What Next in Edo State?
The Nigerian political scene is not new to intra-political party crises and defections especially as polls draw near. With the September 19 polls in Edo state just two months plus away, the scene in the state is becoming an interesting one to not notice.
The crisis that has rocked the Edo State chapter of the All Progressive Congress (APC) for over a year seems to have come to an end with the defection of the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on June 19 following his disqualification from the party’s primary. The governor was disqualified from the primaries based on discrepancies in his name and certificate and for taking the party to court in contravention of the party’s rules (in other words for bringing a domestic issue before the court) by the panel set up by the National Working Committee of the APC.
The disqualification according to political observers seems to have a political undertone. This is because the Governor and his political godfather, Adams Oshiomole (former/ suspended chairman of the party) has been at loggerheads since early last year. Some observers attribute it to irreconcilable differences while others claimed it is due to the governor blocking out the irregular source of revenue and stepping on some powerful toes claimed a source (business day.ng newspaper). This led to two factions in the party in the state; a faction loyal to the governor and a faction loyal to the suspended National Chairman but that seems to be over now with the governor’s defection.
Although there is no provision against defection in the electoral laws especially some months before the election, as noted by the court in Atiku v FRN that even a political officer is entitled to the freedom of association including the freedom to change/defect to another political party (this may defer when it comes to the lawmakers). It seems that the people who are to decide the future of the state are left out as the popular saying goes “when two elephant fights the grass suffer.”
A provision of the Electoral Act which seems to cause an issue when the question of whether direct primaries as stated by the National Working Committee of APC should go on or the indirect primaries suggested by the faction loyal to the governor suggested due to the Edo state supplementary regulation on the COVID -19 pandemic which prevents a gathering of more than 20 people.
Section 85 of the Act requires in writing a notice of not less than 21 days before the set date of the primaries if the party is to change its mode of primaries. 21 days have already passed before the date of the primaries so the mode of the primaries could not be changed. This provision could be amended to include shorter days in case of an emergency.
The Political Implication of the Governor’s Defection
With the defection of the incumbent governor to the PDP, a similar scenario that was played in Benue 2018-2019 seems to be playing out. The Benue state governor Samuel Ortom who was seeking reelection under the platform of the APC was disqualified from the primaries with a political undertone of his clash with his Godfather coming to play, defected to the PDP and won for a second term in the general elections of 2019 under the banner of the PDP with APC losing that state. Edo state which is the only APC-controlled state in the south-south region of the country may be said to be lost to PDP at least temporarily. It may be lost permanently if PDP wins the September election. This may spell doom for the APC in south-south in the general election of 2023.
With the announcement of Pastor Ize Iyamu as the winner of the APC primaries, the stage seems “half-way” set for a replay of the 2016 Edo State election although with candidates changing parties. If the governor wins the primaries which seems likely after a waiver granted to him by the NWC of the party (PDP). Would APC be able to handle the challenge following this twist of events? or would the governor win of the primaries start a fire in the PDP camp? Our questions remain unanswered until after the September polls.