Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State, Mr Anthony Aziegbemi, tells PETER DAVID about the unfolding political intrigues in the state, following Governor Godwin Obaseki’s decision to join the party, among other issues
How confident are you that the PDP will win the September governorship election in Edo State?
We are very confident. We have our checklist and we are on the ground and ready to win the election because we have done it before.
Was your choice of indirect party primary informed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It is constitutional. The PDP must have a state congress to elect its governorship candidate. Of course, we can have a consensus, but we do not do direct primaries in the PDP. So, it was not informed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PDP has screened three aspirants that bought the governorship forms. Have you had discussions with them to persuade them to step down for Governor Godwin Obaseki, following his decision to join your party?
As a party, we would not ask any aspirant to step down for another because we believe in a free and fair contest. Once the governor comes in, the rules and regulations guiding the conduct of the primary will be followed to the letter and whoever emerges from that process will be seen to have emerged through a transparent, free and credible process. I had a meeting with the three aspirants in my office with members of the State Working Committee and we highlighted the things that they should watch out for to ensure that the process is transparent and credible. People get angry when they see that the process is not credible, but I gave them my word that this process will be transparent. I told them that if there are certain things they will want to see, they should let us know. They drew our attention to some areas to enhance the transparency of the process. In that meeting, nobody told them to step down for anyone because it is not my job to do that. My job is to provide a level playing field for everyone.
What was the body language of the aspirants regarding Obaseki’s situation?
It was very positive. It was like a family affair because they were open to us. They told us all the things that bothered them and we were grateful to them for keeping the party alive all these years. Each of the three aspirants has gone to campaign in the 18 local government areas of the state for at least three times in the last few months. So, you can see that the message of the PDP has been taken to the people in their homes. I understand that the APC has not gone to any local government area to campaign and that was why I said earlier that I am confident that we would win the election, going by what we have done already.
Do you think the other aspirants may have the feeling that Obaseki has come to dash their hopes of becoming governor?
They said during our meeting that they would welcome the governor to the party; the three of them said so. They do not nurse any fear about the governor coming to the party because they (aspirants) are strong contenders with good characters. Do not forget that it is a contest, and in a contest, you are not afraid of your opponent. You take them head-on. So, they are not afraid of the governor coming to join them.
There are indications that the main problem with Obaseki joining your party is his decision to run a joint ticket with his deputy. It was learnt that the other aspirants were not comfortable with that move. What is the way forward on this matter?
As I said earlier, talks are ongoing. When he becomes a member of the party, a high-powered team will be set up to start other negotiations. Until we get to that stage, I do not want to speculate.
Do you have fears that if the governor wins the election on the platform of the PDP, he could return to the APC, leaving your party in the cold?
That will not happen, you can take it to the bank. The governor is a decent man; he is not that kind of person. He is not the average politician who will do some of those things that politicians do. I am not afraid that if he gets the ticket and wins the election, he will dump the PDP. He is not that kind of person.
In your view, how would you rate Obaseki’s performance? Would you say his performance is enough to earn him victory in your party?
Well, I suspect that the governor has been harassed, humiliated and distracted massively by members of his (former) party. I am sure he would have done more than he did. What he did, of course, is not enough because the suffering in the land is too much. The state of insecurity is also alarming as well as the unemployment rate which is close to 50 per cent. So, there are many things he could not do largely as a result of the massive distractions from members of his party. I think he could have done more; you can empathise with him. But in the PDP, we know how to manage people better, so, if he is with us, the delivery of the dividends of democracy to the people will improve.
Between Adams Oshiomhole and Obaseki, who would you say performed better as a governor?
Obaseki is a much better; he is a result-oriented person. You cannot compare him with the other person (Oshiomhole), whose name you mentioned. That person did not have any methodology for getting things done. So, I think they are not the same at all and there is no basis for comparison.
In the 2016 governorship election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the candidate of your party. If Obaseki emerges as your candidate, it means the tables have turned. What are your expectations?
We expect a very peaceful election and we also expect massive votes for the PDP or whoever picks our ticket. If it is Obaseki, the votes will be massive; if it is any of the other three aspirants, the votes will also be massive because of the work that we have done on the ground.
There are fears that the APC may use what is called federal might in the election. Are you nursing such fears?
No, I do not. Averagely, the turnout of voters during the election is between 32 and 35 per cent of the total number of eligible voters in the state, but we are hoping to push it to 45 per cent in the forthcoming election. Once we can have that increase, it will trigger a massive turnout of voters that will make it impossible for anybody to use federal might.
People believe that the PDP squandered the goodwill it had in Edo State when it was in power. Do you think the people have forgiven your party?
Edo people are very forgiving. I am sure they have forgiven us because they would not have kept that grudge for 12 years. From the responses we got from them when our aspirants went round the LGAs, I am sure they have forgiven us. It would be very uncharitable to think that Edo people have kept the grudge this long. They are done with that.
On the controversies over Obaseki’s certificates, what will the PDP do if it considers as it a problem that could affect its chances in the election?
I am sure you saw the sham called a screening committee which the other party had? It was a clear case of ‘vindictiveness of the highest order’ and there was no need for it to happen in the first instance. The PDP will set up a very powerful team to look at those papers. I suspect that the screening process of the other party (APC) was more of vindictiveness. They were not fair to him, but we will not do that. We will be transparent and investigative.
Just like the past two previous governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states, people have the feeling that the Edo election might be violent. As a major stakeholder, how can that be averted?
We urge the security agencies to up their game. They should not be seen to take sides. There should be a level playing field for voters to come out to vote for the PDP. On the other hand, because of the increase in voter turnout that we envisage, it will be necessary for the security agencies to be more careful. It is when you have a low turnout that people misbehave. If you have a high turnout, it will make it impossible for someone to use federal might on anybody. You cannot be killing your citizens because of elections.
In most the recent governorship elections, there were allegations of vote-buying. Do you think that may play out in Edo?
Unfortunately, it was the ruling party (APC) that introduced vote-buying into our lexicon. We think it may happen but we urge the security agencies to look at that. In those elections, we saw members of the ruling party openly buying votes, while the security agencies looked the other way.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja has affirmed the suspension of the APC National Chairman, Adam Oshiomhole. How do you think that will affect the forthcoming exercise in Edo State?
I do not want to speculate on what will happen in the other party. It is their business. How they sort out themselves is their concern. Our concern now is how to energise our base to come out in large numbers to vote during the election. They should sort out themselves and stop heating up the polity. I do not have anything to say about his suspension.
Source: Saturday PUNCH