By Sunday Ani

The Deputy Chairman, Primary Election Organising Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nze Chidi Duru has described the process that brought Sen Monday Okpebholo as the candidate of the party in the coming Edo State governorship election as the most credible.

In this interview, Nze Duru, who was part of the team that conducted the just concluded Edo governorship primaries took a cursory look at the processes that threw Okpebholo up as the party’s flag-bearer, why Governor Hope Uzodimma stepped aside as the chairman of the primary election committee, and why he thinks the APC would win the election among others.

You were part of the committee that conducted the recently concluded governorship primaries in Edo State. How were you able to conduct the election without much rancour and litigation?

My department midwifed the credible and transparent election, which brought about the eventual winner of the election. There are a number of things that we need to make public and have an understanding of the process put in place to make the election not only credible but also very transparent. The announcement of the scheduled election was published on January 8, 2024. It was like cradle to grave because it was an itemisation of the process leading to the eventual winner on February 17. It started with the sale of nomination forms on January 19 and terminated at the end of January. As a result of that, we also held a major stakeholders’ engagement from Edo State on January 16. Among those that attended the meeting, were all the aspirants at that point, not only those who had bought forms. Twenty nine Edo State indigenes who had indicated interest to purchase forms came for the meeting including senator Adams Oshiomhole, the minister from Edo State, all members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the APC, including those at the state level, and the state working committee of the party, chaired by my national chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje. During the meeting, we tabled and discussed all issues that would produce the eventual winner. Shortly after that, 15 of the aspirants came forward to purchase the forms. Thereafter, we started updating the process of registration of voters in the state. It is such an important process because we all agreed that it would be by direct primaries, which meant that every active paying member of the party must participate in the process. We noted the area of abuse when you leave it unregulated. So, we wanted to determine members of the party, which process was already clearly stated in the party’s constitution, which means you must be a financial member as and when due.

We observed that when this wasn’t done, it would be a recipe for disaster for the conduct of the primaries because people with means may import and implant members in various wards and local governments for the purpose of the election in order to cause an uneven contest.

We went to INEC to obtain the membership register of Edo State, and the total membership of the APC in Edo State was 1.5 million members. Of course, we knew the numbers were exaggerated. So, in following the constitution, we started the process such that at the end of the day, out of the 1.5million membership, only a little above 73,000 were identified as financial members. If, indeed, we had 1.5 million members, how is it that APC hasn’t won Edo historically? How is it that only 73,000 members are found and judged to be financial members of the party, and how is it that an election conducted and won in Edo State has never been more than 300,000 votes? That is between major parties in the state. That was the question being asked. That was what we intended from the start to ensure that our membership is identifiable, which we believe would lead to a free and fair election. That was a major step we took to guarantee the success of the process.

Having identified that we have 73,000 financial members, we took another step by ensuring that the said numbers were not only verifiable but that they are living members of the party in the state. So, we began the update process, and at the end of the day, only 42000 members turned up for the updating process. It became clear that those who were aiming to upstage and undermine the process, to organise the election in a chaotic manner, under an atmosphere that is not free and fair were shocked at how it all turned out. I must also state here that this is the first time in the history of our party, under our watch, and under the leadership of Ganduje that we undertook such a strenuous, deliberate and disciplined process in the conduct of direct primaries. Before we set out for the election on February 17, it was already established that only the verified and updated members could vote.

A committee was constituted under the leadership of Governor Hope Uzodimma to go and midwife the process. It was also the first time of setting up primaries committees at the state level. There was another primary committee; in some cases, five to seven-man committees in each of the local government areas and at the ward level.

With all the processes you have enumerated, it was eventually cancelled and you had to start all over again, what really happened?

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It was never cancelled. The process set in place was so logical that you could not side-step another without consequences. The next process was to organise the Congress, which was to elect a five-man delegate in each of the wards. On February 17, the process commenced at the ward level, from where it was escalated to the designated centres at all the local government levels. The same outcome at the local government level, after collation at that level, was escalated to the designated centres at the state level. Lushville Hotel was the state designated centre. Unfortunately, that process of collation at the centre was abridged and aborted and could not be completed.

Why?

It could not be completed for a number of reasons. One of such was that the exercise was disrupted as there was an invasion of the premises such that the safety of the people mandated to conduct the process was at risk. The director of administration of our party was injured and still very much in the hospital as we speak. He was beaten black and blue. So were other faithful members of the party. For that reason, we couldn’t complete the exercise. On the basis of that, the National Working Committee (NWC) held a meeting, and then fixed February 20 to review the unfortunate incident, and why it couldn’t complete the process for reasons beyond the control of the conducting members. A new date of February 22 was then set to complete the process. That was exactly what happened. Immediately it was completed, the next exercise was the affirmation congress, which was on Friday, 23. In the affirmation congress, which had in attendance, five delegates from each of the 192 wards, they all affirmed that Senator Monday Okpebholo, having satisfied the requirement of the law, and having emerged as candidate with the highest number of votes in each of the 192 wards on the state, won the primaries in a free and fair election. On the basis of the affirmation congress, the NWC now held an emergency meeting on Saturday to review and consider the report, and it was approved that Senator Okpebholo was the winner of the Edo governorship primaries.

Why did Gov Uzodinma step down to allow Gov Otu complete the process? Some said the action had an underlying motive. Could you explain what really happened?

If you listened to what our national publicity secretary said, the Imo State Governor was otherwise engaged in another national assignment on the date of the rescheduled exercise. The same February 22 slated for the rescheduled exercise was the same day President Tinubu engaged him in a national assignment. So, it was the co-chair, the Governor of Cross River State, Sen Otu, who promptly took over from him and completed the process. There was no conflict at all.

But, there was disaffection among some of the contestants, which was why you had the likes of Dennis Osadolor come out to denounce the process; what do you have to say about that?

Let me say right away that there was no disaffection whatsoever among the contestants. There was overwhelming support from the stakeholders of our party in Edo State that cut across all the three senatorial zones. It is not surprising that even before the primary itself, no less a person than a major stakeholder in the state, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, who was our candidate in the last gubernatorial election, a strong stalwart of the party, and a reputable person from the state and His Excellency, Lucky Imasuen stepped down. They didn’t only step down, they also threw their hats in the ring and supported the now emerged candidate of the party. A lot of other candidates stepped down to support the same candidate. As for our brother, Osadolor, a meeting was held with him at the party headquarters, where assurance was given to him to understand that the process was judged not only in the state but at the headquarters of the party as free, fair and transparent. It is left for him to determine what next step he would like to take, whether to suspend his personal ambition in the overall interest of the party or not. It would be nice if he can support the candidacy of Okpebholo so

that the party can claim Edo State which was lost to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) twice. And we believe we have the right candidate to win the coming election for the party.

Considering the kind of hardship that pervades the entire country now under the control of your party, the APC, do you think that Nigerians would still want to vote for the party again?

I admit that we are passing through a lot as a country at the moment. However, we hope and trust that with what is being put in place by the Federal Government now, in no distant time, we will begin to enjoy the positive impacts of some of the policies. While we are looking at the impacts of policies at the national level, we should also look at the sub-national level which Edo State is part of. The people of Edo State believe that the party and the government in the state have not represented the wishes of the people well enough, and are yearning for a change. They are yearning for that kind of government that would integrate the people together, and that is what Senator Okpebholo is offering them.