during his tenure. The incumbent governor, who was not in the group of those fighting for the party ticket in the build-up to 2016, was single-handedly made the flagbearer of the party by Oshiomhole against many odds.

The governor faced serious challenges at the primary election from the former deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, Osarodion Ogie, former minister of works, Engr. Chris Ogienwonyi, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, and Kenneth Imasuagbon, among others.

Many party chieftains also rejected Obaseki because he was said to be perceived as someone who might bend to their whim and caprices.

But Oshiomhole, it was gathered, used his power as the state governor and his oratory skill to arm-twist party chieftains. Some of the contestants eventually stepped down and supported his preferred and 'anointed' candidate.

In line with Oshiomhole's permutation, Obaseki emerged the candidate of the APC and defeated the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, at the poll.

Strikingly, as soon as Obaseki was sworn-in as the governor, he introduced new rules and regulations on access to Government House.

The new rules banned politicians who have no business at the Osadebe House, making a place that hitherto became a Mecca of sorts for politicians during Oshiomole's administration to suddenly turn to a no-go area.

House of cards

Obaseki was said to have told the party chieftains and foot soldiers of Oshiomhole that he remained a technocrat who believed that the allocation to the state and its internally-generated revenue were meant for the development of the state, and not for sharing among politicians.

Among the politicians and foot soldiers of Oshiomhole who fell to the new order, is ex-youth leader of the party, Osakpamwan Eriyo, who was remanded in prison for three months.

Tony Kabaka, who was seen as the leader of the youths in the state, was not spared in the new order, as he was removed as revenue collector on behalf of the state government.

Osakpamwan, who was also a revenue collector on behalf of the state government and the state chairman of the Road Transport Employee Association of Nigerian (RTEAN), lost his chairmanship position and the job as revenue collector.

The development was said to have angered Oshiomhole, as most of the party chieftains have continued to flood his house to seek assistance instead of meeting the governor to take care of them.

Daily Trust Saturday also learnt that the governor's alleged refusal to put the newly-commissioned Central Hospital to use almost three years after commissioning is one of his sins. The situation was said to have prompted the former governor to ask some of his associates, including Odubu, retired general Airhiavbere, and Ogiewonyi to be warming up for the primary election as possible replacement.

Daily Trust Saturday gathered that despite Obaseki's unhappiness that Oshiomhole still dictates the pace, he maintained silence with the hope that when his master became the APC national chairman, he would face national politics.

Based on this belief, Obaseki is said to have supported Oshiomhole against his tribal man, John Odigie-Oyegun, who was seeking a second term.

At this stage, the duo is still denying the report of a frosty relationship, but the ice looked solid during the 2019 national and the state house of assembly elections.

While Obaseki wanted to have his loyalists at the Assembly to secure his second term bid, Oshiomhole is said to have preferred his loyalists. Insiders say the former governor's move was seen as a plot to stop Obaseki from getting the party's ticket for a second term.

The tussle over who will produce candidates in the state assembly resulted in the cancellation of the initial primary election organised by the national body of the party. A fresh one was conducted.

A clear example of the cold war unfolded in Akoko-Edo federal constituency, where the former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kabir Adjoto, hails from. The former governor wanted Peter Akpatason, while Governor Obaseki was favourably disposed to the assembly speaker. But in the end, Akpatason got the ticket.

The same scenario played out in Oredo federal constituency, where Oshiomhole wanted Osaro Obazee, while Obaseki preferred Osaigbovo Iyokha. In the end, Iyokha secured the ticket, while Obazee got the state assembly ticket.

The removal of former speaker of Edo State Assembly, Alhaji Adjoto, and his replacement with Victor Edoro, who was his deputy, was linked to the raging war between the two political titans. Interestingly, Edoro was also impeached and suspended by some of his loyalists from attending the plenary before the expiration of the last legislature.

Genesis of an exodus

Political analysts say the decision of state government to specifically commend the people of Edo State for the performance during the 2019 presidential election because President Muhammadu Buhari garnered more votes than those of 2015 is a clear sign of the sour relationship between Obaseki and Oshiomhole.

During his thanksgiving at the Omega Fire Ministry after the 2019 election, Obaseki said many people were unhappy with him because he was working for the ordinary people of Edo. "The people will remain my priority despite the fact that some people wanted me to do otherwise. I will use the money to serve the people, because governance is about the people," he said.

The cold war has now shifted to the new State House of Assembly, leading to the delay in the inauguration for one week as members-elect have been split into factions. The crisis over the leadership of the house has further divided the party and members-elect into two camps.

There are 24 members-elect in the assembly. Out of this number, 19 members-elect were said to be loyal to Oshiomhole, while the remaining six were loyal to Obaseki.

Oshiomole, it was gathered, is disposed to Victor Edoro to become Speaker, while Obaseki is rooting for Frank Okiye, who he believes will serve his interest.

The governor's supporters believe that, if a loyalist of the ruling party's national chairman emerges speaker, then the Obaseki's days as governor are numbered, and his second term ambition, shaky.

Edoro, who is allegedly being projected by Oshiomhole, is said to be unhappy with the governor because he purportedly linked his impeachment as speaker and deputy speaker during the 6th assembly to him.

Following the raging crisis, nine members believed to be loyal to Governor Obaseki were inaugurated by the Clerk of the house, Yahaya Omogbai, after the governor had transmitted a letter of proclamation to the House.

Three days after, two other members-elect were sworn-in bringing the total number of Obaseki's loyalists in the house to nine.

The members-elect believed to be loyalists of Oshiomohle held a press conference where they described the inauguration as 'kangaroo-like'. They retreated to a hotel to strategise on their next move, but were attacked by political thugs.

As the controversy over the house inauguration continues to take its toll on the party, constituents of the members-elect who have not been inaugurated on account of the fight between the 'godson and godfather' have been threatening to recall them. Many of the members-elect, it was gathered, have run to Abuja apparently to avoid embarrassment from their constituents.

The APC, in its quick reaction, flayed the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly through its National Publicity Secretary Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu as a charade.

Issa-Onilu said, "There is no dispute about the fact that nine people were involved in it. There is no dispute about the fact that what took place, took place at 9.30pm. So, what is there to listen to?

"Furthermore, there is no dispute about the fact that the proclamation was not published. The constitution says you should publish and inform all members. So, this is not something you need to do an investigation. The point is, was the law followed, or was it not followed?

In the first statement on the issue, the APC spokesman called on Governor Obaseki to urgently do the needful by issuing a proper letter of proclamation to allow for the lawful inauguration of the state assembly and subsequent election of presiding officers in a transparent manner.

Issa-Onilu, who said the party viewed the 'illegality' with shock and disappointment, added that a situation where nine lawmakers in the 24-member Edo State House of Assembly were secretly 'inaugurated' and purportedly 'elect' principal officers behind closed doors was a joke and an embarrassment.

The APC National Chairman, who spoke on the issue at two different occasions, said he is ashamed of the development in his home state.

While speaking to State House reporters in Abuja, Oshiomhole said, "You know the law provides for how the House should be proclaimed transparently the day it's announced, members-elect are informed of date and time for inauguration. These are clearly spelt out in the Nigerian constitution. Business of parliament is done transparently; they are not a secret cult."

While speaking on the development, a former national chairman of the party and Oshiomhole's predecessor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, accused his successor of being the brain behind the travails of Governor Obaseki.

Odigie-Oyegun, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Political Affairs, Chief Ray Murphy, said the crisis rocking Edo State House of Assembly arose from the actions of a 'godfather' trying to overheat the polity. He said the action of Oshiomhole, who was distracting the governor of Edo State, could be likened to anti-party activities. "To what purpose is this idea of the APC chairman putting the state under tension?

"As a governor on the APC platform, he should be allowed to run out his tenure before they decide whether to bring him back or not... .Ask anybody from Edo state, what is Obaseki's biggest distraction and they will tell you that his distraction is not whether he has governed well or not, but from his immediate predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.

"It is very unfortunate, especially considering the fact that he is the national chairman of the same party with the governor. I have not heard that PDP or Edo leaders want to remove Obaseki. What has been trending is how his predecessor who happens to be the party chairman does not want him back in the office."

On his part, a chieftain of the party, Charles Idahosa, attributed the crisis in the APC to the role of 'godfather' being played by Oshiomhole.

"Oshiomhole brought Governor Obaseki to us and told us that he was the engine of his administration. And today, Governor Obaseki has lived up to our expectations and he has actually exceeded the expectations of millions of Edo people.

"Oshiomhole chose the deputy governor, Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu, he imposed all the commissioners on Governor Obaseki and chose the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion. So, what is Oshiomhole denying?

"In fact, Oshiomhole brought Anselm Ojezua, the state party chairman, he brought the secretary of the party, Mr Lawrence Okah, he controls the party and everything. Oshiomhole wants to turn himself into a small emperor here and we will not accept that. What more proof does the former governor need to accept that he is playing the role of a godfather in Edo?"

However, a former state publicity secretary of the APC, Comrade Godwin Erhahon, described the crisis as very painful, and embarrassing. He blamed Governor Obaseki for the crisis which he said had created tension not only in the state, but also in the party. "The party has been run for a long time now in a manner that cannot promote the ideal that will sustain the party. It is too early for whether Obaseki will contest or not to generate the kind tension in the party that is generating now. But unfortunately, Obaseki himself, to the best of my knowledge, is the cause of the crisis because he has been able to establish himself as a man filled with hatred and ego.

"Obaseki has been very hostile to all those who didn't support him during the primary and has refused to even recognise them as leaders in the party. As a good politician, immediately you emerged in the primary, you forget all the acrimonies and bring everybody on board. But you relegate them, there is no way, they will not struggle for relevance in the system."

Erhahon, who said the crisis would not have degenerated if the governor had not been hostile to many people, added that there seemed to be no end to the political logjam because leaders who ought to broker peace had also been compromised. He said those who misled the governor had also become the victims of his hostilities.

"Not all those who are supporting Oshiomhole are against Obaseki, but because he has desperately made leaders irrelevant in the party and now that another primary election is coming, they want to prove their relevance in the system.

"Ordinarily, people would have been happier and support Obaseki as payback to Oshiomhole. If he had played his cards well, by not alienating himself from party leaders, it would have been difficult for anyone to support Oshiomhole," he added.

On his part, a chieftain of the APC, who preferred anonymity, blamed Oshiomhole for the crisis. He said the APC boss' action regarding his foot soldiers was making things difficult for Governor Obaseki. He said the decision to take the collection of revenue in the markets and parks away from those being regarded as 'Oshiomhole boys' and return it to the local government workers was one of the major undoings of the governor. He said intense pressure was being mounted of the governor to return the task to them, an idea he rejected because of lack of transparency and accountability.

Will Obaseki lose the battle?

Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the Governor Obaseki might sail through the currently turbulent political waters, as he still has the support of key APC leaders, including Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Another factor pundits cite is the fact that the APC national chairman may not be able to sustain two battles at the same time.

Oshiomhole's leadership style was recently called to question by the top echelon of the party, critical stakeholders, aggrieved leaders, most especially his second-in-command from the northern part of the country, Senator Lawal Shuaibu, who asked him to resign for lacking "the necessary composure, capabilities and the requisite experience to run a political Party." His saving grace, Daily Trust Saturday gathered, is the solid support of President Buhari and Tinubu.

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