There is tension in the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria in Edo State over power-sharing while uneasy calm pervades the state PDP over zoning of governorship ahead of 2012 election
It was a grand party at the Museum Ground, Ring Road, Benin City, capital of Edo State. The gathering organised by Governor Adams Oshiomhole to celebrate his party’s overwhelming victory at the just-concluded April general elections, featured popular artistes and comedians like P-Square, Timaya, Maleke, Idris Abdulkareem, I-Go-Die, as well as local musicians like Osayomore Joseph and Young Bolivia.
But beneath the seeming all-is-well appearance is a brewing crisis over power sharing in the party, especially as it concerns where the next Speaker of the state House of Assembly comes from. By the existing zoning arrangement, the office of Speaker is the slot of Edo Central Senatorial District. But the outcome of the National Assembly and House of Assembly polls in which the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, performed woefully in the area, has thrown up fresh issues. Bright Omokhodion, the incumbent Speaker, who party sources say would have retained his seat, is not returning to the House having lost his Esan West Constituency seat to Monday Orhue of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The PDP also won the Igueben Constituency seat where a re-run election was held in two units. Kingsley Ehigiamusoe, the party’s candidate, beat Stephen Idenhere, his ACN opponent, to give the PDP five seats to the ruling party’s 19 seats in the House.
The ACN was able to win one out of six state assembly seats in Esan Central Senatorial District, prompting some party members to raise eyebrow about the zone’s eligibility to produce the number three citizen in the state. It was also in the zone that the ruling party lost the senatorial seat to the PDP. It won the seats in Edo South and North senatorial districts. Given the bitter rivalry and animosity between the governor and Tony Anenih, former chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP and embattled godfather of Edo politics, there is no doubt that the governor would have loved to humble the Iyasele of Esan land in his own domain.
But against the governor’s calculation and desire, Anenih’s in-law and serving senator, Odion Ugbesia did not only secure a boarding pass to the Senate, his two other counterparts in the lower chamber, Friday Itulah and Patrick Ikhariale also won the election to continue the representation of their constituencies in the House of Representatives.
The result was a furious hurricane, which has swept no fewer than 13 political appointees out of his cabinet. In what was regarded as ethnic-cleansing, 11 of the governor’s aides sacked are of Esan extraction in Edo Central Senatorial District while two are from Edo South. The list included two commissioners, two local government chairmen, and chairmen of boards of parastatals.
Those who are agitating for the abandonment of the zoning arrangement contend that the ACN’s only member from the zone to represent Esan South-east constituency, Festus Ebea, is a new member and lacks the experience to function in that capacity. They also insisted that Edo Central should not be rewarded with such an office having not contributed to the electoral fortunes of the party at the polls.
And this is what the people of Edo South Senatorial District are capitalising on to upstage the zone in the power-sharing arrangement. They consider the position of the deputy governor, which they currently occupy, as being infinitesimal and would want to add the position of Speaker as a bounty. Omo Omoruyi, a professor of political science and former director-general, Centre for Democratic Studies, CDS, is one of those who believe the position of Speaker should be ceded to Edo South. Omoruyi said, “It is a heavy population that has helped the ACN. Therefore, something must be created to reward these people for what they have been doing for the ACN”.
Curiously, some external influences seem to have hijacked the struggle. If for any reason the party decides to alter the zoning arrangement in favour of Edo South, the natural choice would have been Paul Ohonbamu, a lawyer, human rights activist and incumbent Deputy Speaker. But from all indications, some powerful individuals in the area are scheming to manipulate the selection in favour of their wards and protégées. Ohonbamu represents Egor Constituency but some individuals and groups, with certain candidates in mind, are trying to limit the choice to Oredo Local Government out of the seven local governments that make up Edo South Senatorial District.
A socio-cultural organisation, the Benin National Congress, BNC, last week called on the ACN leadership to consider Oredo for the position. David Ekomwenrenren, BNC’s director of mobilisation and information, in a statement, craved “for a candidate that has an astute record of pro-activism”, warning that “we will not accept a candidate that is lukewarm and tied to the apron-string of some retrogressive party men and women”. The magazine gathered that the BNC might be routing for Uyi Igbe, son of the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Sam Igbe or Patrick Osayimwen, who is also said to be highly connected in the local government area. Political observers, however, believe that aspirants to the seat from outside Oredo may not get it because the leadership of the party may want to please the palace of the Oba of Benin, which has not hidden its support for and endorsement of the party even ahead of the 2012 governorship election.
It is based on this realisation that the PDP is also altering its strategies in order to be able to reclaim the state come 2012. Though different aspirants from the three senatorial districts are positioning themselves for the party’s ticket, watchers of unfolding events in the embattled party, say many of them are in for a shocker. The magazine learnt that in order to counter the Oshiomhole threat, the leadership of the PDP has decided to review its zoning arrangement. An unimpeachable source in the party hinted that the governorship has been ceded to Edo South, which has the largest voting population. The calculation is that with bloc votes from the central senatorial district already guaranteed, a candidate from the south would also enhance its electoral fortune in the area while it would also scramble for some votes in Edo North, Oshiomhole’s senatorial district.
As attractive as this strategy may seem, it is not without its flip side. Already, there is a growing resentment to the idea especially by those who felt they have paid their dues in the party and should be so rewarded. Two aspirants stand the risk of losing out. They are Julius Ihonvbere, a former presidential aide and professor of political science who is from Edo North, and Kenneth Imasuagbon, an Abuja-based educationist, who hails from Edo Central. Both aspirants have tried unsuccessfully in the past to get their party’s ticket but failed. The magazine learnt that the party is banking on a serving army officer who will be retiring very soon; to slug it out with Oshiomhole in what promises to be an epic battle for Edo State. A source hinted the magazine that “how the other contenders will react to this will depend on what the party is putting on the table to placate them, especially for all the years of perseverance and service to the party”.
It could not be ascertained as at press time what the position of the governor is on which area produces the Speaker. A political analyst, however, told the magazine that rather that alienating the senatorial district by sacking its representatives in his government, the governor should strive to woo them. And last week, the governor’s axe fell again on Sam Uniamikogbo, the vice-chancellor, VC, of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, who was removed from office. Though no reason was given for his sack, informed sources hinted that apart from perceived administrative incompetence, it was not also without political undertone. The ACN, still sulking from the defeat of the Speaker, may be blaming the VC for the loss of the Esan West Constituency seat.
The magazine learnt that the Ekpoma community voted against Omokhodion because the ousted VC told them that he insisted on clearance from his office before any member of the community could be employed in the school or awarded contracts. The VC could also not furnish the government with the number of staff and students in the school and how much is generated annually.
The mass sack of the political appointees is, however, raising dust in the state in spite of the government’s defence that it was intended to strengthen the government. Tony Iyare, special adviser to the governor on media in a statement, said, “It is important to emphasise that there’s really nothing unusual about the removal of some commissioners and other senior aides as part of the ongoing cabinet changes and reshuffle being undertaken by the governor to reposition his team”. He declared, “Oshiomhole has the power to hire and fire his aides at will”. Iyare said it should be appreciated that “after 30 months of the administration, the governor, particularly as he approaches the homestretch, needed to reassess and reposition his team for more vigorous performance”.
But Isaiah Osifo, a political scientist and candidate of the Labour Party, said what Oshiomhole has done “is an open display of a policy that can create alienation”.
Apparently not impressed by the government’s justification of its action, Osifo said the defence “remains hanging because the rate of turnover of appointees in this present administration is embarrassingly high and does not suggest stability in the government.
Dan Orbih, PDP chairman, Edo State, said, “It is not right and proper for Oshiomhole to punish these people because the ACN did not win in their areas”. Orbih wondered how it has become a matter of must that people must win their areas because they are working for Oshiomhole. He said, “To turn around to use the people’s choice as a weapon to intimidate and punish those from a particular section of the state, is unacceptable”.