TWO outcomes are possible as Edo State holds its much-anticipated governorship election: Governor Godwin Obaseki pulls off the most stunning upset since David and Goliath, or he’s shown up as an upstart who bit more than he could chew.
His predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, a past master of the political put-down, has dismissed him as “a snail in a contest with tigers.”
But, from shutting out majority of elected House of Assembly members to taking the battle to his erstwhile benefactor, the snail has shown he’s not scared of mixing it up with the tigers.
The stakes are high and September 19 could become the graveyards of political fortunes. Little wonder the contest is so tense and potentially explosive.
The governor, a businessman parachuted into politics by Oshiomhole, has burnt every bridge on which he journeyed to high office and is battling to retain power in the company of strange bedfellows who just a few months ago were giving him a fail grade on all governance indices. Lose on Saturday and he’s finished politically.
His ‘take no prisoners’ style has seen him fire appointees at will, demolish properties of foes and pick fights with whoever stood in his way.
The election is also do-or-die for the former All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman. If his side loses, Obaseki would be emboldened to obliterate all remaining vestiges of his political empire.
After all, the governor has openly boasted he would bury his old master politically this weekend. Unfortunately for Oshiomhole he no longer has the APC chairmanship as a bulwark against the antics of a hostile home governor.
For Osagie Ize-Iyamu, APC candidate and Obaseki’s direct rival, there’s not much to lose beyond a personal ambition slipping out of reach if he falls short again on Saturday.
But just like in 2016, he feels that the prize is within reach and is pulling out all stops to claim it. With such determination which opponents dub desperation, sparks are bound to fly.
Anyone who watched part or all of the debate between the candidates last Sunday couldn’t have missed the animus between them. Their exchanges dripped of contempt for each other. This was more than annoyance generated in the heat of the moment; it was something more visceral.
But Saturday’s poll isn’t just about two bitter rivals going toe to toe, it’s also about providing answers to so many questions thrown up by this unusual electoral contest.
For instance, was Obaseki right in the strategy he deployed to fight this battle? Dismissing Ize-Iyamu, he created a gallery of demons with Oshiomhole as chief villain and decided to run against him. The assumption is that the former APC chief is so hated in the state that merely tossing his name about would guarantee victory. We would soon find out.
Some would argue that it’s the height of hubris to be so dismissive of a rival who has been in politics longer than you, just because of a three-year plus occupancy in the governor’s lodge.
Obaseki and his backers have also created a catchy slogan “Edo is not Lagos,” playing on the emotive issue of ‘godfatherism’ to tar Oshiomhole as a wannabe political big boss bent on importing a controversial formula from a foreign land.
This is a direct reference to the fate that befell former Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, after his political family headed by APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu, denied him the re-election ticket he sought.
While the slogan may be convenient for Obaseki at this time, it bears pointing out that it was Oshiomhole’s ‘godfatherism’ that foisted the political neophyte on his party four years ago – an action that drove Ize-Iyamu and many others to PDP. Today, ‘godfatherism’ has a rank smell in the governor’s nostril.
But there’s another way in which the former Edo governor’s name is driving this contest and may ultimately shape its outcome. On Monday, John Odigie-Oyegun, himself a former APC chairman and governor of the state released a statement backing the PDP candidate.
To justify openly campaigning against his party’s candidate, he sneered at what he called “primitive loyalties” and talked about how he had never hidden his displeasure at Obaseki being “forced out” of the party.
Oyegun, whose dislike of Oshiomhole who succeeded him as party leader is well-advertised, then invoked President Muhammadu Buhari’s admonition to party faithful last year in Imo State to “vote your conscience.” Faced at that time with a factionalised party, all the president was required to do was ask supporters to vote the APC ticket down the line.
Not long afterwards in Abeokuta, when then Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s supporters miffed at having lost the ticket to Dapo Abiodun, began hurling missiles at a rally where Buhari was speaking, he again admonished the irate party men to “vote for whoever you like.”
It remains to be seen whether Edo APC members would heed Oyegun’s bizarre political advice – even when Buhari is presented as the originator of the idea of giving your party less than enthusiastic support.
But the former ruling party’s national chairman isn’t the only one suspected to be playing dog in the manger. The events leading to Obaseki’s loss of the ticket split the ranks of APC governors with some suspected of being cool towards working for Ize-Iyamu. But unlike Oyegun who has nothing to lose, none of them can openly canvass support for Obaseki. What they are doing in secret is a different matter altogether.
As part of their old fight with Oshiomhole, some won’t shed a tear if the APC candidate loses. After all, several weeks ago the Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum, Salihu Lukman, was openly berating him for campaigning too aggressively for Ize-Iyamu.
In the end, Edo people will make a choice between a governor who claims he’s entitled to a second term because of performance, and a challenger who says he can do better because the incumbent has failed.
Politics isn’t always rational and often mirrors the aphorism about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder. One man’s ‘performer’ becomes another’s ‘disaster.’ But this ‘beauty contest’ may just be determined by more than what you see – the x-factor of intriguers working behind the scenes.