Fourteen political parties are fielding candidates in this week’s governorship election in Edo State. Of the 14, only two have a magnificent measure of muster, PDP and APC. The remaining 12 parties belong to the class of “they also ran.” They are not campaigning vigorously on the ground but are simply doling out some miserable messages on social media in the hope that the two giants will call them to come and eat. So, the election is strictly a straight fight between the two parties. This election is, regrettably, not necessarily and exclusively a battle for the development of Edo State but largely also the battle for the supremacy or otherwise of godfatherism. Yes, the two major combatants, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, incumbent governor, and Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu, challenger, are the candidates but their antecedents are worth retelling so as to put this analysis in proper perspective.
In 2016, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, who was about completing his second term as the governor of the state, found a man called Godwin Obaseki a fit and proper person to take over the shop. He took him on a road show throughout Edo State marketing his educational, professional and character credentials. Both of them were together in the APC. The PDP candidate in that election was Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who was deviously demarketed by Oshiomhole. Ize-Iyamu lost the election while Obaseki won. Many people came to the conclusion that, apart from anything else, it was Oshiomhole’s support for Obaseki and opposition to Ize-Iyamu that was the decider in the election. In other words, he used his incumbency to help the candidate of his choice clinch the trophy. I remember that several politicians said that Obaseki was Oshiomhole’s lapdog and Oshiomhole was the lapdog’s godfather. Both seemed to play their roles of godfather and godson so well that when things went awry and both friends became fierce foes many people were shocked.
The full facts of the origin of their quarrel are not known but it seems that the control of the levers of power, especially the Edo State House of Assembly, was an issue in contention. The House of Assembly deals with state budgets and major political appointments. It also has the guillotine power of impeachment. If the governor controls it, he is safe. If someone else controls it, he is unsafe because that sword of Damocles can descend on him any day. That seemed to have been the adjectival problem. Old friends then graduated into new enemies. Perhaps, Obaseki would have won Oshiomhole over if he averted his mind to a Russian saying that admonishes combatants thus: “Let your enemy in so you can keep him out.”
He didn’t let Oshiomhole in and Oshiomhole, a trenchant fighter, saw his godson as a meek lapdog. He did not know that the lapdog had grown into a Rottweiller, rough and ready to devour. Both men took turns to harass each other in multiple courts in multiple geographical zones and in the media. The long and short of it is that both men went their separate ways. Obaseki wanted a second term under his party, APC. Oshiomhole didn’t want that. As national party chairman, he ensured that Obaseki did not get the nomination of the party. He was disqualified even though the documents he submitted were the same as those ones that gave him the ticket in 2016. And then the stone that Bricklayer Oshiomhole rejected in 2016 became the new beautiful bride of the APC house. Obaseki then headed to the PDP and got its ticket. The 2016 APC flagbearer is now the PDP flagbearer, while the 2016 PDP man is now the new APC flagbearer.
Nigeria’s democracy at work! The godfather now has a new godson and all the abuses heaped on him are buried in the grave of insane politics. So, Oshiomhole is now singing a new song, telling Edo voters to forgive him for choosing Obaseki and chiding Ize-Iyamu in 2016. So, Oshiomhole is out to prove that he is the master of Edo politics, and whoever he wants will wear the crown. That is the scenario as the voters file out with their face masks and voters’ cards to do their duty to themselves on Saturday. Despite the difficulties that COVID-19 has imposed on people, Edo voters have a duty to go out and vote for the candidate of their choice. Bad officials are elected by good citizens who don’t bother to go out and vote. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it is ready to do its job. It has recruited and comprehensively insured 20,974 ad hoc staff for the elections against deaths, accidents and other election hazards.
The Inspector-General of Police is deploying a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, an Assistant Inspector-General and eight vommissioners for security duties in Edo. These troops are under the leadership of the DIG in charge of Research and Planning, Mr. Adeleye Olusola Oyebade. According to the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, the IGP has barred security aides attached to VIPs and political appointees from accompanying their principals on the election day. Anyone who flouts that order will be severely reprimanded. He has also asked his men to work in accordance with standard best practices and the approved code of conduct and rules of engagement for elections.
The National Peace Committee, headed by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, will today ask the governorship candidates to sign a peace agreement that they and their supporters will be of good behaviour before and during the elections. This peace covenant is also reinforced by the Edo Council of Traditional Rulers, headed by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II. The council has asked the chiefs to use prayers and traditional means to ensure the outbreak of peace before, during and after the elections.
This is in addition to the session that the respected Oba had with the candidates some days ago. On paper, everything has been done by all concerned to ensure free, fair, credible and violence-free elections. Still, there is tension in the state as the politicians are levelling accusations of arms-stockpiling and hiring of thugs against each other. Thugs and arms are said to be imported from other states into Edo. The high-tension sabre-rattling by the politicians gives people a lot of concern, especially as violence had erupted in the last few weeks at some of the campaign venues. Guns do not kill people, it is people that kill people. And those people who kill are hired by desperate politicians who want to acquire power at all cost. There are 2.2 million registered voters in the 18 local government areas of the state. However, it is actually 1.72 million voters that have collected their permanent voter cards.
Those who are not qualified to vote and are not playing any official role in the election should keep away from the voting centres. Security men and women who are on election duty must do their duties faithfully and with the fear of God. A lot of election crises in Nigeria have been caused by three sets of people (a) desperate politicians (b) corrupt security operatives and (c) corrupt INEC officials. Without the conspiratorial depravity of these three groups, Nigeria would have free, fair and credible elections. If the election in Edo falls short of these qualities, the country should hold the three sets of people responsible. The Edo voters themselves must realise that those who rig elections have only one intention: to make sure their votes do not count even if they are counted. That means that a few people with blood money on their hands are bending the will of the electorate and reducing the attempt by them to elect people of their choice to nothing.
In that case, their effort at the ballot box was a wasted effort, a nullity, the pursuit of nothingness. Only Edo people will let that happen to them. There has emerged a lot of wisdom over the years based on experience for those who vote to police their votes so that they are not stolen by election brigands. Election banditry exists where the people lack courage. In that case, they leave their fate in the hands of election tribunals and other courts where there could be, sometimes, jurisprudential wuruwuru. My advice to INEC officials is this: do your jobs with the fear of God and remember that the way you do it can contribute to the making or marring of Nigeria. As for the security operatives, I say do not use the guns that Nigerians bought for you with their hard-earned money to oppress them and to rig elections for wayward politicians. You belong to a noble profession that calls for your life to be sacrificed for the good of your country. The reason many security operatives have not been able to earn public respect is because they have reduced, by their performance, their noble profession to one that can be auctioned for a mess of pottage. Please, don’t get involved in trying to change the will of the Edo people with your bullet. Respect the uniform you wear. Wear that uniform with pride and do your job as the rules of engagement direct you. Protect the Edo people, the voters, the officials and don’t involve yourself in fiddling with the election results or in preventing people from going out to vote. We have seen those gimmicks in past elections performed with horrible regularity. Let the voters be the ones to decide what to vote for, whether for Obaseki’s performance or Ize-Iyamu’s promise or Oshiomhole’s godfatherism. The choice is for the Edo people to make and when they make it they will be the ones to live with it. No one else.