When Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu engaged in a televised debate on Sunday, September 13, 2020, it took nearly two hours before either one directly mentioned Oshiomhole by name despite subtle references to him all night.
Mentioning his name was simply too inevitable because as much as the September 19 election is about the candidates, Oshiomhole, a former Edo governor and recently-sacked national chairman of the APC, is the elephant in the room.
Like the anchor of Sunday’s debate said, Oshiomhole is a ‘recurring decimal’ in the political careers of both main candidates.
While Ize-Iyamu was the Director-General of his re-election campaign as governor, Obaseki served as the Chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team for most of his tenure.
They were both Oshiomhole’s allies until cracks started to appear and Ize-Iyamu dumped the APC for PDP in 2014, blaming it on a clash of ideas about the party’s direction.
With Obaseki as his anointed successor and the APC’s governorship candidate, the outgoing governor, a prominent former national union leader, mounted a public siege on Ize-Iyamu.
He publicly questioned his character, poured scorn on his academic qualifications, and very aggressively propagated the allegation that he was involved with a cult group that carried out an acid attack on another student during his university years.
Oshiomhole’s savage attacks on Ize-Iyamu four years ago were so vicious that it’s most of what anyone remembers about that election, and he was rewarded with Obaseki’s victory, until he wasn’t.
With Oshiomhole moving on to become APC chairman, it didn’t take too long for the two to fall out over control of Edo, a conflict that led to the ugly division that currently plagues the state’s legislative arm, a dark stain on what neutrals consider a decent administration.
Obaseki was eventually forced out of the APC after he was disqualified from the party’s primary election due to alleged deficiencies in his academic documents, deficiencies that were not a problem when he was chummy with Oshiomhole.
Tactically forcing Obaseki out eventually turned out to be Oshiomhole’s final big act as APC chairman before he was very unceremoniously sacked, a by-product of his local fight with his successor.
Oshiomhole has been very publicly mocked for the dramatic turn of events as well as for his badly-hit political reputation, and cheerleading Ize-Iyamu to victory on Saturday is his biggest shot at redemption.
To achieve that, he has had to resort to self-flagellation in the market square, eating back up the entire feast of vomit he discharged into the public four years ago.
He has suddenly seen the light on Ize-Iyamu’s apparently unimpeachable character (“He’s a pastor!” Who knew?), and his academic qualifications that check out.
The actual devil, according to the 68-year-old, is Governor Obaseki who has failed to follow his blueprint for developing Edo State.
Oshiomhole has very charmlessly gobbled on the humble pie, marching to the same places he did four years ago to tell contradictory stories about the same two candidates.
It’s sometimes embarrassing to watch, as an observer, the cheerful unreflective disposition with which he does his backward dance and flip-flops in the public square.
Much has been made about the spectre of godfathers in Nigerian politics, and it is Oshiomhole’s shadow that looms over that conversation in Edo’s politics right now.
The electoral campaign has been about helping Edo and its people move forward as much as it has been about whether a former governor will get a chance to continue piloting the state’s affairs through a proxy all-too-willing to do his bidding, or gets cut down to size with a humiliating defeat.
Oshiomhole has been inserted into the current campaign so deeply that a road accident involving his convoy, an accident that led to the death of two police officers, was quickly tagged an assassination attempt by his party.
And despite Ize-Iyamu’s best attempts to sometimes downplay Oshiomhole’s godfather influence on his electoral fate when the optics are inconvenient, considering what the public already knows.
Obaseki has made public pronouncements that his victory would end Oshiomhole’s reign as a political godfather, but Ize-Iyamu has assured the former governor in equal measure that his own victory would ensure the continuation of his legacy.
In simple terms, the September 19 election is between a candidate that is willing to continue in Oshiomhole’s footsteps, and one that promised the same four years ago but isn’t feeling so hot for it anymore.
“Having become governor, Oshiomhole had his own personal agenda and thought that I’d be so subservient but didn’t realise I’ll be as independent as I’ve become.
“That may have angered him to now feel that he’s a godfather that can stop me,” Obaseki said during Sunday’s debate.
Oshiomhole is a wounded man whose political reputation has taken quite the hit in 2020, and the most healthy injection for him right now is a win as big as the Edo governorship election.
If he wins, there’s some good old-fashioned trademark Oshiomhole gloating to be expected.
If he fails, he faces more public ridicule than the name on the ballot.
The Edo governorship election is a test of Oshiomhole’s political influence, and he cannot afford the humiliation of a loss.
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