By Ehichioya Ezomon
The umpire hasn’t signaled the commencement of the bout, and yet, a blow has landed on the nose. Twelve months to the 2024 governorship election in Edo State, politics is on the roll, but with a habitual deviation from the norm.
Politicians angling for governor – for themselves or their protégé – are engaging in bitter rivalry, and setting the stage for possible chaos and anarchy in the state.
The other day, alleged hired thugs descended on one of the frontline aspirants, Kenneth Imansuangbon.
His sin? Dumping membership of the Peoples Democratic Party, for Labour Party, and challenging a couple of political godfathers!
The attack on June 21 in Benin City comes after Imansuangbon was presented with a membership card, to formalise joining the LP at the ward and local government levels.
In a speech, Imansuangbon pronounced the PDP “dead in Edo State,” and slammed Governor Godwin Obaseki and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, for their role as “godfathers.” This prompts pointing of the finger at, particularly the PDP, as behind Imansuangbon’s attack.
The Edo Youths Change Agenda (EYCA) says the PDP’s realised that Imansuangbon’s defection to LP “was the end of its tyrannical rule in the state.
“The attack is clearly the handiwork of the ruling PDP but they have failed,” coordinator of the group, Comrade Reuben Imokhena, said in Benin City, even as he calls on security agencies to investigate, and prosecute the perpetrators.
Imokhena hails Imansuangbon as “the people’s choice, the most popular politician in Edo State today,” who, without any political appointment, has “touched the lives of ordinary Edo man.
“We are also sending a strong warning to the hirelings. Nobody has monopoly of violence. We opted to be law-abiding does not mean we are scared of them,” Imokhena said.
The ‘Skilled Workers for Imansuangbon’ – a coalition of artisans and traders in Edo State – condemns the attack, and tasks the opposition to play by the rules. The group’s chairman, Comrade Imatitikua Egbe, urges the aspirant not to nurse any fears to join the 2024 governorship race.
“They (sponsors of the attack) want to scare Imansuangbon out of the race,” Mr Egbe said, adding, “he (Imansuangbon) left the PDP and the party collapsed, which is why they want to stop him.”
Nicknamed “The Rice Man” – for his periodic gifting of thousands of bags of rice to many households in Edo – Imansuangbon decamped with several chieftains of the PDP.
They are, among others, Mr Andrew Emwanta, former Commissioner for Youths and Humanitarian Affairs, and Mrs Amen Ogbemudia-Uhumwangho, former Education Executive and daughter of the late Dr Samuel Ogbemidia, former military and civilian governor of the defunct Bendel State (Edo and Delta states).
Imansuangbon had served notice of his exiting the PDP when his efforts to grab the ticket for governor failed once more in 2020. For 20 years, he’d moved around several platforms – Grace Group, Action Democratic Congress (ACD), Action Congress (AC), and PDP – to no avail, due to antics of godfathers, who determine the fate of aspirants for elective offices.
Obaseki “frustrated” his attempt in the 2020 governorship poll, when the governor quit the All Progressives Congress, which’d denied him a re-election ticket. Obaseki didn’t get the PDP ticket on a platter, as Imansuangbon, Omoregie Ogbede-Ihama and Gideon Ikhine – who’d postured for it – took him through the crucible.
“After much horse-trading,” the trio withdrew from the race, and Obaseki stood “unopposed,” and received 1,952 votes from 2,234 accredited delegates at the primaries on June 26, 2020.
It was alleged that Obaseki “settled” Imansuangbon, Ogbede-Ihama and Ikhine with hefty amounts, to forgo their ambition. Both sides denied anything had changed hands.
Post-primary speech, Obaseki hailed the PDP and its state and national topshots that provided him and his supporters “cover” under the party umbrella, but with little or no credence given to those that “stepped-down” for him to earn a second term ticket.
Keen watchers of Edo politics think the attack on Imansuangbon is a backlash for his fiery claim that his defection to LP had caged Obaseki and Oshiomhole’s godfatherism in Edo State.
Yet, none anticipated the speed of a rebuttal in physical attack on Imansuangbon, who, on behalf of his co-defectors, said they joined LP “to release the average Edo electorate from the clutches of poverty and a new godfather” – an obvious reference to Obaseki.
He traced his 20-year sojourn on several platforms, and noted that, despite his good intentions, “few people refused to allow the will of the people to prevail” (to make him Governor).
He expressed gratitude to Edo people, “who remain one of the finest species God created under heaven,” and promised henceforth not to rely on godfathers.
Imansuangbon’s words: “I have done my best for Edo people… Now, my eyes are opened and I have decided to take my case in 2024 to God Almighty and to Edo people. I do not want to put my case in the hands of godfathers anymore.
“I am tired of the oppression of godfathers, I am tired of the pain of godfathers, I am tired of the godfathers’ deception and trick; I want to take my destiny and put into God’s hands as well as the hands of the people of Edo State.
“With God and Edo people, my 2024 is sure. So, I am not bothered (about) what the godfathers are planning, I am bothered about where they have failed us in the past. I am bothered about the resolution of the people. The people will be on my side. Hence the people are on my side, God is on my side.”
Imansuangbon added: “Let the people decide, let the people lead, let the people show the way, let the people’s voice count. We can no longer allow one man out of five million people to decide our fate. It is not going to happen in 2024.
“I pray that LP will get it right, and if they do get it right, and give me the ticket, Obaseki and Oshiomhole should know that their game is up. When I say their game is up, I mean it is over.”
Could Imansuangbon have conditioned his rhetoric? Certainly! “The body doesn’t itch to the extent of scratching it with a cutlass,” an Esan proverb warns. Or else, you inflict needless injury on self!
Having suffered political reverses from godfathers, Imansuangbon’s decided to be his own man, and take the fight to their doorsteps! Afterall, the Labour Party belled the cats – Obaseki and PDP, and Oshiomhole and APC – in Edo State in the February 25 presidential poll.
Though the party failed in the governorship election on March 18, Imansuangbon reckons he can swell LP’s support base to clinch the governor’s seat in 2024. That’s, if he gained the LP ticket above other contenders, especially among the foundation members.
So, Imansuangbon can stoop to conquer, by avoiding bellicose jingoism – unless his handlers calculate it’ll fetch him the elusive prize! From here, he and contenders for governor should dial down their pomposity, to save Edo State from unwanted crisis enroute to 2024.
* Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos