BY NOSA IGIEBOR
In Nigeria, electoral contests are war. Literally.
Once an election approaches and the campaigns are in full swing, fiery rhetoric dominates the political-speak, and the language of war becomes the common dialect of the contestants and their besotted supporters and foot soldiers.
The leaders are not left out of the febrile embrace of warmongering. In fact, they signal it and mobilize their party members and sundry hired guns for mayhem.
President Muhammadu Buhari has already given the marching order to the All Progressives Congress’ leadership to capture Edo and Ondo States in the governorship elections taking place in September and October respectively. He said the party must regain control of Edo and retain Ondo by all means. And that includes deploying the playbook they used in ‘winning’ Osun, Kano and Kogi States governorship elections.
That playbook features violence targeted at the opposition party’s people, suppression of voting in their strongholds and manipulation of results.
After the Osun election in 2018, Buhari celebrated his party’s victory by coining, through a Freudian slip, an ominous terminology, ‘winning by remote control’.
When deconstructed, it means using federal government might to get the result they want. And not what they merit. In this context, votes don’t and shouldn’t count because the electorates don’t matter at all.
The Osun-Kano-Kogi scenario is already unfolding in Edo State where the APC is engaged in a fierce contest with the People’s Democratic Party for the governorship election. The recent viral video of Adams Oshiomhole asking Ibrahim Gambari, the president’s chief-of-staff, to organize the arrest of PDP leaders in the state says it all very eloquently. And it advertises one of the notorious characteristics of Nigerian politicians – their desperation to win at all costs without the slightest worry about the collateral damage they inflict on their people.
Edo had always been a peaceful state and elections were held there without any serious incident of violence. The state isn’t immune from the usual widespread malpractices that deform our elections. But it has never been this terrorized by politicians whose desperation is making the people very nervous. They are now not only afraid that their votes may not count; they are beginning to fear for their lives.
The political dynamics in the state are extremely fluid. They are giving Oshiomhole and his party a lot of sleepless nights. As the immediate past governor of the state and recently dethroned APC’s national chairman, his usual swagger has dimmed and his trademark bombast, far less rousing and convincing.
He decided to bet all his political capital on stopping Governor Godwin Obaseki, his former ally and close confidante, from getting a second term.
He may win big by Abuja’s special ‘remote control’, or lose very badly. That we will soon know.
If on September 19, the election were free and fair, Oshiomhole and his party would be routed. He knows it. That is why he’s been going on bended knees from pillar to post, begging for understanding and support of traditional rulers and other prominent Edo people.
And it explains his attempt to co-opt the president’s chief-of-staff to come to his party’s aide by getting his opponents neutralized through dubious arrests and other forms of harassment.
The former comrade’s present predicament is entirely self-inflicted and driven by his ambition to be the state’s unchallenged political godfather. His role model in this quest is Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor and APC’s national leader, who knows his own political onion to the last peal. Almost.
His political miscalculations and desperation to stamp his authority on the politics of the state have exposed his rank duplicity, and utter lack of fidelity to anyone. Except where it serves his purpose. And the people are not amused. In fact, they are offended by the real Oshiomhole they are seeing now. One that is the antithesis of the other, who ceaselessly railed against those he called godfathers, who decided the political and economic fortune of the state in their bedrooms.
In 2016, Obaseki was his main man. He put everything on the line to promote his candidacy and ensure he won the governorship. His reason for supporting Obaseki then was quite rational.
According to him, he was the only person, in his own estimation, who could run an effective government. He dismissed all the other aspirants, including his deputy, Dr. Pius Odubu, as politicians who knew only how to deliver their wards in elections but lack the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to be an impactful governor.
He had declared that he had no apology for his decision because Obaseki was the right man to succeed him.
Four years later, he has fallen on his own sword by forswearing all the glowing accolades he poured on Obaseki and the venom he bathed Osagie Ize-Iyamu with. Ize-Iyamu had parted ways with him, rejoined the PDP and became the party’s governorship candidate.
It is no wonder that he is having a hard time persuading the people to trust his judgment again today. Most of them, if not all, are not buying his political gamesmanship of the very worst kind.
At that time, Ize-Iyamu was his arch political enemy, whom he mercilessly demonized and de-marketed as most unfit to be governor.
Not too surprisingly, they are back in the same camp, pursuing a common interest of attempting to see off Obaseki as a one-term governor. In Oshiomhole’s thinking and apparently self-serving political calculations, the good and the bad are easily interchangeable to suit the exigencies of the moment.
In all of this, the state’s interest is brazenly compromised for personal glory and gratification.
As much as he has tried, he hasn’t succeeded in pining the label of incompetence on Obaseki.
Even with his famed oratorical prowess, he has failed to do terminal damage to the governor’s credibility.
He and his supporters have so far been reduced to whining about the governor’s alleged betrayal and ingratitude.
But between the two of them, Oshiomhole owes Obaseki far more debt of gratitude than he is owed. That is one salient aspect of their storied relationship that he can’t just re-write solely at his whim.
Most of those cheerleading Oshiomhloe today weren’t there at the very beginning when Obaseki helped pave the way for him to become governor in 2008.
He had several times, to his credit, acknowledged the pivotal role Obaseki played in his election as governor and in the organization of his government.
So profiling Obaseki differently now is one political trick he can’t pull off. His quest to stop him and certify his own political godfathership of the state seems more like mission impossible.
Unless and until he gets his wish for the notorious federal might – a euphemism for stealing elections – to aide his cause.
Whatever happens on September 19 and beyond will not bode well for Oshiomhole. If Obaseki is re-elected, the former comrade’s political influence in the state and beyond would be completely eviscerated.
If Ize-Iyamu wins, that would only give Oshiomhole some fleeting triumph and a brief reprieve. This is because, just like Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu wouldn’t be in any way inclined to be his Man Friday.
One of life’s immutable laws is that, those who aspire to lead must first be humble and learn to follow.
This is one lesson he has never learned. Hence he has a penchant to always be the frontman, while he has never followed others loyally.
*NOSA Igiebor is Award-Winning Veteran Journalist & President of Tell Communications, Publishers of Tell Magazine.