I have lost count of the number of aspirants jostling to be governor of Edo State in 2024. This is understandable. It is the first time, since the inception of the current fourth republic democracy in 1999, that there has been a rash of interests seeking some collocation within the circumference of the state governorship position. To be sure, no fewer than forty governorship aspirants across the political spectrum of frontline parties – namely Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) – have indicated interest in becoming the governorship candidate of their respective parties. If and when the number of aspirants in the remaining fifteen other political parties is introduced into the mix, the overall figure of aspirants could oscillate between fifty and seventy. The commixture of the sublime and the ridiculous; the fecund and the superficial, the serious-minded and the pretentious aspirants in the race is, without a doubt, writ large.
Someone somewhere is, at different intersections, nurturing, harbouring, and expressing governorship interest. There is nothing wrong with that. It is an exercise of the citizens’ immutable right to vote and be voted for in the constitutionally circumscribed electoral process. This is what reinforces the democratic nature of the upcoming governorship race, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled to hold on September 21, 2024. In that case, will it be right to deny anyone the exercise of their right to seek the people’s votes to govern them? No, it will not be right to do so. If it is not constitutionally right to deny anyone that inalienable right to freely vote and be voted for, will it, coextensively, be right to devise, contemplate or adopt other quasi or extra constitutional requirements, especially at the miniscule level, to discount the totality of the inherent, implicit and explicit significance of the constitutional provision underpinning the exercise of that right of expression of interest in becoming governor and being voted for in the process? It will also not be right to do so.
Since it will not be right to do so, discounting, abridging and circumventing the constitutional provisions or prerequisites by either overlooking them or outright supplanting them with extraneous political considerations just because they conduce to aid individual or party interests in the race for Edo governorship will, in essence, amount to promoting illegalities. It will amount to foisting of some rigged considerations and criteria on the stakeholders that will render the process of electing governorship candidates tentative and susceptible to long-drawn contestations or disputations.
Now, viewed against the backdrop of a certain progressive precedent in the governorship politics in Edo State circa 2007, when against all odds, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from Edo North, who was fresh from his presidency of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) after serving his two terms, took the state’s governorship landscape by storm and, through the court, emerged as the governor, thus effectively upending a political arrangement by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to cede the governorship to Edo Central, will it be right to aver that Oshiomhole emerged through a zoning arrangement to cede the governorship position to Edo North? No, that did not happen. What happened was that the PDP began its zoning arrangement in 1999 by electing Chief Lucky Igbinedion as its governorship candidate, and he went ahead to become governor for two terms.
Did the PDP keep fidelity with the zoning arrangement? The question can safely be answered in the affirmative because the party apparatchiks both at the federal and the state levels agreed to cede the PDP governorship ticket to Edo Central. Professor Oserheimen Aigberaodion Osunbor emerged as the governorship candidate of the party and was declared as the winner of the general election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Was the governorship ceded to Edo North? No, it was not. Did Oshiomhole enjoy the approbation of any solid political arrangement on the basis of the governorship having been ceded to Edo North? No, he did not. Did he not pragmatically swim against the tide to snatch the governorship position from those who denied him his victory and displaced him from embarking on a victory lap through Osadebey Avenue into the Government House? Yes, he did.
What were the ramifications of Oshiomhole’s positive disruption of the zoning of Edo governorship? The answer is not far-fetched. Oshiomhole simply dismantled the predetermined zoning arrangement that gave the minority Edo Central the governorship on a platter, thanks, largely, to the collaboration between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Chief Tony Anenih. Even though, Anenih had anointed Senator Odion Ugbesia from Ubiaja to emerge as the party’s governorship candidate, Obasanjo had insisted on Osunbor, who is from Iruekpen, the village of his late wife, Stella. Osunbor received the necessary approbation. By dismantling the predetermined zoning arrangement, the Oshiomhole effects, made possible by people power, encouraged and emplaced a democratic level play field where other considerations such as capacity, competence, commitment and merit trumped zoning and ethnicity in the consummation of his governorship deal. Furthermore, Oshiomhole would later change both the political and governance narratives in Edo by virtue of his robust politics and administrative savoir faire. He shattered the spectre of godfatherism and made it impossible for it to preponderate, as it was wont to do, political interactions without the obligatory challenge. Oshiomhoe ushered in the era of enlightenment and questioning of the status quo.
Was Oshiomhole’s governorship epoch from 2008 to 2016 remarkable? Was it an exemplar worthy of emulation? Yes, the era, together with the developments within it, was quite remarkable compared with the Igbinedion and Godwin Obaseki eras and governance models, especially in terms of performance and/or achievements. Are Oshiomhole’s legacy projects not being referenced in Edo today? Of course, they are. Perhaps, Edo people would not have witnessed the luminous epoch if Oshiomhole had not, suo motu [that is without surrendering to some political lords for zoning consideration and decision] thrown his hat in the ring to grab the governorship of the state.
If Oshiomhole ran for the governorship on the pedestal of his pedigree, antecedent and accomplishments as a labour leader and was able to dip his hands into the hot water to pick the chestnut of Edo governorship, why should anybody be deterred by his political party from replicating the Oshiomhole paradigm? Neither Oshiomhole nor the Edo North Senatorial zone where he comes from was pampered. They were both not given a chance in the calculations of members of the dominant political class that orchestrated and settled the zoning arrangement in 2007 in favour of Edo Central.
If it is a fact of history that Oshiomhole clinched the governorship by taking the political scene by storm, sans zoning and ethnic consideration, will it be out of place to commend and recommend his disposition as progressive, democratic and ennobling? Not at all. It will, indeed, be retrogressive, undemocratic and not dignifying to submit oneself or an entire senatorial zone or ethnic nationality to the myopic, arrogant and appropriated sense of entitlement of some political lords or pseudo-godfathers somewhere whose selfish and pecuniary interests will be mollycoddled in the process of arriving at such an undemocratic zoning decision.
So, what should the scenario look like in the build-up to the September 21, 2024 governorship election in Edo State? Will it be constitutional or not to allow everybody who wants to be governor to pursue their legitimate aspiration? Yes, that is the reasonable expectation as constitutionally circumscribed. Again, since everybody comes from one of the three senatorial zones, can they, by any stretch of the relevant constitutional provisions, be barred from exercising their right to vote and be voted for either in the primary election of their respective parties or in the governorship election proper? Not at all. Any party leadership or organ that does that will be acting in breach of the relevsnt constitutional provisions and ultra vires of its powers.
For those promoting senatorial or ethnic agenda as opposed to Edo State agenda in the race for the 2024 governorship, is power served a la carte or given on a platter? What is the proper approach to take in the circumstance: to sit back and shout that “it is our turn” or to put the best leg forward, like Oshiomhole did in 2007, to reap from the benefits of the antecedents of good leadership and sterling performance (s) especially in public office or space? The Oshiomhole exemplar in 2007 is a constant reminder that the people appreciate and reward good and accountable leadership.
● Mr Ojeifo, journalist and mediapreneur, can be reached at email@example.com