By Ehichioya Ezomon
Governor Godwin Obaseki on Friday, June 19, 2020, formally joined the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a member, and was given a waiver to participate in all processes leading to the party’s rescheduled primaries on June 23/24.
Part of the new scheme is Mr Phillip Shaibu, deputy governor to Obaseki under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which the governor quit the past week over irreconcilable differences.
Also moving with Obaseki are tens of thousands of erstwhile APC members, supporters, sympathisers and a chunk of elected and appointed officials at the state and national levels.
Climaxing the supremacy battle between Obaseki and his “political godfather,” Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was his disqualification from the APC primaries holding today, June 22, in Edo State.
Obaseki had preferred “indirect primaries” to the “direct primaries” adopted by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC, headed by Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of the party.
Obaseki’s entry has sent PDP’s juggernauts into ecstasy, with the National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, former Vice President and presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and former Senate Deputy President, Prof. Ike Ekweremadu, sending heartfelt welcoming messages.
Yet, while the jubilation continues, discerning political watchers are weighing the altruism in the celebratory parties laid out for Obaseki and his new converts in the PDP.
For a party that’s out of power for five years at the national level, and eleven years and eight months in Edo State, and has made no bones about missing out of sharing in the “national cake,” Obaseki has thrown the PDP its needed political and financial lifeline.
So, Edo State is PDP’s latest “honeypot” after the 2015 and 2019 general elections, when national and subnational resources were deployed in its failed avowal to take the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari to the cleaners. It almost succeeded!
Despite Obaseki’s “Wake And See” developmental programmes, he’s disqualified from participating in today’s “direct primaries” to pick the candidate for the September 19, 2020 governorship poll.
Understandably, for his political survival, and re-election, Obaseki had opposed the direct primaries in preference for indirect primaries that could guarantee his clinching of the APC ticket.
But his estranged “godfather,” Oshiomhole, pushing for an alternative candidate, rallied against Obaseki’s aspiration – a sort of fulfilling his (Oshiomhole’s) desire in their fight-to-the-finish.
Would Obaseki have left the APC if he wasn’t disqualified from the primaries, over alleged “discrepancies” in the documents pledged as sureties for his nomination and election in 2016?
Perhaps, Oshiomhole’s “you can’t get a second term without me” also spurred Obaseki to decamp to PDP, and he’s challenging his estranged “soul mate” to Nigeria’s politics of “do-or-die”, ironically introduced by the same PDP that he’s embraced.
But why are PDP’s apparatchiks, who, for years, had rubbished APC, Obaseki and his government as “looting Edo State’s treasury,” now rooting for him, and accepting him with open arms?
It’s for one major reason: The “war chest” that Obaseki possesses as the repository of Edo State’s treasury, and the sole dispenser of the money held in trust for the people.
All other things PDP had mouthed, including “Edo State is a PDP State” and “we must take back our stolen mandate” from Obaseki, Oshiomhole and the APC, have been archived for instant gains.
So, save his readiness to “pay the right price,” Obaseki wouldn’t be all-welcoming, with a reported promise to be given the ticket, without contesting at the primaries, for theSeptember 19 poll.
But that “promise” for the party ticket has changed, due to the opposition from many chieftains, and particularly the aspirants that have obtained the necessary requisites for the primaries.
The PDP juggernauts, overlooking APC’s alleged reasons Obaseki was disqualified, haven’t hidden their craving for “money for hand, back na ground” monetising the electoral processes in Nigeria. For Obaseki to embrace PDP’s “our doors are wide open for you,” the “long-starving” party would name and demand its price.
Yet, if Obaseki is “buying his way” to the PDP, that seems a token to pay for the humiliation of getting kicked out of the APC primaries, and the party that fielded him in the 2016 election.
The icing on his going to PDP is getting a waiver, like many other decamped politicians in Nigeria’s “food is ready” politics. Of course, Obaseki isn’t looking for food. He’s abundance to carry along with his vociferous supporters, APC’s officials and structures.
Media reports quote the PDP and its overlords as eying Obaseki’s money. “You know Obaseki is ready to pay the right price; he will be given a waiver. Some members of the party may not be disposed to that idea,” one of them said.
“The problem we have now in the PDP is that the party does not give any state financial assistance during elections… which was the reason Ademola Adeleke was given the ticket in 2018 in Osun… Obaseki may be given the same condition, considering the fact that he is in government and he has the money.”
Another party official said: “The (PDP) governors weighed the financial capacity of the PDP aspirants and felt Obaseki would be the best candidate to face the APC onslaught.”
Can you beat that? It’s clear the PDP isn’t in love with Obaseki, but his deep pockets, as the controller of the Edo State treasury, and the dispenser of same holding both “the yam and the knife.”
And because of the governor’s financial muscles, the PDP leaders have contemplated refunds to the aspirants that obtained the Nomination Forms before Obaseki happened on the scene.
“The party may return monies collected from the aspirants, and appeal to them to ‘step down’ as none of them has the financial wherewithal to prosecute the election,” an official added.
Online reports say Obaseki has committed to doubling the N25 million each aspirants had paid for the Forms to the PDP. That totals N150 million that a party stalwart described as “peanuts.”
Some APC officials alleged that Obaseki has earmarked “N6 billion” to use to “wet ground” for the PDP waiver, nomination, and for other aspirants to withdraw their aspirations to be governor.
Deploying taxpayers’ money didn’t start with Obaseki. Oshiomhole had spent public funds for his re-election in 2012, and in 2016, to “settle” APC chieftains for “imposing” Obaseki on the chapter.
No one can put a finger on the amount Obaseki will spend. But it will be money seen, in the eyes of his supporters, as “well spent” to prove that he can match Oshiomhole grit for grit, naira for naira or pounds, dollars and euro that Nigerian politicians cherish.
Edolites know Obaseki will spend, as others before him, to mobilise his troops, including scarce resources spent on litigation to upstage Oshiomhole and his camp. But the worry is the degree of spending to justify his acceptance in the PDP.
The PDP will praise Obaseki to high heaven, but as an Esanland proverb says: “When a wife tells her husband ‘thank you,’ you have to use a key to untie his belt.” That might be the lot of Obaseki and the good people of “The Heartbeat Of The Nation” going forward!
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.