Edo 2024: Acrimony, Blood-Letting, Threats, Comic Relief Overshadow Primaries

By Ehichioya Ezomon 
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As the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State for the 2024 governorship election witnessed blood-letting, breaking of limbs and skulls, an unrecognised splinter group of Labour Party (LP) decided to inject some comic relief into the nominating process.

While factions of the main parties held parallel primaries or claimed to've won the ballots, the Alhaji Lamidi Apapa-led group of LP surprised even its members on February 22, by sending a list of "nominated governorship candidate and running mate" to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the September 21 poll.

In a covering letter to INEC, as first reported by GWG.NG, Chief Apapa, who signed as acting national chairman, and Alhaji Saleh Lawan as acting national secretary, said: "We write to submit the names of our candidates that emerges (sic) from our Governorship primary election conducted today (February 22) in Benin, Edo State.

"You will recalled (sic) that we had earlier notify (sic) the Commission about the conduct of our Party Governorship Primary today and we hereby forward the names of our Party flagbearer for the September 21, 2024 Governorship Election, Barr. Anderson Uwadiae Asemota (and) Deputy Governorship Candidate, Barr. Monday Ojore Mawah."

As the public was yet to fathom the ghost primary that produced the Apapa "candidate and running mate," another aspirant, who resides overseas, disclaimed the Apapa "list," arguing he's the authentic candidate produced in a primary in Benin City on February 24 - the last day for parties to send in the names of their candidates.

The latest LP "candidate," Hilton Idahosa, a United Kingdom-based legal practitioner, as first reported by New Telegraph on February 25, claimed he emerged during a parallel primary of the Apapa faction with 917 votes, describing the Apapa letter to INEC as "fake," as the primary slated for February 22 was shifted to February 24, "to allow for exigencies."

Mr Idahosa labelled the Apapa letter as "the handiwork of mischief makers bent on causing disaffection within the ranks of the party," and said he emerged at the primary "conducted by the Labour Party state officials" at the factional secretariat on First East Circular Road, Benin City, adding, "the true position will be made known in the coming days."

In summary, the LP, like the APC, has produced three candidates, claiming its sole ticket for the September election. In the primary held on February 23 at the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre, Benin City, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata, polled 316 votes to defeat oil and gas magnate and proprietor of Mudiame University, Irrua (MUI), Prof. Sunny Eboh Eromosele, and a businessman and educationist, Barr. Kenneth Imasuagbon, who scored seven votes apiece, as declared by the returning officer for the primary, Deputy Governor Ikechukwu Emetu of Abia State.

Reacting to the Apata letter on alternative candidate(s), the LP leadership urged Nigerians, especially the media, to ignore the antics, noting that events leading to the choice of Mr Akpata as candidate of the party were televised live on notable stations, and that INEC officials, led by the state electoral commissioner, "also observed the very successful primaries."

"How on earth could a group of persons conduct a primary election that was not known or heard by the public and was not covered by the media, and went ahead to ask the INEC to act on their correspondence," Obiora Ifoh, national publicity secretary of LP queried. The Conclave online first reported the news on February 25.

"INEC knows that there was no primary; it did not supervise any other primary but the one conducted by the Party led by Barrister Julius Abure. INEC knows that they just brought names; there was no primary. We were in Benin that day, and the world knew that Abure had an issue and was released, after which he witnessed the primary.

"How come they (Apapa group) did a primary and the media did not know? When and where did they conduct their delegate election? Was it by direct or indirect election? These men are just a bunch of desperate people looking for easy money from desperate politicians," Ifoh said.

"Labour is thereby urging Nigerians to distance from any other list other than that of Barrister Olumide Akpata as the only candidate being sponsored by the Labour Party.

"We (are) also using this medium to specially appeal to the media to stop progressing with this factional narrative. There is no faction in Labour Party. If you are still in doubt of the authentic leadership of Labour Party, please check the website of the INEC, Ifoh added.

It wasn't the first time - since it emerged in the 2023 election cycle as a formidable unit - that the Apapa group would interfere or attempt to sow confusion in federal and state electoral matters of the LP, as it schemed to wrest power from the Abure camp through a forceful takeover of the national headquarters of the party in Abuja, or via the courts, which've ruled majorly in favour of the Abure-led NWC.

The Apapa camp tried, unsuccessfully, to dictate the processes of LP's participation, campaigns, and election petitions from the 2023 presidential and state polls, with Apapa and some in his group members suffering humiliations from LP supporters in and outside court premises in Abuja, and elsewhere across Nigeria.

During the November 2023 governorship election in Imo State, the Apapa camp tried but failed to present its factional candidate for the poll, but the Supreme Court affirmed the candidate produced by the Abure group. Still, the Apapa faction hasn't relented!

So, it's no surprise that the group's tried to conjure "miracles" in the Edo governorship. But what's amiss is the lack of knowledge about when, where and how the first (and even the second) primary was conducted, and the rather novel picking of the candidate and running mate at the same time - a break from the norm of candidates choosing their running mates after weeks or months of the primaries.

The latest gambit by the Apapa faction of the LP - which's lasted this long due to the oxygen given it by the courts, INEC and media - may be seen by party members and supporters as the usual irritant from a flailing group grasping any straw to stay afloat. But it could disrupt the party programmes and campaigns if the INEC and courts gave it some hearing ahead of the election.

Similar scenarios of curiosity pervaded the primaries in the APC and PDP. Whereas the PDP's factionalised into three camps, one led by Governor Godwin Obaseki, another by Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu, and the other by the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Chief Dan Orbih; the APC showed no serious signs of division in its Edo State chapter until the primaries.

While the APC primary lasted seven days (February 17-23), finally winnowing four claimants to the ticket to one in an anti-climax on Ferbruary 23; two factions of the PDP conducted their shadow polls on February 22. The APC produced Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC, Edo Central) as the winner, ahead of 10 other aspirants, as declared by the Cross River State Governor Bassey Otu-led APC Edo governorship primary election committee on February 23 in Benin City.

Okpebholo's 12,433 votes (to 6,541 votes scored in second position by Hon. Dennis Idahosa (APC, Ovia Federal Constituency)) were fairly consistent with his tally of 12,145 votes (with Idahosa scoring 5,536 votes to place second) during the February 17 "inconclusive" primary, as declared by the Chief Returning Officer, Dr Stanley Ugboajah.

But the Ugboajah declaration was disputed, as well as the return made by the previous chairman of the APC primary committee and Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma, who declared Idahosa as winner for polling 40,453 votes to "defeat" Okpebholo (100 votes) and 10 other contestants.

On February 18 in Auchi, Etsako Central local government area of Edo State, some local government areas returning officers proclaimed a third aspirant, Hon. Anamero Dekeri (APC, Etsako Federal Constituency) as the primary winner. Leader of the officers, Mr Ojo Babatunde, said Dekeri scored 25,384 votes to defeat Idahosa (14,127 votes) and 10 others.

Remarkably, a fourth aspirant and former minister of state for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, who also claimed he won the primary based on turnout of voters, has congratulated Sen. Okpebholo, and pledged his support as a "loyal party member." Two other APC aspirants, Dr Blessing Agbomhere and Dr Afolabi Umakhihe, have also congratulated Okpebholo.

But Idahosa and Dekeri, rattling the sabre, have threatened external actions against "fictitious" votes and a "manipulated" process, if they failed to get justice in the APC appeals committee. Idahosa, in a statement in Benin City on February 24, alleged that the "fictitious results" declared by the Governor Otu primary committee "represented the highest level of rape on democracy ever witnessed in Edo State."

His words: "Events in the last few days may have been very disappointing and demoralizing to lots of people, as your votes seemed not to have counted going by the process and declaration of fictitious primary election results of what happened on the field on the (February) 22nd re-run elections in the 192 wards of the state.

"Let me assure you all, our teaming supporters, that I shall explore all the party internal mechanisms to resolve the issues, and seek justice and where that doesn't work, I shall communicate with you all on our next line of action." On February 26 in Benin City, supporters staged a protest to add bite to Idahosa's threats, as first reported by The Nation.

The leader of the protesters, Mr Harrison Okpamen, who called on the APC leadership to recognise Idahosa as the authentic winner of the primary, alleged that the declaration of Okpebholo was "conjured" by Governor Otu, who reportedly ignored results of the rescheduled primary, and deployed security agents to disperse the APC leaders who were waiting with the results to be collated.

Mr Okpamen stated what allegedly transpired, thus: "Governor Otu directed that party members should report at their 192 wards for the conduct of the primaries. Aspirants began fresh mobilisation, and thousands of members were gathered at their various wards. To their surprise, no returning officer was deployed to the wards to conduct the primaries.

"APC members in the 18 local government areas of Edo, after waiting in vain for the arrival of the electoral officials, began to queue behind posters of their preferred aspirants. It was clear that Hon. Dennis Idahosa was the preferred candidate of a vast majority of party members. Curiously, Governor Otu went out of circulation.

"APC's leaders brought the results from their various LGAs to the collation centre, but there was no one to hand them to. Worried party members waited in the vicinity of the collation centre in vain. Suddenly, Governor Otu arrived and ordered armed soldiers to evacuate party members. After dispersing party members disrespectfully, he then announced some conjured figures."

Also Dekeri, in a statement, comparing the scores he recorded for his election into the House of Representatives and the votes declared for him by the Sen. Otu primary committee, told journalists that the outcome of the primary was "manipulated."

He said: "I mobilised 65,000 people for this primary. In my election to the House of Representatives, I scored over 100,000 (votes), and then in this primary election, they said I scored about 2,000 (2,566) votes. This is a charade, as far as I am concerned," and vowed to decide his next line of action.

Note that Dekeri, claiming to've "mobilised 65,000 people" indicates he possibly engaged in "vote-buying" of APC's members, whereas the NWC-verified number of financial members cleared to vote at the primary stood a little above 44,000 - about 21,000 less than the figure Dekeri bandied to mobilise for the primary!

In the PDP, Governor Obaseki and his "anointed" aspirant, Dr Asue Ighodalo (who polled 577 votes to Deputy Governor Shaibu's one vote) continue to revel in the outcome of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC)-backed indirect primary held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City on February 22 that returned Ighodalo as the party candidate. But Comrade Shaibu's predicted failure for the ruling party in Edo State if he's not fielded as the flagbearer.

This comes as Acting National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Umar Damagum, handed a certificate of return to Ighodalo on February 27, and said that Ighodalo - declared the primary winner by the returning officer, Zamfara State Governor Dauda Lawal - "is the only candidate the party recognises for the Edo gubernatorial election," adding, "the PDP is one and we organised and recognised only one primary in Edo which produced Dr Asue Ighodalo."

But Shaibu - at loggerheards with Obaseki over his governorship ambition - doesn't solely base his claim to the parallel primary in which he scored 301 votes, but on the premise that his candidature represents Edo North - one of the tripod senatorial districts of Edo State.

For Shaibu, if the APC picked Okpebholo from Edo Central, and LP chose Akpata from Edo South, it's politically expedient for the PDP to settle for him (Shaibu) from Edo North - and not for a candidate (Ighodalo) from Edo Central - to balance the senatorial representations for the governorship election.

Shaibu said: "I am appealing to the PDP National Working Committee that if they want to win Edo State, they should just abide by what has happened. They should just support my candidacy and PDP will win Edo State.

"You can see how the primaries have gone now in Edo. Labour Party has Olu Akpata from Edo South and APC has Monday Okpebholo from Edo Central. Now, I am from Edo North. It shows that the three senatorial districts now have candidates.

"And this comes to the point I have been saying that (in) Edo State, we have not met or we are (yet) to agree that there is zoning. And if we are meant to have a convention to say we now have a zoning formula, when it leaves here, it goes here, by now, nobody will be contesting in the three (but one) senatorial districts."

Dismissing the primary that produced Ighodalo as pre-determined, and breached the laws guiding elections in Nigeria, Shaibu said: "I'm aware that they had another primary, and in the coming days, you will know who is authentic and who is not authentic because even from the results that they declared, it's laughable.

"A deputy governor that was NANS president, that was two-time majority leader, eight years in the House of Assembly, a deputy governor that was in the House of Reps, that was pulled back because of his political strength to complement a ticket that would have failed without a politician that is known and accepted, is now getting one vote, and somebody that is not known at all is now getting 577 votes. It tells you where the results were written.

"And if you check what they did, it was more like a celebration of either a wedding or burial reception. You see the primaries where every local government had an aseo-ebi, its own uniform; it speaks volume; check what they did. And that is the primaries.

"It shows that there was no contestation; that is what they did show. There was no contestation because if there was contestation, you don't have local government by local government wearing the same attire. It shows that it was more like a party, what the Yoruba popularly call 'owambe.'"

Shuaibu, who side-stepped the issue of whether the PDP NWC backed, and INEC monitored his primary, simply said: "If the party wants to win the election, they will not go for Asue (Ighodalo). If the party wants to win the election, the people have spoken and they have spoken very loud and clear.

"If people can stand bullets (referring to alleged invasion of his factional primary by operatives of the Edo Security Network, whose sporadic gunfires injured some delegates) to say this is who we want, then the party should follow that direction."

Meanwhile, Dr Ighodalo of the PDP has congratulated his fellow candidates of the APC and LP, Sen. Okpebholo and Barr. Akpata, and urged them to join him in a commitment to focus on issue-based campaigns, and refrain from messages that promote division and disunity.

Ighodalo noted that: "The February 2023 general election saw a level of hate and vitriol masked as political sloganeering that took this nation to the brink; and the fires politicians lit back then continue to smoulder across the nation," as reported by VANGUARD on February 26.

"I and my team will continue to campaign to the people of Edo State in language and behaviour that seek to unite rather than divide. We will stay focused on the issues that matter to our people; and there will be no descent into abuse, ethnic-baiting and name-calling. We must not destroy the unity of the state we seek to govern. I therefore urge all my fellow candidates to similarly run respectful issue-based campaigns."

While Edo people expect other candidates to make similar commitments, the weeks and months ahead are especially crunchy and testy times for the APC, PDP and LP candidates for the September 21 election. Can they surmount and survive the intrigues and machinations within, mounted by political godfathers and gladiators, such as Senator Adams Oshiomhole, leader of the APC in Edo and former Governor of the state, Hon. Idahosa and Hon. Dekeri in the APC; Deputy Governor Shaibu and Chief Orbih in the PDP; and Chief Apapa and his comrades-in-arm in LP? The die is cast!

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

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