No doubt, the current political atmosphere in Edo State is heavy with tension and anxiety, especially as the much-awaited governorship election is just a day away. Although a total of 19 political parties had been registered to participate in the exercise, many are of the opinion that the battle is solely between Godwin Obaseki and Osagie Ize-Iyamu – the candidates of the two major parties – the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.
For most of the voters, the governorship poll is long overdue, having braced themselves to decide who should step into the shoes of the incumbent Governor Adams Oshiomhole, when he leaves office on November 12, 2016. The postponement of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission appeared not to have gone down well with a large majority of the 1,925,105 registered voters. But it is believed that the September 28 date would record a high turnout.
For the two major candidates and their political parties, while Wednesday’s election would bring to an end several months of political campaigns across the 18 local government areas, 192 wards, and of the state, nothing appears more crucial than the last-minute strategies to tighten loose ends, consolidate on existing political ties and secure news ones, even from the opposition.
It was gathered that both candidates have in the past one week held several meetings with key components of their respective campaign organisations. Many of the meetings ran late into the nights. They were held to assess areas of strength and identify weaknesses with a view to improving upon them.
Perhaps, among the focus of such meetings was the need to curry the support of major socio-cultural and labour groups with large membership and the results seemed to have manifested with the gale of endorsements witnessed recently. Both Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu met with different labour unions, including the Nigeria Union of Teachers and auto spare parts dealers, where they were reportedly endorsed for the election.
But such endorsements almost led to a controversy when some chiefs in the palace of the Oba of Benin disagreed over of the endorsement of Ize-Iyamu. A group of the chiefs called the Eghaevbo-N’ore (town chiefs) had reportedly adopted the PDP candidate at the residence of the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.
The Eson of Benin Kingdom, Chief Amos Osunbor, was said to have prayed for Ize-Iyamu on behalf of others, recalling the contributions of the governorship candidate’s late father, Chief R. O. Ize-Iyamu, while he was the Esogban of Benin. But the action of the chiefs was condemned by another group of palace chiefs, led by the Obazelu of Benin, Chief Osaro Idah.
Idah had explained that if the palace must speak on any issue, it would do so through the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, or the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebiri, alleging that the said endorsement came from card-carrying members of the PDP, who acted on their own. The Esogban himself had expressed surprise over the reported backing of Ize-Iyamu, which he said was false, adding that both candidates only received the prayers of the chief.
Edebiri, who was apparently dissatisfied with the reported endorsement, explained, “From all the evidence we have from everybody who was at the Sunday meeting, which we hold once a month on rotational basis, it was obvious that the Eghaevbo-N’ore group did not take any decision to adopt and endorse the candidature of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the candidate of PDP.
“What we do in our group is that anybody who is contesting is free to come to our group and ask for our prayers and we freely give the prayers. The first candidate to come was that of the APC, Godwin Obaseki.
“The day he came, we held a meeting at the residence of the Eson of Benin. He came with his retinue of supporters. What we prayed for was that the best candidate among all of them; somebody who will do better than Oshiomhole, should emerge. Our people said when Pastor came, they prayed for him in the usual manner like other candidates and that was not an endorsement,” he added.
However, the battle appears to have shifted to the ward level – with the two candidates fine-tuning their plans to nip every suspicion of rigging in the bud, through their respective foot soldiers planted in each of the 192 wards. Huge financial commitments were said to have been made by the Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu campaign organisations to adequately train their respective party agents to monitor activities at the polling units and raise the alarm when suspected cases of rigging were identified.
Campaigns for the election would end by midnight on Tuesday. But prior to that, the major political parties have not spared any opportunity to engage in media war. Currently, all the major streets across the three senatorial districts of Edo State have been flooded with posters and billboards of Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu. Such posters and billboards of all shapes and sizes have not only overshadowed those of their counterparts in the other 17 political parties but also contributed to the defacing of public infrastructure.
The media battle has also extended to allegations and counter-allegations of harassment, intimidation, threat to life and plots to rig the poll.
Obaseki had last Friday raised the alarm over an alleged plan by the PDP to assassinate him. The APC candidate, who spoke through his campaign organisation, had explained that part of the plan was to carry out a coordinated attack to ensure that he was eliminated from the race and the election rigged.
The deputy director of the organisation, John Osakue, who disclosed this in a press briefing four days ago, explained that some suspected militants had been directed to “shoot at Mr. Godwin Obaseki’s car or to ram into his car,” such that he would be “ousted” from the race.
Osakue had said, “More worrisome is the plot to assassinate our candidate, Godwin Obaseki, who has received a text message containing the directive to carry out the attack that would lead to his assassination.”
But the Edo State Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, had in a statement said, “The allegation is reckless and unfounded. The PDP has no reason whatsoever to want to assassinate Godwin Obaseki. All that we are asking is for the INEC and the security agencies to provide a level playing field, so that Godwin Obaseki would suffer the worst political defeat ever recorded by any candidate.”