The Oasis Reporters
September 27, 2020
By TONY ABOLO
The elections have been won and won, as some say, (whatever that means) or the elections have been won and lost (depending on your assessment). But whichever, this year’s gubernatorial election was a watershed, and historic in many proportions.
It will serve the kernel for political analysis, punditry, re-understanding of the social psychology of the Binis (the Benin people), particularly of a people and the behavioral pattern of Edo State and indeed of any State in Nigeria, going forward, considering that States are getting more cosmopolitan and die hard ethnicity is fading somewhat from national politics.
New theories of political culture in our democracy, would emerge, thanks to the tendencies and the dramatis personae of EDO 2020. However take it or leave it, no one factor can explain the victory of a 3 month surge of the PDP, the victorious turn out of Godwin Obaseki and the five month campaign of Ize-Iyamu and his failure to grapple with his gubernatorial ambition, the second time around.
What may have confounded many was that despite the opinion polling results (Were they fake, contrived or real?), Obaseki was not favoured to win, if you measure the rage of a faction of Edo APC and their presumed “godfather, formerly “Oshiobaba”, now with the nom-de-plume, “Osho-pickin”.
Even for some of us, who believed in and wished Obaseki to win, he was a hard sell, given the fact that his governance philosophy flew against the traditional wind direction. There was nothing wrong with his philosophy, but the issue was his unwillingness to readily communicate with the public (Is he a shy, taciturn, arrogant or over confident person?)
Only he can tell.
The situation was made all the more complex by his preference for social media platform communication, in the strange belief, that “Nigeria and Edo State” are modern and that such modern tools would spread his message better, faster and can swing people.
Or could it be that he factored in the Edos in the Disapora as the core electorate or as his influencers?
Added to that, is that, his media team were not quite as biting, nor did they seem to understand political PR messaging well enough. They were bland and weak. They hardly could “coin” a brand messaging. Their hang was that “Obaseki’s job will speak for him” . But in the mass thicket of cloak and dagger Nigerian politics, filled with venom, bile, disinformation, hatred, cash doling and vote buying, Obaseki was merely a “one armed bandit”; a one armed political combatant!!. But then, many who understand his persona, filled the void with gusto and enthusiasm.
And here one must commend Chris Nekhihare, the PDP Publicity Secretary who rose to the occasion. His Communication rallied the troops!!.
And still in the area of messaging, one cannot but critique the messages from the two sides. How “we have no godfather, but we have God the Father”, a personal message that only Governor Obaseki and Shuaibu, his Deputy could fathom the depth and a clear reference to Oshiomhole would drive home a campaign. This would always remain a moot question. Indeed this was merely a hope that it would resonate and galvanise the people in an empatic way and that it could get out the votes.
A lot of persons had their own grudges with the overbearing nature of Adams Oshiomhole. Hence, it could have been a message that rallied them. Sadly, this message was more dominant than the viable and vital message of Innovation Hub, Production Centre, The new Secretariat, the Modular Refinery, the Ossiomo 55 MW Plant that Obaseki delivered in four years.
It only shows we are atavistic in our subliminal thinking. Core issues of development do not seem to matter. It did however motivate votes in some.
Then on the other hand, we have the “Let us make Edo great again” and “let us move Edo forward” messages of Ize Iyamu. In our clime, I thought the actions of the Governor was already making Edo great again and hence we were moving forward already. The Ize-Iyamu camp messaging may have seemed redundant and ineffectual. Made more so, with a Chairman Mao’s or Ghadafi’s type of Green and Red books.
Such a compendium of promises of “I will do”, as contained in the SIMPLE AGENDA may have worked in the 50’s, when voters were very unlettered and had little or no appreciation of governance.
How people would leave a “doer” for a “Moses and the Promised land”, I cannot fathom. The Iyamu’s camp must have been looking for other helps other than driving up the votes through messaging. Oh, I forgot, they had their online Radio and TV which spread enough negative propaganda that was meant to blunt the fervor around Obaseki.
It perhaps did as I met some who would ask rhetorically “what did Obaseki do? I can’t see anything”.
Such questions provoked such loud protestations and arguments and the arena for mini campaigns which provided pepper soup, and beer for the arguers. It may have swayed voters either way. The end result proved the side that won the pepper soup table arguments.
One cannot but excoriate those who saw the sense in re-representing the Simple Agenda in 2020. In 2016, it may have been a novelty, the kind seen in the 50s with Awolowo and his UPN or AG campaigns. But then in 2020, without re-editing the brochure, in the light of present realities, it being presented as a manifesto must have been an insult on intelligence.
How could such bogus thoughts, that had no explanations as to where the money to implement such “lofty dreams” was to come from in a post COVID era, made many to wonder who Ize-Iyamu’s strategists were.
The document “Simple Agenda” was regarded by critics as simplistic and un- implementable in a small state like Edo with its small sized State budget, less capitalized and not too consequential GDP.
The large scale picture of the tendencies in the State’s Senatorial districts were realities, only the discerning could interpret and factor into the campaigns. Edo Central much was already sold out on a “2024 Esan for Governor Agenda” despite all the negative propaganda spread around the district and the lies told against that agenda from the APC faction camp. It did not work as the Esan people were determined to vote massively for PDP. Edo south was very split. It not only had the bulk of the votes but had the more enlightened electorate. Then there is the advantage of it being more cosmopolitan.
Non-Edo indigenes were rooting for Obaseki while the Binis were in their sentimental ethnic elements. Edo North was a toss -up and battle ground arena. Some key Obaseki staff from the district resigned from the government. Their “damage” capacity could not be underrated. The influence of the adulation of Oshiomhole was patent.
Then two Edo North sons were battling on as Deputy Governors. The scattered effects showed in the results. The core APC and PDP members in the District were out to show their loyalties. And given the more rural nature of the district, party affiliations and ethnic sentiments without the baggage of logic, played out.
Something popped up like never before in Edo South, among the Benins. The kinship system drew more sentimental confusions. I hear the PDP gubernatorial candidate have blood affinity with the APC candidate and this crisscross kinship patterns ran through the Benin Nation.
Then added in the mix, were remembered wrong doings amongst “brothers and sisters”. Persons dug in, into their positions, based on who said or did what, to whom in sometimes past.
The election was payback time.
Thus many who were Benin PDP members had a tough time convincing the Benin APC members about “why our Party” and it was vice versa. Hopefully, the sentimental sores may heal or it could be like James Baldwin wrote “Fire the next time”.
There was a seeming challenge somewhere – in Obaseki crossing “Overnight” into the PDP with all the earlier gubernatorial actions as an APC Governor.
How could that work?
The results clearly showed that votes may not have been exactly for the parties, but for personalities as many agreed that in his silent manner, Obaseki had worked. A plus was that inexplicably, there were APC members who vowed that they could not vote for Ize-Iyamu. There may be some grudges somewhere.
Excitedly, there was the mood in the State, that APC must be repelled. Considering all the nepotism of Buhari and a Fulani supremacist agenda, the underlying vote behavior was to send, the APC and the herdsmen (wherever they came from, whether Mali, Niger or Mauritania) packing. And thereby, create a new political identity.
A statement that we are not Yoruba’s and therefore could not come under the umbrella of APC, was a rejection of a Tinubu’s quest for a “Presidency” slot.
Neither would Edo want to ever be linked with a northern agenda (even though Tambuwal, Kwankwaso and Atiku made forays into the campaigns). There was a loud statement, that we needed to bond with the South-South and more so a Niger-Delta PDP family. Come to think of it, Edo is a PDP state and not anything else.
Hence Uzodinma (a revisionist, and a Northern apologist and a No. 4 who became No 1 in Imo) and Tinubu’s meddlesomeness in the campaign were resented. The Igbos in Edo were clearly PDP and Uzodinma was not going to change that. Edo was not going to be sucked into the wanting to be APC for an Igbo Presidency argument. Such chicanery is not in the nature of the EDOs.
It has been said that America’s visa and asset bans on election riggers were supportive of PDP winning. It may have played a little part in what Professor Farooq Kperogi calls “infantile thirst” by the Nigeria’s political elite “for paternal dictatorship”.
But a major factor that made votes count and the less chance at rigging and electoral manipulation was that the cabal and the Northern establishment wanted to kill two birds with one stone- decimate and humiliate Oshiomhole and get Tinubu’s Presidential ambition snuffed out.
Hence, the security agencies, including INEC were apparently instructed to “Let votes count”. Of course it was a good thing in the ideal, but you cannot count on it in other elections, given the utter perfidy of the “cabal” and a supremacist agenda.
Could it have been an answer to our silent prayers for a better Nigeria? Ondo and 2023 would prove the point.
The National Peace Council of Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami and Bishop Hassan Kukah may have had some influence. But this is indeterminate. As Nigerian parties sign on to peace and act otherwise.
Similarly it is hard to read into the Oba of Benin Peace mediation as so many are reading interpretations into statements made at the occasion. We therefore must read more into a hands off by the security agencies and a determined electorate to vote their conscience, which came out as 307,955 votes (Obaseki) and 223,619 votes (Ize Iyamu).
This is one election where the new phenomenon of large scale vote buying was blunted by a people’s determination to act otherwise. We heard reports of N5,000 and N10,000 votes purchasing at Igbesanmwan, in Ikpema in Benin City and in Irrua. However, that did not manifest in the outcomes anticipated. Clearly the level of enlightennment of voters must be acknowledged.
The frenzy in this election seemed to have been energized by the presence of Oshiomole. Oshiomole was a central issue. The Governor and the Deputy were keen on dethroning a godfather. While the APC wanted him as a “Salesman”, the PDP voters wanted to show how he is reviled. His arrogance and determination to remove Obaseki was resisted with a stout force by the massive turn out and votes. There was a battle of wits of sorts and intelligence at play.
And talking of intelligence there was a unique strategy, Obaseki and Shuaibu deployed by having a fall back position. As they left APC for PDP they left Anslem Ojezua and the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon Okiye stationed back in the APC, just in case. Until all the cannisters of the opponent are expended, that may be when, they would cross over to the “other side”.
But then can they? Would Anslem Ojezua want to stop being a Chairman of APC, factional or not? Would Okiye want to cross – when the vacant seats of the House are not yet filled and a clear pattern of party strength determined? We wait to see.
One unusual enthusiasm in this year’s gubernatorial contest was the participation of Edo Diasporans in the campaign, through cash donations, website campaigns, and social media activities. Never in the history of elections have Edos in the diaspora been this keen on a governorship election. And this happened for both sides. Another level of enthusiasm that was observed in the indigenes who lived outside of the State. Many returned to their villages and towns to vote. And spectacularly many flew in from overseas to vote. And as this election has turned out to be free and fair, we can expect a heavier participation the next time.
The role of social media in this elections cannot be underplayed. So many new platforms arose. Some canvassing, while many were there spewing disinformation and propaganda. But whichever, it drove everyone out and the elongated voting queue lines proved that sensitization was high and through all channels. But the social media was more immediate, personal and readily intimate.
And now that the election is ended, of what electoral and political value were the long list of those who resigned from Obaseki’s government under undue inducement influences, as we hear, some even leaving a week to election. They were so convinced that Obaseki’s government was collapsing and they looked on themselves as the “Incoming government men”. If only they were wiser!!!! I wonder how they would look at themselves now that it is all over?
They must now be counted as untrustworthy and could never be persons who may want to cross into the PDP, now or in the future. They are among the tested and proven “untrusted” in Edo politics. I would go on to enjoin everyone to stay their lane after this election. APC members should stay and develop their party while PDP should not admit defectors. It is not healthy for our “nascent” politics. Let the PDP strengthen their party in other ways.
Also with the election won, Godwin Obaseki should absorb all the criticisms from all and sundry and convert them to political capital. He should benefit from criticism and use them to build up himself, the PDP and strengthen his governance methods. The comments are perceptions which are real. He never made a real effort to convince those who could not comprehend his style of governance as futuristic – a style of providing capacity and opportunities to those willing to be enterprising, and not about “distributing money and favors”.
All that is well and good, but to the laggards, the government must provide cover and encouragement in any case. That is the role of government. There can be no excuses. It is for his media team to evolve new ways to communicate his vision. For now, they may be convinced, but like the Governor would say, “Let us go further”.
The duo of Shuaibu and Ogie deserve everyone’s praise and commendation, in the face of the “godfather”. By staying by the Governor, giving him succor and support at difficult moments they have laid themselves out as trustworthy and dependable. Their prize is well ahead and bountiful!!!!.
The saddest aspect of the election is the role of Adams Oshiomole, who has received grace and God’s favour but who has cast himself down with his own folly.
Without a good pedigree, quality education and mind, he saw himself fighting a “nothing war”.
Where now will be his respect in Edo State politics? Having been a two term Governor, and a Party Chairman, he exhibiting no class, could not see himself upon on the status ladder.
He has been crashing, but unwilling to heed any good advice. He is now, perhaps, only an Afenmai Chieftain. But then with this victory, has Philip Shuaibu not upturned things and upscaled himself to be an Afenmai and Edo North political leader? Like Chinua Achebe would advise – Those for whom the benevolent “gods” have had their kernels cracked, should be humble. Pity he is still, in his hurt, granting interviews and talking tough.
Yet another sad aspect of EDO 2020 is the partisan role of the “Billionaire” Captain Hosa Okunbo. For many who see him from afar, it was a tragic entry into politics and possibly eyeing to be a political “godfather”. That he took that decision was painful. Do we not see Dangote in politics – national and State ? Has he ever got tainted or diminished?
So sad to see a wealthy Edo man in the murky waters of politics. Can he ever salvage himself? Perhaps it would take a while.
And now the political train has shifted to birth in Esan land. This is my candid advice. Now is the time to start. Much as succession and a successor making is important, it is tricky. Obaseki should not be seen guiding the process. But he should stay far back, to nudge and direct the Esan to pick a worthy person who may carry on his legacy. A person with such candor and personality that can be the new Edo Governor. The Esan people should sIt around their agenda and no “godfather” from anywhere should be seen anymore.
Finally, the idea of “we will capture” this state or that state has to end. That military language in our politics should be obliterated. Edo State has shown that every State has its characteristics, and that a “free and fair” election is possible. Indeed Nigerians can no longer tolerate political dictatorship in the form of “Godfathers” as we have just defeated one, and consigned him into the dark night of oblivion. Edo State has signalled a new dawn.
It is “Arab Spring” in Edo!!!!
Written by TONY ABOLO.
About the author :
Tony Abolo was one time BBC London ‘Calling Nigeria ‘ program producer, former BBC Brussels correspondent, former Radio Nigeria and NTA broadcaster and producer from Benin City. In the academia, he taught Mass Communication at University of Benin and remains a consultant on broadcast stations setup and staff trainer.