It was not supposed to end this way. Like the promo of a mismatch between David and Goliath, many believed, with reasons, that Governor Godwin Obaseki would be beaten to a pulp.
To make matters worse, Obaseki was not just up against one Goliath. He was taking on Goliath Plus, an array of modern and ancient forces comprising the ecclesiastical armies of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the revolutionary guard led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Obaseki’s dilemma was highlighted in a pre-election interview which Oshiomhole granted Channels TV. When the comrade was asked his response to Obaseki’s threat to end his reign as the new godfather of Edo politics, Oshiomhole barely restrained his disdain.
“How can a lizard threaten to end the political career of a lion?” he asked.
That was the setting for the governorship election in Edo on Saturday: it was supposed to be a contest between the lizard and the lion; a contest that only fools would dare to bet on.
The expectation of a crushing defeat for Obaseki was not based on the face value of Comrade’s boast alone. It was also based on anecdotal wisdom of what can and does happen in politics when Federal might is invested in a political candidate.
There have been exceptions, of course. On the whole, however, when Federal might is behind a candidate, it moves the security services, deploys money, invokes just about anything, including hell and high water, to ensure victory for its candidate. Crush the enemy first, and if they ever recover, they can go to court.
Oshiomhole was himself once a victim of this system. Having mastered it and crossed over to the side of the wielders, however, his boasts carry a hint of enhanced capacity. Not a few otherwise politically active people I know went to bed on the night of Saturday, September 19, not bothering to check the fragments of results trickling in from Edo. With Federal might at the disposal of Ize-Iyamu, any reports of Obaseki in early lead meant nothing. Anything could still happen overnight.
After Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike gave a press conference that his hotel had been cordoned off by 300 armed policemen and that he had personally received a call from the Inspector General of Police Mohammed Abubakar Adamu to leave Edo immediately, it seemed like the lion had roared at last and the lizard would be served for breakfast. Any hope of a free and fair contest diminished.
The body language of the Palace seemed neutral at first. But when Captain Hosa Okunbor, a businessman with very close links to the palace joined the fray and vowed to spend his last kobo to defeat Obaseki, it appeared his fate was sealed with a stamp from the Palace.
On top of that, Obaseki looked like an underdog in the last televised debate; he seemed to have lost his mojo. He was also reported to have cancelled appearance at an Arise TV engagement at the last minute, stoking concerns that he may be moving his luggage to the departure lounge.
So, what happened on Saturday? We were confronted with the final undeniable signs that the APC could be unravelling; that’s what happened. They had papered over the cracks and tried to mend them by posing with plastic smiles in group pictures or bandying empty metaphors from Animal Farm, but the festering rot from within could no longer be hidden. It was on open display even before Saturday.
APC is sick from a disease that was largely self-inflicted. As a result of intra-party disputes in the primaries before the 2019 general elections, the party lost four states – Zamfara, Bauchi, Adamawa and Bayelsa; it lost Imo momentarily, and then snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Kano.
Oshiomhole’s style was blamed for APC’s poor performances. At a time when the party needed to rally to save its only outpost in the South-South, the party came to Edo bitterly divided both by the removal of Oshiomhole as chairman and by the party’s refusal to give Obaseki a second-term ticket.
The pro-Oshiomhole group, led by the party’s national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, regarded Obaseki as an ingrate, an arrogant upstart and a danger to party supremacy. The pro-Obaseki group led by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, countered that Oshiomhole was a petty tyrant who ran the party like a boot camp. The group was deeply unhappy that after Oshiomhole promised to facilitate a second term ticket for Obaseki in exchange for a fresh lease on his chairmanship, he made a U-turn and broke his promise without qualms.
Apart from Lagos and Imo APC states in the South, ranking party members from the South South abandoned Edo for Oshiomhole and Tinubu who arrived in Benin with daggers in their backs and sniper fire from angry avatars offended by Tinubu’s last-minute anti-Obaseki video.
For the party, it was also about 2023. It was about who gets a big say in lining up the new executive at the party’s next national convention. Aggrieved party members couldn’t find a better opportunity to drive a bigger stake in the struggle for control than to let things fall apart in Edo and in doing so weaken any rivalry from contending forces, especially the core Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) wing of the party led by Tinubu.
With the result of the Edo election out and a statement by APC caretaker chairman and Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni accepting the outcome, the fight for the soul of the APC moves to the next, dangerous level. It remains to be seen how the party will end 2021 intact.
Yet, it would be unfair to suggest that PDP was just sitting on its hands, waiting for APC fruit pickers to shake the tree. Unlike in Bayelsa when turf rivalry almost cost PDP the state, the PDP rallied its entire regional troops, deploying resources in Edo that made APC look like chicken feed traders.
After an initial false start, the PDP regained its footing and successfully framed the election as a contest between light and darkness, between narcissistic predators and freedom lovers, a narrative that would have stirred the soul of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi.
There’s another unlikely hero in Saturday’s contest – deputy governor, Philip Shuaibu. If he had played a different card, if he had ditched Obaseki at some point and switched sides, the outcome may have been different.
At a time when scores of Obaseki aides and allies were jumping ship, APC would have been quite pleased to set Shuaibu up against the governor, maybe even impeach Obaseki before the election and offer his deputy the ticket. His steadfastness and constancy helped to pave the way for Obaseki’s return.
Did the threat of a visa ban against instigators of electoral violence also play role? Likely. Who can or cannot travel to the US or the UK is often an election issue among Nigeria’s political elite whose appetite for foreign trips is legendary.
After visa restrictions imposed by the US on unnamed persons involved in electoral violence in Kogi and Bayelsa states, and the threat of the UK to do the same in Edo and Ondo on the eve of elections, sponsors of and profiteers from chaos would have asked themselves if it was worth it, this time.
Yet, the ultimate credit for what happened must go to the estimated 1.7million voters who despite serious pre-election concerns about violence, cast their ballots with only scanty reports of clashes. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also held the line firmly, especially by uploading results on an open platform at polling centres, an innovation that significantly eliminated interference and grounds for complaint.
Of course, we still have grounds to cover, especially in curtailing the transactional relationship between politicians and voters, but all said and done, Edo was a step forward.
Contestants would be more confident of a level playing field, whether or not their rivals have the backing of Aso Rock or the Government House. And in future, the lion that wishes to swallow the lizard whole, would be careful to ensure that the prey is indeed a lizard and not a porcupine.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview