No matter how bad or worse the COVID-19 pandemic may get in the coming days, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said nothing would make it alter the September 19 and October 10, 2020 dates for the gubernatorial polls scheduled for Edo and Ondo States.
INEC said it is committed to conducting the forthcoming governorship polls without endangering the health and wellbeing of the stakeholders. When the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed the stance of the commission, little did he know how the revelation had gone to quicken the intra-party contestations, especially in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the two states.
In its meeting of Tuesday, May 19, 2020, INEC chewed on the policy framework, which its said would guide its operations, activities and engagements with critical stakeholders in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the electoral process in Nigeria.
While expressing the hope that all concerned would “remain safe and healthy by complying with all the guidelines and protocols issued by the health authorities,” the commission disclosed its determination to hasten consultations and engagements with political parties, civil society organisations, security agencies and other relevant institutions.
There is no doubt that concerns and developments aroused by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the containment measures against its spread, are contributing to the anxieties about the safe conduct of the Edo and Ondo States’ staggering gubernatorial polls.
But, what appears to raise the bar on the preparations for the elections, more than the health and safety considerations, are the intra-party squabbles within the governing APC, which wields the power of incumbency in the two states.
Even without the release of the framework for INEC’s engagement with stakeholders over the conduct of the two end-of-tenure gubernatorial elections by the electoral umpire, the stakeholders have continued to make internal arrangements for the governorship primary election within its state chapters to select standard-bearers for the poll.
Not minding that Governors Godwin Obaseki and Oluwarotimi Akeredolu are interested in seeking a second term in office as governors of Edo and Ondo States, some APC faithful feel that they should face the rigours of another primary election to certify their candidacy in their respective states.
The APC leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, recently endorsed the governors of Edo and Ondo States for a second term, stressing that both Obaseki and Akeredolu have performed creditably to serve their people for another term.
However, various interest groups within the party think otherwise, insisting that what is on the ground in their states do not support the impression from outsiders, thereby causing divisions and disruptions in the party structure.
How these internal battles, notably illusive search for consensus, would shape the preparedness of APC to confront the other 17 political parties have continued to engage the consideration of stakeholders, particularly supporters of governorship aspirants in the two neighbouring states.
Ondo: Controversial Operation Stop Aketi
ON paper, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Sunshine State has no factions. But in terms of cleavages, interests and political orientation, there are as many Hamlets as there are targets.
The major bone of contention within the Ondo APC seems to be how Governor Akeredolu could be stopped from netting the party’s ticket to seek another four-year mandate.
In anticipation of the primary, some political actors opposed to Akeredolu came together under the aegis of Unity Forum with a view to selecting a consensus choice to confront the incumbent.
But no sooner had the group settled for Chief Olusola Oke than other aspirants kicked against the process, arguing that it was not proper for few individuals to impose a candidate without the input of other members of the coalition.
Dr. Segun Abraham, in an interview with national television, faulted the process as a gang up, pointing out that Alhaji Olanusi and Oke are just political jobbers.
Apart from Abraham, two other interested parties in the jostle for a consensus candidate to confront Aketi, include Senator Boroffice and Ife Oyedele. These forces arrayed against the selection of Oke by the Unity Forum, it is obvious that the dust would not settle before June 22, when INEC would begin to observe the conduct of party primaries.
Sources disclosed that Senator Boroffice and Professor Ehindero, who served as Secretary of the adhoc committee set up by Unity Forum, wanted to install Dapo Adelegan, but were yet to perfect the process of marketing their candidate.
It was also learned that party stalwarts sympathetic to Unity Forum out of disdain for Governor Akeredolu preferred a fresh face that does not belong to any godfather.
While Abraham is known to drop the name of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Oyedele claims to have the backing of President Buhari, just as Adelegan depends on Senator Boroffice.
Perhaps alerted by the release of INEC´s timelines of activities, a socio-political union of Akoko people, the Akoko Progressives Forum (APF), came out to announce that it wants to ensure that the governorship seat does not elude them by supporting the Owo-born former deputy clerk, Chief Olayide Owolabi Adelami.
APF explained that its decision was based on Adelami´s “unassailable antecedents in the public service, where he rose from the level of obscurity to a place of grace.”
In a statement signed by Ibitoye Olajide (Coordinator) and Abiola Florence (General Secretary), the forum stated: “Having looked into the antecedents of all aspirants, including the incumbent governor, APF decided to support, canvass and vote for an aspirant with no wrinkled antecedent and who has an interest in human development in the past years.
“The movement decided to pull her strength for the emergence of a candidate who has experience in dealing with the public and who knows the needs of the masses.
“Chief Olayide Owolabi Adelami, the Owo-born public servant was later ratified and endorsed by APF because of his unabashed antecedent in the public service. He knows the masses more, he has related with the people and this gave us the assurance that the retired deputy clerk of NASS can influence physical development and impact the lives of Ondo State people as he had always done within Owo, Ondo North and Ondo State at large during his service as a public servant.”
The group disclosed that Adelami was part of the frontliners that ensured the reelection of President Buhari during the last general election when he was appointed by the presidency as the coordinator, presidential support committee, Ondo State.
Adelami, who spoke to The Guardian against the background of the purported adoption of Oke by the Unity Forum, said Ondo State APC would respect the people’s consensus candidate as its standard-bearer.
While contending that factionalising the selection process would weaken APC’s cohesion and status as the party to beat in the governorship poll, Adelami noted that the adoption of Oke by the Unity Forum has been rubbished by the bickering within the faction.
He declared that his recent endorsement by the Akoko Progressives Forum and other community-based organisations in the state shows that the people of Ondo State, particularly APC members are prepared to rally round him to ensure he emerges the next governor.
Stressing that he was not bothered by the attempt by a few individuals within the Unity Forum to impose their choice on the group, the former NASS deputy-clerk stated: “Let the people of Ondo State know that Chief Adelami will not be distracted by this purported endorsement and will, therefore, continue in his quest to liberate our people from the shackles of the current ineffective and inefficient governance.
Edo: Obaseki Versus Baba And Son
IN Edo State also, despite the purported endorsement of the incumbent governor by President Buhari, rival aspirants have continued to run round in circles in a bid to prune the numbers of challengers for the APC ticket.
Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu`s recent bestowal of a waiver to contest the primary election has underscored the claims in some circles that he is the adopted son of the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Worried by the ongoing efforts to deny Governor Obaseki of the party`s ticket, the immediate past national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie. Oyegun, urged Oshiomhole to distance himself from the politics of the impending governorship poll in the state if he is not out to spoil things for APC.
Short of reminding the national chairman that he did not levy troubles or political unrest on the state when he was in office, Oyegun disclosed that the fact that President Buhari has okayed the return tickets for Obaseki and Akeredolu is enough for party stalwarts to stop further chasing after the wind in the name of adopting the contentious indirect primary option.
Edo State APC chairman, Anselm Ojezua, told The Guardian that by convention, incumbent governors of the party are usually given the right of first refusal, remarking that no governor in the history of the party has been denied that right.
Reminded of the case of former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, Ojezua said that apart from being an isolated case, the fact that the stakeholders in Lagos State allowed that does not mean that Edo State will toe such a line.
“Recent events have shown that Edo State is not a place you can toy with the rights of individuals and they keep quiet. I am one of those that believe that the two governors deserve the right of first refusal because they merit it,” he stated.
However despite the claims that the APC crisis at the national level was settled by the Presidency with the proviso that the two incumbents should have unfettered access to the APC tickets, supporters of Oshiomhole insist that there must be a governorship primary in which all card-carrying members would participate.
That insistence is said to be the basis of the waiver granted to Ize-Iyamu, who joined APC lately, so as to feature in the straw poll scheduled for June 22, 2020.
But, while the APC national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, disclosed that the party`s standard-bearer for Edo State would be selected through direct primary, Oyegun`s assertions support the belief in some quarters that Ize-Iyamu is being used as a pawn in the mind games between Oshiomhole and Obaseki.
Factional APC chairman, David Imuse, noted that the national working committee of the party did the right thing by granting Ize-Iyamu waiver, stressing that the party`s constitution vested on the NWC the power to grant such waivers, which it did.
As the various interest groups exhaust the contents in their bags of tricks, it would be seen how far the APC is prepared to trade with the privileged power of incumbency in Edo and Ondo States.