BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
PRIOR to November 2007 when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole became the Governor of Edo State, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was always the focus when it comes to primaries of political parties in the state. Now, the action has shifted to Oshiomhole’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). A host of PDP leaders defected to the ACN after the party took over power and it was expected that the primaries of the party would be a tough fight.
In the PDP, the exercise was unusually calm. The leadership of the party made sure they satisfied all their aspirants in order not to cause more crisis for the party since it is in the opposition now. There was an initial plan by the Chief Tony Anenih-led leadership of the PDP to return its state and federal lawmakers for another term but there was resistance from party members who insisted that primaries must be conducted.
Anenih bowed to their request after he stressed that the best candidates must be allowed to emerge. The party went into the primaries which commenced with that of the state House of Assembly and the result of that exercise was shocking to many because some loyalists of Chief Anenih lost the opportunity to return to the House of Assembly. One of such notable persons was the former Leader of the State House of Assembly, Mr Frank Okiye, representing Esan North East.
The result of that exercise could be seen as true reflection of votes of members of the PDP because it was the first time the people’s vote counted in a PDP primary in the state. But the result of the exercise jolted a section of the PDP leadership in the state, which went back to strategize on how to conduct that of the National Assembly to ensure serving senators and members of the House of Representatives from Edo on PDP platform did not lose like some of their state assembly colleagues. All those who lost at the PDP House of Assembly primaries did not protest because the exercise was transparent.
However, the game changed in the National Assembly primaries where all the incumbents were given return tickets. There were allegations that after the House of Assembly primaries, the leadership of the party doctored the list of delegates so as to ensure the return of the incumbent lawmakers.
In Edo South, Senator Daisy Danjuma slugged it out with the former Chairman of Egor Local Government Council, Barr Henry Idahagbon. The former Chief of Staff to the state Government Mr Isaiah Osifo withdrew from the race 48 hours before the exercise after he accused the Chief Dan Orbih-led executive of doctoring the list of delegates to ensure the emergence of Senator Danjuma. He subsequently decamped to the Labour Party where he picked the senatorial ticket. Senator Danjuma went on to defeat Idahiagbon in a contest the latter accepted defeat after hailing the process.
And in Edo Central, as expected, the old war horse, Senator Odion Ugbesia emerged after beating Engr Cliffford Odia, who was earlier tipped to win the contest.
The contest was a tough one for Senator Yisa Braimoh in Edo North. But he won after defeating Chief Francis Alimekhena. Alimekhena cried foul and accused the leadership of the party of foisting Braimoh on the people. According to him, “we have earlier been told that the leadership of the party has concluded plans to ensure that Braimoh emerge so what they did was to manipulate the process to make it happen. I have sent my protest to the national leadership of the party and I am waiting for response. What the leadership of the party did was unfair to we members of the party”.
But the State Chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, who responded to allegations from aspirants that the exercise was skewed to ensure the emergence of some candidates regarded as the “Leader’s foot soldiers,” insisted that the process was very transparent and that whoever has complaints should channel it to the appropriate quarters.
His words: “When I came in as Chairman of the party, I did say that the days of imposition are gone. And honestly, I maintained my stance. If you look at those who won, you will find out that it was not even easy for them because other aspirants gave them a fight unlike before. Nobody was imposed on anybody.
I discussed this extensively with our national leader, Chief Anenih and he agreed with me that it must be one man one vote. He warned that we must allow transparency and that was what we did. Edo State PDP is a reformed one and we want candidates that will comfortably beat the ACN candidates. Indeed after the PDP primaries, most of its members have been united and warming up seriously to face the ACN in the general elections.
And for the ACN, the rancour that greeted its primaries was expected because the belief is that anybody who gets the ticket has automatically won the general election. The signal came during their ward and local government congresses when some aspirants hijacked the process in their respective councils and wards to ensure that they have the delegates in their kitty.
And the problem was worsened with the arrival of some PDP members who decamped to the ACN. The new members were discriminated against as the old members felt they should queue up rather than pick the ticket of the party. There was tension prior to the primaries particularly after the resignation of the former Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie from the party. The rumour that the Governor had anointed some candidates almost marred the primaries. However Oshiomhole debunked the rumours and opted for open primaries.
He encouraged all the aspirants to go to the field and test their might. The main Edo South action was actually in the senatorial race where Senator Ehigie Uzamere slugged it out with Mathew Urhohide. It would be recalled that Uzamere defeated Urhohide in 2007 when Uzamere flew the PDP flag.
However, after the primaries Uzamere picked the ticket in Edo South, the former National Women Leader of the PDP, Herbettar Okonofua, picked the Edo Central senatorial ticket while Deacon Domingo Obende picked that of Edo North after defeating Oshiomhole’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Tunde Lakoju. The outcome of the primaries plunged the party into crisis. Dr Lakoju after describing Governor Oshiomhole as the “grand father of imposition” dumped the party for the PDP where he came from.
However, there are also threats by Mr Theo Okoh and Urhohide who ran against Herbettar and Uzamere respectively to move their supporters to the PDP. Though the leadership of the party, led by Governor Oshiomhole has embarked on moves to settle aggrieved members.
There are however indications that some ACN members may move to the PDP before the elections and that may pose a great danger to the party. Vanguard also learnt that there are members of the party who are aggrieved but prefer to remain in the ACN but may vote the PDP in the general elections. The coast will be clearer in a few weeks time.