Edo Poll: Undercurrents that May Shape Outcome

Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu



Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City

As the two main gladiators in the Edo State governorship election, Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his key rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), ready for an epic showdown on September 19, certain undercurrents look set to determine the final outcome.

Tension and speculation are at fever pitch, but from all indications, the battle is not anyone’s to lose yet. However, each passing day reveals gradually evidence that the final outcome may follow some existential extrapolations.
Come September 19, Edo State will go to the polls to elect a governor to pilot the affairs of the state for the next four years. They will either re-elect Obaseki, who is running on his record in the last almost four years, or opt for his main challenger, Ize-Iyamu, who incidentally was Obaseki’s challenger some four years ago.

A two-horse race, the major political parties, APC and PDP, are on a familiar terrain, more so since the candidates of the two parties had contested against each other in 2016. While the incumbent governor, Obaseki, had contested on the platform of APC, Ize-Iyamu carried the PDP flag.

Today, however, fate has swapped platforms for them. Unlike in 2016, when Obaseki contested and won on the APC platform, he has found himself in the PDP ahead of the September 19 election, while Ize-Iyamu, who was PDP’s candidate in 2016, has found himself in APC, which he had left six years ago to pursue his governorship ambition.

Interestingly, both PDP and APC are quite conscious of the importance of the September 19 governorship election to the present political equation in the state, region and country, and their future prognoses, the reason the two parties have set up high-powered election committees to lead them to victory.

APC appointed the governor of Kano State, Abdulahi Ganduje, as the chairman of its election committee, while PDP chose Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike to lead it in the quest for re-election.
With the stage set and the committees deployed to work, many factors are already competing for attention in the choice of the next governor of Edo State.

Incumbency Factor

Obaseki certainly has the power of incumbency to his advantage. But in Nigeria, this is greatly limited when your party is not in control of the police, military and all other security services that are usually deployed to monitor elections and provide security. The governor’s incumbency advantage may be effectively neutralised by the federal might. As a matter of fact, Ize-Iyamu may even be the ultimate beneficiary of federal might if the lessons of history are factored in.
Off-season elections, like the ones about to hold in Edo and Ondo states, are usually an easier turf to deploy the full powers of the federal government in trying to sway outcomes.

Voting Pattern

What will make the battlefield more interesting is that both contestants know each other in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. But what may likely swing the votes for either of the two remains the calibre of political heavyweights queuing behind him.
Another factor is the voting population. Edo, like any other states of the federation, is made up of three senatorial districts. Edo South has 58 per cent of the state’s voting population, Edo Central has 16 per cent, and Edo North has 26 per cent. But this percentage sharing, unfortunately, may not apply as it currently stands. The factor of candidate’s advantage may play a key role in determining the voting pattern.

Edo South: A Win-win Situation

Edo South holds all the aces, as whoever secures the entire voting strength in the district can as well go to sleep. But it cannot be entirely so this time because the two gladiators are both sons of the soil. So both are going to split the votes of the district.
The people are at an advantage in the sense that whoever wins, power will not shift from the zone. But they are also in a kind of dilemma as to who to support between their two sons. Of key importance here is the personal influence and likability of the candidates and how much of mobilisation they can do.

Edo North: A Battle of Influence

In Edo North, the ballot, no doubt, would be contested between the incumbent deputy governor, Philip Shaibu, who defected with his boss to the PDP, and the former national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole. The question is, can Shaibu influence enough votes for the PDP to secure a win? The answer seems of little significance, because whatever influence he wields was also because of the Oshiomhole factor. Ordinarily, Shaibu does not command a great deal of foot soldiers, except the usual brigandage invoked to try to influence things by force.

Incidentally, Shaibu has a match in the person of Ganiyu Audu, who is the running mate to Ize-Iyamu. A grassroots politician, who may also ride on the influence of religion, especially, as a Muslim with appreciably large number of faithful, Audu is definitely not a pushover in the equation. His choice appears to have consciously balanced religion – Christian/Muslim ticket, unlike PDP’s Christian/Christian ticket. Interestingly, this is the first time since the 1999 that a Muslim deputy is on the ticket. Many Edo Muslims are likely to see this as a positive for the Muslim community’s long agitation for a voice at the centre of power in Edo State.

Besides, of the eight state constituencies, only two were sworn in, leaving six yet to be inaugurated, which, in political calculation, is not an encouraging one. Therefore, with a ratio of two (Oshiomhole and Audu) to one (Shaibu), Edo North still does not stand in this contest as a battleground region, but a place where subsisting influence could count largely.

A major influence in Edo North, no matter the misgivings, is Oshiomhole, who is a former governor of the state and former national chairman of APC. Those who think his suspension has reduced his influence, both in his district and the entire Edo, will be making the greatest political mistake of their lives, because hate him or like him, the diminutive ‘Adamant’ Adams had made and is still making people across the three senatorial districts, who may not likely abandon him. In fact, his suspension and eventual lose of his position as national chairman of the ruling party will likely attract sympathy to his message to the people of the zone to vote out Obaseki. Also very important is the fact that Oshiomhole’s lose of the APC chairmanship has left Edo North with no influential voice at the national level of power. As one observer put it recently, “With Oshiomhole’s ouster, our people have lost their only voice in national politics.” The people are likely going to take note of this and also blame Shuaibu, largely seen as the instigator of the purported suspension that ultimately led to Oshiomhole’s fall.

Edo Central: The Battleground District

The central district appears small but it may play a significant role, being predominantly a PDP-dominated area. But the question is, what stake do they have here apart from their son, Hon. Francis Okiye, who is playing the dual role of Speaker of the House of Assembly as APC member in the day, but is PDP at night in solidarity with the governor. At the end of the day, the speaker is not a vote-swinging factor here. This, therefore, makes the central district the real battleground, where the two parties, their candidates and supporters would have to deploy everything humanly possible to secure as many votes as possible. The district would likely be the decider in the battle for Edo Government House.

Contradictions in Edo South

Attention must be paid to certain contradictions in Edo South, where the two contestants hail from. Obaseki is from Oredo local government with two state constituencies. Ize-Iyamu is from Orhiomwon, also with two state constituencies.

The two, having cancelled out each other’s home advantage, the possibility is high that the governor might take Ovia North-east local government, still with two state constituencies, because of the influence of the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, and his children, a former governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, and a former member of the House of Representatives, Omosede Igbinedion. Another advantage the governor may have is the role the member representing Ego/Ikpba-Okha Federal Constituency under the platform of PDP, Jude Ise-Idehen, would play. Added to this is the influence of members of his cabinet, who have not formally crossed with him to the PDP but are still in APC and would ostensibly give him support on the day of election.

However, Uhumwonde will be a no go area for Obaseki, because of the influence of a two-time member of the House of Representatives, Samson Osagie; Washington Osifo, who was yet to be inaugurated as state assembly member. However, the governor’s Man Friday, Hon. Charles Idahosa, is there to also stop any aggression.

Still on Edo South, the governor will have to contend with six members-elect from his district he prevented from being inaugurated out of 10. They are those from Uhunmwonde, Oredo East, Oredo West, Ovia North East I, Ovia North East II, and Ovia South-west. Those also deprived in Edo North, where Obaseki’s deputy, Shaibu, hails from, who make up 30 per cent of Edo State voting population, may want to take their pound of flesh. They are the people of Etsako West I, Etsako West II, Etsako Central, Etsako East, Owan East, Owan West and Akoko-Edo Ii.

Political influence will play an equally major role in the entire process. Edo has its fair share of political heavyweights, who cannot be ignored.

Unveiling the Power Centres

Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion

The Esama of Benin is one of those that have always made political statements in favour of persons they support. On the surface, he is in support of Obaseki since his son, a former governor of the state, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, and daughter, Omosede Igbinedion, a former House of Representatives member, were among those that brokered the defection of Obaseki from APC to PDP.

However, it is on record that Ize-Iyamu is Chief Igbinedion’s political son and among the influential figures during the tenure of his son as governor for eight years. He was one of those that influenced Ize-Iyamu in 2014 to dump ACN/APC for PDP, where he contested. Whether he will dump Ize-Iyamu this time remains to be seen, as the chief is said to be in a quandary.

Chief John Odige-Oyegun

The former governor of Edo State, ex-National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain, and former national chairman of APC is an influential figure when it comes to politics of Nigeria as well as Edo State. He has never belonged to the same political group with the Igbinedions, having defeated the junior Igbinedion in 1991 in the days of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).

However, fate might have brought them together in the Obaseki governorship struggle, even when they still have different political ideologies. Although Oyegun is still a member of the APC, he has political sympathy for Obaseki. The problem, nevertheless, remains that the chief in most cases never wins his polling boot.
In overall margin in the state, though, he has always won. He normally lost his unit to Igbinedion, as both vote in the same polling centre. Nothing is sacrosanct in politics, as their collaboration might do the magic this time around.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole

The labour leader-turned-politician remains an influential figure in both national and local politics any day. Although, he has his weaknesses and shortcomings, which make him human, the former governor of Edo State used his eight years as governor maximally to spread his tentacles almost everywhere in the state.
As national chairman of APC, he made men and women in the state by influencing appointments in their favour. In doing so, he never discriminated when such appointments were given. How PDP will make an in-road in the entire state and Edo North, in particular, where he comes from, remains to be seen.

Chief Tom Ikimi

One-time national chairman of the defunct NRC, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a chieftain in the defunct APP, chieftain of the ACN/APC and PDP at various times, Chief Tom Ikimi has carved a niche for himself in the nation’s political space as one to be respected. With the demise of former chairman PDP’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih, no one is in doubt that the chief from Igueben would step into his shoes as a replacement for the good of Edo Central, having occupied influential positions. But Ikhimi is yet to fill this gap, hence the loss of direction in the Edo political space.
Granted that his ethnic group is the smallest in terms of size and population, they had a voice when Anenih was alive. Can Ikimi, the Oduma of Igueben, rise to the task using the September 19 governorship election to turn things around for the PDP and his people? Election day will determine that.

Hon. Francis Okiye

The present speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly was once Majority Leader of the state assembly. He is a grassroots politician, who has seen it all in local politics. He wields enormous influence, but can this influence translate into electoral victory for Obaseki, who has left him to pursue his governorship ambition in a different political party, which brought two of them together as speaker and governor?

Usman Shagadi

The late sectional chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), until his demise, was a good political ally of Obaseki, who inherited him from Oshiomhole. Until he joined the ACN/APC, he was a strong political figure in Edo North and member of the PDP. Shagadi’s political prowess came to light when he quarrelled with Oshiomhole in 2015. To stamp his feet, he fielded a PDP candidate who defeated Oshiomhole’s choice in APC. His death recently will be a big minus for Obaseki and Shaibu in the September 19 governorship election.

Now, the Foot Soldiers

In Edo State, today, the absurdity is in having a state governor and deputy governor belonging to the PDP while the 10 inaugurated members of the state assembly are in the APC. The election is, therefore, going to be a tough one. This is due, particularly, to the incumbency factor, which cannot be ignored in any election. The fact, however, remains that there are other personalities not mentioned above, but who are influential in their domains in the three senatorial districts and would try to sway things for the two candidates. They are the foot soldiers. This is critical, given the fact that money and personal relationship would play a big role than the expected brigandage in some quarters.

For instance, in Edo South, there are grassroots figures like two-time member of the state and federal legislatures, Samson Osagie; two-time member of the state assembly and former member of the House of Representatives, Patrick Obahiagbon; two-time member of the state assembly and former Speaker, Elizabeth Ativie; and former two-time deputy governor and two-time member, House of Representatives, Dr. Pius Odubu.

There is also former deputy governor, Mr. Lucky Imasuen; member representing Ovia Federal Constituency, Dennis Idahosa; Patrick Aisoweren (Uhumwonde/Orhiomwon federal constituency); General Charles Airhiavere; and Dr. Chris Ogiemwonyi; Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP); former NDDC Commissioner and Majority Leader, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen; and Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, and many others.

In Edo Central, there are the incumbent Speaker, Francis Okiye; four other members of the state assembly; Joe Ediowele, representing Esan West/Esan Central/Igueben federal constituency; Senator Clifford Ordia, Chief Theo Okoh; and Anselm Ojezua, factional chairman of APC, who will lock horns with APC stalwarts like Patrick Ikhariale, two-time member, House of Representatives, Chief Francis Inegbeneki, Dr. Tony Omoaghae, two-time member, Edo State House of Assembly and two-time local government chairman, Hon. Patrick Aguinede, and Col. David Imuse, Oshiomhole-led chairman of APC in the state.

From Edo North, former Speaker Kabiru Adjoto; former Senator Domingo Obende; Etsako Central local government chairman, Hon. John Akhigbe; former deputy governor and one-time CoS to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Mike Akhigbe; former PDP state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, will be at the battlefront with the likes of Prof, Julius Ihonvbere (Owan federal constituency), Peter Akpatason (Akoko-Edo federal Constituency, Johnson Oghuma (Etsako federal constituency), Senator Francis Alimikhena, as well as seven members-elect but not inaugurated lawmakers, among others.
The election promises to be an epic battle.