The September clash of the titans
It is a couple of days today from the Edo State elections. I remember the titanic battle between the NRC and the SDP in the days of former President Ibrahim Babangida, when Chief John Odigie-Oyegun of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was pitched against what was considered a behemoth, the National Republican Convention (NRC), represented by Lucky Igbinedion. Much of the hype and rhetoric then was that the NRC candidate would win, mostly because of the firepower in his political arsenal. He had an extremely wealthy background, deemed well connected to the traditional institutions and was a son of the soil. Odigie-Oyegun was also well known but seemingly with no firepower in his arsenal, and pundits insinuated that he only won because the military hierarchy backed him.
Back then as well, politicians discussed the issues. But t day it is completely different. If you live in Benin today, you’ll likely assume somewhat that Mr. Donald Trump, the US Republican candidate for the November elections, has cousins in Edo State. Like Trump, none of the candidates or political parties is talking about the key issues. Rather, there is a lot of mud heaped on a ceiling fan, and it surely gets unleashed without qualms. At the end of the day, we cannot tell where any one of them stands on issues of cheap transportation, education, industry, agriculture and housing. And just as it was in the days of the NRC and SDP, the September 2016 election is about two worthy Benin sons. I say this with due respect to the PDC and LP candidates who equally proved their mettle, and to all other candidates vying to be governor of Edo State in September.
The stakes are high and the other political aspirants seem utterly eclipsed. But we cannot allow the inherent lopsidedness and campaigns of calumny continue. Edo State is already 25 years old. As a human being, that age is when a young adult is like a young lion, and at his or her most productive phase. If that young adult has not already graduated from university and settling down on a job we have a problem. As a young lad growing up in Benin City, certain things made this ancient city of proud warriors of this ancestral savannah of ours tick: Benin was the home of sports, rubber trees, a thriving textile industry and it produced some of the finest palm oil you could find anywhere in the world. Most of that is gone.
We want the governorship candidates to discuss issues: education, taxation, agriculture, infrastructure and employment. In collaboration with Civil Society groups across the Edo political spectrum, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, the other day organised an interactive session with all 19 governorship aspirants seeking to occupy Osadebey House.
It was a non-political, non-partisan platform. Even though he spoke extempore, APC’s Godwin Obaseki showed he understood the issues. He often glanced at his notepad a desirable trait in a leader and a sign that he would pay attention to details. It was the same with his political opponent, Pastor Ize-Iyamu from the PDP. I was not standing close to him but from where I sat, I tried to match his words with an elaborate document he had published, his SIMPLE Agenda. There was a match, and he appeared as if he was putting his money where his mouth is. That, in a nutshell, revealed that this is going to be a great contest. As one of the comperes said afterwards, Edo would gain more if it were possible to roll these two candidates in one so that both can govern, one as the governor whilst the other would deputise.
Secondly, the civil society interactive session with the governorship candidates re-enacted the Social Contract. We live in a state of nature where personal interest is usually prevalent. Given that scenario, people who are desirous of living in a civil society renounce their rights and invest them in an individual. But over the years, these individuals have often colluded with the parliament to circumvent the contract. It is in such circumstances that the role of the civil societies, much like what ANEEJ played as an enforcement mechanism, comes to the fore. In those sessions, these governorship aspirants all made commitments to Edo people in black and white. We expect to be able to use these commitment, made in front of television cameras to the public, and on Holy ground (the events held at the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre), to hold anyone who eventually emerges governor to account on behalf of Edo people.