Obaseki and Iyamu

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA and SESAN LAOYE

Governor Godwin Obaseki and his major challenger in the September 19 Edo governorship election, Pastor Ize Iyamu, appeared to be neck in neck as the election draws closer. According to a recent survey conducted by Business Hallmark, the election is too close to call, and it is too early to tell if Mr Obaseki’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Mr Iyamu’s All Progressives Congress (APC) will emerge victoriously.

In the survey conducted in the three senatorial districts of the state, neither Obaseki nor Iyamu possesses a clear lead, though the incumbent governor held a slight edge.  Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Nigeria’s elections, particularly that of Edo have been largely influenced, manipulated, and rigged in the past. This makes the final outcome of the election almost unpredictable, as the winner of the contest for governor could end up being decided not by popularity but by several other factors.

Apart from the two leading candidates, 12 other contestants, albeit weak and generally seen as ‘pretenders’, were also given the nod by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to contest the governorship election.

They include two women, Mabel Akomu Oboh of African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Agol Tracy of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). Others are Stevie Nash Ozono, NRM; Edemakhiota Godwin Osaimiamia, Action Alliance (AA); Ibio Lucky Emmanuel of ADP; Lucky Osagie Idehen, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Igbineweka Osamuede, APM and Amos Areloegbe, APP.

Also in the list are Osifo Ohun-Ekpenma Isiah, Labour Party (LP) and Felix Ikezor Obayangbo of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

While the14 political parties and their candidates are to square up on September 19, only the APC, represented by Iyamu and the PDP, represented by Obaseki, are seen as serious contenders for the coveted prize, Edo Government House, Osadebe Avenue, GRA,, Benin.

Findings revealed that the two gladiators have been busy mapping out plans and strategies, including selling their manifestos to the electorates in a desperate bid to outwit each other. They have been visible, dominating the political scenes across the state with their campaign trains, posters, billboards and jingles on the radio, television and mobile trucks.

Factors that will shape the election

BH checks identified many factors that will decide the outcome of the election. They include incumbency, external influence, voting population/strength, voting pattern, choice of running mates, structures on the ground, popularity and many others.

Voting population, strength and pattern

Three of the factors that will determine the outcome of the September 19 poll are voting population, strength and pattern. The three are intertwined and have largely determined the winners and losers of previous elections. According to INEC figures, a total of 2,210,534 registered voters are eligible to vote during the election. Breakdown of the figures shows that 1,159,325 are men, while 1,052,209 are women, with youths between the ages of 18 and 35 making up 50 per cent of voters.

However, the real battleground is in Edo South Senatorial District, with the highest number of registered voters,1,281,414 (58)%, followed by the North with 564,122 (26%), and the Central Senatorial District,  364,998 voters (16%). With the exception of the 2017 governorship poll where the APC won Esanland, which used to be a PDP stronghold, the pattern of voting and parties strength had remained largely unchanged.

During previous elections, the Chief Anthony Anenih-led PDP had held firm to Edo Central (Esanland) where the late political gladiator came from. With the advantage of other factors like incumbency and federal might, the PDP was able to hold firm to Edo South Senatorial District for many years.

With two senatorial districts (Edo South and Central) firmly in its pocket, PDP was able to rule Edo State unchallenged until 2017 when the electoral victory of Governor Obaseki changed the tide with the help of Comrade Oshiomhole. The survey suggests that barring a late twist, the two dominant parties will play strong in their domain, leaving out Edo South as a battleground, with the candidate that wins it running away with the coveted prize.

The district is home to Bini people and settlers. The Binis are in the majority in the state and whoever wins their votes has a very good chance of winning the state.

However, findings revealed that apart from settlers from other parts of the state who are rooting for Obaseki, there is no clear favourite among the two as they are both sons of Bini. While Obaseki is from Oredo local government with two state constituencies, Ize-Iyamu is from Orhiomwon, also with two state constituencies.

While the Bini masses seem to be rooting for the governor, the elites are with Ize Iyamu. Prominent and wealthy Bini sons and daughters such as billionaire businessman, Captain Hosa Okunbo, are publicly with Ize-Iyamu. Also, while the Oba of Benin seems to be neutral on the surface, many of his palace chiefs have openly endorsed Iyamu.

Governor Obaseki is favoured to take Ovia North-East because of the influence of the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, and his children, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, and a former member of the House of Representatives, Omosede Igbinedion. He will also ride on the influence of a member representing Ego/Ikpba-Okha Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Jude Ise-Idehen, to win Ikpoba LGA.

The governor will find it difficult to win Uhumwonde because of the influence of a two-time member of the House of Representatives, Samson Osagie and Washington Osifo, who is yet to be inaugurated as state assembly member despite the presence of his vocal supporter, Hon. Charles Idahosa, in the area.

Also, the decision of the governor to stop the inauguration of six house of assembly members-elect from Uhunmwonde, Oredo East, Oredo West, Ovia North East I, Ovia North East II, and Ovia South-west may come back to haunt him. The aggrieved lawmakers, supported by four others from Edo North, Etsako West I, Etsako West II, Etsako Central, Etsako East, Owan East, Owan West and Akoko-Edo II, deprived from taking their seats at the legislative chamber, are gunning for the governor’s jugular.

External influences

Another major factor expected to influence the outcome of the September 19 poll is the actions or inactions of interested third parties. They include forces from the South South region who want one of their own to be governor; politicians who want to use the state to consolidate their 2023 presidential ambitions, and Abuja among many others.

BH reliably gathered that all South-South PDP governors have teamed up with Governor Obaseki to prevent APC from making another in-road into the region.

According to a source, their resolve was borne out of the desperate attempt to reverse the political trend, which has made it difficult for the PDP to win several states and parliamentary elections since the 2015 loss at the national level.

“In their quest to have a complete sweep of the South-South in order to enhance regional cooperation like the one being experienced in the South West as well as to reverse the political trend, which has made the PDP lose several states and parliamentary elections since the 2015 loss at the national level, leaders of the party, both at the regional and national level, have all deployed resources, both human and material in ensuring that Edo goes PDP way.

“The general believe in the South South is that the Yoruba people of the South West were able to set up their security outfit,  Amotekun, to ward off Fulani herders and bandits because the APC is almost in control of the region.

“You can see that the Chairman of the Edo Governorship Election Campaign Council and Rivers State Governor, Nyesome Wike, had turned Edo to his second home. That shows how desperate we are to retain Edo in the fold”, declared Chief Godspower Emiezor, a chieftain of the PDP in Benin.

Also, like in Ondo State, actors gunning for the 2023 presidency, particularly in the APC and PDP, are not leaving anything to chance in their quest to win Edo over to their side. According to feelers from both parties, a win for them in Edo will boost their chances of winning the presidency, while a loss will be a big setback.

For example, a chieftain of the APC, Bola Ahmed  Tinubu, is said to have provided all needed support to the Iyamu-campaign team led by former governor Adams Oshiomjole to ensure that Edo returns to the APC.

In the same vein, some politicians on the platform of the PDP nursing presidential ambition in 2023, such as Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others see the Edo governorship election as another step toward realising their presidential ambition. Meanwhile, unlike Obaseki, his major challenger, Ize Iyamu, has a big edge with his party, the APC, being at the centre.

The APC, according to political observers, has the unenviable record of always being a biased umpire. They mentioned governorship elections in Osun, Bayelsa, Kogi and others where the government in power deployed federal institutions to help out the APC to subvert the wishes of the people. They maintained that the situation will not be different in the coming election and that the incumbent needs all his wits and the grace of God to survive the coming onslaught.

Incumbency Factor

Perhaps the governor’s strongest advantage, the incumbency factor will also play a big role in determining who becomes the next governor of Edo State? Most Edo citizens who spoke with our Correspondents during the survey attested to the fact that Governor Obaseki had performed well. It would be recalled that Obaseki had in 2016, promised to create 200,000 jobs in 4 years through an economic revival, promoting local businesses and providing highly skilled talent in Edo State.

Though the latest National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) unemployment figures revealed a 27.1% increase as at the third-quarter of 2018 from 19.6% in the same quarter of 2017, many respondents expressed optimism that he would win the governorship contest because of his achievements.

Other achievements include his Edo Best programme (created during the coronavirus pandemic to help children to continue their education at home), which is developing a pool of highly skilled teachers for the state and helping children to compete in the world of work.

Apart from these achievements, the governor’s men are also in control of most government structures in the state. All local government chairmen, crucial to mobilising votes, are in his kitty. Members and chairmen of government ministries, agencies and parastatals, with the exemption of few, are all said to the working for him. In the area of incumbency, the governor holds the ace.

Popularity

Among the 14 candidates, Governor Obasekj and Pastor Iyamu have the best public rating. Out of every ten Edo citizens interviewed, six proclaimed the PDP candidate as the best suitable for the job. Also, Obaseki is very popular in Edo South, where total voting strength is well over 60 per cent.

In Edo North where the former National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, comes from, Iyamu is in control because of the ex-labour leader’s popularity and influence.

Choice of Running Mates

Like other factors, the decision of the two major parties to pick their running mates from Edo North may go a long way in determining the next governor of the state. While Obaseki’s running mate and current deputy governor, Philip Shaibu, is from Jattu-Uzairue, Etsako West LGA of Edo North, Eze-Iyamu also picked his running mate, Gani Audu, from Agbede, Etsako West of Edo North.

Though Oshiomhole had shown his influence in the region in previous elections, Shaibu, who was his protege, is a man to watch. Though not thought to be a big threat, he is said to have some influence in the region, particularly among his Jattu people.

Political pundits, particularly those in the camp of the governor, believe that the deputy governor will steal some votes from Oshiomole’s nose, while those neutral believed his influence is overhyped as he was made by Osiomhole. Findings revealed that if Shaibu succeeds, the incumbent has a very good chance of winning reelection. However, if he doesn’t, the election is as good as won for the APC.

“Adams Oshiomhole is working for Ize-Iyamu as if his life depends on it. Though, he is not the one on the ballot, he knows that the election will largely determine his political future. And he is not leaving anything to chance”, said a community leader from Ekpoma.

Ize-Iyamu’s running mate on the other hand, Gani Audu, is a strong politician from the zone as he was once the chairman of Etsako West Local Government Area.

A grassroots mobiliser, he may ride on the influence of religion, especially as a Muslim with large number of faithful. His choice appears to have consciously balanced religion – Christian/Muslim ticket, unlike PDP’s Christian/Christian ticket. This is the first time since 1999 that a Muslim deputy is on the ticket.

Other Factors

On a personal level, an Obaseki victory at the poll will be a humiliation and a serious blow to the political future of Oshiomhole. It is common knowledge that Oshiomhole handpicked and installed Obaseki as governor. However, their relationship later turned sour and the governor had used all available opportunities to harass and humiliate the former labour leader.

A battle of attrition initiated by Governor Obaseki against his former principal culminated in the suspension of Oshiomhole by a court and his sacking as APC national chairman. According to political watchers, for Oshiomhole, it is payback time.

Based on BH findings and several other factors, the election is 50-50. Though Governor Obaseki seems to have a slight advantage, with him winning by the closest of margins like what happened in Sokoto where Governor Aminu Tambuwal won with 230 votes, victory can swing either way, depending on which side capitalizes on areas where they have an advantage.

The Special Adviser on Political Matters to Governor Obaseki, Hon. Osaigbovo Iyoha, while speaking to our reporters in Benin, the Edo State capital, boasted that his principal will win the September 19 poll owing to his achievements in office.

According to him, Governor Obaseki had done very well that his re-election is a done deal.

“The people of Edo are solidly behind him in spite of all the dirt being thrown at him by the opposition. He has fulfilled all his promised and deserves another term to consolidate his good deeds”, said Iyoha.

However, an APC chieftain from Ekpoma, Barrister Cyril Abhulimen, said Governor Obaseki has not lived up to people’s expectations, and thus should not be returned as governor.

“Though he had tried in his little ways, his best is not enough. He impoverished Edo people more than he met them by giving out their jobs to foreigners.

“Despite his claims that he had the support of the people, reality will hit him on September 19. Where will he get the votes? Esanland where he is boasting that he would get as a PDP stronghold delivered the ticket to the APC in 2017 and will do that again? All their permutations are fallacies. Let us wait until after the election”, the former Edo head of service boasted.