CAJETAN MMUTA writes on the increasing concerns of violence and drums of war by leading political parties and their candidates ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State
With barely a month to the governorship election in Edo State, the epic battle for the soul of Dennis Osadebe Avenue Government House in Benin City is in full throttle. For the political actors in the race, it is a big decider for their future.
According to statistics about the election from the country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), no fewer than 14 political parties have been confirmed to have met the required conditions set by the Electoral Act and the constitution.
The electoral umpire appears to be working round the clock to meet up with all that is required for a free, fair, transparent, violent- free, and credible outcome of the contest.
Out of the 14 parties in the fray, the two big players in the battle is the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Like every previous electoral battle in the state, the two parties are running head to head in the midst of preparations for the elections.
Interestingly, both the actors, leaders, elders, members of the PDP and APC and their supporters have several things in common as they are bound by the same tradition, cultural and historical background. In other words, they are familiar foes who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Ordinarily, it would have been expected that they set aside their seeming differences to build a united, peaceful and progressive state fit for all to live and develop, but it appears reverse is the case. However, unfolding developments within the state over the past few weeks have not given a picture of serenity and tranquility in the forthcoming governorship poll in the state. This position can be deduced from the endless clashes and threat of rage towards the conduct of the election.
The staccato of drums of war emanating from the tensed quarters of the PDP and the APC is only better imagined than expressed.
Like the wild wind, the echo of bloody violence that may characterize the gubernatorial election has long hung in the air and in the process left in its wake a cloudy atmosphere.
This stems largely from the neck-deep feud between the two old friends and allies, immediate past National Chairman of the APC and ex-governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his successor and estranged political godson, Governor Godwin Obaseki.
Comrade Oshiomhole, a former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) fell out with his much trusted close political ally and friend, Governor Obaseki, over what can best be described as an outright collapse of trust.
The rage between the two exallies dovetailed into grueling power tussle over the control of the structure of the APC and the state House of Assembly, from there, the centre couldn’t hold anymore and both men had to go their separate ways.
Obaseki is believed to have taken a plunge not to toe the path and style of governance laid by his predecessor, Oshiomhole. He is seen as an elitist after elders and leaders as well as other members of the then ruling APC felt abandoned and sidelined by a government they labored to install and from there the crack and confusion picked up.
This was followed by the deft move by Obaseki to carve his own political structure to consolidate control and influence as he inched towards his second term bid. This led to the emergence of splinter supports groups of the Obaseki/ Shaibu Movement otherwise known as OSM loyal to the governor while Edo Peoples Movement (EPM) is a strong body dominated by Oshiomhole’s foot soldiers.
To Oshiomhole, the unfolding political drama left him with shock and embarrassment after ten out of 24 elected members of the Anthony Enahoro state legislature was inaugurated at a late-night ceremony on June 17, 2019 following a proclamation letter issued by the governor while 14 members-elect were left out. A bloody attack later trailed the members-elect at the popular Golden Tulip Suites in the GRA area of Benin, after it was said to be rumored that there was a plan then to oust the governor through an impeachment.
For almost a year, the Oshiomhole’s 14 APC members-elect were holed in Abuja over alleged threat to their lives. Efforts to resolve the seeming political logjam in the state collapsed irretrievably as various Ad-Hoc committees of the National Assembly, the Chief Bisi Akande reconciliation committee and others did little or nothing to bring all the warring sides to a round table while the courts were inundated with suits and countersuits.
Added to all, Benin Airport was helplessly turned to a theatre of warfare and became an avenue of ambush for targeted opponents while private residents of key politicians were hit by suspected assas-sins both in the capital town and other parts of the state. Similarly, public properties were not spared.
The name of the game was horror and fear. Apprehension and uncertainty became the order of the day. Anxiety handed over death sentence to nightlife with COVID- 19 also adding to the gloom as every politician became a suspect.
The intrigues and plots handed a toxic blow to one of the sides and the culminated to the dramatic and surprising suspension slammed on Comrade Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of the APC by the Appeal Court after he was axed by his ward 10, Apana village, in Etsako West Council area of the state.
Prior to this, Oshiomhole and his National Working Committee (NWC) members in what was generally believed to be a deliberate witch-hunt against his ex-ally, screened the governor and others out of the APC governorship primaries in Abuja over Obaseki’s alleged irregularities in his certificates.
Unruffled by the apparent denial of the APC ticket for the second term project and determined to beat those opposed to his ambition, Obaseki dumped the APC to pitch tent with the PDP, a move that was seen by eggheads of the APC as a bitter pill.
To the APC, Oshiomhole and members of the EPM, Obaseki whom they feel was ‘politically ungrateful’ must not secure a second term for biting the fingers that fed him.
But for Obaseki, the OSM and the PDP, self-styled godfathers working in ally with other politicians must not be allowed to continue to hold the state by the jugular and therefore the will of the people must prevail at all times. With these two conflicting stance, the tempo of the elections increased.
The working committees of both PDP and APC constituted high-powered national campaign councils to help bolster activities of the state chapters and their candidates.
For the PDP, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is leading its campaign council for the poll, while Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State is the chairman for the APC campaign council for the election.
Expectedly, key players of both political parties have made bold statements and threats to take hold of Edo Government House seat and this pronouncements have continued to quake the foundation of the HeartBeat state and its people.
The seeming drum of war being beaten by both sides has sent strong signals of what is to come during, before and after the poll. Indeed, the center can no longer hold as both the APC and the PDP are now locked in an intense duel of political warfare.
There are manifest expressions of extreme and overwhelming interests by the national leadership of both parties which have further raised the tempo of anxiety and fears of all and sundry in the state.
For the ruling APC at the center, it apparently needs Edo state back at all costs, just as the PDP is daring to retain its enlarged stakes in the south-south zone. As it is, all eyes are on Edo as stakeholders of both camps are neck-deep in an interesting but brutish race laced with big pockets, influences, toxic exchange of words and combat.
No doubt, the two sides are out for a grueling make-or-mar duel to clinch the plum seat at the Osadebe Avenue Government House and they will stop at nothing to make good their prospects out of the entire process.
Of course, at the centre of both raging interest is the INEC who has a duty to conduct a free and fair election amid the raging echo of uncertainty that has put the electoral umpire and security agencies on the edge ahead of the poll. Another twist to the drama ahead of the poll was the emergence of two speakers for the state Assembly on August 6.
Some 17 members of the Assembly loyal to Comrade Oshiomhole. elected Mr. Victor Edoror as the new speaker to lay claim to the leadership of the house. The 17 APC lawmakers at an emergency plenary session held at an undisclosed location in Benin City also claimed to have impeached incumbent speaker, Frank Okiye, and his Deputy Mr. Roland Asoro. But the speaker, Okiye said, the exercise was “a non-issue and wont respond to it.”
The twist, no doubt, set a worrisome rumble within the Assembly. Police have since been deployed to the troubled chamber. The Okiyeled house has since relocated to the old legislative chamber at the government house for normal legislative proceedings. Some timeline of the political brickbats, accusation and counteraccusation between both parties include the July 25 attack during the campaign flag-off of PDP’s Obaseki in the state capital, Benin.
An exchange of falks from suspected political thugs of both parties outside the palace gate of Oba Ewuare 11 of Benin Kingdom shortly after Governor Obaseki led a retinue of his PDP guests including the party’s national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, to the palace, raised eyebrows within and outside the state. Aside from booing the state governor and his entourage by a section of the hoodlums, the area witnessed a bloody clash that left many with gunshot wounds and also disrupted the naming ceremony of Oba Ewurae 11’s newborn baby.
During the campaign rally held at the Long Tennis Court of the new Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Prince Secondus tasked President Muhammadu Buhari on the need to ensure that the election is transparent, free, fair, peaceful and credible. “President Buhari must not be distracted by APC gimmicks. He should face governance by providing security for the lives and property of the people and ensuring free and fair election for Nigerians because all other sectors have failed.
People are killed and there is hunger everywhere. Edo election will be a litmus test of whether free and fair elections will ensure in Nigeria. Don’t be deceived by godfathers.” On his part, chairman of the PDP campaign council, Governor Wike, said, “Nobody should be afraid, nobody can rig this election. No one man can decide what will happen in Edo. If Obaseki was selfish he would have danced to the tune of one man. Edo people, this (election) is a challenge to you.
The only thing that is giving APC hope is that they believe in rigging but this one (September 19 poll) will be difficult. Obaseki has done four years in office and he has done very well; he fought godfatherism.” In its own version of the campaign, the national body of the APC on August 8, made a firm statement with 11 governors, Deputy Senate President, among others present in Benin to support the cause of its flagbearer, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
According to the APC Caretaker Committee Chairman and Governor of Yobe state, Mai Mala Buni, the contest is not about war but ensuring victory at the end, adding that, “We have no doubt in our minds that you are going to vote for APC and return our mandate back.
We are here to admonish you not to be violent throughout the campaign processes and election because victory is ours. We are here to win and not to fight but we must ensure that every vote must count,” he stated.
Another ground for a hot exchange between the duo was on destructions of campaign billboards and posters. The campaign organization of the APC governorship candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu and that of Governor Obaseki had traded wars with accusations over destructions of campaign billboards and posters at strategic locations across the state.
And not done yet, the PDP in the state again raised the alarm over what it described as politically motivated deployment of one Mr. Adeyinka Fasiu Ayinla as the state Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC). Publicity Secretary and Chairman, Sub-Committee on Media and Publicity, Edo 2020 Campaign Council, Mr. Chris Osa Nehikhare, said in Benin the state capital that the party totally rejected the deployment of Mr. Ayinla to the state in the run-up to the polls, scheduled for September 19, 2020.
He said, “Once again, the Edo PDP restates its commitment to a peaceful, free and fair governorship election on September 19, 2020. We are, however, taken aback by the resolve of the APC to win the election by all means foul!
“The latest of such evil plot of the APC to win the election through foul and unfair means is the redeployment of Mr Ayinla as the commandant of the NSCDC. The posting by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, is politically motivated and a plot to rig the governorship election.”
The PDP scribe said the new state NSCDC commandant is a lackey of a leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and has worked closely with him in the past, noting that the party’s findings also showed that the new Edo NSCDC head is of a rank that is above his new posting as state commandant.
Nehikhare wondered: “What then could make Ogbeni Aregbesola, himself Tinubu’s man, posted Ayinla to Edo? We are convinced that Mr. Ayinla may have been posted to Edo to do dirty jobs for the APC.”
He added, “Only this (last week) week, Nigerians watched a short video of a former national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, telling the Chief of Staff to President Buhari to arrest some people. We had previously watched with disdain how the candidate of APC was inciting and motivating thugs that referred to themselves as lions and tigers to cause disruption and maximum carnage on election day.
“Today, they are posting a personal nominee of Tinubu to superintend elections in Edo. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, there is only one conclusion, It is a duck!”
But the State Media Campaign Council of the APC for the Edo Governorship election in reaction hailed the deployment of the new NSCDC Commandant and the call on former Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, for the deployment of more security agents, including the Police to Edo State to ensure peaceful conduct of the Sept.19 election.
Chairman of the State Media Council of the APC for the Edo Governorship poll, Mr. John Mayaki accused the PDP of plotting to rig the election and instigate violence. He said the disposition of the PDP in opposing the deployment of the new NSCDC Commandant and attacking the former Governor revealed their planned instigation of violence and also rig the polls.
Again, the recent charge and statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari on August 7, that leaders of the APC should not lose Edo come September 19 governorship election as the party did in Bayelsa, Rivers and Zamfara states has since sent shivers down the spines of many electorates about the lurking desperation of the ruling party.
President Buhari gave the charge while receiving Pastor Ize-Iyamu as the candidate of the APC at the State House, Abuja, even as he urged the party leaders and campaign team to do all that is legally and constitutionally necessary to win the election.
Also, the state Deputy Governor, Mr. Philip Shaibu raised the alarm that Comrade Oshiomhole was allegedly stockpiling arms, recruiting thugs with a view to disrupting the poll and called on President Buhari to save Edo state from looming anarchy.
But the chairman of the APC campaign council, Mr. John Mayaki punctured that claim, saying that the alarm by Shaibu smacked of plot to orchestrate violence. Also a chieftain of the APC and an aide to Oshiomhole, Mr. Victor Oshioke described the claim by the deputy governor as false.
Of course, at the center of the threats and counter-threats ahead of the Edo election is the people of the state who are watching with bated breath the unfolding scenarios and possible show of force by the two leading contenders. How it will pan out will be a function of time.