The Edo North senatorial district, which spans six local government areas, will play a major role in determining who emerges the governor during Saturday’s poll.
In both the federal and state legislative elections in 2019, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) swept all the positions in the region. The governorship election in 2016 too was won by the APC.
But many things have changed since then.
APC’s then-candidate and eventual winner, incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki, has crossed parties. So has his closest rival, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, whom he defeated then by over 63,000 votes.
Home to Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West, Owan East and Akoko-Edo LGAs, the region accounts for over 28 per cent of Edo’s voting population, a review of records from INEC shows.
Esan and Afemai are the dominant language spoken by locals in the area.
Of the local governments in the area, Etsako West has the fourth-highest number of eligible voters statewide, 128,188, but only 115,343 have voter’s card.
Earlier, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, INEC, said the number of PVCs collected statewide stands at 1,735,910 of the 2,210,534 total registered voters in Edo state.
But the northern district has 477,360 voters with PVCs. This represents about 72 per cent of the 664,105 registered voters in the district.
The zone is believed to be an APC ‘stronghold’, largely because it is home to the party’s former chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and key politicians at federal and state legislative levels.
For one, all eight state assembly lawmakers from the region are members of the now opposition APC. There is also brewing discord between them and Governor Obaseki after they fell out with him.
This is same for all three House of Representatives members under the district.
At the House of Representatives, Johnson Ogbuma represents Etsako East/West/Central; Peter Akpatason, the House’s deputy minority leader, represents Akoko-Edo; and Pally Iriase represents Owan West/East.
At Senate level, Edo North Senatorial district is manned by Francis Alimikhena of the APC, who hails from Igiode, Etsako East.
Yet, some observers would say this is not unexpected, especially because the incumbent governor, until June, was a member of the APC.
A political faceoff with his former boss, Mr Oshiomhole, made him leave for the Peoples Democratic Party.
Some of APC’s party bigwigs are indigenes of the district. Mr Oshiomhole is from Iyamho, Etsako West; so is Ize-Iyamu’s running mate, Gani Audu, who is from Agbede, Etsako West.
Domingo Alaba Obende, a two-term senator, hails from Akoko-Edo.
Even at this, the PDP is no pushover in the region, as it has political credentials well primed in the district.
Believed to have been nurtured politically by Mr Oshiomhole, Philip Shaibu, the incumbent deputy governor and Mr Obaseki’s running mate, from Jattu, Etsako West — the region of his wife Maryann Shaibu as well — is in the PDP camp, and is expected to win some votes for the party.
He is believed to have built his personal political foot soldiers since his days as a member of the Edo State House of Assembly and lower chamber of the National Assembly, a position he resigned from when he was handpicked to run as Mr Obaseki’s mate ahead of the 2016 governorship race.
Other political stalwarts of the PDP include a former senator, Victor Oyofo and Yisa Braimoh, a two-term senator and party chieftain.
Mr Braimoh has boasted of an easy victory for his party in the forthcoming governorship election in the state, vowing not to give his support to the decampee.
“Nobody will just come to our party and pick up ticket as a contestant. No decampee (sic) will come and we make him candidate tomorrow. That era is over,” he had said in January, six months before Mr Obaseki was forced out of the APC.
On the streets
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with some residents who said Mr Obaseki may have an uphill task retaining his seat as Mr Oshiomhole and the angry state lawmakers he refused to inaugurate are bent on frustrating his ambition.
But Omoh Kadir, a resident of Owan LGA, believes the incumbent should be allowed to rule for another four years, a view shared by some people the reporter also interviewed in Auchi, Etsako West LGA.
Others, however, said they are going all out for Mr Ize-Iyamu, Mr Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate.
When this newspaper further quizzed the residents to know if there are alternative choices for them among the 12 other candidates in the race, they dismissed such chances.
“It is between Governor Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu,” a pastor who asked not to be named echoed the replies of many spoken with.