Wednesday Column By USSIJU MEDANER
There is joy in winning. Right now, we can only imagine what the atmosphere is around the government house in Edo state; the feeling of relief and unbelief of the reality that surely will characterise the mind of the governor-elect. It was a long war and a huge fight; the odds were high against the governor, in fact the election was his to lose by all calculation and permutation. The fear of what the powerful presidency, the so-called federal might, would be in the conduct of the Edo election lingered in the minds of many. Though the governor had met with the president and got the assurance of a free, fair and credible election with a level playground for all contestants, the governor would not have totally believe until the Election Day. Why the fear and the prolonged propaganda of an already rigged election that lasted even into the election when nothing of such was happening? The answer is obvious.
In 2014, the Ekiti state governorship election gave a fresh definition to democracy in Nigeria and the extent of federal might as an ingredient of winning elections in the country. The then candidate of PDP was not only fully bankrolled from the center but was made so formidable and powerful by the power that resided at the center that, though incumbent at the state, the sitting governor of the state at that time was like an ant to the PDP candidate. APC members and stalwarts in the state were caged and made redundant while the Election Day processes lasted; Governor Rotimi Amechi and other governors who were coming in from outside the state to aid their comrade governor reelection bid were literally captured, detained and held hostage until the election ended. The military were let loose on the opposition; the preferred candidate coasted to victory with over ninety percent of all cast votes. I saw the PDP candidate dressed in military gear and leading the mobile police patrol of the street as they moved from street to street fishing out opposition leaders that needed to be put under control; the media was agog, the federal government was silent, the result came in and accepted by all; the winner was congratulated and it all ended. Really, those days, the end did really justify the means.
That was a case study of the era and what the misuse of federal power did to the political development of our nation. Then, it was the norm that the candidate with the backing of the federal might wins the election; the full paraphernalia of the nation’s security force unleashed against helpless and hapless contestants and results written at the pleasure of the power that be. And, so it was until it became strange to see an opposition candidate without the support of the government at the center winning an election in the country. Even when it began to happen recently during the reign of president Muhammadu Buhari, the strangeness of the occurrence become more of an issue as compared to the winning; now the mentality is so ingrained that despite the president’s clear posture on neutrality and non-interference during elections, we would not agree that states under the control of the ruling party could win election without the ingrained and expected interferences; that much was the case with the Osun state election, Kogi state election and a couple of other election won by APC in the last few years.
Why do I make the detour as the opening remark of my write up this week? The Edo state governorship election has come and gone; won and lost, but my composed list of winners and losers in the election is rich with a number of names that many Nigerians may prefer to disagree with, to satisfy their long lasting biases. So, on my list of winners in the Edo state governorship election stand, and very tall, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari. Given the antecedent of Nigerian political landscape, Edo state would have been a given for APC regardless of what PDP does, and how many personalities they assemble if the game were to be played as usual with the full show of federal power. Though out of favour with many party stalwarts who do not agree with the president’s stance of neutrality, Mr. President has consistently demonstrated his determination to allow the electoral process run as it should with the people determining who should rule or represent them in free, fair and non-manipulated elections. The president, by this repeated action, is the grand hero of the Edo state election. The fact that the opposition could win an election in a state the ruling party at the center is interested in and have invested much in, is a big plus for the country, and a move in the right direction to strengthen the nation’s democratic system. It is absolutely commendable that the president would choose to stay on the fence, and allow the people of the state to decide who becomes their governor without being bothered by his party’s interests at the poll. It was more glaring when the President insisted on non-interference as the courts were wielding the big sticks and stopping his party in several swing states across the country in 2019. The state won it all in Zamfara but the court overturned it; in the history of Nigeria democracy, I don’t see much of the presidents we have had that would allow that to stand without influencing the court decision in favour of his party, both in Zamfara and Rivers states, for instance. We must give president Buhari credit for living up to his signature principle – not flexing his muscle like most presidents before him.
Having eulogised the president Buhari’s fatherly disposition and commitment to the development of true democratic process in the country, it is time to access and consider the intrigues that shaped the outcome of the Edo state election and list the takes from the outing by all Nigerians as we move a step deeper into our democracy.
Did PDP and Governor Obaseki have what it takes to win the election? That was a question I asked myself severally before the election day. My personal opinion though, I had technically submitted that that wasn’t possible; the election was a given for APC and its candidate, but as it turned out that the opposite happened, an x-ray of what created the turnaround of the event became necessary.
Starting from now, the first blame lands on the table of the erstwhile chairman of APC and the man who decided to exploit the state election to settle his personal vendetta with the sitting governor and his estranged other allies. Comrade Oshiomole highhandedly ran an election in the state without alignment with the national secretariat of the party and disregard for existing party structure in the state. He was the lord of the campaign and presented himself to the Edolites as the almighty kingmaker; the godfather. The people had left him but he was blinded by the presence of few men of status, forgetting it would be the people that would vote. Democracy is indeed interesting. The Obaseki camp understood this, fed him high with more dose of his personal deception as they allowed more and more appointees of the government to resign and claimed to have join Oshiomole campaign, but they weren’t there; they were spoilers, giving false sense of control while mostly working underground to disorganised the APC network and work for the reelection of the PDP candidate in the state. So he took the APC and the party candidate into a massive and critical competition in a state as volatile as Edo state without appropriate structure.
Attempts will be made from many quarters within the fold of APC to lay the blame for the party’s defeat in Edo state solely at the door of Comrade Oshiomole, which would be a shortsighted appraisal of the reality of the many reasons the party lost the election. For APC to learn its lesson from the avoidable defeat in Edo, it must squarely place the blames where they deserved to be. To start with, the party had been complacent since the time it won the 2019 election; giving the opposition the freedom and space to run a number of demeaning and destructive propaganda against it without activating appropriate response channels to diffuse the propagandas. Tactically, the opposition party began a campaign against the APC-led government and the party; internally, the citizens are largely turned against the party following the narratives being propagated by the opposition without the ruling party doing much to dissolve it. Overseas, the opposition was having its way placing the burden of the blame of insecurities in the country solely on the ruling party and claiming the president is even culpable in the supposed killing in quarters across the country. This much, the president had been insulted on a number of times inclusive of when the President of the USA asked him of why the Muslims are killing Christians in the country. And invariably because APC as a party and an institution did not wake up to realise what was brewing and respond accordingly, the opposition have gone further to force the international communities to blacklist a number of APC senior members as election riggers; an offence that PDP mostly committed and had most of their members culpable of. But because APC went to sleep as a party since they won election in 2019, PDP continues to have its way around destructive rhetoric and propagandas against the party.
By these proactive and calculated actions from the opposition, PDP is already setting the pace and direction for the 2023 election strategically and consciously while the ruling party is busy segregating and deepening the disunity in its body polity because of permutation for 2023 elections.
The APC leadership is as much to be blame for its woes in Edo state as much as Comrade Oshiomole; not being a good students of history, the party either forgot the games that led to the eventual defeat of PDP in 2015 or, the members, meaning the frontiers of the party did not mind seeing the disintegration of the party the very way PDP did when it allowed internal segregation and some individuals’ unbridled thirst for power to overshadow its group objectives leading into the 2015 general elections.
For a while, power play, formation of power blocks; with the motive of seizing the party structures in preparation for the 2023 presidential election has become the game play within the ruling party, and it was becoming more glaring by the day that the senior members are ready to sacrifice anything to set the pace for taking control of the party. Regrettably, for the party, Edo state was turned into a battleground for warring factions within the party and the election became a battle to determine what faction of the party is more powerful. The governor forum of the party became divided and a large number of the governors gave up their party and pitched their tenth with the PDP because Pastor Ize-Iyamu winning the election will establish the dominion of another faction and they cannot allow that to happen. So, to them, the loss of Ize-Iyamu is the loss of the faction behind him and not the loss of their collective interest in the party. This is for those who understand intricate party politics.
That is an aberration that has also become a defining factor of Nigeria democracy and party politics. The sickening and non-committed posture of members that make us see party members cross-carpeting at will and without remorse; the non-ideological base of both parties and individuals aligning with the political parties, and the obvious emerging revelation of individuals using political parties only as grounds to fulfil personal and selfish objectives. In the United States of America, for instance, not until now have they ever had a president with absolute disdain and carefree attitude about values that define the country; a president that abuse institutions and individuals, placing next to no values and respect for the lives of the citizens as much as he openly disregard and bring the country to disrespect in the committee of nations; yet despite all the abominations committed by President Trump, the republicans have mostly stood by him; not for Trump but for the party. They saw him overcoming an impeachment that was justly because the party saw his removal as the lot of the entire party. The support for the party transcends individual errors and mistakes; the support for the party is a strong obligation demanded from members who have sworn allegiance to the party and the need to fight to save the party from external defeat is always paramount before consideration for internal struggle. This is not only missing in APC but in all political parties in Nigeria and the Nigeria system altogether. We have seen situations where Nigerians unpatriotically aligned with foreign interests to sap their own nation of resources – the P&ID unholy transaction is a clear instance. We are bothered only by what comes to us and possess no regard for group integrity and progress.
How can governors on the platform of APC not only sit on the fence but also sporadically offer statements that suggest their support is with the candidate of an opposition party in an election their party is fielding a candidate? How can someone like chief Oyegun boldly ask the people of Edo to vote for anyone they want in an election where his party is presenting a candidate?
The only thing that matters to factions within APC now is who will become what in the permutation for 2023; they have forgotten that there wouldn’t be any position to occupy if you cannot muster enough force to win election as a first priority. And by this act, they have set the party on a destructive mode. The national secretariat of the party, BOT of the party, and the President have a lot of mediation and work to do if the party would be savaged and return to the winning way in future elections or else, they would be squarely served the PDP treatment in 2023. Edo 2020 is just an introduction.
So it Oshiomole’s behaviour, as inexcusable as they were, was not an isolated event but an intricate internal struggle for the soul of APC. Forces slugging it out with forces within the same party; and as it is rightly said, a system divided against itself cannot stand. The party lost Edo governorship seat to PDP because if Ize-Iyamu had won, the Tinubu faction of the party would have come out stronger and stand a better chance of taking over the party structure come November when the party constitutes its convention and subsequently produced the next presidential candidate of the party. For all analysis, APC is the biggest loser from all permutations. Yet, APC stands for the masses, whereas some selfishness members use the party for personal ends.
Right now, the greatest winner in the events as they unfold in Edo last week are the duo of Governor Obaseki and his deputy, Hon. Philip Shuaibu. They fought against a formidable opposition and they won. The party, PDP remains the sole beneficiary of the grand errors of APC in administering its internal affairs rightly; the party has cashed out big, added to its coffer a strategic state and will go into the Ondo state governorship election with renewed vigour and confidence. Beyond Ondo state, the permutation for 2023 is beginning to take a new shape; till now PDP propagandas and machinations have worked tremendously well against a crisis-ridden APC and the winning in Edo last week has raised a fresh hope that the party is still strong to contend with the ruling party for the ultimate seat it lost some six years ago, in 2023; guaranteed, 2023 will be a different game for both parties, that much APC have allowed by the party’s failure to solidified their authority and control over systems and processes in the country.
The highest rigger has won the election, but that is by the way; it is not strange to us as a people. PDP was the stronger rigger last week. Whether APC and its candidate will go to court to challenge the victory, we should all be in the lookout.
At what cost did Obaseki got the platforms and support that won him the election? What is the magnitude of the costs carried forward? And what would the Edo people have to pay to settle the hired fighters who secured the seat for their loved governor? These and more questions beg for answers but we can only wish that the people of Edo will not be the greatest loser in an election that throws up Obaseki for a second term in office as the governor of the state.
While we wait to see events unfold in the state, it is only proper to rejoice with them and a congratulation is rightly in place for the declared winner of the Edo election and the governor-elect of Edo state, His Excellency Godwin Obaseki.
God Bless The Federal Republic Of Nigeria!