Adibe Emenyonu writes that with muscle flexing and ego trip between Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki; and the South South Zonal Vice Chairman, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Dan Orbih, the party may end up fielding zero candidates during 2023 general elections.
After his former party, the All Progressives Congress shut its doors against Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in his bid to actualise his second term, he quickly defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was granted waiver against the interest of other aspirants of the party’s platform.
But shortly after his ambition was realised courtesy of the September 19, 2020 governorship election, Obaseki and the state party leaders entered into an unpleasant conflict over who should control the machinery of the party in Edo State.
The misunderstanding started when Obaseki after being sworn in for secord term in office, reappointed Osarodion Ogie, who defected with him from APC to PDP, as Secretary to the State Government.
While leaders of his new party were still contemplating on this, Obaseki also appointed a Chief of Staff, in the person of Osaigbovo Iyoha, who also came with him from APC.
This development angered the main stream PDP led by the Zonal Vice Chairman, South-south, Chief Dan Orbih, who began to feel cheated in the entire arrangements after helping Obaseki to climb up only for him to kick the ladder away. With these two scenarios, whatever little respect left between the two leaders began to wane.
Fightng back, the Orbih-led group shut out those who migrated with Obaseki from APC to PDP by refusing to integrate them as bonafide card carrying members of Edo PDP. In their thinking, since Obaseki decided to empower only his fellow political migrants and shut out the geese that laid the golden egg from such juicy appointments, the integrity group by which name the Orbih-led group is known by within the party decided to maintain their grip of the party knowing that the day of reckoning must surely come.
Another sign that the marriage is going to crumble came in April, 2022, when Obaseki through his 10-man lawmakers in the state House of Assembly, sought the amendment of the state local government law with a view to conducting local government election.
Rather than the mandatory 90 days notice for the conduct of the local government election as stipulated in the 2010 Electoral Act as amended, the Assembly reduced it to 20 days.
On the strength of this amendment, a three-man Edo State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) was constituted headed by Justice Jamed Oyomire (rtd). However, as soon as the state electoral umpire issued a time table for the conduct of the election, the Orbih group who had already suspected a sinister motive to box them into political limbo, approached a Federal High Court to restrain the commission from going ahead with the election. Besides, the group drew the attention of the court to Katsina State which gave a clear cut 90 days in compliance with the Electoral Act when that state electoral body issued a notice for the conduct of local government election from January 11 to April 11, 2022. Therefore, on April 7, 2022, it filed an ex parte motion with Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/432/2022 praying the court to grant an interim injunction restraining EDSIEC, it’s agents, servants, privies, from conducting the said election into the local government scheduled for April 19 pending the determination of the motion on notice which the court granted. On the above premise, the Edo state electoral umpire had no option than to comply by announcing the suspension of the election citing the restraining order by the federal high court as the reason for the suspension. Having lost the bid to bring his men into the main stream PDP in the state, the undaunted Obaseki flew another kite but was also cut in the web.
Prior to the party primaries and sensing that the party structure is quickly slipping off his hands, Obaseki organised ward congresses across all the 192 wards in the state to elect adhoc delegates ahead of the party primaries. The delegates elected were 576 in number for the election with one national representative from every local government.
This also hit a brick wall as the other faction ignored the Obaseki’s organised primaries to conduct their own primary election for the state assembly and national assembly. At the end, the two groups conducted parallel primary election. Luckily for them, before the conclusion of the primaries, a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo, stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognising or accepting the hoc delegates produced by the Obaseki-led faction.
Justice Ekwo declared that only the ad hoc delegates provided by Dan Orbih’s faction of the party is authentic and must be recognised. He further said the PDP and other defendants in the suit were bound by Section 84 (5) of the Electoral Act 2022 as well as Section 15 of the PDP Constitution relating to delegates’ elections. The court further held that the role of INEC in primary election, congress and convention monitoring are statutory and constitutional and must, therefore, be strictly adhered to by all political parties.
The bad blood between the two factions came to a climax during the just concluded party primaries as both conducted parallel primary elections into all the elective political position into the state House of Assembly and the National Assembly for the 2023 general elections since the governorship election comes up in 2024. With this, the national electoral umpire is now transfixed not knowing which of the faction to recognise since both of them are in court fighting for legitimacy. INEC was ironically box into a tight corner as both parties claimed their primary election was supervised by INEC.
Speaking during the assembly primary election, the state Commissioner for Public Communication and Orientation, Andrew Emwanta, claimed their primary election was supervised by INEC when he said, the INEC officials were there to supervise the primary election only that they had gone for lunch as at the time the media came to monitor what was going on.
Similarly, the Orbih-led group also said INEC officials came to monitor all their primary election from the state assembly and national assembly. One of the contestants, Pascal Ugbomhe, a chieftain in of the party told THISDAY that in all the primaries conducted by their faction was sufficiently supervised by INEC, noting that it is on that strength that their side was recognised by the electoral umpire to participate in the presidential primary election that produced Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of PDP in next year general election.
Given the two instances INEC as it stands is in a dilemma over which faction to recognise, and consequently refused to enlist any of the factions’ candidates to run under the umbrella of the party. Until the PDP resolves its legal issues, the INEC has refused to list any PDP candidates in Edo State for the House of assembly, Senate or House of Representatives.
Reacting to the threat by Justice Inyang Ekwo of Abuja Federal High Court for refusing to obey his order concerning the recognition candidates that emerges from the Chief Orbih primaries, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter’s Education, Festus Okoye, said because there is a subsisting court order served on the commission and so, was not aware of any other court order, mandating it to upload names candidates from the Orbih group as the authentic candidates of Edo PDP. He said one of the originating Summons was filed by Matthew Iduoriyekemwen & 34 Ors v. INEC & 2 Ors Suit No.*FHC/ABJ/CS/805/2022, praying in the interim for an ex-parte order compelling the 2nd and 3rd Defendants (PDP and its National Chairman) to recognize, accept and/or forward to the 1st Defendant (INEC) the list of the Plaintiffs who emerged winners in the primary elections conducted on the 22nd and 23rd May 2022 by the Primary Election Committees set up by the 2nd Defendant’s National Working Committee under the leadership of the 3rd Defendant.
According to him, the court ordered the Defendants to within five days show cause why all the orders prayed should not be granted, in limine. He sad an interim order was granted as prayed while the matter was adjourned to today, Monday, July 4, for definite hearing .
Nevertheless, THISDAY gathered that already, Obaseki has surreptitiously directed his men to switch over to the Labour Party (LP), who have subsequently obtained tickets for the same posts that INEC has disallowed his faction of the PDP from running. According to a top member of the party who craved anonymity, the LP primaries allegedly took place in the Government House under full INEC supervision, adding that the intention is to stave off any eventuality should Obaseki loses to Orbih’s PDP, his supporters can still run as candidates. With this, the source stated, “the LP would take over as the dominant force in Edo State,” pointing out with executive might, the APC would trail behind and the PDP attempting to catch up.
According to him, “When this happen, Obaseki would once more throw open the doors and appoint hundreds of SAs and SSAs from the LP party. He will also hold elections for the Local Government Councils, with the LP winning handily.” Presently, the refusal of INEC to list any PDP candidate in Edo State for both the Senate and House of Representatives seats until the party settles its legal challenges is generating tension among members of the two factions. This is because give or take, the PDP is likely to be the loser in the sense that whichever side that is favoured will ultimately work against the others’ interest because divided combatants do not win battles.