As the September 10 date for the governorship election in Edo State approaches, GBENRO ADEOYE examines the lingering feud between Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu, which continues to build up tension
If there was any prospect of an early end to the lingering crisis in Edo State, such hopes may have been dashed by now with the recent happenings in the state.
The political dispute between Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu, seems to have snowballed to the state House of Assembly with the impeachment of two principal officers- Speaker, Victor Edoror and his deputy, Mr. Bright Osayande.
Although, the reasons given by the House for their impeachment are high-handedness, dictatorial tendencies and financial recklessness, there are strong indications to suggest it was about the legislative house carrying out self cleansing. However, some fingers still point at the governor for pulling the strings from the confines of his plush office like a puppeteer.
Even a swift denial by the state government of any involvement in the impeachment has also largely failed to convince some political analysts that it had nothing to do with the Oshiomhole-Odubu face-off.
Some people are of the opinion that Edoror and Osayande’s impeachment is to lay the groundwork that would pave the way for the removal of Odubu from office.
There have been accusations that Oshiomhole had attempted to use the state House of Assembly to impeach Odubu in the past and that the move failed.
But whatever the case, the political crisis has shown no sign of abating as neither Oshiomhole nor Odubu has shown any indication of backing down on their stance.
Odubu had only recently officially declared his intention to seek the All Progressives Congress ticket in the state’s governorship election to hold in September, 2016, but it was learnt that the political tension had been heightened in the state well before then.
In fact, the history of Odubu’s cold war with his principal is said to have dated back to sometime in 2015 following meetings Oshiomhole had with close associates said to have been interested in succeeding him.
Odubu; Chairman of the Economic Team of the Edo State Government, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; and the state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Osarodion Ogie; were said to have been present at such meetings, where Oshiomhole had allegedly shown interest in backing Obaseki for the governorship position.
It was said that while others withdrew their intentions, Odubu did not back down on his ambition to vie for his party’s governorship ticket in the state. Political observers have described Odubu’s insistence to pursue his ambition, which contradicted his principal’s political calculations, as the basis for the crisis.
Oshiomhole’s choice of Obaseki was said to have stemmed from his contribution to improving revenue generation in the state, which helped the state government to build infrastructural projects under stiff economic circumstances.
However, Oshiomhole’s government has been scored low in some quarters by people who argue that the government’s Economic Team has made no meaningful economic impact on the lives of ordinary citizens.
The rift between Oshiomhole and his deputy was recently stressed further when Odubu alleged that there was an assassination attempt on his life by suspected thugs.
But the Edo State Government, in a swift reaction, dismissed as false the claim by Odubu’s campaign team that an attempt was made by thugs to assassinate him at Auchi, in the Estako West Local Government Area of the state.
Incidentally, Etsako is the home base of the governor, therefore; fingers were naturally pointed at Oshiomhole for allegedly sponsoring the attack.
The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Prince Kassim Afegbua, in a statement, had described Odubu’s claim as false.
The statement had said the clash was caused by thugs allegedly loyal to Odubu and that the gunshots in question had been fired by security details attached to him to scare away party supporters who had kicked against the presence of thugs in the area.
“It is laughable that the Odubu Campaign Organisation will allege that the deputy governor, with a full compliments of security details, was shot at, yet no casualty was recorded on the other side and nobody apprehended ,” the statement read in part.
Interestingly, Oshiomhole’s camp had earlier alleged that Odubu was planning to kill the governor through diabolical means.
The allegation was reportedly made by the Oshiomhole camp during a peace meeting arranged by some mutual associates of the two factions to mend fences. The governor had allegedly accused Odubu of contracting native doctors to harm him.
On the other hand, Odubu had accused the governor of starving his office of funds and victimising his loyalists.
Oshiomhole had in September 2015 sacked four commissioners said to be loyal to Odubu, an allegation that the state government has since denied.
Although, Oshiomhole and Odubu may be on two sides of the divide at the moment, the two politicians were actually once close and had won political battles together in the past, side by side.
For instance, some analysts said that in 2012, when a political associate of the pair, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, allegedly tried to edge out Odubu and become Oshiomhole’s deputy for his second term in office, the pair had stood together.
Also, when the pair felt that Ize-Iyamu’s influence in the state’s political space was becoming too powerful for comfort, they had united to clip his wings using a group called ‘Edo in Safe Hands’.
The fallout had forced Ize-Iyamu to quit the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party, where he is now being touted as the front-runner to clinch the party’s governorship ticket for the next election.
Similarly, one Obaseki may have secured the governor’s endorsement to succeed him; it is another Obaseki who is claiming to have the family’s blessing to contest the position.
So while Oshiomhole and Odubu are locked in a political dispute, the Founder & Vice Chairman, Afrinvest West Africa Limited, Godwin Obaseki (who has Oshiomhole’s support) and a media personality and Nollywood pioneer, Don Pedro Obaseki, are also at loggerheads over the governorship position.
According to Don Pedro, it was he and not his cousin that has the family’s blessing to vie for the position.
The Executive Director, Africa Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Rev. David Ugolor, described the political crisis in the state as bad for governance in the state and the credibility of the parties involved.
“It is all about who becomes the governor after Oshiomhole leaves office,” the analyst said.
“Unfortunately, what it means is that most of the actors do not think that it is the people that should decide who becomes the governor of the state. If they recognise that, we would be talking about competence and what they plan to do to build on whatever Oshiomhole has achieved. But unfortunately, that is not happening.
Ugolor, who painted a gloomy picture of the situation, said it could escalate to a deadly crisis if the Federal Government fails to adequately deal with the problem.
He said, “The President should intervene very quickly to ensure that intelligence is gathered on all the political actors in the state to avoid something similar to the violence experienced in Rivers State.
“What we are witnessing now is a buildup to a political chaos and crisis that will envelope the state like what happened in Rivers State. Those who benefitted from the impunity in Rivers State have not been brought to book, so people will think that when you kill and destroy things during elections, nothing will happen.”
“They will think that all you need is to just win the election and that is what is happening in the Edo State today.
“The situation doesn’t augur well for the polity and I think that the party should be worried because it is not good for the reputation of the party.
“If Buhari continues to remain aloof from potential crises as he always has been doing, the crises will envelope him one day and he will be unable to govern. Also, one key thing that is worrisome is the role of the police and the military, which are supposed to be neutral but sadly, they have been partisan. This for me is a very strong reason for us to be alarmed.”
However, a lawyer from the state, Mr. Robert Igbinedion, urged all political players in Edo to always put the interest of the people above theirs at all times.
He, however, blamed Odubu for “not listening more to his governor.”
“I believe that all of the parties must know how to put the interest of the people of Edo in the forefront and avoid politics of bitterness and know that there is life after politics and that there is life after life,” he said.
“So they should not allow personal interest to jeopardise their duties. However, the deputy governor didn’t have a mandate until the governor probably picked him, so he should have had some level of respect for the governor’s wish.
“Legally speaking, there is nothing wrong if he wants to pursue such an ambition but talking about party discipline, I believe he should have listened more to the governor.”
Reacting to the issue, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Oshiomhole, in a telephone conversation with our correspondent, Mr. Peter Okhiria, dismissed insinuations that the crisis in the state could turn violent.
Okhiria described the situation as a harmless family matter, saying “what is happening in the state is simply an internal issue within the APC.”
“It is not an interparty affair; it is a family affair,” he added, accusing the Odubu camp of amplifying the situation.
“It cannot turn to another Rivers crisis; the allegations (of assassination attempt on Odubu’s life) are being investigated by the police and when the police come up with their report, people will know if there was anything like that or not. People are saying they just want to put fire where there is no fire.
“He is the deputy and they (Oshiomhole and Odubu) are still working together; there is no serious issue. It is just overblown and the people overblowing it are the deputy governor’s people. The governor does not have anything against him.”
Okhiria also refuted claims by Odubu that his office was being starved of funds, saying that the current economic situation had affected all government offices in the state.
“Even the governor’s office is starved of funds now,” he said.
“It is everywhere and it is as a result of the economic realities in the country. The governor is cutting down on a lot of things. Even the governor’s office is starved of funds. So the people who say that should also know that the governor’s office is starved of funds. If the governor’s office is starved of funds, then which office is not starved of funds?
“What the governor is concentrating on doing is to pay salaries and complete the projects being worked on. Every other overhead cost and other expenses have been stopped including in the governor’s office. Even now, the governor has reduced his convoy to three cars to reduce the cost of fuelling and maintaining the vehicles.”
The CPS to Odubu, Mr. Kelly Odaro, however, declined to comment on the issues when our correspondent reached out to him.
He simply responded with a text message, saying, “I’ve no comments, please.