The outcome of the 19 September gubernatorial election in the southern Edo state will have major implications for the balance of power within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In fact, if the APC fails to win in Edo state, this could put a premature end to south-western powerbroker Bola Tinubu’s widely suspected ambition to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari as the party’s presidential candidate in 2023.
Recall that, in March 2020, Edo State’s popular Governor Godwin Obaseki managed to revoke the party membership of APC chairman Adams Oshiomole, who also hails from Edo state, and subsequently remove him from his position. In doing so, Obaseki secured the open support of 12 other party state chapters, indicating the increasing factionalism within the APC. While Oshiomole was the imminent target, the move was clearly aimed at the party’s south-western strongman Tinubu, who had installed Oshiomole as party chairman in 2018. The Tinubu faction subsequently hit back, forcing Obaseki to switch sides and join the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), on whose platform he is now seeking a second term as Edo state governor.
Following Oshiomole’s ouster, the APC is currently led by a caretaker committee, while a new chairman is supposed to be elected during a party convention tentatively scheduled for December. Although the caretaker committee is yet to announce the ‘zoning arrangement’ for the party’s executive positions, it is generally accepted that the chairmanship will be reserved for a candidate from Oshiomhole’s ‘South-South’ region.
Reports from Edo suggest that, even though his sacking was upheld by the court of appeal, Oshiomhole still aims to reclaim the chairmanship. However, it will be almost impossible for him to even contest the position unless APC candidate Osagie Ize-Iyamu, whose campaign he is now leading, wins the election against Obaseki. Against this background, the upcoming election is expected to be particularly violent and marred be fraud.
By extension, the results in Edo state and the subsequent election of a new party leadership will inform Tinubu’s already waning chances of winning the APC’s presidential primary in 2022. Tinubu will need a loyalist at the helm of the party, especially as he faces internal opposition not only from the APC’s northern establishment, but also from his own south-western backyard. As state chapter delegates at the primary typically vote on block as instructed by their state governor, securing Edo will also be crucial, as tight competition has to be expected for Buhari’s succession.