Elections need not become theatres of war, writes Awassam Bassey
The recently concluded Edo State Governorship election has come and gone. Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) retained his seat while Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) lost out. Everything has gone quiet, again! The threats and the hullabaloo have faded thus giving us the opportunity to sit back and review some interesting highlights of that period.
The winner in the Edo Governorship is, without a doubt, democracy. However, many saw that election as if it was between two individuals who, coincidentally, were not actually on the ballot – Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State, of the PDP, and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, of the APC.
Both men have similar experiences that have shaped them and made them to believe that any manner of victory comes through a struggle and that there are no freebies, especially in politics. As the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oshiomhole had to lead organised labour to fight to get the federal government to accede to its demands of better wages and conditions of service among others. Even when he thought he had won his election as candidate of the APC in the 2007 Edo State Governorship election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the PDP as winner. Oshiomhole had to take the battle to the Election Tribunal to get his victory in 2018.
Wike’s experience in politics is not completely dissimilar. He has become an interesting part of Nigeria’s democracy and this was evident when he was called to lead the party to an electoral battle against Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the APC in Edo State! Wike’s brand of politics, like that of Oshiomhole, involves a lot of tough talk; some may even go as far as describing it as combative! While Oshiomhole’s combative brand of politics could be traced to his involvement in organised labour, that of Wike could be said to be home-brewed as his past experiences all centre on Rivers State politics.
Take the case, for instance, where his party, the PDP, did everything at its disposal to deny his then friend and ally, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the party’s gubernatorial ticket which he won in the primary election but which was given to Celestine Omehia in the events leading to the 2007 governorship election. PDP won that election and Omehia was sworn in as Governor. Wike reportedly led that battle all the way up to the Supreme Court where Amaechi’s victory was restored and Amaechi was eventually sworn in as Governor of the State in October, 2007. That was a battle!
Another interesting incident of note happened in 2013 when Amaechi, still the sitting Governor of Rivers State on the platform of the PDP, and Chairman of the Governors Forum, led five of seven serving PDP Governors under the aegis of the G-7 to defect to the opposition APC in November, 2013. This defection preceded the period President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan started traversing the length and breadth of Nigeria soliciting, begging, and pleading with Nigerians for a second term of office in presidential elections originally scheduled for February 14, 2015.
When a sitting governor defects from a political party in these parts, it is expected that those that are part and parcel of that government would tag along. That was not exactly the case in Rivers State, a resource-rich state in the heart of the Niger Delta as that departure in 2013, less than two years before presidential and general elections, gave birth to the Grassroots Development Initiative which Nyesom Wike formed as a coalition for those who were still loyal to the PDP and Goodluck Jonathan in Rivers State.
The GDI coalesced into a powerful group in Rivers State spearheaded by Wike, who was at that time the Minister of State for Education. He would be elevated to acting Minister of Education following the sack of the minister, Ruqqayatu Ahmed Rufa’I, by President Goodluck Jonathan, in September 2013. As would be expected, the GDI faced strong opposition and, some would say, persecution from the Governor Rotimi Amaechi-led APC government.
There was no love lost between the two gentlemen (Wike and Amaechi) and their groups/political parties as they deployed everything at their disposal to score the advantage. Each was aware, from their mutual first –hand experiences, that power does not come easy and that election in this clime is war by another name!
With Rotimi Amaechi taking the structures of his government to the opposition APC, Wike’s Grassroots Development Initiative waxed stronger and Wike presented himself as the PDP candidate. He survived a very violent electioneering campaign and won what would be a bloody governorship election on April 11, 2015, defeating his closest rivals, Dakuku Peterside, of Amaechi’s APC who came second and Tonye Princewill of the Labour Party.
The Rivers State Election Tribunal nullified Wike’s victory on October 24, 2015 and ordered a rerun within 90 days. His journey to the Court of Appeal did not bring any succour to him as the appellate court upheld the judgment of the tribunal. Wike could only breathe easy after the Supreme Court upturned the decision of the tribunal and Court of Appeal.
With these similar backgrounds and experiences, many Nigerians already knew what to expect when the PDP announced Wike as the Chairman of the Edo State Governorship Election National Campaign Council with Oshiomhole making himself campaign leader for Ize-Iyamu and the APC.
Some APC faithful expressed the fear that Wike’s appointment in Edo meant that PDP was spoiling for war. On the other hand, the PDP members rather saw the appointment as the one that would make the opposition discard any plan to rig in the event that such tactics were afoot. They saw Wike as the single individual that could neutralize Oshiomhole. But it was not as smooth as that. Wike exhibited a fit of anger at some point in the events leading to Governor Obaseki’s admission into the PDP.
Most APC faithful blame Oshiomhole for the party’s loss in the Edo governorship election accusing him of personalising the campaign to the exclusion of National Working Committee members and other stakeholders just so he could teach his former ally, Obaseki, the lesson of his political life.
On the other hand, the PDP believes Wike won the election for Obaseki and their party though the Rivers State Governor has said in a recent interview that it was the Edo people themselves that gave Obaseki his second term to send a clear message to Oshiomhole that they will not accept godfatherism anymore.
With Edo State remaining calm after the September 19, 2020 election and with the PDP candidate coming out victorious, Wike may be right to feel he won this battle against Oshiomhole. That can be seen in the number of visits and return visits between Governors Obaseki and Wike in the past few weeks.
At the end, we may have to agree with the Greek physician, Hippocrates, who postulated in his book, “On Airs, Waters, and Places”, that ‘man is the product of his environment’, as well as the American poet and writer, C. J. Heck, who captured it more succinctly that “We are all products of our environment; every person we meet, every new experience or adventure, every book we read, touches and changes us, making us the unique being we are”.
Elections in our country need not become theatres of war or battle grounds for bloodshed. Where the electoral process is transparently clear for all to see, no one would be on the streets protesting and the loser would appreciate that they were not robbed. This would become the case once things are done rightly and the masses are not short-changed!
Bassey wrote from Abuja