Membership of the 49-man All Progressives Congress, APC, National Campaign Council for Edo State Governorship Election headed by the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje announced on Thursday by the Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the party is ruffling feathers among party faithful, with some expressing misgivings over the inclusion of two former governors of Edo State who are known sympathizers of the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the September 19, 2020 governorship poll.
The list is made up of some serving and former governors in the country, serving and former members of the National Assembly, notably the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, former governorship aspirants of the party in the state, amongst others. The Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma is the deputy chairman while Abbas Braimoh will serve as Secretary of the APC National Campaign Council. A statement signed by Yekini Nabena, deputy national publicity secretary of the party said the constitution of the Campaign Council followed its approval by the National Chairman of the APC Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee, Mai Mala Buni, the governor of Yobe State. The campaign council, according to Nabena, will be inaugurated on Monday July 6, 2020 at the party’s national secretariat. Incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki would once again in this year’s governorship election, face Osagie Ize-Iyamu, his major challenger in the 2016 poll, this time, switching political parties.
The inclusion of two former governors of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, former national chairman of the party, and Oserhiemen Osunbor, a professor of law, in the APC campaign team, is however raising eye brows and causing apprehension within the party. It is public knowledge that while Odigie-Oyegun is an Obaseki apologist, Osunbor though once betrayed which side of the divide he belonged in the heat of the Obaseki/Adams Oshiomhole feud, had tried to retrace his step to present a neutral position. Those expressing reservations over their appointments, feared that they could be moles in the campaign council knowing where their allegiances are.
Following Obaseki’s disqualification from participating in the governorship primary election of the APC, Odigie-Oyegun was quoted to have encouraged the governor to pursue his second-term ticket in the PDP. “I welcome most warmly the news that the incumbent governor is already on the verge of announcing his defection to PDP. Should he announce it, I will give him all the needed support,” the former APC national chairman reportedly stated. That is why Akhigbe-agge Ojo Emmanuel, a prophet and member of the party, believed that unless a proper reconciliation was done Odigie-Oyegun may not work for Osagie Ize-Iyamu to be governor. “I know His Excellency, the former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and I know that when he takes a stand, it is difficult to change his mind. It is in public glare that he’s standing with Obaseki; he’s a pro-Obaseki person. So, unless proper reconciliation is done, I doubt if he will work for the emergence of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the governor.
Osunbor, on his part, was surprisingly one of the APC leaders in the South-south zone who rallied round the then embattled Obaseki on March 12 when he showed up at a controversial South-south APC leaders meeting in Abuja called by the governor to oust the immediate past national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole . He joined the likes of known adversaries of Oshiomhole namely Rotimi Amaechi, transportation minister, Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour and employment, Senator Ndoma Egba, former senator, Domingo Obende from Edo State. This was in Even after the national vice chairman of the party in the zone, Hilliard Eta had directed leaders not to attend the meeting as Obaseki had no power to convene it.
Akhigbe-agge who sees Osunbor as sitting on the fence, noted that he had not made any statement regarding Ize-Iyamu’s emergence, “So, I think it is very, very important, if we don’t want to be sentimental, to do it right, there should be proper reconciliation so that these people will see APC as their party, and will now work for their party not the other way round.
Another source who preferred not to be named however argued that their appointments could be of no consequence to the campaign. “What can they do? They cannot frustrate the efforts. Whatever they are doing now, it will even help ridicule them because they are going to mount the rostrum. They will speak. They have no choice. When people now see that they are in the campaign, it will support our case. But if they refused to participate, that would be a clear case of anti-party activity for which they can be sanctioned”, the source stated.
Former attorney-general and commissioner for justice in the state, Henry Idahagbon, aligned himself with this view. Describing the national campaign council as “a formidable and winning list,” Idahagbon posited that “With the caliber of people there, the party is sure of victory on September 19. We are waiting for the state campaign council to be constituted and we are good to go”. Commenting on the reservation by many party members about some of the names on the list, he said “Yes, the major ones are that of Oyegun and Osunbor. I believe it’s an attempt by the party to extend a hand of fellowship to the two former governors. How they react, how they participate in the campaign council will determine whether or not they are still members of the party or that they have followed Obaseki to the PDP”.
According to Idahagbon, “For me, it was a tactical move by Governor Mai Buni of Yobe State and I think it should be applauded. So, let us see their reaction; let us see whether they will accept to serve, and let’s see how well they are serving, or let us see whether they will turn it down. For example, if they turn it down and refuse to serve, it means they are no longer members of the party. So, for me, it’s a tactical and well thought-out political move”.
But as far as the former publicity secretary of the party in the state, Godwin Erhahon is concerned, “Nobody should be scared by the inclusion of the two former governors – Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor in our Edo State APC campaign council”. Erhahon, a former state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, asserted that “The fact that they supported Obaseki during the pre-nomination process doesn’t mean that they are against APC. And their presence in the council is also an eloquent testimony of the fact that our candidate had been duly nominated and that our cause against Obaseki is just”.
Osunbor would however not be dragged into the argument, telling the magazine on phone on Friday that “I cannot be reacting to people expressing their personal opinion. Why don’t you wait and see what happens. People say all kinds of things”.