Fifty-five days to the Edo State gubernatorial poll, the two dominant political platforms, All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are deploying all manners of strategies and tactics to emerge victorious on September 19, 2020.
From the tenor and delivery of campaign claims and contrivances of the opposing camps, it is obvious that the governorship poll would not be an easy ride for both candidates.
While APC and its standard-bearer, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, supported by the immediate past national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole enjoy the benefits of federal might, PDP and Governor Godwin Obaseki, supported by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, are in the custody of state power.
Having switched from APC to PDP, Governor Obaseki has been throwing all in his incumbency power to ensure he returns as governor and proves to Oshiomhole and APC that he is not only in power but the chief security officer of Edo State.
The mammoth crowd that came out to welcome Comrade Oshiomhole to the state a fortnight ago showed that despite the sacking of the APC National Working Committee (NWC), which he headed, the former labour leader still commands the respect of Edolites.
Perhaps from the bold statement from Oshiomhole in his triumphant entry to the state, there are indications that it was a warning signal that the journey to September 19 would be a clash of titans.
In his remarks at the occasion, Oshiomhole assured APC faithful and supporters that he was back and would remain in the state to smoke the snake that troubled the party out of the Government House.
With his acerbic tongue, the former APC national chairman, who described himself as a he-goat, convinced his supporters that he was coming to ensure that Edo State remains an APC state.
As the crowd lined the streets and cheered the former governor back to the state, the PDP inaugurated its governorship campaign council to begin electioneering aimed at returning Obaseki as governor for a second term.
The general impression among political stakeholders in the state is that to whatever level Governor Obaseki deploys his power of incumbency, APC still enjoys massive grassroots support in the state.
A former Commissioner of Agriculture, Hon Abdul Oroh, had told The Guardian that leaving APC was Obaseki’s first step of losing the governorship election, stressing that all those who made him governor in 2016, including Oshiomhole, are still around to determine where the pendulum swings.
Oroh disclosed that part of the strength of APC is the fact of Oshiomhole’s track records in office as governor and Ize-Iyamu’s grassroots support, adding that while the election would be keenly contested, APC would carry the day eventually because Obaseki failed to continue with Oshiomhole’s developmental master plan.
But on his side, Governor Obaseki, having mobilized some mushroom political parties to endorse him, is also targeting supporters of Oshiomhole and APC.
For instance, the state government, recently, was accused of deploying the power of incumbency in very drastic and undemocratic manner, including the alleged destruction of campaign billboards of the APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu and attacks on a philanthropist, Captain (Dr.) Idahosa Wells Okunbo.
Stakeholders have expressed worries that the use of trigger words and resort to violence could mar not only the election by raising voter apathy, but also affecting investor confidence in the state.
The fact that Edo is one of the states with the least number of private sector companies seems to explain the call on Governor Obaseki to rationalise the boundaries between politics and business.
Those calls followed the recent attacks by agents of the government on a renowned business mogul, Captain (Dr.) Idahosa Wells Okunbo and other investors.
A retired civil servant in the state, Dr. Ignatius Gbinijie, regretted that the vilification of non-combatants, especially entrepreneurs and philanthropists like Okunbo could apart from raising the fears of violence, send wrong signals to international partners and donor agencies.
Those who know the relationship between Capt. Okunbo and Obaseki claim that their friendship became cold when some sycophants around the governor sold the dummy that the philanthropist was Oshiomhole’s trump card to deny the governor a second term ticket of APC.
Owing to Okunbo’s philanthropic activities, he is said to be admired by all and sundry, even as he denied any interest in any electoral contest. Yet, political jobbers sustained the notion that the philanthropist was bidding for time to challenge the governor.
Edo people are concerned that the ongoing campaigns, particularly the onslaught against Okunbo and his businesses and those of other investors should not be allowed to impede the economic potentials of the state.
Vilifying a well-meaning citizen with for political mischief-making, would after the election is won and lost, damage the sincere, robust and commitment of investors to support infrastructure development and other social investment initiatives of the state.
Sources disclosed that Okunbo had in the past deployed his public goodwill and enormous resources for the good of Edo people irrespective of their political, religious and economic situations.
Signs of deteriorating public perception came to light recently when, in a public notice, Okunbo made a ‘save-my-soul appeal,’ in which he called on all well-meaning Edo indigenes and Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora, to plead with the governor to cease further “attacks on me, my family and my business.”
While lamenting that Governor Obaseki and his goons are intent on destroying his farm as well as revoking the Certificates of Occupancy of all hopis houses in Benin City, Okunbo wondered, “what have I done to deserve this bellicose treatment?”
It was gathered that in the course of his philanthropic activities, Capt. Okunbo had supported the Obaseki administration in the last three years, a development, which the governor’s aides believe could be used for electoral purposes.
“I find it sickening and incomprehensible to understand or accept any justification for the series of sustained virulent attacks against my person in the social and print media by some agents of Edo State Government,” the business mogul told reporters.
A public affairs commentator, Niyi Efosa said while the business mogul was not contesting the governorship, it was unjust for Governor Obaseki to put the heat on the Edo-born business magnate.
Efosa disclosed that the governor was also using his connections within the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to attack Capt. Hosa and his business interests.
Capt. Okunbo has large followership across the state and beyond, just as his businesses cut across major sectors of the economy. His philanthropic and job-creating activities endeared him into the hearts of most Edolites.
Consequently, those plotting to reduce his net worth and social clout with a view to undermining his contribution to the state and national economy could be said to be aiming at his jugular.
The recent moves by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to issue a marine notice to mariners and ship owners in respect of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), where to ship berth and are protected from pirates attacks in the Lagos port, which is jointly operated by the Nigerian Navy and Ocean Marine Solution (OMS), were said to have been instigated by Obaseki with the support of a Northwest governor who has a lot of influence on the Managing Director of the NPA.
As chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Oil Theft and Pipeline Vandalism set up by the National Economic Council (NEC), Governor Obaseki was said to have written a damning report against Capt Hosa’s interest
The OMS provides security protection for the pipelines in parts of the oil-rich Delta region, specifically in Escravos and Forcados, among others.
It would be recalled that on his resumption of office in 2016, Capt. Okunbo sponsored Governor Obaseki and his team of officials on an investment pathfinder’s trip to China as part of his belief in private sector-led participation as key to the economic and industrial development of the state.
Riding on his goodwill across the board and the respect he enjoys among power brokers in the state, Capt. Okunbo had appealed to the political class and other critical Edo stakeholders on the need to embrace the virtue of patience with Governor Obaseki as he settled down for governance and infrastructure development.
Interestingly, evidence abounds that Capt. Okunbo who is erroneously seen now by Obaseki and his team as the battle-axe of the political camp opposed to the incumbent in the APC has actually made enormous contributions to peace, progress and visible development of the economy of the state.
It is not that Capt. Okunbo was or is a member of the APC. His influence simply cuts across all the parties. He enjoys statewide approbation. Had he decided to accept overtures to him to offer himself for the ticket of the APC, he would have been the consensus candidate of not only the APC but also of all of the parties.
Apart from the attack on Capt. Okunbo, the state government also deployed its power of incumbency against another Oshiomhole loyalist, Tony Adun, also known as Kabaka.
When officials of Edo State government pulled down Adun’s hotel in Ugbor area of Benin City, there was public outcry at Governor Obaseki’s insistence on destroying the multi-million investment that provided jobs for citizens of the state.
The general impression among residents of the state then was that the demolition of T. Latifa Hotel was part of the political differences between the governor and the immediate past APC national chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole.
And although the government through the state Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development posted a notice demanding that Adun (Kabaka) should dismantle the hotel within seven days, it was obvious that the move had political undertone.
It would be recalled that Obaseki disengaged the hotel’s proprietor, Adun, and other revenue contractors employed by Oshiomhole. The government while insisting that it has the capacity to collect revenue claimed also that Kabaka’s hotel was built on public primary school premises.
Rebuffing the public outrage that trailed the demolition order, the governor said no amount of blackmail would stop his government from demolishing the hotel since it was built on government’s land.
On the surface, there seems to be a balance of forces between APC and PDP, as such the difference would come from public perception and acceptability of the candidates.