The election for the governorship of Edo State, due on 19 September looks like a gamechanger for Nigeria’s politics. And all the protagonists involve have all hands on deck.
Maintaining a hold on the levers of power is vital for the governing party as its opponents in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) draw attention to the failures of the federal government.
A social commentator by the handle, Onyedikachi Anambra terms the wishes and plans of the APC as witchcraft.
“Edo has the lowest unemployment rate in south south yet Tinubu and Oshomiole that supported Yahaya bello wants Obaseki out. Please define witchcraft.”
At the state and regional levels, the APC wants to hang onto Edo State, the only state in the south-south that it controls.
“NBS has just published unemployment stats and Edo State is the lowest in South South. While everyone was increasing theirs, Governor Obaseki has reduced that of Edo State” says Onyedikachi.
The primaries are over. Although 14 parties submitted names, the September election is really a fight between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu.
Obaseki thought it would be futile to fight back against Oshoimhole’s bid to bar his nomination for the APC ticket in the state. As his spokesman Crusoe Osagie said: “Comrade Oshiomhole has declared that he is the Supreme Court and ultimate determiner of the fate and future of our great party.”
Reasons given for the disqualification included inconsistencies in Obaseki’s academic certificates, as well as his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Certificate – which reads Obasek, instead of Obaseki.
However, as Obaseki ran without problems on the APC ticket in 2016, and these certifications have not changed since then, such enforcements looked rather desperate.
Although Obaseki insists that he did not pay to defect to the PDP, rumours are circulating that much money changed hands. So far, no evidence has emerged to support these claims.
For Oshiomhole, Ize-Iyamu is an ally of convenience. In 2016, Oshiomhole spurned Ize-Iyamu’s campaign for the governorship in Edo in favour of Obaseki. Now it is the other way around. And in 2012, Ize-Iyamu led Oshiomhole’s campaign for a second term as governor of Edo.
Shortly after his election as governor in 2016, Obaseki banned APC officials from the government house in Benin City, the state capital, saying that public funds were for development, not for sharing amongst the political elite.
Oshiomhole reportedly saw this refusal to entertain the party funders as a betrayal. These officials and financiers had been loyal to Oshiomhole, who had used them to help Obaseki get elected.
After that, the rivalries intensified, on everything from who would be the speaker of the House of Assembly, to the distribution of state resources.
Ize-Iyamu is a former secretary to the Edo State government and had been an Oshiomhole supporter. However, Ize-Iyamu defected to the PDP in 2016, when Oshiomhole broke with him and chose Obaseki as the APC governorship candidate.
In that 2016 election, Oshiomhole did what he could to destroy Ize-Iyamu’s career, calling him a “pathological liar”. Why the two men fell out so badly in 2016 and are back as a team in 2020 is obscure.
It may just be that Oshiomhole thinks Ize-Iyamu is the strongest option available to run against Obaseki.
If the APC loses Edo State, it will further damage Oshiomhole’s reputation. In backing Ize-Iyamu for governor, he had wanted to prove to the party hierarchy that he is the undisputed king of the state and can push out people who defy him.
The Oba of Benin, traditional leader of the capital of Edo State, wields great cultural and discreet political influence.
In adherence with tradition, Obaseki and top PDP officials visited the monarch last month on a politically-charged mission. On leaving, they were met with thugs at the palace gate: the confrontation quickly descended into violence.