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(COVER) Edo 2020: Defeat of the godfathers

…Why Obaseki won re-election

Governor Godwin Obaseki was declared the winner in the September 19, Edo governorship election on Sunday. Akani Alaka examines the factors that led Edo people to re-elect the governor.

Jubilation and wild celebrations, which broke out in Benin and other parts of Edo State after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, declared Governor Obaseki re-elected for another term of four years on Sunday will surely continue for some time to come. 

INEC, after collation of election results already declared at the local government levels on Sunday afternoon, declared Governor Obaseki, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP reelected as governor of Edo State. In the result declared by  Prof. Agofure Rukeh of Federal University of Petroleum Technology, Effurun, the returning officer for the election, Obaseki polled 307,955 votes to beat his closest challenger and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who scored 223,619 votes.

The professor added that having scored the highest number of votes in the election and fulfilling all constitutional requirements,  Obaseki and his running mate, Philip Shaibu have been reelected as governor and deputy governor respectively.

Though 14 political parties participated in the election, it was clear from the beginning that it was a two-horse race between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu.


Obaseki’s road to second term victory

In a way, the September 19, 2020 governorship election was a repeat of the similar contest in 2016 in which Obaseki, then, the candidate of APC and Ize-Iyamu of PDP were also the leading candidates. Just like what happened last Saturday, Obaseki had also won the gubernatorial contest. However, this time around, both candidates switched platforms with Obaseki contesting on the platform of PDP while Ize-Iyamu was the candidate of APC.

But this did not stop the shellacking of Ize-Iyamu by Obaseki. In his own Oredo Local Government Area, for example, Obaseki defeated Ize-Iyamu, scoring 43,498 votes to 18,365 of the APC’s candidate. Some analysts told this newspaper in Benin that any candidate who won in Oredo, which covers most of the commercial area of Benin city usually went on to win the governorship election.

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Obaseki had also won his unit 19 polling unit, Ward 4 of the local government area where he voted, polling 184 votes while the APC candidate got 62 votes. The fact that Obaseki would win the election also became evident when the result of Orhionmwon Local Government Area, Ize-Iyamu’s home council was declared by INEC.

Unexpectedly, the governor also defeated his APC opponent in the local government with 13,445 votes to 10,458 votes.

The Irregularities/Complaints

In all, Obaseki won in 13 out of the 18 local government areas of the state while the APC candidate won in the remaining five. While pundits’ predictions that the election would be marred by widespread irregularities and bloodbath failed to come to pass, there were reports of failure of card readers and lateness of polling officers to the polling units.

Indeed, Governor Obaseki who spent over an hour on the queue with his wife before voting at his Oredo Ward 4, Unit 19 polling unit had expressed his disappointment in INEC in an interview he granted after he cast his vote: “I expected that INEC would have prepared better for this election. I waited for one and a half hours on the queue before exercising my franchise, it’s a bit disappointing. Giving that this is a sole day election, I expected better planning for this election. Card readers were very slow and that’s the situation everywhere”.

But the APC candidate thought INEC did its best when he spoke to journalists after voting at Orhionmwon Local Government Area. “The process is good and going on smoothly.

There is no thuggery and violence. The place is peaceful and calm. I am happy that INEC has a thermometer to check the temperature and they gave out face masks to our people. We encourage our people to come out in batches, so they can strictly adhere to the Covid-19 protocols of social distancing”.

Still, there was also the failure to observe COVID-19 protocols of use of face masks and physical distancing at most of the polling units during the election.

Also, the European Centre for Electoral Support, for instance, said voters in Ologbosere primary school, ward 4 with 40 units and other polling units they visited were not observing the COVID-19 guidelines as stipulated in the INEC voting guidelines for the election. Mr Wilson Manji, the deputy project coordinator noted that even the voters who were wearing face masks did not maintain social distancing.

He also noted that INEC staff arrived at some of the polling units about 10 am and accreditation and voting started about 10:30 am instead of 8:30 am.

Edo No Be Lagos

But all these seemed not to matter to the people of Edo State when the final result of the election was declared on Sunday afternoon. The declaration led to shouts of ‘Edo no be Lagos’ and uninhibited demonstration of 4+4 signs and setting off of fireworks by young men and women who took to the Ring Road and other major roads and streets in the town to celebrate the victory.

Speaking to reporters a few minutes after he was declared the winner of the election, Obaseki attributed his victory to God while pledging to continue with his efforts to make Edo State great.

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The Governor who spoke at Government’s House, Benin also expressed his appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari, INEC and the security agencies for allowing the will of the people to prevail as expressed at the polls.

He also commended his party and fellow governors for standing by him.  “Words fail me in saluting the teeming supporters who displayed courage in the face of fierce intimidation and brutalisation. The collective will of Edo people made it possible for us to triumph over godfatherism.

“I’m eternally grateful to my party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and my brother-governors, not only for giving us the umbrella during our political storm but for the hard works which have brought me back as governor.

“Our success has reinforced my belief that there is nothing we cannot achieve as a people if we put forces together and collectively call on God for support,” the governor said.

Also speaking at the press conference, the Governor of Rivers State who served as Chairman of PDP Campaign Council for Edo Governorship Election, Nyesom Wike also thanked the voters in Edo State the media and his fellow PDP governors for their efforts in ensuring that Edo was brought into the armpit of the party. He was particularly emphatic that with the victory,  godfatherism has been destroyed in Edo State politics. Wike said Obaseki was the man God used to fight godfatherism.

“If nothing, we have achieved the dismantling of godfatherism in Edo politics. Edo people have spoken and say you cannot tie our fate in one man’s hands and that was what Edo people did yesterday”, the governor said.

Fallout With “The Godfather”

Yet, the reference to the godfather reflects one of the factors that make Obaseki’s possible in the election.

And the ‘godfather’ was no other than former governor Adams Oshiomhole, the two-time governor of Edo State. Obaseki was Oshiomhole’s economic adviser for the eight years. At the end of the eight years, Oshiomhole, against the advice of other party faithful imposed his economic adviser on the party as his successor.

In his desperate attempt to sell Obaseki to the Edo people in 2016, Oshiomhole had described him as the architect and brainbox behind all the achievements he recorded in office.

He had also de-marketed Ize-Iyamu, then running on the platform of PDP as a thief, a cultist not worthy of the office of the governor.

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Oshiomhole, a former president of Nigeria Labour Congress successfully marketed his economic adviser to the Edo people and they elected him as their governor in 2016. 

But rumours that both men no longer see eye to eye began to circulate a few months after Obaseki’s assumption of office. Their relationship further took a downturn when Oshiomhole with the help of the National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu became the national chairman of the ruling party ahead of the 2019 general elections. Both men fought to ensure that their loyalists emerge as candidates for the various positions on offer in the 2019 general election in Edo State.

However, the former national chairman of APC had his way. However, the then cold war degenerated when the governor ordered the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly with seven lawmakers loyal to him and shut out 14 others loyal to Oshiomhole.

Things continue to get bad between both men with the occasional exchange of words and threats of violence by their supporters.  The matter got to a head when Obaseki used the chairman of Oshiomhole’s ward in Edo to suspend him as a member of the APC. The suspension eventually led to the exit of the former labour leader as APC Chairman.

But before his exit from the leadership of the party, Oshiomhole had also instigated the disqualification of Obaseki as the APC candidate for the Edo governorship election.

He ensured that the ticket was given to Ize-Iyamu who had left the party ahead of the 2016 Edo governorship poll to contest on the platform of PDP. But Obaseki also defected to the PDP and was made the gubernatorial candidate of the party.

Ending Godfatherism

While much of the cause of the downturn in the relationship between the former labour leader and his successor is not in the public domain, Obaseki had repeatedly accused his predecessor of attempting to hijack resources of the state and powers to make appointments from him as his ‘godfather’ and that his refusal to succumb to the monetary demands of Oshiomhole was at the roots of their crises. Oshiomhole had repeatedly denied this.

But Obaseki made ‘retiring the godfather’ a major part of the campaign mantra and the people of Edo believe him. Also, the governor, who many residents of the state confirmed to this newspaper has been ‘performing’ had also told the people that if they can help him shake off the yoke of the godfather with their votes in the election, he would achieve more in terms of developing the state. 

Tinubu/Ganduje Factor

The intrusion of the National Leader of APC through a three–minutes video, asking voters in Edo not to vote for Obaseki, but Ize-Iyamu further infuriated the people who cannot contemplate the rationale of somebody from the South-west trying to determine who their governor would be.

This is more so since it was believed that Asiwaju was at the vanguard of those who chased their other illustrious son, John Odigie-Oyegun out of the office of the national chairman of APC.

As expected, Obaseki and his supporters further seized on the video released some days before the election to further canvass why voters must use their voter cards to liberate themselves from becoming vassal state to Lagos where Tinubu is believed to be at the heart of every decision.

Also, the Obaseki camp exploited the appointment of Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje as the APC National Campaign Council for Edo Governorship Election for their campaign.

Ahead of the 2019 general election, some videos had emerged of Governor Ganduje accepting what was said be in dollars as bribes.

Those videos were played to further de-market the APC at the popular Ring Road in Benin up to 48 hours to the day of the election and it usually attracts huge viewership. This further made many residents of Edo determined that they would end the rule of APC in the state.

Support of PDP Leaders

Of course, when Obaseki chose to leave APC, he defected to the PDP, which remains very popular with extensive structures for winning election in Edo.

It was believed that the choice of the platform also contributed to the victory of Oshiomhole. The support given to him by his colleagues in the PDP, especially governors of the South-south who are determined to ensure that the PDP is in total control of the region was invaluable.

Led by Governor Nyesom Wike, the PDP state chief executives stood up for Obaseki when he was denied the APC party ticket and supported him all the way.

While Tinubu made a video, asking the people of Edo not to vote for Obaseki, for instance, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of PDP in the 2019 general election had countered him. And Wike was frontal in asking the people of Edo not to believe Oshiomhole’s attempt to change what he earlier said about Pastor Ize-Iyamu in 2016 when he was campaigning against him.

Indeed, videos of the 2016 campaign in which Oshiomhole disparaged the APC candidate and the ones in which he praised Obaseki were part of the campaign of the PDP candidate.

All these motivated the people not only to be determined to vote to put the ‘troublers of Obaseki’, their performing governor to shame, but also to wait back and ensure that their votes count.

Credibility of Result

In its first reaction to the result on Sunday, the campaign team of APC in Edo State had alleged that the PDP manipulated the election to its advantage.

The party, in a statement by John Mayaki, the chairman of the APC Media Campaign Council, said it rejected the result. “Our people were arbitrarily arrested, many of the figures were fabricated. Areas where we won, they cancelled them. They decreased the votes in areas we had the advantage”, the party said. They rejected our results and jerked up theirs”, Mayaki who also alleged arrest of APC members during the poll said.

But Yiaga Africa, an NGO which monitored the poll urged all the political parties, their candidates and all those who participated to have confidence the result announced by INEC at a post-election press briefing in Benin.

In the statement read out at press conference, the group explained that the result declared by the electoral umpire was consistent with its Parallel Vote Tabulation Estimate. “Based on reports from 96% (241 of 250) of sampled polling units, Yiaga Africa’s statistical analysis shows that the APC should receive between 39.1% and 46.3% of the vote; the PDP should receive between 52.5% and 59.7% of the vote; while no other party will receive more than 1% of the vote share.

“The INEC official result for the 2020 Edo State gubernatorial election is consistent with the Yiaga Africa WTV estimate,” the group said.

President Muhammadu Buhari had also congratulated the winner of the election and acknowledged that the election was one of the freest and fairest conducted in recent times by INEC.