BY REUBEN ABATI
The pundits who had predicted the outcome and the nature of the Gubernatorial election in Edo State got it all wrong. The Edo 2020 election may well prove to be a turning point in the management of elections in Nigeria, and if not, there are certainly lessons to be learnt from it. It was in every sense a rude awakening for both the actors in the drama and the community of observers who witnessed and monitored the election. Pundits predicted that the election would end up as war, a do –or die affair and that there would be blood-letting in all the state’s three Senatorial Districts. That didn’t happen. An official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was shot in Etsako Central LGA, another person was macheted and given a cut on the face. In Orhionmwon LGA, a person was killed. In Egor, Ovia South West, Ikpoba-Okha, Oredo LGAs there were reports of skirmishes involving vote buying, and physical assault, but on the whole, the election went on peacefully. There were fears that voters would stay away from the polling stations, out of fear and anxiety, for indeed, before election day, September 19, campaign rhetoric was febrile, hate speech dominated political talk. The people had every reason to be afraid.
Still about 25.2% of registered voters ventured out to exercise their right of franchise. Out of a total of 2.210,534 million registered voters, about 483, 000 did not pick up their voters’ cards, leaving behind a total of 1.7 million accredited voters. Out of these, barely 537,407 voters took part in the exercise, just enough to cover the event with a toga of legitimacy. There were fears about the readiness of INEC for the election. It was an off cycle election. It was a COVID-19 season election. INEC promised that it was ready and that it would do a good job. The Commission didn’t do too badly after all. Unlike what obtained in the past, ad hoc staff got their allowances. Concerns about the late arrival of election materials and the failure of card readers in some local governments were promptly addressed. INEC had insisted that voters should observe COVID-19 protocols. Many voters wore face masks, quite alright, but INEC was totally incapable of enforcing physical and social distancing. That was a major minus. Nobody should be surprised if there is a sudden spike in COVID 19 cases in Edo state after this election.
In past elections, across Nigeria, there were complaints about security agencies and their performance. We have witnessed spectacles of policemen, soldiers, and other security agents constituting themselves into a nuisance on election day and after, acting, as it were, on orders from above, in an absolutely partisan manner. In Edo State on September 19, the various security agencies tried their best to be neutral. Nobody reported the usual story of uniformed men snatching ballot boxes and helping the ruling party to thumbprint ballot papers. There were no disturbing reports of police brutality or accidental discharge by soldiers. In Kogi, in November 2019, the Nigeria Police deployed helicopters to intimidate the people. A prominent female politician was set ablaze, and till date the case rests in a cold file that may never be opened. On September 19 in Edo State, Nigerians witnessed a most unusual election. Political actors respected the restriction of movement order. For an election that was presaged by serious tension and anxiety, that was quite an achievement.
As it turned out, incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki who had crossed from the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to enable him seek a second term in office after he was rejected by powerful forces in the APC, emerged victorious. He scored 307, 955 votes and won with a margin of 84, 336. His main challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) scored 223, 619 votes. There were 14 political parties in the September 19 election, but it was basically a two-way horse race between the PDP and the APC. It was as if all the other 12 political parties did not exist. Their votes taken together did not quite amount to 10, 000. One of the gubernatorial candidates was said to have been at home in Lagos on election day. She didn’t even bother to show up in Edo State. Democracy allows all sorts. Nonetheless, history was made.
Obaseki is the second Governor in Nigerian history to win election within the space of four years, back to back on two different political platforms: the APC in 2016 and the PDP in 2020. Before him, there was in this regard, Samuel Ortom, Governor of Benue State, who became Governor as an APC candidate in 2015, and as a PDP candidate in 2019. Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the Edo 2020 key challenger, will also be remembered as having lost Gubernatorial elections back to back on two different platforms: PDP in 2016, and APC in 2020.
Governor Godwin Obaseki has every reason to enjoy the taste of his victory. He was incumbent Governor but he was the underdog in the 2020 election. He was abandoned by the APC, the same party that presented him as flag-bearer in 2016. He was not allowed to take part in the same party’s primaries on the grounds that his academic credentials are fake. The campaign against him was led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the same man he served as economic strategist and who in 2016 sold him to the people of Edo State as the best thing since the invention of fluoride toothpaste. Oshiomhole did a 360-degree volte face and abandoned Obaseki. He turned 360 degrees and embraced Pastor Ize-Iyamu, the same man he condemned in 2016. Obaseki had other enemies: the absentee 14 lawmakers of Edo State – Oshiomhole’s loyalists who wanted Obaseki out of office. There were other local gladiators, including all the major 2016 Godfathers who now chose to turn against him. Captain Hosa Okunbor, a prominent businessman and a major stakeholder in Edo State who had supported Obaseki in 2016, an otherwise self-effacing Captain Okunbor walked out of the closet and threatened to spend his “last kobo” to remove Obaseki and make Ize-Iyamu Governor.
In the larger community, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the APC sponsored a video on television in which he advised the people of Edo State to reject Obaseki. Asiwaju Tinubu is a powerful political figure and Godfather. In Edo state, he teamed up with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and others to throw Obaseki into the dustbin of history. His loyalists and godsons relocated to Edo State to join the Ize-Iyamu campaign. The national anti-Obaseki team was led by the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Ganduje. I still can’t figure out how anyone would appoint such a controversial man as head of a campaign team. Locally, 42 members of the Obaseki administration resigned and abandoned him. Obaseki’s enemies had the Federal machinery behind them. They control the institutions and powers of the state. But today, they all have dust in their eyes. Obaseki, in a noteworthy re-affirmation of his name, won. God wins! What exactly happened?
Beyond the easy resort to a spiritual explanation and how man proposes and God disposes, or the omnipotence of the God factor, I think the result of the September 19, 2020 election in Edo State can be explained in 5 ways. Number one: the intervention of the United States and the United Kingdom on the eve of the election so to say, made a huge difference. The US issued a statement to say that it will impose and had already imposed restrictions on the visas of Nigerian politicians who committed electoral offences in the November 2019 elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states and who have behaved in similar fashion in the forthcoming Edo and Ondo Gubernatorial elections, on September 19 and October 10 respectively.
The UK Mission in Nigeria followed suit by announcing similar measures with the addition that assets of Nigerian electoral offenders in the UK will be seized, and such persons will be prosecuted under international law. Thank you, US and UK. I am of the firm belief that the political actors who would otherwise have misbehaved in the Edo Gubernatorial election had to restrain themselves because of your intervention. They don’t want to be restricted. They don’t want to lose their visas. They need access to US and UK hospitals whenever they fall ill. They don’t want to be named and shamed. The Nigerian Government has complained about sovereignty and the right to fair hearing. I don’t know what that is all about. What we saw on September 19 was that there was no useless “order from above”. What we know is that the President of Nigeria was the first person to congratulate the re-elected Governor of Edo State.
Number two: the intervention of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Captain Hosa Okunbor, and the desperate anti-Obaseki campaign launched by the APC ended up working in Obaseki’s favour Equity may not favour the indolent but it often favours the underdog. The all-powerful APC machinery was so targeted at Obaseki that unwittingly, the APC scored an own goal against itself. Days before the election, the people of Edo state began to ask questions.
Adams Oshiomhole as Governor in the same state had campaigned against the influence of Godfathers. He practically drove Chief Anthony Anenih of blessed memory out of town. In 2020, Oshiomhole found himself in fits of self-contradiction as he repudiated everything that he ever stood for. He spoke from every corner of the mouth. He apologized to the people and the chiefs of Edo that he made a mistake in 2016. Did they believe him? I don’t think so. The same man could show up in 2024 and tell fresh stories. Obaseki’s victory is an outright rejection of Oshiomhole’s brand of politics. The people of Edo also rejected Asiwaju Tinubu’s busy-body intervention. This in fact inspired Edo nationalism. The people proclaimed: “Edo no be Lagos”.
“Obaseki no be Ambode”. To this extent, the Edo Gubernatorial election was a protest against Godfatherism and an affirmation of Edo nationalism. The Edo people rejected the idea that anyone at all could dictate to them. They stood by whatever mistake anyone thought they made in 2016. Very instructive.
Number three: Obaseki was helped further by the PDP machinery. The PDP cashed in on the failure of the APC in Edo state and took maximum advantage of it. The party which claims that Edo is a PDP state, simply grabbed a rejected Governor of the APC and offered him everything that he wanted: a golden offer that accommodated his Deputy. It was a deft political move. The PDP used Obaseki’s defection from the APC to strengthen its base in Edo State. It countered every negative move by the APC by deploying its own aggressive campaigners, led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state. Others on the ground included the PDP members from Edo state who are members of the National Assembly and the local House of Assembly. Together, they deployed high-grade propaganda to shape public perception. The APC rejected Obaseki. He found a new family. Big loss.
Number five: Obaseki’s victory can also be linked to the politics of 2023. Unknown to many, some key figures in the APC worked for him. Edo became a battleground for the Presidential politics of 2023. Those who do not want Oshiomhole and Bola Tinubu to determine the fortunes of the APC and Nigeria in 2023 moved in and checkmated the process. Realpolitik.
The big take away in all of these is the prompt acknowledgement of Obaseki’s victory by President Muhammadu Buhari and his congratulatory message. Pastor Ize-Iyamu and the Edo branch of the APC have refused to congratulate Obaseki. They should take their cue from the President’s message who in this case, has done something that is quite uncharacteristic. Ize-Iyamu and his supporters claim they want to study the results. They are free to do so. But they should conduct themselves after the fashion of gentlemen and sportsmen. In the past, the APC got controversial rulings from the judiciary in election matters including the notorious case of Imo State where the Supreme Court elected a Governor from the Bench through dubious arithmetic. The judex should be careful. They need to read the press statements by the US and the UK. They may be privileged but they are also not above international law!
President Muhammadu Buahri has advised Obaseki to be magnanimous in victory. He should take that to heart. Before the election, he had threatened to deal with Oshiomhole. He doesn’t need to deal with anyone. Oshiomhole banished the Godfathers that disturbed him from Edo State. He doesn’t need to be served a dose of his own medicine. Even those who promised to spend their last kobo on the September 19 election should be accommodated. Obaseki got a second term by defeating those who tried to play God in the affairs of Edo State. He himself must resist the temptation to act like God. The people of Edo State have reposed their confidence in him by giving him the opportunity of a second term in office. He must not betray their trust. He has promised to Make Edo Great Again. There are unresolved issues and uncompleted projects, and MOUs. He will be better off focusing on that. No man must play God.
As for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, let him be reminded that “except the Lord builds the House, they labour in vain that build it…” (Psalm 127: 1). Pick your phone, make that call and congratulate your brother, Godwin.