By Ehichioya Ezomon
He’s not on the ballot. Yet, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former governor and national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is the issue in the campaigns for the September 19, 2020, governorship election in Edo State.
For the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition APC, Oshiomhole is both the problem and solution to the governorship contest that comes in five days on Saturday. Why?
It started in 2016 when Oshiomhole of the APC “hand-picked” Godwin Obaseki as his successor. During the campaigns, he messed up the character and person of Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP. In the end, Obaseki won the poll and became governor.
Early on in his administration, Obaseki fell out with Oshiomhole, and “sponsored” the forces, including legal processes, that sacked Oshiomhole from his post as APC’s national chair in June 2020.
Similarly within the period, Oshiomhole “supervised” Obaseki’s disqualification from the APC primaries, and the governor decamped to the PDP, and cleverly turned the focus on his performance in office into a referendum on Oshiomhole.
The topsy-turvy campaigns, treating the electorate to a circus show of inanities, have been dominated by what Oshiomhole said in 2016, in respect of Obaseki’s “sterling qualities” to govern, and the “baggage” that debars Ize-Iyamu from the post of governor.
Governor Obaseki and aspiring Pastor Ize-Iyamu are familiar foes. In 2016, they represented the main parties: the APC and PDP, respectively. But they’ve swapped camps in the 2020 election cycle, with Obaseki vying on the PDP platform, and Ize-Iyamu flying the APC flag. And caught in the mix is Comrade Oshiomhole.
The campaigns are defined by mudslinging, allegations of arming and unleashing thugs to wreak havoc on the citizens, and plots to rig the poll. And the electorate is the worse for it!
The incumbent hasn’t showcased what exactly he’s done to deserve a renewed mandate, nor is the challenger’s promised change different from the norm to replace the existing order.
While it’s convenient for Obaseki to present both sides of the Oshiomhole pontificating to his advantage, it’s been herculean for Ize-Iyamu to wash off the tar that Oshiomhole painted him with.
The task is made arduous for Ize-Iyamu in that Oshiomhole is the backbone of his striving for a second time to be governor. This places a burden on him to defend himself and Oshiomhole at the same time. Not an enviable position to be in!
But Oshiomhole has publicly apologized for his “mistake” in presenting Obaseki to the electorate in 2016, and also recanted his denigration of Ize-Iyamu, whom he’s leading his campaign.
The Obaseki/Philip Shaibu (deputy governor) campaign has claimed that Oshiomhole has done 80 of its work by running down Ize-Iyamu in 2016, and that it only needs to replay and relay those damning verdicts for the electorate to break for it.
And the campaign has deployed these tactics at rallies, and on posters, billboards and digital displays at strategic locations, and on social media, where they’ve rave reviews.
The Obaseki/Shaibu campaign messages are: How Oshiomhole rated Obaseki as the right man, and Ize-Iyamu the wrong person for the job; how he wants to return godfatherism in Edo politics; he uses thugs to disrupt PDP’s activities; he plans to rig the poll with thugs and “Federal might”; he plots to assassinate Shuibu and his wife; he’s printed fake PVCs for the poll; and he’s connived with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to favour APC.
For a governor and government vying for a second term, the focus should be to showcase achievements, in verifiable projects, that qualify them to seek to return to office. But no such records are transmitted, nor what’s contained in a “MEGA” (Make Edo Great Again) document that the campaign launched lately.
But the campaign argues that the Obaseki “Wake and See” developmental mantra, in which people wake up and see their domain’s turned into a construction site, is enough evidence that he hasn’t been sleeping in the saddle, as portrayed by critics.
Still, after controversy broke over the ownership of a Modular Refinery in Ologbo, near Benin City, the campaign has begun posting, on social media, “completed and ongoing projects.”
The Ize-Iyamu/Ganiyu Audu (running mate) campaign has no physical achievements to bandy, as it hasn’t been at the helm of governance in Edo. But it’s turned Oshiomhole’s assumed liabilities into an asset of some sorts, to blow the candidate’s trumpet.
Ize-Iyamu, acclaimed for his grassroots organizing that almost upended the APC victory and election of Obaseki in 2016, has effectively deployed Oshiomhole at rallies, where welcoming applause greets his entrance, presence and speeches.
A major boost to Ize-Iyamu/Gani campaign is a controversial but popular Manifesto of Ize-Iyamu, entitled “SIMPLE AGENDA” that encapsulates a six-step programme to develop the economic, social and cultural sectors of Edo State.
In the midst of playing catch-up, and striving to commute the “political death sentence” that Oshiomhole passed on him in 2016, Ize-Iyamu introduces the SIMPLE AGENDA at rallies, and to Traditional Rulers across the state. The Agenda has literally served as an APC anthem on the campaign trail.
Countdown to Saturday, violence could serve as a variable in deciding the victor and the vanquished at the poll. A peace meeting of the campaigns and political leaders hasn’t done enough to allay the threats of recourse to arms by thugs.
At the parley in Benin City, host Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, novelly identified individuals heating up the polity via intemperate language and/or sponsoring thuggeries, and pleaded with them to tone down their rhetoric and call their “boys” (thugs) to order.
But some people have criticized the Omo N’Oba’s tone as not in sync with his revered fatherly status. Can this chastisement alter the poll calculus, especially in the Edo South senatorial district?
The expected gains of that “historic” meeting didn’t last 24 hours when the politicians and their acolytes returned to their old ways of soapbox rhetoric, and disruption of rallies. The APC and PDP blamed each other for the untoward happenings.
In the interim, security agencies seem handicapped, as reflected in Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu’s anticipation of violence during the poll.
Add to the confusion INEC’s constant equivocation, and toying with the idea of postponing the poll, or refusing to declare results in the face of obvious and verifiable breach of the rules of engagement, and you’ve a clear indication that Edo 2020 is on edge.
Barring any grave circumstances, the overhyped September 19 poll will hold on Saturday. Will Governor Obaseki be returned to the Osadebey Avenue seat of power, or give way to Pastor Ize-Iyamu to fulfill his aspiration to be governor?
Sadly, the votes won’t be based on what the candidates offered as their programmes for developing Edo, but on what Oshiomhole, in 2016, said and didn’t say about Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu!
So, like the fabled tortoise, which’s a constant in all tales, whoever wins the election will have Oshiomhole to thank for it; and whoever loses will blame the former labour leader for the defeat.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.