All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, yesterday gave further insight into why the party failed to give Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the right of first refusal in his re-election bid and why he was eventually excluded from the race for its ticket in the September governorship election in the state.
Oshiomhole, after a meeting of members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) with the Chief of Staff to the president, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, described APC as a party governed by rules, insisting that the party could not have bent such rules to favour Obaseki.
The party last weekend disqualified the governor and two others from contesting the June 22 governorship primary.
Obaseki, who had said he would not appeal the disqualification, has started negotiations with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose platform he planned to actualise his second term bid.
It was gathered yesterday that barring any last-minute change in plans, Obaseki, his deputy, Hon. Philip Shaibu, and other top government officials, would defect to PDP this week.
Oshiomhole, while answering questions from State House reporters in Abuja after the meeting with Gambari, said APC was not a party of “big men” but an organisation where the same rule applies to all irrespective of status.
He said the party decided to be strict in screening contenders for the election to avoid a repeat of the loss it suffered in Bayelsa State where it lost the state to PDP after winning the governorship election only because it failed to do thorough screening.
APC candidate in Bayelsa State, Mr. David Lyon, was stopped from being sworn in on the eve of his inauguration as the Supreme Court, in a judgment, disqualified the deputy governor-elect, Senator Biobarakuma- Degi-Eremienyo, on account of inconsistencies in his credentials.
Under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), a governorship candidate and his running mate hold a joint ticket and their fate, until after inauguration, are intertwined.
According to Oshiomhole, APC could not afford to bend the rule for the governor, both of whom have been engaged in a war of attrition for about a year now, because it would be a big risk for the party to take.
On speculation that Obaseki is planning to quit APC, Oshiomhole said he was not prepared to speculate on his imminent exit from the party because no media report had suggested that.
To buttress the point that all party members are equal, he said even President Muhammadu Buhari had to subject himself to the rule of the party by having his consensus candidacy in the 2019 election affirmated at the presidential primaries.
“I don’t know about exit. What we see from your media, electronic and print, is that he visited a number of PDP governors. We read from electronic and print that those consultations may have to do with his plan and so on. But we are not here to speculate.
“Our party is not a party of big men. It is governed by rules. Both the small and the big are subjected to those rules. I’m sure you will agree that our president led by example when we conducted direct primary in the last presidential election. We still went to Eagle Square for affirmation.
“So, if the president did not have the right of first refusal because our constitution does not provide for it, we cannot under any circumstances now bend the rules when it comes to some people and change the rules when it comes to others.
“Our duty as the management board of APC is to ensure that we obey strictly the provisions of our constitution, which empowers the National Working Committee to conduct primaries for president, governors, National Assembly, and state Houses of Assembly,” he stated.
Asked if he did not envisage a revenge from Obaseki at the forthcoming June 22 governorship primary in the state by strictly enforcing the regulations prohibiting a large gathering and promoting social distancing in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oshiomhole said if the opposition PDP had successfully conducted congresses in the state last week, he would not expect the governor to frustrate his own party.
“In the face of that law, we saw last week, and I’m sure you guys are very vigilant, that PDP conducted ward congresses to elect their delegates that will go to stadium, and with that, you start to reason whether people can gather up to 5,000 in a stadium. Can you achieve social distancing with 5,000 people in one location?
“Can you rather have a situation where you don’t carry people from villages to the centre? If they vote in their respective wards, you will not have more than 100 to 150 persons queuing to vote and maintain social distancing, and wear face masks. So, we will find a way round it.
“He is our governor. We are law-abiding. But if PDP can conduct activities across 192 wards with the same law, I don’t think our governor will discriminate against his own party. So, we are hopeful that everything will be peaceful,” he added.