Prolific writer, Etim Etim analyses the unfolding political scenario in Edo State that has pushed forward two Lagos-based lawyers as top contenders in a race that many other veterans such as Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Charles Airhiavbere among others are still lying low
Prominent corporate lawyer and former NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, 51, is running for governor of Edo State on the platform of Labour Party.
The election is scheduled for September next year. Announcing his aspiration last week, Akpata said he chose Labour Party because it is people-oriented. But the governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, prefers another corporate lawyer, Mr. Asue Ighodalo, 64, as his successor.
APC is yet to make its choice. The stage is therefore set for a titanic electoral battle in Edo with the main combatants being two prominent Lagos lawyers who are also friends. I know both of them, but in this piece, I want to share a few tips with Akpata on what he should expect as he prepares to take on an incumbent who does not brook dissent.
Outgoing governors usually invest all the resources at their disposal, including their emotions, ego and psychology, into installing their preferred successors, so much so that the governor begins to assume that the contest is a personal affront to him. To that extent, Olumide Akpata should have in the back of his mind that he would be contesting against Godwin Obaseki; or to put it more appropriately, he would be confronting the incumbent governor; and he may take it personal.
Succession politics could be a matter of life and death for some exiting chief executives because the power of incumbency is the most potent political force in Nigeria.
In fact, since 1999, less than 10 % of all outgoing governors have failed to put their anointed choices as their replacements. Statistically, the odds do not favour the opposition candidate. You must therefore be well prepared for the battle ahead. I have some experience in this. Since 2015, I have served as a communication consultant to three different opposition governorship candidates in Akwa Ibom State, and I can confirm that being an opposition candidate no be moi moi.
The first hurdle to overcome is the issue of zoning; and this depends on how strong this factor is in Edo politics. Gov. Obaseki and former governor Lucky Igbenedion are from Edo South, while former governor Adams Oshiomhole is from Edo North. Akpata is from Edo South and Ighodalo from Edo Central.
Since 1999, Central has not produced a governor apart form Prof. Osunbor Oserheimen who was on the seat for only 18 months before he was sacked by a court judgement in 2008 and was replaced by Oshiomhole. Within PDP, the sentiment is that the next governor should come from Edo Central, but Labour and APC are yet to make a categorical statement on their zoning preferences. In some states like Akwa Ibom, zoning is a very strong factor and so the governorship position moves to another senatorial district every eight years.
There is no debate. But if zoning is not such an important consideration in Edo, then Akpata ought not to worry. He should, however, be well prepared to give a convincing justification for why he is running in case voters in Edo Central come up with ‘’it is our turn’’ protests. No doubt, Gov. Obaseki will definitely play it up.
By the electoral law and INEC Guidelines, party primaries are held six months to the election. There is a bit of time to prepare for it, but as a major opposition candidate, Akpata will do well to pay attention to a few important things now.
It is crucial that he secures the backing of the national and state leaders of his party. As the national leader, Peter Obi will be an important influence in deciding who secures the nomination, but other NWC and SWC leaders are also very crucial and he should endeavour to establish very close relationships with them. I am pleased to note that the State Chairman of the Labour Party, Mr. Kelly Ogbaloi, had already pledged to be fair to all the aspirants.
But nothing should be taken for granted. The party executives in Benin will expect Akpata to fund the party handsomely, in addition to making regular cash payments to them ‘’for logistics’’. As we say in this business, he is now the new ATM of the party!
The demands will be many and regular, and if he fails to meet their expectations, the leaders may turn treacherous and back another aspirant, or even an opposition party candidate. They will then give some strange reasons for their about-face; something like: ‘’Akpata is not serious. Politics is not law. We are not joking in this business’’. I have seen it all.
In addition, the rank-and-file supporters will also exert pressures on him for financial gratification. If he does not have a thick skin and deep pocket, he may not accommodate their varied requests – money for food; school fees; hospital bills; house rents; house-warming; wedding; baby dedication and even funeral expenses. In return, they will pledge to ‘’win my Local government 100% because nothing happens in my polling unit without me. I am the one that makes things happen on election day’’.
Some may not even have a voter’s card! As election day approaches, the more senior politicians and party excos will also ask him for money for sundry items – to arrange for security; to settle INEC; to see the DPO or Commissioner of Police; to see ‘’Abuja’’ or ‘’clear road’’ or for ‘’voter appreciation’’ (another name for vote-buying).
They too have their language. ‘’I am on the ground in my ward. On election day, I can commandeer everything. I have been on ground since the days of Action Group. I have never lost my unit’’. I don’t know about Edo, but in my state, there are basic terminologies that convey the message. They include: ‘’trans’’; ‘’close the meeting, etc’’. They all refer to putting down cash to be shared to party members at the end of every meeting.
By now, Mr. Akpata should be going around the state, meeting with and introducing himself to key politicians, businessmen, religious and traditional leaders and other important stakeholders in all the LGAs. Known as consultation, these visits constitute the first round of campaign (well, unofficial campaign in the sense that the campaign season is yet to be officially flagged off by INEC), but it is, nonetheless, very important and not cheap to execute.
The aspirant will give cash and drinks at every stop, and the hosts will pray for him and assure him of their support, depending on how pleased they are with the size of his envelops and the assortment of the drinks he brought. Note that the same prayers would be offered to all the other aspirants that visit. Even if the host is a member of Labour Party, he may open his doors and receive aspirants from other parties in the name of ‘’we are all brothers. Politics will not separate us’’. But in reality, the envelops and the drinks are the attraction.
As one traditional ruler told a visiting aspirant to my hearing, ‘’my job is to receive all aspirants, pray for them and bless them, but it is up to God in Heaven to choose one of them and make him governor’’.
Consultations usually last till the beginning of the primaries. Each party decides whether to do a direct or indirect primary; the former being more easily manipulated by the Party executives than the later. If the aspirant does not have a strong standing with the party leaders in the state, he should go for the indirect primary. For the indirect, he will have to spend money to secure the delegates’ list. There are usually the ‘’Abuja List’’ and the ‘’List from the State party Office’’.
May God help that aspirant who is not favoured by the Abuja List. Sometimes, trying to harmonize the two lists could tear the party apart and this usually result is pre-election court cases. In 2019, Prof Pat Utomi contested for governor of Delta State. Utomi reported later that on the primary day, he was driving around looking for the venue of the primary election when he heard on the car radio that the event had been concluded and the winner’s name announced.
Clearly, Utomi was not favoured by the party leaders. Party primaries have become very complicated and corruption-ridden components of our party politics.
By the Electoral Law, it is the national headquarters of the party that should conduct party primaries; and more often than not, it is their decision that stands, even if the state executives have a different opinion. But it is the state executives that work with the candidates to campaign for the election. So, if you win the party’s ticket, but you fail to secure the backing of your state executives, you could suffer calamitous back-stabbing.
In the last election, I knew of one state chairman of a party who openly campaigned for another party because his party’s candidate was not generous enough! It is, however, important for an aspirant to understand how delegates emerge from the different congresses that would be conducted before the primaries. A smart and wealthy politician can influence the process, and therefore have full control ‘’the List’’.
After winning the party primary election, the aspirant becomes the candidate. This is typical a Nigerian characterization as there is no other country in which this demarcation exists. If Akpata wins the Labour Party ticket, he will go on to face Ighodalo of PDP and the APC candidate. Wherever the APC candidate comes from will have some influence on the outcome of the general election.
If he is from Central, that means he will split the vote from that region with Ighodalo, the PDP candidate, and if he is from South, he and Akpata will share the votes in that zone. But since the most influential APC leader in Edo, Senator Adams Oshiomhole, is from Edo North, my sense is that the APC candidate will emerge from North.
Already, Mr. Clem Agba, a former commissioner in Oshiomhole’s cabinet who also served in Buhari’s cabinet as Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, is preparing to announce his bid soon. Agba enjoys the support of the former labour leader.
While Ighodalo will enjoy the support and protection of the governor, Akpata will fend for himself, grappling with series of unexpected challenges that would crop up as the campaigns progress. He may be denied use of government facilities like school premises, parks or public arenas on which to stage his campaign rallies. Sponsored thugs could be sent to disrupt his rallies or his billboards may be torn down. Even the police may turn against him, if he is seen as a serious contender who may cause an upset.
Of course, the state-owned media will never carry any positive news about him. Everything depends on how fair Gov. Obaseki wants to be. Although Labour Party performed very well in Edo State during the last presidential election, Akpata should note that governorship elections are typically influenced by local issues.
First, the voters will ask many questions about the candidate; his family background and his personal contributions to the state. What has been the level of his philanthropic investments in the people? Does he have a statewide empowerment programme like a scholarship scheme? Has he been extending help to the widows; market women; orphans and the poor in Edo State?
In Akwa Ibom State, governorship candidates are assessed by the level of their philanthropy and economic investments in the state. Although Mr. Umo Eno was assailed by many certificate scandals which the courts eventually dismissed, his credentials as a major employer of labour through his hotel chain helped him considerably.
Funding the campaign is always a major challenge for an opposition candidate. He should, first of all, put together a campaign team, headed by a competent manager, usually referred to as Director General, who preferably should be a former senator or House of Representatives member. It pays for the DG to have cognate experience in contesting election. The campaign organization will have departments like Security; Media & Communication; Venue; Transport; Finance; Protocol, etc. A governorship campaign costs a lot of money (between N5 billion and N10 billion) and this is where the government-sponsored candidate has a major advantage over the other candidates.
Sooner than later, the opposition candidate runs low on cash, and he’d be surprised that his friends and associates, who had been pushing him on, will not help much in contributing money. One rich guy blatantly refused to help his friend financially. When I asked why, he answered, ‘’I cannot see his path to victory’’. In other words, the likely your chances of success, the more funds you can raise; and without money, your chances dim and dims.
Finally, Edo is lucky to have successful professionals as the main candidates for next year’s election. I am of the opinion that if a critical mass of successful, competent and honest professionals makes their way into politics, they would make positive impact