SUYI AYODELE examines the political situations playing out in Edo State ahead of the governorship election slated for September.
Even without the gift of clairvoyance or ability to look into a crystal ball, an average perceptive observer of political events in Edo State knows that the possibility of the governorship election billed to hold in the state on September 19 being marred by large scale violence is very high. This can be attributed in part to the routes taken by the two main gladiators in the contest, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to fly their parties’ flags.
Yes, the governorship seat is the biggest prize at stake. But a deeper look will reveal much more. Immediate past national chairman of the APC and former governor of the state, Adam Oshiomhole feel that they are being robbed of the chance to currently have governorship of the state with the defection of the governor to the PDP. Thus, they are up in arms against Obaseki and are prepared to purge their choler in whatever manner, basking in the external factor of federal might.
For the governor, he is out to make history as the slayer of Goliath and be garlanded as the man who extinguished a godfather politically in the state. For the PDP, the election presents an opportunity to re-take the state which has won back to back until an Appeal Court sacked its last governor in the state and installed Oshiomhole of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) as governor.
If the results of the last general election in Edo are anything to go by, Obaseki’s defection to the PDP is something the APC should lose sleep over. PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, beat the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari in the election. Although Atiku won in only eight out of the 18 council areas in the state, the votes garnered by Buhari in the remaining 10 fell short of Atiku’s by 7, 849. Similarly, PDP won two out of the three senatorial seats contested in the election, while APC got only one.
The above explains why the September 19 battle will be fierce and the temperature of the arena is on the increase. The two camps are wrath-kindled and actors ire-filled. But will they purge their choler without letting blood? Should September 19 or the build up to it be a moment for the state to bleed?
At a time when observer had thought there had been a hiatus in the sequence of violent political activities in the state, with the possibility of a shift to the battle of ideas on how the state will move forward, justifying the assertion that politics is ideally war without bloodshed, violence erupted as supporters of the PDP and APC clashed at the palace of the Oba of Benin late last month, on the day Obaseki flagged off his re-election campaign. Both camps traded blames over the incident.
Just as the dust was settling over the gunshot incident at the palace, the theatre last week shifted to the state House of Assembly. First, there was the news that the Deputy Speaker, Yekini Idiaye, was removed from office for declaring support for APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu. Ostensibly in a counter-attack, the Speaker, Frank Okiye, deemed to the loyal to the governor, was also reportedly removed from office.
Not wanting to leave fire on the rafter, contractors, who did not mobilise men and materials for the refurbishment of the Edo Assembly complex, now found opportune moment to do so at a time when the opposition camp attempted to rattle the governor through the lawmakers loyal to it. Was the incident an attempt to distract Obaseki from forging ahead with his campaign? In the event that the opposition pulls through its possibly plan to remove the governor through impeachment, can they achieve that between now and the September 19 or will they short-circuit the process?
As the actors draw out daggers over the election, what is the situation with the people of the state? From Benin, the state capital, to the remotest village in Iyeke Orhiomwon, down to the Missionary town of Uromi and up to the beautiful Kukuruku Hills of the of the Akoko Edo, tension has engulfed the political landscape of the state.
Not a few political watchers and analysts believed then that the return of Ize-Iyamu to the APC had the imprimatur of Oshiomhole, who had at that time fallen out with his once beloved political son, Governor Obaseki. The conspicuous presence of all Oshiomole’s political family members and those of the APC pressure group, the Edo Progressive Movement, EPM, led by Samson Osagie, lend credence to the fact that Ize-Iyamu’s dancing tadpole had its drummer beneath the water.
With Obaseki losing out at the APC primary and his eventual movement to the PDP; the emergence of Ize-Iyamu as the APC flag bearer and the eventual ousting of Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of the APC, the battle for the soul of Edo State began in earnest and as the September 19 date draws closer by the day, the two political parties are not sparing any effort at winning the election. The stage is therefore precariously set and there seems to be no turning back for the two gladiators.
All lot of factors will come to play in determining who wins or loses the September 19 election. Chiefly among these factors is the zonal configuration of the state to Edo North, Edo Central and Edo South senatorial districts. Naturally, since the beginning of this present political dispensation, Edo State is regarded as predominantly a PDP state. But that notion has since changed with the emergence of Oshiomhole as governor in 2008 from the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, through the nullification of PDP Professor Osariemen Osunbor’s 2007 election.
For the 2020 gubernatorial election, the real battle fields are Edo North, with six local government areas namely, Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Akoko Edo, Owan East and Owan West and Edo South, which has seven local government areas such as Oredo, Egor, Ikpoba Okha, Ovia North, Ovia West Uhuwonde and Orhiomwon. The third leg of the tripod, the monolithic Edo Central, making up of Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North-East, Esan South-East and Igueben, is expected to be relatively peaceful.
Edo North, otherwise known as Afemai Clan, is a mix bag of different ethnic nationalities and this will make the situation very dramatic and interesting. Here, you have the dominant ethnic group of Etsako, occupying three council areas. Oshiomhole and the current deputy governor, Philip Shuaibu, are from that section of the zone.
According to Justin Imoudu, a political analyst from Anegbette, “The leader here is Oshiomhole. You cannot dispute this without exposing ignorance of the fact. He is particularly Etsako hero. Any time any day, most Etsako people will move with him. But because, he is not, too of a vested interest, at this election, that is the way many Etsako see him, in this contest, he will lose some votes, to his son Philip Shaibu”
This position was supported by Honourable Fred Omoigberai, a PDP leader from Owan, who posited that “in terms of quality politicians, they are with Oshiomhole in Etsako. But the masses and the youths are with the deputy governor, Philip Shuaibu. The only advantage PDP may have in Etsako is the fact that Oshiomhole is not the one contesting.” He however accepted that the APC running mate, Gani Audu, is not a push over politically.
The next ethnic group in Edo North is the Owan people. Again, Omoigberai conceded that the real politicians who are ready to spend are with the APC, while the mass of the people, especially civil servants and pensioners, whose salaries and pension payments have been prompt and regular are with the PDP. Imoudu equally agreed with the position, adding that “the two Owans are going to be unpredictable. Much work has to be done by PDP to beat APC well enough, if not, it will be marginal defeat of APC.”Omoigberai particularly pointed out the former Minority Whip of the House of Representatives, Pally Iriase, as the chief mobiliser for APC in the area.
The last of the ethnic groups in Edo North Senatorial District is Akoko Edo which itself is a mixture of about 46 towns and villages populated by Igarra, Uneme, Ososo, Okpe and Somorika. Both Omoigberai and Imoudu believed that PDP will have strong showing in Akoko Edo. With the political situation in Edo North neither of the two political can underrate the other. Whichever party wins the district will be doing so with a very close margin.
Going to Edo Central, a monolithic clan of Esan people, there appears to be no contest there for the APC. Since the beginning of this political dispensation in 1999, no other party has won any election in Edo Central apart from the PDP. The late Chief Anthony Anenih the Iyasele of Esanland, held the districts together, such that a big fish like Chief Tom Ikimi, a former National Chairman of the National Republican Convention, NRC, erstwhile Minister of Foreign Affairs, could not break through, while he was the leader o the defunct All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP.
Besides the fact that Ikimi has joined the PDP, the acerbic attacks of Oshiomhole on the late Anenih is a factor that will continue to hunt the Iyamoh politician in Esanland. Again, majority of Esan people and politicians are of the view that supporting any other candidate apart from Obaseki will mean that the zone will have to wait for another eight years before it can have a shot at the governorship. While Edo South, through Lucky Igbinedion and the present governor has ruled the state for 12 years and Edo North, through Oshiomhole, has ruled for eight years, Edo Central had never had such an opportunity. Though, Professor Osunbor was declared governor in 2007, his tenure was truncated by the 2008 Appeal Court judgment that gave the election to Oshiomhole of ACN.
Also, from 1999, till date, the deputy governorship slot has rotated between Edo North and Edo South with Chief Mike Aiyegeni Oghiadomhe from Fugar, Estako Cenral, occupying the position from 1999 to 2007, Dr. Pius Odubu from Edo South occupied the position from 2008 to 2016 and the current deputy governor, Philip Shuaibu, also from Edo North has been in the saddle since 2016. The calculation is that it will be better for Edo Central to support Obaseki for a second term with the understanding that he will hand over to an Esan candidate in 2024. Should Ize-Iyamu win the governorship, it means Edo Central will have to wait for another eight years in case Ize-Iyamu decides to ask for a second term, which is not unlikely.
Another factor in favour of Obaseki in Esanland is the reinstatement of the Onojie of Uromi, His Royal Highness, Anslem Aidonoije, who was removed from office by Oshiomhole on October 26, 2016, some two weeks to the end of Oshiomhole’s tenure as governor of the state. Obaseki reinstated the monarch on Wednesday, May 9 2018. At present. all the national elective positions in Edo Central are occupied by PDP.
The main battlefield in the forthcoming election will be Edo South, another monolithic district, populated by the Binis and a very tiny fraction of Izon people. The zone boasts of over 52 per cent of the voting population in the state. Incidentally, both the incumbent, Obaseki, and his main challenger, Ize-Iyamu, are from the two most populous Local Government Areas of the district. While Obaseki is from Oredo, Ize-Iyamu hails from Orhiomwon.
With the exception of 2011, when Senator Ehigie Uzamare decamped from PDP and won his second term from the ACN, the senatorial seat of Edo South has always been the exclusive preserve of the PDP. As at present, PDP occupies the district’s senatorial seat in person of Matthew Urhoghide and occupies two seats out of the four House of Representatives seats in the zone.
Boasting about PDP chances in Edo South, the party’s State Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, said that Oshiomhole has already won the election for PDP because of the way he described the character of Ize-Iyamu in 2016. “I am sure you are aware that Edo South has always been won by PDP, in 2015, 2011 and 2019. That has not changed it has consistently been a PDP domain and now we have the governor. PDP is very sure of winning Edo South.”
But APC will not have that. One of the party’s chieftains and former publicity secretary of the party in the state, Godwin Erhahon, said that APC would score more than 50 per cent of the votes in Edo South because, according to him, “the governor, everyday, is falling from one pit to another and so it is becoming clear to the people that he is an odd person; he is an odd character. He has lost ground, even the PDP is aware but it is an opportunity for them to make money, so they have to push him on.”
In his projections, Imoudu agreed that the real battle ground is Edo South with the largest percentage. He, however, added that being republican in nature, the Binis owe their allegiance and loyalty only to the Oba of Benin and nobody else such that nobody can tie them to any political party.
His analogy is that over the years, Oredo, Ikpoba-Okha and Egor always give block vote to PDP, just as the two Ovia North-East and Ovia South-West will do. Uhuwode and Orhiomwon, he posited further, would vote majorly for APC, but that PDP would also have appreciable outing. The APC pressure group, EPM, which is the chief antagonist of the incumbent governor, has its roots in Uhuwode.
.”But elections are not usually as it is. Factors deeper than the ordinary do, most of the time, crop up to re-shape patterns hitherto.
This re-shape could make or mar political chances”, Imoudu waned.
One of such “factors deeper than the ordinary” is the issue of violence. The state is sitting on the edge in terms of violence and the water was tested on July 25, 2020, the day PDP launched its campaign in the state as thugs suspected to be members of the opposition party, stormed the sacred palace of the Oba of Benin to protest against Governor Obaseki, who was in the palace with other dignitaries to pay the traditional homage to the Benin Monarch. Guns and other dangerous weapons were freely used at the palace gate, with many people sustaining various degrees of injuries, just as many vehicles were damaged.
While both major parties were passing the bulks on who attacked who during the fracas, the two leaders of PDP and APC campaigns, Governor Nyelsom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano State respectively, are threatening fire and brimstones. While Ganduje promised that Wike would have been “quarantined before the election date”, Wike on his part promised that the people of Edo State would “resist any attempt to rig the election”.
The fear of violence assumed a life of its own a few days ago when a video, where some suspected political thugs, led by one Tony Kabaka, visited the APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu and he, Kabaka, introduced them as the “lions and tigers” of Edo, went viral. The most worrisome part of the video was the response by Ize-Iyamu, who, urged the suspected thugs to monitor the election and move about on the election.
Here him:”Your influence goes beyond one polling unit. After doing your unit, you will move to another unit. In fact, you will move to other wards. Some of you that are so dangerous, you will move to other local governments. Make I tell you, this election will be operation show your result”.
While the governor had also threatened to deal decisively with any trouble maker, a Benin politician who spoke under the cover of anonymity, said that “there is nothing to worry about as there is a balance of terror between PDP and APC”.
“Forget it, the two parties, PDP and APC, have enough boys to handle the matter. APC has the likes of Kabaka, No Moless Osakpawan, Michael Nomoles, and the Osula children led by Oyenyen Osula. PDP equally has Mutari, Austin V-Boot, Ego Stone, Ese Utagban, Ebo Amagba, IB Toronto and Haruna. So tell me, who wan run for who? Nobody has monopoly of violence and nobody dey fear. If they draw fire, there are people who will draw rain, finish”, he declared.
Aside violence, another factor that will be of great influence in the election is the issue of funding. As attested to during the 2016,campaign, Oshiomhole admitted that Obaseki contributed greatly in mobilising funds for his election in 2007 and also in support of other developmental projects in the state. One will therefore believe that the governor still enjoys such goodwill to attract sponsors for his own political project. Again, the fact that all the six oil-producing states of the Niger Delta are now under the control of PDP gives a sigh of relief that the other states will mobilise funds in support of one of their own.
APC on its own can boast of an intimidating financial reservoir with the number of governors and other money bags in its circle. The fact that the National Leader of the party, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is in support of the APC candidate is enough for the party to relax because the National Leader is known to back up any political project he is interested in with huge amount of money. In terms of financing therefore, the two parties are in good stead to spend Naira for Naira.
As the situation stands now, it is premature for anybody to say, with magisterial finality, which side the pendulum will swing, come September 19, when Edo people will file out to elect a new governor. Given that the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, will play by the rules and allow a level playing field and that the security agencies will rein in the “tigers, the lions” and probably the unknown baboons that may surface as counterbalance, so that the people will be allowed to perform their civic duty without molestation and intimidation such, that the mantra of “one man, one vote” will be upheld, the winner of the poll is likely to be the true choice of Edo people.
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