Tomorrow, the first of two governorship elections, which should shape prospects for 2023, takes place in Edo State, amid fears, not just of bloodletting but the magnitude. Such uncertainty is rare in the state, obviously, because of many factors at stake. A ruling party unwilling to be voted out? Is there really a ruling party in Edo State?
There used to be APC in total control but has since impliedly, even if partially, transmuted to PDP in the run-up to the nomination of candidates for the election, all caused by the decamping of incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki to PDP, while his PDP opponent in the 2016 electoral combat also earlier crossed to APC to clinch the ticket. These could happen only in Nigerian politics.
Such is the ferocity of the rivalry and campaigns for the election that both sides made accusations of plans for violence and rigging of the election. In effect, both parties must be guilty of the allegations or each is innocent. If, on the other hand, violence is to feature in the election, surely, there must be supporters of either party alive today who, potentially, will or may be counted among the (lucky to be merely) injured tomorrow. In which case, all Edo election enthusiasts must ask themselves, “Why should I be counted among the dead tomorrow?” For whom does any voter or even a thug want to lose his life? A victorious or defeated candidate? While the deceased is buried, a governor with his family will enjoy office and the defeated candidate will be wooed with contracts. Whoever wants to die tomorrow can, therefore, proceed.
Somehow, tomorrow’s election has left the nation gripped in apprehension on the spectre of violence during and, inevitably, after the election, counting kidnap, if not murder of presiding officers. This perhaps might explain the deployment of over 30,000 police personnel as a pre-emptive measure against violence during the Edo governorship election. What would happen in 2023 when more than 20 states would hold elections on one day? What is the population of Edo State compared to Lagos State? How many police personnel will be deployed for elections in Lagos State? Furthermore, what sort of logical security measure to alert criminals in advance of plans to neutralise them? The culprits could, therefore, only re-strategise by reinforcing themselves.
Undoubtedly, consciously or unconsciously, former APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, has fitted into the role of godfather of Edo politics. Throughout the campaigns, which ended yesterday, it was uneasy to discern who was APC candidate between Oshiomhole and Pastor Ize-Iyamu. There might be nothing strange in that, since it was the same pattern four years ago when the same Oshiomhole did the job for defending Governor Obaseki.
Depending on what happens, APC’s fortune or misfortune tomorrow will either strenghthen or further weaken towards 2023, especially in the light of various reverses on many fronts. Never mind bold faces, morale is so low about politics and politicians as well as ordinary citizens.
Governor Obaseki is one of those fighting for his political life. Failing to be nomined by APC for a second term, he decamped to PDP, where his entry was not entirely smooth. But he managed to placate the grumblers only to see his support base, the cabinet, being depleted. Nigerians? At the last count, at least three commissioners serving under him had quit, not only to embarrass him but also in the hope of getting Obaseki defeated. How far can they succeed? That is the battle for Godwin Obaseki tomorrow. Also in for scrutiny is how far (his) parting of ways with Oshiomhole will affect the latter.
Pastor Ize-Iyamu. That is the unusually big fish in tomorrow’s election. For him, it is like a return contest against Obaseki, who defeated him in 2016. On the pages of newspapers and television screens as well radio sets, the man with the not so rhythmic acronym of POI (Pastor Osagie Iyamu) seems to be sole beneficiary of all Obaseki has lost in omnibus popularity in the last four years. Some 14 out of the state’s 24 assembly members, about three commissioners and considerable voters in Edo, including former APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Like Obaseki, only victory for POI in tomorrow’s election can restore his prestige in politics of Edo State.
Crowds attending campaigns of the two candidates have created more anxiety and uncertainty on the outcome of the contest. Whichever way victory goes will be some kind of political earthquake.
Oshiomhole, the irrepressible Comrade, whose pint size belies his capacity for political and perhaps electoral rumbles. He came from government mansion, and seeming to be confronted with prospects of future political joblessness only to become a willing tool for the showdown leading to the exit of the pioneer national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. As he was winning the 2016 general election for his APC, Oshiomhole must have been losing grip on Governor Obaseki and, perhaps, Edo State. Tomorrow’s election will clear that mystery.
Meanwhile, after the 2019 general election victory, Oshiomhole also fell victim of the very system that produced him as APC’s national chairman. But the benefit for him was that, finding himself suddenly thrown into party leadership unemployment, Oshiomhole seized the opportunity to take the challenge thrown at him as an erstwhile political godfather of Governor Obaseki. It was bad enough that, in the process, Oshiomhole had to discredit his golden political product of 2016. Even more humiliating, even if courageous, was that, for a replacement, Oshiomhole had to go back to his vomit of 2016, Osagie Ize-Iyamu. How distasteful or honourable is that substance is the sole prerogative of voters tomorrow. Bounceback for Oshiomhole?
John Odigie-Oyegun? Ordinarily, Baba of APC in Edo politics. Ironically, more of a technocrat or even clergyman in politics, rather than a professional politician. Whatever the circumstance, the fact of Nigerian political history was that Oyegun led APC to unprecedented electoral feat of defeating a ruling party in the 2015 general election, which brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power. It was therefore a shock that Oyegun was eased out as national chairman before the 2019 election. Since then, tomorrow is the first opportunity for Oyegun to assert his supremacy at his local Edo base. Quite a fitting contest as Oyegun backs Obaseki opposed by Oshiomhole. The showdown between the two former national chairmen of APC is another test of tomorrow’s election.
Imagine these: While Oshiomhole is backing his APC, the fact remains that, until three months ago, the party’s candidate, Ize-Iyamu, was a potential candidate of PDP. On the other hand, John Oyegun is backing a PDP candidate, yet a governor elected on the platform of APC. Their promises are surely unlimited. Shock, surprise earthquake, etc. Clearly, not one of them, APC, PDP, Ize-Iyamu, Obaseki, Oyegun or Oshiomhole will go empty-handed.