The September 19 governorship election in Edo State in the volatile, crude oil and gas-rich Niger Delta region is already creating tension, write Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, Assistant Editor, ‘Dare Odufowokan, and South-south Bureau Chief, Bisi Olaniyi
THE die is cast. On Saturday, September 19, 2020, just six days from today, the electorates will finally file out to elect the new governor of Edo State. As has been predicted since the emergence of the governorship aspirants of the leading political parties, informed observers said the facts on the ground suggest the election will remain a two horse race between Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As the Election Day draws closer, our investigation shows that for the APC, which is determined to reclaim the state it had governed since Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure as the state governor, some of the major issues that will work in its favour include what some describe as Oshiomhole’s factor in the politics of the state; the grassroots appeal of the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and APC’s supporters’ continuous criticism of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s government.
For Obaseki and his new platform, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the major advantage would be the power of incumbency as the sitting governor and his scorecard as the governor in the last four years.
Augustine Iyare, a commentator, told The Nation during the week that “the election may still be tricky to predict now. It is not known how far the politicians in the state would want to play on the opposition flank, but the recent anti-party declarations against the governor, could be a pointer to latent voter preferences down the line,” he said.
He explained that most insiders seem to agree that one of the things that would make the Edo governorship election unique is that it will be a re-match between the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Governor Godwin Obaseki, and the standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The Nation recalls that in 2016, Obaseki was the governorship candidate of the APC, fully backed by the then governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who later became the National Chairman of the governing party.
Ize-Iyamu, a senior pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), who is a former Secretary to the Edo State Government (SSG) and ex-Chief of Staff, Government House, Benin, in 2016, was the standard bearer of the PDP, who was thoroughly castigated by Oshiomhole, who recently stated that he did what he did to ensure that Ize-Iyamu, a strategist, thinker, grassroots politician and a more experienced candidate did not defeat his party’s standard bearer (Obaseki).
The election eventually held, with Obaseki emerging victorious, despite the challenge from Ize-Iyamu.
Shortly after the 2016 inauguration of Obaseki, the governor and his benefactor (Oshiomhole) fell out. So much has happened since then.
A stalwart of APC, Tony Kabaka, whose magnificent hotel in Benin was recently demolished by Obaseki, in an interactive session with reporters in the Edo state capital, said the governorship candidate of APC would emerge victorious on September 19, considering his SIMPLE agenda manifesto and promise to ensure good governance in Edo from November12 this year.
The APC stalwart (Kabaka) also stated that Obaseki’s Make Edo Great Again (MEGA) manifesto would not be able to match Ize-Iyamu’s SIMPLE agenda.
Former governor Adams Oshiomhole, an indigene of Iyamho in Etsako West Local Government Area in Edo North Senatorial District, is still highly loved and very influential throughout the state and beyond.
We gathered that many Edo residents are still very angry with Obaseki for allegedly spearheading the removal of Oshiomhole as APC’s national chairman and will be ready to vote against him and his deputy/running mate, Philip Shaibu, who is also from Oshiomhole’s Edo North Senatorial District.
Shaibu, a former member of the House of Representatives and ex-member of Edo House of Assembly, once belonged to Oshiomhole’s political family, thereby not making too much impact in the senatorial district, in view of the great influence of the former national chairman of APC and the running mate to Ize-Iyamu, Mallam Gani Audu, who also hails from Edo North Senatorial District.
Oshiomhole, who is always accompanying Ize-Iyamu on electioneering, does not forget to say that he will now correct his 2016 mistake of supporting Obaseki, while pleading with Edo the electorates to massively vote for the APC’s governorship candidate.
Fourteen political parties are participating in the September 19 governorship election in Edo, but it will be a battle between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu.
While commenting on Obaseki’s betrayal of Oshiomhole, a chieftain of APC in Edo, Prince Blessing Edigin, said no doubt about the fact that Oshiomhole is a benefactor to Obaseki, especially how he assisted him to become the governor of Edo state in 2016.
He said: “We are humans and we are bound to make mistakes. Only God is perfect. Why will Obaseki capitalise on some mistakes of Oshiomhole to rubbish him, thereby plotting against him? Obaseki was behind the recent removal of Oshiomhole as the national chairman of APC.
“All the campaigns Oshiomhole did for him in 2016 to become governor on APC’s platform, he turned them against him (Oshiomhole) in 2020 as evil campaigns during his electioneering on the platform of PDP.
“In 2016, Oshiomhole, as Edo state governor, offended many people, because of his insistence that Obaseki must emerge as the governorship candidate of APC and he also campaigned for him throughout the 18 LGAs of the state, while supporting him to become governor.
“If Obaseki has respect for the Oba of Benin, the crisis involving him and Oshiomhole would not have deteriorated to this point. The Oba of Benin tried his best to resolve the face-off between Oshiomhole and Obaseki.
“I was shocked when Obaseki alleged that APC leaders wanted him to share Edo state’s funds with them, but the same Obaseki, in his desperation to get PDP’s governorship ticket and for Shaibu to be retained as his running mate in 2020, was generous to leaders of PDP, which made the PDP Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, to describe most leaders of PDP as tax collectors.
“Just imagine Obaseki also declaring war against Capt. Okunbo, who wants good governance and better life for residents of Edo State, as well as unity in Benin Kingdom and for smiles to be put on the faces of Edo people, with the jobless people of the state to be employed and empowered. Capt. Okunbo will never ask Obaseki for money or contract, but everybody has seen what Obaseki has used to repay his kindness, goodness and support.
“Obaseki shot himself in the foot by fighting the hero of Benin Kingdom (Okunbo). Why will Obaseki declare war against almost all the eminent persons that assisted him in 2016 to become Edo governor? Obaseki will surely be punished by the voters on September 19.”
Edo governor and Ize-Iyamu are Benin indigenes of Edo South Senatorial District. So, the votes would likely be split here. The influence of Oba of Benin and Okunbo, a Benin indigene, will also be greatly felt in Edo South Senatorial District, as most voters will vote for Ize-Iyamu, because of them.
The late Chief Tony Anenih, a former chieftain of PDP, who hailed from Edo Central Senatorial District, was still being honoured and respected in the district, presumed to be a stronghold of PDP, but APC and Ize-Iyamu are greatly making inroads there.
Ize-Iyamu is always describing Obaseki as Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) governor, who regularly signed MoU, without any tangible project on the ground, but Edo governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, however, insisted that Obaseki’s administration had embarked on many people-oriented projects and empowered many Edo residents in just four years, while urging the electorate to re-elect Obaseki, in order to consolidate on his numerous achievements in his second term.
Obaseki will also rely on power of incumbency, but Ize-Iyamu’s popularity and wide acceptability is poised to neutralise the incumbency factor.
It has been back and forth between PDP and APC leaders over allegations of thuggery and violence, but Oba of Benin asked PDP’s running mate (Shaibu) to call his “boys” to order and give peace a chance in Edo.
Edo governor claimed that one of the reasons his benefactor/predecessor (Oshiomhole) was fighting him and is against his re-election was his (Obaseki’s) reversal of the sale of Edaiken Market at Uselu, Benin, which he alleged that Oshiomhole sold to his friends.
Obaseki made the claim while addressing PDP’s faithful in Wards 8 and 10, Egor Local Government Area of Edo.
He stated that the battle over who would win the September 19 governorship election in Edo State would be between him (Obaseki) and Oshiomhole, and not the standard bearer of the APC (Ize-Iyamu).
Obaseki assured that Edo people with their votes for the PDP would render the ex-national chairman of the APC irrelevant, politically bury him and end godfatherism in the state on September 19 this year.
He alleged that the ex-governor of Edo (Oshiomhole) sold Edaiken market to his friends, who charged exorbitant rates that were beyond the reach of traders who needed the lock-up shops.
Edo governor said: “I reversed the sale of Edaiken Market and brought the rates down to the level that our people could afford. That pitted me against the godfather (Oshiomhole). He (Oshiomhole) said that I could not be a governor. Is he God? Are we fools?”
Obaseki assured that the governorship election would put an end to godfatherism in Edo State, while urging the electorate to come out en-masse to vote for the PDP, to enable him consolidate on his achievements in the first term.
He said: “A child that was born 22 years ago, since Nigeria’s democracy in 1999, is that child not old enough to be a man by now? This democracy will continue and even beyond us, by the grace of God.
“If you come, do your own, and if another person comes, allow him to play his own part and leave. That man (Oshiomhole) is very dangerous.
“See the party (APC) that they put under his (Oshiomhole’s) watch, he has destroyed it. This fight is between Oshiomhole and me. The fight is not between me and Ize-Iyamu.
“We will bury Oshiomhole politically. We have retired him and on September 19, 2020, we will bury him politically.”
Edo governor expressed optimism that he would defeat Oshiomhole in the governorship election, including in the ex-national chairman of APC’s Ward 10 in Etsako West LGA of the state.
An ally of Oshiomhole, Washington Osifo, however described Obaseki as the most dangerous politician he had ever seen, alleging that Edo governor thrives on lies and propaganda, while insisting that he (Obaseki) is a stranger to Edo politics.
Osifo, a current member of the Edo House of Assembly, who is a former state’s Commissioner for Education, urged discerning minds to ignore the falsehoods of ‘the drowning Edo governor,’ who according to him, would be defeated on September 19 by a more experienced and very popular Ize-Iyamu, to ensure good governance in the South-south state.
He said: “What do you expect from Obaseki, a stranger in Edo politics and a drowning man, who thrives on propaganda?
“I know Obaseki very well. He likes to take Edo people for granted and he enjoys falsehoods.
“Obaseki misrepresented the APC. That’s why he was disqualified by members of the screening committee of the governing party (APC). He is becoming desperate, knowing full well that he can never defeat Pastor Ize-Iyamu on September 19, 2020. Obaseki is the most dangerous politician that I have ever seen.”
The Oshiomhole’s ally also maintained that the former national chairman of APC never sold Edaiken market to his friends, describing the allegations of Obaseki as senseless, mischievous, vexatious and misleading, which he said would naturally be ignored by right-thinking members of the public.
It seems right to say that the contributions of the wives of Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu will also play a major role in influencing voters on the Election Day.
Edo First Lady, Mrs. Betsy Obaseki, and the wife of the governorship candidate of APC, Prof. Idia Ize-Iyamu, a senior pastor in RCCG, who is also of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) and University of Benin (UNIBEN) are busy campaigning for the election of their husbands, but Ize-Iyamu’s wife stands out, in view of the brilliance and intellect of Prof. Idia.
MORE WORRIES AMIDST RISING TENSION
Most observers are worried over threats of the possibility of violence marring the entire process. This is in spite of several efforts by many groups and individuals at ensuring a peaceful poll. Since the commencement of campaign, there have been reports of violent clashes, particularly between supporters of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Almost on a daily basis, Obaseki of the PDP and Ize-Iyamu of the APC, have voiced their commitment to a peaceful election. But observers and other stakeholders think the utterances of the two politicians and their allies, as well as the actions of many of their supporters and party members, run contrary to those vows of peace. Thus, there has been serious concern about the safety of voters as well as electoral officials, while possible voters’ apathy has become an issue too.
Following weeks of violent clashes and verbal wars, His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, invited the two candidates and other stakeholders participating in the governorship election to his palace to sign a peace pact. In the Oba’s words, the meeting was necessitated by the pre-election violence and belligerent electioneering utterances, threatening to tear the state apart ahead of the September 19 election. “The utterances, statements and activities that I hear [are] most immature,” the revered monarch told the two leading candidates and their promoters, including former governors John Odigie-Oyegun and Adams Oshiomhole, during the peace meeting in his palace in Benin.
He raised the allegations that the two candidates and their parties are arming thugs and warned them to desist from the act in the interest of peace. “Why do you want lives to be lost by arming thugs, who will later hide the guns? Enough is enough. Let the September 19 governorship election in Edo State be peaceful. Be mature and be proud of Edo State. Do not make Edo State a laughing stock. I am very sad about what is happening in Edo State. This is the worst scenario. Let us eschew violence and give peace a chance in Edo State. ”
Reports of the meeting indicated that stakeholders at the parley resolved to ensure a peaceful poll. In their responses, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu assured the monarch that they would promote peace and promised to ensure that their supporters conduct themselves in a peaceful manner henceforth. The state’s Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, after the parley, also promised a peaceful election.
But barely a week to the election date, it seems the Oba’s attempt at reining in the gladiators may not be enough to assure a violent free contest. This is because tales of violent clashes are yet to totally abate while candidates and other frontline politicians continue to use strong words during their campaigns and other political engagements ahead of the poll. Also, there are growing reports of plans of violent attacks before, during and after voting. Observers hope this week’s drafting of top security personnel, including the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Assistant Inspector General of Police and some commissioners of police will help.
A recent pre-election survey conducted by Yiaga Africa and NOI Polls predicted apathy on the part of voters and election officers due to fear during the polls. According to the information contained in the report, voters raised concerns about violence during and after the election. Many of the respondents said they had directly experienced violence and intimidation related to the elections. The report added that unless adequate security is put in place, voters’ turnout on September 19 may be far below what it should be.
Worried by the refusal of the gladiators in Edo to give peace a chance, the National Peace Committee, headed by a former Nigerian Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, recently said it will visit the state to commit all the governorship candidates to a peace accord before the election. The committee engages political parties at the national level but it says given the significance of the Edo election and the growing threat of violence its members will be in Benin to ensure a peaceful process.
Similarly, the National Youth Service Corps has called for adequate security measures to be put in place for the protection of corps members who will participate in the Edo governorship election. The Director-General, NYSC, Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim, made the call during the week in Benin while addressing corps members. “I am in Edo State for a specific reason, one, for the election and I believe that as your father, it is very appropriate to come and talk to you. I also want to use this opportunity to see the Oba of Benin, the security agencies in the state for your security and welfare.
“I am here to ensure the safety of our corps members. We need adequate security for our corps members who will be participating in the process before, during and after the election. NYSC has contributed to the electoral processes of this country. When the history of election is written in Nigeria, NYSC will also be mentioned because, the INEC chairman, in every forum, tells Nigerians that without corps members, they can’t organise such an exercise because corps members are knowledgeable, they are patriotic,” he said.
This was just as the Nigeria police also announced that it has identified a high likelihood of violence, attacks by opponents, and misinformation as security threats to the polls. According to a statement issued by the police spokesperson, Frank Mba, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, issued the warning upon reviewing recent election security threat assessment reports submitted by the state police command. “The Election Security Threat Analysis reveals amongst other indicators: arming and movement of political thugs, use of inciting statements during political campaigns, high likelihood of violence and possible cross attack by political opponents, misinformation/disinformation aimed at heating-up of the polity and deliberate efforts at delegitimizing government institutions involved in the electoral processes.
Despite all the gloomy pictures ahead of the poll, the state Police Commissioner has assured the people of adequate security, saying there’s no cause for alarm. He gave the assurance during the week. Kokumo said maximum security would be provided before, during and after the gubernatorial election despite the seeming rising tension in the state. He explained that adequate measures have been put in place to forestall violence and breakdown of law and order. The CP said anyone found wanting, irrespective of position would be made to face the wrath of the law. The police commissioner also disclosed that there would be a functional patrol team bearing long arms during the election. He said the police had joined forces with other security agencies including the military to ensure violence-free poll.
In spite of all the allegations and counter allegations between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, a winner will surely emerge on September 19. Concerned observers are pleading to the politicians to rein in their thugs, sheathe their swords and give peace a chance, in order to move Edo and other parts of Nigeria forward.