Edo poll

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

IT was a real shellacking. Even those who predicted a Godwin Obaseki win in the Edo governorship poll on September 19 didn’t foresee a blowout. And four days after the result was announced, some are still pondering how Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a man reputed as a grassroots politician, took such a drubbing.

He should blame his political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its two chieftains – Adams Oshiomhole and Bola Tinubu – for his loss.

I will explain. Oshiomhole, former governor of Edo and sacked APC national chairman, is quite a character. The former Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, president loves picking fights, most times gratuitously.

As the smart alec he thinks he is, he behaves as if he knows everything. And because he is Mr. Know-All, he is opinionated, intolerant and blinkered. Like every smart alec, he is irritating. Little wonder he is the best hated man in the APC today.

Oshiomhole’s APC-Obaseki-Iyamu odyssey echoes the allegory of the tortoise who embarked on an ill-advised trip. Advice by friends who were apprehensive the trip would end badly was derisively rebuffed. “Must you go on this journey?” they asked in a last ditch effort to save him from himself. The wily animal riposted affirmatively. Exasperated, they made the final push. “If you have to go, when will you return?” Tortoise retorted: “Not until I am disgraced.”

That is exactly the story of Oshiomhole. Many who are celebrating the outcome of the poll are as happy for Obaseki’s triumph as they are over Oshiomhole’s humiliation.

Blinded by infantile hubris and quest for vendetta, Oshiomhole could not correctly interpret the handwriting on the wall even when he saw and read it. If he was perspicacious enough, he would have noticed that his antagonism and Obaseki’s forceful pushback burnished the governor’s political credentials.

Obaseki won the battle when he successfully framed it as a resistance against wannabe godfathers. Most APC stalwarts in the state agreed with him. John Odigie-Oyegun, former Edo governor and former APC national chairman, not only refused to endorse Ize-Iyamu, he also distanced himself from the hustings.

He put it succinctly in his congratulatory message to Obaseki: “You and your exemplary deputy have shown that with good work and principled leadership, the ills of overbearing and egocentric politicking in our nation can be overcome.”

As the election drew closer, Oshiomhole became more boastful and conceited, likening himself to a “political lion”. Told that Obaseki had vowed to end his political career after the September 19 election, a visibly irritated Oshiomhole thundered: “A political lizard is saying that he is going to end the political relevance of a political lion … examination day is on Saturday and we will find out.”

Of course, the result was announced a day after the examination and the political lion’s voice is now muted. Beyond Oshiomhole’s theatrics, composition of the 49-member Edo APC campaign council was a study in self-hate.

By appointing the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, and Hope Uzodinma, the Supreme Court governor of Imo State, chairman and deputy chairman, respectively, the Mai Mala Buni-led APC Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee sent a very wrong signal to the Edo electorate that were already wary of APC.

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What informed the choice of both men with purloined mandates, who most Nigerians believe typify all that is wrong with the country’s democracy, as arrowheads of APC’s quest to wrestle back Edo to its column?

What were they expected to bring to the table – ability to rig elections? But the most egregious assault on the sensibilities of Edo people was Tinubu’s recorded broadcast which was released shortly before the election.

Perhaps, deceived by the self-appointed, albeit non-existent position of APC national leader, Tinubu overreached himself by directly calling on Edo people to reject one of their own at the polls. His action was as needless as it was tactless.

If the video was intended to help Ize-Iyamu, it backfired spectacularly, energising the Obaseki camp. Even undecided voters easily made up their minds thereafter.

A vote for Obaseki became a vote not only against Ize-Iyamu and home-brewed godfathers but their ilk from outside the state seeking to extend the reach of their political empire. By brusquely injecting themselves into the Edo political fray, Oshiomhole and Tinubu freely handed Obaseki the surface-to-air missile to shoot down Ize-Iyamu’s political copter. It was the axiomatic free chicken.

Instead of the election being a referendum on Obaseki’s first term, it became a referendum on the godfather scorecard of both. The result was predictable: An Obaseki blowout with 307,955 votes to Ize-Iyamu’s 223,619 votes. But the election, which many consider relatively free, fair and violence-free, has also thrown up a fundamental issue.

Many observers – local and foreign – have given kudos to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for a well-conducted poll. Ditto for security agencies, particularly the police, for creating the enabling environment. But there is also a school of thought that believes that the bulk of the credit should go to President Muhammadu Buhari for giving the INEC and the security agents the freehand to conduct the election.

Obaseki reflected this sentiment in his thank you message. “We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for defending our democracy and allowing the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security services to perform their constitutional functions without interference,” he said.

Many others are falling over themselves to eulogise Buhari for allowing free and fair election in Edo and pleading with him to do same in subsequent elections. I find the supplication insulting.

The president is not the guarantor of our democratic rights, and free and fair polls should not be at his pleasure. In any truly democratic country, the idea of pleading with a president to allow institutions of state the free rein to deliver on their constitutional mandates is offensive and ridiculous.

Not when Buhari himself acknowledges that “without free and fair elections, the foundation of our political and moral authority will be weak”. In his congratulatory message to Obaseki, the president rightly noted that: “Democracy will mean nothing if the votes of the people don’t count or if their mandate is fraudulently tampered with.”

Threat of sanctions

There is no doubt that Buhari kept his distance from the Edo election. And there could be a million and one reason for that. Having secured his second term, he may no longer be interested in do-or-die elections, thus abiding by his May 29, 2015: “I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody” vow.

It could also be that he was truly embarrassed by Oshiomhole’s antics and did not want to be seen as supportive, or it may well be that he was simply scared from interfering by the threat of sanctions from the international community.

Truth be told, those praising the police and the INEC for the success of the Edo poll are only telling a single story. The other side of the story and perhaps the most important is what Buhari decided to do, which is, remain neutral and allow the democratic will of the people to prevail.

The police remain the same and Mohammed Adamu who superintended the bloody Kogi governorship election in November 2019 is still the Inspector General of Police.

The only difference is that this time around, there was no indication from Aso Rock where the pendulum should swing. If not, we would have had another Kogi drama. The same goes for the INEC. Nothing has changed. Mahmood Yakubu is still the helmsman.

If the body language from Aso Rock indicated otherwise, at best the Edo vote would have been inconclusive as happened in Osun in 2018 and Kano in 2019.

Therefore, while the outcome of the Edo poll is a huge big step forward in our democratic peregrination, the fact that it was only made possible because the president decided to be presidential is an issue. There is a fundamental problem when a country depends on the benevolence and goodwill of one man, even if that man is the president, to get free, fair and transparent elections. It is not yet uhuru.

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