Edo/Ondo: Covid-19 tips the scale against Ize-Iyamu, Akeredolu

Edo and Ondo are about to become theaters of war of sorts, largely between two enemies, plus one more adversary deadlier than either of them

By Elijah Olusegun

The major parties contending the September guber elections in Edo and Ondo are basically preparing for war. But they are most likely picking the wrong battle.

For the rattle, the PDP is arming all of its Godzillas in party politics: the longest serving Sen. President David Mark, the foxiest of Senate presidents Bukola Saraki, the highest ranking senator in the Nigeria National Assembly and former Dep. Sen. President Ike Ekweremadu, blowhard Minority Leader Sen. Eyinaya Abaribe. There are also ex-VP and presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, his running mate Peter Obi, and an also-ran Rabiu Kwakwanso.

Leading the charge is Rivers Gov. Nyesom Wike, and following are all governors, according to the party’s National Working Committee.

On the other side, the APC has set in array mostly tenderfeet. It’s leaving out campaign machines like the party’s national leader Bola Tinubu, Ministers Rotimi Amaechi, Rauf Aregbesola, and Ogbonnaya Onu, V.P Yemi Osinbajo.

The foot-soldiers—campaign-wearied honorables, senators, governors, and party freshmen—will rely on party’s ex-national chairmen Adams Oshiomhole and John Odigie Oyegun, Minister Godwin Akpabio, and Sen. Rochas Okorocha.

Kano Gov. Abdullahi Ganduje and his Imo counterpart Hope Uzodimma will have their back. Forty-nine of  them.

Some have described the election as an epic battle between old rival Osagie Ize-Iyamu and PDP Gov. Godwin Obaseki in Edo, and APC Gov. Rotimi Akerele and his estranged deputy Agboola Ajayi in Ondo. If only that is all.

There’s a third deadlier enemy, however—menacing both candidates and their parties—and their campaign armies, too.

Covid-19 has no boot on the ground in Edo and Ondo. But its invisible army has hit many, thereby maxing out its major weapon: fear.

The most likely of the APC aspirants, Akeredolu is already a victim, downed by the viral enemy days ago. Ondo is among the states where Covid-19 infection is spiralling skyward lately.

Apart from Akeredolu, there are four other governors, all PDP, who, along with their entire families and, sometimes, cabinets, are down with the virus now. The infection has been moving round the governors’ circuit lately, especially in Benue, Ondo, Delta, Ebonyi—states whose governors will be part of the PDP campaign train in Edo and Ondo soon.

Catching the virus is no death sentence, the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control and the Presidential Task Force of Covid-19 have insisted. But the dread and misinformation accompanying the viral spread kill, one way or the other.

The fear could kill the campaign morale in the coming days.

It already played a role in scaling down those the parties recruited for their campaigns. Especially the APC. Because of age, underlining conditions, and other factors that can make fair game of a potential victim, many of the campaign veterans in the parties might have been spared the risk. And it is not certain yet that all of those enlisted will stick out their necks for their candidates in this pandemic.

Watching where the wind will blow, some political analysts see the scale still weighted against the APC thanks to Covid-19. The best of the party’s campaigners will be hiding—or staying safe—in their bunkers while its lightweights do battle with the hardboiled campaigners on the PDP bandwagon. Again, Akeredolu, nursing his health for now, will have to slow down. His team, too, could be scared white, considering their closeness to the governor—and their likelihood of being infected now or later. No fewer than 20 people—out of about 500 infected—have been killed by the virus in the state. More than 300 are on admission. Those who can read the figures will take warning.

On the flip side, the situation presents his deputy and rival in the PDP an opportunity to steal Akeredolu’s thunder.

Like all politicians, the governor won’t surrender. “I want to plead with my political associates that they should continue with the project because we are sure to win,” he said after the test.

To win an election in this era of social distancing requires a groundswell of support. Unfortunately for the APC in the two states warming up for the guber election, support is scarce. Akeredolu is locking horns with other aspirants in blocs like the Unity Forum, and other splinters in Ondo’s APC. His mainstay in 2016, former chairman Oyegun who allegedly arm-twisted the party to hand Akeredolu the ticket, is no longer in position to help beyond screaming for an automatic ticket. At 82, Oyegun will be warier of the creeping pestilence that makes short work of aged victims. Same goes for Tinubu, 68. He can’t support beyond the covid-19 threat level, though he now has the governor’s ears.

In Edo, Ize-Iyamu’s major backer, Oshiomhole, is now a shadow of himself. He’s become helpless since he was eased out of office in a ward-level conspiracy that widened until it partly shattered the party at both the state and federal levels. Oshiomhole remains one of those the APC will need to—as Tinubu recently advised him—“energize” Ize-Iyamu’s campaign. The party national leader reminded those who pulled Oshiomhole down how “he was an able and enthusiastic campaigner during the 2019 election”.

But how far can he alone mobilize voters scared for their lives to support candidates on a fragmented platform?

It’s a moot question.