Demola Olarewaju: Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s pathway to final victory in Edo

On the 12th of November this year, the eight year tenure of Governor Adams Oshiomhole comes to an end as he hands over to his successor. There are a number of candidates jostling to replace him but the race is mainly between two men: Godwin Obaseki of the APC which is the party of the incumbent Governor and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the candidate of the PDP.

For several months, the politicking has gone on and it has intensified in the last couple of days and reaching its peak even as you read this. The anti-climax is bound to come for one of the two candidates soon after while the other will then proceed on a trajectory of victory. I admit my bias: I have been in Edo State as a member of the PDP’s campaign committee for this election and I have in the past two months headed a youth online and on-ground effort for the victory of Ize-Iyamu. Regardless of this obvious bias, our approach to the election was entirely strategic and forms the basis for the conclusive title of this piece. First, the numbers…

If there is one thing that analysts and strategists agree on, it is that one cannot see numbers through any prism of bias – they simply do not lie – and this was the first place of our analysis. The Edo gubernatorial elections became irregular when the 2007 victory of Prof. Oserhmein Osunbor of the PDP was voided and Adams Oshiomhole of the ACN was declared Governor by the Appeal Court, following a tribunal judgement in the same tenor. With results cancelled in entire wards and near-LGAs, the 2007 election data proves useless but fast-forward to 2012 (Oshiomhole’s tenure started in 2008) Oshiomhole dealt PDP a heavy blow as the ACN picked 447,175 votes compared with PDP’s abysmal 144,235 votes – a landslide by any measure. He also handed heavy defeats to major PDP chieftains in their wards. In 2011, just a year to the gubernatorial election, the PDP had managed to win the senatorial seats in Edo South and Central while the ACN won in Edo North where Oshiomhole hails from. Of the nine federal constituency seats, ACN picked six while the PDP picked three. Considering that this election held simultaneously with interwoven constituencies (the federal constituency seats are spread across the senatorial districts), PDP would have been expected to clear the federal constituency seats in Edo South and Central but it was not to be.

The most recent figures are from 2015, the last election in the state where the two parties were major parties and well established: PDP won the presidential election here and also cleared the Senatorial District seats in the South and Central while APC won in Edo North. PDP picked five Federal House of Reps seats while the APC picked four.

The margins also tell their own tale: taking the senatorial figures, Edo Central gave APC’s Francis Inegbeneki 46,820 votes and gave Clifford Ordia of PDP 84,782…almost double. The margin in Edo South was closer with 117,759 for APC’s Samson Osagie and 139,784 for PDP’s Matthew Urhoghide. Edo North gave APC’s Francis Alimikhena 86,021, PDP’s Pascal Ugbome 66,092 and SDP’s Abubakar Momoh 23, 650 votes.

Behind every figure though, there is usually a story. The Edo North results for instance: Abubakar Momoh unhappy with the way the PDP selected Pascal Ugbome as its candidate left the party for SDP and pulled 23, 650 votes which logic predicts he would have delivered for PDP had he stayed in PDP. Combined, those figures (23,650 + 66,092) outnumber (89,742) the APC’s 86,021 by a slim margin. We also noticed that the voter turnout in Edo South was quite low despite many who collected PVCs and this was one area where we concentrated our efforts in the four LGAs around Benin: Ikpoba-Okha, Egor, Oredo and Uhunwonde.

But how did Oshiomhole win the 2012 election so resoundingly? The answer lies in the strategic mind of Ize-Iyamu who was the DG of his campaign that year in the ACN. The PDP primaries of that year left Prof. Osunbor and Barr. Imasuangbon from Edo Central feeling unhappy and Ize-Iyamu moved Oshiomhole to reach out to both men. With his knowledge of PDP and close ties to Aso Rock, Ize-Iyamu ensured that a level playing field was created. He was the brain behind Oshiomhole’s politics, having drafted him into the game alongside Lucky Igbinedion who also deployed all his resources to prevent a PDP victory as they were all disassitisfied with Gen. Airhiavbere, candidate of the PDP in 2012. Ize-Iyamu is now the PDP flagbearer and he knows Oshiomhole in and out.

Then the factors: the biggest albatross of the APC in this election is the weak performance of the Federal Government under President Buhari. For now and in every election anywhere in Nigeria until the FG gets its acts today, the APC and its #Change mantra remains a very weakened brand.

“Who Change don epp?” is the question many voters are asking in Edo State and the PDP counter-slogan #ChangeTheChange quickly replaced “Power (to the People)” informally at every rally. In bringing President Buhari to campaign for them, the APC shot itself in the leg as the usual security arrangements led to traffic gridlocks inside which people further discussed the election and concluded that APC was a failure. Buhari found not a single project to commission, only came to campaign and this became another talking point. Overzealous soldiers also beat up an APC supporter and former Edo State Chairman of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Solomon Idiogbe and PDP helped to trumpet this, gladly.

Then the second term performance of Oshiomhole has left many in doubt as to the wisdom of voting the APC – he turned his back on all those who supported his second term ambition from Igbinedion to Tom Ikimi and of course Ize-Iyamu. Many also see the Obaseki candidacy as a continuation of the incumbent governor, a feeling reinforced by the inability of Obaseki to speak for himself at campaigns. Ize-Iyamu who had worked closely with Oshiomhole enjoys huge sympathy from many within the camp of the Governor and several Special Advisers, Commissioners and Heads of Parastatals left the ruling party to join the Ize-Iyamu train.

The masterstroke of the Ize-Iyamu campaign perhaps was the delayed endorsement of the powerful Igbinedion family. Having served as SSG under Lucky Igbinedion whom many Edo residents feel was corrupt, Ize-Iyamu initially distanced himself from the man: not one campaign, not one public endorsement and the rumours were rife that Igbinedion was unhappy with him. But all that was put to rest recently as Igbinedion finally came out to endorse him only last week, deploying their powerful media – Independent Television and Radio (ITV and ITV Radio) entirely to campaigning for Ize-Iyamu.

Then there is the influence of the palace which ‘supported’ Oshiomhole in 2012 – again through the influence of Ize-Iyamu whose father was one of the highest ranking chiefs in the Benin Kingdom as the Esogban. Oba Erediuwa indeed put pressure on the Goodluck Jonathan government not to interfere with the election process and let the will of the people prevail. It became ironic though when Oshiomhole refused to fix the bad roads that lead to the palace of the Oba for the past two years, until the week of President Buhari’s campaign visit.

Obaseki himself is not considered a friend of the palace. The 1897 invasion of Benin saw the progenitor of the Obaseki dynasty, Agho Obaseki playing a role that was considered by all historians (except the personal account of the Obaseki family) as treacherous to Oba Ovonramwen. For Binis, the palace is to be respected and no Governor has ever emerged in Edo without the support of the palace.

The APC has left no one in doubt as to its desperation to maintain a foothold in the South-South considered to be a PDP stronghold. In three weeks, the state has had three Commissioners of Police: from Chris Ezike to Fimihan Adeoye and finally Mr. Samuel Adegbuyi, all in a bid to find maximum cooperation from the security forces.

Ize-Iyamu’s pathway to victory is defined: the five LGAs in Edo Central are locked down for PDP – Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North-East, Esan South-East and Igueben. Chiefs Tom Ikimi holds sway in Igueben while Chief Tony Anenih consistently delivers the entire Esan area. It is where the PDP deputy gubernatorial candidate John Yakubu hails from. He was the only PDP candidate to have won an LGA chairmanship seat in an election conducted by Edo SIEC and Oshiomhole refused to swear him in along with other LGA chairmen.

Edo North tends APC as it is where Oshiomhole hails from as well as the APC deputy gubernatorial candidate, Philip Shuaibu. The problem for APC here is that Oshiomhole is said to have focused development most on his LGA Akoko-Edo where he cited a new university and chosen Shuaibu from Etsako East, first as a Federal House of Representative candidate for APC which election he won and also chose the same man as deputy gubernatorial candidate. Etsako East is the closest LGA to Akoko-Edo and the four other LGAs: Etsako West, Etsako Central and especially Owan East and Owan West may deliver protest votes for the PDP which capitalised on this to create feeling of discontent in those the Owan area. Abubakar Momoh who defected from PDP to SDP is also back in PDP and spearheading the campaigns there alongside Pascal Ugbome (both senatorial candidates of the SDP and PDP respectively in 2015).

Edo South is traditionally PDP but experiences low voter turnout despite being the senatorial district with the most enlightened voters as it encompasses Benin and three universities – University of Benin, Igbinedion University and Benson Idahosa University. With both party candidates hailing from this district this time around and with the high stakes of the election, it is expected that voter turnout will be higher. the Igbinedions proved their dominance of Ovia North-East and Ovia South-West in the last election as Omosede  Igbinedion, a daughter of the family won the federal constituency seat. Oredo has the highest number of Polling Units with 357 and has never failed to deliver for PDP, up till the last election where PDP won the Federal Constituency seat with a margin of over 10,000 votes (huge in an election of less than 100,000 voters). Egor and Ikpoba-Okha may be close – only 38 votes determined the winner in this federal constituency as PDP polled 38,883 votes to APC’s 38,815 in the last election.

Looking at the numbers, considering the political climate and also the campaigns and politicking process so far, Ize-Iyamu looks strong enough to win the entire 7 and 5 LGAs in Edo South and Edo Central by various margins (slim or wide) as well as Owan West and Owan East in Edo North, leaving the APC with Etsako West, Etsako Central, Etsako East and Akoko-Edo.

The unknown factors with every political analysis in this part of the world however may upset any plans: voter intimidation, voter inducement, ballot-box stuffing, outright result substitution and the most recent INEC phenomenon of “INCONCLUSIVE” election may block Ize-Iyamu’s pathway to victory but if he is the man I have met and the fine strategic mind I’ve grown to respect in the past two months, I expect that these would only be a speed-bump on his journey but he will arrive surely in the Osadebey Avenue Government House on November 12, 2016.

Demola Olarewaju is a political analyst and strategist with the PDP and tweets from @DemolaRewaju

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