February 11, (THEWILL) -The Wednesday D-day slated by the National Working Committee, NWC, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to sort out the crisis that followed the Friday, February 2, 2024 Ward Congress in Edo State came and passed without a concrete solution. Aggrieved aspirants led by Deputy Governor Philip Shuaibu went home more agitated. And the publicity secretary of one of the factions of the party in the state, Ogie Vasco, had to issue a statement in Benin-City describing the ward congress as “Governor Obaseki’s Congress, Not PDP Congress.”
He claimed that the NWC compromised the process by handing over the materials for the conduct of the congress with the governor, who in turn mobilised thugs to keep other nine contestants out of the venue to ensure that his preferred candidate emerged.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, however, thinks otherwise. He told THEWILL that the process to look into the matter had started. According to him, the party constituted an appeal panel which will look into the matter and send its report to the National Working Committee, NWC.
“That is the process. After the appeal panel has submitted its report, the NWC will then communicate its report to all parties,” he said.
The NWC had set up a Senator Sierake Dickson-led Mediating Committee to resolve the crisis for the conduct of the congress, which the Governor Peter Mbah-led committee cleared as free and fair.
However, given the interests at stake, it was almost as predictable as the weather in the rainy season that the governing party in Edo State was heading to a crisis-prone delegates election in preparation for its primaries on February 27, 2023.
On the one hand is Governor Godwin Obaseki’s fight with his deputy, Philip Shuaibu; his preferred successor is former Chairman of the Board of Nigeria Breweries, Asue Ighodalo, but Shuaibu against the run of play is sustaining the tempo through court suits and campaign in the media to succeed his principal.
On the other hand is the unwritten but highly sensitive public sentiment on the zoning of the governorship ticket since 1999 and some say since 1991 when that state was created: By this calculation, Edo South, where Governor Obaseki comes from, has had its hands full with 16 years of administration from Governor Lucky Igbinedion to Obaseki.
If you add the two years of the defunct third republic administration of Chief Odigie Oyegun, the numbers cry for justice. Closely following this zone is Edo North, which has taken the governorship slot for eight years with the Adams Oshiomhole Administration. Edo South only had a stint during the three-month tenure of Prof Oseriemhem Osunbor, whose administration was aborted by the Election Petition Tribunal.
This personal conflict between Governor Obaseki and his Shaibu and the strong public perception on zoning is the undercurrent challenging the party, ahead of the September 2024 poll.
With the imminence of the ward congress therefore, the various interests began to stake their claims. Shaibu, who hails from Edo North, claims that since there was no agreement on zoning, he would run. From the same zone come aspirants like Ambassador Martin Uhomoibji and Haifa Hadizat Umoru. Others like Omosede Igbinedion, Dr Earl Osaro Onaiwu and Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama hail from Edo South. Joining the battle with Ighodalo from Edo Central are Felix Akhabue, Anselm Ojezua and Barrister Arthur Esene.
Early warning signs of trouble came when the Chairman of the Ad-Hoc Ward Congresses Electoral Committee, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State resigned his position before the election. This paved the way for his deputy, Enugu State governor, Peter Mbah, to step in as the committee chairman, a development faulted by the aggrieved aspirants.
Makinde said he had to resign because the notice was too short, even as he faulted the inclusion of some of Governor Obaseki’s aides as members of the committee.
Nevertheless, Governor Mbah, party chairman, Dr Tony Aziegbemi, described the election as fair and credible, while nine other aspirants disagreed and petitioned the NCW to seek redress.
Governor Mbah, who was also in company with the Secretary of the Committee, Governor Kefas Agbu of Taraba State, told journalist after the exercise: “We met with the Chairman of our party in the state, Dr Tony Aziegbemi, who gave us a robust briefing of the plans on ground. And myself as Chairman of the Electoral Committee and other members went to a number of wards where we found that the turnout was huge and the process was free, fair and credible.”
Aziegbemi urged aggrieved aspirants to take their protest over the conduct of the state delegate election to the appeal panel that will sit on February 7 in Abuja.
The aforementioned nine aspirants who felt cheated had petitioned the Acting National Chairman of the party, Umar Damagum, and copied the National Vice Chairman South-South of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, protesting the process and composition of the committee that conducted the delegates election.
Aziegbemi urged the aggrieved aspirants to be mindful of their utterances which are capable of bringing the PDP to disrepute
He said the party aimed to ensure that it remains in office by winning the governorship election on September 21, stating that the party had carried everyone along and left the door of reconciliation open.
He said, “In line with the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission and the PDP, the National Working Committee organised the election of the adhoc delegates in Edo State.
“I have never seen a well organised and transparent election in the history of the party since I joined in 1999. I challenge anyone with a contrary opinion to bring out any evidence. We printed the register and ensured the election took place in 192 wards. Those who came to vote had to show their membership and voter cards to take part in the process.
“We made sure all the electoral officers moved to their centres on time and all the names of the aspirants were read out to ensure fairness and they could have been voted for if they were not on the ground.
“I urge the nine aggrieved aspirants to take their grievances to the appeal panel headed by Dickson Seriaki on February 7 in Abuja to lodge their complaints and desist from utterance that can tarnish the image of the party.”
Aziegbemi said that 563 delegates were elected, but added that the election to choose 31 delegates could not take place at Etsako Central due to the alleged abduction of nine electoral officers, who he said, were yet to be found.
“We will be at the appeal panel on February 7 and lodge a complaint and the decision reached will determine our next line of action,” he added.
That February 7 date came and the aggrieved members attended the meeting in Wadata Plaza, Abuja. The appeal committee is yet to submit its report to the NCW, which will convey its decision to all interested parties. The days are ticking by for the February 17 primaries to choose a flag bearer. This no deal situation has created an uneasy calm in the party in the state.