An Insight Into Edo’s Two-horse Race

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Between the Peoples Democratic Party Governor in Edo State, Godwin Obaseki and his All Progressives Congress challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the September 19 governorship election is a fight to the finish. Shola Oyeyipo writes

In spite of the provisional list of candidates and their deputies registered for the Edo State September 19, 2020, every objective analysis will narrow down the race to two people: Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.

Although the above assertion is debatable, especially by other party candidates, who would contend that they have what it takes to win the race, the facts are glaring – the two parties on which Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu are contesting are the major parties at the national and state levels – the election is therefore an outright war of political supremacy between the incumbent Obaseki and his predecessor and ousted National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiohmole.

Not only are the major political players in Edo State polarised along party lines or queuing behind either Oshiohmole or Obaseki, the rivalry between the APC and the PDP at the national level is also projecting these men more prominently before the electorate. And very importantly, they are the biggest spenders with huge financial war chest needed to effectively prosecute their campaigns.

Very intriguing is the fact that Ize-Iyamu, who contested against Obaseki on the PDP platform in 2016 is now the APC candidate while Obaseki, who was the APC candidate and later governor, has crossed to the PDP. This also counts as advantage for Ize-Iyamu and Obaseki, who have both made friends across both political divides. But Ize-Iyamu appears to enjoy more advantage.

Not only did he serve as Chief of Staff and later Secretary to the Edo State Government between 1999 and 2007, he was the Director General for Oshiomhole’s re-election campaign in 2012 before he left for the PDP after a fracas with Oshiomhole.

A political heavy weight in Edo State himself, Ize-Iyamu not only enjoys the backing of Oshiomhole with whom he had since mended fences and now collaborating to retain the state in APC’s kitty, he also currently enjoys the backing of the party’s bigwigs like the National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu and the APC governors.

The Kebbi State Governor and chairman, APC Governors Forum, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, last week, assured the people that Ize-Iyamu would win the election saying, “We hope that the party would emerge victorious in the elections following the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.”

This is more so because the ruling APC is not ready to lose an inch to the PDP ahead of the 2023 presidential election, where contenders within the party are already strategising on how to clinch the party ticket and win the general election.
Though more of a technocrat than a politician, Governor Obaseki can no longer pass as a rooky politician. Despite the fact that he is at loggerheads with Oshiomole, he has shown an understanding of Edo State politics to an extent that he could give his adversaries a good run for their money.

However, for Obaseki, losing the APC ticket was a big blow in the first place. It would require more than double the effort he needed during his first time to return as governor of Edo State, if he would.

For him, settling for the PDP was a matter of necessity, because he had no other choice, but it cannot feel like ‘home.’ The PDP had been the opposition party criticising his administration and again, it took great persuasions and horse-trading to get the likes of Kenneth Imasuangbon, Gideon Ikhine and Ogbeide Ihama to allow him get the party’s ticket after he got the PDP waiver to contest the election.

In fact, Ihama took legal action at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, where he sought to restrain Obaseki from participating in the PDP primary.

A PDP chieftain and former Information Commissioner in Edo State, Prince Kassim Afegbua, boldly stated that he would never support Obaseki as his party candidate due to the “undemocratic” manner he got the party ticket.

“I am bold enough to come out in the open and say that I will not support Obaseki. It would have been different if I was hiding or pretending to be supporting him and doing some damages. My position on Obaseki is borne out of the fact that there has to be a difference in the way and manner that democracy is run in this country.

“Someone cannot just join a party within 24 hours, you surrender every whim and caprice of the party to him and then you sit back and tell me that you are celebrating your Christmas early enough in the day,” Afegbua told reporters.

There are many more like him in the PDP, who are not likely to come to the open to protest but who may not work with commitment that will guarantee victory for the party.

More than anything else, one thing Obaseki has going for him is the support among the people. Edo people see his achievements across all sectors – from the area of economic growth, education, agriculture, infrastructure, health, sports development, education, and others.

The larger part of the impact he would make at the election will be based on the support from the electorate. With his class of leadership in the last four years, the people now rank Obaseki in the category of the likes of former governors Samuel Ogbemudia and Prof Ambrose Alli.

The governor is also getting sympathetic support from the people of the state, who consider Oshiomhole as overbearing and taking the culture of political godfatherism too far.

“No doubt, the people of Edo will in September, reciprocate your giant strides in the last four years by returning you and your amiable deputy for another term in office to guarantee a brighter future ahead of them,” Governor Ifeanyi Okowa wrote in a statement commemorating Obaseki’s 63 birthday celebration on July 1.

Feelers from the governor’s camp indicate that he is confident of victory but wary of the possibilities for manipulation of the electoral processes.

His Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, alluded to this recently, when he said his principal’s good governance rating is presently at over 80 per cent and that his chances of winning the election is high.
He, however, hoped that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agents would allow a transparent process that would guarantee free and credible election.

“Obaseki’s first legacy is his commitment to the people, which has translated to infrastructure development in all parts of the state,” Osagie stated.

Overall, Ize-Iyamu, an astute grassroots and savvy political strategist, enjoys support from the 192 wards in all the 18 LGAs, while Obaseki relies on his achievements and acceptance among the people, by standing against alleged godfatherism and damning the consequences of his choice.

Ultimately, the determinant factors are the electorate, security agents and the election umpire. Thus, barring any unforeseen circumstances, a majority of Nigerians are waiting to see what the outcome of the ongoing power tussle would be in Edo State.