BY BRIGHT JACOB
With the political succession plan of the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki of the People’s Democratic Party, still at the crossroads, mother luck may shine on a dark horse in the September 2024 gubernatorial election in the state, as the Labour Party, attempts to wrest power from the PDP.
The relationship between Obaseki and his deputy, Phillip Shaibu, has been making headlines over the latter’s insistence on transitioning into a governor in the state where an unwritten zoning arrangement is expected to be a deal breaker for some of the aspirants who want to gain political ascendancy.
Shaibu, from Edo North senatorial district, had instituted a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, where he is seeking a restraining order that would forbid Obaseki, who favours a would-be successor from Edo Central, from impeaching him (Shaibu) over their irreconcilable differences.
The Governor has, however, denied having any ulterior motive in the matter, and unambiguously reprimanded his ambitious deputy for embracing the Emilokan (it is my turn) syndrome or spirit which he (Shaibu) thinks is “a strategy for winning elections and ruling Edo people.”
And coming to the All Progressives Congress, with some members of the main opposition party in the state still smarting from the gale of suspension which hit the party after the March 18 national elections because of allegations of “anti-party” activities, the Labour Party’s march to the Edo State government house looks promising.
Indeed, few days after the March 18 elections, APC bigwig and former State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Henry Idahagbon, and the APC vice chairperson in the state, Francis Inegbeniki, together with other respected party buffs in the state, were summarily suspended for alleged anti-party activities.
There is now an uneasy calm in the Edo APC political horizon as it is feared these “suspensions” may come back to haunt the party in 2024.
The gubernatorial election in Edo State will, thus, be the springboard the Labour Party needs to test its might, and also consolidate on the popularity the party enjoyed during the last presidential election courtesy of its flag bearer, Peter Obi, who was welcomed, last week, by a throng of supporters after he stormed the state for the September 2, 2023 local government polls campaign.
Obi, acutely aware of the leverage a victory in the local government polls could provide for Labour’s gubernatorial charge, reminded the people that the development of any country is domiciled in the local government areas which he said is the nearest tier of government to the people.
We are going to look for the best among party members. And then we will pool our resources, energy, and efforts together to ensure that the person we choose performs. The purpose of doing that is to ensure that at every point in time when he derails, we will be able to hold him accountable
However, whether he succeeded in warming his way into the hearts of the ordinary Edo people, and naysayers, with his elocution remains to be seen.
The two-term Governor of Anambra State, who enjoys a cult following of supporters, known as Obidients, polled 194,426 votes or 71.35 percent of the total vote cast in Edo State during the presidential election, while the eventual winner and Nigeria’s current president, Bola Tinubu, got 37,728 or 13.84 percent of the vote.
Coming on the heels of the two political juggernauts was the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, a heavyweight himself, who secured 31,187 or 11.44 percent of the vote cast.
In the Senatorial election, the LP secured one out of the three Senatorial districts in the state, with the party’s candidate, Imasuen Neda Bernards, swooping up the Edo South Senatorial district seat. APC candidates won the two remaining senatorial districts in Edo North (Adams Oshiomhole) and Edo Central (Monday Okpebholo).
In the House of Representatives, the LP secured only two of the federal constituencies while the APC smiled home with the remaining five seats.
While in the Edo State House of Assembly, the LP can only boast of one state constituency seat with the PDP roaring back to life having secured 15 assembly seats. The APC occupies eight seats.
The results of the general elections was ample evidence of the prospects of the Labour Party in the. This made many politicians in Edo state to look in the direction of the Labour Party.
Because success has many fathers, “castaways” from the APC and PDP began to romance the party, seeking its platform to launch, in some cases, their dwindling political fortune.
In one memorable encounter a few months back, a PDP governorship aspirant in 2020 who defected to the Labour Party, Kenneth Imansuangbon, said godfatherism was prevalent in the PDP.
He also said he wanted to escape the “oppression” of unnamed godfathers by joining the Labour Party.
Imansuangbon said, “I have been in this sojourn to govern Edo State for 20 years. I pray that LP will get it right, and if they do and give me the ticket, it will mean game over for the godfathers. I do not want to put my case in the hands of godfathers anymore.
“I am tired of the oppression of godfathers. I am tired of the godfathers’ deception and tricks.”
In other instances, the Labour Party itself has extended open invitations to big fries, like Shaibu, whom the chairperson of the party in the state, Kelly Ogbaloi, asked to come to LP and cast his gubernatorial net.
According to some analysts, this sudden turn of events, where the party has become the beautiful bride, could put competence, commitment and character, qualities expected of intending flag bearers of the party, in jeopardy.
Ahead of the gubernatorial poll, shenanigans like this may have compelled the controversial national chairman of LP, Julius Abure, to say that he would not impose any candidate on supporters of the party and Edo people, generally.
Abure, who incidentally is an Edo indigene, promised not to have an “anointed candidate” and vowed to afford a level playing field to every aspirant who intends to throw his or her hat into the ring in the quest to secure the party’s ticket during its yet-to-be-announced primary.
Abure said, “We are going to ensure a level playing field for all aspirants. There will be equal treatment in the primaries, which will be a competitive one.
“As national chairman of the party, though I hail from Edo State, I want to state here categorically that I will not have an anointed candidate,” he said.
Abure also said the party’s ideal candidate would be the individual who would be held accountable if he or she derails.
“We are going to look for the best among party members. Then we will pool our resources, energy, and efforts together to ensure that the person we choose performs. The purpose of doing that is to ensure that at every point in time when he derails, we will be able to hold him accountable,” he said.
Reacting to the chances of the LP winning the governorship seat in Edo State because of the “issues” in the APC and PDP, a political analyst, Marvins Abhulimen, said it is possible 2024 would be the Labour Party’s year and insisted that “my Edo people” would always deliver.
Abhulimen, who is the former Public Relations Officer of KOWA party but now a staunch member of the Labour Party, however, said the greatest albatross facing the party in the state is the incidence where “many LP people are just Obidients and might still be members of other political parties,” a situation he says will not be favourable if those parties put their houses in order.
He also said the quality of candidates produced by the party would matter a lot.
“It is possible (2024 will be our year). My Edo people are very Obidient and remember that despite all the shenanigans of the election, they delivered the Senate in Edo State. So, It is possible.
“However, the challenge in Edo State is that many LP people are just Obidients and might still be members of other political parties.
“You also have chieftains of other political parties who are, at the same time, Obidients.
Those are the kind of challenges that we expect to have, where we have people who are Obidients but not LP members,” Abhulimen said.
Continuing, he said, “So, it depends on how much the houses of the PDP and APC are put in order before the LP might be able to make any impact.
“Also, the kind of candidates that (will) emerge (during the party’s primary) will be key.
This is why for those of us who are Obidients and pro-Labour Party, we do not just support the party blindly. The candidates must possess the three C’s of leadership. That is, they must be Competent, Committed and have strong Character,” Abhulimen added.
Moreover, he said the Labour Party’s chances at the polls would “drop” if the party was “hijacked” and a candidate who inspires hope does not emerge.
In Abhulimen’s opinion, the LP is not the APC or PDP whose candidates get away with allegations of fraud leveled against them.
He also said only candidates with untainted records and who have all the requisite qualities expected of a leader, would be given a look at by the Obidient movement.
In Ahbulimen’s assessment, it is through this means that the February 25 presidential election feat will be replicated in the governorship election in Edo State.
Asked whether Obi’s personality and charisma could have any influence on the outcome of the poll, he said, “Yes, his personality will have a lot of influence.
“You can see the Senator who emerged from Edo South, you will see that Obi’s influence had a lot to do with delivering that senatorial seat,” he said.
Abhulimen, who is also an engineer by training, however, said that more than Obi’s personality, what the state needs the most now is a credible election.
“It is not just Obi’s personality that is even the most important thing now. What we really need now and what we have always asked for is credible elections.
“If the Independent National Electoral Commission can conduct a credible election, even losers will find it easy to concede and accept results.
“In the LP, we are not desperate to win elections. We are more interested in the process,” he concluded.
On his part, a Chieftain of the PDP in the state, Anselm Ojezua, said the “irreconcilable differences” and “internal crisis” in the PDP may not support the strengthening of the LP.
In his view, the after-shock of the February 25 elections galvanised the PDP into trying to reconcile aggrieved members of the party.
Ojezua disagreed with Ahbulimen on Obi’s influence, submitting that the former Governor of Anambra State will not be a game changer in the election because he will not contest any of the elections in Edo State.
He also said Obi came at a time when the masses had given up hope in the political class and wanted a change from the status quo.
The Labour Party will not make a good showing in Edo State next year. I do not think so because I know there is a lot of effort ongoing to reconcile what people consider (to be) irreconcilable (in the PDP). And I also know that a lot of progress has been made, so far.
“The national election of February shocked our party men into reality. If we persist in all that we are doing, we stand a chance of losing everything. That knowledge has helped to ginger the possibility of reconciliation.
“About Obi, you have to consider his personality vis-à-vis the status of the Labour Party. In the February election, I think it was about Obi as a person. If Obi had gone to Action Alliance, for instance, the party would have enjoyed that level of exposure across the country.
“There is a general feeling of disappointment. Nigerians, generally, do not believe that what they received from the political class from 1999 to date is what they truly deserve.
“When Obi emerged, it was an opportunity, in my opinion, for citizens to try someone else.
Don’t forget also that there were quite a number of them who were not interested in participating (in the process), but when Obi came, they decided to give it a shot, but look at the results today.
“It is very difficult to say he would be a game changer (in Edo) because he is not going to contest election here,” he asserted.
Ojezua, who is a lawyer and former chairperson of the APC in Edo State, also said he observes a lot of (political) opportunism by many of those who berated the LP in the past for not having “structure.”
According to him, these politicians are now flocking together under the party’s banner.
Ojezua revealed, as well, that “inexperience” and “a lack of knowledge” would be the bane of the Labour Party’s success in Edo State.
“If you see what is going on in the Labour Party now, you are going to see a lot of opportunism, because everyone who made public statements to the effect that Labour did not possess a structure, have gone to Labour now.
“But what they do not understand is that what was in Labour when it made that impact (during the general elections) may not be there anymore, because it is the Obidients that put life into Labour.
“I will say inexperience will be their greatest albatross in Edo next year. If you look at their immediate experience – what happened in February and perhaps March elections – you will find out that had Labour Party supporters used the same enthusiasm in voting to approach how they protected their votes, the results would have been different.
“Obidients were on ground, but they did not know that they had the right to insist that the results (at the polling units) must be transmitted before they proceed to the collation centres. And that if the results were not able to be transmitted by reason of the so-called glitch, then of course the election would be aborted.
The Labour Party will not make a good showing in Edo State next year. I do not think so because I know there is a lot of effort ongoing to reconcile what people consider (to be) irreconcilable (in the PDP). And I also know that a lot of progress has been made, so far
“But they didn’t know. They had won, they were happy and everybody celebrated and went home, but INEC went away to do whatever they wanted to do,” Ojezua said.
Obi, Abure, and the immediate past president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, had on Monday, urged Edo people to come out en masse to vote for the candidates vying for the chairmanship seats of the 18 local government areas of Edo State.
The trio, who gave the advice during the Edo State Labour Party mega rally for local government elections ahead of the council poll slated for September 2, 2023, explained that the local government is the fulcrum for the growth of any society.
Speaking at the rally, Obi noted that development is domiciled in local government areas especially in health and education sectors, hence the need for those in authority to prioritize these areas to drive growth in grassroot.
The former Anambra State governor, who stressed on how political office holders woo the electorate but end up not meeting expectations, said the time for unfulfilled promises are over.
He urged the chairmanship as well as council candidates to deliver on their promises to their various councils if they emerge victorious.
He, however, lamented the prevailing situation confronting Nigerians, urging those presiding over the affairs to account for public money, do the right thing for the interest of the citizenry and pull people out of poverty.
Abure, on his part, urged Governor Godwin Obaseki to ensure the election is free, fair and credible.
Akpata, in his remarks, expressed confidence that the Labour Party would triumph in the forthcoming council election.
“We are not going to wallow in the presumptions that things must be done in a certain way. The right thing must be done. We are confident. The people are ready and they will not accept anything less than transparency.
Speaking on why he joined the Labour Party, he said: “I am a Nigerian who is interested in what our nation looks like. I am interested in the betterment of our country. The only way you can express whatever it is to contribute to the improvement of the nation is by joining a party. I have chosen the Labour Party and there is no other option.”