It will no doubt be an Edo affair when the All Progressives Congress (APC) faithful congregate at the party’s forthcoming national convention to chose a new helmsman for the party.
And should the incumbent national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun bother to take a quick glance over his shoulder as preparations gather steam, all he would see will be the sturdy shadow of the former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is hot on his heels.
Be that as it may, the two contenders share some things in common. For instance, they are both from Edo State, which they have at different times governed. While Odigie-Oyegun, from Edo South, was governor between 1991 and 1993 during the still birthed Third Republic, Oshiomhole from Edo North held sway from 2008 to 2016.
Again, while Odigie-Oyegun was in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and then the All People’s Party (APP), Oshiomhole pitched tent with the Action Congress (AC), then the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Like two faithful friends lost in a storm, both men reunited as foundation members of the APC when the wind died down.
Activities in the ruling APC have been frenzied in the past few weeks, especially after President Muhammadu Buhari, who cited constitutional reasons, reversed the tenure elongation for members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
It was about this time that speculations that Oshiomhole was the favoured chairmanship candidate became rife among his supporters and opponents alike. Expectedly, his supporters also saw the development as a sign of good things to come for the party, both in the state and at the national level, as they believe there was need to inject fresh breath into the party. This, they believe was part of the reasons that Oshiomhole fits the bill.
They also maintain that the dying interest in the party in the state could only be revived by Oshiomhole. In fact, The Guardian reliably gathered that some leaders of the party in the state were already discussing with some opposition parties, particularly the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with a view to joining it ahead of 2019, if Oshiomhole fails to emerge chairman. They insist that Oshiomhole was the only reason they were still in the party.
On the other hand, Oshiomhole’s opponents are of the view that his perceived overbearing posture may be counterproductive, as they argued that the party still needs a helmsman in Odigie-Oyegun’s mould ahead of the 2019 contest.
But it would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari has never hidden his admiration for the former labour leader from his days in the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and even when as governor, he was able to change the narratives of politics in the state, and successfully relegating the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition bench.
With the current state of affairs in the party, it seriously needs a more forceful personality at the helms, which is what Buhari found in Oshiomhole.The Guardian reliably gathered that Odigie-Oyegun was not Buhari’s first choice during the formative period of the APC, having been together in the then All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), before Buhari left to form the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), but the president had to give in because the APC national leader and some other “progressives” in the then new party preferred him to Chief Tom Ikimi, who left the party shortly after the 2014 national convention.
For sometime now, the president had consulted with leaders and stakeholders of the party on his preference for Oshiomhole as the party chair. The consultation paid off when recently, the Edo State caucus of the party took the first action, when it urged Oshiomhole to run for the office. The meeting, which was presided over by the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, had in attendance, others including the Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; former governor of the state, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor; incumbent deputy governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, Deputy Chief whip of the Senate, Francis Alimekhena; Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Pally Iriase; Secretary to the Edo State Government, Osarodion Ogie, and entire members of the House of Representatives, former senators, among others.
After the meeting, the state chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua informed newsmen that the national leadership of the party has also resolved to maintain its zoning arrangement regarding offices, a development, which qualifies the former governor for the contest.He stressed that Oshiomhole remains the sole candidate of the state for the position, adding that he has all it takes to lead the APC to victory in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
“Today, we had our state caucus meeting and at the meeting, a motion was put to urge our leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to put himself forward for the position of the national chairman of the APC, considering the fact that NEC had graciously approved that the zoning formula earlier put in place should be sustained. This makes him eminently qualified.
“Therefore, we felt that at this critical time of the development of our party, we needed to have a very strong party leadership that will lead us to victory. As you know, at this point in time, we require a leadership that the people of Nigeria can relate to; a leadership that people trust; a leadership that can represent Mr. President in his presence and on his behalf, and a leadership that is strong enough to instill confidence and discipline among the rank and file. And we think that there is no other person at this time that can provide all these qualities rather than Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
“It is very easy to criticise when you are in opposition, but when you have been in government for a period, then you need a party leader that can also be a spokesman; that can speak to the issues in a manner that people can understand. Comrade Oshiomhole has oratorial prowess that we can bring to bear at this time because as you know, we have people, whose statutory responsibilities is to do those jobs, but clearly, their voices have been submerged across board and you know that Oshiomhole is vociferous, and at all times, he is logical and he makes sense,” he stated.
Barely 24 hours after Ojezua said this, the South South leaders of the party met at Edo Government House, where they also adopted Oshiomhole. However, it was not without drama as some members, majorly supporters of the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi walked out of the meeting. They later addressed the press in Abuja claiming that the endorsement of Oshiomhole was not part of the agenda for the meeting.
Missing at the meeting, which had in attendance Vice Chairman, South South of the party, Ntufam Hilliard Eta, former Bayelsa State governor, Timipreye Silver; Senator Magnus Abbe; Halims Agoda; Eseme Eyibo; Chief Sam Ewang; Comrade Frank Kokori, were Amaechi, and Odigie-Oyegun.In the meeting that lasted for four hours, one of the delegates nominated Odigie-Oyegun, but Oshiomhole’s nomination was what scaled through after a thunderous voice vote.
Eta, while talking to journalists expressed joy at the outcome of the meeting, saying the voice of the majority prevailed.“In considering the retention of positions (as regards the status quo),Edo State chapter of the party led by its chairman availed us with the information that the party in the state has come to the conclusion that a candidate in the person of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, be presented to fly the flag of the party. That decision was unanimous, which means every member of the state caucus did not just participate, but accepted that this must be the chapter’s position.”
On Odigie-Oyegun absence, he said that he was invited for the meeting, “but maybe he took an excuse, which is normal. This is not the first time we are meeting at the level of the zone. A few days to the national convention in 2014, we also had a meeting of the zone, where the position of Edo State was canvassed. The state at that time wanted Chief Odigie-Oyegun instead of Chief Tom Ikimi. As a zone, we endorsed their request. At that time, some people kicked against Odigie-Oyegun, but the wish of the majority prevailed, and today, the majority have said that Oshiomhole is their choice for the chairmanship,” he stated.
He said another reason why Oshiomhole was picked ahead of Odigie-Oyegun is because the former labour leader has capacity to spearhead the rebranding, which the party needs ahead of the 2019 general elections.
On the issue of four chapter chairmen, who disassociated themselves from the Benin meeting, Eta said, “I know that Cross River State does not have a chairman as we speak, so, it could not have been four chairmen. Let me say that the chairmen are members of the zonal executive committee, just like the other 164 people in the zonal committee of the party.
“We did not hold a state executive meeting, we held a zonal committee meeting and in the zonal executive committee, we have over 168 people, including senators, governors, deputy governors, former senators, former House of Representatives members. So, the chairmen, who stormed out of the meeting, were not speaking for their states. Let me tell you something, Senator Nelson Effiong was seated and participated in the voting when his chairman dissociated himself and stormed out.
“So, the chairman could not have been speaking for Senator Effiong; he could not have been speaking for Hon. Robinson Uwak or Hon. Eseme Eyibo. When the chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the party stormed out of the house, he could not have been speaking for Senator Magnus Abe, because Abe after voting sat until the end of the meeting. He could also not have been speaking for Senator Wilson Ake. These are people form Rivers State.
“In Bayelsa, the man there is just holding forth as chairman, he is not the state chairman of the party. However, when he left the hall, people like Chief Ikisibor and others, who are from Bayelsa State remained at the meeting. So these people cannot be claiming to speak for their states,” he said.
After the South South Caucus meeting, if there were further doubts about where the pendulum would eventually swing regarding the choice of the establishment for the party’s chairmanship, such were put to rest after the recent meeting between Buhari and the APC governors.
It was learnt that the governors went straight to Oshiomhole’s residence in Abuja to express their solidarity, even as Amaechi, who is one of Odigie-Oyegun’s staunchest supporters is said to have called Oshiomhole and pledged to work with him, and ensure his victory at the national convention.
The Delta State chapter of the party has also made its choice on who to queue behind. According to the chapter secretary, Mr. Chidi Okonji, “The Delta State Chapter of the APC has made its choice, and it will back the former president of the NLC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in his bid to become the national chairmans of the party. On that, we stand firmly and there is no turning back.”
When referred to a recent comment by the vice chairman of the party in the state, Cyril Ogodo, who recently said that Delta State will go with Odigie Oyegun, while Oshiomhole remains their second choice, he retorted, “Oshiomhole is our choice in Delta State and there is no turning back on our position. Disregard whatever the vice chairman may have said. That is his personal opinion. We have endorsed Oshiomhole and there is no going back on that. We will mobilise Delta delegates and vote overwhelming for the comrade governor at the convention. There is no doubt about that.”
Okonji stressed that at 80, an octogenarian like Odigie-Oyegun will not be physically and mentally fit to pioneer the affairs of the ruling party. It was for that reason that the pioneer national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande was asked to give way.He surmised: “Having considered all these factors, the Delta State chapter of the party firmly resolved to back Oshiomhole. The decision was collectively reached. Just like the rest of the South South states, Delta State firmly stands by it and that is the official position.”
But the vice chairman, Ogodo, still insists that the state chapter of the party is joining four out of the six chapters from the geo-political zone to distance itself from Oshiomhole’s purported endorsement.Ogodo, who described the adoption as desperate and despicable, said the four chairmen stormed out of the zonal caucus meeting to protest what they said were plans by Governor Obaseki and the zonal vice chairman Eta, to adopt Oshiomhole. He insisted that Odigie-Oyegun should be given a right of first refusal to seek re-election for the position, adding that the leaders and stakeholders of the party never deliberated on Oshiomhole’s adoption.