EMAMEH GABRIEL in this piece x-rays the jostle for the ticket of the ruling All Progressivs Congress (APC) for the contest of Edo North Senatorial District and the factors that will determine who gets the party’s ticket.
The battle for Edo North Senatorial ticket is gathering steam among members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Edo State. The D-Day is October 25 when party faithful in the district will file out to elect the candidate of their choice, to fly the party’s flag in the 2019 senatorial election in the zone. While all the aspirants of the northern fringe of the ‘Big Heart’ state have intensified campaigns, Julius Ihonvbere and Dekeri Anamero Idofe (Esq) stand out in the battle against the sitting Senator Francis Alimikhena, who, from many indications now faces uphill task in his effort to cling onto power. Although, the selection process the party will deploy in picking its flag bearer in the senatorial primary is yet unclear, LEADERSHIP was reliably informed that given the unexpected shocks the party has suffered in the lead up to 2019 elections, the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who incidentally hails from Edo North part of the state, will deploy all the safety pins to ensure that the party does not further incinerate, beginning from his own homestead but further entrench it on winning ways. In the event of the adoption of Oshiomohle’s proposal for a direct primary model in selecting party candidates for 2019 elections, observers say the battle for Edo North senatorial ticket will only be that of the best candidate to lose. This is because the model will more than ever before, ensure transparency and a level playground for all aspirants. At the moment, the three aspirants are currently engrossed in whirlwind political tours and bridge-building across the local governments that made up Edo North in an effort to buffer their chances of winning the ticket. The Aspirants And Their Chances Senator Francis Alimikhena: Alimikhena is a retired officer of the Nigerian military and the incumbent senator representing Edo North in the National Assembly on the platform of the APC. He is the vice chairman, Senate Committee on Housing. He is of the Etsako East stock, from Agenebode Zone.
In 2015, Alimikhena rode on the back of the then governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole to grab the ticket. Oshiomhole clearly favoured Alimikhena against Ihonvbere and the former eventually coasted home to victory against the PDP candidate, Pascal Ugbome (PDP) in the senatorial contest. Three years-down-the-line, Alimikhena has returned to the trenches to seek a return ticket to the red chamber. For political observers, however, the odds are hugely stacked against him, especially as recent developments in the zone indicate that he has not only fallen out of favour with Oshiomhole, his benefactor, but also with most component parts of his Edo North senatorial district. As the vice chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, Alimikhena has not only been a subject of severe criticizm for poor performances in the Senate during plenary debates but by commission, has frayed some nerves for his romance with the Saraki bloc in the Senate. Alimikhena was alleged to be one of the senators who recently plotted to jump ship from the ruling APC to the opposition PDP, where he believes he would be guaranteed an automatic 2019 ticket. Although he is still in the APC, his chance of winning the party’s ticket has severely been diminished by speculation that he would dump the APC if the 2019 Edo North ticket eluded him. Alimikhena’s camp has come out to debunk his rumoured defection plan, but can he ride the mounting odds and turn the table in his favour? Although, Alimikhena is believed in some quarters to not have performed too poorly in comparism with his predecessors from the zone, there is the loud cry among the people that his projects are not evenly distributed. While he has also been criticized for not being accessible to members of his constituency-a development that has been blamed for his military background-age is also no longer one of his selling points. Professor Julius Ihonvbere: Prof Ihonvbere, a contender in the race for the Edo North Senatorial ticket is a political scientist of Owan West extraction, who through appointments have served at both the state and national scenes.
In 2001, he was special adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Programme and Policy Monitoring. He was also secretary to the Edo State Government from 2012 to 2016 under former Governor Oshiomhole. In 2014, he contested for the Edo North Senatorial ticket against Francis Alimikhena on the platform of the APC but was defeated by the former with the backing of Oshiomhole, then as Edo State governor. Ihonvbere was believed not to have the intention to run until recently when he came into the mix with consultations for support for the ticket to the red chamber next year. With just few weeks to the senatorial primary, it is believe in some quarters that his late start in the race would be fatal to his ambition. Grapevine has it that his supporters claim that Oshiomhole has his back in the race but with the APC chairman’s hands is manifestly full with efforts to rebuild the party’s shattered cohesion. More so, given the likelihood of direct primary for selection of the party’s candidates, which takes away the delegate system and gives every card carrying member of the party the right to participate in choosing those who would fly the party’s at all levels, godfatherism would lose its meaning in APC’s primary for Edo North Senatorial District ticket. Having served in different capacities, Ihonvbere is believed to be eminently qualified for the race but popularity, even within his own Owan communities is hardly one of his strongest points. Records show that he has not won any electoral contest both in his former party, the PDP and now in APC. For instance, in 2007, while he was still within the corridors of power, he contested for the PDP governorship primary against Prof Osunbor, and the likes of Senator Odion Ogbesia and others and came out short. In 2011, Ihonvbere also contested for Edo North Senatorial ticket and lost to Sanator Obende Domingo,l. The track record of failure repeated itself in 2014 against the incumbent Senator Alimikhena. It was rumoured that Oshiomhole turned his back on Ihonvbere because the latter even failed to deliver the House of Assembly ticket to the incumbent member in his Owan West Local Government area on the eve of the 2015 general elections. Anamero Dekeri Idofe: Anamero is a successful businessman and politician, but better known for his philanthropy. In politics, he is part of the new breed who derive their anchor essentially from the grassroots.
Following the new narratives he has brought into the game of politics, Anamero has within a little space and time, blossomed into household name within Edo North and the entire state. Like Alimikena his arch-rival, Anamero is from Etsako East and of the Okpella extraction, the third largest community in Edo State. But unlike his rivals, Anamero took the path of humanitarianism and philanthropy to the heart of his people, for which they rewarded him with “Mr Government”, as nickname. By branding him “Government”, the appreciative mass of his people, without ambiguity are saying that with his self-driven projects and philanthropy, Anamero is the government they see and the government they know. He signaled his aspiration to represent Edo North in the Senate in good time through consultations. In fact, his early start was a wake up call on all other aspirants to stand up and be counted. Although he has not contested for any elective position before now, he seems determined to get result through massive youth mobilisation in Edo North. Politics obviously has not been Anamero’s favourite pastime. His decision to bite the bullet is hugely consequent upon recruitment calls from the ordinary people who are persuaded that given all that he has been able to do for them from his personal resources and private endeavours, he would do exceedingly more if they give him political power. In this direction, there is a unanimity of opinion that political power would leverage his foundation to attract greater developments to the people of Edo North and their communities. Anamero’s foundation in the last 12 years has achieved milestones in education and the provision of infrastructure. His attention on education anchors on his conviction that for the liberation of the human mind, it is education or nothing. Apart from his annual book distribution to public primarily schools in Edo North, Anamero had through his foundation built and donated blocks of classrooms in two Edo North communities, which were commissioned by Governor Godwin Obaseki and graced by his predecessor Oshiomhole. In the same way, he has sustained his annual scholarship award to students in higher institutions. On physical infrastructure, he has earned acclaim for furnishing Edo North communities with power transformers and water boreholes for potable water. At the closing phase of construction at the moment is a five kilometre road project he is executing in the community. On the states’s political turf he brought his grassroots followership to bear in 2016 when he led the Okpella massive movement that rallied the people to deliver the town to Governor Obaseki and the APC. It was a landmark victory for the APC in Okpella given the strength of a strong and reinvented PDP, led by Dan Orbhi. More than anything else Anamero has done, the routing of PDP in Okpella endeared him much more to Governor Obaseki and other party leaders in the state.
Anamero’s Chances Among the people, Anamero is seen as APC’s silver bullet in the contest for Edo North against the PDP. This follows his command of the youth demography across the senatorial district. Coming from Okpella, the third largest community in Edo State, which he has nurtured into a one united entity, entrusting political leadership in the hands of a leader who is after the heart of the people is believed by all, would only mean a win-win situation for both the APC in the state and the peo
ple of Edo North. Anamero’s aspiration is further burnished by the fact that Okpella people who had persistently cried marginalisation since the turn of democracy in 1999 in political office and infrastructure distribution in the state now feel for the sake of equity and fairness that it is their turn to at least produce the next senator for the zone. From the leadership rift that followed the recent APC national convention and the more recent mass defections of some of the party stalwarts and with many others gearing to leave the party, nothing better than a level playing field, equity and fairness in the party, which Okpella people are demanding with Anamero’s senatorial aspiration can gurantee the party success against a resurgent PDP in Edo North and across all senatorial districts in the state. While the new stipulation of selecting party flag bearers through direct primary may be at the heart of ensuring equity, fairness and success of the party, the model if ultimately adopted will surely leave the Edo North Senatorial District ticket as Anamero’s to lose. Even the opposition PDP in Edo North is wary of the mass followership Anamero enjoys in Edo North and the political gains such translates. There is little doubt that the odds-popularity, equity, fairness and people-orientated politics-if they are permitted to bear, stack up in favour of the Okpella-born businessman, politician and philantropist.
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