No fewer than 12 governorship aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will today slug it out in Benin, the Edo State capital over who flies the party’s flag at the forthcoming elections.
2,873 delegates across the 18 local government areas of the state will take part in the primaries.
Tension has continued to mount in the state weeks ago ahead of today’s primaries, as aspirants have deployed various tactics to woo delegates and undo each other.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that delegates who started arriving the state capital yesterday were being lodged into hotels in other to keep them away from been poached by other aspirants who would stop at nothing to entice them with money, cars, motorcycles and any other possible means.
This is even as Katsina state Governor and chairman of the committee that would conduct today’s business, Honourable Aminu Bello Masari has promised a free and fair primaries.
The National secretariat of the All Progressives Congress, APC had appointed governor Masari to conduct the June 18 gubernatorial election of the party in the state.
Speaking yesterday during a courtesy visit of the Committee to Governor Oshiomhole in his office, Masari said, “we are here to conduct primaries for those who are contesting to be the next governor of Edo State. We will abide by the guidelines of the party, and we also assure all aspirants that we will be just and fair to all.
“We are not angels, but certainly we hope that by the time we finish, the appeal committee will have no work because if truly the candidates are interested in the state, in the party and in the country, we assure them that the outcome will be an outcome that will stand the test of time. I hope that all they are doing is in the interest of Edo State and they know that out of the twelve, only one must emerge.
“So, the process has been laid down and I hope they will comply with the process as well. We assure them that we will do justice to all. We hope they will cooperate in the best interest of the people of Edo State and Nigeria. I intend to meet them this evening and rub minds with them and ensure they are more conversant with the guidelines, the rules. I will hear them out, and we will certainly come out with an acceptable position.
“I hope there won’t be any violence because if there is anything that can mar primaries or elections it is violence. Anybody who is not satisfied, the party has laid down guidelines on the issues of petitions, complaints”.
On his part, Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole called on the Committee to ensure that the same rules which produced a successful primary election in Kogi State are used in the Edo APC primary election.
Oshiomhole who welcomed members the committee to Edo State said, “We are confident that the national secretariat couldn’t have had a better person to provide leadership for democratic exercise. Let me also appreciate you for coming along with very senior members of the government of Katsina State. By their level, there is no question that you have a very strong supportive crew that will ensure the assignment is made much easier for you.
“On my part, my own task is very simple. It is to ensure that, as they call us chief security officers, there is full security certainly for your Excellency and members of your committee and delegation, but also there is security for all the aspirants and all the delegates and accredited agents of aspirants. We have had very peaceful elections in the past when we were even the underdogs.
“We have no history of spilling blood for election purpose. Even when the party that is notorious for violence, the PDP was in charge at the federal level, we were able to manage. Even when they harassed us, we concentrated on persuading our people, and we have continued to prevail.”
Oshiomhole continued: “For me, therefore, like I told the aspirants when I met them three days ago, this should be our finest hour in Edo State. This is the only time we are going to have an election when our own party is at the federal level.
“We have had a very bad press in the past few weeks mostly arising from false alarm and distorted story and half truths here and there. But I had a very interesting engagement with the aspirants, and I assured them and your coming today has confirmed that, that under the party constitution it is the national secretariat that will appoint those who will superintend over the conduct of the primaries, and therefore, the governor’s bias or alleged bias is therefore of no consequence.
“And so, people should be rest assured of a level playing field, and by the time people hear that the committee is headed by a governor, at least nobody is going to accuse a governor of being bribed”.
Meanwhile, to ensure that the primary election is hitch –free, the Edo state Police command yesterday said over 1,000 of its personnel have been briefed and deployed to maintain peace and order at the Dr Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, venue of the party.
This is coming as security agent made up of men of the Directorate of State Security Service (DSS) and armed military men were sighted at the stadium to ensure all is set within and around the venue.
The battle for the APC ticket is expected to be a straight fight between Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate, Godwin Obaseki and other aspirants in the race.
The other aspirants had raised the alarm over the alleged mopping up of delegates Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, which they alleged is to pave way for the easy emergence of Obaseki, the governor’s favoured successor.
However, the Obaseki’s camp had repeatedly debunked the allegation.
The four frontline aspirants to watch in the primary are Godwin Obaseki, Engineer Chris Ogiemwonyi, Dr Pius Odubu and Barrister Ken Imansuagbon popularly referred to as the rice man.
Others are Mrs Tina Agbara, Prof Oserhimen Osunbor, Prof Amadasun Ebegue, Comrade Peter Esele, Mr Austin Emus, Mr Blessing Agbomhere, and Charles Aihiavbere.
One of the last minute move to gain upper hand among the aspirant was the speculation that made the round that a frontline aspirant, Chris Ogiemwonyi had stepped down for the Pius Odubu while the same rumour was also peddled in the camp of the deputy governor that he has been prevailed upon to step down for Ogiemwonyi.
The two aspirants are from Orhionmwon local government area and same senatorial district.
But in a quick reaction to put the record straight, the former minister of Works said however Benin Leaders of Thought had advised all the Benin aspirants to come out with a consensus candidate but the move didn’t work.
The general expectation of aspirants and members based on the assurance of the National leadership is to ensure that process is free and fair.