“We contribute to the treasury but when it comes to power sharing or who governs the state, we are being told to take a back seat since we are not majority. How can there be meaningful development across all areas if some tribes claim they are more in numbers and should be in pole position to decide what the people want?” Paul Onosetale, a native of Esan, stated while giving his opinion on who will succeed Governor Godwin Obaseki.
Elections, they say, is a game of numbers where majority wins the vote, and this has been evident in virtually almost all governorship elections conducted in Edo State. While Edo South senatorial district comprises 7 council regions that are of Benin-speaking descent out of the 18 local government areas that make up the state. Edo North senatorial district has 6 and Edo Central region is made up of the Esan people and has five LGAs.
In a democratic society, the government is selected by the people and not a section, which has obviously been the case of the Esan people. Esan, which is one of the three tribes of Edo State, has its local government areas in Edo Central senatorial district, a passageway between Edo South, Edo North and the northern part of Nigeria.
Characterised for its unique traditional dance moves popularly called “Igbabonelimhin” an acrobatic, masquerade dance, the Esan people are predominantly farmers who grow major staple crops as yams, cassava, maize and plantain.
Although there are reputable indigenes who have demonstrated dynamic leadership as well as scholars across the globe who are of Esan extraction, their hope to lead Edo state had, over the years, been seemingly dealt a blow. A situation they have openly called “marginalisation” in the past.
It is worthy of note that since civil rule began in 1999 – with the inception of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion- till date, the Esan people have only been at the helm of affairs of Edo State barely a year, between May 29, 2007 to November 11, 2008 through Oserhiemen Osunbor. After the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin validated the verdict of the Election Petition Tribunal that Adams Oshiomhole of Etsako extraction won the April 2007 election, Osunbor was abruptly removed from office.
More so, since 1999, the governorship and deputy governorship seats had always been between the Edo South and Edo North while the Edo Central region are compensated with the position of speakership in the state house of assembly. Within this period, Edo South has produced two governors and deputy governors namely Lucky Igbinedion and the incumbent Governor, Godwin Obaseki; Mike Oghiadomhe and Philip Shaibu, respectively.
In addition, Edo North has only been in the saddle of leadership at the Dennis Osadebay Avenue once, when Adams Oshiomhole ruled the state between 2008 and 2016.
For over 2 decades of democratic rule and sixth times the governorship elections were conducted, the Esan people have only been made governor once for a year except during the short time of democracy in 1979, when Ambrose Alli, a medical professor, was elected governor.
Ambrose Alli served as executive governor of the defunct Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States) during the brief period of democracy from 1979 to 1983 under the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and bequeathed several legacies that span from repositioning educational institutions to numerous infrastructural projects.
The repeated calls and agitation over the supposedly exclusion of the district from the state’s top job has, however, once again reared his ugly head ahead the governorship election likely to be scheduled for September 19, 2024 in the state.
Numerous aspirants from the zone have already declared interest to contend for the governorship position of the state while a consensus move has already begun to woo Edo North and South senatorial zones.
Speaking with BusinessDay on the latest developments and preparation ahead of the election, Godwins Oriaifoh, an indigene of Edo central senatorial district, said though there is plethora of aspirants, they will eventually synergise to produce a governor.
“Some persons are thinking that it should be thrown open to the best candidate which, of course, I am not arguing with the fact, but the best candidate should come from Edo Central senatorial district. Some persons call this Esan agenda but it is not Esan agenda but Edo agenda. This is because Edo South and Edo North knows that Edo Central has been sidelined, marginalised and thrown to the backyard for a very long time and Edo Central has all along been supporting all the governors that had emerged from Edo south and north.
“You will recall that in the last governorship election, Edo central massively supported governor Obaseki. When Lucky Igbinedion was there, Edo central was supportive. Even when Adams Oshiomhole was there, they also supported him. So, for fairness, justice, equity, the tripod leg should stand, which is the three senatorial districts. Edo south and north know that it is the turn of Edo central. There is no bargaining. As a matter of fact, a number of critical stakeholders across the parties in the two regions know it is our turn. It is a gentle appeal.
“Those coming out now, numbering close to 40, to show their interest, will come together at the right time and see the need for collaboration so that we can produce a governor. That synergy will definitely come. In my opinion, a number of them are coming out to test the microphone, to find out the pulse of the people. They are doing this to eventually negotiate. Some persons say we do not have the numbers but they forget that in the other two senatorial districts, we have a large number of Esan people staying there that increases their own population,” Oriaifoh said.
In a bid to mobilise and engage prominent leaders of Edo North and Edo South senatorial zones to get them concede the governorship contest to persons of Esan extraction, a socio cultural organization, Esan Okpa Initiative (EOI), recently met and formed a 24-man mobilisation committee.
Tony Iyare, the organisation’s Public Relations Officer, in a statement sent to Businessday, said the committee is headed by Mathew Egbadon, the pioneer Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly. He also listed Oserheimen Osunbor, former Edo State Governor, Leemon Ikpea, businessman, Peter Esele, former President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Cecil Esekhaigbe, a retired Army General, Mike Ikhariale, constitutional law scholar, Friday Okonofua, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ekeikhome Ejele, linguistics expert, Sylvester Odion Akhaine, political science scholar, Pascal Ebhohimen, former Director, Nigeria Deposits Insurance Corporation (NDIC) among others as key components of the committee.
Iyare explained that the committee is also tasked to have sessions with leaders of the leading political parties in the state, particularly the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP).
According to him, “The committee is also expected to meet with traditional rulers, women and youth organisations. In the strong move to put forward their best hands for the forthcoming governorship contest of Edo State, the Esan ethnic nationality, located in the Central Senatorial Zone, has also listed criteria that aspirants from the zone must meet to enjoy overwhelming support. This is to ensure that only viable and capable aspirants who will equally elicit support from the Northern and Southern Senatorial Zones of the state, will be endorsed to angle for the number one seat of Edo State as Governor Godwin Obaseki’s eight year term winds down in November 2024.
“Rising from a meeting of the Esan Assembly , under the auspices of the Esan Okpa Initiative (EOI) and attended by some Esan groups in the country and the Diaspora, it endorsed the criteria presented by a six man subcommittee headed by acclaimed Constitutional Law Scholar, Mike Ikhariale, which makes the possession of a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to the constitutional provision of a secondary school certificate, as the minimum for persons of Esan extraction contesting for any political offices.
“The meeting presided over by the President, Esan Okpa Initiative, Mathew Egbadon, also disclosed plans to engage other senatorial zones with the hope of getting them to concede the governorship ticket to persons of Esan extraction on the basis of justice, equity and fairness. Stressing the altruistic nature of the group’s intervention, Egbadon, also a lawyer, says we are non partisan, we are only interested in putting forward our best hands pleading with ‘unserious aspirants’ who have joined the hordes of contenders for the governorship ticket to quit the race.
“While Edo Central’s reign under Oserheimen Osunbor was cut short after 18 months in office, Edo South with Lucky Igbinedion and Godwin Obaseki will be completing 16 years in the governorship saddle by November 11, 2024. Edo North has also had two terms of 8 years under Adams Oshiomhole,” it stated.
The governorship election is over a year from now but the race to clinch the all-important seat has commenced with the Esan people pushing hard to ensure they get it in 2024. From visible signs of early kickoff in their camp to mobilise indigenes in their favor, their dream may eventually become reality only if they are able to scale through the hurdles from the other two regions that may stand in their way.