Former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, in this interview, discloses in detail how steps were taken by elders of the party to reconcile Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, with his estranged godfather and National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, failed to bear fruit. A founding father of the party, he predicts that the September 19 governorship election in Edo would be fiercely contested if speculations that Obaseki would join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) come to pass.
In an interview with The Guardian last year, you described the crisis in the Edo State chapter of your party as the fight of two elephants, saying one must win or two of them will be stalemated and the laurel would be missing. What are your thoughts on what is currently playing out with the resignation Governor Godwin Obaseki from the APC and the Appeal Court judgment, which upheld the suspension of the National Chairman of the Party, Adams Oshiomhole?
When I say something in my capacity as a monitor of governance, which I have done all my life as a journalist, it is because I am able to read very clearly the map and pronounce on the direction we are going. I’m only to be borne out by what is happening.
For instance, we have come to a stage where the two elephants fighting have got to a stage where one is quitting the scene. Specifically, the governor of Edo State has left. So, very temporarily, if we like, we have lost the APC seat we have in Edo State because Edo State is now not being ruled by APC. The governor of Edo State, who is Godwin Obaseki, has quit APC, so APC is now in the opposition in Edo State. That is the truth. So, we have lost the governorship in Edo State. That is the loss of the laurel that both elephants were fighting for.
So, who will regain it? Is it the APC or any of the other 14 parties because there are 15 political parties that are fighting for the laurel? And I have said that anybody taking part in an election will not know who wins until the end of the election. The end of the election is in two phases. The one who has the majority of the seats and in the case of executive positions, the spread; and the one who finally emerges when all the issues are settled by the court.
You can see that in Zamfara State, we won all the seats in the House of Assembly, all the seats in the House of Representatives, the three senatorial seats and then the gubernatorial election with a very wide margin. But the matter was in court, instituted by an APC man, and we lost in court. And so, all the seats we won were given to a distant second party, which is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So it is at the end of the court case that you can say you have indeed won. So, if after elections in September one party wins and there is still a case in court, that party cannot hold a celebration party until the court case is over possibly at the Supreme Court.
Now, you see how the end of battle lines is predictable. If in court, at the Supreme Court; if in voting, at the end of voting and announcement of result.
I said two elephants are fighting, the grass will suffer and at the end, the two elephants may lose the laurel. The two elephants were in APC, the Obaseki wing that describes itself as Obaseki Shaibu Movement (OSM) and another wing that describes itself as Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), which was being associated with Oshiomhole. The two of them were fighting very bitterly. Now, APC has lost the governorship because Obaseki has resigned. The laurel is governorship. So, my prediction is right.
The Progressive Governors Forum, through the Director-General, came out recently to accuse elders of the party like President Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and yourself of standing aloof while the Edo crisis is about to consume the party. You had expressed optimism that the crisis would be resolved before the election but here we are. Why weren’t you able to reconcile the warring factions?
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.
These are the issues. How else do you expect the leaders to mediate? And I’m not the only one. The President intervened and of course, they appointed our highly respected leader, Chief Bisi Akande, to mediate. At one time, the president asked our national leader, Tinubu, to also intervene.
So, if nothing happened, it is not because the president didn’t try or other leaders didn’t try. It was because of, maybe, the ambitions of the followers or the problems of management.
Oshiomhole is the national chairman of the party. He has been governor. So, he does not want to be governor. Obaseki has been the governor of Edo State and he does not want to be the national chairman of the party. So you see, there is nothing personal in the problems we have in Edo State. And the issues can only be resolved through communication. And in my little way, I was able to restore their communication lines. I’m not aware that it broke down after my intervention.
So, it is wrong for anybody to think that the leaders did not do anything simply because they did not hold public press conferences. What I am telling you now I have never said it publicly.
Do you still hold the view that losing Edo would be the worst-case scenario for your party given your earlier position that the PDP, which would have cashed in to stage a takeover bid, was also in crisis and lacked that capacity…
(Cuts in) 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.
If the picture you just painted plays out, do you think your party stand a chance to retain its foothold in Edo State?
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.
Looking at what has been playing out at the national secretariat of your party with claims and counterclaims to the position of national chairman following Oshiomhole’s suspension, aren’t you worried that the APC is getting more disorganised and heating up the polity so to say?
APC is not heating up the polity, because heating up the polity is a conclusion you can derive from watching what is happening with the APC. In the life of PDP from 1999 when they won the first election following the return to the civil rule to 2015 when they lost the election after 16 years, there was hardly any pre-convention election of PDP that people did not walk out.
On at least two or three occasions, they formed rival parties that established their own secretariats. The most explosive one was when they lost about five governors, who came to APC to strengthen APC and it won.
But the fact is Edo State has a peculiar war on its hand. The war will be championed by the PDP if Obaseki goes there and they give him the ticket. I am telling you they are heavy spenders and they will flood Edo State with money; I don’t know who can cope with them. And if anybody writes off that threat, then I will happily celebrate with the person if his or her hope comes to pass because I am an APC man. I am a supporter of APC.
Many people in Edo State have told me that they want to go with the governor and I have also told them that I cannot tell them to leave my party; that they should take their decisions. Many people are ready to move with the governor. So, anybody who thinks that it is going to be easy ride is deceiving himself. The only thing I am happy about is that there is not going to be that volume of violence I had predicted because of the infighting that was going to come when the governor said there must be indirect primaries and the party said there must be direct primaries. The governor even brought out a law to prohibit gathering at the ward level. The governor has left now. There would not be any bloodshed at the primary because the governor is not going to destabilise what he is no longer a party to. So, I predict safer elections in Edo State, which wouldn’t have occurred if the governor had remained to fight the battle from within.
The impression out there is that Adams Oshiomhole has not added any value to your party since he became national chairman. And in fact, has more crises on his hands than he inherited. What is your take?
The fact is lots of people were criticising Oyegun for being too weak. Now they are criticising Oshiomhole for being too strong. How do you reconcile it? Oshiomhole looks at anybody in the face and tells him where he belongs. Oshiomhole has been a very effective person in the APC; he is tackling the indiscipline in APC. He confronted the governors; he confronted the National Assembly members. He has confronted lots of vested interests in the APC. And I must tell you that up to now many of them are fighting back. The Progressive Governors’ Forum is not an organ of the political party. The governors rightly in their view want to be dominant and dictate what happens in the party. And Oshiomhole is resisting that type of second power, which they have no right to claim, being a non-organ of the party.
As effective as you say Oshiomhole is, he has not been able to restore peace in crisis-torn chapters of the party, both the ones he inherited and those that erupted under his watch…
(Cuts in) It is so in every party where there are vested interests. Didn’t you see the newly formed parties quarrelling with their chairmen and the chairmen quarrelling with the presidential candidates?
Look, politics in Nigeria is a business and it is a paying business. And people who have vested interest will hold on to that interest to supersede any other interest. It is natural. They perfect the art of competition, but politics works because of cooperation. If you have competition between parties, it is understandable. But if you have competition within the party then you have the situation that always leads to people breaking away to form their own parties. APC didn’t start it and APC will not end it.