Edo guber elections: Three horse race may trigger major shifts in political alignment By EJIROGHENE BARRETT

Edo State Governorship candidates: Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC), Asue Ighodalo (PDP) and Olumide Akpata (LP)
Edo State Governorship candidates: Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC), Asue Ighodalo (PDP) and Olumide Akpata (LP)

 

Edo State is gearing up for what will undoubtedly be one of the most entertaining contests yet for the state’s governorship seat in its almost 33-year history. This is neither because previous contests have had less colourful or impressive characters nor a fact that they have been inspired by less pressing social realities. The reason is that, as tempting as it would be for the pundits to quickly allude to the strength of incumbency as a crucial component for victory, new realities may make it less of a factor.

For the first time in many years, and just like what played out at the presidential elections, the contest will be a three-horse race with an unanticipated third force likely to make impressive inroads, which may create the sort of groundswell support that would rattle the political old guard in the state.

There is little doubt that the campaigns will take place against the backdrop of growing sentiments triggered by calls for power rotation to Edo central Senatorial district, and this may inspire a consideration of the ethnic origins of the candidates as an important part in the current political mise-en-scene.

If everything goes according to plan for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the race is expected to be a smooth ride to victory. The party is banking on the achievements of the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, and what it believes are relevant leadership qualities of its candidate, Asuen Ighodalo.

For the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), the adoption of a candidate from Edo Central, Senator Monday Okpebholo, who is also a popular political figure in his constituency with some legislative successes to his name, also signifies its support for the power rotation doctrine.

The APC’s confidence in its chances of winning the election is largely built around its endorsement of power rotation and also hinged on its belief that the incumbent Obaseki government has made huge political blunders that could hardly be rectified by the decision to impose a candidate who is both a political greenhorn and a product of the governor’s whim.

Quite a number of the party’s members are also confident that the power of the federal government might play a role in the election, just as much as they believe that disenchantment within the PDP over the governor’s imposition of a candidate could sway the votes in their favour.

Regardless of the validity of these claims, Ighodalo is a considerably imposing figure with an impressive resumé as well. The PDP intends to combine his professional qualities with its calculated adoption of the power rotation mantra as well.

His choice of running mate, Osarodion Ogie, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), is also considered a calculated move that could be a much-needed boost to his campaign. Ogie is a major factor in Ikpoba-Okha, Oredo and Egor Local Government Areas in Edo South and would be expected to pull all the stops in securing the votes for his party in those areas.

It is not usually the norm to say this with a level of certainty, but the Labour Party (LP) stands a very real chance of victory in the race, regardless of its decision to shelve the zoning formula for now and present a candidate from Edo South, Olumide Akpata.

This decision could be a strategic one. Securing the majority votes in that Senatorial zone, which has the largest voting population in the State, could tilt the scale in the race.

The LP is betting on the race being rather influenced by individual credentials than by ethnic tags or political arm-twisting. With Akpata, the Labour party appears to have gone for a candidate whose professional and political antecedents are as impressive as they are instructive.

If his ability to pull a campaign that would get the state on its feet was ever in doubt, the witty and assertive former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, has upstaged more prominent opponents before with his unique brand of politicking that exudes remarkable tenacity, and which saw him clinch victory in what has been described as the biggest upset ever recorded in the race for the NBA presidency.

Pulling off same feat in the state elections will not be easy. However, Akpata appears to have done enough ground work in the initial stage to have suddenly emerged as an imposing third force in the race.

In his early 50s, Akpata exudes a youthfulness and conviviality that sets his political campaign apart from the usually tedious pace of mainstream politics and clearly bolsters his support among a largely youthful electorate.
The race is undoubtedly the ideal oddsmaker’s sweepstake. While many would bank on power rotation as a major factor that would determine the outcome, it is possible that the electorate would be rather influenced by a completely new set of social realities.

Between the PDP’s internal squabbles that have pitted the governor against his deputy, Philip Shaibu, and the APC’s continued internal rumblings over the party’s decision on the flag-bearer and his deputy, the LP, also with its own internal squabbles, seems ready to swoop in with a political strategy that appears intent on taking advantage of these fault lines and also offer relatable alternatives to what many have described as an extremely poor performance record of the current government.

There is a real danger of a shift from traditional voting patterns that would have naturally assured either of the two leading parties of the votes.

There are a number of issues that would shape the debates between the contenders for the governorship seat. One of them is widespread criticism of the incumbent government’s performance in several sectors.

One of the criticisms revolves around the approach of Obaseki to addressing the decline in the state’s education sector. His nonchalant attitude towards allegations of maladministration in the state-owned Ambrose Alli University has been called out by several groups.

Recently, Ighodalo was also criticised for lacking the courage to speak up against the alleged atrocities being carried out by the expired Special Intervention Team (SIT) installed at the institution by the Obaseki government, and the alleged illegality of its continued operation in the University which has received public outcry and condemnation.

It is believed that the governor’s continued refusal to address these allegations against the SIT would seriously affect the PDP’s showing at the polls in the central Senatorial district. The presentation of a well balanced solution that addresses the demands made in several petitions would be an advantage for other candidates.

Indications of negligence in the health, agricultural and transportation sectors expose what many describe as the government’s poor performance and could seriously tilt the balance against the PDP.

In this race, Akpata is taking a chance and making a bold statement at the same time, some pundits say. He believes a large labour support base for LP in Edo South would give him a great advantage over the APC and the PDP, if the elections are transparent.

His position is rightly encouraged by the large support that the LP enjoyed in the last general elections in that Senatorial district, and cannot be distanced from the growing realities of disaffection with the two main parties that has been voiced by many in the state.

However the campaigns go, it is obvious that Edo state is geared towards an epic battle that could throw up major surprises that would realign political control in the state.

Ejiroghene Barrett is the Editor of the online regional news publication, West Africa Report.

 

 

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The OPINION / COLUMN is authored by independent contributors to the National Accord Newspaper. While contributors adhere to our editorial guidelines, they are not employed by the National Accord Newspaper. The perspectives and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the National Accord Newspaper or its staff.

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