The emergence of Governor Godwin Obaseki as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the Standard Bearer of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the September 19, 2020 Governorship Election in Edo State has set the stage for an epic re-match the result of which even bookmakers are wary to predict, report Sam Egburonu, Associate Editor and ‘Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor
ONE of the most intriguing landmarks of the September 19, 2020 Governorship Election in Edo State is that it will stage a repeat political contest between Governor Godwin Obaseki and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the two foremost politicians thrown up in Edo State during the eight years tenure of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the State Governor.
Ironically, in their first contest in 2016, Oshiomhole, the leader of the two political actors, was the major force behind Obaseki against Ize-Iyamu. Today, the situation has changed completely, as Oshiomhole is now the major force behind Ize-Iyamu against Obaseki.
Also, while Obaseki contested on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2016 and Ize-Iyamu contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then, the two have switched platforms.
Given that both APC and PDP are considered very strong in Edo State, concerned observers are anxious to see which party and who of the two candidates will eventually laugh last. Some observers said the outcome of the election will, to a very large extent, testify of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s political influence in the state he governed for eight years. As a serving governor, many believed it was mainly his influence that gave victory to Obaseki in 2016.
Now that he is no longer on seat and Obaseki, the serving state governor, is contesting against his candidate, Ize-Iyamu, many are eager to see how far the influence of the immediate past National Chairman of PDP will help Ize-Iyamu to turn the table against Governor Obaseki.
Obaseki v Ize-Iyamu in 2016
Although there were 19 candidates in 2016 governorship election in Edo State, informed analysts said then that the real battle was between two sons of Benin — Godwin Obaseki of APC and Osagie Ize-Iyamu of PDP.
Besides the support of the then state governor, it was noted that the election would be very competitive partly because each of the candidates has known significant strengths over the other. There have held critical positions in the state government to understand the politics of the state. Most of the identified personal strengths of Ize-Iyamu and Obaseki then remain the same up till date.
Also the unique interests of APC and PDP in Edo State was a major issue then and is still a major issue for the two leading political parties in the state. Just like the situation was in 2016, APC’s major interest was not to lose its only state in the oil-rich South-south geo-political zone, while the PDP wants to recover its former terrain.
After what commentators described as a very rowdy campaign, APC candidate then, Obaseki, won the 2016 election with 52 percent of the vote to the then PDP candidate, Ize-Iyamu’s 41 percent.
Today, as the two politicians prepare for the 2020 election, most observers said the result of the election seems too tricky to predict now.
Fears over 2020 battle
As the stage is now set for candidates vying for the governorship of Edo State to do battle in the general election after picking the tickets of their various parties, it is difficult, for now, to predict who, between incumbent Governor, Godwin Obaseki, who is the flag-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), would win the Edo election. But it is obviously very convenient to say that the September 19 gubernatorial contest in the South-south state is a straight contest between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, barring any unforeseen upset, before, during or after the election.
To set the ball of what many analysts have described as an epic political battle, rolling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced that only 14 political parties successfully submitted the names of their candidates for the September 2020 governorship polls. INEC on Tuesday said “14 parties successfully used the dedicated online portal of the commission to submit the list of candidates that emerged from their primaries.” Both 63 year-old Obaseki and 58 year-old Ize-Iyamu, made the list. They will be squaring up against the candidates of a dozen other political parties in the contest.
The other parties and their governorship candidates include Action Alliance (AA), Obhafuso Paul, 35; African Democratic Congress (ADC), Akhigbe Ehiabhi, 38; and Action Democratic Party (ADP), Ibio Emmanuel, 36. Others are All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Lucky Idehen, 40; Allied Peoples Movement, (APM), Igbineweke Osamuede, 42; All Peoples Party (APP), Amos Areloegbe, 52; Labour Party (LP), Osifo Isaiah, 60; and New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), Agol Tracy, 48; and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Akhalamhe Amiemenoghena, 39.
Others are National Resistance Movement, (NRM), Stevie Ozono, 53; Social Democratic Party (SDP), Felix Obayangbon, 65, and Young Progressive Party (YPP), James Osiagiobare, 52. The electoral body, speaking through a statement by its spokesperson, Festus Okoye, also announced that the final list of duly nominated candidates will be published on August 13, 2020, after withdrawals by candidates and substitution by their political parties. While pundits insist the race is for PDP or APC to win, a few other candidates and parties are also telling those who care to listen that they are in the race to win.
A complex race
As at 2016 election, Obaseki, who was then the head of Edo State’s Economy and Strategy Team, was marketed by the then Governor Adams Oshiomhole-led state government as understanding the key challenges of the state, taking cognizance of the office he held. He was described then as a “seasoned financial expert, capable of using his over 30years experience to transform the state.”
Observers said he also enjoyed stronger war chest back then in 2016 because his party then, the APC, was in charge both at the state and federal levels. As Dr. Francis Edosoma, a political analyst from the state puts it in a chat with The Nation, “Obaseki had an edge then because Oshiomhole, as the state governor, ensured his campaigns were aired live on television, and President Muhammadu Buhari led more than 10 governors to the grand-finale, which held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin. These super executive supports no doubt aided his performance then. Recall that in that same election year, Ize-Iyamu, though personally buoyant, only held his final campaign at an indoor hall, and only two governors attended the campaign. You will agree with me that so much have changed since then. Although Obaseki, the current PDP candidate, is a serving governor and may as a result oil his campaigns with state funds and be aided by other PDP governors, Ize-Iyamu, now APC candidate, besides taking advantage of Oshiomhole’s grassroots political structure, will also be supported by the federal might and other APC governors desperate to retain a foot in the South-south.”
To critically understand the complexity of the forthcoming repeat contest, it would also be recalled that in 2016, the traditional ruler of Ogbeson community, Aduwa Ogiegbaen, for instance, said his community would vote for Obaseki, who was then running as the APC governorship candidate, as a show of gratitude to the then incumbent governor, Adams Oshiomhole, for intervening and reclaiming the town from gully erosion, which ravaged homes and rendered thousands homeless. As promised, the town massively voted against Ize-Iyamu, then the PDP candidate. No doubt, the leaders and people of Ogbeson are still grateful to Oshiomhole, but how will the town vote on September 19, with Obaseki, the man they voted governor, running as a PDP candidate and Ize-Iyamu, the man they earlier rejected, now the candidate of Oshiomhole’s APC?
Also in 2016, Ize-Iyamu, the then PDP candidate, performed very well in Oredo area of Benin-City, the state capital. The axis is believed to be a stronghold of the PDP. To some analysts, the PDP, and not Ize-Iyamu, got the votes. But a good number of sources argued that Ize-Iyamu also enjoys good popularity in the area. “To further assure you it was Ize-Iyamu, and not his party that we voted for here in Oredo, are you aware that his wife, Idia, is one of us here? She votes here at unit 2, ward 2 of Oredo Local Government Area. She is a grassroots mobiliser herself,” a source argued. Now, Ize-Iyamu has dumped PDP for APC. How will the people of Oredo vote on September 19?
In 2016, Comrade Oshiomhole, while supporting Obaseki in the race against PDP’s Ize-Iyamu, came down very hard on the later, describing him in many unprintable manner, in his bid to convince the people of the state not to vote the then opposition PDP and its candidates. Today, the PDP is using the many allegations made against Ize-Iyamu by Oshiomhole and other APC chieftains as reasons the voters should be wary of Ize-Iyamu on September 19. Not a few are also asking the people of the state to tell Oshiomhole to explain what has changed about Ize-Iyamu in the last four years.
But leaders of the APC in the State have described as normal the ‘fierce exchange of words’ between Oshiomhole, and Ize Iyamu during the 2016 elections. According to them “since both men were on different political sides at the time, it is just normal that some fierce things were said. APC leaders from the three senatorial zones of Edo State explained that the two allies have since put the events of the 2016 election behind them and are now working very hard to deliver the state to the APC once again. Using the exchanges to say Ize-Iyamu is not politically marketable is a waste of time,” they said.
“They failed to mention the glowing words the same Oshiomhole showered on Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu when he turned 50 years of age. In the letter personally signed by Oshiomhole, he specially praised Ize-Iyamu’s competence, resourcefulness, diplomatic temperament, intelligence, and uncommon wisdom which paved the way for the great electoral victories enjoyed at the time by the ACN, one of the parties that merged to form the APC in 2013. They did not mention that Ize-Iyamu was the Chairman of Oshiomhole’s 1st year anniversary in office as Governor of Edo State,” the leaders said.
On the other hand, the APC and other people opposed to the return of Obaseki as governor have not stopped reminding the PDP that it was the then opposition party that first raised dust over Obaseki’s credentials, even going as far as submitting petitions to that effect before the election tribunal. But for the lateness in filing the petitions back then, the tribunal would have given a ruling on the matter, analysts recalled. However, the PDP in Edo State appears to have forgotten what the issues are about Obaseki’s certificates as the September 19 election draws closer. “APC should not bother about his certificates, he is no longer their member,” a PDP chieftain said on Thursday.
Ralph Nwosu, National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), while speaking on the complex nature of the contest in Edo, said “four years ago PDP accused Obaseki and Oshiomhole and APC defended him, now the reverse. You want us to get into that gutter politics. Edo youth knows their son, the Monarchy knows their son, the premier university has spoken on his credentials, the court has given a ruling previously. My friend I do not believe in voodoo politics and I don’t play in that space,” he said.
Optimism all the way
In spite of the complexities noticeable in the race, chieftains of the two leading parties and their candidates said they are sure of victory come September 19. Within the camps of the ACP and the PDP, the level of optimism remains very high. Some APC leaders from the senatorial districts said “few years after being forced by betrayal, lies and deceit to exit from the APC which he helped to build, Ize-Iyamu returned several months ago. His return was inspired by the yearnings of the good people of Edo State, and encouraged by genuine leaders of the APC who are interested in ensuring that the APC is re-positioned to win elections.
“Since returning back to the party fold, Ize-Iyamu has expectedly brought back the resourcefulness and competence that he is well-known for. This has made the APC become even more attractive to Edo people,” they said.
Saliu Ahmed, Managing Director of Benin/Owena River Basin Development Authority, said the APC will win the gubernatorial election because the people of the state are convinced the party mean well for them. He added that Edo State will continue to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari’s party. Ahmed expressed hope that Ize-Iyamu, if elected, will build on the good works of Oshiomhole in the state.
In a statement by its State Publicity Secretary, Chris Osa Nehikhare, Edo State PDP said it is better positioned to win the guber election in September. Nehikhare said “As we reset Edo State, we will reset the way we look, feel and think. And we need to reset the way we behave. In today’s PDP government, it won’t be enough just to talk about tackling problems, but we need to have the right ideas to turn those problems around. The name-calling, backbiting, point-scoring, and finger-pointing are beneath our government, as we won’t play politics with the long-term future of Edo State.
“We will work to get it right. Our state faces huge challenges. These are not challenges you can put in individual boxes; they’re complex and interconnected. To deal with them takes hard work, complex research, and deep thinking, and I want us to get it right.”
While every political observer will easily notice the complexity in the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State, especially in the re-match contest between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, Dr. Edosoma said “some people have failed to see the importance of this year’s election in Edo, which is that the outcome will finally settle some knotty issues that have come to define Edo State politics in the last 10 years or so. These issues and how they will impact on the politics and development of the state will likely unfold when the winner of the election finally emerges,” he said.