The 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State on Saturday 19 September was another acid test of Nigeria’s ultimate readiness to entrench genuine democracy in the politics of Africa’s most populous country and gateway to the African economy. The entire process in this instance practically elucidated the independence and realism of the people’s power as opposed to the make-belief supremacy of political manipulators. The result of the election proved three things. One was that the moment people were united in a purpose, no force could possibly stop their victory.
The second was that it was possible in Nigeria to shun party affiliation and vote for public office seekers to win elections on the basis of their individual merit. For so long, party bigwigs continued to take shelter under party patronage while they performed shoddily in public offices. It was obvious from the look of things during this election that Edo people neither voted APC nor PDP. They voted for Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu on the basis of what they saw as their individual competence.
And third was the fact that the need for godfatherism in Nigerian politics could actually now be wished away after this ‘last bus stop’ clearly showed that the people had parted ways with the days of political godfatherism. Indeed, when sitting Governor Godwin Obaseki was announced as the winner of the election, he told the world it was not a win against his arch rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress, APC. It was a victory over godfatherism.
So then, why was the election in Edo State so fascinating?
First was that the man at the centre of the godfather controversy was Adams Oshiomhole. Oshiomhole was the National Chairman of the APC. Growing through the ranks, he became President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and from there he moved on to the Edo State Government House as Governor.
Oshiomhole’s rise from grass to grace and back from grace to grass was a very intriguing narrative. After his secondary education, he got a job with Arewa Textiles Company and was soon afterwards elected as its union’s secretary. He became a full-time trade union organizer in 1975. In 1982, Adams Oshiomhole was appointed General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, a union that boasted of over 75,000 workers at the time. But shortly afterwards, he lost his job. He then took to the streets, mending torn clothes from house to house as a temporary measure to sustain himself and then ventured into labour unionism when democracy was ushered back into the Nigerian system. After the restoration of democracy in 1999, he became President of the Nigeria Labour Congress. He became prominent as the leader of a trade union that campaigned for industrial action against high oil prices in Nigeria.
In the early days of the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was able to negotiate a 25% wage increase for workers in the public sector. As a result, he publicly supported Obasanjo and endorsed the candidacy that saw him re-elected in 2003.
The Textile Union elected Oshiomhole for a second tenure as General Secretary while he continued to preside over the affairs of the Nigeria Labour Congress. But by this time, his relationship with Obasanjo had turned sour. Oshiomhole was unhappy that government’s neglect of local oil refineries had made it imperative for government to import oil.
The consequence of importing oil was that the cost of fuel rose astronomically across the country. Oshiomhole led strikes and demonstrations against the increase. He faced arrests, tear gas and temporary closure of union offices. Obasanjo then introduced a legislation that aimed to make it more difficult for the NLC to strike. The NLC alleged that on 9 October 2004 Oshiomhole was abducted by the State Security Service during a protest, but the Nigerian government said he submitted to voluntary custody.
Oshiomhole represented African workers for two terms on the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), serving on the committee on Freedom of Association. He was also a member of the Executive Board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Oshiomhole had become popular by this time. And so, in April 2007, he contested for the governorship of Edo State under the umbrella of the Action Congress Party, ACP, with which his Labour Party had entered a strategic alliance. His main contender, Oserheimen Osunbor of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) was declared as winner. The ACP contested the election in court on the basis of various alleged irregularities. On 20 March 2008, an Edo state election tribunal nullified the election of Oserheimen Osunbor and declared Oshiomhole the winner. On 11 November 2008, a Federal Appeal Court sitting in Benin City upheld the ruling of the state's election petition tribunal, declaring Oshiomhole to be the Governor of Edo State. The decision was based on some perceived voting irregularities.
In 2012, Oshiomhole was elected to a second term, winning the election in a massive landslide. He ended his tenure on 12 November 2016 and on 23 June 2018 he emerged as the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria following a voice vote by delegates at the party’s National Convention. But before he vacated his post as Governor of Edo State, Oshiomhole thought it necessary to handpick a successor who would be loyal to him. And he favoured Godwin Obaseki.
Obaseki, after winning for a second tenure
Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki was born on 1 July 1957 in Benin City. He is currently the Governor of Edo State, sworn in on 12 November 2016. He was the Chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team inaugurated by former Governor Adams Oshiomhole in March 2009. Obaseki holds post graduate degrees in Finance and International Business and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, Nigeria. He contested the governorship position under APC and Oshiomhole was there to ensure he won. In fact he had practically sold his candidacy to the good people of Edo State, assuring them that he was the best thing that could ever happen to the state.
There had always been this tendency on the Nigerian political chessboard for political godfathers to demand to be the law behind the screen when their candidates won. In some cases, they would finance a candidate and write off his campaign expenses and all, on the one condition that a certain huge percentage of the state or local government financial allocation was diverted to them. It happened to the current Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige who was abducted at some point because he refused to divert the state’s financial allocation to his sponsor but rather used the money to develop the state as he felt it was right to do. That same godfatherism controversy played out in Abia state between ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his successor, Theodore Orji and in Rivers State between ex-Governor Rotimi Amechi and his successor Nyesom Wike. In each case the new government literarily staged a coup and decided to do the needful for their people.
For one thing, it is a mistake many political godfathers make, sponsoring political aspirants and hoping to split the financial allocation to their constituencies with them. The truth is that no Chief Executive Officer would like to be publicly seen as a stooge taking orders from someone who is not directly his boss. The moment they acquire the power, they want to keep and if necessary flaunt it. They won’t like to become seen in public as “on his master’s voice” as Nigerians would put it. So, they try as much as they can to use their constituency allocation to sort out the needs of their people and as the money is usually not enough for all they would want to do for their people, little or nothing is left for their sponsor who in any case is already rich. So, there had always been that tendency to quarrel when the original terms of agreement were broken by the public office holder.
In this case, no one is sure if that was the card on the table. But however, relationships between Oshiomhole and Obaseki became sour. At the start, Governor Obaseki had become angry that Oshiomhole would not alert him when he came to Edo from Abuja so he could send military and police escorts to welcome him at the airport. And Oshiomhole said he was a free citizen of his state and that he didn’t need all that pomp and pageantry. He preferred to come quietly and unannounced to his country home. Everyone thought at the time that this was the kernel of the quarrel. Only very few knew there was more to it all than met the ordinary eye. But that quarrel led to the eventual downfall of Oshiomhole.
It was alleged that, as APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole had manipulated the screening committee for the party primaries to get Obaseki disqualified to contest for a second tenure because he allegedly had a dent on his university certificate. In fact, it was alleged he never attended Ibadan University as he claimed. But even the university authorities came open to confirm that Obaseki read Classics in their university and made a second class lower division in 1979.
The political feud between Oshiomhole and Governor Obaseki climaxed on Friday, June 12, when Obaseki was disqualified from the APC governorship race. One major reason the governor was shown the exit door by the Jonathan Ayuba-led screening committee was an alleged defective certificate in what looked like a final effort to shatter his re-election dream.
Oshiomhole later said the governor was disqualified because the APC was not a party of "big men" where rules could easily be bent in favour of powerful individuals. Speaking with BBC Pidgin, Obaseki said he was gang-forced out of the ruling party. The APC, he observed, did not deem him fit for re-election four years after he contested and won under the same party."They said I was not qualified after four years. I qualified in the first time, but this time I was not. That was when I saw that for APC, they were doing things anyhow,” Obaseki confided to BBC.
“It is unfortunate that this open show of shame, illegality and travesty of justice is the brand of democracy Comrade Oshiomhole has reduced the APC into,” Governor Obaseki’s spokesperson, Crusoe Osagie, said in a statement he sent to some Nigerian media before the formal announcement of the disqualification of his principal.
“The situation is quite saddening because this is a party supposedly reputed for change, equity and social justice. We have watched the mockery of democratic process Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is administering and superintending over in our great party the APC. It has been an unfortunate, disheartening and dreadful spectacle. We had initially asserted that going by the open display and enthronement of illegality by one man in the party that comprises several organs and eminent personalities, there was no way Governor Godwin Obaseki would get a fair assessment in the run-up to the nomination of candidates to fly the flag of the party in the forthcoming Edo gubernatorial election. We therefore decided that it would be an effort in futility to appeal whatever the unjust outcome of the evaluation and screening process of the APC would be, especially when Comrade Oshiomhole had declared that he was the Supreme Court and ultimate determiner of the fate and future of our great party.”
It would be recalled that while all this was playing out, Oshiomhole already had a case on his hand. He had been suspended from All Progressives Congress on November 12, 2019 after the18 local government chairmen of the party in his native Edo state passed a vote of no confidence on him. They had accused him of trying to disintegrate the party in Edo State. But a faction of the party loyal to Oshiomhole declared his suspension null and void and then suspended Governor Godwin Obaseki on the allegation that he was the man who orchestrated Oshiomhole's suspension. On 15 January 2020, the All Progressives Congress in Edo state reaffirmed the suspension of Oshiomhole and said he had no legal right to continue to function as the APC National Chairman by the virtue of his suspension in Edo State.
On the 4th of March, 2020 a High Court sitting in Abuja ordered the suspension of Oshiomhole from office of the National Chairman of the APC on the ground that having been suspended from the party, Oshiomhole was no longer a member of the party and could not possibly continue to discharge his official responsibilities as national chairman. With this clear order of the court Oshiomhole was restricted from the national secretariat of the party. Armed security agents including the police, department of state service (DSS) and civil defense were heavily deployed to the secretariat to prevent Oshiomhole from entering into it.
On 5th March, 2020, a Federal High Court in Kano gave another judgment which vacated the judgment of the Abuja High Court and restored Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of APC. This created confusion as to which judgment to obey because both the Abuja High Court and the Kano Federal High Court were of equal jurisdiction and none of them could override or vacate the judgment of the other.
Oshiomhole appealed against his suspension at the Abuja Court of Appeal and the court affirmed his suspension on 16 June, 2020.
Meanwhile the race to the Government House in Edo State was warming up. Plans were on the way. New alliances were made. New ideas were floated. The entire country was aglow with anticipation. But the game hadn’t played out. Obaseki was soon to get his taste of the manipulations of APC party agencies. And so he did when his former mentor, Oshiomhole decided to use the big stick on the “erring” governor before bowing out. Introducing Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to Edo people during the campaigns, Oshiomhole heavily rained down on Obaseki and called him names.
But that turned out to be his political undoing. Here was a man he had showered with all sorts of accolades only four years ago and described him as the best thing that could possibly happen to Edo state. The people voted for him on that understanding and trust. Four years later he became the sour grape without any conceivable crime. The people did not take lightly to that. They said Oshiomhole was insulting their intelligence and many of them turned against him on that account. All this was happening just a few months to the election.
After his disqualification by the APC, Obaseki turned to PDP and the party, ever opposed to the APC, welcomed him with open hands. Some PDP members who had been slated by the party for the gubernatorial race were asked to stand down for Obaseki. They all did, even though some did so reluctantly. Obaseki’s saving grace was that he had the strong backing of members of the PDP Governors’ Forum, notably Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Okowa, Willie Obiano, Dave Umahi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Oluwaseyi Makinde. Eventually, Obaseki had to slug it out with Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the Oshiomhole’s preferred APC candidate.
In a pre-gubernatorial election debate with Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Obaseki accused his predecessor in office, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, of reckless borrowing, resulting in the state’s huge debt profile. Obaseki made the revelation at the debate organized by Channels Television, where the contestants engaged each other and enumerated what they would do to better the lot of Edo citizens, if elected in the September 19 poll.
Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu had accused Obaseki of having little or nothing on the ground after four years in office besides increasing the security vote. He also accused the governor of appointing over 2,000 Senior Special Assistants on social media and mistaking that for job creation. The governor said: “Let me make some points very clear. My predecessor in office borrowed recklessly and the Federal Government had to restructure all the debts that we had taken before I came into office. These included a whole series of bank borrowings – borrowing to pay salaries. So the Federal Government restructured outstanding obligations to Edo State to the tune of almost N30 billion. That was responsible for adding to the debt stock; not borrowings from this administration.” He also alleged that the immediate past government owed contractors about N70 billion and pegged the debt owed by the state at N120 billion. If given another opportunity to serve as Edo State governor, Obaseki promised to open up the state to endless possibilities, noting that he had created 157,000 jobs so far.
Reacting, Ize-Iyamu faulted Governor Obaseki on his claim of job creation. He said: “I am sure he is not going to misplace the appointments he made then as jobs. I know in the past one month, he has appointed over 2,000 people as Senior Special Assistants on social media and the rest of them. Those are not jobs. When you say you have created jobs, in what area? We know for example that there is a glaring vacancy in the teaching profession and every school we went to, they practically had no teacher. I have a simple agenda that I will work with. There is no way we can move forward without security. We will invest in infrastructures.”
Oba of Benin
A few weeks before the election, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, had a closed door peace parley in his palace with political actors in the state allegedly at the instance of Professor Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The Oba appealed to them during the meeting to call their supporters to order ahead of the poll. He charged them to restrain their supporters from turning the state into a war theatre. Governor Godwin Obaseki, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the APC National Chairman before Oshiomhole attended the meeting.
The revered Edo King urged politicians to stop the gunshots and give peace a chance. He told them he had been having sleepless nights for some days over political violence and thuggery in the state. “I have noted that Edo State’s politics has been in the news for quite some time for all the wrong reasons. I have been having sleepless nights for some days. We are all from Edo State. We are no strangers. Why do you want lives to be lost by arming thugs, who will later hide the guns? Enough is enough. Let the September 19 governorship election in Edo State be peaceful. Be mature and be proud of Edo State. Do not make Edo State a laughing stock. I am very sad about what is happening in Edo State. This is the worst scenario. Let us eschew violence and give peace a chance in Edo State. I cannot have you fighting. I want to plead with the politicians and the political actors to sheathe their swords, because the international community is watching. We have done traditional prayers to avert violence before, during and after the September 19 governorship election in Edo State. I am strongly pleading with Edo politicians to control the youths.” The Benin King’s intervention was very vital in ensuring that the elections were fair and free and that no lives were lost.
The role played by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the election was devoid of violence must also be acknowledged as a genuine stride towards true democracy. INEC was fully prepared for the Edo State governorship election and actually assured Nigerians it must hold on the scheduled date. INEC’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu confirmed this in Benin during a meeting he had with Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). Professor Yakubu warned that he was prepared to deal with potential trouble makers and that INEC would make the system transparent. “Out of the 14 activities itemized for the election, 10 were successfully carried out on schedule, remaining four. So, in terms of preparation, INEC was ready for Edo election.
Prof. Yakubu said the commission came out with the policy on how to conduct elections under COVID-19. “We test-ran the policy in a small election on 8 August in Nasarawa state’s by-election and now we’re ready for the Edo and Ondo states’ elections.” It was the first time the commission was conducting a major election in the context of COVID-19. There was additional pressure to ensure that INEC did not only conduct free, fair, credible and peaceful but also safe elections for everyone. In fact, Prof. Yakubu was in the state to meet with ICCES on the need for a peaceful election. He met with INEC staff and electoral officers across the 18 local government areas of the state in order to oversee their level of preparation for the election. He also discussed the issue of security with ICCES.
The environment had to be secured before INEC could conduct the election and INEC assured Nigerians that the commission would take every step to ensure that the environment was conducive for the election. And to ensure a peaceful election, INEC got participating political parties to sign a peace accord a few days to the election. The Edo State police commissioner, Johnson Kokumo also said the police were prepared to address security issues on both land and waterways during the election. The police commenced early training of security personnel for the election and they were working in synergy with other security agents to ensure peace before, during and after the election.
When the result of the election was announced on Sunday 20 September, Governor Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party scored the highest number of votes in Saturday’s Edo State governorship election and was declared the winner. The result of the election, held in all Edo’s 18 local governments, was declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday in Benin, the state capital. “Godwin Obaseki of the PDP, having satisfied the requirement of the law and scored the highest number of votes, is hereby declared the winner,” Johnson Alalibo, the chief returning officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state, announced on Sunday afternoon. Obaseki polled 307,955 votes to defeat his main rival, Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had 223,619 votes. He also won in 13 of the 18 local government areas and thus scored more than 25 per cent of votes cast in two-thirds of the local governments in the state to satisfy the second constitutional requirement to be declared governor.
Obaseki won his first election in 2016 as a candidate of the APC, principally supported by Adams Oshiomhole, the immediate past governor and former chairman of the APC. Pastor Ize-Iyamu was then the candidate of the PDP. But in the course of his term as the governor, Obaseki became estranged with Comrade Oshiomhole, causing a very breath-taking political battle that will be remembered in a long while with his victory at the polls. Addressing party faithful afterwards, Obaseki said: “this is a victory over godfatherism.” In Nigerian politics perhaps, it will be the people’s final victory over godfatherism.