JOHN ALECHENU and PETER DAVID
Ahead of the governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress in Edo State on Monday (tomorrow) the party has dismissed the order gazetted by the state government that political parties must obtain approval of the governor to hold any political gathering.
The APC maintained that it did not require a permit from the state governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, to hold direct primary as its preferred mode of choosing candidate for the September 19, 2020 governorship election in the state.
Obaseki had in a gazette signed on May 28 and published on June 5, banned political gatherings that could make direct primary possible in the state stipulating that only indirect primary could be held in the state and in only one location, Benin City.
The order partly reads, “That in respect of political gatherings for the purpose of conducting primaries for any of the parties desiring to field candidates in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, gatherings of more than 20 persons may be allowed, subject to the written approval of the governor, if such gatherings do not exceed 5,000 persons; hold in Benin City and in a single facility with a large seating capacity of not less than 10,000 persons; are provided with adequate health, safety and sanitary facilities and are COVID-19 response compliant with social distancing policy, hand-washing and proper use of face masks fully observed.”
The governor had explained that the law was in line with the determination of his administration to stop the spread of COVID-19. But the APC argued that it was a political move to stop it from conducting its direct primary to choose its candidate. The Independent National Electoral Commission had revealed that of the 15 political parties participating in the election, 14 chose indirect primary while only the APC chose direct primary.
But responding to Sunday PUNCH’s enquiries on Saturday, the APC Acting National Chairman, Abiola Ajimobi, who spoke through the National Vice Chairman (South South), Hilliard Eta, said in a telephone interview that the APC as a law-abiding party believed that only the Federal Government was currently empowered to enact the kind of order, Godwin Obaseki, gazetted.
He said, “Under the law, as it is operational in Nigeria today, it is only the Federal Government that has powers to make laws under a pandemic such as the coronavirus as we have it today. The gazette that Obaseki has signed says not more than 50 persons can gather.
“In any case, since we now have only one aspirant left, we don’t have to have any permit to conduct our affirmation.
“All we need to do is to ask the question, “Do you want Pastor Ize-Iyamu yes or no finish. If he (Obaseki) likes, let him say people should not gather at all, we will do the affirmation in the various houses of our members.”
One of our correspondents had also gathered from sources that the two other aspirants cleared by the party’s screening committee; Osaro Obazee and Dr Pius Odubu, had withdrawn from the primary, leaving only Pastor Ize-Iyamu in the race.
But in his response, the governor, through his Media Adviser, Mr Crusoe Osagie, told Sunday PUNCH that the gazette was still in force and would be enforced. He said the state was prepared to ensure that every gathering in the state complied with the COVID-19 prevention protocol.
He explained that there was nothing political about the law, saying it was meant to protect the people of the state from deadly diseases.
According to him, as a responsible leader, Obaseki owed it a duty to the people and residents of the state to protect them from unnecessary exposure to diseases especially during a pandemic such as the one being experienced across the globe.
He also explained that as of 9pm on Saturday, the relevant agencies of the state had not received any request for a permit from the APC.
Osagie stressed, “We have not received any request for a permit by the APC to hold primary. The state gazette is still in force and will be enforced. It is a requirement.”
The APC governorship primary holds on Monday, June 22 while that of the PDP is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2020