BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
It was only last July that the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN trounced the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the Edo State gubernatorial election. Now, grudges here and there threaten to redefine the political space as local political turf wars reach a climax tomorrow in the 18 local councils of the state.
Tomorrow’s elections in Edo State may involve relatively unknown local candidates, but the result would cause big egos to crash. Among the leaders to be tested tomorrow are especially leading figures in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who are making waves in Abuja.
Chief Mike Oghiadhome, the Chief of Staff to the president, the last man anyone has to see before seeing the president is one. Another is Chief Tony Anenih, the chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees, BoT who has in the last few months become more of a political icon readily worshipped by friend and foe. After losing their turfs to the ACN last July, they are at the risk of being totally silenced in the local elections tomorrow.
Remarkably, not only the PDP chieftains are at risk. Even the ACN which gained followership through the works of Governor Adams Oshiomhole is also at risk.
The party’s alleged culture of imposition of candidates could be a threat to its dominance as local political rivals of the chosen candidates are now believed to be silently working against their party. Even more calamitous for the ACN could be the threat of a legal action alleged to be in the works by the PDP to torpedo the candidates’ list of the ACN which the opposition party claims did not emerge through due process.
As at last night the legal action believed to be in the works was yet to crystallise.
It is not surprising that the PDP which in the past had been accused of imposition this time allowed its best candidates to emerge to challenge candidates alleged in some quarters to have been imposed by the hierarchy of the ACN.
Initially, some members of the PDP led by the former Director of Publicity of the party, Okharedia Ihimekpen suggested that they should boycott the elections since the party may stand no chance of winning.
But that comment led to his sack as the leadership of the party, led by the dogged Chief Orbih (Kulukulu 1) distanced itself from the comment asserting the readiness of the party to participate in the election.
Their reasons were understandable given that the party needed proof that it was not dead in the state after the woeful outing in the July 14 2012 Governorship election where Oshiomhole defeated the PDP candidate, Gen.Charles Airhiavbere in the 18 local government councils.
The PDP also reasoned that since it is a Local Government election, the people will only vote for candidates of their choice not necessarily voting along party lines, therefore they insisted they must give it a try.
As part of the PDP strategy to win in some councils they fielded their best eleven particularly in Chief Anenih’s council, Esan North East. John Yakubu is the PDP candidate in the area and the decision to field him by the PDP was a smart one. Apart from Chief Anenih’s presence in the council, Yakubu was the former chairman of that council and he performed well while he was chairman.
So the election there will be a very tough test for the ACN. In Ovia North East, the PDP gave the ticket to Mrs Elizabeth Edionwanagbon who decamped to the party from the ACN when she could not get the ACN ticket.
She will be facing a fellow woman who is equally known as the Thatcher of Edo State politics, Mrs Lucy Omagbon of the ACN.
Omagbon was the former PDP Woman Leader in the state before she dumped the party for the ACN prior to the governorship election. She took on her former mentor, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion in the last governorship election in that council and she ensured victory for Oshiomhole in Okada.
In Orhiomnwon where the deputy governor of the state, Dr Pius Odubu and the South South Vice-Chairman of the ACN Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu hail from, the PDP fielded Barr Osahon Orhue, a vibrant young man, praised for his intelligence and capacity to cause an upset.
The ACN candidate, Chief Roland Ibietoromwen also possesses intimidating credentials both as a palace chief and also as a tested politician. Though Barr Orhue is a good material, but the dominance of the ACN in this council may be a stumbling to his ambition.
The PDP chances in Edo South were further punctured penultimate week when some loyalists of Gen Airhiavbere led by the coordinator of his legal team, Mr Kelvin Aigbe and Martins Osakwe dumped the party for the ACN.
The campaigns have resurrected the usual animosity among the leadership of the two parties as was witnessed during the governorship election.
While the PDP through its chairman, Chief Orbih accused the ACN of perfecting plans to write results of the election at Government House, the ACN described the PDP as an unserious party accusing them of not campaigning but only making frivolous allegations on the pages of news papers.
While campaigning at Okada, Orbih alleged that “the ACN has recruited its members as staff of the Edo state Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) and they are trying to frustrate us from contesting the election.
But we will not be deterred, we are ready for the election and we will win. We are aware that they have perfected plans to write results at Government House but we will resist any attempt to manipulate the election”.
But the chairman of the ACN, Barr Thomas Okosun described the PDP allegation as signs of failure.
“I have always said that Orbih is a confused man, he and his cohorts will only sit in their parlours drinking champagne and never in the field for campaigns.
You will observe that despite the fact that the ACN has dominated in all the 192 wards in the state, we are still campaigning vigorously because the Comrade Governor has warned that it will be one man one vote.
The PDP is just cooking up allegations because it is their usual style of writing results when they were in power so they are scared we might do the same.”
But the peaceful campaign was punctured penultimate Tuesday in Fugar when two persons lost their lives, while houses and cars were burnt during a clash between PDP and ACN youths in the area. The tragic incident occurred barely24 hours after the Edo State Commissioner of Police, Mr Folunsho Adebanjo, met with party leaders in the state on the need to have a peaceful local government election.
It was alleged that the crisis started when a stalwart of one the parties rammed his bus into the campaign train of the other leading to a fight that led youths of the two parties attacking the homes of each other.
At the end of the mayhem, one PDP leader and a 72 year old farmer, Oboareyi Ivharve who has three wives and 30 children and Joachim Omedemeh an ACN supporter were killed.
Oshiomhole visited the families of the deceased last weekend and vowed to sign the death sentence if the perpetrators are convicted by the court.
While addressing the families, Oshiomhole said: “I was here in Fugar a week ago and we had a very successful rally.
It is a battle of ideas, you have to market yourself and ideas. So I condemn in the strongest term possible, those who are responsible for this murder and I will encourage the police to handle this investigation very very professionally.”
But there is serious tension in the state following the arrest of the candidate of the ACN, Emmanuel Momoh over the incident. Momoh was picked up and whisked to Abuja immediately following the mayhem.
ACN leaders accused the chief of Staff to the President of masterminding the arrest to pave way for the PDP candidate.
Vanguard however learnt that Momoh was brought back to Benin last Tuesday and there are plans to charge him to court in Benin City.
But the former Chief of General Staff, Admiral Mike Akhigbe who is a Fugar son, described the killings as senseless and a taboo, just as he condemned the arrest and taking Momoh to Abuja. “What is the interest of the presidency in this matter? Why must he be taken to Abuja?
I also learnt that the PDP candidate kept thugs in his house so why was he not arrested? This is desperation on the part of these Abuja politicians who are always telling lies to the President.”
Admiral Akhigbe who condemned the police for what he described as its biased handling of the matter, queried the decision to arrest the ACN candidate when he was not “even at the scene of the incident.”
Besides Fugar, areas considered as flash points are Etsako Central, Ovia North East and Uromi. While the ACN is expected to project a good showing as it did during the last gubernatorial election, the PDP is, however, not expected to do badly as it has lately been aiming to reinvent itself.
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