As citizens in Edo State prepare to elect a new governor on September 19, 2020, they are worried about threats of violence by candidates in the contest.
There are 14 candidates in the election but the people have their attention on the two major parties in the race – APC and PDP – , which they ask to minimise their strategies to execute violence during the poll.
Some citizens told HumAnge that they anticipated violence would “certainly be used during the election but both parties should reduce the casualties as much as possible”.
Governor Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are reversing roles in the contest which they had in 2016.
The state capital, Benin City, where the two candidates hail from, is witnessing a beehive of activities with numerous meetings and campaign activities that leave the air thick with violent tendencies.
Joseph Ihama, a resident of Oredo Local Government Area, said, “Everyone knows that the election will be violent. There is no need to pretend.
“We are just begging both parties not to kill too much and we will keep our young children at home.”
Many residents described the election to HumAngle as a “tale of two elephants fighting”.
Given the historical election atmosphere in the state, the people are used to rigging and ballot box snatching although in more recent times, the death rate significantly reduced.
However, they fear that with the high stakes of the current race, there will be no lives spared.
A local youth leader, Goddy Osagiede, said, “We are anticipating the violence. There are no two ways about it. As we speak, people are already fighting and attacking each other.
“People know that Edo elections are always tough but you will agree with me that the present power fight has made everything tougher. We cannot avoid the violence,” he said.
The population of the entire state is approximately five million made up of three major ethnic groups; namely Bini, Esan and Afemai.
Edo State is made up of 18 local government areas with 2,210,334 registered voters, based on the 2019 voters’ register but 483,868 had not collected their cards by July because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bini speaking people who occupy seven out of the 18 local government areas of the state constitute 57.14 per cent of voters.
The others are Esan (17.14 per cent), Etsako (12.19 per cent), Owan (7.43 per cent), and Akoko Edo (5.70 per cent).
HumAngle learnt that Benin (Edo South) is an election hotspot because both candidates hail from the zone but the other groups are catching up.
Both deputy governor hopefuls for PDP and APC hail from Afemai (Edo North Senatorial District) where Adams Oshiomhole, the former National Chairman of APC, also belongs.
Oshiomhole who sponsored Obaseki against Ize-Iyamu in 2016 and handed over power to him, fell out with the governor and is playing a reverse role in the September poll.
The Esan of Edo Central zone have no representation yet and according to respondents, have been side-lined in recent times.
Chieftains of both parties from the region are in the battle to win their booths as evidence to promote the Esan agenda.
The agenda, which seeks the inclusion of Esan people in the centre of the government, has become a major campaign point for both parties in the area.
The aim, according to local leaders, is to pull Esan votes although the area has a strong PDP hold.
Militants and cultists to be recruited
HumAngle investigations revealed that militants from other Niger Delta states (South-South) and cultists are being engaged by both parties for the elections.
Two party chieftains, from both parties who spoke anonymously, confirmed that committees had been set up to ensure that the right “cavalry’’ (foot soldiers) is used.
Speaking in half-bragging tones, the chieftains said that the leaderships of both parties were aware of the plans of the other and wanted to “act fast”.
The committees set up to handle the violence part are made up of known cult leaders and militant middlemen in the state.
HumAngle reports that while the magnitude of recruitment is larger than usual, thuggery and cultistism have always been a core part of Edo elections.
In 2016, thugs and cultists were recruited by politicians to create panic, molest voters, scare away electorate, invade polling booths, snatch ballot boxes, inflict pain, maim and kill, in the interest of the highest bidder and in expectation of a fat reward for unleashing terror.
Citizens are presently worried about the increasing presence of weapons on the streets and flashback to the situation in 2016.
2016/2020 nomination dance
In 2016, Obaseki emerged the governorship candidate in APC with the full support of Oshiomhole and had a ‘smooth sail’ to beat 11 other aspirants.
A total of 2,582 delegates were accredited to elect the APC flag- bearer in the primary election, which was held at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium Benin City.
Obaseki, then Chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategic Team, emerged winner with 1,618 votes.
In 2020, the partnership turned sour and Oshiomhole and Obaseki were involved in a snafu that led the latter to PDP and the former removed as National Chairman of APC.
Before the dissolution of the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC), President Muhammadu Buhari endorsed Victor Giadom as Acting Chairman of APC, increasing the heat.
Buhari said the law was on the side of Giadom, a deputy national secretary in the dissolved NWC, who fought aggressively against Oshiomhole’s leadership.
On June 25, 2020, Obaseki was announced the PDP flag-bearer after ratification by party delegates following the withdrawal of his main rival, Kenneth Imasuagbon.
In 2016, Ize-Iyamu, a former Secretary to Edo State Government, had a bright chance to become the APC governorship candidate but lost out following Oshiomhole’s support for Obaseki.
In the primaries of PDP that election year, Ize-Iyamu won the primaries with a total of 584 votes to emerge winner, beating his closest rival, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, who scored 91 votes, to come a distant second.
However, in 2020, Ize-Iyamu defected to APC. On June 22, the Chairman of the Edo primary election, Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, declared Ize-Iyamu winner of the direct primary election defeating Pius Odubu and Osaro Obazee.
In a recent campaign, Oshiomhole said, “If you remember, Pastor Ize-Iyamu was my DG (director-general of my campaign organisation) in 2012, (my) second term.
“I won in all the 18 local government areas, I won all the wards in Edo South. I scored 74.6 per cent in the total votes cast. In 2016, the man left us and stood against us, we only managed to defeat him with about 50,000 votes.
“So, if he is bringing on board as he has done, that his goodwill, his energy, his resourcefulness, and his own electoral base to join the APC, I am much more confident now about APC continuous hold on the governance of this state than ever before,” he said, while welcoming Ize-Iyamu to the party.
This statement and similar ones have put immense pressure on the party chieftains to deliver their wards and booths for the party.
The PDP candidacy of Obaseki faces the pressure of the fight build up between Oshiomhole and Obaseki and the power of incumbency.
The state was run by PDP from 1999 till Oshiomhole won in 2007. Since then, the party has been open about its struggle to reclaim power.
Citizens fear that this deviation from issues to deep-rooted power struggle are further proof that the violence might take a war-like stance.
Destroying posters/billboards and backhanded campaigns
On July 25, during the launch of the campaign of Obaseki candidate of PDP, a heated altercation took place between supporters of the two parties.
Thugs who are loyalists of the governor and his main opposition, Ize- Iyamu of APC, engaged in a free-for-all that culminated in injuries and destruction of properties.
Obaseki and other PDP governors, who were in the state for the governor’s re-election campaign, were at the palace on a courtesy visit to the Oba of Benin when the incident happened.
HumAngle learnt that crisis started when supporters of Obaseki were chanting pro-Obaseki slogans while those loyal to the APC candidate, who were at the palace waiting for some APC chieftains allegedly invited to a function at the palace, were also chanting slogans to disparage the governor.
HumAngle also gathered that after the governor and his entourage had left the palace, the loyalists engaged in a fight leaving scores injured and exotic cars vandalised.
On its part, APC described last Saturday’s violence as a sign of the “do-or-die” plot of PDP to unleash in the state toward the election.
The APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabena, in a statement said, “to imagine that the PDP chose to desecrate the Palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, was despicable, unheard of and a new low even by PDP’s ignoble standards.
“The disturbing images and reports of the destruction of property and violence meted on hapless victims during Saturday’s campaign of the PDP governorship candidate, Godwin Obaseki, in Benin-city is a glimpse into the plot which the PDP plans to unleash in the September 19 governorship election.
“Why is a show of force needed on citizens you wish to govern?
“The PDP in Edo State is not campaigning for votes but relying on brute force, violence and intimidation ahead of the governorship election.
“The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, promised last Saturday to ‘make sure that everything needed is done’ to foist the PDP governorship candidate on the good people of Edo State.”
But in a statement entitled, “APC thugs desecrated our palace grounds…it was political mutiny… APC sponsors attempt to eliminate entire leadership of PDP and elected Governors,” signed by the PDP National Vice Chairman, South-South, Dan Orbi, PDP accused APC of sponsoring hoodlums to attack its campaign council at the Palace of the Oba of Benin.
Orbih described the incident as “the unfortunate incident that took place yesterday in the course of the official visit of the governor and members of the PDP National Campaign Council to the Palace of our Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II Ogidigan.
“I want to place it on record that the visit was officially communicated to the palace and the various security agencies … that included the party’s National Chairman, members of the National working committee, Governors of Rivers, Sokoto, Delta, and of course the host Governor, Godwin Obaseki.
“There was no official APC event in the Palace or anywhere in Benin that was so communicated in accordance with INEC guidelines.
“The invasion of the Palace Gate by armed APC Youths was a well-co-ordinated assault by the leadership and Sponsors of Edo APC to eliminate the National leadership of the PDP and all democratically elected governors of PDP that were expected to be with the Governor.”
He alleged that the attack was aimed at throwing the country into crisis and demanded a thorough investigation and that those found culpable be brought to justice.
The statement read in part, “There have been several videos in the cyberspace where these thugs have been instructed, directed and motivated to intimidate and cause chaos and mayhem in the state.
“The security agencies must swing into action to bring all those connected with the incident to book.”