•Inside story of the South/South meeting that endorsed former governor
BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Those who have watched the relationship between the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and President Muhammadu Buhari, over the years, are not be surprised by the reported endorsement of Oshiomhole by the President for the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigo), one of the watchers, described Oshiomhole as an avatar who has all it takes to make APC solid again. Apart from the former governor’s doggedness and achievements as President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Buhari came to admire him more when he was at the helm of affairs in Edo under then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government. Oshiomhole performed to the admiration of even some of his critics as governor at a time he was surrounded by leaders of the ruling PDP in the South-South, including President Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the soil.
And even in the South-South, Edo State paraded the strongest PDP chiefs, led by a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party, Chief Tony Anenih, whose Uromi country home was a Mecca of sorts for PDP leaders from across the country. However, in the midst of the hostile opposition from the PDP-led Federal Government then, Oshiomhole, with his dogged field soldiers in Edo, dismantled the PDP machine and retired the politicians he described as political godfathers who, according to him, had held the state hostage for 10 years. While then governor was firing from all cylinders against Anenih, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion and other top PDP leaders in Edo, Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that Buhari admired him from afar.
After the President became the candidate of the APC in 2015 and was going to run for election against then Jonathan, it was gathered that top PDP leaders from the South-South made several efforts to get Oshiomhole to support Jonathan who is from the region. But Oshiomhole rebuffed them, saying he will rather win or lose with Buhari. The PDP wanted to bring him on board because they knew he was the only problem they faced in the region.
However, after he rejected their demand, they started arresting APC leaders prior to the 2015 presidential election. In fact, his political son and ‘chief cxecutioner’, the current Deputy Governor of Edo, Philip Shaibu, and his family were almost killed at the Legislative Quarters in Benin-City after gunmen invaded the place searching for him. Shaibu and his children had meanwhile escaped by scaling the fence with wounds all over their bodies.
Also, Oshiomhole’s chief political strategist and current Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, went underground with other APC leaders but remained defiant. On the day of the presidential election, Ogie, Charles Idahosa, Chief Osaro Idah, Lawrence Orka and other APC leaders held the ground Edo South, which has the largest in population in the state, for Oshiomhole while Chief Francis Inegbeneki; Chairman of Edo APC, Anslem Ojezua; Theo Okoh; Thomas Okosun and Prince Joe Okojie battled Anenih’s forces in Edo Central.
Edo North, where Oshiomhole and Shaibu hail from, was a battlefield as battalion of soldiers took over the former governor’s compound with military helicopters hovering over his Iyamho country home. However, Oshiomhole had mapped out his strategies to deliver Buhari in the state and was going to execute them no matter what it took. His men in Edo North, including the current Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Pally Iriase, and Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, held the Owan axis for him.
Kabiru Adjoto and Peter Akpatason held Akoko Edo while Oshiomhole and Shaibu battled the soldiers deployed in Etsako. But despite the intimidation, the resources deployed to stop him, the religious sentiments that were played up in the South-South against Buhari, Oshiomhole ensured 46 per cent victory for Buhari in Edo, making the state today a no-go area for the PDP. It was learnt that the doggedness endeared Oshiomhole to the President and, after the presidential election, Buhari commended him specially for his bravery.
It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that when the President visited Edo, on Monday, November 7, 2016, for a two-day state visit, five days before the expiration of the tenure of Oshiomhole as governor, Buhari openly expressed his admiration for Oshiomhole. While commending the job then governor did in the state for eight years, the President informed the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare 11, that he will give Oshiomhole a national position after his sojourn at the Government House, Benin-City. Buhari repeated the comment while commissioning the state-of-the-art Central Hospital building constructed by then outgoing governor.
The President said Nigeria will be the loser if the APC failed to utilize the “peoples’ governor’s wisdom, skill and energy”. According to him, “It will be a pity to waste his energy by him retiring. I hope there will be a higher assignment for him to do more for the nation. I congratulate the governor for his hard work. Oshiomhole is a hard working governor. We will need his services in Abuja. Thank you for inviting me. You have served two terms and you are about to leave. You deserve a place in history. I hope APC will look for a place for you because your service for the country is far from over”.
Keeping to promise
And to keep his words, Sunday Vanguard learnt that it was since 2016 that the President had informed Oshiomhole to get ready for the job of National Chairman of the APC. But all this while, the erstwhile labour leader’s adversaries were making efforts to create the impression that he was desperately looking for a job from Buhari. He was accused, at a point, of attempting to take the job of the Minister of State (Health), Dr Osagie Ehanire, who is from Edo.
Later he was said to be nursing the ambition of going to the Senate, in essence, to dethrone Senator Francis Alimekhena. Oshiomhole kept his peace. But he will always tell those close to him to brush aside those speculations, saying, “You know the PDP will never forgive me for truncating all their plots in Edo State, so you should expect them to fly kites that are non-existent to get at me and to also cause disaffection within the APC”.
However, Sunday Vanguard learnt that some of the APC governors, who are backing the incumbent National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, to retain the ruling party’s top job, are not enemies of Oshiomhole. As matter of fact, most of them are his close friends but they only see him as a hard nut to crack. As a result, it was really not difficult for the governors to revert after they met with Buhari who informed them that they needed a tough character to lead the APC ahead of the 2019 general elections.
It was learnt that the President was worried that his adversaries are using the killings, purportedly by Fulani herdsmen, to destroy the name of his government and, therefore, informed those close to him the need to strategize militarily to eliminate the criminals while also strategizing politically to get Nigerians on the side of the party and defeat the opposition in 2019. He, therefore, informed them that Oshiomhole is the answer to APC problems.
Rash of endorsements
But before the President’s endorsement of Oshiomhole for the APC National Chairman, Edo State Caucus of the party had met last Monday to okay the former governor as the candidate of the party for the state ahead of Oyegun after a motion moved by a former Deputy Governor of Edo, Mr Lucky Imasuen. And to show that Oshiomhole is loved across board, many would have thought that Benin leaders, such as Imasuen, would have rooted for Oyegun, but, in this matter, they shunned ethnic politics to root for Oshiomhole.
It did not come as a surprise because Oshiomhole always treats body as equal no matter where you come from and politicians from Edo know. However, after the endorsement by the state APC Caucus, the Zonal Executive Committee members arrived Benin-City for a meeting and the issue was about who is representing the South-South for the APC top job. The ‘who is who’ in the South-South APC were at the meeting, led by the Vice Chairman in the zone, Mr Ntufam Hilliard Eta. Also at the meeting were Chief Timipreye Silva, Senator Magnus Abe, Alims Agoda, Hon.Eseme Ehibo, Chief Sam Ewang, Chief (Mrs) Miriam Alli, Senator Francis Alimekhena, Frank Ajobena, Chief Great Ogboru, Victor Ochei, Cairo Ojougboh, Senator Domingo Obende, Speaker Kabiru Adjoto, Comrade Frank Kokori and members of the APC Caucus from the South-South in the National Assembly.
The National Vice Chairman, Eta, welcomed the delegates, informing them that the meeting was convened to deliberate on the issues raised by the party’s NEC in Abuja on the forthcoming congresses. Delegates started contributing and they agreed on the need to pick a flag bearer from the zone for the national chairmanship position. One of the delegates nominated Oshiomhole but some delegates, said to be from Rivers State, queried the nomination. But majority of the party members informed the angry delegates to make their own nomination so they could put it to vote. One of them nominated Oyegun and, when the matter was put to vote, the delegates overwhelming shouted Oshiomhole’s name.
About four states Chairmen staged a walkout after Oshiomhole won the majority vote. However the meeting continued and Oshiomhole emerged as the choice for the zone. Eta, who later addressed the issues concerning the walkout staged by some of the party Chairmen, explained, “On the issue of the four Chairmen who disassociated themselves from the Benin meeting, 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 were not holding a State Executive meeting, we were holding a Zonal Committee meeting and, in the Zonal Executive Committee, we have over168 people, including senators, governors, deputy governors, former senators and former House of Reps 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 stormed out and said he disassociated himself. He could not have been speaking for Senator Effiong, he could not have been speaking for Hon. Robinson or Hon.Esieme Eyibo.
When the Chairman of Rivers State stormed out of the house, he could not have been speaking for Senator Magnus Abe, because Abe, after voting, sat till the end of the meeting. He could 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 Chairman. However when he left the hall, people like Chief Ikisibor and others who were from Bayelsa State remained at the meeting. So these people cannot be claiming to speak for their states”.
Reacting also to the claim that Governor Godwin Obaseki gagged them at the Edo Government House, the Zonal APC leader described it as laughable and said, “It was in similar manner that the incumbent National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, was endorsed in 2014 in Port Harcourt, at a meeting hosted by then governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi. So what we did by endorsing Oshiomhole in this meeting has historical antecedent.
That time Chief Tom Ikimi had resigned as the National Vice Chairman of the party, so the two leaders, Amaechi and Comrade Oshiomhole, who were governors then, led us to take a decision. Amaechi and Oshiomhole invited us for a meeting and the persons who wanted to contest the national chairmanship to speak to us. At that meeting, since the slot was ceded to Edo, the Chairman of Edo APC was called to come and present the position of the state. And the Chairman of the Edo APC presented the position of Edo which was endorsing Chief Oyegun as their choice.
And we followed the tune of Edo and endorsed Oyegun as our candidate. The same thing was done on Monday where we invited everybody for the meeting and we called on the state Chairman of APC in Edo to give us the position of the state. The Chairman came to us to say the Edo APC Caucus had unanimously endorsed Oshiomhole for the chairmanship of the party, and having seen that Oshiomhole is the best, majority of our leaders followed suit and voted Oshiomhole. We followed the tradition and the popular candidate won”.