Tomorrow’s governorship election in Edo State promises to be an interesting but fierce battle as political gladiators go neck-and-neck into a poll that has been characterised by intrigues and a tensed build-up, FELIX NWANERI reports
It is a deciding weekend for the people of Edo as voters in the state file out tomorrow to elect a new governor, who will pilot their affairs in the next four years. Fourteen candidates are contesting the election on the platforms of various political parties.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state is fielding the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, while a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Osagie Ize-Iyamu, is running on the platform of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Two women are among the candidates jostling for the governorship seat.
They are Mabel Oboh of African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Agol Tracy of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). The other candidates are Obhafuoso Paul (Action Alliance –AA), Ibio Emmanuel (Action Democratic Party – ADP), Lucky Idehen (All Progressives Grand Alliance – APGA), Igbineweka Osamuede (Allied Peoples Movement – APM), Amos Osalumese (Action Peoples Party – APP), Osifo Isaiah (Labour Party (LP), Stevie Ozono (National Rescue Movement – NRM), Felix Obayangbon (Social Democratic Party – SDP), Jones Osagiobare (Young Peoples Party – YPP) and Akhalamhe Amiemenoghena (Zenith Labour Party – ZLP). Also, there are two female deputy governorship candidates – Mogbelehan Pauline of LP and Omion Omonye of SDP. Despite the number of candidates, bookmakers say it is a two-horse race between the candidates of the ruling PDP in the state and the APC, which is at the helm of affairs at the federal level.
Head to head, both parties and their respective have what it takes to carry the day as each had held sway in the South-South state that prides itself as “The Heart Beat of the Nation” at various times in the present democratic dispensation. Obaseki, a businessman and investment banker turned politician, first served in Edo State as the Chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team under Oshiomhole.
He also served as the Chairman of Tax Assessment Review Committee for Edo State Internal Revenue Service (TARC) and the Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), respectively before he was first elected governor in 2016. Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer and pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), on his part, is not a novice in Edo politics and governance having served in both party and government positions.
He was former Chief of Staff and Secretary to the State Government in Edo State. He was the Director-General of Adams Oshiomhole Campaign Organisation in 2012 and was a one-time National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); one of the legacy parties that merged to form APC in 2013. The build-up to the election had not been a tea party.
So far, the campaigns have been tensed, with the various parties and their candidates exchanging all manner of brickbats as they inundate the people with their respective programmes, but there are signs that the poll would not be a departure from previous gubernatorial contests in the state. Governorship polls in Edo State had always been keenly contested. This is not unconnected to the vast majority of political gladiators, who have always shown interest in leading the state.
It is against this backdrop that tomorrow’s election that will hold across the 192 electoral wards across 2,627 polling units in the 18 local government areas of the state has been described as a mother of all battles. A total of 2,210,534 residents registered to vote in the governorship election but 1,726,765 are expected to vote as 483,769 voters failed to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 1,159,325 are men, while 1,052,209 are women. Also, youths between the ages of 18 and 35 make up 50 per cent of voters. Edo South Senatorial District has the highest number of registered voters with 1,281,414. It is followed by North with 564,122, while the Central Senatorial District has the least with 364,998 voters.
Indeed, the stakes are high as the outcome of the poll will transcend beyond the state. To pundits, the epic battle is a prelude to the 2023 general election. For the PDP, the outcome of the Edo governorship poll will determine its future and continued dominance in the South-South. At the moment, the party controls the six states of the zone – Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers and Cross River, so a win means consolidation, while a loss will diminish the party’s electoral value in the zone ahead of the 2023 general election. For the APC, winning the election will revive see it regaining power in the state after Governor Obaseki, who was elected on its platform for his first term in the 2016 election defected to the PDP.
A loss, however, will negate its electoral fortune not only in Edo but the South-South zone ahead of the 2023 polls. Besides what the election means for the country’s main political parties, it will ultimately resolve the supremacy and acceptability battle between Governor Obaseki and Comrade Oshiomhole.
While Oshiomhole is not seeking for re-election, it is, however, a proxy war between him and Obaseki. The immediate past national chairman of APC is behind the governor’s major challenger, Ize-Iyamu. The political war between Obaseki and Oshiomhole had affected the governor’s chances of picking the APC’s ticket as the party’s screening committee disqualified him over issues relating to his certificate, but against all odds, he was able to get the leadership of the PDP to grant him a waiver to be able to contest for the party’s governorship primary.
With other aspirants stepping down for him, the governor scored 1,952 votes out of total accredited votes of 2024, while 72 votes were invalid at a primary election to ratify his candidature. On his part, Ize-Iyamu, who was anointed by Oshiomhole, emerged winner of APC’s direct primary election. He polled 27,838 votes to defeat a former deputy governor of the state, Dr. Pius Odubu and Osaro Obaze, who scored 3,776 and 2,751 votes, respectively. Interestingly, the poll is a renewed battle between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, who squared up against each other during the 2016 governorship election. Obaseki, then of APC defeated Ize- Iyamu, who ran on the platform of the PDP by 319,483 votes to 253,173 votes. The then APC candidate defeated his main rival with 66,310 votes, winning 13 out of the 18 local governments of the state, with wide margin votes in Edo North and Edo South senatorial districts, while Ize-Iyamu swept the votes in Edo Central Senatorial District.
With both candidates swapping parties for tomorrow’s poll, analysts are of the view that it would amount to political gamble for any of the candidates and their respective parties to rely on the variables that determined the outcome of the 2016 election. Edo politics has witnessed realignment of forces since then and it is against this backdrop that there is enthusiasm among the electorate as they go the polls tomorrow to either renew Obaseki’s mandate or bid him farewell by electing Ize-Iyamu or another personality as any of the candidates of the lesser parties could pull a surprise given that politics is a game of the possible. To some people in the state, Obaseki has done well in the almost four years he has been in power and as a result, a second term will ensure sustenance of his programmes.
Those who hold this view say the governor’s achievements in infrastructural development and the education sector are enough to guarantee him victory. But, there is another political school in the state that believes the governor and his party are beatable despite his achievements and the incumbency factor.
Members of this political school believe that Obaseki has made a mockery of governance and that a second term is not envisaged. The contending positions, notwithstanding, most political analysts and observers within and outside Edo State are, however, of the consensus that the governorship election is an open contest as the 14 governorship candidates would only be banking on their personal strengths irrespective of the extraneous factors that may come to play.