As the race for who occupies Dennis Osadebey Avenue come 11 November 2024 continues to heat up, major political parties in the state have been immersed in one controversy or the other as they head towards their primaries in the coming days and weeks.

In anticipation of its gubernatorial primaries billed to hold on 22 February 2024, the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Sunday held its ward congresses across the 192 wards in the 18 local government areas of Edo State where 563 delegates that will eventually elect the party’s candidate were elected. The state governor, Godwin Obaseki, witnessed the process and described it as successful and peaceful, saying he was satisfied with the turnout.

Enugu State governor, Peter Mbah, who is the Deputy Chairman of the Ward Congresses Electoral Committee that oversaw the selection of ad-hoc delegates, chaired the five-member committee after the Chairman, Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde, pulled out of the process.

PDP’s ward delegates congress stirs controversy

Governor Makinde’s withdrawal as Chairman of the committee followed the petition by nine aspirants alleging that, among other complaints, the list of electoral officers as originally drawn up by the party had been adulterated with officials of the Delta and Edo State governments.

The nine governorship aspirants, in a petition to Governor Makinde and the party Acting National Chairman, Amb. Umar Damagum, alleged that the process would not be fair to them as some observed flaws had the potential to compromise the process even before the congresses commenced.

The petition was signed by the Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, Earl Osaro Onaiwu, Hon. Omosede Igbinedion, Anselm Ojezua, Amb. Martin Uhomoibhi, Barr. Arthur Esene, Hon Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, Hon Felix Akhabue, and Hajia Hadizat Umoru.

Spokesperson for the aspirants, Anslem Ojezua, highlighted grievances such as the lack of a level playing field and uncertainty regarding the approved ad-hoc committee list. The aspirants claimed the party’s National Working Committee hadn’t addressed these issues.

In declining his appointment as Chairman of the committee, Governor Makinde said the notification was late and he was faced with prior engagements in his state. He, however, urged the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party to urgently look into the petition by the Edo State governorship aspirants.

The ward delegates congress was, however, held and delegates duly elected. But the aggrieved aspirants paid a visit to the South-South Vice Chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, who described the turn of events as a ‘Nollywood movie’, assuring the aspirants that their protest would not be in vain and that they were not alone in the situation.

In the aftermath, Governor Obaseki dismissed as a storm in a tea cup the purported crisis in the PDP arising from Governor Makinde’s withdrawal as chairman of the PDP Ad-Hoc Ward Congress Committee.

“Makinde’s withdrawal doesn’t discredit the process. What makes the process credible is the quality of the participation. I hope that our efforts to unify the party continue and we ensure that the PDP plays its role in the politics of this country,” Obaseki said.

“The purported PDP crisis is hyped but on ground it is not as they want us to believe,” he said.

On Monday, the PDP in Edo State told the aggrieved nine governorship aspirants to take their grievances to the Appeal Panel set up by the party for redress.

The state chairman of PDP, Dr Tony Aziegbemi, gave the aggrieved persons the marching order at a press conference in Benin City.

As the PDP in Edo State navigates these challenges, focus remains on the 22 February primaries. The controversies surrounding the delegates congress may have added complexity to the party’s preparations, raising questions about internal dynamics and potential impacts of the aspirants and ‘the legacy group’ boycotting the election on the selection process.

All Progressives Congress

The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State is also having its fair share of controversy of internal conflicts and strategic decisions as it prepares for the upcoming gubernatorial primary election.

Nominations, expression of interest, and delegate forms sales began on 10 January and closed on 29 January 2024, while screening of aspirants is scheduled for Thursday, 8 and Friday, 9 February 2024. The party opted for direct primaries, dismissing calls for zoning, reflecting a commitment to broader participation and selecting qualified candidates irrespective of senatorial zones.

The party leadership faced criticism over the adoption of direct primary elections with some members describing it as illegal.

Former National Vice Chairman of the party, Salihu Lukman, described the decision as illegal and a clear usurpation of powers belonging only to National Executive Committee (NEC).

The controversy in the APC began much earlier with the Prof Julius Ihonvbere-led committee set up with the aim to prune down the number of aspirants from 29 to a lesser number, a decision that was objected to by some of the aspirants, including Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Hon. Anamero Dekeri. The Edo State chapter of the party, however, later clarified that no aspirant had been screened or disqualified, emphasizing the advisory role of the committee.

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One of the aspirants, Dr. Blessing Agbomhere, raised concerns over alleged plans to impose a candidate, accusing the leader of the party in the state, Senator Adams Oshiomhole, of orchestrating this plan.

Agbomhere claimed Oshiomhole intended to coerce the national chairman into appointing Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma as the chairman of the Edo State Primary election Committee. He alleged manipulation of votes, threat of a massive crisis and jeopardizing the November governorship election.

Meanwhile, Edo State acting chairman of APC, Mr. Jarret Tenebe, has announced disciplinary actions against disobedient aspirants, emphasizing the party’s commitment to maintaining order as the primary election slated for 17 February approaches.

There are concerns that if not managed properly, these issues could destabilize the APC and affect its chances of winning in the Edo State off-cycle governorship election slated for 21 September 2024.

Labour Party

As an emerging powerhouse in the country’s political landscape, the Labour Party has set its sights on the 2024 governorship elections in Edo State with a high level of confidence and readiness. The party, which has amassed a decent level of popularity and support in the state, has a couple of well-known aspirants jostling for the office of the State Governor, including former NBA President, Mr Olumide Akpata, and Mr Kenneth Imansuagbon, popularly known as “Rice Man”.

The LP chairman, Mr Julius Abure, said that the party has strategically positioned itself to win the election and provide quality leadership for the people of Edo State. He said that the party was committed to fielding a competent candidate and would support any aspirant that would enhance the growth and development of Edo people.

“We need to make it categorically clear that LP has what it takes to win Edo; I have spent 20 years in this party and I have tried to change the status of the party to a major opposition party from a small party,” Abure asserted, according to NAN.

The Labour Party has also found itself immersed in controversy as 18 governorship aspirants on the party’s platform appealed for reduction of the N30 million price tag for the party’s expression of interest and nomination forms of for Edo gubernatorial election.

The aspirants had in a statement recommended that the Expression of Interest form should be made free for all aspirants, while the Nomination Form should be obtained at a cost not exceeding between N1 million to N5 million, with 50 per cent reduction for women and people living with disabilities.

They noted that the party members at the grassroots, who have selflessly sacrificed and toiled and put their effort and resources into building the party, should not be compelled to pay for delegate forms, especially in light of the current economic reality in the country.

However, the party responded saying that those who could not afford the N30 million nomination form were not fit to contest the election.

The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Obiora Ifoh, stated this in an interview with newsmen, appealing to all aspirants to source for the money.

Describing the Edo State governorship poll as a serious business, Ifoh wondered how any aspirant who could not raise N30 million for forms would get money “to prosecute the main election that will cost you hundreds of millions”.

Of the 18 aspirants, only three have picked up their expression of interest and nomination forms as of press time. The aspirants are Barr Imasuagbon (Rice Man), Olumide Akpata, and Ehizojie Imafidon Ohiowele, a successful banker and investor who co-founded a fintech company licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and who is said to have the backing of some party faithful and stakeholders who believe he has the capability to transform the economic conditions of Edo State.

The LP is expected to hold its primary election on Saturday, 22 February 2024, where one of the aspirants will emerge as the party’s flag bearer.

Final word

The LP, irrespective of who emerges as its governorship candidate, faces a tough competition from the ruling PDP and the main opposition APC.

The PDP is banking on the popularity and performance of the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, who is expected to endorse his successor.

The APC, on its part, is hoping to reclaim the state from the PDP, after losing the 2020 elections due to the power tussle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole.

The Edo State governorship election is scheduled to be held on Saturday, 21 September 2024 while the victorious candidate will be sworn in 11 November when Obaseki’s second four-year tenure comes to an end. The election is expected to be keenly contested and closely monitored by national and international observers.