Like A Drowning Man

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Edo State Governor, Godwin 0baseki

A drowning man is desperate for survival, and acts desperately. This is the lesson of the developing political drama in Edo State, with Governor Godwin Obaseki as the central character. Obaseki had convinced eight other All Progressives Congress (APC) governors to go with him to a meeting with an influential leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at the State House, Marina, Lagos, on May 31.

According to a report, “Specifically, the governors wanted Tinubu to prevail on the party leadership to give Obaseki the right of first refusal.” The move was designed to counter the decision of their party’s National Working Committee (NWC) that the party’s candidate in the September governorship election in the state will be chosen through a direct primary election.

“However,” said the report, “Tinubu went to the meeting with the position that it is better, more democratic, constitutionally right and politically defensible that all aspirants should go for primaries to test their popularity, adding that, through that free and fair selection process, the ruling party will successfully build a strong democratic culture.”

After the first failure, the next day, a group of APC governors, this time without Obaseki, met with their party’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, at the APC national secretariat in Abuja. The question of the type of primary election for Edo State was on the front burner. Oshiomhole told journalists after the meeting: “We have since published our time table because under the law, we are required to give INEC at least 21 days’ notice to monitor our primaries and to state the mode of our primaries and of course NWC had approved direct primaries for Edo.

That of Ondo has not been discussed because that will come much later. Edo will come about three weeks before Ondo.” It was another failure. The governorship primary election in Edo State is scheduled for June 22. On the same day, Obaseki visited President Muhammadu Buhari concerning his interest in re-election on the platform of APC, the federal ruling party. After the meeting, the governor told journalists: “I came to see Mr President to formally inform him of my desire and intention to seek re-election as governor of Edo State on the platform of the APC in the forthcoming gubernatorial election.

“As a father of the country, as our president I should not just assume or take things for granted – I have to come to inform him and solicit his support in my gubernatorial bid, and the president was quite warm and quite welcoming. “When I showed him my Expression of Interest form, he looked through it and teased me that he would not have to go through this again and wished me good luck and assured me of his support.’’

Obaseki wants an indirect primary election, and he wants a second term. His actions suggest that he does not think he can win a direct primary election in the prevailing circumstances. ”The relationship is still frosty but I am doing all I can to try and make it warm… whatever I can do that is constitutional, I will do,’’ he said about his strained relationship with Oshiomhole, who is also a former two-term governor of the state and his political benefactor before things went awry between them.

His next move further showed his desperation. He chose Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Simon Lalong (Plateau) and Senator Ehigie Uzamere to work out a peace deal with 14 elected state lawmakers who had been excluded from the activities of the House of Assembly since January. Only 10 members of the 24-member legislature, loyal to Obaseki, were inaugurated in June last year; and the others had been sidelined.

According to a report, “The three-man panel has a mandate to reconcile the Executive with members-elect. “The exclusion of the 14 members-elect is one of the issues behind the virtually intractable crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC). “In a statement, the governor said the constitution of the reconciliation committee is part of moves to restore harmony and peace in the state chapter of the APC.”

Why did Obaseki wait till the approach of the primary election, and the decision to conduct a direct primary election, which he is opposed to, before trying to normalise the situation in the state legislature? As the drama developed, another related development caught the attention of the attentive public. A June 2 report said: ”A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has restrained the Edo Government and Gov Godwin Obaseki from arresting and prosecuting the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Adams Oshiomhole.”

According to the report, “a panel of inquiry set up by the state government headed by Justice J.U Oyomire, had in a white paper indicted Oshiomhole and recommended that criminal proceedings be commenced against him.” The court adjourned the matter until June 17. Obaseki’s camp believes that Oshiomhole’s camp will use a direct primary election to foil his re-election ambition. Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu said in a statement: “Despite this confidence and assurance that the victory of Governor Obaseki is not in doubt, we are not ready to go the way of the direct primary…

The APC national chairman is insisting on direct primary because the result of the yet to be conducted direct primary election is already written by him, just waiting to be announced.” This shows fear, not confidence. Interestingly, Shaibu brought the coronavirus pandemic into the matter. “Our preference for indirect primary is because we don’t want to secure victory at the expense of the health of those we are seeking to lead,” he said, adding that Obaseki did not want a situation that could expose the people to COVID-19 and other situations that could endanger their lives.

”That doesn’t amount to fear of failure in facing any election but rather putting the interest of the public above desperation to win an election,” he stressed. His argument is specious. It is expected that party and electoral authorities will take steps to minimise possible risks. Direct voting by party members, rather than indirect voting by delegates, should not be feared. Obaseki’s actions show desperation. He is acting like a drowning man desperate for survival.

Source: The Nation

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