By Omoniyi Salaudeen and Tony Osauzo, Benin
All is now set for the epic battle for the soul of Edo State between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). However, there are 14 political parties with candidates on the list of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who have signified their intention to participate in the September 19 governorship election. But out of the lot, only two frontline contenders- APC’s Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Godwin Obaseki of the PDP – are there to watch as campaign activities kick-off in earnest.
According to the guidelines provided by the electoral umpire, campaigns start 90 days to the election date. This implies that with barely less than two and a half months to the D-day, the coast is now clear for the concerned parties to hit the ground running.
This past week, both the APC and PDP took the lead by unveiling the teams that would lead the trains. While the APC Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee (CEONCPC) appointed Governor Abduallahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State as the leader of its campaign committee, the PDP on the other hand, announced his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike as the Chairman of a 93-member campaign council.
With this development, Edo State is about to witness the most electrifying campaign carnival in the recent times. And the stakes are obviously high. One, the election is coming amidst the ravaging effect of COVID-19 pandemic and the challenge of meeting safety guidelines provided for by the concerned health authorities. Secondly, the apparent disequilibrium in the power equations arising from the recent defection of Governor Obaseki to the PDP makes it difficult for either of the two parties to beat its chest for victory. Much as the APC will like to retain itself in power being the only state in its control in the whole of South-south, the PDP as an opposition will obviously not take it lying low.
Interestingly, the two candidates had tested their popularity in the last governorship election and they both know where their strengths lie. While the incumbent governor is poised to woo electorate with a long list of achievements already recorded by his administration in the last four years, supporters of Ize-Iyamu are always quick to refer to their candidate as a grassroots mobilizer.
Obaseki, who was then the candidate of the APC in the September 28, 2016 governorship election, had polled a total of 319,483 votes to defeat Ize-Iyamu who scored a total of 253,173 votes. Now, with a reversal of role and the marginal difference of 66,310, there is confidence among the supporters of APC that the party would coast home to victory, notwithstanding the defection of Obaseki.
A chieftain of the APC in the state, Prince Tony Momoh, while lamenting the polarization of the party, expressed cautious optimism that Ize-Iyamu as a grassroots politician would win the election.
He told Sunday Sun: “We have a big problem of factionalization of the party. On one side, we have Obaseki/Shuaibu, and on the other side, we have Edo Peoples Movement which has Oshiomhole as its cover. That is a big challenge. With the NEC meeting that resolved the problem, and the 49-member campaign council in place, APC is ready to go into the campaign. But it is going to be a battle royale between APC and PDP. But I can assure you that APC’s Ize-Iyamu is a grassroots person. Everybody knows that. In 2016, APC beat him as PDP candidate with only about 50,000 votes. Now, with him coming into APC with all his supporters, I don’t expect us to lose.”
Also, Chief Frank Kokori, another notable leader of the party in the South-south, speaking in the same vein, contented that the election would be a tough one, but maintained that Ize-Iyamu would win.
His words: “As a party chieftain, obviously I will normally support my party to win. Edo is the only state we have in the South-south. Since we lost Bayelsa State through technicality, obviously, I want my party to win. But it is going to be a close fight. Before the recent developments, it was like a walkover. Edo was virtually 90 per cent APC. Now that Obaseki has moved to the PDP, it is going to be a fight to finish. It’s going to be tough; it is not going to be a walkover.”
The Spokesperson of the APC in Lagos State, Seye Oladejo, also enthused, saying: “we have no doubt in our minds that we are going to win the election.
“There is nothing to fear as far as this election is concerned. By the composition of the campaign committee, we have brought some of our best hands in terms of experience and wherewithal. We have no doubt that we are coasting home to victory. It will be decided by the people of Edo State, but I am sure they will do the right thing. You will also agree with me that Ize-Iyamu who has come to join our party didn’t come empty handed.
“The issue of incumbency will not count much unlike the experience of past elections. Whatever advantage incumbency accords Obaseki has been nullified by the multitude that came with Ize-Iyamu who is an old war horse. It is a balancing act and at the end of the day, everything will go in favour of APC.”
With the strength of character, as well as popularity of the two candidates, only an issue-based campaign can guide eligible voters in Edo State in their choice of candidate who will run the affairs of the state for another four years.
Though the two leading parties have made a promise to this effect, signs are there that the exercise may not be completely devoid of acrimony, character assassination and mudslinging. This is particularly bearing in mind some of the issues recently trending in the social media.
One of these is a video clip where some supporters of a particular governorship candidate were seen purportedly showing the Oba of Benin pouring invectives on President Muhammadu Buhari, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Capt. Hosa Okunbo, a business mogul and illustrious son of Benin.
But the Oba of Benin, Ewaure II, in a quick reaction, disowned the video. Secretary to the Benin Traditional Council (BTC), Mr. Frank Irabor, in a press statement, described the video as “Fake News” saying that it has no authority of the Oba.
The statement also condemned the aspersion cast on the persons of Comrade Oshiomhole and Capt. Okunbo by the same video.
The statement reads in part: “For the purpose of clarification, and to set the record straight, His Royal Majesty wish to make it categorically and irrevocably clear that the said video and the contents therein was not commissioned nor was it encouraged by the Oba.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the malicious attacks on the integrity of the President and all other persons whom the video seek to malign.”
As the stage is set for the grand shaking electioneering, there is palpable apprehension about the threat of violence as well as possible disregard of the guidelines provided by the National Disease Control Centre (NCDC) during the campaign.
The Director-General of the agency, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, had advised the stakeholders to consider the use of TV, radio, mobile vans, social media, and other forms of communication as a way of soliciting votes.
“We strongly encourage the use of TV, radio, mobile vans, social media, and other forms of communication as politician solicits votes. We advise careful adherence to mass gathering guidelines. Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t really recognise whether we’re conducting elections, whether it is religious gatherings, whether we are in business settings, it just thrives when people come together,” he said.
But from all indications, there is hardly a way large gathering of supporters can be avoided in an election that is important as this. On his part, Kokori, reacting to the NCDC rules, dismissed the possibility of adherence of people to the rule of social distancing except during the conduct of the election.
He said: “You saw the crowd when Obaseki was moving to PDP. The same thing happened when Ize-Iyamu was moving. They did not even observe social distancing. So, what do you do? We cannot because of COVID-19 suspend election. American elections are going on. I believe there will be better observance of the rule of social distancing, use of face masks during election than the campaigns.”
Meanwhile, both the APC and PDP have assured the anxious electorate that their campaigns would be issue-based and devoid of violence.
Edo State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chris Nehikhare, speaking with Sunday Sun said: “In Edo, we in PDP are looking forward to a very robust campaign of issues and not of personalities.
“We want to have a campaign whereby we can exhibit and show off the good things of the government, the good qualities of the governor and also be able to create a picture while we look into the future that PDP means well not just for the Edo people, but for everybody that lives in Edo and for Nigerians in general.
“And as a political party, we really need our people for issues because we have so many things to show off with, so many projects, so many things that have been done by the government that we will not have time to attack personalities or other people.”
Also Mr John Mayaki, director of communication and media, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu Campaign Organization, spoke in the same vein, saying that the party would focus on issues rather than personalities.
His words: “From the beginning of the race, our party, the All Progressives Congress, has distinguished itself with a rancor-free, issue-based campaign that is focused on the people and how we intend to bring about needed development and progress in Edo State.
“This was demonstrated in our internal primaries contest that was marked by mutual respect and complete absence of mudslinging. The same cannot be said for the other party where two of their aspirants, days before their primaries, roundly condemned Obaseki as a failure and one of the leaders, Governor Nyesom Wike, castigated members of the PDP NWC as ‘tax collectors’ as a counter-move to alleged attacks on his persons by his own party leadership.
“Such is the lack of unity and principles that exist in the PDP. It is just an assemblage of persons seeking power. And as such, they have already polluted the space with unguarded statements, baseless accusations, and smear campaigns targeted at our candidate and other members of our party. But we refuse to join them in that rabbit hole. Our candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and all members of our party across all levels will execute a campaign based on our agenda, our manifesto and policy plans, and practical steps on how we intend to return the state back on the path of growth if elected on the 19th of September.”
The weeks ahead will show to what extent the Edo people can take these state actors by their words.