By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu
THERE is tension in the two dominant political parties in Edo State, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as aspirants jostle for tickets to contest the 2019 polls.
Other parties like the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have commenced the processes to pick their candidates while others are waiting for the fallouts of the primaries of the so-called big parties so they could harvest disgruntled members.
Expectedly, the contest would be fiercest in the APC for obvious reason that it is the dominant party.
Much attention would be on the state being the home of the National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In the last congresses of the APC nationwide, Edo State, arguably, had the least crisis.
Not oblivious of these great expectations and the practice of political leaders demanding various sums and gifts from aspirants, the party leadership was smart with a stern official notice signed by its secretary Lawrence Okah banning any form of campaign by aspirants until directed otherwise just as it threatened sanction against any aspirant the goes against the directive.
Inspite of the directives, however, aspirants have been subtly declaring their ambitions and meeting with leaders of the party.
Two principal actors, Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki, are crucial to the process as many believe their ability to agree on aspirants.
Some foot soldiers of the governor have been working surreptitiously to build a political structure for him but what is not clear is if these foot soldiers have the support of Obaseki.
Going by the on-going crisis in the National Assembly leading to defections and threats of defection, party loyalty would be a factor to reward lawmakers who stood with the party except areas where there are zoning arrangements which the party leadership may not want to alter.
The meeting of Oshiomhole with the members of the National Assembly recently and the response of the lawmakers showed that automatic ticket for them was a factor in their discussions.
Edo South, made up of seven local governments, is the largest senatorial district making up for about 56 per cent of the voting population of the state.
A former Chief of Staff to Oshiomhole and erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, who represented Oredo Federal Constituency between 2007 and 2011, Hon Patrick Obahiagbon, and popularly called Igodomigodo, is in the forefront to clinch the ticket of this district.
There seems to be a consensus among the leaders of the party about his commitment to the party and they believe therefore that, as a reward for that, he should get the senatorial ticket to slug it out with the incumbent Senator representing the District, Matthew Uroghide of the PDP who has been very visible in the red chambers even as a first time senator.
One thing that seems to have worked for Igodomigodo is loyalty. He has been consistent with the party even after losing nomination two times first to get a return ticket to the House of Representatives in 2011 in the then Action Congress and to be the senatorial candidate of the APC in 2015.
Virtually all the leaders of the party leaders including the likes of very vocal Honourable Charles Idahosa, the governor, Oshimhole and others all seemed to be on same direction in the Obahiagbon project.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that he was one of the very few aides to Oshiomhole who followed him all the way to Iyamho on November 14, 2016 after Oshiohole handed over to Obaseki while several others stayed back in Benin City lobbying for appointments in the new dispensation.
As at today, Obahiagbon is the Special Adviser, National Assembly Matters to Governor Obaseki but attached to Oshiomhole.
Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that the governor is interested in having at least two ranking senators in the next dispensation that could compete for principal office positions and head strategic committees and Obahiagbon falls into this category. He was in the House of Representatives between 2007 and 2011 so would automatically be a ranking member of the senate.
Beyond the experience of Obahiagbon who is also a two term member of the state house of assembly, his popularity is not in doubt as he has great following across party divides and all over the country among young people, students, intellectuals and others.
It would be recalled that former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal while on a visit to Edo State once told then Governor Oshiomhole to ensure the return of Obahiagbon to the National Assembly as he confirmed then that Obahiagbon was being missed in the National Assembly.
Apparently reading the hand writing on the wall many persons interested in the senate in Edo South have seemingly buried their ambition for Obahiagbon.
This is Comrade Oshiomhole’s District and he has played decisive roles in the determining who becomes the senator in the area. He was decisive in 2011 when he talked all other leaders to allow Senator Domingo Obende who is from the minority Akoko-Edo local government area get the ticket and was also instrumental to his not getting a second term in 2015 which led to the emergence of the incumbent Senator Francis Olimikhena.
Oshiomhole held a sallah holiday meeting with political leaders and followers on Monday where he thereafter met with selected leaders where he told all aspirants for the senatorial seat to step down for the incumbent Alimikhena.
Although Vanguard learnt one of the aspirants is sill yet to agree on that, a frontline aspirant, Professor Julius Ihonvbere added credence to this where he responded to a Vanguard inquiry through sms that he is ow vying for the House of Representatives to represent Owan Federal Constituency.
Consistency to remain with the party on what is happening in the National Assembly seemed to have played a major role in favour of Alimikhena. He was initially seen as a Saraki man, he went against the proposal of the APC to emerge as Deputy Chief Whip making him a principal officer and ranking senator against his rivals.
Another factor is the position of traditional rulers in Etsako made of three local government areas out of the six that constitute the Senatorial District. The other three are Akoko-Edo, Owan East and Owan West.
Some traditional rulers are said to have drummed it to Oshiomhole that the only way they would support his candidate is if he is from Etsako otherwise they would mobilise their subjects for any party that presents an Etsako candidate.
Alimikhena also fits into Obaseki’s desire to have at least two ranking senators in the red chambers, a standing Ihonvbere does not poses despite his unarguable competence.
Until the crisis in the National Assembly and the seeming ethnic consideration of some traditional rulers in Etsako, , Ihonvbere was the favoured aspirant; Oshiomhole is from Etsako same for the state deputy governor, Hon Philip Shaibu, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon Kabiru Adjoto and the Chief of Staff to Obaseki, Taiwo Akerele are from Akoko-Edo so it was only the Owan axis in the tripod that make up Edo North which are Akoko-Edo, Etsako and Owan that was lagging behind.
This senatorial district though with the smallest voting population of less than 17 per cent of the total voting population in the state would most likely experience the highest frenzy. The situation there would be tricky.
It is the area where the governor and Oshiomhole may clash going by the existence of gladiators and clash of interests in the area.
There is already tension within the party as the state party chairman, Anselm Ojezua who is from the district, the governor and Oshiomhole for now seem to be on different pages as to who should get the ticket of the party.
There have been three dominant forces in the area; Chief Francis Inegbeneki and Theophilus Okoh who have been perennial rivals and then Prince Joe Okojie who is the current Special Adviser on Agriculture to Governor Obaseki.
While Oshiomhole was said to be battling on how to ensure the three work together to guide against past experiences where whoever lost in the primaries work against the winner in the main election does not occur, Obaseki from the blues is said to have directed his commissioner for finance, John Inegbedion to present himself for the seat.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the governor wanted a third force to neutralise the influence of the three but another school of thought said the governor has a different agenda of creating a space for his person to emerge as the next commissioner for finance.
This twist by the governor seemed to have united the trio of Okoh, Inegneneki and Okojie as it was reliably gathered that they have been told to meet among themselves and choose a candidate who would now be endorsed by the leaders including the national chairman.
The incident in Irrua on Monday where some youths pelted the convoy of the governor over his refusal to have a separate meeting with them when he met with selected leaders showed the tension in the area.
Few hours after that, Inegbeneki publicly declared his ambition to run for the senate.
Inegbeneki who was the candidate of the party in 2015 insisted that he won that election but that the result was manipulated in favour of the incumbent senator representing the area, Clifford Ordia of the PDP who he accused of not doing enough to give the needed representation to Esan people.
On the fear of internal wrangling in the party that has cost his party the senatorial ticket since 2011, Inegbeneki said “I am happy that as an aspirant we have Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the national chairman of the APC. And since he came on board you see a lot of things are happening in the party. We are going to have direct primary election and the people will decide who will represent them. Yes, there are bound to be interests but I know that after the primary APC will come out stronger, the party leadership is working on it.”
But the Edo State Commissioner for Finance, Mr. John Osagie Inegbedion, has also joined the race for the Edo Central Senatorial seat.
He is hinging his popularity on the fact that he won the Igueben seat for the Edo House of Assembly in 2015 by defeating Chief Tom Ikimi who hails from the locality.
Local council chairmen of the five local governments that made up the Senatorial district are said to have been given a marching order to work for the emergence of Inegbedion as the party’s candidate.
Inegbedion told journalists that he joined the race because “it is time to change the narrative for elective position.
He said Nigeria need Senators that can deliver on jobs creation, effective quality service that would boost the economy.
But beyond these schemings, there is disenchantment among party leaders over low patronage from the governor and what they also called arrogance of language from government house.
What is clear is that the APC must put forward its best eleven to stand a chance of unseating the incumbent senators from Edo South and Edo central.
Again, party leaders are looking up to Oshiomhole for direction as the party is determined to win all the National Assembly seats available.