By Kazeem Ugbodaga
Edo State, South-South Nigeria is in turmoil. Many gladiators and political forces are scrambling for her soul. The current governor, Godwin Obaseki is at the heart of the scrambling to regain power by all means come September 19, 2020, when the governorship election holds in the state. But political heavyweights are battling to wrest power out of his hand.
In the last few weeks, Edo has been the theatre of political quagmire, wrangling and explosion ahead of the poll.
The battle is between Obaseki, who recently defected to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who also recently defected from the PDP to pitch tent with the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Interestingly, Ize-Iyamu is being backed by a political warlord, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who is bent on decimating Obaseki, after the governor bit him hard despite ascending the helm of affairs on his shoulder.
Oshiomhole is already a casualty in the battle of wits. He lost his APC national chairmanship because of this battle. This is his last chance to laugh or he will be taken out of political relevance by Obaseki.
Though, Ize-Iyamu is the APC candidate, the real battle is between Oshiomhole and Obaseki. Oshiomhole is also being backed in the battle by centrifugal forces bent on ousting Obaseki from power.
On the other hand, Obaseki is backed by political ‘noisemaker’ from Rivers, Governor Nyesom Wike.
Obaseki threw down the gauntlet when he said “Nobody has monopoly of violence. If they want violence, we will show them violence. If I see anybody smashing any car because my stickers or poster is there, let me know and we will show them that we are in government.
“And I am governor, Philip (Shaibu) is deputy. We are the only two people who have immunity in this state today. And I am saying it in a very clear warning.”
Many political analysts and stakeholders are worried that the coming governorship poll in Edo State is going to be bloody, going by pre-election warmongering and bickering.
Obaseki’s defection to the PDP after being disqualified by the APC led by Oshiomhole set the stage for the battle.
The Governor rode to power through Oshiomhole but he decided to consolidate on his power and take his former boss out of reckoning.
How it started
As the battle between Oshiomhole and Obaseki gathered momentum, the fight shifted to the State House of Assembly. Who controls the Assembly determines who controls the state. Obaseki knew that for him to have a smooth first four years, he must take over the Assembly. He staged a coup, he inaugurated the State Assembly in the night, with nine lawmakers loyal to him and shut out 14 others loyal to Oshiomhole. In a flash, the speaker and other principal officers were elected that night. He knew that if the 14 lawmakers-elect had been on ground, Oshiomhole would have controlled the Assembly and his impeachment would be easy.
Despite the involvement of the National Assembly, which condemned the move, Obaseki stuck to his guns and allowed illegality to hold sway in Edo for more than a year. Attempt to declare the seats of the 14 lawmakers vacant was unsuccessful as the court halted the move.
Since then, the battle had escalated.
In a daring move, Obaseki instigated the suspension of Oshiomhole from his ward. Like a play, the court upheld the suspension.
The Appeal Court dealt the final blow on Oshiomhole when it upheld the suspension and that was his end as APC chairman.
President Muhammadu Buhari finally approved the dissolution of the Oshiomhole’s National Working Committee of the party.
Clash at Oba of Benin’s Palace
The battle of wits moved to Oba of Benin’s palace at King Square, popularly called Ring Road in Benin City. Supporters of Obaseki clashed with that of Ize-Iyamu. The supporters of both candidates engaged in shoot-out around the palace.
Trouble started when Obaseki went to the palace of the Oba of Benin on a courtesy visit but some supporters of the APC governorship candidate were said to have chanted songs allegedly demeaning the governor and his entourage.
Obaseki, however, went ahead to conclude his courtesy visit to the monarch and left for the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium where the Edo State PDP Campaign Council for the 2020 Governorship Election was billed to flag-off.
Shortly after Obaseki left, the candidate of the APC, Ize-Iyamu and his entourage also paid a visit to the monarch but in what appeared to be a reprisal, the PDP youths who were initially at the stadium found their way to the Oba’s palace where they engaged in a free for all with their APC counterparts. Youths and supporters from both the APC and PDP sustained various degrees of injuries, while motorists scampered to safety as some unlucky motorists had their vehicles vandalised in the heat of the confrontation.
The Benin Monarch, Oba Ewuare ll, later condemned in strong terms, the clash between supporters of APC and PDP in his palace and warned politicians not to turn Edo into a war zone because of their selfish ambition and restated his non-partisanship.
Edo Assembly Saga
Last Thursday, the battle shifted to Edo Assembly, which was occupied by policemen allegedly being drafted to the scene by the APC. But as events unfolded, Obaseki was fingered as the mastermind. The roofs of the Assembly were removed for compulsory renovation. It was never planned for. The move, political analysts said was to prevent the lawmakers loyal to Oshiomhole from using the Assembly to impeach the speaker, Frank Okiye.
Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu later came to the Assembly to show solidarity with the remaining seven lawmakers loyal to him and used the opportunity to garner sympathy and drummed support for his ambition.
Chairman, Edo State APC Media Campaign Council, John Mayaki, accused Edo State Government of carrying out several onslaughts against the constitutional independence of the legislative arm of government by attacking its members-elect and denying them representation.
While noting that the APC, as a political party, does not control the police, he insisted that the state governor was in the best position to tell the world who was behind the police blockade on the Assembly.
He also claimed the governor hijacked a tiny minority and purportedly inaugurated them in the dead of the night.
“The sham inauguration was condemned and set aside by both arms of the National Assembly after their separate investigations revealed that the members, and indeed the Clerk, were forced to participate in the illegality under threat to life.
“With all these going on at the Assembly Complex, it is Mr. Godwin Obaseki who is in the best position to explain to the world what is going on and why,” he said.
Pro-Oshiomhole’s lawmakers fight back
Shortly after the Assembly invasion saga, the 14 lawmakers-elect loyal to Oshiomhole and three others who decamped from the Obaseki’s camp, gathered in an undisclosed location to carry out another inauguration and formed a parallel legislative body. They elected parallel principal officers, which saw the emergence of Victor Edoror as the speaker. The lawmakers who are now in the majority purportedly impeached the Speaker Okiye. The factions in Edo Assembly is seen as unhealthy for democracy. Only the courts will now determine the authentic faction.
The blame game
Why some are blaming the APC for the invasion of Edo Assembly, others are blaming Obaseki and the PDP for the action.
The National PDP accused the former national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole of complicity in deploying security agents to take over the Edo State House of Assembly. The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, charged the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, to stop the attempt to take over the Assembly.
Ologbondiyan, in a statement, titled, ‘.Stop invasion of Edo Assembly now’ said, “The party posits that the invasion and illegal occupation of the state legislature by security agents allegedly deployed by sacked national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, is a direct coup against the democratic order of Edo State and a recipe for anarchy, chaos, and bloodletting.
But the National leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu pointed accusing finger at Obaseki, calling him a dictator, accusing him of gravely assaulting democracy and making a mockery of the Nigerian constitution.
He said Obaseki’s governance of Edo has been a throwback to the worst excesses of Nigeria’s military past and represents a direct threat to the democratic order. Tinubu described Obaseki as an errant, ill disciplined governor and a dictator, who has been contemptuous of the people of Edo state.
In a statement he personally signed, Tinubu said Obaseki adopted the strong arm tactics of dictators, by first of all, blocking the inauguration of two-thirds of the assembly and then importing thugs, to deface and destroy parts of the assembly.
“Then, he imports sand and gravels to prevent access to the assembly complex. In effect, the man has spent state funds to thwart the very apparatus of the state government he was sworn to uphold. He has squandered public money to defeat the very will of the public. This is tragic beyond words”, Tinubu said.
“As a pretext for his refusal to allow the Edo House of Assembly to function, Governor Obaseki’s actions are perverse.
“This is a cowardly act and a move to thwart representative democracy in Edo. No renovation has been planned for the state house building. No appropriation was made in the state’s budget. The only reason any renovation could be deemed necessary is the destruction wrought by his own goons”.
There is certainly danger ahead the September 19 governorship election in Edo. Political analysts are already foreclosing a bloodbath on Election Day in view of desperation being shown by the PDP and APC.
The United States expressed concern over the heated polity in Edo and called for free and fair election. The U.S Embassy in Abuja, in a statement called for free, fair and credible elections where the will of the Nigerians would be reflected in results.
According to the mission, the U.S pledges support to Nigeria’s democratic process, stating that as long-time friends, it will continue to follow political developments ahead of off-cycle elections in the country.
“The U.S. supports a democratic process where the will of the people is reflected in the results, and does not favour any party or candidate. We are concerned with reports of the deteriorating political climate in Edo and are disappointed with the role played by some political actors in the state.
“We are especially concerned with allegations of interference by security forces in political matters, which we will continue to monitor closely in the run up to gubernatorial elections in September.
“As we approach the 2020 off-cycle elections in Edo and Ondo, we urge all stakeholders to work toward a free, fair, transparent, and peaceful process.
“We encourage all stakeholders, including INEC, political parties and the security services to continue to improve the electoral process. We look to Nigeria as an important leader on the African continent,” it said.
Who takes over the soul of Edo State? Obaseki or Ize-Iyamu backed by Oshiomhole? Can Obaseki survive the onslaught?
In the last few weeks, several of Obaseki’s loyalists have crossed over to the other side, including two of his cousins but he chose to fight on and vowed not to surrender. Can the garrulous Wike deliver him?
Wike has been his chief campaigner, telling all who cared not to vote for Ize-Iyamu as he is not an electable material. September 19, 2020 has the answer. We will cross our hands and watch as the scenario and drama unfolded in Edo.