By Johnson Osamede
THE success recorded by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State House of Assembly election has continued to resonate across party faithful even as they say the result was a referendum on the popularity and acceptability of Governor Godwin Obaseki who just returned from one-month vacation ahead of the governorship election slated for 2020.
Analysts say media reports of a rift between Obaseki and his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiohole, were a figment of the imagination of some supporters of the two men who believed they could get personal benefits from continuous reports of a rift.
They said the two men always speak well of each other and that even though there could be areas of disagreement, they were being blown out of proportion for purely selfish reasons.
Before Obaseki started his leave during which he, in an unprecedented manner, handed over the reins of government to his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, it was reliably gathered that while some close party leaders advised him against it so as to create the impression that he does not enjoy absolute loyalty from his deputy who is the political son of Oshiomhole and should not be trusted with power, the governor was said to have laughed it off and told the party leaders that he is running one government where all of them see themselves as one family.
He had invited members of the APC from all over the state to celebrate the party’s resounding victory in the March 23 state House of Assembly election where the party won the entire 24 seats up for grabs.
This is the second time since 1999 when Edo would be having all members of a party in the House, the first being between 2003 and 2007 when the entire members were of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The victory came two weeks after the party had a not-too-impressive outing during the presidential and National Assembly elections. In Edo North, the APC had swept all the Senate and three House of Representatives seats in the presidential and National Assembly polls but lost the entire Edo Central and parts of Edo South where it could not win the Senate and two of the four House of Representative seats.
A colourful thanksgiving ceremony organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in celebration of the landslide victory in the state House of Assembly election was attended by party leaders from across Edo.
The governor, in a post-election statement, said having a one-party House of Assembly was a plus for the people of the state.
Obaseki also stressed that his administration would no longer accept boreholes and toilets as constituency projects from members of the national and state assemblies.
“I will not accept boreholes and VIP toilets as constituency projects any more. Edo people have spoken that they want real change and we must deliver the change to them”, he said.
“For the elected members of the House of Assembly, every constituency you represent must have something meaningful in the budget on a yearly basis”.
According to him, duplication of projects would not be allowed, to ensure efficient use of the state’s resources.
Obaseki further said that he would be holding interactive sessions with APC members in the National Assembly on monthly basis to review their projects, noting that the lawmakers have no reasons not to deliver good governance to Edo people who gave them the mandate to serve.
Speaking on behalf of the newly elected state House of Assembly members, Hon. Washington Osifo, said they would ensure the executive succeeds on its programmes.
“I want to assure you that you will enjoy our support and you will be happy at the end of the day that you have all the 24 seats in the state assembly”, Osifo said.
“We will ensure that as you are working for the good of Edo people, we will give you all our support”.
The poor outing of Edo APC in the presidential and National Assembly elections had been attributed to many factors including sabotage by party members who were alleged to have collected millions of naira for mobilisation and party agents but pocketed them under the excuse which some described as flimsy compared to the implication of losing the election.
The party members were said to have complained that the governor had been starving them of funds for over two years and saw the release of the election money as an opportunity to line their pockets since they did not know when such an opportunity would come again.
It was equally reliably gathered that some of the party agents were not also forceful in defending the votes cast in favour of the APC in the elections as 48,000 votes believed to have been for the party were voided.
Some party leaders allegedly chose stooges and family members to act as agents.
Another factor that led to the failure of the Edo APC at the presidential and National Assembly polls, it was gathered, was the influence of some religious leaders, particularly pastors, who were said to have been preaching anti-President Muhammadu Buhari messages to their members and this is also believed to have had its toll in the urban local government areas of Oredo, Egor and Ikpoba-Okha local government areas in Edo South where the opposition PDP won.
A senior member of the APC told Sunday Vanguard that even the Presidency was aware that Buhari would find it difficult to win 40 per cent of the votes in South-South states, saying that was responsible for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s regular visits to the area not less than four times before the elections during which he repeatedly met with the leadership of CAN and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
He said, “But even at that, we still performed more than we did in Edo in 2015 where we scored 43 per cent votes for Buhari.
“Because of the popularity of this government in the state, we were able to increase the performance to 49.7 per cent in the 2019 election. The difference between the two parties was less than 8,000 but we had 48,000 voided votes. How many voided votes did we have in the state assembly election? Less than 5,000.
“Our agents were negligent during the presidential election because those voided votes, if you had strong agents, they could have secured them for the APC; so, in the state assembly election, we retrained our agents and changed many of them.”
Change of tide
Edo Central Senatorial District has always been dominated by the PDP but the tide changed during the state assembly election when the APC, for the first time since 1999, won the entire five seats in the district.
The area has always been the stronghold of the PDP largely due to the influence of the late Chief Tony Anenih.
It was observed that many of the voters saw the state assembly election as local seeing it as a testimonial for the performances of Obaseki in terms of infrastructure across the three senatorial districts of the state.
To underscore the importance of winning the seats in Edo Central, the governor had to deploy his deputy, Shaibu, his Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, among other leaders, to Edo Central, and for several days, he was meeting with leaders in the district, trying to convince them on why they should all be in the mainstream.
Edo North is traditionally an APC stronghold. The National Chairman of the party, Oshiomhole, commended the peaceful conduct of the state assembly election in the district.
He said those who kicked against the deployment of military for the conduct of the election were enemies of democracy and Nigeria.
“We had one or two incidents where thugs allegedly hired by the PDP came to disrupt the election by shooting sporadically and trying to cart away election materials but the people were determined and, with the military patrolling the area, the situation was brought to normal”, he said.
“As you know, Ogbido and Ulouke are areas where APC got 99.9 percent votes during the presidential and National Assembly elections; so disrupting the elections would have affected the results but the military was on hand to ensure peace and voting commenced.
“This is why when some armchair analysts disputed the idea of deploying the military during the general elections, we said only enemies of democracy, enemies of Nigeria, enemies of peace and merchants of violence will support such campaign against military deployment.
“Imagine when you deployed unarmed one or two police officers to a polling unit, what can they do to gun trotting thugs? They will watch helplessly when thugs attack.”
In Edo South, Obaseki expressed satisfaction with the turnout of voters in the state assembly election.
Speaking shortly after voting in Emokpae Primary School Ward 4 Unit 19 of Oredo local government area, the governor said, “It is a local election and the people that are concerned live in the neighbourhood and in the same community.
“And you should know that we only have one election today, so the process is quicker, but in terms of turnout, I believe we are going to see a turnout that is slightly higher than what we saw in the previous elections.”
Observers say politicians and their supporters who have been chorusing frosty relationship between Obaseki and Oshiomhole may have to cast their minds back to when Buhari visited Edo during the campaigns ahead of the polls and when Oshiomhole publicly acknowledged the performance of Obaseki both as a governor and politician.
Oshiomhole had said at the campaign rally held in Benin-City, “I am proud of what, under your (Obaseki) leadership and guidance, Edo State has been able to achieve over the past two years. Because we have worked closely together, there is no learning curve. “Whichever sector you have looked at, things have changed and things will continue to change. I am not saying things are perfect, they can never be perfect. I believe Governor Obaseki has added value and Edo State is better than I left it.
“This afternoon I am proud of Godwin Obaseki because I was nervous when I was coming to Benin. I had followed Mr President to Akwa Ibom, and I saw what our people in Akwa Ibom under the leadership of Senator Godswill Akpabio did. Then we went to Kogi, our neighbour, and we saw the turnout and then we went to Warri and we saw what Warri people did by saying they have totally and collectively rejected PDP by the way they turned out. I am happy, I am proud with the quality of the crowd that I am seeing here”.