The politics of who is in charge of Edo State is not going to end so soon even with the decamping of Governor Godwin Obaseki to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after he was literally forced out of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by his political godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, the embattled Chairman of the ruling party. The frosty relationship between Obaseki and Oshiomhole has been on for sometime but it became so obvious with the hot exchange of words between the two friends over accusation of not taking care of political stakeholders in the state, an allusion to patronage or settlement politics which Nigerian politicians have reduced politics in the last 21 years.
Although patronage has been part of our political culture, it gained more ascendancy since the birth of this democratic dispensation in 1999. If there is anything to illustrate the fact that our politicians have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing in the last 21 years of our nascent democratic experiment, it is the screening exercise conducted by the APC in Edo State preparatory to the gubernatorial election taking place in September this year. In the conduct of that exercise, everything was done by the party’s leadership headed then by Oshiomhole to ensure that Governor Godwin Obaseki was edged out of the exercise.
Even the window of seeking for redress was even closed before the party said that aggrieved candidates can do so. Although Obaseki participated in the exercise, he knew quite well that he will never get justice from it based on body language of his godfather. Oshiomhole has not even hidden his moves to deny Obaseki the second chance ticket in APC over allegations of non-performance. While the issue of non-performance cannot be used to get the governor out of the way, his traducers flew the kite of discrepancies in his certificate. They quarreled with his certificates having Obaseki and Obasek.
His traducers have easily forgotten that he used the same certificates to contest for the post and became the governor. If Obaseki’s credentials were okay four years ago, how come they have become contaminated now? Many watchers of political development in Edo State believe strongly that the issue of qualification was used as a vehicle to throw Obaseki out of the party by the powers that be. Afterall, what is needed for anyone to be governor in Nigeria is school certificate. The same is also required for anyone to be president of Nigeria. Moreover, this is not the first time some politicians will have two variants of the same name in their certificates. There is no point bothering the readers with such funny examples which are in the public domain already. Reciting them here will amount to an overkill.
So, what is the drama over that of Obaseki’s qualification? What passed on in Edo as APC screening exercise with regard to Obaseki is a charade. It is an abuse of the screening process. It has done a lot of damage to APC as a party that came on the change mantra. The exercise underscores the need to have internal democracy in our political parties. A system where one man determines what happens in a party and the rest look the other way is not good for our democracy. Having political godfathers shows that the system is sick and needs deliverance. What we need now is strong political institutions and not strong men in our politics.
What happened in Edo APC can be seen as an imposition by substitution. The party treated Obaseki as an outsider and that is why he joined the PDP which regards his coming as a big catch. Whether it is a big catch or not, only time will tell. The defection of Obaseki from the APC to the PDP was not unexpected considering his meetings with governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. Even before then, his body language is suggestive of a possible defection to the opposition party.
Good enough, defection or carpet crossing is allowed in our laws. What it takes for any politician to decamp from his party to another is to show evidence that there is crisis in his former party. The ruling APC cannot be said not to be in one crisis or another right now. Carpet crossing is part of our political culture. The APC became a party because of some political parties coming together to form it. It is a product of carpet crossing. In its formative stage, it was regarded as a marriage of political strange bedfellows that will soon fizzle out. But it survived the pundits’ prophecy and went ahead to become the first opposition party to win a general election and defeat an incumbent president.
Five years down the line, the APC has proved that it lacks the capacity to manage its success. It has proved that it cannot manage its own affairs as the ruling party in Africa’s largest democracy. Five years with APC in power, are Nigerians better than before? The answer cannot be in affirmative. Things are getting worse and worse every day. With each passing day, the party’s brooms are scattering and many people, including political bigwigs are dumping the party. After the exit of Obaseki and his deputy, the deputy governor of Ondo State has dumped the party and went to the PDP.
There are doubts that the party will remain the same before 2023. There are signs that the party will witness explosion before 2023. If there is one gain from our 21 years of unbroken democracy, it is the gift of two major political parties, the PDP and APC. The two parties have a lot of baggage. They need reforms. If PDP fails, Nigerians will vote for APC and if APC fails, Nigerians will vote for the PDP. We are indeed fast aligning with the US party system where there two dominant political parties that share power from time to time.
Now that Osagie Ize-Iyamu, former PDP gubernatorial candidate has won the APC primary, the battle for who governs Edo State will still be between him and Obaseki, who is likely to clinch the PDP ticket. So, the battleground is still the same. The only difference is that the chief contestants have swapped political parties and perhaps godfathers. The duo will share their supporters. The battle for Edo Government House between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu will be very tough. Obakei and his party will with fight to retain the seat for another four years, which will appeal to many in the state in view of power rotation among the three senatorial zones.
Ize-Iyamu and his party will fight hard to defeat an incumbent, which is not always easy in this part of the world. So many factors will naturally come into play in the Edo election after the party primaries. There will be alignment and realignments. There will be more carpet crossings. Money will play a major role in the election. The electoral umpire must ensure that everything goes well in the Edo exercise by ensuring a free and fair poll come September. Considering that the stakes are very high, the Federal Government must ensure that the Edo State election is peaceful. And the only way to ensure that it is peaceful is by making it transparent, free and fair.
If we want the nascent democracy to endure, we must do away with godfatherism in our politics, we must ensure internal democracy in the parties, we must do away with the notion that a party is owned by one man or some big people, who sit one place and dictate what happens in the party. We can look up to the United States and emulate how political party works. We can still learn a lot from them and other countries, including some countries in Africa on how to make our democracy work and endure.