ANALYSIS: Edo 2016: Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu in epic battle to replace Oshiomhole

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Residents of Edo State will on Saturday decide who governs them for the next four years, in an intensely contested governorship election.

The election will either reward the outgoing governor, Adams Oshiomhole, for his effort while in office, or punish him for the hardship many residents complain of.

The traditional ruler of Ogbeson community, Aduwa Ogiegbaen, for instance, said his community would vote for All Progressive Congress’ Godwin Obaseki as a show of gratitude to Mr. Oshiomhole for intervening and reclaiming the town from gully erosion which ravaged homes and rendered thousands homeless.

“There was a church here where these people are standing now,” he said, pointing to a spot in the area. “That church went down. My uncle’s house was here. He was buried here. The house and the grave were swept away.”

There are many communities offering support to the governor’s candidate on similar grounds.

However, there is also the widely reported “pains of pensioners” who have seized the election period to launch their protest over unpaid pension arrears. The pensioners said they lost seven of their members in the last seven months while waiting to be paid their retirement benefits.

In July, they defied heavy rain to protest and demand the payment of their pension arrears ranging from 10 to 42 months. The saga of unpaid salaries of local government employees occasioned by the present economic recession is also hanging over the government before the eyes of the critical electorate.

It is a straight fight between the ruling APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Although it is Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the governorship candidate of the PDP who is officially squaring up against the businessman, Godwin Obaseki, of the APC, Governor Oshiomhole is the chief adversary of the PDP.

The contents of the campaigns have demonstrated it. Mr. Obaseki showcases the work done by the current administration. The PDP’s Ize-Iyamu seeks to denigrate and reduce their value to people of the state.

The campaigns have gone beyond the competences of both candidates. Mr. Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer, pastor and politician, is a former chief of staff and secretary to the Edo State Government. A former APC member, he was an avowed supporter of the Oshiomhole government, having served as Mr. Oshiomhole’s campaign director for a second term. He had earlier served as national vice chairman, South-South Zone of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). After calling it quits with the APC, he joined the PDP and became the Edo coordinator of the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign for the 2015 presidential election.

The pastor is largely seen as a grassroots politician whose campaigns have struck hard at the weaknesses of the Edo government. He has successfully raised questions on the sincerity of the government in the execution of certain projects while the government has been on the defensive.

But many Edo people still consider him an offshoot of the inglorious regime of the Igbinedions. He also has a weak backing from the House of Assembly where the PDP only has three of 24 members. He has a “simple agenda” and displays the mien of an orator. His current following shows he is a candidate to beat in this race.

The APC candidate, Mr. Obaseki, is the pioneer chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team which was inaugurated by Governor Oshiomhole in March 2009. Mr. Obaseki holds an MBA in Finance and International Business from the Columbia University, USA. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers, Nigeria and an alumnus of the Lagos Business School’s chief executive programme. He is the proprietor of several finance institutions and sits on the board of several other companies.

Mr. Obaseki’s towering credentials no doubt meets a great challenge in the political experience of his PDP contender. His bearing as a technocrat and financial expert cuts him out as a preferred candidate in the current economic recession facing the country.

Edo people would obviously desire a messiah who would take them out of the economic woods without subjecting them to austerity. He rides on the grace of the Edo State government and the incumbent governor, Mr. Oshiomhole. His emergence as the APC candidate ahead of the deputy governor depicts the finality of the choice of the governor to have him become the next governor of Edo State.

Mr. Obaseki also enjoys the perception of the generality of the public that the incumbent governor had done well for the state compared to his predecessors.

Campaigns have been rigorous. Defeating an incumbent is not a tea party. The governor has made it a duty to harp on his infrastructural gains in the state capital and in major towns of the state to win the support of the people. The APC candidate speaks strongly by the voice of the governor. His manifesto is not unique. He makes the usual promises of job creation, agricultural revolution and improved education.

Both candidates are concerned about providing jobs for the teeming populace and alleviating poverty. They have made sundry promises, even going as far as signing pacts with certain communities who demanded such.

The choices of the two parties to pick their candidates from the southern senatorial district has greatly raised the stakes. Whoever wins the area may likely become the governor.

The state has about 1,925,105 registered voters from the 18 local government areas. Of this, Edo south, where both candidates come from has seven of the 18 local government areas and is home to about 57.4 percent of the population of the state.

To be declared governor, a candidate must win majority votes in most of the 18 local governments, and score 25 percent in at least 12 of the 18 local governments. This is in addition to polling the highest number of votes in the election.

Analysts say the APC will easily take Edo North, where Mr. Oshiomhole comes from, but could be defeated in the central district, a customary PDP stronghold where the likes of Tony Anenih; former works minister, Mike Onolememen, and other bigwigs of the PDP hails from.

The south is therefore the battleground. The target of each of the candidate is winning maximum votes from Egor, Oredo and Ikpoba/Okha local governments, which has a combined voter capacity of about 800,000. Whoever takes these local governments may be returned governor.

That permutation explains the concentration of campaigns within these lines, and the government is not relenting in squeezing the opposition and limiting its campaign space within the state capital. The PDP recently raised the alarm that the government denied it the use of public schools and other state infrastructures such as the stadiums for its campaign. The government has denied that allegation, saying the PDP failed to follow the rules in applying for the facilities.

The opposition has also cried out against alleged use of security agencies in harassing members of the party and supporters of its candidate at the instance of the state government. The APC had since replied, saying the PDP was only making excuses for its impending failing in the election.

The difficulty in predicting an easy victory for the ruling APC shows how the popularity of the APC has declined in a state where Mr. Oshiomhole had an easy ride even in the southern senatorial district at his reelection in 2012.

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