Very interesting scenarios are emerging in the run up to the Saturday March 18 governorship election as people who were hitherto dismissed as mere ‘traders’ with no electoral value have suddenly become ‘hot cake’ for governorship candidates and their promoters.
This is following the outcome of the February 25 presidential election that showed how the big parties and their mighty candidates suffered serious upsets with resounding defeat by the rampaging Labour Party which derived its victory largely from youths and traders’ votes.
‘Traders’ is a term used generally and derisively to describe Igbos of the South Eastern part of Nigeria who are mainly involved in trading, commerce and industrial enterprise. Before last election, they were not reckoned with politically, since the only language they were thought to understand was buying and selling.
But that narrative changed with the last Presidential and National Assembly elections when the ‘traders’ turned the table and proved their critics wrong with massive turnout and voting for their preferred candidates, particularly Peter Obi of the Labour Party who, incidentally, is another ‘trader’ in town.
The historic thing that happened was that the party, in spite of its newness, lack of structure, voter-intimidation, violence, and threat to life, was able to defeat the ruling APC and PDP in many states including Lagos.
Presently, there are three major contenders for the governorship seat in Lagos State and the importance of ‘traders’ votes is not lost on any of the candidates, hence the scramble, schemes and overtures by the candidates to corner those votes.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the incumbent governor who, ordinarily, would have sat back, waiting for the election day for a summary contest, is restless. He is the one leading this battle for the ‘traders’ votes, as he is busy meeting with various trader-groups to canvass for votes.
The governor was sighted in one of the Pentecostal churches in Lagos, Zion Ministry, pastored by Ebuka Obi where he sang and danced with the worshippers who are largely of the Igbo extraction. Though there was no official reason for the governor being there, political pundits are of the opinion that he must have gone to talk to the people about the coming election and solicited for their votes.
The governor has also frequently assured the Igbo community in Lagos of their safety. This arises from the frequent threats to life and property of Igbos in the state as well as intimidation and attack on their businesses and shops without provocation.
When a spare parts market in Akere, Ajeromi/Ifelodun area of the state was set ablaze by arsonists suspected to be political thugs working for unknown persons or groups, the candidates of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran, and that of the Labour Party (LP), Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, were almost falling over each other in their attempts to reach out to the fire victims.
While Adediran donated N5 million to the fire victims for their losses, Rhodes-Vivour donated N15 million with a promise to come back to rebuild the market if they give him their votes and if he wins the election.
The LP candidate does not hesitate to tell whoever cares to listen that he has natal link to Igboland by virtue of both his mother and wife coming from that part of the country. He therefore, enjoys the sympathy and support of the traders and hopefully their massive votes will go to him.
Lagos is not an isolated case. In Rivers State too where the ‘settler’ case is as pronounced as the ‘traders’ in Lagos, the story is basically the same. In the last few days, it has been a scramble for the ‘settler’ votes as the power brokers in the state have been outwitting one another, meeting with Igbo communities and groups in the state.
Governor Nyeson Wike, who leaves no one in doubt that he has iron grip on power in the state, is leaving no stone unturned. At an interactive town hall meeting with Technical Dealers Association of Nigeria, Computer Dealers Association, Garrison Phone Dealers Association and Building Materials Traders Association in Port Harcourt, the state capital, Wike praised Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party.
Wike, who worked against the Labour Party for APC, described Obi as the hero of the presidential election, saying, “Obi remains my hero of the election regardless of the insinuation that I did not support him; he may not have been pronounced as the winner, no problem, the law will take its course.”
It remains to be understood why Wike is making this volte face, but analysts are of the view that his present moves are predicated on the dismal performance of PDP relative to that of LP in the presidential election. Available statistics show that in the last presidential election, massive votes went to Labour Party which came second in the state with 175, 071 which was only 56,000 votes below what went to All Progressives Congress (APC) which the governor supported.
It was reported that those against Wike’s interest in the PDP got 88,603 votes for Atiku Abubakar. It is believed that a combination of votes of LP and PDP coming from people against Wike’s interest could overtake the 231,591 votes that APC got. The LP and PDP votes could get to 364,000. So, the governor, according to the analysts, “is working for the votes by whipping sentiments and telling half truths.”
Recently, former governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, addressed a townhall meeting in Oyigbo LGA of the state where he reminded Igbos that he was Ikwerre and that Ikwerre were Igbo. He added, “any Ikwerre man that denies his Igbo root is being insincere; my name is Amaechi and Chibuike; what is the meaning of that?”
He also revealed to them that Tonye Cole’s mother was from Anambra, meaning he was a grandson. At the end of the meeting, all trade leaders endorsed Cole of the APC and resolved to go swiftly back to summon meeting of their members and tell them what to do.
Similarly, Magnus Abe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has also held meetings with the Igbo block in the state where he said every person in the state was free to vote without intimidation. He said he received the endorsement of the Igbos.