Edo 2024: How serious is APC for September guber race?

Edo 2024: How serious is APC for September guber race?

By Ehichioya Ezomon.

The “Big lie” – often attributed to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels – though there seems to be no evidence that it was used by him to prop up the State under the hegemonic rule of Adolf Hitler – is to repeat a lie until it’s assumed to be true.

According to Wikipedia, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. (Yet) the lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Read: Edo 2024: Edo citizens asks APC to stop using rehabilitation of federal roads for selfish political gains.

We aren’t here dealing with the power of the State to lie to the people, to serve certain ends, but the proclivity of politicians to lie to the public, to gain political points and mileage over their opponents. That’s the scenario playing out in Edo State in the lead-up to the September 21, 2024, governorship election.

It’s almost two weeks that the unusual – and uncommon in our clime – reportedly took place in Uromi, headquarters of Esan North-East local government area of Edo Central in Edo State: That the family members of the “Okpebholo dynasty” in Uromi had declared their support for the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Asue Ighodalo.

“Reportedly” because politics is like magic: the more you look, the less you see. In politics, anything can happen, as anything can be “arranged” to look real, especially “when money talks and changes hands.” That’s why opponents are quick to debunk “defections” from their political platforms to others, before the gambit grows wings of reality.

The undisguised impression created in the public by organisers of the Okpebholo family’s “defection” to the PDP, as first reported by The Conclave on April 18, is that the family – settling in a different location – is related to the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC, Edo Central).

It’s on this premise that one allowed almost a fortnight’s benefit of the doubt – even as a two-week period is more than a lifetime in politics – to see if Okpebholo would clarify that the family members at Amedokhian community in Uromi, who decamped to the PDP, and declared support for Ighodalo on April 17, are related or unrelated to his family from Udomi-Uwessan community of Irrua, Esan Central local government area of Edo Central in Edo State.

(Sen. Okpebholo’s born on August 29, 1970, at Udomi-Uwessan, Irrua, where he’d his early education at the Udomi Community Primary School and Ujabhole Community Secondary School, both in Irrua, before he completed his secondary education and obtained his senior school certificate in Jos, Plateau State, and received a degree in Business Administration from the University of Abuja, where he’s undergoing a Masters’ degree in Policy and Leadership Studies.)

But one hasn’t heard, seen, or read about an affirmation or a denial from Okpebholo in the media. Perhaps, that may come on the campaign trail, which officially began on Wednesday, April 24, going by the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for full-fledged electioneering that’ll end midnight on Thursday, September 19.

While the public expects a plausible explanation from Okpebholo or the leadership of the APC in its Edo State chapter, it’s curious to know if – before the campaigns commenced – the candidate and the party had a media arm. If they’d, did they bar the outfit from publicising their activities – or giving access to the prying and nosey media to do same – until they “hit the ground running” after INEC would’ve blown the whistle for earnest campaigns?

In that regard, can they cover the lost ground – particularly ceded to the seemingly well-oiled media arm of the campaign organisation of the rival PDP and its candidate, Ighodalo – and meet the expectations of the APC leadership, mostly President Bola Tinubu – who, while handing over the party flag to Sen. Okpebholo and his running, Hon. Dennis Idahosa (APC, Ovia Federal Constituency) at the State House, Abuja, on March 18, described them as “giant killers”?

At a gathering of party stalwarts for the ceremony, Tinubu, sounding upbeat about the APC winning the governorship, declared: “Distinguished senator and our flag bearer, we are putting you forward in order to hold the party in trust for us and achieve victory for us. You and your running mate have been described as ‘giant killers,’ and you have worked tirelessly with the party leadership.

“We are going to work with you. We are going to stand with you like the wall (Rock) of Gibraltar. That is all I can assure you. The party is supreme but victory is superior and very important.” The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) first reported the story.

Both Okpebholo and Idahosa – on their way to the National Assembly (NASS) – defeated incumbents at the poll, and are expected to wave the same or similar political magic wand, to win in September and restore the APC to power at the Osadebey Avenue Government House in Benin City, the Edo State capital city.

Okpebholo, Idahosa, the APC and its leader in Edo State, Sen. and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole – who “anointed” Idahosa for the governorship, and had to settle for the deputy slot after Okpebholo won the twice-held primary – have barely five months to turn things around in the proxy battle of incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki and Comrade Oshiomhole to install their “anointed” candidates, respectively.

Particularly for Oshiomhole, nothing else will suffice, as he strives to avoid a second consecutive defeat of his “chosen candidates” by his erstwhile political protégé-turned tradaucer, who sponsors Ighodalo, and pulls all stops to ensure the candidate succeeds him in November 2024.

Recall that Obaseki, running for his re-election in 2020 – after Oshiomhole, as then chairman of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC, denied him the party ticket, and forced him to decamp to the PDP – defeated Oshiomhole’s choice candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who’s also the PDP candidate in the 2016 governorship poll against Obaseki, then of the APC.

Oshiomhole’s, however, promised – with the joint efforts of the APC candidates and members of the party – to reclaim Edo State from the PDP. He made the pledge in a congratulatory message to Okpebholo after he picked Idahosa as his running mate on March 17.

Oshiomhole said: “Your decision to choose Hon. Dennis Idahosa as your running mate, demonstrates great wisdom and foresight.

Your joint ticket presents the people of Edo State with the best option to usher in a dynamic, progressive, and responsive government that aligns with the aspirations of our vibrant youth population.

“I am confident in your leadership abilities and believe that, with the support of all APC members across the state, we can restore Edo State to the path of progressive governance, sustainable socio-economic growth and political inclusion in all its ramifications.

“Together, we must forge a strong, united front that resonates with the electorate and secures victory in the governorship election on September 21, 2024.

Congratulations once again, as I eagerly anticipate our collective efforts towards achieving victory in the upcoming election. Yours in the struggle for the rebirth of a greater Edo State that works for all.”

Oshiomhole’s lofty expectation of a return of the APC to governance of Edo State is a daunting task and a big challenge to Okpebholo’s candidacy that needs bolstering with rapid response to disclaiming oppo narratives tending to portray that Okpebholo and the APC are losing ground, and surrendering when the battle has just begun.

Meanwhile, Ighodalo and the PDP are gaining in momentum. Pre-primary in February 2024 to pick candidates for the September governorship poll, Ighodalo’s opponents had capitalised on his supposed handicap in not communicating fluently – some allege he can’t even string a few words together – in Esan language.

To somewhat compound his perceived political woes, Ighodalo – unable to address his ward members in Esan when he visited Ewohimi to inform them about his ambition, and crave their support to make it a reality – allegedly “hired an interpreter” to help him out of the language logjam.

In the polarised, tribally and ethnically-inclined political environment in Nigeria, the fact that Ighodalo can’t communicate in his native language, he’s bred, schooled, and works outside Edo State, and his mother and wife were/are non-Edo – even though his father’s an indigene of Okaigben, Ewohimi in Esan South-East local government area of Edo State, where he kicked off his bid for governor – makes his political opponents to adorn him with the toga of “not a true ‘son-of-the-soil” of Esanland, and Edo State.

But whether or not Ighodalo speaks Esan fluently – which’s not a criterion for the governorship – he’s adjusted to delivering his message of “making Edo the Number one State in Nigeria” in simple English language, mixed with pidgin English – the “unofficial lingua franca” of Esan people, Edo people, and the Nigerian people – that’s turned for him a blessing in disguise.

Like Nigeria’s leading telecoms operator’s famous unique selling point, “MTN Everywhere You Go,” Ighodalo – since entering the governorship race in 2023 – has been everywhere in the nooks and crannies of the 192 wards of the 18 local government areas of Edo State, selling himself, his vision and mission to be governor in November 2024.

And the results – as he consulted widely in the off-campaign period – were the friendly and welcoming receptions for him and his team, and the many defections from other political parties to the PDP, as witnessed on April 17 in Uromi, where the

“Okpebholo family members” defected from various political parties and “joined the rest of their members, who were already in the PDP, to jointly endorse Ighodalo and the PDP.”

The Conclave reports: “The carnival-like atmosphere witnessed not just only the members of the family, but also women, youths and other members of the community, all chanting Ighodalo’s name and affirming that he is their governorship candidate for the election.

“Ighodalo had stormed Uromi, with a number of his supporters, to witness their defection to the PDP. He was treated to a warm welcome, as cultural dance troupes added colour to the convivial atmosphere, showcasing the rich heritage of the Uromi Kingdom to their guests.

“With the approval of the head of the Okpebholo dynasty, Hon (Engr.) Felix Okpebholo, Barr. Patrick Okpebholo – a grassroots politician and mobilizer, who recently dumped the Labour Party (LP) for the PDP – introduced his cherished family members, who are leaders and stakeholders in various endeavours of life.

“The visit was significant in many respects, as it served as a pivotal moment for Ighodalo to further reaffirm and expand his bond with the Okpebholo dynasty and indeed the Amedokhian people of Uromi, where he also shared his vision and aspirations for the people of Uromi and the broader Edo State.

“Ighodalo expressed his profound gratitude to the family for the support and reception, promised not to let anyone down, assured the audience of his unwavering dedication to their cause, and upholding the values of integrity, accessibility and inclusivity in whatever he will do in the state, and emphasised the importance of unity and collective action in realising their shared dreams for a brighter future and a prosperous Edo State.”

The defection of members of the”Okpebholo family” of Uromi to the PDP – and similar others across Edo State – is a huge boost to Dr Ighodalo’s aspiration, and capable of giving Sen. Okpebholo (and the APC) sleepless nights and a wake-up call to action, if he’s to realise his ambition to be governor in November 2024!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria_