By Olu Onemola
There have been several post-election autopsies on why the All Progressives Congress (APC) lost the gubernatorial election. Some say that it was because the people of Edo State rebelled against ‘godfatherism.’ Some say that the incumbent Governor — and winner of the recently concluded election, is popular amongst his people. Some have even ascribed the victory as the sign of a comeback of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). While others are saying that it is a thorough referendum on how the APC handled its primaries in the state.
With all these hypotheses that have been put forward, my take is this: several factors — you may call it ‘fate’ — connived in favour of Obaseki, and against Ize-Iyamu, to bring about the result that was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This is why, I have been telling people that Edo was a special election, therefore, we must not draw the wrong conclusions from its results.
Going into election week, most unscientific predictions, even from people on the ground in Edo State seemed to declare that: “anyone who spends more will get the most votes.” Another prevalent prediction was: “right now, it is anybody’s game.”
Throughout the entire pre-election postulating process, like the aforementioned second group, I too stood on the fence on the outcome of the most talked-about political race since the 2019 presidential elections.
This is because of the honest belief that the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each of the major contenders in the election, namely Governor Godwin Obaseki, and his main challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, would ultimately balance out.
First of all, the strengths that the incumbent, Obaseki, took into Saturday’s contest included: the perception of performance and competence and the perception of the underdog. That he was denied the ticket on the platform of the APC, simply because he went against his erstwhile political Godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, fed into the narrative that eventually became the galvanising slogan of the campaign: “Edo no be Lagos.”
Despite these strengths, with his last-minute transition to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Obaseki lost the protection of the party at the center, and with it, the massive funding, political network, and state-sponsored ‘muscle’ that has been used in the past to secure victories in state elections.
However, Obaseki’s loss seemed to be Ize-Iyamu’s gain. When Obaseki left the APC, Ize-Iyamu dumped the PDP and jumped on Oshiomhole’s back to secure the nomination of the party that had once defeated him. With the former Chairman of the ruling party behind him, combined with new friends at the federal level in his corner, Ize-Iyamu set out to unseat the incumbent that had fallen out of grace.
Nevertheless, everything was not as it seemed. This is because while the Governors and power-brokers in the PDP welcomed Obaseki with open arms, the Governors in the APC were watching what was happening to their former colleague, Obaseki, and decided to fold their arms. This is because, they saw the treatment that befell a former colleague of theirs before the 2019 general elections, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, and they understood that if a repeat of the ‘Ambode-treatment’ was allowed to happen to Obaseki — a former friend and colleague in the Progressive Governors Forum, it could also someday befall any of them.
Additionally, there was also a ‘Tinubu factor.’ The shadow of the 2023 presidential run of the Asiwaju of Borgu loomed over the Edo election. His ‘Godfather of Lagos’ moniker fuelled the PDP’s campaign against godfatherism. Most importantly, within the APC, the threat of Tinubu gaining further inroads in the South-South frightened those within his party that do not want him to become the President.
As many others have also concluded, Tinubu’s support for Ize-Iyamu, through Oshiomhole, was a double-edged sword that helped the APC’s candidate in terms of funding and other logistics — but reminded other APC factions that if he helps to install another Governor, Tinubu would go into the 2023 election with the backing of additional delegates.
All in all, despite all the intrigues that played out behind the scenes, as mentioned earlier, the gods of the political universe still connived in Obaseki’s favour.
True to his word, President Buhari allowed free-and-fair elections to be conducted. Hence, the impact of the federal government that had been seen in the last Osun and Kogi state gubernatorial elections was limited. Furthermore, the joint Tinubu-Oshiomhole factor was neutralised with the Edo people’s powerful backlash against the Lagos-style of politics. And, the most important factor in all of this, INEC, that unpredictable bastion of electoral oversight conducted an impartial and transparent process.
With the Ondo State elections happening in less than a month, I stand to be corrected, however, I believe that the neutral factors that played out in Obaseki’s favour, may not be in favour of the PDP’s candidate in that election, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN). Edo was a state election that had several national implications. Ondo will be a state election, with regional implications. What’s more, with the loss of Edo State, it would only make sense for the party at the center to re-strategise in order to avoid another bloody nose.
Be that as it may, it will be interesting to see how things play out over the next few weeks. Will the PDP sustain its newfound momentum and take two critical states back from the party at the center? Will the APC learn its lesson and allow the democratic process to play out without any interference from perceived party strongmen? Or, was Edo simply a fluke or as god-fearing Nigerians like to say: a miracle? Either way, I believe that we have been left with more questions than actual answers since this weekend’s elections.
This is why, for now, we watch and wait…
*Olu Onemola is a political analyst who writes from Abuja. He tweets @OnemolaOlu