History is repeating itself in Edo State politics. In the coming governorship election, two personalities and two political parties are, once again, top contenders in a race that has become controversial. The candidates have changed political parties in most dramatic ways. The variables have equally changed. However, one man is still at the centre of it all. Like in 2016, this man, Adams Oshiomhole, is once again staking his all. It is a battle that would either demystify him or make him the greatest political hero of Edo State.
In 2016, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Governor Godwin Obaseki ran the race of their lives to take over Government House, Benin City. At that time, Ize-Iyamu, running more on his name and reputation than the power of a godfather, was the standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obaseki, on the other hand, was a shadow of then incumbent governor, Oshiomhole, and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It was, indeed, a tight race. In the end, Obaseki won with 319,483 votes to Ize-Iyamu’s 253,173 votes.
In the coming Edo State election, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu have swapped positions. Ize-Iyamu is now the candidate of the APC and going to work with Oshiomhole, who, though the national chairman of the APC, is on suspension. Obaseki is the standard-bearer of the PDP and no longer in the shadow of Oshiomhole. The candidature of the duo was a product of political anointing, which has seen them reaping where they did not sow. Ize-Iyamu, an erstwhile arrowhead of the PDP, had defected to the APC a few months ago, in a move that was not happenstance. It was, therefore, not a surprise that he emerged the governorship candidate of the party after Obaseki failed the scrutiny of the APC screening committee and was consequently disqualified from the race. Obaseki had promptly defected to the PDP and clinched the governorship ticket, as expected.
It is not surprising that the two governorship candidates in Edo have swapped political parties. That is the fashion in Nigeria. A politician can go to sleep as a member of a political party and wake up in the morning as a member of another political party. It is normal. Only names and logos separate political parties here. Membership of political parties is not influenced by conviction or ideology. It is just a vehicle to elective office. With weak legislation and absence of political will by Nigerians to test the law, politicians change parties and get away with it.
Truly, what is happening in Edo State is not new. Oshiomhole, a big political player, is in a voyage of relevance. He is, consciously or unconsciously, trying to prove that politics of the state could revolve round him. We saw this in the last governorship election in the state. In 2016, Obaseki was a political nobody. A technocrat in government, he was averse to politics and, therefore, not in reckoning in the battle for Oshiomhole’s successor. Through the instrumentality of political anointing, he emerged on the scene and won the APC ticket. He went ahead to win the governorship election. The victory was the outcome of political engineering by Oshiomhole, the governor then. At present, Obaseki has fallen out of favour with Oshiomhole. Ize-Iyamu, a newcomer in the APC, has become the favourite. It is two different eras, but the same ending.
With this setting, there is no point weeping for Obaseki. He is now having a taste of the bitter political medicine brewed to his benefit in 2016. Also, rejoice not for Ize-Iyamu. He is the pawn in Oshiomhole’s political chess game. Despised and roundly criticised by Oshiomhole in years past, Ize-Iyamu has become the “koboko” used to whip Obaseki. For him, it could be a win-win situation. If he emerges victorious in the September governorship election, it means those who voted for him in 2016 were right that he should have been the governor. It also means that Oshiomhole, who wants to use him now to prove his political mettle, was wrong in supporting Obaseki then. If Obaseki wins, he would have taken the shine off Oshiomhole and ended godfatherism, once again, in the state. He would pass for a political son who became a giant killer.
After the 2016 Edo governorship election, in a September 30, 2016, article entitled “Edo, Oshiomhole and Waning Popularity,” I had said this of Obaseki: “He needs to learn from Oshiomhole’s mistakes. The manner of his emergence may not make him too popular now, but his conduct in office will redefine him. And the redefinition of himself positively is a task he must tackle with all seriousness.” Did Obaseki redefine himself? Perhaps! He has shaken off Oshiomhole, who played the role of a godfather and earned a bad name to make him governor. It is left for him to prove that he has cut his political teeth and can stand on his own in the governorship election.
With the decision of the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) to dissolve the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party and set up a caretaker committee, which will run the affairs of the party for six months and thereafter organise a national convention, Oshiomhole has lost out big time. What started as local and isolated squabble in Edo State transmogrified into a national conflagration that has consumed the national chairman. In chasing a small thing, Oshiomhole lost the big one. Those who wanted the former Edo State governor out as national chairman saw a window in his state’s political crisis, which they have used to their benefit. Now out as APC chairman, Oshiomhole is left bare in a battle for political relevance, in his home state.
Edo people should know that, in a fight among politicians, it is the people who usually lose out. Fights among politicians are not usually for the people, but for personal gains of those involved. Those who stick out their necks in such fights end up bruised. Politicians make friends today and fight tomorrow. Thereafter, they reconcile. When they do, those who make enemies for their sakes would not be there. Politicians are only interested in their interests. Ordinary people should, therefore, leave Oshiomhole and Obaseki to settle their scores. The voters should have only one goal in mind: By personal conviction, choose between the two top candidates in the governorship election the person who would serve their collective interest better. It should not be about political parties, as there is no difference between APC and PDP. It should be about personality and the ability to deliver the goods.