Oshiomhole in Dilemma as Edo AC Splits

2010-04-30
THISDAY Newspaper


The news of division in the ruling Action Congress (AC), in Edo State has created deep tension in the party. Adibe Emenyonu traces the factionalisation story to Grace Group, a pressure group which comprises majority of the membership of the party.
At the twilight of the administration of former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion in 2007 after the expiration of his eight-year reign in May 29, of same year, the hitherto dominant party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was sharply divided. The division attained a climax when party membership revalidation exercise carried out by the party’s national secretariat snowballed into crisis at the state, local government and ward levels.

At the end of that exercise, prominent members of the party at all levels were de-registered, thus culminating in the formation of new political platforms. One of such parties was the Action Congress (AC) which was formed by the disenfranchised members of PDP to serve as a platform for the pursuit of their political ambitions.

In Edo State, the deregistration in PDP also witnessed the constitution of a new political group, Grace Group, with the intention to challenge the existing political establishment. The group was founded by Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a former Secretary to Edo State Government. The group which has as its motto: “No Man is God,” was purely formed to challenge the Chief Tony Anenih’s perceived overbearing influence on the party (PDP).

The intra-party crisis in Edo PDP, according to investigation, started in 2005 when the PDP verification exercise commenced, but only escalated when it became obvious that it had lost many members of the party. Opportunities however, came when AC emerged as a registered political party and all the disenfranchised members decided to pitch their tents with AC.

Conscious of the necessity for a credible governorship candidate, if it must teach its rivals in PDP some political lessons, the AC opted to draft the former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, into the party. Oshiomhole who came via a joint ticket of the Labour Party and Action Congress, fulfilled the desires of those who invited him as well as the masses as he lived up to his promise to defend their votes. Though he was robbed of victory at the polls, victory was eventually restored to him through the Elections Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal which on November 11, 2008 affirmed the decision of the lower tribunal.

However, immediately victory was achieved and the time to share the “booty,” followed, prominent members of AC in the state began to fight one another over the method to employ in sharing the “cake.” Like a leopard that never changes its spot, the same insatiable appetites that are usually associated with Nigerian politics reared up their heads. While some are of the opinion that the doctrine of winners take all should apply, others are not disposed to such views of “kill and divide.”

Oshiomhole’s resistance started the war and today, the party is sharply divided. It was learnt that the battle to control Oshiomhole started the crisis amongst the “noble” group that saw him to power. A source close to the Government House, Benin, disclosed that just after his swearing-in on November 12, 2008, the big wigs called him to a meeting where they presented a list of political appointees to him. This signalled the first issue he had with them. The former Labour president was said to have shocked conveners of the meeting as he announced the appointment of Secretary to the State Government [SSG] and Chief of Staff (COS), contrary to the names on the list presented to him.


It took Oshiomhole’s power of persuasion to convince these AC leaders to accept his decision.It was reliably gathered that Oshiomhole openly told the party stalwarts what informed his decision to appoint Pally Iriase and Osarodion Ogie as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and the Chief of Staff respectively. As active members of AC and foundation members of Grace Group which is made up of the present crop of AC in Edo State, some persons believed that the choice of the two shouldn’t create any disharmony, but that was not the case.

THISDAY learnt that the governor based his choice of the two on the ground of merit and commitments to democratic growth in the state. It was learnt that as the Chairman of Owan East Local Government area of the state, after serving as the Deputy Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly between 1999-2003, Iriase fought the cabals in PDP over his preference to use direct labour instead of contract awards to party men. As a result of this, Iriase was in 2006, summoned by the House of Assembly where he was asked to desist from such attitude or face suspension. However, his decision to continue with the use of direct labour as a means of saving money to enable him embark on more infrastructural developments of the council area not only earned Iriase suspension, but also an expulsion from the party.

Similarly, the current Chief of Staff, Ogie endeared himself to Oshiomhole because of the brilliance he displayed during the legal tussle which accompanied the April 14, 2007 governorship election in the state. Ogie, as gathered, was said to be the arrow head of persons dishing out information that the legal team used in nailing PDP. As a member of the team, Ogie was able to collate all the information needed by the team and was never slack for a second until victory was achieved.

Those opposed to the two appointments later soft pedaled on the ground that being his first major appointments, Oshiomhole had the priority to choose his personal staff. The last straw that broke the camel’s back were the appointments of commissioners, special advisers and senior special assistants. With the mind set of division, a good number of them were alleged to have collected money from lobbyists, promising to ensure that they were given one political appointment or the other. The political acolytes, knowing fully well that their masters called the shots in the party obliged. Again, Oshiomhole disappointed them. It was then that some of them lost faith in the governor and swore to wait for him in the days ahead.

It was reliably gathered that Oshiomhole neglected the list presented to him by some prominent members of the party particularly those who believed in the “cake of office” and who thought they should be part of the sharing because they played significant roles to ensure his victory. Some of them were said to have sold out to the opposition at one time or the other by conniving with certain chieftains in PDP to persuade Oshiomhole to withdraw his case from the tribunal which he refused to do.

Not only that, some of them were alleged to have tampered with the N30 million that a former governor in the state brought to help prosecute the case in court. To Oshiomhole, it was only the likes of the SSG, COS and others within his team that merited such appointments and not those who behaved like the chameleon.

Additionally, Oshiomhole’s subterranean engagement of these elements stemmed from their recent contemplation to move back to the PDP with former Vice President Abubakar Atiku. During the 60th birthday anniversary of Chief Tom Ikimi in Benin, which had in attendance Atiku, a nocturnal meeting was held at the country home of Igbinedion with AC chieftains in the state. One of the agenda of that meeting according to a source, was the plea by Atiku with his followers to return with him to PDP.

Another issue discussed as further learnt was the absence of Oshiomhole who was invited to the meeting but which he neither attended nor sent a representative. The governor’s refusal to attend, it was learnt, was based on his conviction that it was immoral to jump from one political platform to another. “This cannot deepen democracy in our polity,” the governor was quoted to have said.

Therefore, like the PDP, the AC government in Edo State is currently having its own share of crisis at the moment. As often said, when an organisation is faced with internal crisis, there is bound to be disequilibrium. When this happens, what normally happens is a cataclysm in form of disenchantments.

The disenchantments, sources close to the party say, have divided major elements of Grace Group, a pressure group that originally formed the bulk of AC membership in Edo State, into two fronts. The division occurs between those who are disposed to moving because their thinking is not in tandem with the governor’s style and policies and those who are committed to his dream and aspiration.

To this extent, those who feel aggrieved have started to romance the PDP, obviously to return, which will serve as a boost to Atiku’s recent visit to Edo State. THISDAY reliably gathered that those who had concluded plans to move to PDP have two jokers in their kitty, which they intend to play as the political momentum in the state gather.

The first option according to an insider within Grace Group, who preferred anonymity, is outright pull out from the party to PDP which formally rejected its members. To achieve this, members of the group is said to have concluded plans to join forces with the Samuel Ogbemudia faction of PDP to create a new political platform during the forthcoming 2010 local government election as well as the 2011 House of Assembly and National Assembly elections in the state in a bid to outwit AC.

To test the workability of the arrangement, the Ogbemudia faction of PDP which comprises Admiral Mike Akhigbe, former Chief of General Staff and Prince Solomon Aguele, pioneer chairman of the party in the state wrote Jonathan to consider its ministerial nominee after the acting president dissolved the federal executive council recently.

The second option THISDAY further learnt, is outright denial of Oshiomhole the AC ticket come 2012. And to achieve this is the subtle move to ensure that their preferred candidates scale through the local government, state assembly and National Assembly elections in the state.

Already, the 13 AC lawmakers in the state assembly are divided into three factions. While five have accepted the decision to return to PDP, five are vehemently opposed to the move, while two are sitting on the fence.

 

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