Come September this year, the electorate in Edo will throng polling booths in the state to elect a governor who will steer the ship of state for the next four years. EMAMEH GABRIEL reports that with recent permutations, it appears the people might not necessarily vote along party lines.
Almost 12 years after losing power in Edo State, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been presented with an opportunity to regain its ruling position in the state.
Until recently, the state was the only state in the South-south where the All Progressives Congress (APC) held sway, after former governor, Adams Oshiomhole was declared winner of the 2006 controversial governorship election by an Appeal Court.
The PDP got leverage at consolidating a win at the forthcoming polls after the defection of incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki to its fold following a protracted rift between him and Oshiomhole- a situation that almost imploded the party to the national level.
Obaseki and his erstwhile godfather, Oshiomhole, had fought a long and hard battle which led to the former dumping APC and the latter removed as national chairman of APC.
Having been edged out of the race to contest in the APC, Obaseki who ran on the platform of APC in 2016 emerged unopposed at the PDP primary election recently conducted in Edo State, though this didn’t come without initial controversies that almost threw the PDP into crisis.
The APC at the national level also felt the impact of the crisis in Edo as the tussle blew the scramble for the party’s 2023 ticket to the surface.
Although President Buhari had cause to intervene, the cold war among the key gladiators of the party who have their eyes on its 2023 ticket persists.
However, in Edo, as it stands now, the battle for the governorship seat is between the same main rivals in 2016, incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of PDP and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of APC. Interestingly, only four years ago, Obaseki was the APC candidate while Ize-Iyamu was the PDP candidate.
For many pundits, Obaseki would be having his true baptism of fire at the polls this September. This time, he will have to go out there to test his popularity without Oshiomhole pulling the strings for him and leading the campaign. He would be working not just with a new team but also some strange fellows in the PDP.
Apart from the power of incumbency which gives the PDP candidate a huge advantage with state resources to prosecute the contest, currently, the PDP controls two out of the three senatorial zones in the state; Edo Southand Central. The party also controls all the eighteen local government areas with hundreds of political appointees to its credit.
His supporters believe his infrastructural developments in Edo South and central will be an added advantage to his campaign.
Going by recent switches, Edo Central would be the battle ground for both APC and PDP, even though it tilts towards Obaseki of PDP’s previous performances there.
Apart from the 2012 governorship election, PDP has not lost Edo Central to any party since 1999 and the party has maintained this feat in the zone. With a PDP governor this time, analysts believe it will be a smoother ride for the current ruling party.
What’s more, the clamour to produce the next governor of the state from the zone continues to gain traction which could mean that stakeholders from the zone are likely to put their stake on Obaseki.
For instance, in 2024, it would mark 41 years since they last had a true taste of power (after late Ambrose Ali’s reign). Even though Professor Osunbo was elected governor through a controversial election in 2006, the mandate did not last long as a Court of Appeal upturned the victory in favour of Oshiomhole’s emergence as governor.
These sentiments will of course influence the way the people in the zone will vote; for them the choice is between waiting for four years with Obaseki or for another eight years, should Ize-Iyamu win.
Sources from the zone told LEADERSHIP that there is a voice consensus among the Esan people to work towards producing the next governor of the state by 2024. Reason is that Obaseki’s return will provide them a better chance to produce the next governor.
“There is an existing tripartite agreement that gives the mantle of governor to an Esan indigene as from 2024. The people of Esan land strongly believe that Governor Obaseki will fulfil this promise”, the source told LEADERSHIP.
He said the sour relationship between the people of Uromi and Edo Government arising from the suspension of their Onojie (which they considered a deposing of their King) by Oshiomhole, is still fresh in their minds.
Still in Uromi, the emergence of the Speaker of the House of Assembly from the Esan North East is considered and believed to be possible with Obaseki’s intervention.
Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu are from Edo South which provides a tough election battle ground. Obaseki is however from one of the largest families in the zone, he has his royal family to thank also.
He is from the Bini extraction as Ize-Iyamu but coming from one of the largest local government areas of the state (Oredo), which might give him an edge. With the support from the Igbinedion family and Hon Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, one of the strongest forces and many others with him in the same camp, the governor may have less to worry about.
Oredo is the centre of Bini politics. It is the heart of the state that any governorship candidate must win before consolidating numbers from other local governments in the state.
Edo North is going to be a rough ground for Obaseki to navigate. It is Oshiomhole’s coast and he would seek to have his pound of flesh at all cost. Recall that it was the rift between him and Obaseki that cost Oshiomhole his job as APC national chairman.
Oshiomhole will of course deploy all that is left in his arsenal to sack Obaseki. It is Oshiomhole’s fertile ground and he still commands some level of respect among his followers and kinsmen.
However, while it’s still early to assess the damage done to his political fortress following his suspension by his ward members, the former Edo Governor will have to deal with his estranged major allay from the zone, the deputy Governor Philip Shiabu, who is Obaseki’s running mate for the forthcoming election.
Philip, like Obaseki, also comes from one of the largest communities from the Uzarue speaking people of Edo north. He is regarded as a grassroots politician who commands huge followership in the zone. He knows the streets better and this might be another advantage for Obaseki.
The plot for Oshiomhole’s removal was orchestrated by Philip Shiabu who penetrated Oshiomhole’s ward executives and perfected his suspension.
Obaseki will be banking on Philip and other stalwarts of the party in the zone to split the votes in the zone.
Sympathy might play a big role in the election. “People are not happy with Oshiomhole. He has made himself a god and Edo people are already fed up of him, said Jude Okolie, a resident of Benin.
“This was Oshiomhole who told us all sorts of things about Ize-Iyamu and he is trying to plant the same man four years after, ” said Jude who expressed disgust over the brand of politicians in Nigeria.
There are so many reasons that will influence the people’s sympathy for Obaseki.
Till now, apart from the sketchy information of power tussles, there has not been concrete evidence that Obaseki derailed from Oshiomhole’s policy programme.
The fear that Oshiomhole wants to rule again by proxy had enveloped the hearts of the people. Some had recalled how Obaseki was imposed on them and with Oshiomhole not being able to give genuine reasons for his fight against Obaseki, has even caused more eyebrows to raise.
A public affairs analyst and columnist, Fredrick Nwabufor asked in one of his recent opinions: “…where is the interest of the Edo people in all of these? Has the governor failed in his duties? Has he failed on his promises to the people? Has he misused public funds? Are the social and economic indices of the state better or worse than they were four years ago? I believe these gradients should be the basis on which Obaseki is assessed”.
These questions still ruminate in the hearts of the people. Oshiomhole’s campaign against Ize-Iyamu in 2016 bordering on corruption allegations and his recent realignment with Ize-Iyamu would also be an issue of discussion during the campaign. How Oshiomhole will market Ize-Iyamu and demarket Obaseki this time is the question on the lips electorates.
Ize-Iyamu, PIO, as he is fondly called by his supporters, is a grassroots politician and pastor who has a support base across the three senatorial districts in the state.
Ize-Iyamu served under Lucky Igbenidion administration as secretary to the state government. He was a founding member of the AC, now APC. He left the party in 2014 to rejoin the PDP when the coast was hazy for his governorship ambition. His relationship with Oshiomhole at that time had gone sour and he was left with no choice but to dump the party for PDP.
In 2016, Ize-Iyamu, as PDP candidate, contested against Obaseki. He lost the election which he later challenged and lost at the court.
In November 2019, when it became obvious that the rift between Obaseki and Oshiomhole had gone beyond reconciliation, Ize-Iyamu returned to APC.
Like Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu is from the Bini extraction, though not born with royal blood, he had worked his way to the heart of the politicians in Edo State where he commands a good number of followers.
He left the PDP with a good number of his supporters but the Igbenidion vehicle on which he rode on to political prominence stayed behind. This may likely be a major setback for him in Edo South.
Of course there will be votes split between him and Obaseki in Edo South but he has a few hurdles to overcome.
Ize-Iyamu is currently battling with an image crisis created by his current benefactor, Adams Oshiomhole. During the 2016 Governorship election campaigns, Oshiomhole had told the people damaging stories about Ize-Iyamu.
He is also facing an alleged N700m corruption charge with the EFCC.
Ize-Iyamu will of course capitalise on federal might to influence the voting decisions in the state. The influence of the government at the center will count in big measures.
The APC controls the seat of power in Abuja and indications are that the party will do anything to regain the state having lost five states to the PDP during the last general election.
However with the party still engulfed in crisis despite President Buhari’s recent intervention that saw the disolution of the Oshiomhole-led NWC, it is still not clear if the warring factions have sheathed their swords for good.
The 2023 ticket is already tearing components of the party apart. This will of course have greater effects on the party’s outing in Edo.
Edo North and Oshiomhole’s factor
This is Oshiomhole’s stronghold where Ize-Iyamu’s running mate is picked from. It’s going to be the battle ground for Oshiomhole and Obaseki’s deputy, Philip Shiabu who is also from the Afemai extraction. The former APC national chairman still has influence over most of the gladiators in the zone.
In 2016, Edo Central was Ize-Iyamu’s harvesting ground where he won the APC. Initial expectations were that he would pick his running mate from the zone but the Oshiomhole’s factor had come into play; Ize-Iyamu opted for Edo north where he picked a running mate from. It remains unclear whether this will affect his popularity in Esan land.