Besides the latest family feud at the Presidential Villa, which is now receiving widespread international media coverage, another is also developed as President Muhammadu Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party starts preparing for the Edo State gubernatorial election. On 12 June the APC announced that it was disqualifying Edo State’s incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, from participating in the elections which are scheduled for September. The screening committee doubted the veracity of his academic qualifications despite the fact that they were presented four years ago when he was first seeking the post and was cleared by the party.
This decision is unsurprising because it was clear that Obaseki was unlikely to be given the APC’s ticket after trying and failing to get the APC’s chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, sacked. Oshiomhole, who is also from Edo State, had made it clear that Obaseki would not get a second term ticket. After originally supporting Obaseki the two men have fallen out and Oshiomhole is now supporting Osagie Ize-Iyamu — the governor’s 2016 opponent from the PDP who defected to the APC about a year ago — and has now been cleared to contest the state primaries. With Oshiomhole’s backing he is the APC’s effective anointed candidate in Edo State.
Obaseki has been left in the cold and will now have to decide whether he wants to defect to the PDP. This would be difficult for him because his chances of winning a second term will be enhanced if he can do defect with his deputy, Philip Shaibu, who has the necessary political base to win votes for Obaseki but more of a technocrat who found himself in politics. The PDP, however, is unwilling to give both the governorship and deputy governorship ticket to Obaseki. It would be unwise for Obaseki to defect without Shaibu who also has ambitions to eventually become Edo State’s governor. If a compromise cannot be reached with the PDP then Obaseki and his deputy are more likely to defect to a smaller party but this could diminish their chances of winning the elections.
Meanwhile the APC is taking a huge risk by denying Obaseki the party’s ticket. Although Ize-Iyamu is hugely popular, Obaseki has done well in the last four years and stood a good chance of being re-elected despite the PDP having made inroads into Edo State after winning the presidential elections in the state. Ize-Iyamu would probably lose a free and fair election which would end the APC’s control of its only South-South state. The loss in Edo State would also exacerbate the APC’s leadership crisis because, no matter what the cost, the governors who are opposed to Oshiomhole would immediately move to remove him.
Denying Obaseki the party’s ticket has set the stage for a factionalisation of the APC. The governors who are backing him unsuccessfully approached both Buhari and Bola Ahmed Tinubu — the APC’s national leaders — to plead his case. This slight is unlikely to be forgiven and especially because most of the governors fear that the same treatment awaits them at the end of their tenure. These governors are ready to ensure that Obaseki wins the gubernatorial election in order to slight Tinubu who they believe is becoming too overbearing. The APC’s defeat in Edo State would also strengthen their case for forcing Oshiomhole out.
Once again it is unclear where Buhari stands in this whole crisis. He appears to be aloof and to leave the APC’s party machinery under the control of the Tinubu camp which is now pulling the strings to entrench their positions and views on the party. The forces moving to tear the party apart are increasing more rapidly than those seeking to keep it together. Buhari’s personal popularity — which has been a major unifying factor for the APC in the last five years — is beginning to fade as his mixed ability to deal with the current simultaneous and unprecedented challenges facing Nigeria dent his reputation. His aloofness on major party and non-party issues means that, as the 2023 presidential election gets closer, party members are going to become more assertive in protecting their own political future. The factions that are defeated are likely to become bolder and could join another faction from the PDP to create a new party to challenge for power.