Edo 2024: PDP Stakeholders' 'Selective Amnesia' On Waiver For Ighodalo

By Ehichioya Ezomon
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Dr Asue Ighodalo

Previously unknown groups and talking heads have emerged in the lead-up to the primaries for the September 21, 2024, off-cycle governorship election in Edo State. Most of the groups and individuals come out openly and forcefully to promote and defend the interests of certain aspirants as "the best qualified" for the journey to the Osadebey Avenue Government House in Benin City, the capital city of the "Heart Beat of the Nation."

But others simply throw dirt, and engage in diatribe and campaign of calumny to discredit, malign and sully the public and private image and reputation of aspirants they consider as threats to the ones they obscurely and obliquely advance their political interests.

Such's the antic of a so-called "Concerned Edo PDP Patriots" in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came out swinging at Dr Asue Ighodalo, a leading aspirant on the party platform. For all intents and purposes, the group appeared to have woken up to the "evil" of unfairly granting waivers to new or returning members to contest for any political offices.

This, they said, contravenes provisions of the PDP constitution, and shouldn't be extended to Mr Ighodalo, a Lagos-based businessman reportedly backed by Governor Godwin Obaseki, who's also a Lagos businessman brought in and "installed" by Governor Adams Oshiomhole in 2016.

Despite the group's protestation, the Governor Caleb Mutfwang-led PDP Governorship Screening Committee for Edo State cleared Ighodalo and nine other aspirants, who appeared before it on January 29 - with eight of them receiving their clearance certificates the next day.

The aspirants cleared are: Hon. Omosede Igbinedion, Anslem U. Ojezua Esq., Hon. Felix E. Akhabue, Dr Asuerinme Ighodalo, Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu, Arthur Esene, Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, Amb. (Prof.) Martin Uhomoibhi, Osaro Osaze Onaiwu, and Umoru Adizetu Hadizat.

If the PDP granted Ighodalo a waiver, would it be the first time to a non-party or core member? Did the stakeholders forget, unaware or ignorant of the blatant breach of the party constitution majorly to make "new or returning members" eligible for elective offices?

Were the "worried" members out of the political space since 1999, when PDP powerbrokers - and chieftains of political parties across the board - routinely disregard provisions of the party constitution, and give waivers to those who can afford the "asking price" and possess the warchest to prosecute campaigns?

Little or no thoughts are given to such candidates' sources of wealth nor to their capability, capacity, competence, and the ground game to winning elections! All the party "elders" care about is how to "get their share" of the booty before the elections are confirmed or tossed by the courts.

Going by the PDP constitution, new members are required to sustain a continued membership for a minimum of two years, to be eligible to contest for elections, while returning members will remain on probation for at least one year, during which they won't be eligible to vote or be voted for "except if granted waivers."

Waivers have been contentious because many new or returning members want to contest for elective offices before they serve out the mandatory periods of probation. And the executive committees of the PDP at all levels have exploited the "loopholes" in the party constitution to grant or refuse waivers, for which the National Executive Committee (NEC) has the final say.

A few examples of waivers granted by the PDP in recent times will suffice in this discourse! In 2010, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who ran for president in 2007 under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), returned to the PDP, and was granted a waiver to participate in the primaries for the 2011 presidential poll, with a PDP chieftain in Adamawa State, Alhaji Sadiq Aliyu Jada, taking the party to court for "illegal waiver" for Atiku.

On Aug 29, 2014, after defecting from the APC, the PDP - amid protests from other governorship aspirants in Adamawa - granted waivers to former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, former Lagos Military Governor, Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa (retd), and former governorship candidate Marcus Gundiri, to contest for the primaries for the 2015 General Election.

In October 2017, the PDP granted waivers to former Governor Rashidi Ladoja, Engr Seyi Makinde and other returnees to the party. While Ladoja - then gunning for the post of national chairman - joined from Accord Party, Makinde moved from the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

In 2018, Mr Oseloka Obaze, a protégé of former Anambra State governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi, was granted a waiver to contest in the 2018 stand-alone governorship. Likewise on June 25, 2020, the PDP waived membership for embattled Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi of Ondo State for the governorship election for that November.

The most glaring of the Edo PDP stakeholders' "selective amnesia" are the waivers the party granted to Governor Obaseki, and Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu to run for re-election in 2020 - after the APC denied Obaseki the ticket, and he defected to the PDP days to its primaries. While it weighed the waivers, the PDP postponed its primary poll in Edo from June 19-20, to June 23, 2020. According to Comrade Shaibu, he and Obaseki spent "naira and dollars" for the waivers and ticket for the governorship, which they won.

It's like the "PDP Patriots" were saying, "Those are past cases; let's turn a new page and deny Ighodalo a waiver because he's not a bona-fide member of the PDP. And in any case, Governor Obaseki can't grant him a waiver." And one may ask: Is it Obaseki's duty to grant a waiver or the leadership of the party?

The screening is over, but it's crucial to understand the context of the petitioners' complaint in a preemptive statement - as the waiver for Ighodalo was speculative as of the time of the petition on January 28. Meaning that the undersigned - Musa Aliyu (Owan East), Suleiman Braimoh (Etsako West), Victor Ikponwonsa (Egor), Osadolor Ogie (Oredo) and Ebosele Odion (Esan Central) - were intent on disqualifying Ighodalo at the screening in 24 hours, to prevent him from the primaries, and scuttle his governorship ambition!

Besides directing the petition to the Mutfwang committee, the PDP group copied the PDP Acting National Chairman; members of its National Working Committee (NWC); Zonal Vice Chairman (South-South); Chairman, PDP Governors’ Forum; Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees (BoT); and Edo State Working Committee.

Thus, the tone of their petition was unambiguous! It reads in part: "We, the undersigned, wish to bring to your attention a matter of critical importance regarding the purported waiver planned for the aspirant of the incumbent Governor, Asuen ighodalo, in the upcoming Edo State Gubernatorial election of 2024.

"It has come to our notice that the planned waiver directly contravenes the party's constitution, as amended, in Section 9, Paragraph 3, of Page 68, which unequivocally states that there shall be a minimum of two years membership span for a member to be eligible to stand for election into any public office.

"It is evident that the anointed candidate of the governor does not meet this requirement as stipulated in the party's constitution. Granting a waiver that overlooks this vital membership requirement not only undermines the integrity of the democratic process, but also goes against the fundamental tenets of our party's constitution.

"With this in mind, we respectfully urge the screening committee to consider this petition and to refrain from making any erroneous decisions that could potentially jeopardize the party's chances of retaining the state."

Without a doubt, the complainants were fighting the political interest of a certain aspirant(s) they weren't bold enough to reveal, and cleverly "choose and pick" from the PDP constitution the provisions that align with their objective to halt the aspiration of Ighodalo that's gained widespread acceptance.

Since entering for the race - and informing his ward members in Ewohimi community of Esan South East local government area of Edo State, officially declaring interest at the state headquarters in Benin City, and obtaining the Expression of Interest and Nomination forms at the PDP national secretariat in Abuja - Ighodalo's received support and solidarity from PDP members and the electorate in Edo State.

He lately got an enthusiastic reception from PDP members in Uhumwode, Orhionmwon and Ikpoba-Okha local government areas of Edo South, when he visited the areas as part of his consultations across the 18 local government areas of Edo State. As first reported by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on January 26, Ighodalo received a unanimous endorsement of the party faithful as their "consensus aspirant" for the PDP primaries.

Amid applause, the party stalwarts and members said that Ighodalo's endorsement - moved and seconded by elderstatesman, former Sen. Roland Owie and Mr Charles Egbe - "was informed by his track record of excellence in the various capacities he had served outside politics."

In a speech, Ighodalo, who appreciated the people's approval, and appealed to them to nominate him as the PDP flagbearer for the September 21 poll, said the governorship election isn't about tribe, religion, family connections, "but about the man with the capacity and capability to develop Edo State," adding that, "Edo has no reason not to be developed if the right leaders are chosen to lead the state."

Touting his "track records" in the business world, Ighodalo said he's "the best aspirant for the election," and declared: "I am the leader that will take the state beyond the next level, hence my appeal for your nomination and support. Let us choose who can help us know the developmental road to lead Edo, and in doing so, we will have good roads and other basic amenities.

"So, I am appealing to you all to give me the opportunity to help our people in Edo, and I promise you all that I will help the people and remove them from poverty. We are going to govern Edo together, as one man cannot do it alone. So, together, we will create a better state and Nigeria."

Some PDP members, who voluntarily stepped down their governorship aspirations, accompanied Ighodalo during his official declaration in Benin City, and obtaining of the nomination forms in Abuja, to drum support and cooperation for his inspirational bid for Governor that Esan people of Edo Central have clamoured for since 1999.

Yet, Ighodalo isn't beating the drum for an Esan Governor, but a Governor of Esan extraction. So, as he moves round selling himself and his vision and mission to Edolites, his simple message is that he's the wherewithal to turnaround the fortunes of Edo State, like the big and viable businesses under his direct or nominal belt within and outside Nigeria.

This message of good governance to redeem Edo State, and provide the dividend of democracy to ameliorate the people's suffering, has resonated everywhere Ighodalo goes for consultations ahead of the primaries, and the September poll.

Perhaps, the "Concerned Edo PDP Patriots" don't like to hear the message, and wanted to shut him out of the political contest. But the Mutfwang screening committee, and God didn't sanction their entreaties! And Dr Asue Ighodalo's still standing, his political fate in the hands of PDP voters at the governorship primaries!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.