Former Information and Culture Minister and Yerima of Auchi Kingdom, Prince Tony Momoh, explained in a detailed interview the various moves made by party elders to resolve the rift between Oshiomole and Obaseki. Here are some highlights of the interview he granted to the Guardian:
When he was asked about the accusations by the Director General of the Progressive Governor’s Forum on the failure of the party elders to reconcile the warring chieftains (Oshiomole and Obaseki), here is what he said:
As an elder of the party, I can tell you that it is not true that party leaders did not look into the matter. I personally held meetings with both of them; four hours with Oshiomhole and another two hours with Obaseki. They were not communicating before. I resolved the issue of communication and the governor went to see Oshiomhole in his house and they cleared all their issues and resolved all the problems that had to do with the hospital, the stormwater project, the university, debts owed and monies to be paid at the end of the day. I resolved all of them.
First of all, was where some traditional rulers wanted to bring them together to communicate and communication broke down; and the governor would not be where Oshiomhole is. The governor did not go to the long-distance race in Okpekpe because Oshiomhole was there. There was a particular event in Benin, which the governor refused to attend when he heard that Oshiomhole was there. It was as bad as that. And they told themselves that if they wanted anything important, they should consult their mutual friend. I resolved it and then they came together again.
I must tell you that there was no personal quarrel between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, even till the time we are talking now. So, how else would party men have done something? All that it needed was the followers to stop expressing their ambitions by looking for patronage from one area or the other. Even those who refused to be sworn-in, I reached out to them; I pleaded with them. They were in Abuja. I pleaded with them to get down to Benin to be sworn-in. And then they told me that they were negotiating with the governor but they wanted certain things to be settled before they go for the swearing-in. I told them to go and be sworn in; that they will be more effective there because, in the last Assembly, they changed Speaker about three times. I told them, ‘look, if you are there, you will be effective in the House. When you are outside the House, one, you will not bring any changes; two, you will not be paid or get allowances because there is nobody who is going to pay you for the work you have not done. You even sign attendance register because you have irreducible minimum days to attend the House sittings, about 181 days in a year. If you fall short of that, your seat will constitutionally be declared vacant.’ And by December, they have failed to meet that minimum qualification.
When he was asked about the worst-case scenario, he opined as follows:
I still say so; that PDP has its own internal problems. But that internal problem was even exacerbated by the exit of Pastor Ize-Iyamu. Ize-Iyamu has a very powerful following and when he left the PDP, a lot of people followed him to APC. So, APC stood in the position to really overrun Edo State.
But what happened now is that the governor has moved. There are 15 parties contesting the election. Whichever party he goes to, whether we like it or not, he will populate that party, not only with Obaseki and Philip Shaibu as two persons but they will leave with at least people who have been following them. And possibly, I dare predict, they will go with them the structure of government. They will be in a position to sit on all the resources coming to Edo State; they will be in a position to deny APC any resources in Edo State; they will be in a position to empower, with the resources of Edo State, any group they belong to. So, you see now that their presence outside APC will be a shot in the elbow to whatever group they go.
If it is to the PDP as being speculated, then they will strengthen PDP to make up for the volumes of loss that Ize-Iyamu may have created through his departure. And added to the PDP then will be one more governorship seat in the South-south. It makes me worry as an APC leader that we may experience the most expensive gubernatorial election in the history of Nigeria. This is because the PDP governours in the South-south are the biggest earners from the Federation Account in the whole country and therefore, potentially the biggest spenders. And I know because that is the pattern, that they will not hesitate to flood Edo State with money. So, the Edo State election, if Obaseki is in PDP, may turn out to be the most monetised gubernatorial election Nigeria has ever experienced.
As for the chances of the PDP, he submitted this:
It depends on what they can do to ensure that they retain their support. They won all the 18 local governments; the House of Assembly seats, which is closer to the grassroots than any other. PDP took two senatorial seats and most of the House of Representatives seats in Edo State. PDP had more votes in the presidential election than the APC. So, PDP is not really a write off as such. But because of the problems they had, the party was too weak to win an election. Maybe the problems of the APC and the presence of Obaseki may strengthen them.
The conclusion of the interview took note of something which would remain with us for a long time until we sit down to remove the incentives from politics: