ALEXANDER OKERE examines the lingering feud between Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu, over who flies the flag of the All Progressives Congress in the coming governorship election
What started like mere speculations over a deputy’s governorship ambition against his principal’s has allegedly metamorphosed into an infighting of some sort between Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu.
Recent happenings have also exposed the alleged acrimony between the two political leaders.
There were allegations that Odubu, who has been largely described as a loyal subordinate to Oshiomhole, found himself pencilled in the black book of the governor for his insistence to contest the September 10 governorship election, under the ruling All Progressives Congress in spite of several calls from his principal to shelve the aspiration for the Chairman of the Edo State Economic Team, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, generally seen as the “heir apparent”.
Other people who have signalled their interest in the top seat under the APC are a former governor, Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor; the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2012 governorship poll, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere; a former Minister of Works, Mr. Chris Ogiemwonyi; and a former National President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Mr. Peter Esele. Others are, Mr. Kenneth Imasuagbon and a female aspirant, Mrs. Tina Agbarha.
The Commissioner of Works, Mr. Osarodion Ogie, had been seen as the toast of Oshiomhole before attention shifted to Obaseki.
But Odubu, a former member of the House of Representatives, it was learnt, had built his ambition over the years. He also had his loyalists within the state executive council and across the 18 local government areas of the state.
He is also said to enjoy the backing of a strong royal father and a large segment within the APC, including a former top member of the House of Representatives and two erstwhile commissioners.
However, according to political analysts, Oshiomhole, sensing his deputy governor’s apparent refusal to lie low and the implication of this moved against him (Obudu) by first chopping down his followership within the cabinet through a reshuffle in 2015.
Also, there were purported plots to impeach the deputy governor, as a way to politically disarm him. There was also a petition against Odubu at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission allegedly written by the state’s Commissioner for Water and Energy, Mr. Washington Osifo.
But Osifo, who later denied the allegation at a press briefing, described it as not only “embarrassing” but also “dehumanising”.
Osifo said, “Sometime in March, I heard that the deputy governor accused me of writing a petition against him. I asked him but he said he never believed that. But I was shocked to hear that during a peace meeting recently the deputy governor reiterated that allegation.
“And I read his denial as regards using native doctors to kill the governor but the issue of the EFCC, where I was accused, was not denied. I am embarrassed and traumatised by the statement credited to the deputy governor against my person because it never happened.”
According to political watchers, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was, perhaps, the allegation of an assassination plot against the governor. This has become the most recent source of controversy surrounding the relationship between the first two citizens of the state.
It was learnt that a peace meeting organised by some party leaders degenerated into an outburst of claims and counterclaims. Oshiomhole had allegedly attributed his absence at an event organised by Odubu to the unravelling of an alleged plot to poison him with the help of a native doctor, a claim the deputy governor dismissed as false.
Odubu also vowed to continue to disappoint those drumming up an avoidable war between him and the governor. In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kelly Odaro, recently Odubu noted that he was not oblivious of the handiwork of blackmailers bent on using the governorship election to tarnish his image and nearly eight-year partnership with the governor.
The statement read,” As a practising Catholic, Dr. Odubu will not do anything that is unbecoming of a true Christian in the name of politics. God knows that he has never had any pact with any witch/native doctor to kill anyone or avenge for him and he will never condescend to that extent as long as God lives. It is against his faith.”
On his own part, Odubu had also raised the alarm over alleged plots by some persons to distribute fliers round the state capital to further destroy his image and fuel crisis between him and Oshiomhole. While maintaining that he had no disagreement with the governor, he noted that he would be vindicated by God.
The statement added, “The deputy governor will by the special grace of God, continue to disappoint the dubious expectations of those who are bent on driving a wedge between him and the governor. It is his nature and character to be loyal to those who God has set over him because they are His instruments.
“At times like this, blackmailers are at their best but the deputy governor has decided to take solace in God, who knows the hearts of men, trusting and believing as always that God will vindicate the just. He wishes to reiterate that he has no rift with the governor, who he reveres and deeply appreciates.”
Besides his unwillingness to step down for the governor’s preferred aspirant, Odubu had been criticised for being ambitious having held political offices for the past 16 years.
But the deputy governor did not mince words at his formal declaration on April 27 when he maintained that dropping his governorship ambition was not an option for him.
He said, “Yes, I have been around the political arena for a while, serving the people in different capacities, through the legislative and executive arms of government. I dare say that anybody that would say because of this, I should not be voted for, belongs to the genre or class of politicians who believe in the politics of ‘chop I chop’. I am in politics to serve the people.”
However, it was gathered that the discordant tunes emerging from camps of the two leaders had constituted a Herculean task for the ruling APC, ahead of its primary scheduled to hold between June 2 and July 4.
Keen observers believe that if the two leaders do not reconcile their differences the situation may create factions within the party and provide loopholes for the PDP to capitalise on.
Already, the major opposition party has congratulated the deputy governor for officially declaring his interest in the race, against what it described as the “dictatorial tendencies of the APC leadership in Edo State.
“His declaration has definitely opened up the political space in Edo State. He has refused to be cowed, blackmailed and intimidated by dictatorial tendencies of the APC leadership in Edo State.
“We in Edo PDP look forward to a robust political process, which will include issue based debates as well as a keenly contested election,” the State Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, said in a statement last Wednesday.
Although the national leadership of the APC not to issued any official statement on the matter, the state chapter of the party said that it did not see the different interests of the governor and his deputy as a reflection of a strained relationship.
The APC Chairman, Mr. Anselm Ojezua, told SUNDAY PUNCH, that the in the state party has provided a level playing field for all interested aspirants and will sustain the trend up till the primary, which he described as a major concern.
A professor of History and International Diplomacy at the University of Benin, Prof. Eddy Erhagbe, stated that while the governor could not stand aloof about his preferred successor, he should allow a democratic process to prevail.
He said, “Ordinarily, most deputy governors believe that they should succeed their principals but the principals, sometimes, would have a different plan entirely and that can, on its own create tension. The governor, as the greatest apostle of ’one man, one vote,’ should allow the people decide who should carry the ticket of the party.
“In doing that, as he (Oshiomhole) has rightly mentioned, he has the right to assist his preferred candidate. To that extent, he should not be seen as stopping others. But whatever support he chooses to give to his preferred candidate is still within the permissible limit of democracy; he cannot be disinterested about who should succeed him.
The APC, according to Erhagbe, must also tread softly in managing the crisis, in order to avoid disintegration within its fold.
“Everybody knows that you should handle matters on primaries carefully so that they (party members) don’t disintegrate. Whatever it (APC) does should be done with great caution.
“To that extent also, I think the governor should control some overzealous, youthful supporters, who show a different behaviour against those who want to exercise their right and contest within the democratic space of the party.”
But for the Executive Director of the African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Rev. David Ugolor, the situation can pose a threat to the security of lives and property in the state, if allowed to deteriorate into an altercation between the supporters of the two political leaders.
Ugolor said, “I feel it is time for them to give an account of how they have run the state for the last eight years; that is want the Edo people want to hear from them. Anything that will send a signal to the public that they are not able to resolve their internal crisis will not be good for the reputation of their political party.
“I think it’s in their interest to manage the reputation of their party, to go into an election with a united voice and with a clear vision for the people of Edo State. Both of them have to be careful of people who trade on violence. They should manage the situation because it can potentially damage the peaceful environment we are experiencing in Edo State.”
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