The Race for the Soul of Edo

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Obaseki And Ize-Iyamu

As the Edo State governorship election inches closer, Adibe Emenyonu takes a look at the parties, their candidates and the likely flashpoints.

The Edo governorship election slated for September 19 this year promises to be as interesting as the 2016 election when Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, then of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Mr. Godwin Obaseki, then of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were the major contenders. Obaseki emerged victorious in that election. Four years after, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu are still the major contenders for the topmost political office in Edo, making analysts to describe this weekend’s governorship election as a rematch.

It also promises to be a fiercely contested election like the 2007 governorship election between Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress and Mr. Oserheimen Osunbor, of the PDP. In that election, Osunbor was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). That decision was however upturned by the Court of Appeal in November 2008 and Oshiomhole was declared governor.

Obaseki And Ize-Iyamu

Watchers of political events in Edo would agree that apart from being a direct contest between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, Saturday’s governorship poll is also a battle of supremacy between the governor and Oshiomhole, his estranged political godfather.

No doubt, the power-play that led to the sack of Oshiomhole as national chairman of APC had its roots in the local contest for political influence between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, which escalated to the national level of the APC.

With Obaseki recording a deadly blow against Oshiomhole with the sack of the former governor as APC national chairman, Oshiomhole will be aiming at not just getting his own pound of flesh this weekend by halting Obaseki’s reelection bid at the poll, but also stamping the foot of his political influence on the state.

The Candidates, How They Stand

Fourteen political parties will be on the ballot in this weekend election. They are: Ademakhiota Godwin Osaimiamia, Action Alliance (AA); Mabel Akomu Oboh, African Democratic Congress (ADC); Obio Lucky Emmanuel, Action Democratic Party (ADP); Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu, All Progressives Congress (APC); and Lucky Osagie Idehen, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Others are Igbineweka Osamuede, Allied Peoples Movement (APM; Amos Osalumese Arelogbe, Action Peoples Party (APP); Osifo Ohun-Ekpenma Isaiah, Labour Party (LP); Agol Ebun Tracy, New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); and Steve Nash Ozono, National Rescue Movement (NRM).

Also contesting are Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Felix Izekor Obayangbon, Social Democratic Party (SDP); Jones Osagiobare, Young Progressive Party (YPP), and Akhalamhe Amiennenoghena (Zenith Labour Party.

Of the 14 parties that are contesting, only two of them, the APC and PDP, could be described as major contestants. Others are not expected to make any significant impact because they lack the structure, resources and other key electioneering prerequisites for any impactful run. The race will be a rematch of the 2016 governorship election between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu. Though certain key political variables have changed in the last four years – such as the swapping of parties and realignment of allies – the two major gladiators remain the same.

Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu (APC)

Ize-Iyamu, who contested on the platform of the PDP in 2016, is going into this weekend’s contest as the candidate of the APC. The former Secretary to Edo State government under the administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion is a formidable politician with huge grassroots followership. His party, the APC, controls the levers of power at the federal level – one of the key determinants of victory in in elections in Nigeria. Already, he and his party have mobilised tremendous human and material resources for the election. His political clout is boosted by his running mate, who is also a grassroots politician. Obaseki also controls 17 out of the 24 state constituencies’ representatives, who are also influential among their constituents. He enjoys the unalloyed loyalty of these representatives, majority of who were denied inauguration by the incumbent governor when he proclaimed the new session of the state Assembly last year. Another major advantage is that Ize-Iyamu now enjoys the backing of Comrade Oshiomhole, the immediate past governor of the state and a major political figure in Edo, whose support led to the emergence of Obaseki as governor in 2016.

A major drawback for Ize-Iyamu is the defection of the incumbent governor from APC to PDP, the major opposition party in the state, thereby boosting the chances of PDP in terms of resources and visibility of the party’s candidate. Also the perception in some quarters that the crisis in the APC, precisely between Oshiomhole and his estranged godson, Obaseki, was not about governance but about access to the state purse, may be a minus for the APC candidate, who is now being derided for ‘adopting’ Oshiomhole as his godfather.

Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki (PDP)

Obaseki , who was elected as governor in 2016 on the platform of the APC, will be contesting this weekend’s election on the platform of the PDP. He enjoys the power of incumbency, a factor that plays a key role in election victory because it is also the exercise of power of political and economic patronage. Backed by a strong and politically active deputy and running mate, Philip Shuabu, Governor Obaseki is also loved by civil servants based on the various reforms initiated in the civil service by his administration. He also has a heavy propaganda machinery in the state media and has capacity to moblise resources for the election.

The candidate of the PDP however lack grassroots outreach like his main contender. The crisis that has rocked the state Assembly since he inaugurated only his loyalists is also a drawback for his reelection bid. He controls only seven out of the 24 state constituencies’ representatives. This could have some impacts on his chances in those constituencies, as the 17 representatives have vowed to stop his reelection bid. His inability to market or late marketing of some of his achievements is also a drawback. The governor’s inability to manage the goodwill he enjoyed on assumption of office, which has strained his relations with Oshiomhole and some prominent indigenes of the state, is also a major drawback.

September 19: A High-stakes Election

Adams Oshiomhole

For Obaseki, the PDP candidate will be throwing everything in the race to weaken and ensure he totally demystifies his estranged godfather, Oshiomhole. Obaseki will also be aiming at putting an end to Ize-Iyamu’s quest for Edo governorship. The governor also knows that a failed reelection bid will have serious implications for him as a politician and a newcomer in PDP, the party which bent backwards to give him its governorship flag after undisclosed compromises.

On the other hand, Ize-Iyamu, reputed to be a politician with huge grassroots support has this weekend’s election to live up to that reputation. He also has a second chance in this weekend’s ‘rematch’ to prove, on the electoral field, his claim that his defeat in the 2016 election was because votes did not count due to rigging as he alleged before the court. Not many aspirants have the opportunity of flying the flags of two major political parties consecutively in governorship elections. Ize-Iyamu got this opportunity. He has this weekend to prove that the confidence reposed in him was not misplaced.

Though Oshiomhole is not on the ballot, he is fully in the race this weekend. Losing Edo to PDP will be devastating for the former APC national chairman whose sack from his national office had its roots in the local politics of Edo because of his strained relationship with the governor, who ensured his suspension at Oshimhole’s APC ward.

He would also want to prove to his political adversaries around the country that even though he lost his national chairmanship position of APC to the power play at the national level, he remains fully in charge of Edo politics. With the intensity of the fight between him and Obaseki in the past few months, Oshiomhole knows that another four years of Obaseki may send him into political oblivion.

Likely Flashpoints
The election may likely witness violence because of the desperation of the two dominant political parties – PDP and APC. Pockets of pre-election violence have been recorded. The fact that this weekend’s election is seen by analysts as a war of attrition which outcome could send any of the gladiators that fail into political oblivion, has further heightened the desperation of the contenders.

With the above, the three local government areas within the Benin City metropolis, Oredo, Egor and Ikpba-Okha may witness violence because of their voting population, as they may be the battleground.

Another expected area is Etsako West. Incidentally, the former national Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, the two running mates, Philip Shaibu and Gani Audu of PDP and APC respectively, all hail from the area. It will be an interesting one following Shaibu’s boast to defeat Oshiomole even in his ward.

Another likely flashpoint is Uromi, Esan North-east local government, where the Speaker of the seven lawmakers loyal to Obaseki, Hon. Frank Okiye, comes from. Since he defected with Obaseki to PDP, he would want to do everything humanly possible to keep his political influence intact.

One other place to watch out for is Akoko-Edo. This is the home of the former Chief of Staff to Obaseki, Taiwo Akerele; former Speaker of the state assembly, Kabiru Adjoto; Senator Domingo Obende; member, representing Akoko-Edo federal constituency and Deputy Majority Whip, House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason.

Also likely to be on the list of flashpoints is Agenebode, headquarters of Etsako East local government, the base of the Senator, representing Edo North senatorial district, Senator Francis Alimikhena, and PDP bigwig and owner of AIT, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi.