By Adekunbi Ero*
The outcome of the governorship election in Edo State raises hope that Nigeria’s democracy is indeed maturing and has affirmed that sovereignty truly lies with the people
Pius Odubu, the calm, urbane and unassuming deputy governor of Edo State, sat in an open space outside his father’s compound at Urhomehe Village in Orhionmwon Local Government, LG, of the state as if holding court. He was flanked by his kinsmen, many of them much older than he is, in the early hours of Saturday, July 14, the day of the governorship election which his Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, party won. Odubu betrayed no form of panic; he was indeed relaxed. He told the magazine that everything was going on well in the area, and really in the entire LG, based on reports reaching him. Materials were delivered on time and he had no cause to be alarmed.
Indeed, he exuded confidence that the election would be a walkover for his principal, Adams Oshiomhole, the governor, and their party, the ACN. Pointing towards Iyobosa Primary School, Urhomehe, less than two minutes’ walk from where he was, Odubu said, “The crowd speaks for itself. You can see the multitude. They have all trooped out to show their appreciation to the governor for the development he has brought to their area. They believe that the only way they can show their gratitude to him is to come out en masse and vote for him so that he can do more. You saw the road you passed through. Before, you had to pass through Delta State to get to Urhonigbe and other villages in Orhionmwon. But now, right from Benin, it is a smooth ride to Urhonigbe.”
The 57-kilometre Evboeghae–Ugo–Urhonigbe Road is the longest road project so far constructed by the state government and it serves about 400 communities. Apart from the road, schools in the area have also been given a facelift; while potable water, electricity and health centres have also been provided. The magazine gathered that on the eve of the election, members of the community gathered in the dead of the night to place curses on anyone who would vote for any candidate other than Oshiomhole. Such was the passion, emotion and determination expressed by the people to ensure the re-election of the governor. And this situation was not peculiar to Orhionmwon LG where the ruling party dusted the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, with 26,163 votes to 8,716.
An analysis of the overall results showed that the Oshiomhole/Charles Airhiavbere tango was evidently a mismatch with the governor coasting home to victory with a wide margin of 477,478 votes to PDP’s 144,235 votes.Even in Edo Central Senatorial District, the hitherto traditional stronghold of the leader of the party, Tony Anenih, the former chairman, Board of Trustees PDP, the election was a triumph of people’s will. Anenih, like other leaders of the party across the 18 LGs of the state namely Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Mike Oghiadomhe, chief of staff to President Goodluck Jonathan and Samuel Ogbemudia, lost woefully not just in their wards but also in their various polling units. Even the candidate of the party, Airhiavbere lost his unit at the Garrick Memorial School ground where he was reportedly booed, jeered and compelled to take his position on the queue for accreditation and voting.
From all indications, Oshiomhole’s landslide victory was a vote for good governance and development having changed the socio-economic landscape of the state in barely three and a half years in office. Though it was clear to all and sundry ahead of the election that there was no stopping the governor, it appeared that the only person who did not see the handwriting on the wall was Airhiavbere. It took his unpalatable experience on the field of battle to realise that he was fighting a lost battle by which time it was too late to beat a retreat. Political observers believe the retired army general was being rather too naive to think that his money and faith in Anenih could get him to Osadebe Avenue, the seat of Edo State government.
Shortly after joining the party, Airhiavbere reportedly boasted that he had budgeted N6 billion to prosecute the election. Little wonder party leaders wormed up to him like ants drawn to sugar. This was to influence his emergence as the standardbearer of the party in the election. Interestingly, those who thought Anenih was committed to unseating Oshiomhole are indeed very wrong. As master political strategist and old political warhorse, he knew from the outset it was one battle he would not win, and one election that it would be suicidal to “fix”.
Not a few Nigerians are happy that the political career of the acclaimed “Mr. Fix” appears to have hit the dust. Even among his party men at home and in Abuja, the common feeling seems to be that of “down with the villain”. They believe that now that he has been reduced to a political paperweight at home, his influence peddling in Abuja would also have suffered a setback. Though Airhiavbere congratulated Edo people for their support and Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for conducting a good election, he refused to congratulate Oshiomhole. The party claimed it was still studying the result.
Don Ikponmwen, retired army brigadier-general and a chieftain of PDP in the state, lamented to the magazine that “it is unfortunate that the way things have gone, have brought down the value of leadership in the party”, stressing that “there is no question about it.” In particular, there seems to be a feeling of shame within the party that in spite of the President coming personally to campaign for the PDP and its candidate, the party was roundly defeated in all the 18 LGs of the state. Some believe that Jonathan should not have come to the state to campaign for his party. Ikponmwen, one of them, told the magazine that while the President means well in everything that he says, “I think sometimes, he allows himself to be misadvised”. He said Jonathan ought to be “a president-statesman” who should rise above partisanship, stressing that “he becomes a man for all the parties” as the President of Nigeria.
However, a source in the presidency hinted that Jonathan’s campaign visit to Edo State was merely to fulfill all righteousness as the leader of the party, more so having done the same in other states where staggered elections had held in the recent past. The presidency official reportedly confided in a mutual friend of the governor and the President, who expressed concern that Jonathan was “leading an onslaught” against the governor, that the President did not honestly believe his party could beat the governor’s record. Thus the source said, “he (Oshiomhole) is our friend, but the President had to lead his party for the campaigns as the leader of the party”.
That there has been a warm relationship between the governor and Jonathan is not in doubt. The realisation of this indeed haunted the PDP all through the campaigns so much so that the coming of the President for the final rally was like a soothing balm for the leaders of the party. This was reflected in the mood of the party stalwarts who spoke at the rally. Prior to the rally, the party leadership had been jittery over the speculation that the President would not come because of his support for Oshiomhole. There are many reasons why the President could not afford to dump Oshiomhole for his party. First, it could be a case of one good turn deserving another. A source said the governor’s willingness to give useful advice on national issues and provide support where necessary, brought the duo very close. Not only that, Jonathan is said to respect Oshiomhole’s courage to stand by what he believes in even if that means swimming against the current. For instance, at a time it appeared the whole country would collapse on the President, he found a friend, a sympathiser and ally in Oshiomhole who incidentally is not a member of his party. The governor, defying his party’s position and staking his integrity and reputation as the people’s advocate, supported the withdrawal of fuel subsidy which was seen in some quarters as suicidal, thus opening him to a barrage of criticisms and name-calling. This was at a time when some of the PDP governors abandoned the President despite being part of the consensus at the National Executive Council, NEC, to remove the subsidy.
Even from the body language of the President, it was clear where his sympathy laid. The actions and
utterances of some of his kinsmen namely Edwin Clark, an Ijaw elder statesman, Asari Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, NDPVF, Joseph Evah, an activist, and other Ijaw socio-political groups seemed to suggest that they were taking a cue from the President more so when they were not called to order. Even Oghiadohme is believed to have tacitly supported the governor not just as a friend of the governor but also as an Afemai man. Subjected to scrutiny, political observers aver that the President’s speech did not translate to canvassing for votes for his party’s candidate. It was more of an advice and warning that he was not prepared to manipulate the election in their favour.
And given the level of trust between them, Oshiomhole did not at all doubt the President when the deployment of soldiers to the state to take charge of security became an issue at the National Assembly. Bimbo Daramola, ACN member of the House of Representatives from Ekiti State, had moved a motion objecting to the deployment, arguing that it was against the constitution. He was shouted down by some of his colleagues and Femi Gbajabiamila, ACN, Lagos who also sought the permission of the House to re-visit the ill-fated motion, also backed out, perhaps after his leaders had educated him on the matter. But the comrade governor immediately stepped in to allay the people’s fears that it was not an attempt to use federal might in favour of the PDP. In a statewide television broadcast, Oshiomhole assured them that it was in their best interest and integrity of the election. He appealed to them to come out en masse as the soldiers were deployed to guarantee their safety. And at the end of the election, it was clear that Jonathan acquitted himself in his promise to showcase his avowed commitment to his “one man,” one vote mantra.
Apart from the President, Oshiomhole’s second term bid had also received the support of notable Nigerians including Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary-general, Commonwealth, Yakubu Gowon, former military head of state, as well as traditional rulers and religious leaders. The curious visit of Olusegun Obasanjo, former president, who met with Oshiomhole behind closed doors, has also left people speculating over what could possibly be between them. This is more so when the duo had never been known to be the best of friends.
Oshiomhole had not speared Obasanjo as he held him responsible for the alleged stealing of his mandate in the April 14, 2011 elections. It was therefore suspected that he might have come to identify with him in his quest for a second term and probably align with him to deal with Anenih with whom there had been no love lost. The former president earlier resigned his position as BOT chairman of the PDP under unclear circumstances.Political observers believe that Obasanjo’s romance with Oshiomhole was a message to Anenih that he was a factor in the decline of the fortunes of the party in the state.
For all intents and purposes, Oshiomhole’s resounding victory has shown that given a foolproof electoral process and a conducive political environment, the people can freely choose their leaders unlike in the past when leaders are foisted on them by some godfathers. For many people in Edo State, the best thing Oshiomhole has done for the people, is the demystification of Anenih as the oracle of Edo politics. The people of the state will not forget in a hurry the eight years of misrule of Lucky Igbinedion who plundered the resources of the state and got away with a slap on the wrist for his crimes against the state. Even after the first four years, which was visibly a disaster, the party leadership, personified by Anenih still imposed him on the people for a second time in office.
The end of Igbinedion’s administration marked the beginning of the end of Anenih’s political empire in the state. Obasanjo had disagreed with him over his choice of Odion Ugbesia as the party’s candidate for governor in 2007. The former president’s grouse against Ugbesia was that he did not do well as minister. When Anenih would not shift ground, Obasanjo pitched his tent with Oserhiemen Osunbor, senator and a professor of law. Now the latter who did fairly well before he lost the office, through the courts to Oshiomhole, was said to have clashed eventually with Anenih. It is believed that “Mr. Fix It” then surreptitiously gave support to Oshiomhole’s cause at the courts. For this reason perhaps Oshiomhole at the beginning of his administration deferred to Anenih.
However, the ship of their new found love soon ran into troubled waters and eventually drowned over issues of governance. The PDP, which had majority membership in the state House of Assembly, soon became a clog in the wheel of progress forcing the governor to kowtow to Anenih. It was in the latter’s sitting room that disagreements on the first budget of the government were to be resolved, albeit to the discomfiture of the governor. By the time the table turned against the PDP with loss of its members through court judgments and defections, Oshiomhole felt it was time to free himself from the suffocating grip of the godfather.
As Oshiomhole savours his resounding victory in the last election, it has become clear that it was for him, merely an icing on the cake. In previous by-elections since 2009 up to the 2011 general elections, Oshiomhole has continued to establish himself as a better tactician, teaching the old warhorse some new lessons. Even though Anenih had managed to hold on to his senatorial district, winning majority seats during the National/House of Assembly seats in the area, this time around, it turned out to be a total eclipse of the godfather. But Friday Itulah, a member of the House of Representatives in the area and John Yakubu, former chairman, Esan North East LG, alleged that money was massively used by the ruling party to buy the people’s votes.
However, Itulah and Yakubu appear to be oblivious of the cracks in their own party, which made party members to make no secret of their protest votes against its candidate because of the less than transparent manner through which he emerged. Political watchers believe the electoral fate of the party was actually sealed on the day of the primary election, which Ikponmwen said was offered to “the highest bidder. Julius Ihonvbere, former presidential aide, as well as teeming supporters of Osunbor dumped the party for the ACN.
Though Osunbor has not defected from the party, it was common knowledge that he worked for Oshiomhole. His support for the ruling party was said to have enhanced its fortunes in his Esan West LG in particular and indeed in other parts of the Edo Central Senatorial District. And with the seeming forced “retirement” of Anenih, new leaders are emerging in the senatorial district with Osunbor as the likely rallying point.
Friends and associates of the governor across the country are unanimous in their conclusion that his impressive performance gave him the victory. The President who was quick to congratulate the governor, in a statement signed by Reuben Abati, his media aide, urged him “to receive the fresh mandate given to him yesterday by the people of Edo State as an endorsement of his outstanding performance in his first term and an expression of their desire for a continuation of his focused, purposeful and dynamic leadership.” The Northern Governors’ Forum described Oshiomhole’s re-election as victory for the North, stating that, “the Kaduna boy has not disappointed his people. He has constructed roads, built schools and resuscitated the economy of the state.” Bisi Akande, national chairman of ACN, saw the victory as “a reward for performance.” Also, Bola Tinubu, ACN leader and former governor of Lagos State, described the victory as one that “signals a new phase in the electoral battles yet to come. The people of Edo have shown that the popular will can best vested interests when the people organise to cast and protect their votes.” On the significance of the Edo State governorship election, Liborous Oshoma, a legal practitioner, agreed that the people of the state were the number one winners noting, that “they were determined and turned out en masse and were very vigilant.” And to reward the people for their resilience and support, Oshiomhole promised to do even more stressing that; “our people are united by a common desire to build a new Edo State to consolidate on our progress and together to take Edo State to the next level.”
Unlike in 2007 when protests greeted the announcement of election result, Benin City and major towns were seized by a frenzy of wild jubilation, defying even the downpour to receive the governor at the Oba Ovonramwen Square. Addressing the mammoth crowd, the visibly overjoyed governor exclaimed “You are the best, you are the greatest, you are the most brilliant, you are the most dogged, you are the most committed, you are the most consistent and you are the most ready.” Edo people have indeed spoken. Such is “the power of the people!”