The September 19, 2020 governorship election in Edo State should have been a family affair. A “referendum” of sorts or a “no-contest” scenario in which everybody, especially in the former All Progressives Congress (APC), (that was prior to the orchestration of the internal crisis and subsequent defection by Governor Godwin Obaseki), would have taken for granted the fact that the incumbent governor would just be passing through a simple process of revalidation of mandate.
Three critical factors would have unfurled in his favour, to wit: the incumbency power, the platform of the APC – the governing party at the federal level – and the strategic power centres in Edo, around which massive grassroots networks and support gravitate. But as it is, the governor only has in his kitty the power of incumbency, which value has been largely eroded, corroded and diminished by the vagaries of issues, assumptions and arguments that weigh in favour of the necessity to preserve Edo State as APC’s gateway to the South-South zone. I would expound these issues, assumptions and arguments in one of my next articles before the election.
The logic that Edo is APC’s gateway to the South-South zone is writ-large to all political contestants, more especially the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It has been the eternal desire of the PDP to regain Edo State, which it lost in the 2007/2008 governorship tango to the progressives’ conclave as typified by the Action Congress, which later morphed into Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and in 2014/2015 further morphed into the legacy party – APC. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was the battle-axe with which the AC, as it then was, dislodged the PDP, despite the party’s enigmatic hold on power at the centre at that intersection.
Oshiomhole had gone ahead to return an emphatic victory for the ACN in his 2012 re-election bid when he beat the PDP and its candidate, General Charles Arhiavbere, silly in all the eighteen local government areas. The gung ho approach that Oshiomhole deployed in consolidating his hold on government in Edo was breathtaking. He took the state far away from the Abuja-centric politics that at that time recognized the suzerainty of the late Chief Tony Anenih.
As a fringe participant in the process, I remember a very touching message sent to everyone that had the privilege of working with Anenih in the failed effort to unhorse Oshiomhole, using General Airhavbere who was then PDP’s governorship candidate. He talked about the hard work that was invested in the election and how the outcome of the election was contrary to reasonable expectations. He had prayed that the labour of love of everyone would be rewarded in due time.
In the 2016 election, Oshiomhole had to throw all he had into the election of Obaseki who had no political pedigree to latch on, in the battle against a grassroots mobiliser, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, with a pervasive statewide network, who was then the candidate of the PDP. But for Oshiomhole’s brinkmanship, Ize-Iyamu would have had Obaseki for dinner. That was the closest PDP was to Osadebe Avenue since it lost the Certificate of Occupancy to the progressive forces led by Oshiomhole in 2008.
The frenzy in the camp of the PDP is therefore understandable, having all of a sudden become the ruling party in Edo State by the stealth of Obaseki. Whereas, it took Obaseki only-God-knows-how-much of Edo tax payers’ money to negotiate the joint ticket for himself and his deputy, Philip Shaibu; the September 19 governorship election is an open sesame: it is for all Edo electorate to speak with their ballots. It is not restricted to only Obaseki’s irritating “filthy lucre”. It is going to be Edo State’s money as would be unconscionably deployed in the election by Obaseki versus the will of a vast majority of the electorate.
But it remains unfathomable whether or not the frenzy in the PDP in Edo State is motivated by a genuine interest in Obaseki’s re-election. Is it that the party thinks it can clinch it this time round with a sitting governor as its standard-bearer? Even if one doubts the sincerity of some of the PDP leaders who are not happy with the manner Obaseki moved into the party in the eleventh hour and “bought” off the shelf the governorship ticket, it does appear some others have immersed themselves in the campaign for Obaseki in the overall and overarching interest of the party to which they have kept fidelity since 1999.
This may explicate why they are spewing unsubstantiated allegations that the APC is planning to rig the September 19 governorship election, on every occasion and at every opportunity. It really does not require political astuteness to discern that the allegation of planned rigging is just sheer propaganda. But aside propaganda, which political partisans characteristically deploy in undermining one another during electioneering ahead of voting, the PDP apparatchiks know the truth that Edo State is an APC state.
Oshiomhole, who scripted the progressives’ victory in Edo State, is in the field campaigning forcefully for Pastor Ize-Iyamu. He is replicating the kind of mojo that he deployed as a two-term governor in producing Obaseki in 2016. Just as he “settled matter” for his successor, Obaseki, to reinforce the philosophy of continuity in government, he has committed himself to the process of helping to regain the governorship that he almost single-handed foisted on Obaseki’s laps four years ago.
Indeed, had there not been discordant glitches within the political wing of the Edo State government on the watch of Obaseki, this narrative would have been unnecessary. But Obaseki fractured and disrupted the seamless political arrangement due to his intolerance.
Somehow, the governor was in a hurry to retire political gladiators that assisted Oshiomhole to materialize his governorship in 2016. He would curiously go ahead to characterize them as thieves whose only desire was to have him share state funds to them. Sardonically, he has not been able to validate that outlandish claim; and the quip is: which money is he sharing and spending now on his re-election bid? Obaseki’s money?
Whereas it was a strategic misstep by Obaseki to take on the elite corps of the political class in the APC with such sanguinity, he would have done well to beat a retreat by quickly toeing the path of reconciliation when APC leaders tried to intervene. But, defiantly, he went about his subtle fight against leaders of his former party (APC) as someone who had forces bigger than the APC in Edo State nudging him on from the background. It was akin to a case of a man who was fighting with his “Chi”, as the Igbo are wont to say.
In any case, Obaseki, largely considered as a political rookie, succeeded in provoking a legal tango that would later form the basis upon which the leadership crisis in the APC would result in the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC). That was as far as he could go. He had lost out in the race for the APC ticket and was headed for the PDP.
But unfortunately for the PDP, it cannot deploy Obaseki in its desperate gambit to capture Edo State through a negotiated governorship incumbency factor that is assailed by a plethora of problems ranging from political intolerance through administrative indiscretion to misreading of the mood of the people and outright monumental mismanagement of goodwill.
To be sure, it was at the altar of intolerance that Obaseki lost his appeal and validation within the APC, a party that launched him into the limelight. Regardless of what his publicists, propagandists and spin doctors may orchestrate, the governor had since lost the significant edge and he is, as it were, enmeshed in political mire from which his new-found PDP is trying very hard to exhume him.
But while the PDP is trying to hold down Edo State, will the APC-controlled Federal Government just sit back and watch the rag-tag team of Nyesom Wike and co. in the South-South have their way, consign the APC to the dustbin of electoral defeat and oblivion in the zone and celebrate the feat in a sustained fit of garrulity? Certainly, I do not need a fortune teller to know that the APC will not. Not when the vast majority of the people in Edo have sympathy for the APC.
To boot, there is a special appeal that the party’s candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu has on the people’s impressionable minds. Edo people are grateful people who recognize good turns. Through his pedigree as a former Chief of Staff and Secretary to the State Government, positions that he deployed in empowering his people, he now enjoys cult-like followership. Juxtapose him with Obaseki, who was practically piggy-backed by Oshiomhole in 2016 during electioneering and the verdict cannot be misplaced – that Ize-Iyamu enjoys a groundswell of statewide support far more than Obaseki.
However, the outcome of the election will validate this conclusion. But collaboration between Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole who is backing him to the hilt this time round, is capable of producing a domino effect. Then, add the massive goodwill and support of business mogul and great Ambassador of the Benin Kingdom, Capt. Hosa Okunbo (although not a member of the APC) for Ize-Iyamu, then there would be trigger effect in the political ecosystem of Edo as we have seen in recent times with the timid counters and resorts to escapism by the governor in response(s) to Capt. Hosa’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and Edo people, urging them to tell Obaseki to leave him alone.
That was against the backdrop of attacks by Obaseki and his agents on Capt. Hosa’s persona and business interests, which remain clearest indications yet of his intolerant political disposition. So, he toyed in vain with the ambitious idea of trying to put his small-sized leg on Capt. Hosa’s massive neck. Recall that he had already intolerantly dealt a crushing blow on Tony Kabaka whose hotel he pulled down. This was just one among many other acts of political intolerance.
On Saturday, July 25, he had once again demonstrated political intolerance when known thugs allegedly associated with his government reportedly inflicted gunshot wounds on no fewer than eight young men outside the palace of the Oba of Benin. The PDP national campaign council had been led to the palace on a courtesy visit by Governor Obaseki, a visit that went awry when the young men who had converged on the arena opposite the gate of the Palace, chanted anti-PDP songs and booed Obaseki and his team. That was the boys’ offence.
In demonstrable political maturity, Obaseki should have ignored the political “yabis”. He was incapable of that. As a greenhorn in politics, he has yet to develop the thick skin to absorb “yabis”, dissension and criticisms. He certainly does not fall in the class of Oshiomhole who did not resort to violence in countering PDP’s opposition when he was in the saddle. Obaseki has not also been able to borrow a leaf from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s exemplar of “my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”
Jonathan was the most abused Nigerian president. He was never beside himself. He maintained political sanity all through, even in the face of defeat. There are others who play politics without bitterness, politics of equanimity. Obaseki has failed abysmally on this score. His intolerance blights Edo governorship race. O Sancta simplicitas!
▪︎Ojeifo contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org