Edo Guber crisis: Is APC on the road to repeating past mistakes?

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By Lanre Oloyede

Ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, appeared not to have learnt any lesson from the rough path it threaded in the 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State which saw it lose the governorship seat to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

With the current controversies and protests trailing the emergence of its flagbearer for the 2024 governorship election in Edo, the ruling party might be toeing the same path of destruction it took four years ago.

Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had slated September 21, 2024, for the governorship election in the state.

This prompted the ruling party, and other political parties, to conduct a primary election to select its flagbearer in line with the stipulated guidelines of the Commission.

Unfortunately, the governorship primary election conducted by APC in Edo State ended in crisis as three aspirants were declared winners.

Flowing from the flawed process of the Edo governorship primaries, there are indications that the party, like its counterparts in the political space in the country, is still highly deficient in the principles of internal democracy and sense of political ethos.

The emergence of Senator Monday Okpebholo in a re-scheduled primary election on Thursday 22nd of February after an earlier one conducted by the Imo State Gov. Hope Uzodinma-led election committee had produced Hon. Dennis Idahosa on Saturday 17 February, 2024, is what many discontented members of the party described as outright imposition of candidate which, according to them undermined the party’s democratic ethos and values by not allowing the democratic process in the selection of the party’s gubernatorial flag bearer.

Some analysts have, however, hinged the whole scenario on the display of power play between former governor of the state, Sen. Adams Oshiomhole, and other political heavyweights in the state who have the backing of powers in the presidency.

Sources close to the party hinted Nigerian Pilot that the crisis began with the conflict of interest between powers that be in the presidency and the political powers in the State over the choice of the party’s flagbearer.

The source hinted that Adams Oshiomole is reported to have preferred Hon. Dennis Idahosa to be the next governor of Edo, while the Aso Villa powers preferred Senator Monday Okpebholo.

Also reported to be at the centre of the bone of contention in the Edo APC crisis is the decision of party to present a candidate from the Southern senatorial district of the state for the for the governorship election.

Party members who are against this move claimed that the South had earlier produced a governor in the person of
Chief Lucky Igbinedion who served for two terms of eight years.

They also argued that the North had also produced a governor in the person of Adams Oshiomole who also served a two-term of years.

Thereafter, they argued further, the seat went back to the South with the incumbent governor Obaseki who will be completing his two terms of eight years this year.

Hence, according to them, the next occupant of the seat should be someone from the North and not from the South as it is presently the case with the emergence of Senator Monday Okpebholo.

*Build Up to The Primary*

The build up to the governorship primary began on February 10, 2024 when a total of 12 governorship hopefuls were screened and cleared to contest in the party’s primary election.

However, owing to the flawed process, some of the aspirants decided to opt out of the exercise.

While Mr. Clem Agba, a former minister and one of the governorship hopefuls faulted the process, Pastor Osagie Ize -Iyamu, withdrew outrightly from the race citing personal reasons for his decision.

On his part, another leading governorship aspirant, Oserheimen Osunbor also withdrew from the rescheduled shadow election, while a former Commissioner for Communication and Orientation in Edo State, Andrew Emwanta, also dumped the party as a result of the election.

His reason for dumping the party as stated is that he has no confidence in the conduct of the party’s governorship primary.

Findings by our correspondent revealed that many of the aspirants took the decision to withdraw from the exercise because they lacked confidence in the ability of Gov. Hope Uzodinma to conduct a free, fair and credible primary election as they expressed their concerns over the integrity of the primary process.

The rejection of Hope Uzodinma by Edo governorship aspirants and concerned members of APC did not come as a surprise to many political observers, who felt that the appointment of the governor to head the Benin Congress election committee was a miscalculation on the part of the APC national leadership considering previous scandalous elections linked to his name.

The primary conducted by Gov. Uzodinma had been enmeshed in controversy with three aspirants laying claim to winning the election.

The chaos unfolded when the Chairman of the Electoral Committee for the primary, Governor Hope Uzodimma, announced Dennis Idahosa as the winner of the contest.

Complicating matters further, Stanley Ugboaja, acting as a returning officer, declared Monday Okpebholo as the winner.

Adding to the controversy, Ojo Babatunde, purporting to represent the returning officers from all local governments, proclaimed Anamero Dekeri as the rightful victor.

The controversies raged as Edo State chapter of APC disowned Uzodimma’s report and insisted Senator Okpebholo was the rightful winner.

Mr. Felix Morka, the ruling party’s national publicity secretary, had in a statement in Abuja insisted that the Governor Uzodinma-led Edo State APC Governorship Primary Committee was duly authorized to undertake the final collation and announcement of results of the primary in the state

But, countering Morka’s statement, the state publicity secretary of APC, Prince Peter Enosoregbe Uwadiae, disagreed with his national counterpart, insisting in a swift counter statement in Benin that being on the ground, he is in a better position to explain the reality of the situation., which, of course, clearly favoured Senator Monday “Akpakomiza” Okpebholo.

Curiously, the ruling party national publicity secretary said that the live broadcast of the result by Dr Ugboajah, who was duly appointed as the Chief Returning Officer by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) on major national television stations and online news outlets was unauthorized.

Speaking with newsmen, the State Publicity Secretary of the party, Peter Uwadia, described the announcement of Dennis Idahosa as the winner of the primary by Governor Hope Uzodinma as null and void and with no political effect.

Uwadia said, in line with the party constitution, that Governor Uzodimma was just the chairman of the electoral committee and not the returning officer.

He opined that the only person who is constitutionally empowered to announce the results of the primary is the electoral officer and not the chairman of the committee.

*INEC’ Reaction*

In its reaction to the controversies, the electoral umpire, INEC said it only monitored one primary election in Edo State.

The Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Edo State, Dr Anugbum Onuoha, while reacting said that the Commission only monitored the APC governorship primary that took place at the Lushville Hotel and Suites.

The REC noted that the Supreme Court has taken a decision on the monitoring of party primaries.

“The national body will write to INEC national chairman of the venue, and the date and the time of the primary, and that we followed strictly.

“Any political party primaries that was not minuted to us by our headquarters, we will not monitor.

“We were notified by APC and we monitored the one we were invited which was at Lushville Hotel. I was there, that was where I went,” he said.

*Inconclusive Election and Uzodinma’s removal*

Following the massive outcry that trailed the controversial primary, the National Working Committee of APC was forced to declare the election as inconclusive and rescheduled it to Thursday February 22.

Sequel to this announcement, some leading aspirants threatened to boycott the inconclusive primary election rescheduled to be concluded on Thursday, February 22, by the party’s NWC, if Governor Hope Uzodinma chairs the exercise.

The call for removal of Uzodimma took another dimension as hundreds of placard carrying angry protesters stormed the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Headquarters at Wuse 2, Abuja chanting war songs and calling for the replacement of Governor Hope Uzodinma as the Chairman of the Governorship Election Committee to pave the way for equity, fairness and proper rancour-free by-election holding on Thursday.

Apparently overwhelmed, the APC NWC announced the removal of Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo state as chairman of the party’s governorshiip election committee for Edo state, and replaced him with his counterpart from Cross-River State, Gov. Bassey Otu.

The rescheduled primary eventually produced Senator Monday Okpebholo as the winner of the Edo APC governorship primary election.

Governor Bassey Otu of Cross River who was the Chairman of Edo APC shadow poll, made the declaration after collating the results from the 18 local government areas.

According to him, Okpebholo scored 12,433 votes to defeat Dennis Idahosa, who scored 6,541 votes.

The collation and declaration were at Lushville Hotel and Suites, Gapiona Avenue, Government Reservation Area (GRA), Benin.

The declaration was not however short of drama as Hon. Idahosa led massive protest to APC, while threatening court action over the governorship primary.

Hon Idahosa, who was initially declared winner of the primary election by the Imo State governor Hope Uzodimma, also threatened to drag the party to court if justice is not done.

He, however, appealed to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to call the National Working Committee (NWC) to order.

In like manner, some Edo APC members besieged the national secretariat of APC declaring Okpebholo’s victory unlawful.

They described the declaration of Senator Monday Okpebholo as the winner of the rescheduled Edo governorship primary election as not only unlawful but a gross violation of the party’s. constitution.

The party members who stormed the APC national secretariat in Abuja described the governorship primary as a daylight robbery.

Addressing journalists during the protest, leader of the group, Innocent Ogedengbe demanded the restoration of Idahosa’s mandate by the party.

Ogendengbe emphasised that the primary of 22nd February 2024 did not comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022 as aspirants were not given equal opportunities of being voted for by party members at the designated centres at the wards that make up Edo State.

He alleged that party members present to vote did not have their votes cast recorded by any known office of the party’s National Secretariat.

Ogendengbe further alleged that the result sheets used were completed in the National Secretariat of the party as they did not flow from the reality on the ground in Edo State.

Another mild drama ensued when one of the three aspirants laying claim to the ticket of the party stormed the National Chairman’s office in Abuja demanding to be issued a Certificate Of Return.

Hon. Anamero Deker, had stormed the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, where he demanded its national chairman, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, to issue him certificate of return.

Dekeri who arrived the APC national secretariat on Monday afternoon made his way straight to Ganduje’s office where he presented a letter to the party’s helmsman, demanding the certificate of return.

The lawmaker claimed to have scored the highest number of votes at the primaries

However, despite Idahosa’s protest, and other dramas that followed, the party’s national chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, issued a certificate of return to Senator Okpebholo as the party’s candidate for the September 21 governorship election in Edo.

While presenting the certificate to the candidate, APC National Chairman, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, said the party is on the way to win the election because the party has produced a sellable candidate.

*Uphill Task Ahead of APC Amidst Crises*

Though the primary election is officially concluded, political observers are of the opinion that there is an uphill task ahead of APC after the tumultuous primary election.

Analysts are of the opinion that Senator Monday Okpebholo is believed not to be the preferred candidate of a former governor of the state and erstwhile national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, who is said to be the APC godfather in the state.

There are fears that if the fallout from the primary is not properly handled, Oshiomhole, his perceived anointed candidate, Dennis Idabosa and 10 other aggrieved aspirants might work against the APC in the election. Recall that the APC is angling to reclaim the state from the PDP after a similar internal crisis led it to lose control of the state in the run up to the 2020 election.

Eventually, Senator Monday Okpebholo won the ticket at the primary chaired by Cross River State governor, Bassey Otu, who replaced Uzodinma after protests from stakeholders. But Senator Okpebholo’s emergence as APC candidate for the Edo election has triggered tension as other aspirants are not willing to support him.

Some APC stakeholders said the party’s top echelon must resolve issues with Oshiomhole, Okpebholo as well as the other aspirants for the party to go into the election as a united house.