By Tayo Oke
Way back in June of this year, as the plot to thwart the All Progressives Congress Governor Godwin Obaseki’s quest for a second term in office thickened, this column sounded a warning to his then party: “Let me say again, categorically, that (Adams) Oshiomhole is a spent force in the APC politics…” It went further: “Let me make a prediction for the Edo and Ondo primaries and subsequent elections later this year. Barring a major electoral malfeasance, the APC will lose both if they force the incumbents out at the primaries…” (See; “Obaseki: Albatross around APC’s neck”, The PUNCH, Tuesday, June 23, 2020).
That warning was direct enough. The party must now wish they had heeded it. Obaseki is now set to begin a second term as Governor of Edo State no longer on the platform of the APC, but that of the Peoples Democratic Party. It is the mother of all own goals for the APC in the history of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. It is the tragedy of a defeat foretold. And, if care is not taken, it could confine the APC into an irrelevance in Edo politics for a generation. Detailed analysis and rationale for the warning are contained in the June 23 column, and can be accessed online. It contains reference to crucial historical parallels that should have been seen as a clear red light to the APC hierarchy.
This is also a warning to the sceptics who do not believe in the Nigerian democratic process; people who believe that party loyalty, history and pedigree count for little in the face of money. It is assumed, quite arrogantly, that money can buy votes and the people’s conscience. That, as long as you dole out large amounts of money to the ‘right people’ at the ‘right time’, then, they are bound to deliver.
Lest no one be in doubt, money talks rather loudly in all politics, in all countries. It is particularly so in our own political environment. Did the APC and the PDP spend billions of naira in direct inducement for votes in the just concluded election in Edo State? That is not even a question; it is a given. The Edo election demonstrates the influence of money, but also its limitations.
There is only so much money you can fritter away on so many people at a time. Money can buy off anger, hunger and frustration, but it cannot buy solid conscience. There are many within the Edo electorate who benefitted widely from the APC largesse as a quid-pro-quo for their votes, but who still went ahead and voted against the party, and vice-versa. What that goes to show is that there is still space, one little space, in the minds of the electorate for conscience. Any politician who ignores that does so at his own peril.The bottom line is, without money, contesting a public office is a nonstarter.
But, while money and party provide the foundations for victory, record and the antecedents of the individual personalities involved in the contest provide the tipping point. It makes the crucial difference between victory and defeat. If you are going to cast a “performing governor” (according to Obaseki’s campaign propaganda) adrift, it better be for reasons that clearly resonate with the electorate’s basic instincts. Obaseki was brought to ridicule on so many spurious and untenable charges by the APC machine. A party with a relatively scanty presence in the people’s lives. Unlike the situation in Lagos State, loyalty to the person is still far stronger than loyalty to the party in Edo State.
The margin of Obaseki’s victory itself speaks volumes (307,955 against 223,619 for his closest rival). He won 13 out of the 18 local government areas in the state, including Iguododo in Orhionmwon, the local government area of his chief opponent, Ize-Iyamu, who has graciously conceded defeat. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has been swift in issuing his own congratulatory message to the victor: “I have consistently advocated free and fair elections in the country because it is the bedrock of true democratic order. Democracy will mean nothing if the votes of the people do not count or if their mandate is fraudulently tampered with”.
This high-minded statement issued by the President’s Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, upon the declaration of the results by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Sunday, September 20, 2020, is to be welcomed with a pinch of salt. The President had wanted and indeed campaigned for victory for his party, the APC, but his position as President for all Nigerians irrespective of party affiliation mandated his office to issue the clarion call for people to respect the outcome of the ballot. Behind closed doors will begin the recriminations, and a post-mortem examination of how and why the APC got things so spectacularly wrong. For once, the party has been wise not to remove the incumbent candidate for governor in Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu. He is expected to coast to victory on account of his record and personality relative to the other contenders.
Where does all this leave Nigeria and its quest for development going forward? Can we now rest assured that the people’s wish does count in this country? Is the power of the ballot box finally a reality? Let us not get too carried away just yet with those seductive niceties. Democracy, it is said, is a slow process. What happened in Edo State will either be replicated nationwide, or it could easily turn out to be a flash in the pan. Besides, the Edo election was not fought over ideology, manifesto, or even policy. The two main candidates are hardly an example of ideological rivalry.
Remember, they had simply swapped parties. The last time the governorship election was held in the state, in 2016, Ize-Iyamu (the loser in this election), was the PDP candidate opposing Obaseki, the then APC candidate, who won. Upon losing the election, Ize-Iyamu abandoned the PDP, hurriedly picked up membership of the APC and mounted a successful campaign to displace Obaseki as the official candidate at the 2020 election, whereupon, Obaseki in turn hurriedly ran to the PDP, collected their governorship nomination form, and was immediately installed as their official candidate.
This was made possible principally because APC has not yet entrenched itself in the community as a force for good. The party has only been going in the state for six years. What was needed was continuity for at least two electoral cycles or more, but Oshiomhole’s legendary petulance and his penchant for using a sledge hammer to crack a nut turned out to be costly.
He ran the campaign for Obaseki’s first tenure as governor in 2016, lambasting then main PDP challenger, Ize-Iyamu, as ‘worse than a whore’. This time round though, once Obaseki had been driven out of the APC, the same Ize-Iyamu was adopted as the torchbearer for the party, and Oshiomhole quickly changed his tune: ‘Vote Ize-Iyamu, he is the best candidate ever to graze Edo soil’! Any wonder why people are so deeply cynical about politics and politicians in general?