By Teniola Williams-Balogun
One does not need to be clairvoyant or partisan to project that the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State is the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s to lose. The available accretion of variables makes such projection almost indubitable.
This does not in any way negate the fact that it will go down in the state’s history as one of the most keenly contested governorship elections, because of the antecedents of the two leading candidates, the peculiarities of their emergence and what they are promising the people.
Unlike Ize-Iyamu, Governor Godwin Obaseki, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate is on this expedition with disillusioned and disgruntled co-passengers, no thanks to his 11th-hour entry and eventual corralling of the party’s governorship ticket.
He was a member of the APC, who defected just last June and was given the PDP’s governorship ticket thereby extinguishing the aspirations of longstanding members of the party. Those ones have not forgiven the party leadership and Obaseki for muscling them out of the race.
This, perhaps, is why Obaseki is still considered a stranger in the party and not trusted enough not to jump ship against the groundswell of rumours that the governor just wants victory by all means to spite his estranged godfather and former governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and that the moment he gets it, he would return to the APC, leaving the PDP high and dry.
Impeccable sources within the EDO PDP contended that this knowledge explains the party’s ambivalence about putting out its entire arsenal to ensure his victory.
But the scenario is markedly different for Ize-Iyamu. A founding member of the PDP in Edo State, he served in the administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion from 1999 to 2007 as Chief of Staff in the first term; and Secretary to the State Government in the second term.
Beyond his official positions, Ize-Iyamu is acclaimed as a great mobiliser of men and women and a redoubtable grassroots politician, who was pivotal to the two electoral victories of Igbinedion.
Stronger forces within the PDP then engineered the defection of Ize-Iyamu, who left with his supporters to join the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In the new party, the Ize-Iyamu supporters operated under the Grace Group, which worked relentlessly for the victory of Oshiomhole in 2007 though he would later reclaim his mandate via the court in 2008.
Ize-Iyamu rose in the ACN, one of the legacy parties that formed the APC, to the position of the national vice-chairman, South-South Zone. Noteworthy is that after Oshiomhole had been rejected by his own Labour Party, the PDP and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), it was the Grace Group that made his acceptance by the ACN seamless and successful.
Under the auspices of the ACN, Ize-Iyamu also served as the Director-General of Oshiomhole’s second term Campaign Organisation and he delivered. He would only return to the PDP, when the same Oshiomhole gratuitously refused to support his ambition to succeed him in 2016. But now, Ize-Iyamu is back in the APC, where he is at home with the leaders and loyalists.
Accordingly, one of the best things that Ize-Iyamu has done is to make a sharp contrast between himself and Obaseki. The first argument is that, Ize-Iyamu is currently not riding on the back of any godfather, a claim Obaseki could not make in 2016, when Oshiomhole almost single-handedly handled his campaign. Even now, he is being propped by the PDP machinery and his power of incumbency.
The second is that having spent so many years as an astute grassroots mobiliser, Ize-Iyamu has mastered the language and nuances of electioneering and has got the people energetic and enthusiastic again with his SIMPLE Agenda, whereas Obaseki’s Make Edo Great Again agenda has been mirthless and mechanical.
After enduring three years of grim governance, it is unlikely that any more rhetoric from Obaseki can invigorate the enervated people of Edo State. Obaseki is a deeply flawed man. If he remained at just an ingrate, who betrayed Oshiomhole, the man that brought him into politics and power, it would have been overlooked as one of those peculiar intrigues and mysteries of Nigerian politics especially.
But his metamorphosis into an unresponsive and unbridled governor, who detached himself from the socio-economic needs of the people and deviated from a tested and trusted path to a better life for the people, have done him in.
Further damage has been done to his candidature by his irreverent attempt to bring into disrepute the legacies of his predecessor notably the politicisation of the Benin Central hospital project, which was completed and equipped by Oshiomhole.
Obaseki was a part of Oshiomhole’s administration as chairman of the Economic Strategy Team for almost eight years that Oshiomhole was in office.
He was integral to the completion of the project but on the assumption of office, refused to open it to the public thereby denying the generality of the people of Edo State a world-class healthcare services, citing incongruous and infantile excuses. Three years into his administration, Obaseki launched a probe into the funds that went into building the hospital, forgetting his involvement too.
He also cited Oshiomhole’s upgrading of the Ekiadolor College of Education to Tayo Akpata University (TAU) as the reason he shutdown the institution permanently since he came to power.
For closing the Colleges of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi; Abudu, Afuze; the Institute of Continued Education (ICE) and the three Schools of Nursing in Edo State, Obaseki hid under the pretence of renovating the institutions. So many youths were prevented from continuing with their education for a long time and these are the youth he wants to come out to vote for him on September 19th; a tall order, no doubt.
For the more discerning electorate, it is Obaseki’s ungrateful attitude towards benefactors, which has led to over 70 per cent of his appointees resigning. That rankles! Obaseki and his cheerleaders were in denial all along as they continued to run on their contrived popularity and propaganda but the reality is dawning on them by the day with his administration likened to a revolving door that allows for impulsive exits.
The resignation, last May, of Taiwo Akerele, the former Chief of Staff, opened the floodgate of resignations of several cabinet members and senior aides in the administration. Another debilitating resignation was that of Patrick Iyoha, the Director, Obaseki/Shaibu Movement, which threw the campaign organisation into disarray, as he was the nerve-centre of Obaseki’s re-election bid.
But it was not only Iyoha that resigned within the same week; the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainability, Dame Omoua Oni-Okpaku; and two members of the State Post Primary Education Board – Mr Gabriel Oiboh, Chairman and Mr Osanyemwere Osawe, a member of the board – also did. Oiboh and Osawe said their resignations followed pressure by Obaseki to defect with him to the PDP.
On July 27th, three commissioners of the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Area Development Commission – Osamwonyi Atu, Emmanuel Odigie and Rilwanu Oshiomhole – who represented Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North senatorial districts respectively – resigned their appointments. The latest is Joseph Ikpea, who resigned his appointment as the Commissioner for Minerals, Oil and Gas, and moved to his Ubiaja hometown in Esan Southeast Local Government, where he returned to the APC 10 days to the election. If these are no strong indications of a sinking ship, then, nothing is.
Something more fundamental haunts Obaseki and he has turned a blind eye to it. It is his disregard for the Moslem population in the state and insistence on retaining his deputy, Phillip Shaibu, a Christian. For the first time in the history of democratic governance in the state, Ize-Iyamu did the unthinkable by choosing Malam Gani Audu, a Muslim, as his deputy.
This is a masterstroke decision, which already guarantees the APC massive votes that would be hard to assail by the opposition. Even more importantly, Ize-Iyamu has out-campaigned other candidates and is doing so on the strength of his manifesto of hope, which he said is the panacea and pivot to launch Edo State on the path to sustainable prosperity and holistic development.
What trumped the APC candidate, as a frontrunner in the race was his very high name recognition – résumé that matches the moment, public office experience and renown as a steady and seasoned administrator, and his well-articulated manifesto of hope entitled ‘The SIMPLE Agenda’.
The acronym, ‘SIMPLE’, stands for Security and Social Welfare, Infrastructure Development, Manpower Development, Public/Private Partnership, Leadership by Example and Employment Creation. Now in a book form, Pastor Ize-Iyamu said recently that the agenda is also a ‘SMART’ document.
“By this, I mean it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and, of course, Time-bound,” he said, adding that he decided to document his agenda for the people so that he could be held accountable should he derail from his promises after winning the election. According to him, a government must be accountable and transparent, so, those who want to govern must put what they want to do for the people in black and white.
*Williamns-Balogun wrote from Lagos