While Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is yet to recover fully from the bruises he sustained before his victory at the polls last year, Gabriel Emameh writes that the Edo Governor may be in for another protracted battle of wits, this time, in an unfamiliar territory.
It has been an internecine war of attrition since Governor Godwin Obaseki won the 2020 governorship election in Edo State. A silent war of distrust between Obaseki and some major decision makers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State has escalated and the crisis rocking the party continues to deepen.
Recently, there has been a deluge of allegations and counter allegations in the state chapter of the party, suggesting that there is a long battle ahead as some members of the ‘Old’ PDP in the state have resolved to fight to the end.
But concerted efforts by some of these party faithful to maintain the existing leadership structure of the party have continued to meet counter onslaughts from Governor Godwin Obaseki, leaving the party is almost in tatters.
Obaseki who bloodied Oshiomhole’s nose in his last days in the APC, appears not ready to negotiate his position as the leader of the PDP in Edo State with anyone. Given that he was once bitten, Obaseki has grown a thick skin to absolve any form of hostility.
The Governor has found himself in an unfamiliar territory and he has currently locked horns with a faction of the PDP controlled by the party’s national Vice Chairman, South South, Chief Dan Osi Orbih.
Obaseki has not had any respite since he fell out of favour with his erstwhile godfather, Adams Oshiomhole. He left his former party the All Progressive Congress (APC) fighting a battle of wits against his former allies to guarantee him a second term ticket, which eventually eluded him. No thanks to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who orchestrated his (Obaseki’s) ouster from the APC.
Coming into the PDP, he was confronted with a credibility battle to secure the party’s ticket. However, through what some have described as an unholy marriage consummated by the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, Obaseki became the flag bearer of the party and eventually led it to victory last year. The victory once again gave the PDP an aura of power that it had missed since 2007 when the party’s candidate who became governor was sacked by an Appeal Court in Benin.
This last minute twist that secured the PDP ticket for Obaseki left the party divided, while it also forced some of its key members like former Commissioner of Information of the state, Prince Kassim Afegbua and a host of others to work against the party in the last election in the state.
Although Obaseki survived the worst battle of his political career after putting up a good fight against his former boss, Adams Oshiomhole at the last governorship election in the state, this time, he is fighting in an unfamiliar territory. With Orbih at the centre of it, it will take the Edo State Governor more than he has bargained for to beat the former at his game.
Analysts believe that, like his former principal, Oshiomhole, the Edo state Governor might this time get his fingers burnt as there are clear indications that he is up against the constitution and guidelines of the party.
The crux of the matter is Obaseki’s recent attempt and insistence to dissolve the existing structure of the PDP across local governments and wards in the state, even when their tenure had not elapsed.
There is a growing perception among some members of the party in the state that the Governor’s move was an attempt to plant his army of new entrant into the party’s structure and thereafter reward his deputy, Philip Shaibu for his loyalty with the party’s ticket for the 2024 gubernatorial race. The speculation has thrown up suspicious in some quarters and has stimulated distrust.
While this has not been confirmed, the National Vice Chairman, South-south, of the PDP, Chief Dan Osi Orbih might be the latest to get his finger burnt as cracks in the party in the state took a dramatic twist last week when Obaseki supervised the ratification of his suspension and that of others.
Recall that on May 8, Mr. Obaseki hosted a meeting of state party leaders at the Government House with the agenda of a proposed dissolution of PDP executives at all levels
Following the proposal, the state party chairman, Tony Aziegbemi, and the state party secretary, Hillary Otsu, wrote a letter on behalf of the elected officials to the national body of the party.
In the letter, the expanded state working committee of the party rejected the proposal by Mr. Obaseki to dissolve “a legitimately elected executive”. Though the move later forced him to call for truce and negotiation that would see the structure of the party split in favour of both warring faction. However, this still did not go down well with sundry party executives in the state.
The Governor had recently sent a list of 11 commissioner nominees to the Edo State House of Assembly for confirmation, all of which were members of his new PDP. The appointment had come one year after he was elected.
Following this development, the State chairman of the party, Tony Aziegbemi, told THISDAY that there was nothing to be worried about as everything was in order.
“It is the first list and others will come. There is nothing wrong with it. I am okey with it,” he said.
Findings by THISDA reveal that the Governor had withheld the names of other nominees, who are supposedly the ‘old’ PDP faction for two reasons. One as a bargain chip and secondly, the failure on the part of the other side to come to terms on the issue of structure.
Wielding the big stick
Last week, the Edo State Chapter of the Peoples’ Democratic Party had ratified the suspension of Dan Orbih, a member of the House of Representatives representing Oredo Federal Constituency, Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama; State Secretary of the party, Hilary Otsu; the PDP Chairman in Oredo LGA, Oduwa Igbinosun, and the Chairman of PDP in Oredo Ward Four, Mr. Friday Enaruna.
The suspension of Orbih and others was ratified by all PDP leaders across the 18 Local Government Areas and the three Senatorial Districts of the State, during an enlarged meeting of the leaders of the party which held in Benin City.
They alleged that Orbih and others had become cogs in the wheel of the party’s fortune in the state.
“All those that have refused to allow the party to grow are being suspended in the interest of the PDP,” said a party leaders, Nosa-Ehima who moved the motion for the ratification of the said suspension.
On his part, Godwin Obaseki who monitored the procedure had earlier at the meeting sent a strong warning to all party members to shape in or ship out as he was ready to negotiate his position as the leader of the party with anyone.
He said: “Last year, when we joined you, we started a movement that has never happened in Edo before not even in our politics. If we go for election today, we will win by 85 per cent. It means we don’t have meaningful opposition and if this is the situation, we should not create opposition inside.
“I will not leave PDP. I am the leader of PDP and by the grace of God I will lead PDP well. Anybody that doesn’t want me to lead or want to accept my leadership will leave PDP for me, the Governor had warned.
He continued: “We are here to stay and invest in PDP. I’m the governor to join PDP last and was made chairman of our e-registration process so why should I leave the party. We came to meet PDP as a solid party the only true party in this country while others are special purpose vehicles for elections.
“I said come let us harmonize and the harmonization is to carry everybody along. We don’t need to lie in politics. Politics is a game of numbers. For one year I have been begging for us to harmonize. I went round when we wanted to make appointment and the number of application, we have is almost same with the petition we received, it shows we have not harmonized.
“I call all of you leaders of the party to come to build a solid party. We won our election last year because of our cooperation. United will stand and divided will fall. We are in PDP now for over a year.
“We can’t escape from harmonization if we want to go for National Convention. I have almost 300 to 400 political appointment I want to make.
“People are greedy, politics is all about give and take. I appreciate PDP, we came we won we are not leaving PDP, will not accept any opposition within PDP, if you are not happy with my leadership, you can leave us. Let’s all harmonize. Some local governments have done their own while others are still far behind.
Rubbish!, Says Orbih Over Suspension
Meanwhile Chief Orbih, the National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, South-south, has described his suspension as rubbish, saying Obaseki cannot run the PDP in Edo State like APC.
Chief Orbih said this during a telephone interview with THISDAY following the October 7 suspension carried out in his Edo North constituency. Orbih who had earlier declined speaking for the sake of peace said:
“I don’t react to rubbish. PDP is not APC. It is rubbish and I will not react to it.
Llike Oshiomhole did in 2016, Orbih spear-headed the campaign of Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu last year when the two men were technically denied ticket by the Oshiomhole led-APC. Even at their last-minute entry into the PDP, he was the man at the central of the controversies taking the shots from party members and other aspirants who were forced to step aside.
Roforofo, we will give it to Obaseki- Afegbua
Former Edo State Commissioner for Information, Kasim Afegbua, has described the cracks in the PDP in Edo as imported crisis. Afegbua said it is a disease brought by Obaseki and his co-travelers and they must find a way to cure it.
In an interview with THISDAY, he said nothing could have brought crisis into the party than greed, intolerance and the tendency to take control ofthe party structure ahead of 2023.
Afegbua said: “What is happening in Edo today is that Obaseki has brought the problem in APC into PDP. That is to fight over the control of the structure of the party. It was the reason why they evicted him from APC and they started blackmailing people and blackmailing leadership of the party that they were being strangled and all of that.
“Tell them to cure their disease. Or if they are so popular, they can choose a neutral party all together and build it instead of coming to disturb the peace of PDP.
“Dan Orbih has been very constructively loyal to the PDP in Edo. They provided robust opposition to us when we were in government. PDP in Edo State is very strong. There is nothing that Obaseki added to it to get it victory at the polls. PDP won Presidential election in Edo State in 2015 when Oshiomhole was governor. In 2019, PDP won Edo State when Obaseki and Oshiomhole were on one side.
“There is nothing like suspension. You cannot expect the state party structure to be dissolved when they have concluded their congresses for four years tenure before you came in. What is wrong with us as Africans? Why can’t we accommodate people? Why can’t we play politics of inclusion? asked asked Afegbua.
“You have taken all the commissioners, you have all the State House of Assembly members, special advisers. You have not appointed one core PDP person. Yet you want them to surrender the structure of the party to you. Who does that? This is just a storm in tea cup. If it is roforofo they want, we are capable and ready for them,” he warned.
Meanwhile the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP had earlier described the purported suspension of Chief Dan Orbih, by the Edo North Senatorial leadership of the party as “a nullity.”
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was concerned with the pronouncements of certain members in the Edo chapter of the party and warned that members be guided
It said that while the national leadership noted the issues and complaints raised by some stakeholders.
It urged them to be guided by the party constitution with regard to the imposition of sanctions on party officers at any level, stressing that the rules were clear and must be adhered to.
“Consequently, the purported suspension of Orbih, a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our party, by the Edo North Senatorial leadership of the party is statutorily beyond its powers and to that effect a nullity.
“The NWC, however, assures (all) that it’s taking strong steps to ensure amicable resolution of all issues and ensure that the interests of all members in the chapter are protected,” Ologbondiyan said.
The NWC urged all members in Edo to remain united and focused, especially at a time that Nigerians are looking up to the party for direction ahead of the 2023 general election.
Crisis as Exit Alibi?
Meanwhile, there are ongoing speculations that the crisis in the party is being stage managed to provide a window for Obaseki and his group to go back to the APC. Recall that the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, had on a recent TV interview confirmed that there was crisis in the PDP and that he was becoming uncomfortable.
This came after reports surfaced that the Shaibu was planning to resign from the PDP but yet to decide which political party he would join
“I am happy with my governor. I don’t have any problem with my governor, so the issue that I am not happy with my governor is not there; I am absolutely loyal to my governor but there are issues that we need to resolve in PDP, Shaibu had told the TV host.
While this remains mere speculations for now, there is believe in some quarters that Obaseki is nurturing a comeback or could be forced to leave the PDP as the leadership of the party has not been able to manage its victory after 10 years in the political wilderness in the state.
Whether Obaseki leaves or not, this will depend on the hostility or magnanimity from both sides. Like analysts have said, for a party which profited from the crisis in the APC, the leadership of the PDP should have managed the differences to achieve a win-win situation.