This Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State is a straight fight between the incumbent governor, Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria and his arch-rival, Charles Airhiavbere of the Peoples Democratic Party
After several weeks of criss-crossing the state canvassing for votes, the stage is set for the titanic battle for the soul of Edo State as the people go to the polls this Saturday to choose which of the candidates rules the Heartbeat of the Nation in the next four years. Seven candidates are on parade for the plum job but only one will be crowned after the last vote has been counted.
The line-up of candidates includes incumbent governor, Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Solomon Edebiri of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Roland Izeobuwe of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, and Charles Igwemoh of the Labour Party, LP. Others are Paul Orunmwese of the National Conscience Party, NCP, Charles Airhiavbere of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Frank Ukoya of the Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP. But only two of the candidates, Oshiomhole and Airhiavbere are seen as the major contenders.
Though not in a position to spring any surprise, the ANPP candidate is expected to make appreciable impact and could play the role of a spoiler for the two frontline parties by taking a slice of the votes particularly in his Benin-speaking Edo South Senatorial District. Airhiavbere is also from Edo South while the ruling party incidentally enjoys enormous sympathy in the area.
With barely a week to the crucial electoral battle, tension is so palpable in the state that there is grave apprehension among the electorate of a bloody exercise, a development that could affect turnout. When all the candidates squared up to each other at a debate organised by the Nigerian Elections Debate Group, the animosity between Oshiomhole and Airhiavbere was so intense that one could not but shudder what would happen on Election Day. They both threw brickbats at each other couched in easily decipherable innuendoes.
Already, machinery has been put in motion by the Force Headquarters to ensure a peaceful election. An additional 332 policemen have been deployed in the state to complement the number on ground. Olayinka Balogun, the state commissioner of police, said last Monday while addressing officers and men of the Ogida and Evbuotubu Police Divisions as well as members of the Police/Community Relations Committee, PCRC, that the number represented the first batch of five units of police personnel to be deployed in the state for the election. Balogun assured the people that “the police will be on ground. We are going to protect everybody; we will protect lives and property before, during and after the election.” He said his men would soon start a stop-and-search operation in some strategic parts of the state and advised members of the public not to be worried with the heavy presence of policemen during and after the election. The police boss said the aim was to ensure a hitch-free exercise.
Similarly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had been fine-tuning arrangements for the election. Last week, the commission held a two-day training workshop for ad-hoc staff to be used for the election. Ishmael Igbani, INEC commissioner in charge of Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states, Lai Oloyede, a professor and commissioner of training, were on ground to supervise the workshop. Over 10,000 members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, participated in the training exercise. Kassim Gaidam, the state resident electoral commissioner, REC, who visited the various training centres, urged the corps members to resist “any temptation or bait to derail the electoral process”, stressing that “what you have agreed to do on election day is a patriotic and selfless service which no money can compensate for.
But I want to plead with you to demonstrate that you can be relied on as the future leaders of our country.” About 5,000 students of the University of Benin and the Auchi Polytechnic would also be recruited and trained as assistant presiding officers. The election would take place in 5,519 voting points and in 2,627 polling stations in the 192 wards in the18 local government areas of the state.
The desperation on both sides of the big contenders has raised the political temperature in the state. For both Oshiomhole and Airhiavbere, a lot is at stake. Though political pundits believe that ordinarily, the incumbent governor has an edge over all other contestants given his impressive performance so far, he appears circumspect about taking anything for granted.
Airhiavbere, a retired army general, on his part, believes he is on a mission to redeem the battered image of the PDP and restore the dignity and confidence of the people of the state in the ability of a Benin man to render effective political leadership in the state.
From all indications, observers say the odds are gravely and evidently stashed against the former ruling party in the state which in the early days of the Oshiomhole administration, called the shots because of its majority representation in the state House of Assembly. But no sooner the table turned in the House with the sacking of some of its members by the court of appeal and defection of some others, than it began to lose most of its prominent members and their supporters to the ruling party. Today, the party is said to have become a mere carcass and going into the July 14 election with a rag tag army comprising even foot soldiers who some believe owe allegiance elsewhere. Political analysts believe that the party’s greatest problem is the insincerity of some of its present crops of leaders. While they claim to be members of the party, their spirits and souls are with the ACN.
This was very evident during the two campaign rallies addressed by the vice-president and later by the President. At the rally addressed by Namadi Sambo, the vice-president, the leadership of the party in the state was elated that for the first time in a very long time, the hitherto three political musketeers, namely Samuel Ogbemudia, two-time governor and former minister, Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, and Tony Anenih, former chairman, Board of Trustees of the party, were once again coming together under one umbrella, after several years of estrangement. Ogbemudia had kept his distance from the PDP to hobnob with Oshiomhole. Even after the rally, which he also addressed, no one was left in doubt that he was no longer committed to the party. Rather than canvass for votes for the party, all he said was “Edo people will acquit themselves creditably well during the election.
They will vote for the candidate that will occupy Osadebay Avenue on July 14. The PDP candidate is Charles Airhiavbere.” Party faithful saw his statement as non-committal and carefully crafted not to hurt the governor. Few days later at the 40th anniversary of the Institute of Continuing Education, the retired Brigadier-General indeed endorsed the governor’s second term bid. Ogbemudia who established the institution, said the second reason he honoured the invitation to the event “which is perhaps more important, is for me to officially hand over the baton to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.”
Another minus for the party is the estrangement of Oserhiemen Osunbor, a professor of Constitutional Law and former governor, from the party. Osunbor was aggrieved over the outcome of the party’s governorship primary election, which he believed he was set to clinch but for its manipulation in favour of Airhiavbere. Oshiomhole was to make a political capital out of it by moving in to woo Osunbor. His visit to the Iruekpen home of the former governor where they held a closed-door meeting, paid off with the defection of thousands of his loyalists to the ruling party. In spite of efforts by Anenih and other leaders of the party to pacify him, Osunbor remained implacable staying away from all the party’s campaign rallies. He only showed up when President Jonathan came to identify with his party.
Oshiomhole however seems to be doing everything possible to lure Osunbor out of the party. Last Wednesday, the state House of Assembly amended the 2007 law on welfare package for former governors and their deputies to include former governors who were removed from office as a result of military coups and by court judgements. Political observers believe this was done to accommodate Osunbor. They however found this very curious and a sign of inconsistency on the part of the governor. Hitherto, the governor had consistently maintained that Osunbor was never a governor by virtue of the judgement of the court of appeal, which ruled that he never won the election and ordered the certificate of return issued to him by INEC withdrawn. As a result of the judegment, his photograph was removed from executive chambers where pictures of former governors were hung. The magazine gathered that after the governor’s visit to Iruekpen, the picture was returned to where it was removed. Oshiomhole’s overtures to Osunbor is to give him some political mileage in Edo Central Senatorial District which is the stronghold of the PDP due to the overwhelming influence of Anenih in the area.
And in Edo South Senatorial District, the governor also clearly has an edge over Airhiavbere. In previous elections, the ACN had always defeated the PDP particularly in Oredo local government. But with the defection of Idahosa Okunbo, a pilot, multi-millionaire businessman and a financier of the ruling party to the PDP, political watchers are waiting to see how this will translate into electoral fortune for the opposition party in the local government area.
For Airhiavbere however, it is a case of a prophet without honour among his people. If his objective is to turn back the hand of the clock and repair the damage done to the Benin ethnic nationality by Igbinedion, he is may be embarking on a failed mission because even the custodians of the culture and tradition of the people have come out openly to denounce his so-called Benin agenda and rejected his candidacy. On more than one occasion, the Oba of Benin had openly endorsed Oshiomhole for a second term in office.
Prominent palace chiefs namely the Iyase of Benin, Sam Igbe, David Edebiri, the Esongban of Benin Kingdom, as well as the Isekhure of Benin and Chief Priest of the Kingdom, Nosakhare Isekhure, have equally not hidden their resentment for the aspiration of one of their own.
Chris Agbonwanegbe, a stalwart of the PDP and former commissioner, however in his reaction to Edebiri’s pronouncement told the magazine that “Edebiri, a few days ago was ranting that Benins have endorsed Oshiomhole and it is important to explain to the people that Edebiri has no mandate of all edions of the Benins to say what he said.” According to him, “the meaning of odion is the head of edion and anybody above 50 years in Benin is an Edion.
And when you get to that status, we have a place of meeting to take decisions. And I am asking Edebiri to tell the people where the meeting was held to say that Oshiomhole should be our adopted candidate and so he should stop that so that he can earn our respect.”
The former commissioner regretted that Benin people are satisfied with “tokenism and crumbs falling from his table” after the largest chunk has been consumed by his Etsako people. In his words, “Benin people should shine their eyes. They should take their vehicles and drive through Benin. The total number of kilometres of road done so far by Oshiomhole is less than 20 and they should go to Etsako where Oshiomhole comes from. From Auchi to Fugar has been dualised and that length is more than all the roads done in Benin City. We are not talking of the Imiegba-Okpekpe Road where John Momoh comes from, Ugbekpe-Ekperi Road, or the bridge to Anegbette and the rest of them. They should go to his hometown and see the house he is building; whether that is renovation, with all the outlandish features. We challenged him to open it to journalists to see and report to the world if it is renovation.”
Not many are however impressed by whatever the PDP is saying. They believe that if the party in 10 years had done half of what Oshiomhole had been able to achieve in less than four years, the state would have been better off. Apart from Oshiomhole’s obvious advantage in terms of his work speaking for him wherever his campaign train had been to, the ruling party’s formidable propaganda machinery has completely overwhelmed the PDP which had boasted that it had dossiers about the governor which when released would stampede him out of the race. Apart from the alleged N10.8 billion mansion it claimed the governor was building at his home town in Iyamho which has not had any effect on the governor’s rating, the PDP is completely out of steam to sustain its campaign against the governor.