By Ozioruva Aliu
AFTER almost three months of campaigns by the 14 political parties that presented candidates for today’s governorship election, voters in Edo State would decide who would be their governor for the next four years.
Though there are 14 political parties and candidates, the contest is fiercely between the incumbent governor and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Governor Godwin Obaseki and the All Progressives Congress, APC and its candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Interestingly, the two men were the major contenders four year ago but then they were in the opposite political parties: Ize-Iyamu was flying the flag of PDP while Obaseki flew the flag of APC.
The election would be held in 2,627 polling units of the 192 wards across the 18 local government areas of the state.
The state has 2,210,534 registered voters out of which 483,796 of them are yet to collect their permanent voters’ cards from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
With the deadline of campaigns over on midnight Thursday, the gladiators resorted to underground mobilisation of voters and supporters for today.
There was initial anxiety as a result of cases of violence and threats of violence during the campaigns but tempers cooled when the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II three weeks ago called a peace meeting where he cautioned them to eschew violence ahead of the election.
This was followed by a peace pact initiated by the National Peace Committee (NPC) chaired by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar where the two actors and other candidates pledged to abide by the peace deal.
This deal was followed by a statement issued by the Benin Traditional Council on behalf of Oba Ewuare II urging voters to come out today and exercise their rights and obligation to vote. A statement signed by the Secretary of Benin Traditional Council, Frank Irabor however called for compliance with Covid-19 protocols.
The battlegrounds in the state would be Edo South and Edo North Senatorial Districts which control more than 80 per cent of the total voting population of the state and the two parties have also chosen their candidates from Edo South and their running mates from Edo North.
Besides the candidates coming from these two senatorial districts, Edo South alone has 1,281,534 registered voters; Edo North has 564,122 voters while Edo Central has 364,998 voters.
The election is a case of a sitting governor with many resources at his disposal and a grassroots politician whose network cuts across the state with support from the former National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who has street credibility.
Edo Central has the smallest voting population but it has always been dominated by the PDP especially owing to the influence of late Chief Anthony Anenih. It has five local government areas.
Since 1999, the PDP has always won elections convincingly in this area except in 2012 during the second term election of Oshiomhole when the APC then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) won in the entire 18 local government areas of the state and coincidentally, Ize-Iyamu was the Director General of the then Oshiomhole Campaign Organisation.
Even after the death of Anenih, many of his foot soldiers have held on to this zone for the PDP.
Two out of the three aspirants that stepped down for Governor Obaseki to emerge as the candidate of the PDP: Barrister Ken Imasunagbon and Gideon Ikhine are from this zone.
Also from this zone are former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, Senator Odion Ugbesia and his twin brother Akhere Ugbesia, running mate to Ize-Iyamu in 2016 as candidate of the PDP, Mr John Yakubu, current state chairman of the PDP, Hon Tony Azeigbemi, the current Commissioner for Infrastructure, Hon John Inegbedion, Factional Speaker of the House of Assembly loyal to Obaseki, Hon Frank Okiye, Senator Clifford Ordia, Special Adviser on Agriculture to Obaseki, Prince Joe Okojie including the factional state chairman of the APC, Barr Anslem Ojezua are all for Obaseki and the PDP.
On the side of Ize-Iyamu is the acting state chairman of the APC, Col David Imuse (rtd) including several other grassroots politicians who are at home with their people.
This pack has Chief Francis Inegbeneki who has always delivered his area for the APC since he joined from the PDP; former member of the House of Representatives, Hon Patrick Ikhariale.
Others include former speakers of the state house of assembly; Thomas Okosun, David Iyoha, Speaker of the 17 lawmakers holding parallel sessions, Hon Victor Edoro. The zone also has Ken Ihienseken, Chief Tony Omoaghe, former commissioner Chris Ebare, Former Deputy Speaker Festus Ebea, Gidon Obakhan, Victor Eboigbe, theDirector General, Ize-Iyamu Campaign Organisation, General, General Cecil Esekhaigbe (rtd) and others.
The contest here may be close but analysts believe that PDP may slightly have an upper hand but would not be enough to determine the eventual winner of the election.
This remains the largest and most populated senatorial district in the state. It houses more than half of the voting population.
The opposition to Governor Obaseki’s second term bid through the Edo Peoples Movement (EPM) led by former Attorney General; Hon Henry Idahagbon and former Minority Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon Samson Osagie, started from Edo South.
If the number of political bigwigs behind a politician is all that is needed to win election, then Ize-Iyamu could go and sleep because the who is who in APC in this district including all the aspirants that initially indicated interest to vie for the ticket of the party with him.
Oshiomhole’s deputy, Hon Pius Odubu from Orhionmwon in all the state elections held since 2008, he has never lost in his local government area. He commands a large following across the seven local government areas that make up Edo South. Dr Chris Ogiemwonyi is also from the local government area.
Another former Deputy Governor; Hon Lucky Imasuen from Egor, Major General Charles Airhivabere (rtd), Hon Dennis Idahosa, Saturday Uwalekhue, Solomon Edebiri, former member of the House of Representatives Johnson Agbonanyima Washington Osifo, Vincent Uwadiae, Osaro Obazee, Tony Kabaka, Osakpanmwan Eriyo, Chief Victor Ekhator, Gentleman Amegor, Crosby Eribo, State secretary of the APC, Lawrence Okah, State Youth Leader of the APC, Valentine Asuen, the APC South-South Youth Leader, Gabriel Uderesi, another former aspirant, Solomon Edebiri, former Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Godwin Erahon, Hon Patrick Obahiagbon, Hon Rasak Belo-Osagie and several others are for APC and Ixe-Iyamu.
Among very prominent supporters of Obaseki and the PDP here include former Chief Whip of the Senate, Sir Rolland Owie who left the Action Democratic Party (ADP) with a large number of hos supporters to the PDP to support Obaseki
Also very visible and vocal supporter of Governor Obaseki in this zone is Hon Charles Idahosa who was Special Adviser on Politics to Oshiomhole for the eight years he was governor of the state.
Also on his side is Chief Osaro Idah a palace chief and the Political Adviser to Obaseki and Owere Disckson Imasogie .
The all powerful Secretary to State Government (SSG) Osarodion Ogie Esq is unarguably the biggest asset to Obaseki in this zone and he has always delivered Ikpoba-Okha in state elections like this from the days Oshiomhole was in government. He is the most respected politician in Obaseki’s cabinet. He has an unusual character as a politician that nobody is stopped or queried at the gate before being allowed into his compound.
The Commission said the introduction of a harmonized Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement is a “commitment to improve the quality of elections in Nigeria
There is Matthew Iduoriuokenmwen who command following in the area including, Osaigbovo Iyoha, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, Hon Henry Okhuarobo, Prince Austin Eweka, Oteghe Adams, Senator Matthew Uroghide, Hon Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama and others.
However there several independent minded voters in the three metropolitan local government areas of Oredo, Egor and Ikpoba-Okha which makes it difficult for any of the parties to confidently lay claim to these areas, the situation is not the same in the more rural local government areas like Uhinmwonde, Orhionmwon, Ovia South West and Ovia North East local government areas where voters are mostly influenced by political leaders.
This is the second largest senatorial district and the strongest supporter of Ize-Iyamu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole hails from here.
The APC has never lost election in this area but the division in the party that led to the deputy governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu moving to the PDP may close the gap between the APC and PDP as he has now joined forces with former state chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, former Chief of Staff to President Goodlcuk Jonathan, Chief Mike Ogiadomhe, Hon Paschal Ugbome and others to fight.
Also in this zone for Obaseki are the immediate past speaker of the state house of assembly, Sen Domingo Obende, Hon Kabiru Adjoto, Hon Jimoh Ijegbai, Monday Sule, Tajudeen Alhade and others.
However all the members of the House of Representatives from Edo North; namely Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives, Peter Akpatason (Akoko-Edo), Professor Julius Ihonvbere (Owan) and Hon Johnson Oghuma (Etsako) are with Ize-Iyamu including the Senator representing Edo North, Francis Alimikhena.
Besides these are several political leaders including Ize-Iyamu’s running mate, Hon Gani Audu the immediate past Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Pally Iriase, former Deputy Governor, Rev Peter Obadan, AbdulGaniy Lawani popularly called Abu Millionaire Abdul Oroh, Prince Malik Afegbua, Blessing Agbomere, Jaret Tenebe, Abbas Braimah, Lucky James former Chief of Staff to Obseki, Taiwo Akerele, Anselm Agbabi, Macdonald Obasuke, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, his Chief of Staff, Dr Philip Ugbodaga and several others.
The election in Edo north is like an Oshiomhole election whose supporters are very angry with Obaseki and Shaibu with the role they played in the crisis in the APC that led to the dissolution of the NWC before they defected to the PDP. They see it as a sort of humiliation for their son and the only way they feel they could avenge this is to vote massively for the APC.
While the above factors would play roles in deciding the winner of the election, the case of the 14 lawmakers who have been denied inauguration and by extension representation of their constituencies remainkey to who wins the election.
These 14 lawmakers that have increased to seventeen have taken the election as a vengeance against Obaseki who they believe was behind their travails and inability to be inaugurated and if their margins of victory in the elections in 2019 is anything to go by, then Obaseki and the APC would find it difficult to win the constituencies these 14 lawmakers hold sway.