Friday, April 19, 2024

Azu Ishiekwene: APC digging its own grave in Edo

Shambolic primaries lay the foundation for turbulent electoral outcomes and unstable governments.

• February 22, 2024

Nigeria’s politicians have perfected the art of burying themselves with one foot sticking out. And it appears that the All Progressives Congress (APC) will, once again, stage this rite of self-destruction in the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State.

The party’s primaries on Saturday were such a shambles that it has now been forced to conduct it again, with no guarantee of a sensible outcome for an exercise involving perhaps less than 500,000 members (parties routinely inflate their roll). If Governor Godwin Obaseki’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had paid to put a spell on APC, the outcome would not have been more potentially devastating.    

Yet, this is a governor whose bet to install a successor from his own party is not necessarily based on his own record but on the gift of an opposition in disarray.

After the turbulent last four years at Osadebey House between Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, it looked all but certain that the divided house of PDP would collapse when elections hold again in September.

And this was not wishful thinking. Not only has the common political front that paved the way for Obaseki’s ascension to power in his first term eroded, but in his second term, he has been fighting both internal and external political enemies, severely limiting his attention and performance.

If his first term was uneventful, it was precisely because that was when the seed of the state’s future political crisis was sown. Even though his benefactor, former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, had installed him in office in the hope of replicating the Tinubu-Fashola model in Lagos, Obaseki had other plans. 

The new ‘tuke-tuke’

Once he was ensconced in office, he made a point of telling the remnant of the Oshiomhole crowd still hanging around the corridors of power that power had changed hands. No longer, he reportedly said, were the days of “tuke-tuke” politics, a carryover from the era of Tony Anenih, which former Edo commissioner for information and presidential aide Louis Odion once described in Louis-pedia as a political variant that empowered touts and prioritised rent for politicians for doing little or no work. 

Obaseki, the blue-eyed Lagos Boy and financial consultant advertised as the answer to Edo State’s private sector woes should know. He was a core member of Oshiomhole’s cabinet, now determined to carve his own path.

When after taking power, however, he began to cut off the supply line to the trough, starving the APC’s political structure in the state of nutrition, the battle line with Oshiomhole was drawn. The former governor, who had also become the Chairman of the APC at the time, used his position to block Obaseki from getting the party’s ticket for a second term. 

Obaseki, of course, milked public sympathy and later decamped to the PDP, where he contested and won re-election. As a result of his defection, he governed with a hostile, hobbled parliament. Fourteen – and later 10 – out of the 24 members of the State House of Assembly were in the opposition, and they operated mostly from a hideout provided in Abuja by Oshiomhole. 

Significantly damaged in legitimacy, there was very little Obaseki could do. He has spent a greater part of the last four years watching his back for a deputy who, were he in the opposition, could not have plunged more daggers in the government’s back.

Residents have borne the brunt. Not only has Obaseki replaced the old cult of ‘tuke-tuke’ with the new cult of yes-men, but reports from the state also indicate that there are few paved roads and other social infrastructure such as water, hospitals and schools, especially in areas outside the capital, Benin City.

The more you look…

Not unlike a good number of the states, the doubling of the state’s internally generated revenue from N1.8 billion monthly in 2016 has barely been felt in rural areas where homes are still without water and, school buildings are still largely without roofs and students without teachers. 

Although Edo is currently ranked above its peers in the South-South poverty league with 1.4m (out of the state’s 3.9m population) living in multidimensional poverty, a government determined to make its mark could have done far more to lift the people.

Obaseki has done well in cultivating an elite in smart suits while keeping up a façade of performance, especially with high-profile media events like Edo Best, Alaghodaro Summit, and the renovation of the Secretariat. But as surely as the ball of pounded yam never fails to press into the straying fish crumb in the soup, these projects have been criticised, particularly by the opposition, as the government’s conduit pipes. 

Edo could not have been riper for the taking than in its present state, but Oshiomhole’s ambition may well be the wrecking ball. In my forecast entitled ‘What you might expect in 2024’, published last December 28, I said, “The biggest danger to APC’s victory is Oshiomhole…except the APC finds an overwhelmingly appealing candidate, the party could be in for a surprise.”

The result of the party’s “inconclusive” primaries on Saturday showed that the surprise came early. From reports, Oshiomhole, APC’s certified nemesis in Edo, managed to suborn forces in the Presidency to hand over the party’s flag to Dennis Idahosa – a candidate that Oshiomhole’s government had once described as “untrustworthy,” the most flattering of the government’s description at that time.  

But suspects have their moments of redemption. Except that in this case, reports on the conduct of the primaries on Saturday showed that even the redeemer seemed so far gone in his waywardness that he suborned not only Abuja but also one of the most notorious political conductors to supervise the primaries. 

A crime scene

The result, of course, was parallel primaries. One with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officers present – as it should be – that produced Monday Okpebholo, and the other, which invariably produced Idahosa, became a crime scene. 

The outcome was neither organised, even from the point of a common heist, which it was, nor was it politically strategic. Idahosa, the beneficiary of that crime scene, is from Edo South, where Obaseki, who is backing Asue Ighodalo, a candidate from Edo Central, could significantly undermine APC’s votes. A third candidate, Anamero Dekeri, even emerged from the woodwork to claim victory!

It’s true that whether a political party holds its primaries in the motor park or at a brothel, it is not the business of non-party members. The point, unfortunately, is that we have seen that in the end, voters pay for the travesty, corruption and incompetence in the parties. 

APC should have learnt that lesson in Zamfara four years ago when a court ruling invalidated the entire state election over shambolic party primaries, never mind a recent Supreme Court ruling that has further muddied the waters.

At elections, voters often have uninspiring choices – Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum – inflicted on them by party primaries that were anything but primaries. The crimes committed by politicians behind closed doors soon become public bastards, often leading to voter apathy, bitter wranglings or needless court disputes. It’s incredible that parties that can’t even manage their own affairs want a chance on the bigger stage.

PDP may laugh – and indeed it should, as it appears that the APC has already handed it the shovel to finish off the burial rites. But with Obaseki’s deputy, Shaibu, threatening to bring down the roof, it would be interesting to see how the PDP and the Labour Party, which is also having its own troubles, organise their own primaries. 

If Nigeria’s elections – party, local council, state or federal – have taught anything, it is that as surely as a stumble precedes a fall, shambolic primaries lay the foundation for turbulent electoral outcomes and unstable governments. 

Once again, Edo is proving that the story is not about to change. 

Ishiekwene is Editor-in-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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