THE NEW RECONCILIATION ATTEMPT BETWEEN OBASEKI AND OSHIOMHOLE: HOW FAR WILL IT LAST?

Following the protracted crisis that rocked the All Progressives Congress in Edo State, MUDIAGA AFFE writes that the recent move to resolve the intra-party conflict will require a Herculean effort

The duo of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, will remain in the eye of the storm for a while. Apparently, the disputes that trailed their disagreements in Edo State snowballed and became national subjects in the ruling APC.

The infighting between the two became obvious shortly after the 2019 House of Assembly elections when the ruling APC won all the 24 available seats. With this kind of victory, any party would go to sleep but the reverse was the case in the state as the House became enveloped in a “crisis of inauguration.”

The crisis was caused by the separate moves made by the governor and Oshiomhole to get their men to emerge principal officers of the state assembly.

Obaseki, whose relationship with his erstwhile political ‘godfather’ had become frosty, deployed a series of ‘strategies’ to get his loyalists to occupy the state assembly’s principal offices. But the lawmakers loyal to Oshiomhole kicked following the inauguration of the state assembly, saying the proclamation by the governor was improperly done.

The battle shifted to court, which later ruled in favour of Obaseki. The battle continued beyond the state assembly and courts as loyalists to the combating two former friends continued to throw tantrums.

Before the open war abated, the governor and his predecessor threw caution to the wind and hauled all manner of accusations and insults at each other through their aides and loyalists.

While Oshiomhole believed Obaseki was highhanded, the governor, on the other hand, insisted he would not condone any form of interference that will “jeopardise” the interest of Edo people.

Initially perceived as a local Edo State matter, astonishingly, the crisis assumed a national dimension as many other issues were raised against the former labour leader.

Rapidly, top party leaders at the national level who were dissatisfied with the manner Oshiomhole handled the 2019 election primaries were also planning to remove the APC chairman from office. This plan was almost achieved about three weeks ago as an Abuja court suspended the ex-Edo State governor from office as the APC chairman.

On the verge of losing his position as the APC national chairman following the political intrigues orchestrated by aggrieved party chieftains opposed to his general leadership style, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), reportedly intervened in the crisis and mandated Oshiomhole to ensure Obaseki fly the party’s ticket in the state governorship election scheduled to hold later this year.

This singular action, party sources said, could have led to the commencement of a peace process.

Keying into Buhari’s intervention, Oshiomhole declared a truce between him and his traducers. The action is believed to have brought relative peace to Edo politics, even though the message was directly at his opponents who were hell-bent on removing him from office.

To the warring factions in Edo State and beyond, the words of Oshiomhole and especially his offer of forgiveness to those who might have offended him and the request for same from those he might have offended have sent a strong signal to the Edo politicians who are just a few months to the governorship election in September.

In response to Oshiomhole’s olive branch, a new chapter in the move to end the crisis was opened on March 23 when Governor Obaseki’s Chief of Staff, Mr Taiwo Akerele, disclosed that there were ongoing discussions between the two principal actors to end the feud.

What was more interesting in Akerele’s announcement was the confidence he displayed while responding to a question by our correspondent during a press briefing in Benin. He said not only would the conflict between his boss and his predecessor be resolved, but that Obaseki would also be returned to office.

“Getting the ticket for him is not in contention but we will go into primaries and the party has a formula for it. It can be either consensus or non-consensus, whichever it is, Obaseki and Philip Shaibu are ready. But ordinarily, he should be given the right of first refusal,” he said.

To Akerele, the duo has already been reaching out to each other following the waving of the olive branch by the ex-labour leader at the APC National Working Committee meeting in Abuja recently. According to Obaseki’s CoS, Oshiomhole and the Edo governor are very close and “nobody should be deceived even as we speak.”

Conversely, stakeholders in the conflict believe that for such resolution to stand the test of time, the position of the numerous followers must be considered.

One such stakeholder is, Mr Washington Osifo, who speaks for the 14 lawmakers whose seats were declared vacant by the House late last year.  Osifo said the lawmakers were willing and ready to embrace peace since that was what they had always craved.

To him, there was nothing wrong with the peace move extended to all aggrieved parties by Oshiomhole, but the move must take into consideration the position of the aggrieved members of the party.

Osifo, however, stressed that the aggrieved members of the party who are on the side of Oshiomhole are sceptical about the peace talks because they feel the move was mainly as a result of the second-term ambition of the governor.

He said, “The best way to guarantee the outcome of a peace talk is to ensure that all interests are considered and whatever led to where we are now, we must address the root. If those roots are treated rather than the symptoms, you will find out that the peace talks will become lasting.

“I think many persons are suspicious of the reasons for this peace talk because if it is all about the second-term ambition of the governor, it means it may not last beyond one getting the ticket and returning to the trenches. If it is built on the realisation of the errors that have been made and you want to give a new opportunity to clean the mess so that we can now relate in love and unity because we have learnt from our mistakes, it will last.”

According to him, the issue of the suspended lawmakers is key to the peace talks, pointing out that the aggrieved lawmakers have not been made to function over nine months after their colleagues were sworn in.

Osifo said, “Our grouse is that having submitted ourselves through the primaries and the party gave us a ticket and we won, we expected naturally that as a 24-House member in one political party, we should not nurture any fear of not being sworn in.

“So, the question is what led to the denial of their rights? They said that we intended to impeach the governor as soon as we come in, but what he would have asked himself is whether it is that easy to impeach a sitting executive governor. He will be involved and the judiciary as well as the police will be part of it. If all he did by sending us away to protect himself, I am sure by this time he would have realised that this was not the best protection he would have given himself.

“If they now allow that appeal to come to their conscience to allow us to be sworn in and do our job, why not, there is nothing bad in it. We are not asking them to give us another vote, we are only asking them to allow us to reap the benefits of our labour.”

However, the Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said the peace move was not the idea of Oshiomhole but an instruction from the Presidency.

Osagie said, “All party members and party leaders are supposed to abide by this peace initiative. There are various demands that the President has insisted must be upheld. The two governorship elections coming up in Ondo and Edo states are part of it.

“The removal of all factions is also one of the conditions, so, we are very much in tune with the peace move by Mr President. We are 100 per cent in support of it as directed by the President, although there are still some elements in Edo politics who are still making noise.”

Also, the factional Chairman of the APC Edo State, Mr Anselm Ojezua, who is loyal to Obaseki, also sounded words of caution.

He said, “If the reconciliation effort is not rooted at the base, it will lose its meaning. It is an unfolding drama and I do not want to say anything more than that. Let him bring it down to the base. There are lots of states including Edo that require his attention.”

But the APC Publicity Secretary in the state, Mr Joseph, thought otherwise.

He said that the olive branch waved by the APC national chairman was only for the NWC members and not for the Edo APC members loyal to Obaseki.

Joseph said, “He was speaking about the NWC members, he never mentioned anything about Edo. We are waiting for him to denounce his romance with the Edo Peoples Movement; and we urge the EPM members to come back to the APC. A chairman does not divide his party by himself, chairman unites the party. If he does anything to unite the party, we will see it as an olive branch and we will all welcome it.

“We expect that he should address the issues in Edo and that is how we will know that there is reconciliation going on. He should come in and make a statement and he should tender an apology to everybody he may have offended and accept apologies from those who may have offended him also. That is how to know that there is full reconciliation,”

Nevertheless, the factional Publicity Secretary of the party loyal to Oshiomhole, Mr Chris Azebamwan, said the party would be stronger if all factions worked as one.

Azebamwan explained that intra-party conflicts of all shapes and complexions had been part and parcel of the nation’s democratic journey.

“One of the major goals of a political party is to contest and win elections and form the government. So, the olive branch as offered by the national chairman is a demonstration of his statesmanship,” he said.

The factional publicity secretary, however, noted that politics was a competitive exercise and that differences among participants were transient and bound to happen.

He said, “The governorship election in Edo State is coming up, people are signifying interests, so, it is bound to generate competition and differences of opinions as well as alliances and loyalty line but it does not mean it is a do-or-die thing.

“If the National Chairman has said ‘let us close ranks’ and the other 25 states are complying, I do not see any reason why Edo State should not fall in line with the vision. So, why should Edo State be different? We would work together so that we can retain governance,” he said.

A former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice during Oshiomhole’s administration, Mr Henry Idahagbon, said the olive branch extended by Oshiomhole was the way a true leader should behave.

“Of course, it is a good thing. That is the way a leader should behave. A leader that is capable of fighting must also be capable of settling. Adams Oshiomhole has behaved like the true leader that he is,” he said.

Will the reconciliatory move and peace agreement be sustainable by loyal stakeholders to both parties? Only Obaseki and Oshiomhole will determine if this will be achieved, according to party chieftains.