Edo in Crisis: Oshiomhole – Obaseki Showdown Reaches Breaking Point

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With the latest development in the Edo State House of Assembly, where the exchange of hostilities between Governor Godwin Obaseki and the national chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, was actually kick-started, it is now obvious that the political mind-games have reached a point of no return; after efforts at fence mending by stakeholders, including the clergy, hit the rocks. The setback follows Wednesday’s decision by Edo Speaker, Frank Okiye to vacant the seats of 12 legislators-elect loyal to Oshiomhole, thereby worsening the tenuous political situation in the state.

Deputy House Speaker, Yekini Idiaye, told reporters that the resolution was reached at the plenary; and listed the seats that were declared vacant as follows: Etsako West I, Etsako West II, Owan East, Owan West, Etsako Central, Etsako East, and Esan Central; Uhunmwonde, Oredo East, Oredo West, Egor, Ovia North East I, Ovia North East II and Ovia southwest I. Idiaye explained that the House of Assembly also vacated the seats of two other members from Oredo East and Owan East, who were sworn-in, but failed to meet the mandatory 181-day sitting requirement for members in a legislative calendar year. The other 12 recalcitrant lawmakers-elect, were yet to be inaugurated since the proclamation of the House.

It would be recalled that the Speaker had, during the 50th-anniversary thanksgiving of the Deputy Governor, Phillip Shaibu, pleaded with the absentee lawmakers-elect to present themselves for inauguration so they could serve their constituents. However, two days after the call and with no apparent sign of the dissenters in the state, who are believed to be in Abuja, the Assembly moved to declare their seats vacant.

Things Fall Apart
In his homily at the 50th anniversary thanksgiving of Shaibu, the Archbishop of Benin Archdiocese and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Dr. Augustine Akubeze, urged Obaseki to mend fences with Oshiomhole. Archbishop Akubeze appealed for an end to the political crises rocking the state, especially within APC, adding that the crisis does not benefit political leaders and the masses. He appealed to Governor Obaseki and Oshiomhole to bring down the walls of divisions and work together for the people of the state, declaring: “Let there be an end to the fractions and suspension of leaders in APC. A few selfish people benefit from conflicts. Overheating of the political space has to stop.”

In his response, Obaseki said he had always heeded the prelate’s calls to make peace with the APC national chairman, recalling: “The last time I was in this church was during the 80th birthday of our elder statesman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. To tell you how seriously we take your views, I went to Iyamho with members of my cabinet and political party to pursue peace. I want to assure you that we will continue to pursue peace. We have been in this situation for more than six months and it is very difficult to change people’s views.”

Ever since the crisis of confidence between the governor and his predecessor broke out, Obaseki has maintained that his administration would continue to explore all avenues towards resolving the crisis rocking the state’s chapter of APC. He however, noted that it had become increasingly difficult for members of Edo APC to accept that godfatherism is good for Nigerian politics, stressing, “If we said 12 years ago that godfatherism is not good for our politics, 12 years after, it is difficult for us to change and accept that godfatherism is now good.”

Anatomy of a crisis
For Edo APC, 2019 would go down as the annus horribilis, characterized by incidences that continue to threaten the party’s chances as it prepares for the 2020 governorship poll. Although signs of the schism between Obaseki and Oshiomhole were clearly visible during the primaries preceding the 2019 general election, the cold war exploded in full glare after the May 29, 2019 inauguration of a new dispensation.
The rift has left both men and their supporters drawing their daggers and bracing for a fight. Both camps are flexing their muscles ahead of the APC gubernatorial primaries during which the factions for and against the re-election bid of Obaseki would clash. As the immediate past Edo governor, Oshiomhole is known to wield enormous power in Edo State. Some APC leaders and supporters loyal to Obaseki have criticized Oshiomhole for his underground plots to deny Obaseki a second term in office.

But while residents support Obaseki for delivering on his mandate, others are of the view that Oshiomhole is merely overheating the polity to satisfy his supporters and sustain the impression that he has not only become a godfather but a strongman in the politics of Edo state. Most of those who are against the national chairman allege Oshiomhole wants to fill the political vacuum left by the late Tony Annenih, who, until his demise, was the most influential Edo politician, even though he was a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national leader.

With the battle lines drawn, the first salvo was fired in the Edo House of Assembly after Oshiomhole loyalists staged a failed political ambush against Obaseki, with a view to attempting an impeachment of the governor. The crisis has left the State Assembly in tatters in the last six months, from June 17, 2019, when the legislature was controversially inaugurated at nocturnal hours.

In a swift attempt to intervene and save the situation, the leadership of the National Assembly sent a mediation team to Edo state, but the team returned to Abuja empty-handed because the 24-member legislature remains unsettled. Not minding that all 24 members were elected on the APC platform, the Assembly has been divided, with nine members formally inaugurated and presently representing their constituents; while the others are yet to appear for inauguration.

As the crisis intensified, Obaseki loyalists called out Oshiomhole; accusing him of anti-party activities and blame him for fanning the flames of the crisis rocking Edo APC. It was this group that instigated the suspension of Oshiomhole, ostensibly to move the party forward. Accordingly, APC ward chairmen including those from Oshiomhole’s hometown of Etsako West LGA; by Aruna Ozamah, Abass Yakubu and eight others, said, “In view of the attempt to polarize the party across the twelve (12) wards in Etsako West Local Government Area, we, the ward chairmen, hereby pass a vote of no confidence on Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole and resolve to suspend him from the party today, Wednesday, 6 November 2019. Having been dissatisfied with his conduct, members wholly agreed and we hereby suspend him for anti-party activity and his attempt to factionalize the party in the local government and the state.”

A fight to the finish
Predictably, Oshiomhole’s supporters condemned the alleged suspension, describing those behind the move as a political jobbers and paid hirelings on the payroll of the Edo State Government. Oshiomhole’s supporters and foot soldiers also accused the rival group sympathetic to Obaseki’s second term bid of alleged anti-party activities and divisive tendencies in the state.

Leader of Ward 12, Alhaji SMO Momoh, who faulted the suspension of Oshiomhole, said the suspension was not only illegal but willfully done to malign Oshiomhole ahead of the APC National Executive Council meeting called by the party’s National Working Committee headed by Oshiomhole. In a resolution at an enlarged meeting of ward leaders and stakeholders at Ikabigbo said Oshiomhole’s courage and fairness as well as his insistence on party supremacy and adherence to the rule of law have reformed APC and set the party on the path of progress, orderliness, and widespread acceptance.
Momoh said: “We hereby dissociate ourselves from such illegal suspension and pass a vote of confidence on the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, for his quality leadership. We the entire Ward 12 members dissociate ourselves from the purported adoption and endorsement of Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu as party flag bearers for the 2020 gubernatorial election in the state.

“We noticed with dismay the divisive tactics of the ward Chairman Alhaji Aruna Ozamah and other disgruntled collaborators, including John Igenegbai, Mohammed Zibiri, Benjamin Ojietu, Abibat Yakubu, and Isah Abu. They have constituted themselves to deploy arrogance, antiparty, and destructive behaviours.

“The Ward Chairman collaborated with the persons above to allegedly suspend four foremost leaders of the ward without any cause. They also participated in endorsing the purported suspension of APC National Chairman Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. They further participated in the paid endorsement of Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu as flag bearers of the party in the 2020 Edo State governorship election, which campaign has not been approved by INEC.

“All these actions are without the approval of the ward executives and the entire Ward 12 members. The ward can no longer tolerate their breach of the electoral law, antiparty activities, disloyalty, destructive behaviours and the unruly practices of the above-mentioned political traducers in our ward; hence the decision to suspend them.

“So, the Ward Chairman Alhaji Aruna Ozamah and his collaborators Messrs. John Igenegbai, Mohammed Zibiri, Benjamin Ojietu, Abibat Yakubu and Isah Abu are hereby suspended from the party’s activities and as members of the ward with immediate effect. We also condemn and disown all their purported actions that are inimical to the progress and unity of the party and the ward.

“The meeting also passed a vote of no confidence on the State Deputy Chairman of APC, Mr. Kenneth Asekomhe and a member of the ward for his inefficiency, naivety and collaboration to suspend the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. His behaviour and actions were personal and not a true representation of Ward 12. Hence the decision to suspend him and he is hereby suspended from the party. We also unanimously disown and dissociate the ward from his actions.”

In the coming days, it would become clear who, between Obaseki and Oshiomhole camps, would blink first following the apparent dismissal of the lawmakers-elect loyal to the national chairman.