The political atmosphere in Edo State is charged ahead of governorship election slated for September 10. About 14 days to the election, BANJI ALUKO examines the factors that may work in favour or against the two leading candidates.
NINETEEN political parties are contesting the September 10 Edo State governorship election. But in the minds of many in the state, the race is between two candidates. Expectedly, the two are Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For the duo and their parties, only victory will be good enough on September 10 as anything short of that could send them into political wilderness in the next couple of years.
Fully aware of the desire of the PDP to reclaim power it lost in 2008, the APC will leave no stone unturned to hold on to power against a re-energised PDP. For the PDP as well, there is no better time to stage a comeback than now. After winning the presidential election and National Assembly elections in the state last year, the PDP leaders and supporters know that they only need to equal what they did on March 28, 2015 to reclaim Edo.
On that occasion, the party got about 60 per cent votes in the presidential election, won two out of the three Senate seats and five out of the nine House of Representatives elections. They are unmoved by the results of the House of Assembly election that followed on April 12, where they won three out of the 24 seats. They are quick to say that the loss was as a result of the nationwide presidential election that did not go in their favour, something they have tagged “the Buhari effect.”
Even when the two results are put together, PDP’s performance was incomparable to the one recorded by the party the last time the state elected a governor. That was in 2012. In that election, the party lost in all the 18 local government areas of the state. But buoyed by the 2015 results, the PDP wants to take a step further by winning the governorship election.
The APC is however willing to knock out the PDP in this contest. Led by the forceful state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, the party has consolidated its rule in Edo and has become firmly rooted to withstand the advances of the PDP. As the party in control in the state and at the federal level, many think the APC should win the September 10 election. However, some political analysts in Edo seem to think that forecast for the election is 50-50 and that some factors may just hand any of the two parties victory. With the election only about two weeks away, the strengths and weaknesses of the two parties.
State of the nation’s economy
This is largely a plus for the PDP and a minus for the APC. This factor has often been referred to as the Buhari factor. Many believe that if the governorship election had been conducted in Edo in 2015, victory would have eluded the PDP. The reasons are not far-fetched. The moment General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) was declared winner of the 2015 presidential election of March 28, the PDP became an easy prey for the APC in the state. But how time flies! The about 15 months spent in power by the APC government appears to have devalued the party in Edo. The early ovation and expectations appear to have given way for dissatisfaction and anger. The impression that the APC brought negative changes upon Nigerians and that the government has spent enough time in power to effect positive changes is quite popular in Edo. Many believe that this is the biggest problem confronting the APC as they argued that it could rob off on the election.
The PDP has taken advantage of the situation and has given impetus to the impression, turning it to songs. The party’s new slogan of change the change has gained popularity in Edo. Many even argued that the slogan started from Edo. This message has been taken to the Edo people through the mass media, while it also features prominently anywhere the party campaigns. The party is always quick to ask Edo people to compare the price per litre of petrol, transportation and foodstuffs, especially rice during the Jonathan administration and the present Buhari government.
Realising this growing trend, Governor Oshiomhole and the APC have been doing a lot by insisting that the parlous state of the country now was brought upon it by the past PDP governments. Speaking at a rally in Afuze, Owan East Local Government Area, Oshiomhole said: “When a man comes to your house, burgled your store where you kept your food and in the morning, you find the store burgled, can you immediately feed your children?
“What President Buhari is doing now, when he found that PDP broke into the treasury and emptied it, is to rebuild the door of the treasury to secure it and recover the ones they have taken. The way PDP put fire on our economy, to rebuild it cannot be overnight. Today, my confidence about the future of our country is that Buhari is blocking all the leakages in our economy.”
Oshiomhole versus Igbinedion: The belief that the PDP administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion performed poorly could be said to be popular in Edo. This is a big problem for the PDP. Conversely, it appears many in the state believe that Oshiomhole has performed well as governor and deserves to be supported in his next political move. The outspoken Oshiomhole has never wasted oppurtunity to remind Edo people of the state of public infrastructure when he assumed office and the turnaround he has given them.
In Benin City for instance, the governor has never wasted time to talk about some of his road projects such as the Airport Road, Siluko Road, 2nd East Circular Road, Constain-Isonorho Road and others. These projects have endeared him to the heart of many, who may likely give their votes to Obaseki.
Closely related to this is the connection many Edo people see between Igbinedion and Ize-Iyamu, who was Igbinedion’s Chief-of-Staff for four years. For those who considered Igbinedion’s government as not too good, Ize-Iyamu may not win their votes as the PDP candidate is largely seen as a member of the Igbinedion political family. To such people, as Oshiomhole put it, a vote for Ize-Iyamu is a vote for Igbinedion and his father, the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. A vote for Igbinedion, they also argued, is a return to the dark days the state had left behind.
This is a minus for the APC. It is an area the PDP has intensified campaign and awareness on. Most outspoken about the Edo State tax policy is the state chairman of the party, Dan Orbih, who has described the policy as punitive and repressive. According to the party’s candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, it is wrong of the state government to demand high levies on the long suffering people of the state without providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. While insisting that taxation is one of the areas governments generate money, he has repeatedly stated that he will relax the existing tax policy in the state. Candidates of other parties contesting the election have also said the same thing.
Away from the politicians, the tax regime could be said to be unpopular among many in Edo, especially in Benin. Most affected are shop owners in the highly commercial areas of the metropolis and markets. Checks reveal that traders, who display their goods in open spaces in the markets, are not left out of tax payment. They daily complained of what they usually described as exorbitant sums they were made to cough out in the name of taxation.
The situation is not limited to traders and shop owners alone as bus and taxi drivers have continually wailed over daily collections from them by agents of the state government. The transporters are said to have shifted the burden of the levies on the commuters, who daily complain of high transport fares. Operators of hotels, eateries, night clubs, artisans and other forms of businesses are also among those in the long list of regular complainers of the Edo State tax policy. Even civil servants, who pay their taxes through direct deductions from their salaries, are not left out as they often complain of what they said was an unfamiliar deductions in their salaries.
Ironically, the state government argues that it deserves commendation and not condemnation over the state’s tax policy. According to Oshiomhole, his government has been able to raise the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from a paltry N300 million he inherited to figures oscillating between N1.8 and N2.2 billion. Much of this achievement is attributed to an upsurge in revenue accrued from taxation.
In February this year, the governor defended the tax policy of his government at a lecture organised by journalists in the state. He said: “The real reason we must deepen taxation is to make Nigerians more stakeholders, to have a stake in the governance of the nation. If you pay so much tax, you will worry about how it is spent. If we don’t change our attitude towards taxation then governance is far away. For us to get our people to pay taxes, government must demonstrate a high sense of responsibility and accountability in how we appropriate money and what we appropriate funds for.”
Sharing of political offices
Of the three senatorial districts in Edo, the Esan people of the Edo Central are the most dissatisfied. The usual allegation that the zone has been greatly marginalised by Oshiomhole in favour of his Etsako tribe in the northern senatorial district persists among the Esans. To cap it all, the area is predominantly PDP, has never lost National Assembly or presidential election in the area since 1999. The alleged marginalisation of the area was compounded in May this year when the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, who is from the area, was impeached and replaced by a lawmaker from the Edo South (Benin).
The decision to pick a running mate to the APC candidate from the Edo North and not from Edo Central, some PDP faithful alleges, accentuated the marginalisation of the area by the APC government. A new political arrangement that returned the speakership to the area had to be worked out last month by Oshiomhole and the APC so as to placate the people. The governor has also initiated some projects in the area to demonstrate his love for the people, who gave him his late wife, Clara Oshiomhole.
Some PDP sympathisers however, believe that Oshiomhole’s move is too late in the day and that the Esans have already made up their minds to ‘punish’ the APC on September 10. According to them, APC will be fortunate to win one out of the five local government areas in Edo Central. Some APC supporters, however, are boasting that their party will win Igueben Local Government Area, where they are perceived to be strong, while they seem to have almost given up on the bigget councils such as Esan North East, Esan Wes and Esan South East.
While the PDP holds sway in the Edo Central, the APC remains the strongest party in the Edo North. Auchi, the headquarters of Etsako West Local Government Area, and Oshiomhole’s council is seen as impenetrable for the PDP. With three councils out of the six in the area, the Etsako are by far the largest group in the area. The Owans, with two councils and Akoko-Edo with one, complete the area.
The age-long-complaint that the Etsakos have always dominated the other groups in the area was brought to the fore when the APC picked the lawmaker representing Etsako Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon Phillip Shuaibu as running mate to its candidate. This is seen by some people in Owan and Akoko Edo as unfair. Their explanation is that if the APC should pick running mate from the Edo North, it ought not to go to the Etsako as an Etsako man is currently the representative of the area in the Senate. The PDP has picked up the argument from there. The party during their campaigns to Owan and Akoko Edo, called on the people to reject their continued domination by the Etsakos.