By Sebastine EBHUOMHAN
Your Excellency, my dear President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, I hope your families are well and safe. I hope also that this letter will meet the two of you, Sirs, in joyful mood.
Let me respectfully crave your indulgence, Mr President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic, to begin with a reminder. On Monday, 26th September, 2016, you stormed Benin City with the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) along with the then Governor of Edo State and present National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to lead the governorship campaign of APC for Mr Godwin Obaseki, which he easily won, defeating the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s candidate then. This open letter highlights issues and conflicts arising from the current struggle for re-election by the incumbent, Mr Obaseki, in APC.
I will like to clarify before any other thing that I’m not a card-carrying member of APC or any other political party. Nonetheless, I am eminently qualified to write this letter based on the following facts. First, I am a bona-fide citizen of Nigeria from Edo State. Second, I championed your presidential election project in Benin owing to your unimpeachable integrity. Third, your promise to tackle corruption resonated with my patriotic zeal. Fourth, I have a son-father relationship with Comrade Oshiomhole. Fifth, I shared his overwhelming call to support the governorship aspiration of Mr Obaseki without a second thought. Sixth, I actively contributed to Mr Obaseki’s unarguable victory in many ways including the personal authorship and production and printing with the support of Barrister Emmanuel Usoh, an APC chieftain, 10,000 copies of the historic critical handbook titled: The Simple Agenda, Ize-Iyamu’s Manifesto of Sophism.
Holding and reading from that handbook in your hand, with the support of other party leaders inside Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, you led Obaseki to victory in the election of Wednesday, 28th September, 2019.
Mr President, despite the fact that I refrained from bothering the governor with calls after he refused to pick my initial calls, neither him nor any other official of the government has had anything to do with me since the inauguration to this day even as I have never asked for any favour or privilege from the government. So, I had already moved on before his delegated authorities denounced me. But for over three years now as I have watched Governor Obaseki, I have seen him frittered away all the goodwill that ushered him into power with needless and avoidable statements and acts unbefitting of a state governor. In the process, he has totally alienated himself from those who united forces to give him election victory on a golden platter, and regrettably, polarised his party into factional camps as makes for the jugular of all those perceived to be unsupportive of his reelection bid. The irredeemable and irreparable damage to a once cordial relationship between Governor Obaseki and his party on the one hand and non-party members on the other hand has become a big question mark not just on APC’s unity ahead of the forthcoming governorship election, but also APC’s ability to win Edo State governorship election if it fields Obaseki.
To say that Mr Governor’s confidence has taken a blow and that fear has come upon him and his followers most since the failure of his blind pursuit of Oshiomhole removal as APC National Chairman instead of resolving his differences with all his helpers that he cunningly disparaged and chased away after attaining power, is stating the obvious. His mortal fear has been highlighted in the past days by his insistence for only an indirect primary election or nothing long before the National Working Committee (NWC) of APC unanimously adopted the direct mode of election.
Governor Obaseki changed gear to campaign against direct primary after his vocal demand for an unconstitutional “Right of First Refusal” as “a performer” gained no ears of both Edo APC and National APC. He believes he can only win by influencing the selected voters of indirect primary. The governor, in his predetermined arrogant, disrespectful and destructive course, had initially focused on that narrow but illegal narrative that would have conferred a concensus status on his aspiration. But that was not to be for a ‘leader’ that relegated, destroyed and attempted forcing his party leaders to adopt him, the same people he labelled with unsuitable names and chased away.
Considering how Oshiomhole and all his loyalists polished and assisted Obaseki for an effortless victory in 2016, the aspirant and later candidate would not have defeated his tougher, more popular, better prepared and more experienced opponents that contested against him in APC and other parties 2016 even as Oshiomhole’s Chairman of Economic and Strategy Team (EST), a backroom position.
Today, even as an incumbent with a plummetted popularity, it is doubtful if Obaseki can pick APC’s ticket in a free, fair and credible field that includes the following heavyweights. Dr Pius Odubu is a lawyer and the immediate past Deputy Governor for eight years, who has had eight solid years respectively as Representative and State Assembly lawmaker. Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer, farmer and clergy, has been a former Secretary to Edo State Government and former South-South Vice Chairman of ACN besides directing Oshiomhole’s and Jonathan’s elections in Edo State in the past. Dr Chris Ogiemwonyi had also risen to the pinnacle of NNPC management before retirement. Mr Charles Airhiavbere is a retired Army Major-General with extensive experience in Edo State politics. Ditto, Mr Saturday Uwulekhue, a former Edo State NDDC Commissioner.
Looking at the initial field of APC aspirants for next month’s primary, can Obaseki thump his chest that he can defeat any of the eight other aspirants fairly? Indeed, only dialogue, persuasion and horse trading could have ensured a concensus adoption of Obaseki instead of the labelling, profiling, intimidation, harassments, threats, estrangement, assaults, arrests, violence, removal of office holders and destruction of personal properties that he adopted.
The question is: what is an election in which an incumbent aspirant is only confident of winning if he could influence the process?
It is within the power of the NWC of APC to adopt any mode for Edo APC primary. Governor Obaseki, like any other aspirant, lacks the power to dictate the mode or process of primary he wants to contest. Article 13, Section 4, Sub-section 13 of APC constitution empowers the NWC to decide on a mode of primary election subject to the approval of NEC. So, ab initio, the grandstanding of Obaseki and his henchmen was a futile exercise that simply justify his fear of losing.
The decision of the APC NWC is also legally backed by Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has lucidly clarified whatever doubt is left through a judgment delivered by John Inyang Okoro, JSC, on 17th September, 2015, in a case between Appellant Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Respondents Abdulazeez Abubakar Yari of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the decision of the national party is supreme.
As Obaseki’s government vehemently argues that the indirect mode of election is the best tactic to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in Edo State during APC’s primary, reality indicates contrary even from the viewpoints of the government. First, the governor had been claiming he has a foolproof plan for the containment of COVID-19 already compelling residents to maintain social distance, use face masks, ban large gatherings, observe night curfew, manage cases of outbreak etc. Second, the government had sought to go ahead with hosting the National Sports Festival for tens of thousands of visitors scattered across different game venues in Edo State, insisting it was prepared to host, until the Federal Government suspended the games. Third, it is seen daily, in spite of the government efforts, how traders relocated from markets to public schools observes no distancing owing to lack of space even as they still pay taxes and daily tickets. Fourth, the government claimed it is prepared against COVID-19 to welcome stakeholders of roughly not less than 5,000 voters, aspirants, observers, media, security, traders, onlookers and other stakeholders in a single location for an indirect primary. Fifth, it follows therefore, that tens of card-carrying members drawn from Edo State’s 192 wards that come together for a direct primary election in atmospheres where the rules of COVID-19 are respected, is better for the interest of the people of Edo State.
Moreover, the promoters of indirect system cannot be myopic to overlook the task of undergoing a shorter and lesser direct process to select delegates for an indirect primary, especially in the absence of a party convention. How they intend to go round this hurdle in days, I don’t know.
Perhaps, APC NWC must have approved direct primary after considering all the risks. As commendable as it is, NWC’s decision provides an equal democratic platform for all aspirants. And since Obaseki, as incumbent, says his popularity is overwhelming, there is no better way to elect the party’s flag bearer than through the free, fair and credible votes of ordinary members, who Obaseki may find difficult to convince for votes after chasing them away with whips.
The direct primary gives ordinary APC members the right to vote. The right to vote gives them constitutional power and protection.
According to Lyndon Baines Johnson, “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”
Often called by his initials, LBJ was an American politician who served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969 after serving as the 37th Vice President from 1961 to 1963.
In his view, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), lauded the direct primary as a most democratic system. Other experts and political scientists readily concur with him.
In spite of the general recommendation of direct primary, the spoken words and body language of Governor Obaseki has been disturbing since NWC announcement. With undenied reports of unrequited visits with the aim of meeting Mr President and the National Leader assuming headlines in place of strategies to win the primary, Governor Obaseki’s run from pillars to posts have made him a Conservative, aptly defined by a former United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt as: “A man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.” The dilemma, Mr President, is: how does a man who has never learn to walk with his two good legs suddenly run with them when they are wobbling in fears?
Irrespective of any reason, observers are unanimous that such visits at 11th hour mirror attempts to drop names and gain undeserving endorsements or upper hand in the heart of voters and the public. They have therefore urged you, Mr President and the APC National Leader, not to give Governor Obaseki or any other aspirant any audience, endorsement or support ahead of Edo APC primary election in line with your democratic etho of neutrality. This is also their message to the Progressive Governors’ Forum, which leadership that has Obaseki as Vice Chairman has been seeking illegally and unconstitutional route to influence the forthcoming primary election in Edo State.
The danger of Nigeria’s ruling APC under the leadership of President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu losing its only state in Nigeria’s South-South Region is real and looming if the party hands its ticket to Obaseki in a tainted primary election. While APC remains the only visible party in Edo State today, the unpreparedness of the opposition for the election is underlined in the readiness of the PDP to accept Obaseki in its platform with less than a month to party primaries.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Obaseki, who no longer enjoys the support of majority leaders and members of APC, has continuously flirted with other parties just as he has been openly endorsed and invited to the PDP to contest its primary. Speaking on this issue recently in Benin, the PDP Vice Chairman for South-South Zone, Chief Emmanuel Ogidi minced no words when he insisted the governor will be welcomed if he desires to defect.
“If Governor Obaseki comes, we will take him. We can’t drive anybody from entering our party. Our doors are wide open.”
“I am not, however, aware that he has started negotiation with us with a view to defecting. If the governor has seen the light and wants to come to the PDP, he is welcomed.”
“There is going to be a primary. The PDP does not award its ticket. If you win the primary, you become the candidate.”
Whether Governor Obaseki will eventually contest the primary, withdraw from the contest or defect to another party is a decision he is constitutionally entitled to announce after reconsidering his slim chance of winning. But of utmost fidei is APC’s promise to organize on an equal platform, subject to democratic rules of credible election instead of parochial wishes of elders, political office holders, power of incumbency, manipulation of security, exploitation of health crisis etc. It depends entirely on Obaseki to decide how to realize his agenda on 22nd June, bearing in mind that Comrade Oshiomhole has no problem with him, whatsoever, but that the governor’s problems are directly with friends, loyalists and sons of Oshiomhole that Obaseki cheated and took for granted. Again, it is not deniable that Obaseki, without a political structure, is severely disconnected from the grassroots he seeks to lean on.
I have listed below for your perusal an outline of anti-party offences allegedly committed by Governor Obaseki since November 2016.
(i) Appointment and patronage of ‘strange’ and imported people dubiously branded as “technocrats”.
(ii) Branding, profiling, rejection, shaming, arrest and detention of political leaders.
(iii) Abandonment of strategists that helped Obaseki to win election, an action that portrays him as an ingrate.
(iv) Muzzling of dissenting voices, which clearly breaches the Freedom of Speech and other rights enshrined in Sections 38, 39 and 40 of Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic.
(v) Fraudulent abandonment of his predecessor’s policies and projects with which he campaigned and won his election.
(vi) Loss of 2019 presidential election in his ward, local government area and district.
(vii) Nocturnal inauguration of Edo Assembly with nine legislators and refusal to issue fresh proclamation to inaugurate 14 lawmakers as constituted authorities directed; a clear violation of Article 21, Sub-section 3 of APC constitution.
(viii) Imposition of Edo Assembly Speaker.
(ix) Opposing the appointment of Edo sons into the NDDC and other federal offices.
(x) Suspension and call for arrest of APC National Chairman.
(xi) Masterminding removal of APC National Chairman.
(xii) Rejection of APC National Reconciliation Committees.
(xiii) Open call for attack of political leaders opposed to his re-election, especially the National Chairman who house was later blocked in response to the call, clearly violating Article 21, Sub-section 7 of APC constitution.
(xiv) Demolition of properties and businesses of people opposed to his re-election.
(xv) Assault, violence, bombing and assassination attempts.
(xvi) Attack on APC rallies held to receive new members.
(xvii) Initiation of direct and indirect court cases against APC NWC, APC National Chairman, NASS leadership etc. without exploring and exhausting internal redress mechanisms, a clear breach of Article 21, Sub-section 10 of APC constitution.
(xviii) Using APC platform to explore inapproriate talks with the opposition.
(xix) The celebration of APC’s loss of Bayelsa State.
(xx) Lack of transparency and accountability largely underlining lacking openness in Obaseki’s government, in spite of record showing it has received over N320 billion from FAAC till date.
(xxi) Poor governance and mismanagement of Edo State economy, which many people have cited for his inability to commission any notable project till date.
(xxii) Closing down the College of Agriculture Iguorhiakhi and showing disobedience to the judgement of the National Industrial court.
(xxiii) Closing down the Tayo Akpata University of Education formerly known as College of Education , Ekiadolor.
(xxiv) Covering up the sudden disappearance of his serving Commissioner for Arts, Culture, Tourism and the Diaspora, Mr Osaze Osemwegie-Ero, rumoured to be detained in Europe since last November, 2019, following an alleged arrest with huge money.
Obaseki denies all the allegations against him, however, even as his body language portrays resignation to fate owing to the adoption of direct primary.
Obaseki’s biggest pain today is suddenly finding himself home, dry and abandoned. Confronted with an increasingly revolting foot soldiers throwing in resignations, he will have to learn to walk alone, no thanks to the peaceful adoption of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the concensus aspirant of all the APC aspirants. For POI, as Ize-Iyamu is popularly known, it is deserving for his humility, courage, determination and organization (expect more from me on POI and GGO). But for Obaseki, should he decide to contest or withdraw for others or entirely defect from APC, it can only bring more shame, pain and uncertainty. He is not helped by the fact that the PDP is already selling nomination forms to aspirants. Left with no option, a signal for the disruption of APC’s direct primary, as his aides are threatening, will force the NWC to submit Ize-Iyamu’s name as Electoral Act empowers a party to do.
Mr President, between the parallel lines above: confusion, dilemma, regret and anguish supremely mock the thoughts of Governor Obaseki, his advisers and supporters, which makes any presidential audience, endorsement or support for a return to Dennis Osadebey Avenue a reward for ingratitude, unkindness and inhumanity.