From the creeks, cities and hinterlands of Edo State, there are muffled but menacing echoes of violence as the September 19th governorship election draws nearer. The on-going campaigns are pockmarked by tense and occasionally violent altercations between supporters and critics of the incumbent, Godwin Obaseki and his main challenger, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, which have renewed concerns about the spectre of violence in Nigeria’s politics.
A foretaste of this was experienced in July, when supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, clashed at the hallowed grounds of the palace of the Oba of Benin. Ahead of the flag-off of the PDP governorship campaign in Benin City, the Edo State capital, its candidate, Governor Godwin Obaseki led some governors and leaders of the party from the South-south to the palace.
There were reports that solidarity and combative songs rend the air as tempers later went beyond control, resorting in the thugs employing an assortment of weapons, including firearms, cutlasses and others. In the process, several persons were reportedly injured while others scampered to safety as some of the cars parked at the palace gate were badly damaged.
The police later intervened and restored normalcy but the message of what laid ahead had been succinctly passed that not only ballots would be counted; bodies too!
Of course, there were accusations and counter-accusations about, who the aggressor was as the APC, through John Maiyaki, chairman of its media campaign council, stated: “Booed by the people at the entrance of the Palace of our great Oba for handing the state to the PDP tax collectors, who are unconscionably feasting on our collective patrimony, Mr Godwin Obaseki, as an act of revenge, instructed the thugs and cultists he has spent the past few weeks recruiting in the state and beyond to attack the people with dangerous arms.
“This criminal and heartless action not only affirms our repeated warnings that Mr Godwin Obaseki fully intends to prosecute the election with violence and thuggery, but it also shows his lack of empathy, conscience, and respect for the lives and dignity of the people he was elected to serve.”
On his part, Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, said the thugs were sponsored by the APC, its candidate, and the former National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, who, he alleged, had engaged thugs to cause mayhem in the state before then.
Osagie said further, “We are appalled by the deployment of thugs to the sacred grounds of the Oba’s Palace by the APC, Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole to harass guests, who are in the state for the flag-off of Governor Obaseki’s campaign and had visited the palace to pay obeisance to His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin.
“While we respect the boundaries of politics as it relates to the palace, it is reprehensible that the APC, its candidate and their enablers would sponsor thugs to desecrate the palace, which is a clear case of desperation to score cheap points.
“This conduct is not a trait of Edo people and is condemned in the strongest possible terms, as we are courteous and welcoming to guests. It is obvious that these persons were mobilised for this task by those, who have no regard for the palace nor want the progress and development of the state.”
Between then and now, the tones are yet not conciliatory; rather, they are getting more confrontational by the day. The foregoing underscores why the recent intervention of the Oba of Benin is commendable.
On Tuesday, September 2, Oba Ewuare 11 held a peace meeting with Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu, Oshiomhole and a former National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun among other party leaders at the palace, where he warned them to desist from inflaming the polity with their utterances and conducts.
Expressing his anger and sadness at the turn of events, the monarch said, “Please don’t turn the state into the city of blood. I appeal to the two gladiators and all politicians to ensure peace and stop the shooting and violence in the state. I want assurances from you people to me, and the people of the state of a peaceful atmosphere in Edo State. Your home and families are here, so give peace a chance. We are all afraid that the state will burn to ashes.”
The Oba further appealed for a peaceful election and warned them not to pay lip service to the traditional throne, which he reiterated is not partisan, and committed them in advance to bipartisan displays of conciliation at the first sight of electoral violence.
Violence is an alter ego of every election all over the world. An incumbent, who fears losing an election can use post-election violence as a means to cow election officials and judges in the adjudication of a disputed election, or even as a means of extorting a power-sharing deal when defeated.
It could also be a spin-off of spontaneous demonstrations fuelled by outrage and fear of electoral manipulation, which can drive supporters into the streets, where violence is a consequence of inappropriate or militarised police response. All of these indices are omnipresent in Edo State with the incumbent’s guns-blazing stance to remain in office despite blissfully under-performing and, consequently, eroding the goodwill that ushered him into office in 2016.
In the time past, and judging by every poling variable that points at a crushing defeat for Obaseki, the election would have been called for the opposition even before going to the polls. But things are different now.
Thanks to several electoral reforms embarked upon by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which have erased the patchwork quilt of partisan state officers, amateur volunteers, and passé equipment to help administer elections, and by so doing, raised the integrity of Nigerian elections, there is no disputing that votes would count in Edo State.
It is not state-sponsored violence and sabre-rattling or electoral manipulation that will win the election; it is speaking to the core of what the people desire; the time-tested solutions being proffered to the myriad of challenges besetting the state and acceptability of the candidate and the party.
So, unlike the biblical quote that ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force’, Edo State might have suffered violence in recent times, it would not be taken by a man that is facing an impending exile from power.
However, only Ize-Iyamu, whose SIMPLE Agenda (which stands for Security and Social Welfare, Infrastructure Development, Manpower Development, Public/Private Partnership, Leadership by Example and Employment Creation) resonates well with the people, would get their votes.
*Ajani wrote from Abuja