This column endorsed Osagie Ize-Iyamu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), for the September 19 Edo governorship election. Though it was not clear he could win the race, given his party’s unresponsiveness to the campaign mantra of his opponent, Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the column still had no hesitation in endorsing his candidacy. He would be democratic, balanced, run a more inclusive government, conduct himself as a robust party member, and have a better sense of perspective. Mr Obaseki, this column argued then, and still believes, was on the contrary aloof, insular, autocratic, and despite his so-called technocratic background, generally unreflective, judgemental and incapable of the solemnity and gravitas the governorship of Edo demands and deserves. He will not change, especially not now that he exults in the controversial triumphalism that had seen him ride roughshod over his vanquished opponents, most of them his betters.
The omens were never really too good for Mr Ize-Iyamu, leading to this column’s refusal to hazard an educated guess on who would win the poll. It was desirable to have the APC candidate win, the column thought, but Mr Obaseki always looked like he would clinch it. In the end, the incumbent, who defected to the PDP shortly before the poll, won by a handsome and incontrovertible margin. Litigating the poll directly will be wasteful. Edo North senatorial district was in recent times always an APC stronghold. The party won by a wafer thin ratio of 5:4. Edo Central was always a PDP stronghold. The PDP won by a healthy of 2:1. Edo South, where both candidates come from, and was expected to be shared evenly at worse, was also won handsomely by Obaseki by a ratio of 2:1. More specifically, in Orhionmwon local government where Mr Ize-Iyamu hails from, Mr Obaseki won by a ratio of 13:10. And in Mr Obaseki’s local government of Oredo, the APC candidate lost by a ratio of 3:7.
The rout was effective and complete. But beneath the surface, a number of unsettling facts and truths vitiate the completeness and sanctity of the votes, chief among which was the problematic and damning issue of voter turnout. Some 2.2 million people registered to vote in Edo. In the September 19 governorship election, only 13.93 percent actually voted. Computed against the population of Edo State estimated to be about some 5 million people, the percentage of actual voters was a miserable 6.16. Whichever way it is considered, and regardless of the inviolability of that balloting exercise, Mr Obaseki’s electoral legitimacy, just as it would have been for his rival had the APC man won, is insignificant and questionable. This damning paltriness probably reflects many underlying issues of concern such as the lack of enthusiasm for the candidates, especially the incumbent, their controversial, uninspiring and crisis-ridden political parties, and the general dissatisfaction with the country’s economic, social and political circumstances.
Many analysts have struggled to make accurate sense of the Edo vote. It is significant that of the many analyses of the vote, few actually credit Mr Obaseki for his victory. They know that not only was the number of votes that fetched him victory inconsiderable, it was also more a reflection of the antipathy many Edo voters felt for his opponent and the enthusiasts that gave him succour. Consequently, analysts have tended to explain why Mr Ize-Iyamu and the APC lost than rationalise why Mr Obaseki and the PDP won. First, they know for sure that there is no settling the precedence between the PDP and the APC, for both parties are two sides of a counterfeit coin. Then they also understand that Mr Obaseki himself is ordinary, uncharismatic, full of bombast and, despite early promise, quite incapable of governing anything, let alone a state, on a scale that matches his dull rhetoric. So, why did the APC lose the poll, and why was Mr Ize-Iyamu unable to lift himself and his political party, not to say forge a consensus that would persuade an otherwise angry and distrusting electorate?
Many reasons have been adduced. First was the godfather complex that stoked the resentment and suspicion of the Edo electorate. Closely leashed with this are the roles played by Adams Oshiomhole, former national chairman of the party, and Bola Tinubu, the party’s putative national leader. Months before the fateful poll, an election widely expected to define the political future of Mr Oshiomhole and other APC leaders, Mr Obaseki had themed his ambition as one dedicated to fighting the state’s godfathers, which he claimed the former party chairman personified. Sensing how powerfully the theme resonated, the governor and the PDP extended that campaign to Asiwaju Tinubu, and then wove the extraordinary campaign corollary of Edo no be Lagos (Edo is not an extension of Lagos). The corollary grabbed more attention when the APC national leader broadcast a video message admonishing Edo voters to repudiate Mr Obaseki for his anti-democratic activities. The video message has been widely condemned both for its timing and content. This is an exaggeration. The content was succinct and apposite, hinging on the governor’s unrestrained autocratic predilection, and suggesting to Edo that re-electing Mr Obaseki would subvert the state’s drive for a civic culture. The video’s problem was not its content; that content would sell any day, anytime, but perhaps elsewhere. For Edo, and given the perniciousness of the campaign afoot, the video suffered from inappropriate timing.
This column can only hazard a few guesses as to why the video message was broadcast. An illiberal atmosphere has taken over Nigeria, and the gains of democracy are being rolled back, relentlessly and remorselessly, first and most injuriously at the federal level where something akin to fascism is taking root, and second at the state level, in Kogi, Kaduna, Ekiti, Imo, Kano, Zamfara, and elsewhere where atrocious laws and edicts are being enacted to circumscribe the rights of the people and flagrantly subvert the constitution. Edo under Mr Obaseki has teetered dangerously under draconian and fascist state-inspired actions for more than a year. Asiwaju Tinubu has sometimes, and probably even often, seen himself as the party’s sentinel and philosopher to safeguard and implement constitutional order. His methods may reek of the godfather complex, but as his records show, he has been far more reflective and tolerant. Unfortunately, by failing to stoop to conquer in Edo, he has been cited as a factor in the loss of Edo to the PDP.
But with or without the Tinubu video message, the APC would still have lost Edo, not just because of Mr Oshiomhole’s sometimes execrable, impatient and obtruding style, but because many other negative factors were triggered at the highest level of the party to doom its chances. Months before the Edo poll was the wrongest time to overthrow their party chairman. But the APC, deploying the deplorable and unlawful tactics used so effectively to remove unwanted top public officials, inspired a number of legal and political chicaneries to disarm Mr Oshiomhole, before President Muhammadu Buhari delivered the coup de grace. The APC campaign needed the unity of the party and the involvement of the highest echelons of the federal government in the campaign. But they were instead echeloned in the wrong direction, stood disdainfully aloof, did not mobilise the resources needed by the party, refused to rein in obstreperous and divisive APC governors deliberately working against the party in Edo, and left the nuisance for Messrs Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu to pick up. The party’s top hats were not just willing to lose Edo, having denoted victory in that poll as a plus for the hated Mr Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Tinubu, they were also even eager to smother it should Mr Obaseki prove unequal to the task.
Apart from orphaning the Edo APC during the campaigns, with the state chapter already positioned to be prised loose from the grips of the Oshiomhole forces, a second factor, the politics of 2023, has been adduced for the APC loss. Some APC governors, including former governors, openly hoped for the PDP victory and worked for it, not minding that it would be counterproductive in the future. They were the same men who helped unhorse Mr Oshiomhole on account of 2023, and regarded Mr Ize-Iyamu as illegitimate. In the months ahead, they are prepared to fight to regain control of the party in the extraordinary convention later this year or early next year. They reason that no outsider could win the presidential primary without controlling the party’s leadership. They cite a number of precedents, locally and internationally. Judging from the detached disposition of the president to the campaign, his feigned neutrality, and his spontaneous offer of congratulations to Mr Obaseki, he seemed to have either been won over to the rebel column or was himself naturally inclined to fostering a succession agenda inimical to the one allegedly represented by Mr Oshiomhole. At least, since the dethronement of the former APC chairman, the president has seemed to have a different, cynical and covert game plan.
More and more, the president is gradually showing his hands regarding the subject of succession. There are fears he might extend his reign. He will not, almost because he cannot. But he will be interested in who succeeds him, an interest that is now carefully and conspiratorially unfurling before the country. His minders, aka cabal, are incontrovertibly interested. It is increasingly likely that they want someone they can trust, someone who will dance to their tune, and being conservatives themselves in the garb of progressives, someone who will not create a new and radical template for the country’s body politic. Perish legacy. These interests influenced their scathing attitude to Mr Oshiomhole and all he stood for. Nearly all former Nigerian rulers who showed interest in their successors backed uncontroversial, incompetent and hesitant candidates, with the clear resolve to foist them on the country. That template is unlikely to change with President Buhari. But it is a diseased template certain to reinforce Nigeria’s retrogression or, worse, inspire and entrench fascism.
History’s lessons are lost on Nigerian rulers. Careless and unintelligent handling of succession has doomed many world empires, despite the fact that dynasties and monarchies, more than democracies, tend to be more effective in producing effective and competent successors. Indeed as many advanced and supposedly settled democracies are showing, democracy does not always or even guarantee peace, stability and constitutional rule, including in countries with strong institutions. Despite the solid foundation laid for their empires, Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire and Suleiman the Magnificent’s Ottoman Empire eventually collapsed because of ineffective successors. Nigeria has not had a solid foundation, and President Buhari, like ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, has neither acquired the philosophical grasp needed for the founding of great nations and empires nor demonstrated the discipline, vision and depth needed to produce competent and visionary successors. In making sickly Augustus his legatee, Julius Caesar showed unusual, almost spiritual and intuitive grasp of the fundamentals of empire building and statesmanship. President Buhari has not shown that grasp, and he seems fated to repeat the abominable mistakes his predecessors made. No matter the gloss put on the Edo governorship poll, it is a premonition of the coming presidential bout, assuming the party can even forestall the possibility of fracturing before or during its coming conventions and primaries.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State mentions a third factor responsible for the Obaseki/PDP victory. The threatened visa ban on election riggers by the United States was, to him, a restraining influence on the APC, as if historically the party had a monopoly on rigging polls. In the face of INEC’s improvements, particularly the quick and decentralised transmission of results by electronic means, the governor unreflectively discountenanced INEC and exaggerated the paternalistic and meddlesome threats of countries which are themselves battling with their own developing existential and democratic threats. To accord relevance and weight to the visa ban threat, as Mr Wike and a number of analysts have done, is a manifestation of the inferiority complex that still colours and constrains the worldview of Nigerians. It was thought that the US had long advanced to a civic culture and had settled its national question. The presidency of Donald Trump has shown clearly that no nation is above unravelling; nor should Nigeria supinely succumb to dictation, meddlesomeness and threats.
Mr Oshiomhole may have approached the Obaseki affair with characteristic impatience, but his commitment to the party since he assumed office as chairman, not to say his perceptible ideological effort to position the APC as an organised and disciplined party must be acknowledged and lauded. That he appears to be the biggest loser must not discourage him from retaining interest in the party and in politics. He will bounce back long after APC governors who worked against the party’s ticket have fizzled out. Asiwaju Tinubu has been excoriated on social media over the Edo loss, much of the criticisms inspired by fratricidal and regicidal Southwest leaders and people. But he was right to show interest in the Edo poll, considering how the APC had virtually orphaned the Ize-Iyamu ticket and isolated Mr Oshiomhole for humiliation. Had President Buhari shown leadership, disciplined the errant governors who worked against the APC in Edo, marshalled resources and led the fight against the PDP on September 19, the outcome would have been vastly different. The president refused to see the poll as a plebiscite on his presidency, and chose instead to emasculate the Edo APC ticket in the furtherance of the ill-advised putsch he embraced against Mr Oshiomhole, thus prompting Asiwaju Tinubu to take on the almost suicidal role of championing the cause of Mr Ize-Iyamu and the APC in Edo.
The APC national leader’s video broadcast may be wrongly timed, but it took courage for him to do what he did considering that the election was already lost anyway. Edo may not be Lagos, but it takes mischief to attempt to ridicule the achievements of a state that has become evidently the country’s pacesetter in development and democracy, and dismiss it as the preserve of a godfather despite the existence of many unrestrained political parties in the state. As Singapore has shown, there are many political arrangements and structures that facilitate development: Western-type democracy, which is now upended by Mr Trump, or patrician and closely regulated democracy that, like China, limits rights but delivers on development and high standard of living. Lagos has nothing to apologise for. If Edo wrongly and sentimentally viewed Mr Oshiomhole’s passion for good governance and democracy in the state as the meddlesomeness of a godfather, and Lagos as the wrong example to follow, the problem is neither the former APC chairman nor Asiwaju Tinubu, nor yet the incomparable Lagos which serves as a magnet for wealth dreamers, but the short-sightedness afflicting the autocratic Mr Obaseki, the hysterical Mr Wike, and the bewildered six percent who dreamily re-elected their governor and shot themselves in the feet.