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Edo, Ondo and APC – The Nation Nigeria

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By Festus Eriye

The curtain is drawn on a strange electoral campaign and broken political limbs litter the landscape. In last week’s column I predicted September 19 would be a burial ground for fortunes.

So it would have proven to be, if this outcome survives legal challenges that are already ongoing and may yet come.

For now, the big losers are the All Progressives Congress (APC), its former national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and his political family in the state. It’s isn’t just that they lost, it’s the sheer scale of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s victory they would find galling.

In the three vote-rich local governments in the state capital, there was hardly a unit where they prevailed. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) even secured a symbolic victory in Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s home council. It was more than a setback for APC in a state it controlled not long ago; it was a debacle. Given Obaseki’s antecedents, it’s going to be a long four years for the vanquished.

But the governor and his supporters would be wise to shelve grand victory parades until judges cast their own votes.

It has happened a couple of times already. In Bayelsa, David Lyon was in the stadium rehearsing inauguration day rituals when gut-wrenching news came that his victory had been voided and PDP’s Douye Diri declared governor.

In Imo State, it ended just as dramatically for Emeka Ihedioha with the Supreme Court judgment that replaced him as governor with APC’s Hope Uzodinma.

So, in Edo the battle is over, but until Obaseki’s opponents disavow the legal option, the war is not won.

As the governor celebrates, it would be interesting to see how he manages victory. Would he see it as a chance to build a lasting legacy or an opportunity to settle scores – a four-year window to give the ‘godfather’ a befitting burial?

Would he be tempted to join a godfather-slaying adventure across the country? After all, he had boasted that after the Edo the next stop would be Lagos.

PDP has long been frustrated by its inability to wrest control of the nation’s economic powerhouse from APC. Flush from victory in Edo, its leaders are said to be targeting the Lagos East senatorial by-election as the next battleground, and thereafter the Ondo governorship poll.

In most battles in life the winner gets to write the narrative. So, for now it’s been all ‘Edo is not Lagos’ and ‘the downfall of the godfather.’ These were themes that resonated in last Saturday’s contest, but they were not the only factors at play.

Key, was the condition of APC – a house divided against itself. It paraded a façade of oneness that didn’t last beyond the campaign launch. Thereafter those who were bitter over the manner in which Obaseki was denied the ticket adopted the classic siddon look posture.

Their aloofness was more deadly than the open revolt favoured by erstwhile party chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, who on the eve of the polls openly canvassed support for his party’s opponent.

The opposite was the case for PDP which historically has been a strong force in Edo. Even when Obaseki was governor it retained its resilience and was further strengthened by his arrival with a rump of what was then the ruling party.

Add to this the fact that Oshiomhole was now operating from a diminished position as former party chairman. He was equally labouring with the near-impossible marketing job of walking back devastating character attacks he made against Ize-Iyamu four years ago. Even when he argued he made a mistake and wanted to correct it, the typical response was: why should we trust your judgment this time?

These were factors unique to Edo. They are not the issues in Lagos or Ondo at this time. That’s another way of saying Edo may not be Lagos, but Lagos is certainly not Edo, just as many would soon discover that Ondo is most definitely not Edo! In the end, all politics is still local.

In Ondo, APC isn’t divided over Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. He was anti-Oshiomhole but retains the support of his party’s leaders of all stripes. On the other hand, it’s the PDP that appears to have issues of cohesion arising from scheming for control of the Southwest arm of the party and manoeuvring by those with 2023 presidential ambitions.

Better still for the incumbent is the fact that his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, is fronting a third force challenge on the platform of Zenith Labour Party – splitting what would have been a united bloc against Akeredolu.

But even if APC wins in Ondo it would only be papering over the cracks as it heads for the post-Buhari era. We have seen how the bitterness that attended the process that forced Oshiomhole out of office, cost it in Edo.

That battle is going to be engaged again as the party heads to the convention where national officers to lead it into the next general elections would be chosen. It’s an event that will determine the direction in which the party’s presidential ticket could go. It could be make or break. Judging by comments of some of its leaders, the portents are not good.

Former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, has suggested the ruling party is already on life support – only being sustained by respect for Buhari. He echoes similar sentiments by others who question whether it would survive the president’s tenure.

How remarkable that the more things change the more they remain the same. A little over six years ago the internal divisions that ultimately led to the downfall of the seemingly-invincible PDP behemoth were playing out in a very public fallout by the party’s leaders.

In their arrogance they never believed they could be ousted from power. Former presidential adviser, Dr. Doyin Okupe, even famously swore he should called a bastard if APC won.

A similar sort of conceit hangs over many in the ruling party given their obdurate adoption of hard line positions and opposition to compromise. It appears only a return to the dreary opposition wilderness may clear it. Edo was a warning shot heard across the land; I wonder if it was heard within the ruling party.

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