There was pandemonium Saturday afternoon at the city centre of Edo State capital, Benin, when political thugs loyal to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the state, and the major opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, APC had a violent confrontation outside the palace gate of the Oba of Benin, Ewuare 11. Staccato of gun shots rent the air sending innocent passers-by at the busy Ring Road scampering for safety as the hoodlums engaged each other in a free for all using dangerous weapons like guns and cutlasses. Though there was no record of deaths, several persons were said to have been injured.
Trouble was said to have started when a powerful delegation of PDP bigwigs led by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, chairman of the National Campaign Council of the party for the Edo State governorship election who were in the state to flag off the party’s campaign paid a courtesy call on Oba Ewuare 11. On the entourage were the governors of Bayelsa, Douye Diri, Ifeanyii Okowa of Delta, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Bala Mohammed of Bauchi, and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, and of course the host governor, Godwin Obaseki.
Tell gathered that coincidentally, billionaire business mogul, Idahosa Wells Okunbo, chairman of the Ocean Marine Solutions, was at the palace too, according to sources, on a private visit. Recall Okunbo and Obaseki had been having disagreements over political issues for some time now. His visit, the magazine gathered, however had nothing to do with politics. He was said to be at the palace to join the Oba in hosting dignitaries who had come for the dedication ceremony of a new Prince of the Benin Kingdom who was born a few months ago.
The clash was said to have occurred outside the palace gate as Obaseki and his visitors made their way out and suspected APC and PDP thugs started to trade insults. Obaseki was said to have been booed and called unprintable names. The chanting of abusive songs soon degenerated into mayhem as several cars parked outside the palace gate were badly damaged by thugs loyal to both parties. The situation was however said to have been brought under control by men of the state police command.
Between both parties, it had however been the usual blame game as to who the aggressor was. First to raise the alarm was the state governor after he was officially handed over the party’s flag as the candidate of the party in the September 19 governorship election in the state by the national chairman, Uche Secondus. According to Obaseki, “We understand that the opposition party has now resorted to violence. Please, please, please, we do not want bloodshed… I hear they are busy destroying cars with PDP flags. Do not retaliate; God will retaliate for us.
“What they are trying to do is to scare the people. We are saying that what they did today is a sample of what they want to do on September 19 but thank God, we have a law-abiding president; we have a president who believes in the rule of law.”
Later in a statement by his special adviser on media and communication, Crusoe Osagie, the state government accused APC candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the former national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, of sponsoring the violence. The government condemned alleged attacks on its guests by the hoodlums. According to him, “We are appalled by the deployment of thugs to the sacred grounds of the Oba Palace by the APC, Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole to harass guests who are in the state for the flag-off of Governor Obaseki’s campaign and had visited the palace to pay obeisance to His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin.
“While we respect the boundaries of politics as it relates to the Palace, it is reprehensible that the APC, its candidate, and their enablers would sponsor thugs to desecrate the palace, which is a clear case of desperation to score cheap points. This conduct is not a trait of Edo people and is condemned in the strongest possible terms, as we are courteous and welcoming to guests. It is obvious that these persons were mobilised for this task by those who have no regard for the palace nor want the progress and development of the state.”
Firing back, the State Media Campaign Council of the APC for the governorship election put the blame on the governor and his party. The chairman of the media campaign council, John Mayaki, in a statement, alleged that the governor instructed his thugs to attack the people as retribution for booing him and for spurning his rally allegedly attended by “tax-collectors and mobilized thugs”. He also accused the governor and his loyalists of destroying their own billboards at few locations in the State as a gimmick to deflect responsibility and get a reprieve for the alleged organized destruction of APC billboards after the party filed a petition with the Police and other relevant agencies.
According to Mayaki, “It is sad that Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the outgoing Governor of Edo State, has, today, Saturday, July 25, displayed the same traits of intolerance and penchant for violence that made the people of Edo State unanimously reject him. Booed by the people at the entrance of the Palace of our great Oba for handing the State to the PDP tax collectors who are unconscionably feasting on our collective patrimony, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, as an act of revenge, instructed the thugs and cultists he has spent the past few weeks recruiting in the State and beyond to attack the people with dangerous arms.
“This criminal and heartless action not only affirms our repeated warnings that Mr. Godwin Obaseki fully intends to prosecute the election with violence and thuggery, but it also shows his lack of empathy, conscience, and respect for the lives and dignity of the people he was elected to serve. His thugs have presently invaded the State capital, unleashing mayhem on anyone perceived to be critical of the failed Governor or supportive of our party and candidate. After converging at the venue of the Governor’s campaign flag-off, they have poured into the streets, vandalizing properties and causing panic. We have heard unconfirmed reports of fatal injuries.
The APC consequently demanded the immediate intervention by the Police and other security agencies, adding that “Our party, the APC, has built an effective campaign on the strength of our documented manifesto. Tellingly, on the back of four years of no achievement, Mr. Godwin Obaseki has neither a plan nor record of office to show, hence the resort to violence and thuggery. We call on the Inspector General of Police and all well-meaning Nigerians to immediately rein in Mr. Godwin Obaseki and begin the arrest of his recruited thugs who are committed to causing chaos and violence in a bid to prevent the people, who have already voiced their rejection of Obaseki, from participating in the election freely and without intimidation.”
Speaking as chairman of the national campaign council for PDP , Governor Wike boasted that “Nobody can rig this election. No one man can decide what will happen in Edo state. Today is the end of the so-called godfatherism. I thank Godwin Obaseki for the interest of Edo people. If he was selfish, he would have been dancing to the tune of one man”.
According to Wike, the only thing giving APC some kind of hope is because they believe in rigging; but this one, it will be very difficult. Obaseki, in his four years in office, you can attest to the fact that he has done well and therefore for the fact that he resisted godfatherism; that alone showed that he has the interest of Edo people at heart, so you have no choice but to vote for him. There is no hope in APC; South-South is completely PDP and we will not allow anybody to take away our state”. Wike promised to be on ground in Edo during the election.
Also speaking, Tambuwal, the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, called on INEC to build on the legacies of Atahiru Jega as chairman of INEC of one man one vote through which Adams Oshiomhole came back as second term governor in Edo state. “Professor Mahmud, you have a date with history. You have a family, you have a name; you have a reputation at stake. Don’t allow anybody to use you for his own political gain and benefit.
“I am appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari, even if the anti-corruption fight is becoming tougher, and clearly is failing; and even if the security challenges are getting worse and worse, don’t fail in delivering free, fair election process to Nigeria. Let there be a legacy. And that is what you should hand over to the government of the PDP by the grace of God almighty that will be coming in 2023”.