By Usman A. Bello, Benin
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that the June date set for the conduct of governorship primaries to pick candidates for the September 2020 governorship election in Edo state still stands. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the world, the political atmosphere in the state is however devoid of the usual intense politicking, intrigues, maneuverings, campaigns and horse trading that herald any election.
Following the development, the gladiators in the election have embarked on underground campaigns since gathering of more than 20 persons is not allowed this period of the pandemic. At the moment, only aspirants from the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have indicated interests in contesting the governorship primaries.
The frontline aspirants under the APC are incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki; former deputy governor, Pius Odubu, Chris Ogiemwonyi, Charles Airhiavbere, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, former House of Representatives member, Johnson Aigbonamyima, Saturday Uwulehue and Solomon Edebiri while those of the PDP are, a House of Representatives member, Ogbeide Ihama, Gideon Ikhile and Faluyi Isibor. Meanwhile, the APC is divided into two factions, with one loyal to the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, while the other group is loyal to Governor Godwin Obaseki. Oshiomhole’s camp has David Imuse as its chairman while the Obaseki’s group still maintained Aslem Ojezua, who was the party’s chairman before the crisis.
But the PDP is one family without factions, except that it was recently hit with defections of members to the ruling party. In the meantime, aspirants have leveraged on the current pandemic to woo the electorate through the distribution of palliatives as they could not engage in open campaigns due to the ban on gathering of more than 20 persons and social distancing rules.
Most of the aspirants had distributed relief materials such as rice, beans, indomie, onions, and hand sanitizers among others with their names and pictures embossed on the items as subtle campaign strategy. Aside the relief materials, some of the aspirants have erected billboards in strategic locations in the state identifying with the people during the pandemic; a move which many pundits believe was subtle way of soliciting for votes. Interestingly, as the pandemic lingers, campaigns have been shifted to the social media, radio and television with aspirants now sponsoring campaign write ups in their favour.
On daily basis, various social media platforms are saturated with endorsements of the various aspirants by groups and individuals. They also educate the people on why certain aspirants should be given the ticket or are best for the ticket. Some of the aspirants that are very visible on social media platform through their supporters and commissioned writers include Odubu, Ogiemwonyi, Obaseki and Pastor Ize-Iyamu. In its bid to beat Obaseki to the ticket, the Oshiomole’s camp has opted for a consensus candidate from the quartet of Odubu, Ogiemwonyi, Ize-Iyamu and Airhiavbere to slug it out with Obaseki. Pundits however doubt whether the consensus move would work for the faction, as an earlier attempt of a mock primary to pick one of the aspirants was unsuccessful due to alleged lack of transparency in the process. Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday on their campaign strategy, Convener of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), Henry Idahagbon, said the coronavirus has forced them to develop alternative means of reaching the electorate, adding that “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
“We have the electronic and print media and the new media otherwise known as social media; so, we still have the opportunity of campaigning to the people. “If the need arises, we also have primary schools where we can observe the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) protocol in calling for campaigns. “For example, if we are to use the primary school premises, we can open one gate and put walk station where people can wash their hands, use sanitizers and also infrared thermometer where temperature can be taken before entering the premises for the campaign,” he said. According to him, “There ways campaigns can be done even with the presence of coronavirus without spreading the virus”. Idahagbon said among the APC aspirants, Odubu remains the oldest and most experienced having being a former two terms member of the House of Representatives and also deputy governor in a government adjudged to be one of the best for eight years. Also speaking, Aslem Ojezua, lamented that due to the coronavirus, they have been unable to engage is serious campaign activities.
“But one thing I can assure you is that whatever happens, as a party, we are ready but as a government, they should do their work and let us know whether it is safe for people to come out and make their choices. “So, I think it is a matter for the Federal Government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to spell out what to do. “INEC has come up with their timetable which is not too different from the one they have before which we have been working with. I can assure you that whatever the decision, we are ready for the election,” he said. Ojezua however noted that among the contenders for the governorship ticket, Obaseki remains the best candidate the party has. “This is my personal opinion,” ojezua said. The chairman of the Oshiomhole’s faction, David Imuse, said they were waiting for the party’s guidelines and that once the guidelines are out, “We will then know what to do within the context of coronavirus crisis. “Once the guidelines are issued and INEC gives the go ahead, we will follow the coronavirus guidelines of personal protection and social distancing. Also, safety procedure will be strictly followed in line with the party’s directives and guidelines,” He said
PDP State’s Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare said the party’s challenge now was how to talk to people about its candidate due to the current coronavirus pandemic. “Since INEC has said that the governorship election will go on, we will meet soon to fashion out strategies that we can use in our campaigns so as not to go of the law of social distancing,” he said. Nehikhare said the party was still waiting to hear from the NCDC which is the final determinant of the safety of the people for the campaign. “But, we will be very conscious on the health implication of not only our members but the Edo people,” he said. Another chieftain of the PDP in the state, Owere Dickson Imasogie, said the party was well positioned to “effectively dethrone” the ruling APC during the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state. He said with the conclusion of congresses of the party at the different levels, “the party was on the right and genuine path to produce the next governor of the state. “PDP remains virile, potent and optimistic ahead of the governorship elections. You are aware that our aspirants have been very visible since indicating their genuine interests. We are getting ready for the governorship primaries once the INEC gives the go ahead,” he said.
Imasogie who acknowledged the loss of some party members to the APC in recent times, said the PDP was on the verge of harvesting a greater number of members from the ruling APC, which he said was “swimming in crisis.”