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Edo election: Placing Asiwaju’s video in context

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Tinubu. Photo: NAIJA

The 2020 Edo State Governorship election has come and gone but some of its talking points still reverberate.

For several reasons, the Edo election has been viewed by many as a proxy battle at this particular moment in time between political forces and figures that will contend against each other during the battle for 2023. These external factors and interests determined the actions and support given to the various candidates by many major figures. Thus, several actors supported a candidate not of their party because they deemed what otherwise would be considered partisan betrayal as profitable to their 2023 calculations.

The Edo governorship election was a chess game played not just to win the governor’s seat but also played by certain people to better position themselves for 2023 while also attempting to sidetrack feared probable 2023 rivals. These calculations blurred party lines as loyalty to self-interests exceeded loyalty to the party. The manner of things concerning Edo was never as they appeared.

Indications of these complex dynamics were evident early in the campaign. The PDP campaign initially fixated on Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor of the State and immediate-past National Chairman of the APC. With the intensity of attacks on Adams Oshiomhole, one would have thought he was going to be on the ballot. This was just the prelude to a larger broadside. The PDP, aligned with a fifth column in the APC would see the Edo race as a way to attack and derail Asiwaju Tinubu’s purported 2023 presidential ambitions.

These elements had earlier in the year tried to use Edo and the legal entanglements in which they placed Oshiomhole as a way to weaken, if not destroy Asiwaju’s influence in the APC. Their attempt not only failed, but it also backfired. Spontaneous and independent shows of support for Asiwaju were seen across the nation. It was confirmed. Tinubu enjoyed more grassroots support than these foes who dared not emerge from the shadows to confront him directly.

Thus, they came to see the Edo election itself as their hope to weaken Tinubu’s growing image. This objective resulted in certain tactical maneuvers and calculations that can only be described as a blatant antiparty activity.

Several APC governors and a few cabinet ministers held not so secret Abuja meetings on how they could use Edo to topple Tinubu’s likely presidential run. They determined that to support Ize-Iyamu was tantamount to bolstering Tinubu as both men were joined in political alliance via Oshiomhole. Thus, they vowed among themselves to jettison party loyalty so as to hunt down and damage the Tinubu presidential project. In the end, these governors and others would not do for Ize-iyamu what custom and tradition required of them. Their affection had been turned against him because their overriding concern had little to do with the APC winning Edo. They had reached the cynical conclusion that a party victory would be their personal defeat. Thus, rebel APC governors were speaking Ize-Iyamu during the day but funneling aid to Obaseki by night.

With an important segment of the party fighting itself, what should have been a comfortable Ize-Iyamu victory loomed now as a defeat contrived in great part by disloyal party members. Loyal party members had a choice. Do nothing and watch defeat come or try to salvage victory by any legitimate political intervention possible.

It is against this background, the involvement of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the election must be weighed. In a video that went viral, the National Leader of APC admonished Edo voters not to renew Obaseki’s mandate as Governor because of his anti-democratic action of inaugurating only nine members (a tenth member was later sworn-in) out of 24 members of the Edo State House of Assembly following their election during the 2019 general elections.

The remaining 14 have been locked out of the House Chambers since June 2019 thereby denying the majority of Edo people representation.

Tinubu made this statement in an attempt to rally party loyalists. He understood that leaders of the APC factions against him had laid traps to sabotage Ize-Iyamu’s campaign. However, he was caught in a bit of a dilemma. To begin to talk for perfidy within the APC might serve only to demoralize loyal party members for a house divided against itself is not a winning campaign narrative. Tinubu thus decided to intensify the attack on Obaseki’s patent illegality in hopes of rallying support for Ize-Iyamu. Perhaps it was too little too late. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to say at that late moment. In hindsight, he might have gotten more traction had he used more of his personal platform to extol the virtues of Ize-Iyamu.

Thus, one can perhaps criticize Tinubu for making a wrong statement at the right time. However, to attack him under the proposition that he had no right to concern himself with the election is hypocritical.

Supporters of Governor Obaseki and the PDP have put a spin on Asiwaju Tinubu’s action calling it interference in the affairs of Edo State. To them, Tinubu ought to restrict his political interventions to Lagos. Yet they do not apply the same measure to themselves. Did not numerous PDP figures and governors intervene in Edo? Were PDP governors not there immediately before and on the day of the election? I can tell you for certain their presence was not for mere pleasure-seeking or political tourism. They were there directly placing their imprint on the outcome.

Yet they assail Tinubu for making a video statement when they were making their own statements verbal and nonverbal while actually in the theatre of the election itself. Had not Wike and others gone to Edo to do the type of electioneering Wike knows best, Obaseki would not have stood a chance even with the APC rebels’ clandestine help.

The mischief in assailing Tinubu is too obvious. In addition to Wike and other PDP governors, it is on record that the PDP and its candidate also enjoyed the active support of leaders of their party including their candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his running mate, Mr Peter Obi. As far as they were concerned, a different set of rules must apply to a Tinubu not so much out of any objective standard but because they fear his potential 2023 candidacy. They know that he will wreck their dreams should he decide to run. Thus, we see in Edo archrivals Ameachi and Wike working to support Obaseki. While Wike’s role is understandable, Ameachi will ultimately get his just desserts. He will win a betrayer’s award.

Tinubu should learn an important lesson from this. Aggressive, if covert party disloyalty is not something to be papered over or finessed. It is something that must be publicly denounced and excised. He tried to ignore it and handle it discretely as if it was not a big factor. His attempt to downplay the treachery of others led him to make the controversial video. Now, he has become an object of derision while APC traitors seem to have gotten off. Without so much as a scratch. On this occasion, he might have played the game too softly, too diplomatically. He should have rung the alarm bell much earlier and more often.

The visible indifference of APC figures to Pastor Ize-Iyamu, their gubernatorial candidate in the Edo election should have been cured early on. All hands were on deck by the PDP Executive Committee in support of their candidate. To observers of the APC campaign, Pastor Ize-Iyamu could have easily passed for an independent candidate due to the inconspicuous presence of the party’s helmsmen at Ize-Iyamu’s rallies.

Granted that President Muhammadu Buhari needed to play the role of a statesman by not deploying the apparatus of State in support of his party’s candidate, nothing in the books precluded APC governors, ministers, appointees of the President, former governors, and other party leaders from giving a morale boost to Ize-Iyamu’s campaign with their physical presence in Edo.

Reports that some serving and former APC governors and leaders like Kayode Fayemi, Ibikunle Amosu, Rotimi Amaechi, and others actually aided the campaign of Obaseki should have been treated long ago. They should never have been allowed to afflict the party as they did in Edo State.

Asiwaju Tinubu could not keep silent given this scenario. He had to do the little he could in support of the candidate of his party, Pastor Ize-Iyamu. That is the stuff leaders are made of. It is in this context that I believe that rather than vilify the Asiwaju, he should be commended for exhibiting the highest level of loyalty and commitment to his party. His lone mistake was that he should have much earlier and more publicly called to task those in the APC who supported Obaseki.

As a democrat who believed in the power of the people, Asiwaju’s appeal to Edo voters is a testament to his democratic credentials and respect to the people of the state. For now, the election may have been lost but had his party won, the criticism he is facing now would have been praise for his forthrightness. The man has courage while those fighting from the shadows do not. However, he must now use that courage to shine a light on those who do the wrong thing and seek to undermine the party through the cover of darkness that they may gain through subterfuge what they cannot attain through legitimate, democratic, party processes.

Akpan is a Public Affairs Commentator based in Abuja.


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