By the nature of their profession, politicians, generally, are scoundrels, with only very few exceptions. They are instinctively dishonest and thrive in brinkmanship. Oftentimes of the most extreme kind. They are like the chameleon that changes its colour anytime to match its current location. For the politician, it’s to fit his immediate interest, which is always about him.
Because they are severely challenged ethically, principles are tradable in a market populated by crooks and driven by a zero-sum game. I must win. You must lose. For me to win, I’ve to make sure you lose by employing all the tricks in the disreputable book of politics. One of the tricks is deploying all arsenal, including breaking all the rules and flaunting all the laws to neutralize you.
That is what is playing out in the All Progressives Congress’, APC, endless civil war in Edo State. Adams Oshiomhole, the party’s national chairman, former governor and aspiring godfather of Edo politics, is pitched against Governor Godwin Obaseki, his former close associate and now number one political enemy who must be vanquished at all costs.
Oshiomhole is offended by Obaseki’s temerity of wanting to be his own man. So, he wants to teach him a lesson in political warfare by denying him a second term as governor. The chance to do so is presented by the governorship primary election scheduled for June 23. Using his position of national chairman to his advantage, Oshiomhole got the party’s National Working Committee to do his bidding. The NWC decided that the governorship candidate would be selected in a direct primary election. Which, of course, makes for easy manipulation of the results.
Obaseki and his supporters are pushing back against that plan and have declared it a non-starter. For one, they say, the party has no authentic register of all its members in the state. And they are asking how a direct primary election can be held without it being a free-for-all and producing a dubious outcome. They are also accusing the NWC of usurping the exclusive power of the party’s National Executive Committee to decide what kind of primary can be held to select the candidate.
Both sides are entrenched in their positions and not ready to shift. That means there will be no room for any compromise. The Edo People’s Movement made up of Oshiomhole’s supporters, and the faction of the party that the national chairman unilaterally created, are rooting for what their leader wants.
But Obaseki and his supporters, who claim to control the authentic APC, are having none of that. They have vowed to resist “all attempts by Abuja”, a euphemism for Oshiomhole, to impose his will on the party and the state.
Their position has been validated by the intervention of John Odigie-Oyegun, first governor of the state and Oshiomhole’s immediate predecessor as national chairman. Said Odigie-Oyegun in a statement he issued last week on the party’s roiling crisis in Edo: “The persons in the leadership of the party at the centre, who are part of the contrived crisis in Edo State must not even remotely be allowed to plan, participate or supervise the primary election.”
He advised the party to give Obaseki and Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State first offer of refusal to be the candidates as incumbent governors of their state. Edo and Ondo governorship elections are scheduled for September and October respectively. But Odigie-Oyegun must as well be shouting at a brick wall as Oshiomhole, especially for Edo, seems determined to have his way. Even if it compounds the war with Obaseki and creates more problems for the party.
Odigie-Oyegun is not alone in calling out Oshiomhole for his brinkmanship that could end up with the party losing the state. Senator Lawal Shuaibu, the party’s deputy national chairman, North, from Zamfara State, has sounded a warning about what he sees as Oshiomhole’s dangerous game. He has said that, if Oshiomhole wasn’t called to order, the Zamfara scenario could be replayed in Edo. He has faulted the NWC’s decision to hold direct primary in the state as lacking transparency. He says it’s against the party’s constitution.
He issued a statement last week, stating his position on the matter. He said: “With regards to Ondo and Edo primary elections, there is already an absence of transparency. The regulations issued that will guide the processes are already in violation of Article 20(V) of the APC constitution as amended, where the National Executive Committee is the only organ that SHALL approve such guidelines and regulations which include the mode of nominating our candidates. I am crying for APC inside me! Zamfara, here we come again.”
There is no love lost between Shuaibu and Oshiomhole. The national chairman had unilaterally suspended Shuaibu as deputy national chairman and a member of the NWC in 2018 after they fell out with each other. Shuaibu had accused Oshiomhole of personalizing the running of the party and taking critical decisions without carrying along all the NWC members. Shuaibu challenged his suspension in court, and was recalled as part of the agreement for Oshiomhole to keep his position following the move by many of the aggrieved party leaders to oust him for allegedly running the party with reckless impunity.
President Muhammadu Buhari, pressured by Bola Tinubu, the party’s national leader and Oshiomhole’s patron, had to intervene to stop the move to get him out. That was early this year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the country down.
Obaseki’s faction of the party in Edo supported the move to cut Oshiomhole to size. And so, when Oshiomhole survived the plot, his own faction staged a noisy celebration in Benin. In the video of their celebration that went viral, they taunted the governor and his supporters as losers. Obaseki’s faction responded by dismissing their celebration as premature, and pointed out that Oshiomhole’s reprieve from the guillotine was temporary.
Shuaibu’s fear about the Edo primary is real. It was the same division in the party that led to it losing out in all the elections in Zamfara last year. The only exception was the presidential election as the party had only one candidate, Buhari.
APC’s loss became PDP’s gain as the opposition party, through court rulings, took over the governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly seats, all previously won by the APC. The irony was that, it was a faction of the party that challenged the validity of the primary elections held in the state in the law court. Those aggrieved had accused the then governor, Abdullaziz Yari, of not following the party’s constitution and its guidelines for conducting the primaries. The case was fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision of the lower courts that the party, because of the flawed primaries, could not be deemed to have participated in the elections
Given the way things are shaping up in Edo, it’s clear no lesson has been learned from the party’s electoral debacle in Zamfara and Rivers States, especially by the leaders. Apart from the presidential primary, which was a mere coronation of Buhari, the primary elections in most of the states were mired in controversy. Those who felt they lost out unfairly alleged that Oshiomhole and his henchmen in the NWC had turned the primaries into a mercantilist venture. In many instances, the primaries were reportedly manipulated to favour the highest bidders with very deep pockets. The resentment that the poor conduct of the primaries engendered, expanded the size of the anti-Oshiomhole army in the party. The reverberations are still dogging the party til today.
The party is now split down the middle in Edo. And the Obaseki faction has gone to court to challenge the legality of the Oshiomhole faction. Against this backdrop, it’s difficult to see how the party can navigate its way through the political mine fields of Edo without a reprise of the Zamfara and Rivers debacle.
As I noted in a previous column, FROM GOOD FELLAS TO WARRING DONS, on the intractable APC crisis in Edo, Oshiomhole had obviously underestimated Obaseki’s ability and staying power. He had thought that, as a political neophyte, Obaseki could be easily dictated to by him and discarded if he stepped out of line. He has realized too late that he was wrong. But he is not ready to accept that he has mismanaged the situation and allowed it to get out of his control.
The group of rebel legislators-elect he encouraged to oppose the inauguration of the state House of Assembly in June last year, are still out in the cold. The court had declared the governor’s proclamation for the inauguration constitutional. Yet the rebels or Oshiomhole’s boys, as they are derisively called by the Obaseki faction, are still refusing to see the futility of their action that has not served them and the state well. In their self-imposed absence, the House is functioning normally and government business is getting done. And they are easily expendable politically.
Just as in Edo, the party is factionalized in Ondo. One faction, the Unity Forum, doesn’t want Governor Akeredolu to get a second term. And they have made it clear that they would not support his re-election if he won the primary in July. Characteristic of the party’s national leadership, it has not done much to end the division.
The party cannot really afford to have someone else on the ticket other than the incumbent. If Akeredolu is denied the ticket, the party’s chances of winning the election would be diminished. The only way for it to win is to mobilize the federal might to re-enact the brazen rigging of the Kogi State election in January that gave Yahaya Bello a second term.
As both Akeredolu and Obaseki are being given giant headaches by their own party, and with no one to call the national leadership to order, the PDP is waiting in the wings. It may ultimately be the beneficiary of APC’s internecine war by again winning the states by default.