Oshiomhole, Hosa Okunbo did not influence process – Source
It is no longer news that a faction of the Edo State chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, loyal to the national chairman of the party, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole recently produced a consensus governorship aspirant amongst the eight jostling for the ticket of the party to challenge incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki at the primary election scheduled for June 22, 2020. Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, and former secretary to the state government, was presented last week Tuesday, to Oshiomhole by a seven-man committee charged with the onerous task of producing an agreeable aspirant amongst the eminently qualified persons who had queued up for the number one position in the state. Like King Saul, Obaseki had been rejected by the ‘god’ who anointed him in his first coming, and despised by the foot soldiers that rallied round him to clinch the party’s ticket as and to win the governorship election. Unlike his first coming, Obaseki’s much coveted re-election this time around appears a pipe dream.
It is also common knowledge that Ize-Iyamu, accompanied by other contestants for the APC ticket, has since picked and returned his nomination form. Others who participated in the final selection process are former deputy governor, Pius Odubu, former minister of state for works, Chris Ogiemwonyi, an engineer, Charles Airhiavbere, retired army General, Ehiozuwa Johnson Agbonayinma, former member, House of Representatives, Ifaluyi Isibor, also a former member of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, Saturday Uwuilekhue and Ebegue Amadasun, a professor. Solomon Edebiri, a former ANPP governorship candidate, had withdrawn from the race hours before the screening exercise.
Unfortunately however, it is also an open secret that some of the aspirants have since gone back on their words to breach the terms of the agreement. Betraying the frailty in human nature, and proving that only God is a promise keeper and a covenant-keeping God, it did not come as a surprise that two of the aspirants who had for months committed themselves to the pact, have picked nomination forms. This development has rekindled hope in the camps of the two aspirants and lifted their hitherto dampened spirits more so when they believed that their principals deserved the slot.
Not a few of them were unhappy with Oshiomhole and some leaders of the party whom they accused of “imposing” Ize-Iyamu on them. Some alleged that other aspirants were coerced to step down for the former candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who gave the party a run for their money and federal might in the 2016 governorship election that brought Obaseki to power. Such is the discontent amongst loyalists of some of these aspirants that it sharply divided their ranks as some others believed they needed to read the body language of their principals who believe in party supremacy and loyalty.
However, contrary to reports that the seven aspirants stepped down for Ize-Iyamu, discreet investigation by Tell revealed that in order not to orchestrate a crack in the Oshiomhole political family, everything was done to make sure that the process was transparent, and manifestly so, to the contenders. The magazine exclusively gathered that the selection process was not just very rigorous, it was done in such a way that there was no room for compromise as staunch loyalists of some of the leading aspirants were included in the seven-man committee. Headed by Francis Alimikhena, senator representing Edo North senatorial district, membership of the committee included Cecil Esekhaigbe, a retired army General who was secretary, Lucky Imasuen, former deputy governor; Thomas Okosun, former speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, Samson Osagie, former minority whip in the House of Representatives, Patrick Obahiagbon, also a former member of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, and Peter Ohio Akpatason, deputy House Leader, House of Representatives.
In an exclusive details of how Ize-Iyamu came out tops in the contest, an inside source gave the magazine a blow-by-blow account of the process that threw up Ize-Iyamu and why all the aspirants accepted the outcome with equanimity. According to the inside source, “before I go into the nitty-gritty of the exercise, it’s important for me to mention two, three things to you. One, in an effort to build consensus, long before now, Comrade had invited each aspirant and asked them to suggest to him what is the pathway? There were about three different pathways considered. The first pathway was let all the aspirants meet amongst themselves and vote and agree on who will represent them. Whoever had a majority of the votes would be presented.
“Some of the aspirants agreed to that but some of them too did not agree. And you know when you are on this journey of consensus, everybody has to agree. Since, some aspirants didn’t agree with that, we had to jettison that. The second alternative was that they themselves told Comrade; we have confidence in you. You know all of us; you choose. Nominate from amongst us; anyone you nominate, we want to assure you we will work with that person. Comrade thanked them for the humongous confidence they have in him but he equally said to them that with that humongous confidence that they had reposed in him, it carried with it a very huge moral burden which is that how can you all say you have confidence in me, and you now want me to say that I have confidence in just only one out of seven or eight of you. So, Comrade did not excitedly give in to that suggestion”.
According to the very reliable source, “they themselves now said okay let Comrade put in place a committee. Whatever would be the decision of that committee, provided the people that are to be nominated into the committee are credible people, they would agree. So, Comrade said okay, that is fair enough. But he even went beyond that. Haven put in place the committee, before he announced to each of us that we had made the committee, he called each of the aspirants on phone and read the names of all the seven of us to them and requested of them that for the purpose of transparency, even though you gentlemen have given me powers to constitute the committee, I want to go beyond that. I am now asking you if there are any of these seven names you have any objections to, please let me know so that I can yank that person off and make a replacement and bring before you again. He did that individually with each of the aspirants and they all gave a vote of confidence to the members of the committee”. He explained that the point he was trying to make was that “the committee was jointly put by Comrade and the aspirants to the extent that it had their inputs”.
Reacting to allegations in some quarters that a billionaire business mogul, Idahosa Wells Okunbo sponsored Ize-Iyamu, with the connivance of Oshiomhole, the source dismissed the allegation, describing it as “a big fat lie”. An organisation that goes by the name South-south Buhari Anti-Corruption Group had in its reaction to Ize-Iyamu’s choice, warned Okunbo, who is the Chairman of Ocean Marine Ltd, “to stop ridiculing the state by supporting Ize-Iyamu”. It accused him of “plotting to turn Edo state to war zone”. In a statement by its president, one Imafidon Peter Odion, the group invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) to beam its light on Okunbo’s activities and the reason why he’s sponsoring “a man alleged to have partaken in under-developing Edo State”.
But debunking the allegation against Okunbo, the source insisted that as a matter of fact, only one of the aspirants, “and not Ize-Iyamu, I can boldly tell you that, who tried to move round the night before the screening to make some offer to majority of members of the committee”. According to him, the aspirant in question “was even basing his offer on if after the end of the exercise he’s the one that was given, this is what is going to be his offer. And all the members he spoke to said to him, my brother, you don’t need this. If everybody begins to move round the way you are moving round, then it will compromise the integrity of this panel”.
He disclosed that “he was not even moving with cash actually which meant that he himself was not even sure of himself and he was not ready too to take the gamble of throwing cash around before the exercise. He was just saying that on my honour and on my words, I’m offering this if I am the one that is given the chance. That at the end of the day, in less than 12 hours, I will send this after the announcement; and everybody told him, my brother, no deal because we compared notes.
“When he went to the first place, before he moved to the second place, the first person he went to had called all of us to say this gentle man has just come here and this is what he’s saying, and like we agreed, this is what I said to him. Before he now moved round to every place, unknown to him, we already knew he was moving and we already knew what he was saying”. The magazine gathered that because of the composition of the committee, it would have been impossible to influence the result in favour of a particular aspirant. According to another source who spoke to the magazine, “for some of us, everybody already knew where we stood. I think it’s about three or four of us that are somehow neutral”.
Osagie, for instance, was identified with Odubu; Okosun is a known Ogiemwonyi loyalist, while Akpatason had been linked to Ize-Iyamu. So, the question therefore is would these persons betray their principals in favour of another aspirant? “So that was why such a thing was not possible in the first instance”, the source said. It was learnt that of the “seven wise men”, four of them namely Esekhaigbe, Alimikhena, Obahiagbon, and Imasuen who had not really taken sides.
This is however not the first time, Okunbo would be a victim of such an unsubstantiated allegation. Following a botched shadow-election to pick a consensus candidate, one Sebastian Okungbowa, in a post mortem of the exercise, had blamed Okunbo, Oshiomhole, and a national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu for being responsible for the failed exercise because of their alleged support for a particular aspirant, Ize-Iyamu. Okungbowa who was evidently a supporter of Odubu, one of the leading aspirants then, had particularly fingered Okunbo as “the unseen hand”. Odubu however promptly tendered an unreserved apology to the trio for being so accused. Interestingly, Ize-Iyamu appears to be a threat and common political foe to both the Obaseki faction of the party and some members of the coalition of aspirants.
However in a swift reaction to the publication Okunbo, a retired commercial pilot, in a personally signed statement titled “Edo 2020: Capt. Hosa Speaks: Smear Campaign, Mud-slinging, and Character Assassination – Please Leave Me Alone!!” Okunbo, said “My attention has, once again, been drawn to the attempt by some unscrupulous person (s) to drag my name into the murky politics of the forthcoming Edo governorship polls, scheduled for later this year. It is, from all intents and purposes, infantile, silly and odious. It is the height of mischief and evil to drag a man who has been quietly minding his business into the political arena, which he has chosen to distance himself from. One of such malicious write- ups sprang up in the aftermath of the alleged botched shadow primaries to pick a consensus candidate among APC aspirants, seeking to challenge the incumbent Governor, His Excellency, Mr. Godwin Obaseki”.
Debunking the allegations, Okunbo said the truth of the matter, as he had restated several times, was that he was neither involved nor a participant in the processes of the primaries or picking aspirants in the Edo governorship 2020 elections. He denied having an anointed aspirant or aspirants, adding that he had not pledged or promised to bankroll any aspirant. “I do not have free or idle funds to bankroll any aspirant(s). I am a businessman minding his business! For the purpose of clarity and setting the records straight, and to respond to the spurious charges of the malicious write-up under reference, I wish to state as follows: 1. I have a close relationship with all the aspirants in the Edo governorship race. First, the governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, is a friend and brother. We are supporting him in the discharge of his electoral mandate. 2. Engineer Ogiemwonyi is my elder brother. I organized a party for him in Benin City when he retired from the NNPC. So, he’s someone I have a relationship with. 3. Dr. Pius Odubu is a brother and friend. I also have a relationship with. 4. Pastor Osagie is a friend and a younger brother; also ditto the other aspirants. So, it is absolutely nonsensical to say that I attempted to manipulate the shadow primaries for a preferred candidate. It is mischief taken too far!” Okunbo posited.
Apologising profusely to the APC leaders indicted in the contentious write-up by Okungbowa, an obviously embarrassed Odubu in a personally signed statement, said “My attention has been drawn to a misleading story trending on the APC social media platform casting aspersions on very prominent and highly respected members of our society trying to connect them with the recent happenings in our party. I wish to state categorically state that I have no hand in this and neither did I authorize such a despicable write up. Captain Hosa Okunbo, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu and our National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole are men of impeccable character and I have uttermost respect for all of them”.
Disowning the writer, Odubu warned that “Nobody should under any guise associate me with anything that would cast aspersion on their hard-earned reputation. For the embarrassment this might have caused them, I offer my sincere apologies. Please let it be known that the said author is not known to me neither does he have my authority to do what he did. I wish to state categorically that I did not authorize this piece directly or through any of my agents that was intended to cast aspersions on the integrity and highly-earned reputations of the leaders under reference”. Contacted to react to the present allegation against him, Okunbo said he stood by his earlier position as contained in his statement.
But contrary to alleged imposition or skewing of the process to arrive at a predetermined outcome, an unimpeachable source briefed the magazine on how the screening was conducted. According to the source, “We asked about seven to eight questions and every member of the panel had a spread-sheet; four of the questions were graded 10 percent, the other four questions were graded 15, 15 per cent. So, if you calculate four questions at 10 per cent, that’s 40, and you calculate the other four 15 per cent, that is 60 so, that gives you a 100 per cent. So, each of the members of that committee graded each aspirant one to 10 per cent in those four questions, and one to 15 percent for the other four questions. After the exercise, we surrendered our spread sheet to the chairman of the committee and what all of us needed to do now was to look at it, take a look at Uwuilekhue for example, in those eight questions, if I gave him 40 per cent, and if Okosun gave him 20 per cent, that is 60; if Osagie gave him 10%, that’s 70. So, that was how we got the highest scores – number one, number two, number three.
“And what were these questions? One, what is your understanding of Edo State? It is important for me to let you know that before they came in, we had allocated these eight questions amongst ourselves. So, the question that was allocated to me was the question I asked all the aspirants. The question that was allocated to Osagie he asked all the aspirants. The second question was what is your winning strategy to deliver victory to APC in Edo State? Another question which was question number three was what are your developmental strategies to pull Edo State out of the current political, economic, social decay? Are you going to continue the trajectory of MoUs; signing MoUs all over the world? Then if not, what are your own developmental strategies?
“I think the fourth question was if you have served before in a public office or you have been into private life, how did you touch the lives of your people? And good enough, all of them have served in public office. So, apart from using government resources where you worked, or had served, what have you personally done for your people? Then the fifth question was the public service being the silent bulwark for driving your developmental agenda, are you satisfied with the bureaucracy in Edo State as it is currently? If not, what reforms do you intend to bring about to ensure they key in proactively to what your agenda are?
“Then the sixth question was about community service. All of you come from your respective communities. How have you positively affected your community? Then the seventh question was there are stakeholders in this electoral process; we heard that a resident electoral commissioner, REC, has recently been posted to Edo State and it is election you are going for. What is the name of this REC that has been newly posted to Edo State? That came under current affairs. That question was posed to each of them and I can emphatically say to you that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the only person who was able to answer that question out of all of them. Most of them did not even know that we have a new REC. But admittedly, I must say that that REC just came into the state about three, four days before they faced the interview panel. But again, it speaks to how friendly they are with the electoral environment. At least somebody was able to answer it”.
Against the backdrop of the circumstances surrounding the present face-off with Obaseki that had factionalised the party, the last question could have been anticipated by the aspirants. According to our source, “the last question was that the governor rode on the crest of the support from the party, and as soon as he got into power, he estranged himself from the party. How are you going to be able to bring about harmonious balance between carrying the party leadership and followership along without necessarily endangering your constitutional obligations to the citizens of Edo State? Are you going to be able to bring about developmental projects and at the same time, you are still able to carry your party leaders and followers along?
“Those were the eight questions that were asked all of them and I can tell you in confidence that all of us who sat down, maintaining social distancing, nobody influenced anybody in the marks we were giving to each of the persons. I scored all of them based on my appreciation of their replies; and the same thing everybody did. We made a total submission on the individual percentage we allocated to each of them in each of the questions and Osagie-Ize-Iyamu came first, Ogiemwonyi came second, to our own surprise; we thought Odubu was going to come second. And Odubu came third.
“Because we were basically concerned with first, second, third, I cannot really tell what the order is like regarding the others. When we called them together to announce the results, we just left it at first, second, third, and without necessarily disclosing the scores because we were trying to manage the process of consensus without necessarily injuring the ego of each of the aspirants. We just imagined that it’s already sufficient that you have told an aspirant that he did not emerge the winner; to come and let him know that somebody scored 400 and he was scoring 100 is like you are hurting him the more”. The source volunteered that as soon as the exercise was concluded, the papers were incinerated.
And to ensure that everyone was satisfied with the process and outcome, the magazine was told that each of the aspirants was asked to make a speech and they all agreed. He further explained that “Before the screening started, the first question we were mandated to ask each of them was we learnt that you said you had confidence in this committee, but something must have changed between when Comrade asked you and now. Do you still have confidence in this committee? Will you abide by the outcome? They all said yes.
“So, when we announced the results to them, we told them to make a speech, and all of them said they were going to abide by the decision. And Pastor now requested that to demonstrate their commitment, he would be happy if they all accompany him to go and collect the nomination form the next day and everybody joined him to collect the nomination form apart from Odubu who called in to say that certain family matters came up and was unable to join them. The very next day, of course, he sent his congratulatory message to Pastor and brought his campaign manager, Idahagbon and some of his supporters to come and sign his nomination form; he too equally signed the nomination form. All the aspirants signed the nomination form”.
With the new twist in the tale however, it remains to be seen how it all pans out. As of Wednesday June 3, 2020, there are now six aspirants now jostling for the Edo APC ticket. And in view of the seeming collapse of the consensus arrangement in the Oshiomhole political family, Obaseki now has not just Ize-Iyamu to contend with, but also Ogiemwonyi Odubu, Osaro Obazee and Mathew Iduoriyekemwen.