Debo Onifade is the author of “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country” with foreword by Mr. Femi Falana SAN, and founder of www.liberatingnigeria.com and www.youtube/c/liberatingnigeria.
Barring any last-minute miracle, Edo state voters have indeed proven that Edo no be Lagos. I have greatly followed Edo politics in the last few years, and I believe the just concluded election would teach many godfathers and voters good lessons. The word “victim” in my article means wounded or casualty. For now, we do not know who the actual victims of this election result are between the godfathers or majority of the people. This will become clear within the next two years or so and I hope it turns out to be the godfathers, not the people.
I explained in my recent book “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country” and several TV interviews that there was nothing wrong with good candidates winning elections through godfathers, but after winning elections, they should put the people first, ahead of the godfathers. But I also explained that they should carefully negotiate their way through godfather interference by diligently serving the people to earn good popularity and playing the appropriate politics to get the support of some party stalwarts. With people’s support and some political capital, an elected official can gain an upper hand over the godfathers and hopefully sustain some collaboration.
When politicians fight, my hope is always that the ultimate winners are the people, not the political leaders. So when Governor Godwin Obaseki started his public fights against godfathers, I was asking my Edo friends to enlighten me about how people’s lives have improved in the last few years. The biggest point of excitement to them was that he was fighting the godfathers and while I probed further to learn about other things, they highlighted regular payment of salaries and pensions, as well as reduction in “agberos” (a slang for touts collecting money from traders). I feel sad anytime a governor campaigns on the basis of regular salary payment because that should be standard practice in every state, but in a country where some governors do not pay salaries on time, it is indeed understandable that this is often touted as achievement.
As I followed the campaigns and heard Governor Obaseki talk more about his “anti-godfather” credential than his government performance, I was disappointed because he got there through a godfather and having been governor for over three years, he should have more “performance credentials” to brag about than “anti-godfather credential.” I watched his old videos where he threatened people and used harsh languages, and I concluded that he was indeed not one of the new breed politicians that many of us seek. Just as it happened in Kwara State in 2019, a new candidate can legitimately campaign with “anti-godfather” slogan but when a sitting governor who has had over three years to work, campaigns majorly on “anti-godfatherism” rather than his performance, that was a big concern for me.
On the other hand, APC fielded a candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who clearly had some bad pasts but spoke maturely during the electioneering campaign. He did not run away from debates, and I actually enjoyed listening to him much more than the incumbent governor. But he was tainted by his past and relationship with the popular godfathers. Since maturity during interviews and campaigns did not necessarily mean that he would do well as a governor especially given his past, voting for him also carried significant risks.
What have we learnt from Edo election? Comrade Adams Oshiomole is not as popular as he thought. Apart from badly hurting his candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu by previous utterances against the man in 2016, Oshiomole also has some political baggage that the Edo people resented. He is alleged to have owed local government salaries and pensions. Also, since Oshiomole forced Obaseki on the Edo people four years ago, it serves him right that the people have now rejected his most recent candidate. The quality of succession plans created by a leader is a major attribute of a good leader.
The second lesson is that Edo is still largely a PDP state like the other states in the SouthSouth. Oshiomole won his first election through a court process, did quite well in his first term and easily won re-election. But the fact that PDP almost won the election in 2016 shows that they remained strong in Edo State. And now that they have won convincingly, it is clearly evident that the 2016 election result was not a fluke. In fact, some people claim that Ize-Iyamu would have easily won in 2016 if not for the massive support from both the state and federal government against PDP.
The third lesson is that power belongs to the people. Whether you are an APC godfather or PDP godfather, now you know that even if you pay voters few days to election, they can collect your money and yet vote their conscience. While we all hope that vote buying will end in a near future, I cannot blame any poor voter that collects money to provide food to his or family as long as he or she still votes the right candidate. After all, the money they are dashing out is our money.
The incoming governor of Edo must unite the people and focus on delivering value to the Edo people. It costs money to fight, so it is better and cheaper to stop the fight and reconcile as much as you can. It is likely that you will also want to become a godfather in 2024 and sponsor your own candidate just like Oshiomole did to you in 2016. I do not care about that as long as you offer a good candidate and you facilitate a free and fair election. But you should focus 100% on the people at this time and be a better team player.
Talking about the slogan “Edo no be Lagos”, of course Edo is not Lagos. It is difficult for an APC or PDP candidate to talk on TV the way Obaseki spoke many times. Even the popular godfather in Lagos does not threaten people on TV, and when governors disagree with their godfathers or opponents, they still speak with decorum. PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje vigorously campaigned against godfatherism in Lagos, and many of us enjoyed his presentations and campaigns where he clearly articulated his ideas for everyone to understand. Voters and analysts in Lagos typically want to debate the issues and hear a lot more from the candidates than “anti-godfather” slogan.
For example, many Lagosians protested against APC leadership in 2015 for fielding former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode not because he was sponsored by a godfather per se but because he did not do well in many debates and policy discussions. After all, former Governor Babatunde Fashola was a product of godfatherism but he still did quite well and won a second term comfortably. So, Edo certainly no be Lagos.
Before I conclude this article, I like to applaud the Buhari federal government (which has failed in most areas of governance) for allowing a free and fair election on Saturday. Though it is shameful that they (federal government) and the state government reportedly engaged in massive vote buying, we should still celebrate the fact that there was largely no violence and rigging was minimal.
Nigeria will surely flourish again!