Adibe Emenyonu writes that with the wave of defections in the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, the journey to 2015 has begun in earnest
Before the 2007 general election in Edo State, a pressure group came up with the name, ‘Grace Group’. The group, according to the Majority Leader, Edo State House of Assembly, Phillips Shaibu, was formed to rejig the developmental strides of Edo State which many thought then was going down. Another major philosophy behind the formation of group was to engage the establishment within the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who see themselves as lords and thrives on only politics.
This ideology, no doubt, endeared the group to the common man on the streets. And with its slogan, ‘No Man Is God’, many well-meaning individual saw it as a sure vehicle to the Eldorado because of its anti-establishment posture and pro-people stance.
In the beginning, it wasn’t easy for members of the group as they are regarded as prodigal children within the ruling party in the state who should be dealt with. More so as a majority of them were either members of the kitchen cabinet of the Governor Lucky Igbinedion administration or its sympathisers, who were perceived as wanting to hijack the party in spite of the lack luster performance of that government to the extent that personalities like Chief Anenih swore never to have any dealing with them.
Therefore, when the opportunity beckoned during the PDP membership verification exercise, they were deregistered from the party and left forlorn. Undaunted, the group gathered the pieces of whatever is left of them and joined the then Action Congress of Democrats (ACD) which later metamorphosed to Action Congress (AC).
It was the then AC in alliance with Labour Party (LP) that provided the platform for Governor Adams Oshiomhole to actualise his governorship ambition in 2007 governorship election, during which he defeated the PDP candidate, Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor following an Appeal Court verdict of November 11, 2008 as the validly elected governor of Edo State.
Since then, everything has been going smoothly for the Grace Group for two reasons. One is because of the brevity in fighting the bourgeoisie in PDP and wresting power from those perceived as too busy to pay the slightest attention to the suffering masses of Edo state. And two, for its pro-people stand which was later amplified when Oshiomhole took over governance of the state.
But like the proverbial saying that pride goes before a fall, some members of the group grew larger than life and believed they should be worshiped and adored like their counterpart in PDP; that without them, the party they helped to nurture would crumble except things are done on their terms.
For instance, during the just concluded APC membership registration and congresses, the group was alleged to have brought some strange elements into the rules of engagement by wanting the governor to handover the structure of the party to them because according to their leader, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, Oshiomhole should concentrate on governance, while party affairs should be left entirely in the hands of party officials.
“We wanted the governor to concentrate on governance and leave party activities to party officials,” he said.
Unknown to them, while they were busy strategising on how to have a firm grip on the party and hoping to perfect their plans by using the party membership registration and congresses as a launch pad, the governor also had some other plans. One of the strategies employed by Oshiomhole to disarm these elements was to ensure that neutral persons conducted both exercises. Having lost out in the power game, the group negotiated its way out of the party and returned to PDP. One of the reasons the group gave then for leaving PDP was that the party lacked internal democracy.
Ironically, the same reason which necessitated their exit from PDP to APC became the same reason orchestrated by the group for leaving APC. At a recent briefing by leaders of the defected APC members, they confessed double tragedy because according to them, the same reason for leaving the PDP in 2006 is same problem they met in APC.
Voicing out their frustration, Ize-Iyamu listed some of the reasons as including “one man dictatorship, lack of internal democracy, imposition of candidates and lack of focus on the side of Oshiomhole”.
According to the former COS and SSG to Lucky Igbinedion, “We are attracted by the reforms PDP is undergoing today in Edo State. In the state, the party is not just contended to calling itself just PDP, but they call themselves the new PDP and from what we have seen, it is clear to us that the party has changed,” he declared, adding that they were fed up with the deceit and hypocrisy inherent in the APC and believed that the place to be is the new PDP.
Ironically, the man who debunked the allegation that he left with his group because APC refused to oil his ambition of ruling Edo State in 2016, later admitted that Oshiomhole has called to tell him that he needed characters like him to take over in 2016.
“It is not that correct that we left because of my governorship ambition in that 2016 is still far off. It is not just about Ize-Iyamu alone, there are array of leaders of like minds involved in the defection. Besides, we are old in this game to know that a day can make a difference. Even at that, the governor on several occasions has called to tell me that he needed people like me to take over from him when he serves out his second term, but I have always told him on the need for a free and fair contest”.
He pointed out that before the pullout, leaders across the three senatorial districts met to give the governor 21 days ultimatum, noting that prior to the meeting with Abuja PDP, his group had met with Oshiomhole as well as discuss with PDP in the state, but that because the governor failed to listen, they decided to leave.
“If you remember, congresses were held twice with the same result. We did all these before we went to Abuja which is not a secret visit because it is to the full knowledge of the governor. In fairness to him, he promised he was going to look into all our grievances, but nothing came out of it. Even our petitions to the Congress Appeal Panel, which we submitted was not looked into.
“So when we came back from Abuja, we waited without any result and he was still talking about harmonisation. How can the governor ask me to take five wards, the deputy governor, five wards, while other leaders share the remaining two wards from Orhiomwon, where he did not come from. Is that not dictatorship? The reality is that this is a house we all built. But when it became clear that certain persons either by hook or crook want to appropriate everything to themselves, we have no alternative than to move on.
“So there is more oneness in PDP than APC. The PDP does not need to rig to win election in Edo State as the governor alleged. What we want is implementation of one man one vote and the same way we worked for him to win as governor is the same way we will work for PDP to win in Edo State. I play politics of conviction. I left PDP then because people were not comfortable with my vocal attitude.
“So when the opportunity came for party membership verification, some of us were punished but they never knew we could form a formidable group that eventually wrested power from them. Therefore, we are not afraid of going back to PDP. The reception we had in PDP is overwhelming because all the noise you see them making is as a result of the defeat that awaits them in the next few months.”
As cogent as the reasons advanced by Ize-Iyamu appear, THISDAY investigation revealed that the politics of 2015/2016 elections is behind the recent rumble in the party.
In an interview with THISDAY, the Majority Leader, Edo State House of Assembly and member representing Etsako West II state constituency, Shaibu revealed that Ize-Iyamu’s ambition was responsible for the crisis in the party, recalling the days of Grace Group of yore of which he remained one of those that drafted the policy framework of the group.
He said reasons the regime of Igbinedion failed was because of characters like Ize-Iyamu. "As a local government chairman, Igbinedion performed to the extent that he was adjudged the best local government chairman in the country," adding that during Igbinedion's 100 days of office as governor, Ambrose Alli University (AAU), College of Agriculture, Iguorakhi; and College of Education, Ekiadolor were all revamped.
"But as soon as the likes of Ize-Iyamu were made Chief of Staff, and subsequently SSG, Igbinedion started derailing. Therefore, seeing that their plan to also derail Oshiomhole, who incidentally is a man of strong character has failed, he and his group decided to defect back to PDP."
Shaibu, who spoke to a section of the media in Benin City, said because the defectors are more concerned about politics of their pockets, they decided to leave the party as it was becoming hot for them to actualise such ambition. He said their departure was of no consequence.
"Governance is all about the people and anything contrary to that is selfish. I was among the three persons that founded the body only for Ize-Iyamu to hijack it for his governorship ambition. The mission of Grace Group was not to fight Chief Tony Anenih, but to bring development to Edo State which then was lacking.
"That was why Edo in Safe Hands, a new political group within APC was formed to checkmate people like the Pastor and to defend the formation of Grace Group which is development-oriented before it was used to settle political scores. We saw ahead. Even on the eve of 2012 governorship election, the same group was at the verge of defecting, but when they saw where the political tide was flowing to, they backed out. They are interested in their own ambition".
THISDAY also gathered that lack of political patronage; un-executed contracts by party elite and non-approval of control of party structure by a group or group of persons within the party remain some of the reasons for the mass movement.
In the past, a cursory look at government records showed awards of huge contracts not executed even when a majority of the contracts were awarded to party elite. Therefore, when he was sworn in November, 2006, Oshiomhole, knowing what was at stake had allegedly insisted on a new way of thinking and doing things if government must carry out its objectives.
Some of the new things the governor was said to have brought on the table were his insistence that contracts awarded with tax payers money must be executed; that infrastructure development should not only be on paper alone but evident on the ground. But like every average politician who is more interested in personal infrastructure, the pressure to bend the Oshiomhole regime continued. A party official who preferred anonymity, said, adding: “Seeing that the governor is not willing to accede to their pressure, and knowing that this is the man’s last bus stop, some people had to negotiate their exit.”