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2012 GOVERNORSHIP AND THE PDP CHALLENGE IN EDO STATE

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Whenever a government looks invincible, and the opposition is in a mess, journalists, analysts and political scientists start to speculate on what would seem to be movement towards a one-party state.

In the past, that had often been precise moment when government would start to falter and the fortunes of the opposition would begin to pick up. Such is the unpredictability of politics and the dangers of hubris.

Predictions about the emergence of a one-party state were made after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won two terms and had a majority in the State House of Assembly (1999 – 2007); and, again, when it won an unprecedented third term in 2007.

Even the first term of 1999 to 2003 before it sought re-election for a second term, the same question had been asked as to whether the PDP was seeking to create a one-party state in Edo.

The idea of a one-party state appears to be contrary to the conventional norm of main parties alternating in power, thanks to the swings of electoral pendulum. During the first, second and third republics, that had been more of an exception than the rule.

During this period, the opposition looked weak, fractious and divided. Commentators wondered then whether the political landscape was being permanently changed.

After the PDP lost at the Election Tribunal to its prodigal members who morphed into Action Congress of Nigeria in 2008, there was much soul searching about whether the party would lose touch with the electorate.

Similarly, after the party’s other setbacks in the subsequent by-elections and the 2011 federal elections, the authoritative report on Edo election study (by this writer) was entitled:“The PDP’s Last Chance”, with the concluding chapter being:“Can the PDP Ever Win Again?”

After discussing the obstacles that stood between the Edo PDP and winning future elections, the piece concluded that on the face of it, there seemed to be little reason for optimism.

But, realistically, the party took everybody by surprise when it went back to its drawing board on soul searching spree. The leadership realized that it would not be enough to dismiss Adams Oshiomhole’s paid agents in their midst, but to reconcile with the party faithful who were being misled to decamp after wooing them with carrot.

Among thousands that heeded this call were: Hon. Herbetta Okonofua who was contesting her senatorial election loss with the PDP at the Election Petition Tribunal. She withdrew her petition and came back to the fold; so also was Brown Ebewele, the “juju man” and one-time Commissioner in the state. Apart from the return of these persons, political gurus in Oshiomhole’s government trooped into the PDP in droves.

Passionate and veterans of politics like Senator Roland Owie who is a one-time Chief Whip in the Senate on the platform of the PDP and Pharmacist Matthew Urhoghide who is a former governorship running mate and senatorial candidate navigated their ways from the ACN into the party (PDP).

In the fading melee, the party held an all-inclusive party congress in the wards, local governments and state level without acrimonies. There were no dissenting voices; all the erstwhile factions came together. These congresses helped to bring on board personalities and young Turks with energy to carry the party to the next level.

The restructuring in the party has also served as an impetus to confront the challenges of the future. This visionary leadership coupled with imaginary husbandry of the party’s human and natural resources had gathered enough momentum that no one was left in doubt as to which direction it would lead the party.

In retrospect, it would appear that close watchers of the electoral misfortune of the PDP were shortsighted. Their fault, however, lies less in the analysis of why the PDP, in the state, has lost electoral support over this period; this would appear to be more correct than the implied conclusion of their titles that “PDP might not come on board again.”

In fact, the party has learnt the lesson of these defeats. No one writing in 2009 when Governor Oshiomhole cast aspersions and opprobrium on statesmen and leaders of the PDP could have foreseen how short-lived Oshiomhole’s leadership would turn out to be (in less than three years), or how divided and unpopular Oshiomhole’s government would become, or how radical Chief Tony Anenih would prove to be in transforming the PDP in the state.

Even if the forecasts of PDP coming to power for keeps in 2012 turn out to be true or wrong, the four year rule of Oshiomhole has strained many constitutional conventions. For instance, the ability of the civil service and traditional institutions to shift support from Oshiomhole’s government and remain non-partisan in part, rested on the assumption that they might soon be seen serving another party in government in 2012.

That of course, reinforced the view as popularized by the going telecast clip series of “Edo Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and the reclaiming of Edo’s lost future by a burgeoning entrant into the rambunctious political arena with its fray for the governorship, General Charles Airhiavbere (retd.) whom political pundits predict would most likely fly the PDP flag in the 2012 governorship elections if all odds end up favouring him within the party.

However, the absence of constitutional provisions with checks, such as a law to try serving or former governors for any misappropriation of public funds, rests on the assumption that a strong opposition and potential alternative government will hold past and present administrations to account for their misdemeanors. This explains why the Adams Oshiomhole’s ACN government will ever remain jittery as the new PDP comes on stage.

Talks of the PDP coming to power again in Edo State usually dwell more on the current state of politics in the state than reliably predicting what will happen in the future. In practice, the political paradigm is proving to have in-built corrective mechanism – whether it is the shifting opinions of the electorate or the general slow learning processes of the opposition or challenges offered by the judges or the media and/or the creation of other powerful political institutions.

Weighing this development against the ordeal Edo electorate had passed through with Oshiomhole, PDP would have no excuse not to return to government in 2012. The people have been alienated from government. Virtually all the segments of the economy have gone sour and in comatose.

The education system that used to be the pride of the people had collapsed with high school fees and dilapidated infrastructure in schools; the legitimate rights of workers, civil servants and teachers have been grotesquely abridged as the government has used over taxation to make nonsense of the minimum wage.

Since Oshiomhole came to power, the protection of lives and property has turned convulsive with assassinations, kidnappings and robberies becoming the norm and order of the day. As confessed by the Assistant Inspector General of Police Zone 5, “An average of five cases of kidnappings and other related cases are reported everyday in Edo State today.”

Is it in Commerce and Industry? Justifying why he endorsed the close down of the well-known Edo Line Transport Company, the other day, Oshiomhole said the government could not maintain two transport companies: Edo Municipal Transport Company and Edo Line at the same time. So Edo Line had to die.

Edo Line that was founded sometime in 1967 when Oshiomhole was still a tailor apprentice in Kaduna. Okpella Cement Company, Ewu Flour Mill and the Bendel Breweries have all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Agriculture that used to be the mainstay, of the people’s economy is now a thing of the past.

Even the roads in Benin metropolis which the government had prided to be the thrust of Oshiomhole’s administration is riddled with scandals, controversies and corruption so much so that the governor had revoked the contracts.

Examples are the Airport and Siluko roads while other roads in the state have been reduced to death traps. Perhaps the highest casualty in the malodorous saga is the health sector as the state hospitals have become slaughter homes and despicable mortuaries.

All over the world, democratic governments gain legitimacy to the extent that they reflect the will of the people. To demonstrate that they have support for their policies and decisions they must seek the consent of the governed through periodic elections.

Despite the claims of victories of parties or candidates, elections are fairly weak even though they represent intermittent forms of citizens’ approbation. The electorate in a democracy should have opportunities not only to read about, watch and listen to the development of political debates as spectators, but also to participate directly in them. This is what Oshiomhole and his government lack in Edo.

Even if democratic societies fall short of this kind of democratic ideals as we have in Edo, it is fair to say that the people should have a say about the kind of government that governs them.

Only the other day the electorate cried out and condemned the inhuman treatment meted on one Major Lawrence Loye whom Oshiomhole, for three years, had used to traumatize, dehumanize and demolish homes of innocent electorate without compensation or prior notice. They called for compensation from government even as the government had earlier admitted that they were in possession of their compensation.

Like his reaction to over taxation, minimum wage and inflated school fees issue, Oshiomhole vowed that it was over his dead body that any compensation would be paid. This is the kind of night journey Edo people have embarked upon with Oshiomhole. Now that the crown of political leadership and governance has fallen in the state and the people are left in bewilderment, the ball is once more in the court of the PDP; it has a responsibility to pick up the gauntlet and show the light that the people might find the way.

The people need to be galvanized and re-oriented; they need reassurance of a hope already betrayed; and, above all, they need divine guidance to bring their economy out of the woods. These and many others are the challenges of the new PDP.

Indeed, the only certain prediction today is that with the rebound of the PDP in the state, coupled with the mismanagement of the judicial mandate given to Oshiomhole in 2008, he (Oshiomhole), with the collective resolve of the traumatized people of the State, especially civil servants, will cease to be governor effective November 14, 2012 as the PDP is set to return to power, this time on the strength of New Deal that will guarantee the well-being and the destiny of present generation and the generations yet unborn. This prediction, nay analysis, may be repulsive to Oshiomhole and his foot-soldiers. This is the charm of politics and the fun of being a political journalist/analyst like me.

* Okharedia Ihimekpen contributed this piece from Benin, Edo State.

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