Leaders of the pan-Esan socio-cultural organisation, Esan Okpa Initiative (EOI) and other stakeholders are anxiously awaiting report of the Implementation Committee, led by Prof. Michael Ikhariale, which was mandated to prune the list of aspirants of Esan extraction angling for the Edo State governorship race in 2024.
Feelers however indicate that the committee, which is wrapping up its report this weekend, may recommend consensus building as a way of whipping the aspirants into line.
The 11-member committee had a crucial engagement with the governorship aspirants across parties in Benin City, the Edo State capital last weekend to gauge their suitability in order to ensure that Esan, which makes up Edo Central senatorial zone, puts its best foot forward in the race for a successor to Governor Godwin Obaseki whose term ends on 12th November next year.
No doubt, many of the aspirants parade worthy and enviable credentials. Among them are Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, who had a stint as Governor for 18 months; three other prominent professors; and five former Speakers of state House of Assembly. But Esan leaders are worried that the load of aspirants may whittle the chances of Edo Central if all of them go to primaries in their respective parties against fewer aspirants from the other two zones. In the words of Ikhariale, “there is a legitimate expectation that the governor’s position in Edo State is now for Esan people to lose and, quite frankly, there is the real possibility that we might just lose it if we do not put our house in order by quickly formulating a winning strategy”.
Although Ikhariale explained that the committee’s assignment was not to “screen out” any aspirants since that is the forte of the political parties, the engagement was no doubt an attempt to sift the grain from the shaft and ensure that only formidable persons with the clout and reach to the other two zones – Edo North and Edo South – are supported.
He explained: “Before I proceed further, please permit me to make this fundamental clarification about today’s activities. We are certainly not here to ‘screen out’ anyone. Neither do we have the desire or inclination to do so. The issue of screening aspirants is within the remit of the various political parties.
“What we invited you for is an interactive engagement wherein we would look at each other’s relative strengths and weaknesses and then proceed to honestly tell ourselves about our levels of readiness in the Esan quest for the governorship position.
“Going forward, we expect this engagement to be frank, dispassionate, and objectively based on a set of objective criteria. The outcome of today’s engagement shall be submitted to the leadership of EOI and other critical stakeholders for their deliberations and further actions.
“We all know that whenever brothers go into any discussion behind closed doors and they come out all smiling, it is usually an indication that they have deceived themselves. We of the EOI obviously do not intend to do such to ourselves here or unduly make anyone unhappy.
“Looking at the contemporary political landscape of Edo State, it is easy to observe that there has never been a better opportunity in recent election cycles for Esanland to produce a governor. Constitutionally, there are three senatorial districts in the state, namely Edo North, Edo South and Edo Central (Esanland). Of these three, it is only Edo Central that has not yet produced a governor for almost 20 years. The last time we had a governor of Esan extraction, his tenure was unfortunately truncated within a few months of its inauguration.
“EOI’s primary goal, in the circumstance, is to objectively reason with all the aspirants with a view to building consensus around those aspirants who have realistic chances within their respective parties and Esan people will support those aspirants, while allowing the good people of Edo State make their choice”.
The Ikhariale-led committee included Chief Executive Officer of Novelpotta, Dr. Celey Okogun as Secretary; Linguistics scholar at the University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Philomena Ejele; and Education scholar at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Prof. Oyaziwo Aluede. The committee also has Acting Director General of the state Directorate of Quality Assurance, Dr. Roseline Etiti Okosun; a political development expert, Dr. Ono’ohomen Ebhohimhen; and President of Esan Club 30 based in Port Harcourt, Engr. Francis Oriakhi. Both Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Fidelis Arhedo and Mallam Abdulkadiri Mukhtar represent faith based organisations in the committee, while Mr. Prosper Iyere and Mr. Alex Orukpe are drawn from youth organisations.
The engagement with the aspirants, who are mostly members of the three leading parties – All Progressive Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Patty – was described as “fruitful”. Apart from Osunbor, some of the high profile aspirants who turned up for the event included the state APC Chairman, Col. David Imuse (rtd.); former APC Chairman, Barrister Anselm Ojezua; former Chairman of Esan North East Local Government, Hon. John Yakubu; and former Edo State Government House Chaplain, Rev. Fr. Andrew Obinyan. Others were Prof. Sylvester Odion Akhaine, Prof. Martins Uhomoibhi and Prof. Osezua Ehiyamen
The gathering also featured former Speakers of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Francis Okiye, Rt. Hon. Friday Itula and Rt. Hon. Bright Omokhodion; and former Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Festus Ebea. Although former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Victor Edoro; and former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Serguis Ogun indicated their willingness to attend, they could not make it.
Of the 26 aspirants who responded to the invitation of the committee, only 17 eventually attended last weekend’s engagement. Three aspirants, based in the Diaspora, requested for a Zoom facility which could not be immediately arranged. Two others sent apologies with no word received from four aspirants who had initially responded to the letter of invitation.
EOI leaders, led by its President, Rt. Hon. Mathew Egbadon, and other Esan elders had earlier met with aspirants of Edo Central extraction last July in Benin City as part of the move to prune the number of aspirants from the zone.