Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The battle for the control of Edo State Government House, Osadebe Avenue is on. From all indications, it is going to be a straight fight between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), which controls the government at the centre.
Expectedly, the political temperature in the state is rising by the day as both parties square up against each other for the epic contest for the governorship seat of the state.
At the inception of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, the PDP easily became the ruling party in the state, after former Governor Lucky Igbinedion won the gubernatorial contest in 1999 and 2003 general elections. The cream of politicians in Edo were then in PDP which was in control at the centre.
However, the PDP became an opposition party in the state when it lost Edo in 2008 after the Court of Appeal, Benin Division nullified the election of Osarheimen Osunbor as governor. In his stead, the appellate court declared former president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Adams Oshiomhole as winner of the 2007 gubernatorial poll in the state.
From then, all efforts by the PDP to regain the gubernatorial seat has not been possible.
Despite the loss of the governorship position, the PDP has always given the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN) and the APC a tough fight in the presidential and National Assembly polls in the state.
However, the opposition party regained control of the Edo State Government House, Osadebe Avenue recently, following the defection of Governor Godwin Obaseki to the opposition party.
Obaseki, who had joined the opposition party after he was disqualified from participating in the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary, later clinched the PDP gubernatorial ticket after other aspirants withdrew from the contest.
The Edo governor, after emerging as the PDP candidate, expressed optimism that he would win the governorship contest for the party, as the people of the state had promised to support him in the election, irrespective of his political platform.
“We want to tell you that we are very grateful and to assure you that the Edo people told us that ‘wherever you go, we will go’. On further consultation, they told us that there was a party where most of us came from; go and explore the possibility of us going back there. So by the grace of God, we have no doubt that victory is going to be ours on September 19,” Obaseki told PDP leaders in Abuja, shortly after receiving his Certificate of Return as the party’s gubernatorial candidate.
The nomination of party candidates over, the PDP is squaring up against the APC in the battle for Osadebe Avenue. Instructively, the opposition party appointed the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike as chairman of its National Campaign Council for the Edo gubernatorial poll.
As chairman of the campaign council, Wike, a political war-horse is expected to lead the PDP battle to retain the Edo governorship seat. A party source said since his appointment as the chairman of the campaign council, the Rivers governor has been working round the clock mobilising support for the PDP candidate.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, who is leading the APC campaign council, in his reaction to Wike’s appointment as chairman of the PDP governorship campaign council had said they will quarantine the Rivers governor until the governorship poll is over.
Governor Wike said though the import of Ganduje’s statement is that the ruling party is allegedly plotting to use security agents to cage voters during the election but that the opposition will not be intimidated and urged the electorate not to be intimidated.
“Nobody can intimidate us in this election. But let us understand the statement made by Ganduje; don’t look at it ordinarily. What Ganduje said is that they have concluded with security agencies to make sure that the people of Edo State do not protect and defend their votes; that they will not allow them to come out and before you know it, they will announce the result. So. he just used me to say that they will isolate me, no am not at his level.
“Edo people, now they have told you that they will not allow you to vote and even if you vote, they will not allow you to protect and defend your votes. It is a direct challenge to all of you leaders here from Edo State, because we members of the campaign council, we cannot vote because we did not register to vote in Edo State.
“To the security agencies, any attempt to rig this election in Edo State then we will all know whether it is better for us to remain here or not; because Edo people have spoken and it is very clear. Let nobody make any attempt, Edo State has come back to the PDP,” Wike had stated.
Analysts say the PDP has three major factors going for it in the September 19 gubernatorial poll. These include the rancour-free primary that produced Obaseki as the governor of the state, Oshiomhole’s massive de-marketing of the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu during the 2016 governorship contest, and the quest for power shift to Edo central in 2024.
The argument haws always been that its inability to hold a general accepted governorship primary has been the bane of the PDP since it lost the governorship seat in 2008.
For instance in the 2012 governorship primary, the emergence of Charles Airhiabvere as PDP candidate, led to the defection of Professor Julius Ihonvbere and Osunbor and their supporters from the opposition party. Both men had challenged Airhiavbere for the party’s ticket.
Similarly, the emergence Osagie Ize-Iyamu as PDP gubernatorial flag bearer in 2016 also sparked off protest in the party, leading to the defection of Matthew Iduoriyekemen and Solomon Edibiri and their supporters from the opposition party.
Before Obaseki joined the PDP, the party predictably was going for the 2020 primaries as a divided house.
But the chairman of the PDP governorship primary election committee, Governor Bala Mohammed said the 2020 contest was going to be different as the leaders of the party are united in their resolve to win the governorship poll.
The trio of Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, Kenneth Imasuagbon and Gideon Ikhine, who had earlier obtained the opposition party’s nomination forms for gubernatorial primary, after withdrawing from the contest, had pledged to support Obaseki.
Mohammed, who is also the governor of Bauchi State, while presenting the report of the primary election to the party’s national chairman, Uche Secondus, had noted that from the outcome of the primary, and the resolution of all the differences in the Edo PDP, the party is poised to win the state.
According to him, “for the first time in Edo, we have a rancour-free election where there was no mistrust, no suspicion, no infighting. Everybody was in line and of course, even our elders were there; members of the Board of Trustees, elders of the party, the youth, the women, everybody applauded the election.”
He added: “we observed that at the end of the day, we are ready and Edo is ready for capture; to be won by this very important party, the PDP. I am very sure and confidently sure that Edo is going to fall in line within the realm of good governance of the PDP.”
Besides, analysts say the campaign of calumny mounted against Ize-Iyamu by Oshiomhole during the last governorship poll is minus for the APC candidate. Regardless, Oshiomhole, who is leading the campaign of the APC candidate in the state, has tried to downplay his campaign against Ize-Iyamu in 2016.
For Wike, who says there is no strong opposition to the PDP candidate, “Adams Oshiomole’s sudden u- turn is a great insult on Edo people. This is an opportunity for Edo people both at home and in the diaspora to use their votes to tell Oshiomhole they cannot take his lies anymore.”
The Rivers governor, while speaking at the flag-off of the PDP Edo governorship campaign, in Benin City, last week, said “Obaseki has done well, he disappointed the godfathers in Edo.“We will retain the state as PDP. Let’s replicate what we did in Rivers State by staying back and protect your votes. Nothing will happen to anybody.The election will be won by Obaseki’s achievements.
“God-fatherism will not rise again. For the fact that he resisted godfatherism, that alone showed that he has the interest of Edo people at heart.”
Pundits say the agitation for power shift to Edo central senatorial zone in 2024 is another factor that is likely to work in favour of Obaseki. The argument is that since the PDP candidate is contesting for a second term, his victory is more likely to pave the way for the governorship seat to shift to Edo central.
Edo central senatorial zone, which is currently a stronghold of the PDP in the state has only held the governor for 17 months since 1999. And that was during the short tenure of Osunbor as governor.
On the flipside, Edo South, where both the PDP and APC governorship candidate hail from has held the governorship seat for 12 years, while Edo North, where Oshiomhole hails from has occupied the Osadebe Avenue for eight years.
There is no doubt that the opposition party is not leaving any stone unturned in its quest to retain the governorship seat beyond the November 12 inauguration date, when the tenure of the current administration in the state will elapse.
All the various organs of the PDP say the party is poised to win the September 19 contest. However, the stakeholders say the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies should be fair to all the parties.