By OBINNA EZUGWU
The September 19 governorship polls in Edo State has, as expected, turned out to be a contest between the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, now of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in what would be a rematch of the of the 2016 contest, albeit with political parties now switched, and probably the fortunes. It promises to be a tough battle between two evenly matched opponents, but one which the influence of President Muhammadu Buhari and federal might may ultimately decide.
From our Correspondents’ survey, a free and fair election is likely to return the incumbent Obaseki for a second term. But even he who profited from strong arm twisting of the electoral system in 2016 knows that popular support counts for little in governorship elections under the current dispensation.
Recent events suggest it would be a war between whatever force the governor can muster within the state, and the evidently superior firepower of the federal government, which is poised to see Ize-Iyamu pay the governor back for the 2016 outcome.
The past few weeks witnessed telling events in the APC. An Abuja Appeal Court validated the suspension of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, immediate past governor of Edo and Obaseki’s key adversary from office as national chairman of the party. And while it appeared as though his loyalists in the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) had taken over the leadership through the acting chairmanship of Hilliard Eta, President Muhammadu Buhari suddenly opted to recognise their opponent, Chief Victor Gaidom, the other claimant of the acting chairmanship position, as the authentic acting chairman.
Gaidom, it would be recalled, had based his claim on the fact that the original High Court decision which sacked Oshiomhole, had recognized him as acting national chairman, as Deputy National Secretary, South South, being the most senior official from the South at the time. His claim was, however, rejected by the NWC members who had named the late former Oyo State governor, who was at the time, Deputy National Chairman, South as acting chairman, and subsequently asked Eta to act on his behalf because he was indisposed.
The NWC proceeded to obtain a court order restraining the Rivers State born Gaidom from parading himself as Acting National Chairman. He, however, persisted and proceeded to summon a National Executive Council (NEC) Meeting for Thursday fortnight ago. Buhari later delivered a crushing blow to the NWC by recognizing Gaidom, and during the NEC meeting, he disbanded the committee altogether and constituted caretaker committee with Yobe State governor, Hon. Mai Mala Buni as chairman.
Buhari’s move meant that Oshiomhole was finally out as APC chairman. It was a huge blow to him. But while many are of the view that his ouster would work heavily in Obaseki’s favour going into the Edo election in September, more recent events suggest otherwise.
Oshiomhole, though humiliated out of the party’s leadership by Buhari’s action, has since mended fences with the president and pledged his complete loyalty to him. And while he had initially vowed to challenge the outcome of the NEC meeting in court, he later did a U-turn two days after and pledged loyalty to Buhari. His change, BusinessHallmark learnt, was as a result of Buhari assuring him of support in his effort to ensure that APC’s Ize-Iyamu emerged governor.
“The issues on ground are still Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu. Buhari is interested in the election, that’s why he rectified the primary that produced Ize-Iyamu,” a close party source in the state told Hallmark.
“You know that there is really nothing justifying the move by the president to dissolve the NWC. It is a clear illegality when it comes to party matter. But it’s just that they wanted to take over the party and saw that as an opportunity. This is the first time they are taking a whole NEC meeting to Aso Rock.
“That moment Oshiomohle agreed to abide by the decision of Buhari, they met with the president and agreed. Buhari has told Boss Mustapha to call all APC governors on the Edo election matter; that Edo needs to be one. This is the first time Buhari is meddling into a state election since he returned for second term. That directive to Boss Mustapha to coordinate the election shows he is interested in Edo and wants to have it back for APC.
“If they wanted to hit Oshiomohle, and if they really wanted to give support to Obaseki, they would have declared the primary that produced Ize-Iyamu invalid. Because actually, that’s what it then means. If you say that Gaidom was the real acting national chairman, but he had said he was distancing himself from the primary, then automatically the primary is invalid. But Buhari has validated the outcome of the primary.
“What I see is that both the PDP and the APC are going to struggle with legal matters after the election. The PDP too did not meet the deadline given by INEC. INEC said that any party that wants any adjustments in the primary programme, must notify INEC seven days ahead of time. But this one they did it four days to.
“There is no third party with any big name. There would be muscling of the system after the election. That’s why I say that for president Buhari to actually come to call APC governors for the Edo matter, he is going to go the whole hug to make sure Ize-Iyamu gets it.”
Indeed, while the court judgment that removed Oshiomhole was seen, in some sense, as a win for Obaseki, whatever benefit he could have derived from it has apparently been lost on account of his resignation from the APC following his disqualification from the party’s primary.
Although the governor, following the disqualification, was to meet Buhari who had accepted to discuss with him, BusinessHallmark learnt from one of his aides that the president later changed his mind because Obaseki had first gone to meet Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt, a key member of the PDP amid speculations that he was about to join the party.
“The governor and the deputy governor resigned from the APC and the circumstances surrounding the resignation there at the Villa would make it impossible for them to return,” Obaseki’s aide who craved anonymity told our Correspondent.
“We learnt that the president blanked him (Obaseki) out and did not meet him. But the Chief of Staff met him and told him, ‘Well since you have started meeting with the opposition, go and continue with them.’ He had an appointment to see the president but before the date, he had gone to see the opposition, so the president blocked him out.”
The president’s decision would have prompted the governor’s move to PDP, which he announced immediately after meeting with the Chief of Staff. This being the case, the president is expected to avail Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu of the state power apparatus, which may well decide the election.
Indeed, Obaseki was shown a bit of that during the APC primary on June 22. While he had signed an executive order barring the gathering of more than 20 persons in one location, the Inspector General of Police, it was said, emptied the police command of three states into Edo to provide security for the primary. The polls, observers say, may witness events similar to what obtained in the recent Kogi State governorship election that returned Governor Yahaya Bello for second term.