Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State on Sunday said as the party leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State, he opposed the adoption of the direct primary method adopted by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) because it might trigger the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The Edo State chapter of the APC and the national leadership of the party are currently locked in a battle on the mode of primary to be used in choosing the flag bearer of the party.
While Edo APC led by Anselm Ojezua said it was adopting the indirect primary method for the emergence of the party’s flag bearer in the September 19, 2020 governorship election in the state, the NWC said it had adopted the direct primary option.
While the direct primary method involves all card-carrying members of the party, only accredited delegates are allowed to participate in the indirect primary method.
Since the crisis broke out, some Nigerians are wondering why Obaseki is opposed to the direct primary method, saying he shouldn’t be afraid if truly he is as popular as he has claimed.
However, speaking with Daily Independent, Obaseki, who spoke through Crusoe Osagie, his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, said as an extremely popular candidate, he was not afraid of any mode of primary and would defeat any aspirant who slugged it out with him for the APC ticket.
He said as the Chief Security Officer of the state, he was opposed to the idea of direct primary now because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
According to him, gathering together over 500,000 party members in the name of primary may trigger the number of COVID-19 cases already in the state, a situation he said would put more lives at risk.
“The governor of Edo State and leader of the APC in the state, Governor Godwin Obaseki, is an extremely popular candidate who will defeat any aspirant that contests the party’s ticket in whatever means of primary that is used.
“The question we should ask is, ‘Is direct primary the better alternative now in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic?
“If you recall, some people are even pushing for the postponement of the election but INEC said it had to go ahead because it was constitutionally circumscribed.
“That is why even INEC is releasing a policy with which elections within this period are going to be conducted.
“Nobody will do anything now and will not consider the fact that gathering a large number of people together at a point in the name of primary.
“Direct primary involves gathering together about 400,000 to 500,000 party members in different units to vote.
“In this period of this pandemic, that is enough to trigger the pandemic crisis in the state.
“According to the NCDC, as at May 23, 2020, 28 new cases had been discovered in Edo State.
“If we gather this large number of people together, naturally we are going to shoot up the number and there will be crisis.
“In our opinion, anybody who loves this country and the citizens should be looking for ways to reduce the spread of this virus.
“Governor Obaseki, as a responsible citizen and Chief Security Officer of Edo State, will not take any action that will put the health and safety of the good people of the state at risk.
“That is why we are opposed to the idea of direct primary at this period.”
On the rumours that he may be out of his way from the party, Obaseki also reaffirmed his earlier stance that he had no plans to dump the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), adding that as the state party leader, he was firmly in control of the chapter.
“I have said it repeatedly that Governor Godwin Obaseki is firmly in charge of the structures of the APC in the state.
“Whatever rumours out there that the governor is leaving the party is completely false. You don’t leave a house that you built and you are in control of,” he said.
Also speaking, Chief Charles Idahosa, a former Commissioner for Information in the state, said Oshiomhole could not interfere in the mode of primary as he was an interested party in the crisis plaguing the state chapter of the party.
He also argued that if the APC under Oshiomhole could adopt the indirect primary method in 2016, which produced Obaseki as the party’s candidate, it would be unreasonable for the party to settle for the direct method at a period the country and the state were battling hard to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
“On the issue of direct or indirect primary, it is very clear that primary is a domestic issue of a political party.
“There is a Supreme Court judgment on that. I think Oshiomhole is just out to do a lot of destruction just like he did in Zamfara and other states.
“What surprises me most is that all the leaders of the party are just waiting for him to destroy the fabrics of the democracy of APC. Why they are doing that, I don’t know.
“When people try to change a story to suit them, it is very painful. Everybody is aware that on the issue of Edo State, Oshiomhole is a principal actor; in fact, he is an interested party in this matter.
“He wants Obaseki out at all cost. Oshiomhole was governor in Edo State when Obaseki contested the governorship primary in 2016.
“The method used was indirect primary and it was held at the Ogbeh Stadium, supervised by Oshiomhole himself.
“There was no coronavirus then, but he used indirect primary, why is he now calling for direct primary at a time we are all trying to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state?
“In Edo State, we don’t care if it is direct primary or indirect. What we are saying is the fairness.
“If Oshiomhole is involved, whether direct or indirect, there is going to be problem because he is biased.”
On his part, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), said that he was in support of the decision of the NWC to adopt the direct primary method for the selection of the party’s governorship candidate in Edo State.
He said any aspirant who feels he is popular with the party members shouldn’t oppose the direct primary method which, according to him, is more democratic.
He said: “My impression is that it is the national body that organises primaries for governorship elections, not the state executive of the APC. If that is the case, what it means is that Oshiomhole is right.
“Secondly, in my view, the direct primary in which all party members are allowed to participate is more democratic; it reflects the views and aspirations of all the members in the grassroots.
“But the indirect primary in which only delegates are allowed to vote is subject to manipulation, imposition, and so it is undemocratic.
“So, I prefer the direct primary method and I believe the APC NWC has the right to determine which type of primary should be adopted.
“Any contender who is popular with the people will prefer the direct primary method.”