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Edo 2024: Two giants and a midget for Osadebe House

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Edo 2024: Two giants and a midget for Osadebe House

Olumide Akpata, the Labour Party governorship candidate for the September 21 Edo State governorship election, is a collosal figure; a legal giant, who has climbed to the pinnacle of his law profession, having served as the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), but as far as the ranking of candidates according to their political weights is concerned, he brings up the rear in what is more realistically a battle between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Asue Ighodalo and the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Senator Monday Okpebholo.

Across social media, and indeed, in media reports, the Edo poll has been presented as a three horse race. The Obidient Movement, prominent in Edo, had helped the Labour Party, with Peter Obi as its candidate, sweep the state in the presidential election held last year. But subsequent elections elsewhere have shown that the movement has not, particularly translated into votes for other Labour Party candidates, and with the party itself battling leadership crisis, and members of the movement bitterly split between Akpata and PDP’s Asue Ighodalo, the former NBA president is literally swimming against the tide.

“In the last election, we saw the Obidient Movement push Labour Party to the point, where it almost won the presidential election, if not for some magic wand,” said an Edo based political analyst, Frank Ehioson. “But the reality is that the Obi factor wanes when he is not the one on the field.”

The Labour Party failed to make good impression in the last off cycle polls in Imo and Bayelsa states, where it had much promise, with Athan Achonu and Udengs Eradiri as candidates respectively. The party fell to third place in both instances, unable to match the strength of the two leading political parties. In both the Imo and Bayelsa, and indeed Kogi, where the governorship elections held on November 11, 2023, the ruling parties held sway, and from available feedback, barring unforseen circumstances, the pattern is likely to repeat in Edo.

Asue Ighodalo, candidate of the PDP at the moment, is the clear favourite, but the APC and its candidate, Senator Monday Okpebholo, could have enough in their arsenal to cause an upset, especially with President Bola Tinubu, having possible axe to grind.

“You know me very well, and you know Adams Oshiomhole too. We’re still going to fight further. Don’t worry, we’re with you, you will not work alone,” Tinubu told APC leaders from Edo, who visited in Aso Rock weeks before the party’s primary. “One thing I can assure you is that, yes, do you want the Edo back? I am the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will bring Edo back to you.”

Edo had been an APC state from 2008 till 2020. Adams Oshiomhole became governor on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria in 2008, and ACN was one of the two major parties that merged to form APC in 2013. But an attempt by Oshiomhole and other APC stakeholders to deny Obaseki – who had succeeded him in 2016 – a second term, forced him to defect to the PDP, where he retained his seat in an election that was a statement by Edo people to Tinubu, who had in a video encouraged them to vote out Obaseki days to the election, that “Edo no be Lagos.”

Tinubu, now President, has indicated interest in making a point, and with a history of snatch, grab and run with it to booth, even as his minister of FCT, Nyesom Wike, with no less a pedigree, is said to be interested in undermining his adversary, Obaseki and the PDP. Edo people may have something to fear, but Obaseki has more than demonstrated his own capacity to fight, and has indeed, won every fight that came his way since becoming governor, including those against his former boss, Oshiomhole, and the current one against his present number two, Philip Shaibu, who wanted the throne, but now faces impeachment threat for his troubles.

“People are generally not interested in the election because of the way the 2023 elections went, and the hardship everyone is now facing,” said Amaechi Ezema, a trader at New Benin. “In the market here, nobody talks about election unlike before. But in terms of who is likely to win it, the general assumption is that Obaseki’s candidate, Ighodalo will win. He may not necessarily be the best, but he’s the most visible, and because of how Obaseki has won elections in the past, everyone believes that he is strong enough to produce his successor.”

Between the candidates

An underlining factor in the Edo election is a general consensus that power should shift to Edo Central senatorial zone, as a way of giving the Esan clan a sense of belonging. And apart from having more established political structure, this is another reason Ighodalo and Okpebholo, who come from the zone, have an advantage over Akpata, who is from Edo South, the same zone as Obaseki, and, who is now widely dismissed as an opportunist.

The return of democracy in 1999 saw the emergence of Lucky Igbenedion, a Benin man from Edo South as governor. He handed over to Oserheimen Osunbor, an Esan from Edo Central in 2007, but Osunbor’s election was overturned by the court in 2008, paving the way for Oshiomhole, from Auchi in Edo North to become governor.

Oshiomhole, upon the completion of his tenure in 2016, handed power to Obaseki, who is Benin from Edo South. With his second term coming to an end this year, therefore, he is expected to hand power to Edo Central, and it’s perhaps with this in mind that he is backing Ighodalo.

The APC, which had initially produced Dennis Idahosa, a member of the House of Representatives from Edo South, who is said to have the backing of Oshiomhole, as candidate, also had to schedule another primary as pressure mounted from within, to select Okpebholo, the current Edo Central senator as candidate.

Many stakeholders across party lines have argued strongly for power shift to the Central Zone. Of the state’s three senatorial zones, Edo South, the Benin clan, has majority of the voting population, constituting an estimated 45 percent. Next in line is the Edo North which accounts for about 35 percent, according to recent findings, while the Central which brings up the rear with about 20 percent or less.

With roughly 80 percent of the voting population shared between them, the Edo South and North have dominated the state power corridor since the return of democracy in 1999, with the former holding power for a combined 16 years, and the former eight years, while the Central only had a brief stint with Osunbor who was in power for roughly one year.

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“There’s a general feeling that Esan people should also be given a sense of belonging,” said Kevin Osazuwa, a political analyst. “For so long they have not produced a governor, so that’s understandable. It’s important that every part of the state is carried along and thankfully, they have very qualified candidates now.”

Osazuwa is from Edo South, which hosts the capital city, Benin, and holds much of the aces, which also means that a candidate the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, backs, will stand a good chance. This is the advantage Akpata, the only one of the leading candidates, who is from the zone would have had. But this would be advantage may have turned out to be his key undoing, with his opponents increasingly portraying him as an opportunist.

Edo is one of the states where the Obidient Movement is very strong, and it was no surprise that Peter Obi thrashed both Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Bola Tinubu of the APC in the presidential election there. But the movement has now bitterly split between those who are backing power shift to the Central in the interest of fairness, and are mostly backing the PDP candidate who they say is competent, and those who insist that Akpata should be supported in the interest of competence and overall interest of the Labour Party gaining momentum going into 2027.

The split, coupled with the leadership crisis and allegations of corruption in the Labour Party, will further dim Akpata’s chances.

Profiles of candidates:

Ighodalo

Ighodalo, the PDP candidate, comes to the contest with rich pedigree. An accomplished lawyer, he is a founding partner of Banwo & Ighodalo, a leading corporate and commercial law firm.

His core areas of practice are corporate and project finance, securities and capital markets, energy and natural resources, and mergers and acquisitions. His early education was at King’s College, Lagos; and the University of Ibadan. Today, as Chairman of several top-notch organisations, Ighodalo successfully led numerous high-stake negotiations, advised on critical legal matters, and directed strategic k that have transformed organisations and achieved remarkable outcomes. No

He obtained his first degree in Economics from the University of Ibadan, a law degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science and was admitted into the Nigerian Bar in July 1985.

Ighodaho is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (past Chairman of the Section on Business Law 2014-2016), International Bar Association (Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Law Section (SEERIL)), Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, Institute of Directors Nigeria, Commercial Law and Taxation Committee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.

He was the Chairman, Board of Directors, Sterling Bank Plc, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Levene Energy Group Limited, Edo State Investment Summit, DO II Designs Limited and Global Mix Limited. He also sat on the boards of Mainstreet Technologies Limited (ownership company of MainOne Cable Limited), Cardinal Stone Partners, Okomu Oil Palm Plc, Christopher Kolade Foundation, Boff & Co. Insurance Brokers, Healthcare Federation of Nigeria (NGO focused on the

of healthcare practitioners) and Kashim Ibrahim Foundation, Kaduna (NGO focused on the leadership development of Nigerian youths).

He is the immediate past Chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and he also served on the Board of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, May 2017-May 2021, and was Chairman of Dangote Flour Mills Plc. Throughout the administration of the former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, he was a member of the state Economic Team chaired by the incumbent, Godwin Obaseki, as well as the Chairman of Obaseki’s Alaghodaro, which in Benin parlance means progress.

Ighodalo is also a philanthropic individual, channelling his success towards making a positive impact on society.

He has authored many articles in leading law publications and also delivered presentations on diverse subjects including a biannual seminar on ‘Contemporary Political History of Nigeria’ at the Nigerian Leadership Initiative Future Leaders class and the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship (KIF) class. He also lectured on the roles and duties of directors and corporate governance at the Lagos Business School and the Institute of Directors. He was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Economics by the Edo University, Uzairue in November 2021.

He is ever-learning and seeking continuous growth through training and certifications. They include International Institute for Management Development (IMD)- (2023), Stanford Directors’ College – (2019), INSEAD International Directors Programme (2016), Harvard Business School – Making Corporate Boards More Effective (2015), Aspen Institute -Nigeria Leadership Seminar (2006), Harvard Business School – Governing for Nonprofit Excellence (2004) and Georgetown University – Georgetown Leadership Seminar (2003).

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Okpebholo:

The APC candidate, Okpebholo, coming from the background of an entrepreneur, demonstrated his political strength in the last election when he defied both the ruling party in the state, the PDP, and the Labour Party wave, to emerge Edo Central Senator.

Okpebholo was born in Udomi-Uwesan, Irrua, Esan Central Local Government of Edo. He was popularly nicknamed Akpakomisa from childhood because of his survival of the tough times occasioned by the numerous waterborne diseases at the time.

He came from a humble and hardworking family. He was born on June 12, 1962, and attended Uromi Elementary School in Edo. Thereafter, he went to Uromi Grammar School, where he excelled both academically and socially. He then attended the University of Benin, where he studied Agricultural Economics and bagged a Bachelor’s degree in 1986.

Akpata:

Born on October 7, 1972, Akpata is a legal practitioner and politician. He was a senior partner and the Head of the Corporate and Commercial Practice Group at Templars, a renowned commercial law firm in Nigeria until his resignation on August 31, 2023, to enable him to pursue his political ambition.

Olumide surprised many in July 2020 when he became the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) after he defeated several Senior Advocates of Nigeria to become the first non-SAN in 28 years to clinch the position.

The Labour Party candidate comes from a prominent Benin family of Justice Ephraim Akpata, Tayo Akpata and Senator Akpata during the Second Republic. An eloquent and motivational speaker, and manager of men and materials. The only person from the three leading candidates to come from the Edo South senatorial district with the highest single voting population.

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