Edo: The many mistakes of Oshiomhole


Penning a piece on a person one is close to is one of the most difficult things to do as a journalist, writer and public commentator. In most cases, those who are familiar with your affinity with such a person will see it as a disservice and betrayal of friendship.

A couple of people might situate this kind of a piece within that context considering my over 16 years relationship with the former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the man at the centre of the hullabaloo on the recent gubernatorial elections in Edo state.

The much-anticipated September 19, 2020 election has come and gone, and winners and losers have emerged.

Though the former national chairman of the APC and ex-governor of the state, in a video released few days after the election, said that life is not all about winning, the fact remains that, naturally, those who win remain excited while those who lost still count the election as a heart-wrenching experience.

In the video, Oshiomhole said: “I want to thank everybody. I am sure a lot of people think comrade is down, but I am not down. When God says you are not down, you are not down, and I am not down. No matter the outcome of an election or a particular edition of the process, have faith in God and have faith in our country.”

Regardless of how people interpret the statements made by Oshiomhole in the video, the fact remains that the comrade is a man who means what he says and says what he means.

As I said, Oshiomhole is someone I have known for many years now, and I have never found him lacking in confidence to voice his mind or shying away from making his feelings about people or events known. Sometimes, especially in politically-related matters, the comrade, as I have noticed, held unpopular views, but he never was afraid of shouting his views.

The ultimate winner of the Edo gubernatorial election and governor of Edo state, Mr Godwin Obaseki, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), garnered 307,955 votes to defeat his main and closest challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the APC, who garnered 223,619 votes. Obaseki defected to the PDP, from the APC, after he was controversially disqualified from participating in the APC gubernatorial primary election.

The APC claimed that there were irregularities in Obaseki’s academic certificates, but many saw his disqualification as unfair. Of course, it is baffling that the party that gave him its platform to contest in 2016 would deny him the same platform four years later.

Obaseki won the 2016 gubernatorial election in Edo on the platform of the APC, but he fell out with Oshiomhole few years into his reign.

In fact, Obaseki’s disqualification and the emergence of Pastor Ize-Iyamu as the candidate of the APC were seen by many as one more mistake and a ploy orchestrated by Oshiomhole to rough-handle Obaseki, following their irreconcilable political differences.

Yes, it was a mistake because by taking the wrong steps, Oshiomhole has, again, made his party lost control of a state as it did in the case of Sokoto, Zamfara, Oyo and few others when he was the party’s chairman.

It was a mistake because the party’s structures under Oshiomhole blocked Obaseki’s nomination for a second term of office.

That development triggered Obaseki’s defection to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obaseki thought it would be futile to mount any serious challenge against Oshoimhole’s bid to bar him from clinching the APC ticket in the state.

As his spokesman Crusoe Osagie said: “Comrade Oshiomhole has declared that he is the Supreme Court and ultimate determiner of the fate and future of our great party.”

But, as the incumbent governor, Obaseki, likewise, used his privileges and powers to secure his victory at the September governorship poll.

Thus, while Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the APC’s candidate for the Edo governorship, the battle for the control of power in the state was deeper than what appeared on the horizon. It was, in fact, a battle between Obaseki, on the one hand, and Oshiomhole and his political master, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the APC.

The crisis between Obaseki and Oshiomhole happened at a time the APC needed to hold on to Edo, being the only state it used to control in the South-south zone.

Keeping a grip on the levers of power there, no doubt, was vital for the APC, especially ahead of the 2023 and the fact that the PDP appears to consolidate on its stronghold there while drawing the attention of the people in the area to the failures of the APC-controlled governments.

Clearly, Oshiomhole did not see things from that prism and decided to gamble away victory in Edo just to settle personal scores with the governor.

But, truth be told, zonal politics is crucial in Nigeria’s federal system. Any serious contender in the 2023 national elections will have to have strongholds across the six zones in the country.

In the end, the ultimate losers are Oshiomhole and his strong ally, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who, despite his recent and emphatic denials, is still seen as a leading contender for the APC’s presidential ticket in 2023.

Many reasoned, and rightly so that an Obaseki and PDP victory in Edo state would be a serious blow to the perceived aspiration of the Oshiomhole-Tinubu faction in the party, especially if viewed from the fact that Oshiomhole was removed as the national chairman of APC.

Of course, with Oshiomhole as the head of the APC National Working Committee, Tinubu appeared to have enjoyed unparalleled advantages and privileges in the party. With those advantages and privileges now gone and the failure to capture Edo by Oshiomhole, in concert with Tinubu, no doubt, these developments signalled the decline of the power of the political block represented by the duo in the APC.

On a personal level, the battle in Edo state was between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his erstwhile political godfather, Oshiomhole, the ousted national chairman of the APC.

Yet, if that were to be so, it can be said that for Oshiomhole, it was a case of one mistake too many for without fighting Obaseki, Edo was there for him to take easily. Rather, Oshiomhole prodded and supported Ize-Iyamu, who he saw as an ally of convenience.

In 2016, Oshiomhole serially condemned Ize-Iyamu and his campaign for the governorship in Edo in favour of Obaseki. Now it is the other way around. Curiously, in 2012, Ize-Iyamu led Oshiomhole’s campaign for a second term as governor of Edo state.

In that 2016 election, Oshiomhole did what he could to destroy Ize-Iyamu’s career, calling him a “pathological liar,” among other things. But, in 2020, Oshiomhole thought that Ize-Iyamu is the strongest candidate available in Edo state to run against Obaseki.

Of course, in backing Ize-Iyamu for governor, Oshiomhole wanted to prove to detractors, within and out of the APC, that he is the undisputed kingmaker of the state. That he has failed to prove that is now better left to history to record his failing.

In the end, there are lessons to be learned from the Edo election by politicians who think of themselves makers or shakers of people and events.

Tellingly, in Edo, the intervention of Oshiomhole, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Captain Hosa Okunbor, and the desperate anti-Obaseki campaign launched by the APC ended up working in Obaseki’s favour.

The APC machinery was so targeted at Obaseki that, unwittingly, the APC scored an own goal against itself. People in the state thought that Oshiomhole, while he was a governor in the same state had campaigned against the influence of godfathers.

Oshiomhole downgraded Chief Anthony Anenih politically, and even run him down and destroyed his influence in the state. But, in 2020, Oshiomhole found himself in fits of self-contradiction as he repudiated everything that he ever stood for and spoke from both corners of his mouth.

He apologised to the people and the chiefs of Edo state that he made a mistake in 2016 by making Obaseki governor and saying derogatory things about Ize-Iyamu which he did not mean. That was just politics, he said.

However, whether the people believe or not, the reality is that Obaseki’s victory is an outright rejection of Oshiomhole’s style of politics.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the people of Edo also rejected Tinubu’s busy-body interventionist video in which he called on the people of the state to reject Obaseki.

This political miscalculation made by Tinubu, some argue, reawakened a kind of nationalism, hitherto championed by Oshiomhole among Edo people, making them see the election as an opportunity to protest against godfatherism and affirm their love for Edo.

The Edo people rejected the idea that anyone from somewhere outside Edo could dictate to them who should govern the state.

Of course, another lesson from the Edo election is the commendable roles played by the personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies. Their conducts, no doubt, encouraged voters to perform their civic duty and ensured that the exercise was adjudged free, fair and credible by local and foreign observers.

Though these institutions have demonstrated unparalleled professionalism and neutrality before, during and after the Edo governorship poll, their heroic performances would not have been possible without the express encouragement to them to do so by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In fact, the biggest lesson came with the prompt acknowledgement of Obaseki’s victory by the President via a congratulatory message. The President called on Obaseki to be magnanimous in victory.

In appreciation, Obaseki thanked the President for “defending our democracy” and allowing the INEC and the security services to perform their constitutional functions without interference.

For now, others who have not should learn from the President who, in this case, has done something that is abnormal and congratulate Obaseki on his victory.

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