By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The aphorism by the Yoruba that “whoever does something that is unusual will experience a consequence that is unusual” perfectly mirrors Edo state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki’s self-inflicted political bind. Having stirred the hornets’ nest with the June 17, 2019 controversial inauguration of the State House of Assembly, a contraption that bears his imprimatur, he has been at the receiving end of assaults from stakeholders and arbiters from within and outside the state.
Obaseki is, understandably, hysterical, seeking for critical support and legal ways to stave off the onslaughts against his position. Although, the prospects for survival in the short term look good, yet, in the long run, they may diminish irredeemably. In a circumstance such as this, in which a political solution is possible, a smart politician would have scoffed ego and retraced his steps in surrender to wise counsel to issue a fresh proclamation for proper inauguration of the State Legislature.
But nudged on by a motley crowd of narrow-minded advisers, associates and beneficiaries of government largesse, it is not always easy to subsume ego in supremacy battles in which illusions of victory hold sway. This has been the tragedy of Obaseki’s governorship. Those advising and encouraging him to defy the directive by the presidency, the national working committee of the APC and the National Assembly for the issuance of a fresh proclamation do not love him. They are certainly doing so in furtherance of their selfish political interests.
Indeed, when the chips are down, they will naturally take a walk, possibly cap-in-hand, to the other camp, for forgiveness and reconciliation; and, Obaseki will be left in the lurch alone, an ill-fated, deflated, pathetic power monger and serial anti-party actor. Funnily enough, many of the advisers were, perhaps, either nowhere close to him or did not give him a chance of becoming governor in 2016.
Out of persona animus, they must have kept their distance when the former governor of the state and national chair of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, anointed him as his successor and practically put him on his back for governorship electioneering across the state in 2016. The Oshiomhole momentum that produced the Obaseki governorship was sui generis. Oshiomhole did the talking and dancing at campaigns while candidate Obaseki just managed, most of the times, to let off some smiles and read from prepared texts.
Today, Governor Obaseki has challenged his chi (god) to a fight. I do not care about the concerns being raised and insinuations being made in certain quarters over the resurgence of a godfather’s tendency on the part of Oshiomhole. As the leader of the APC political family in Edo that produced the Obaseki governorship, Oshiomhole’s stake-holding in the enterprise is critical and validates his responses and actions, whether overt or covert, at saving the APC in Edo state from Obaseki’s mismanagement of victory.
In fact, I am in consensus ad idem with those who subscribe to the view that any action(s) that tends or tend to discount the Oshiomhole’s political influence in the manner that Obaseki had plotted his predecessor’s political eclipse should not be allowed to flourish on the grounds that it mirrors political treachery that is capable of bringing down the entire APC structure in Edo. Obaseki’s original gambit was to dismantle Oshiomhole’s political structure and supplant it with his in the build-up to the 2019 general election.
The political plot would have been seamlessly achieved had providence not thrust the position of national chair of the APC on the laps of the Iyamho-born labour unionist and politician. One may not know the gravamen that precipitated the conflict between the godfather and his godson as a former governor of the state and former national chair of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun indicated in a chat with journalists in Benin ahead of his 80th birthday, however, I disagree with his suggestion that because he, as national chair, did not interfere with the governance of the state under Oshiomhole, therefore, Oshiomhole, as national chair, should not have interfered with Obaseki’s governance of Edo.
While the Odigie-Oyegun analogy may appear logical on the surface and only to the extent that Oshiomhole did not facilitate Obaseki’s emergence as governor, the analogy is malapropos at the level of deeper logic. While Odigie-Oyegun was not instrumental to Oshiomhole’s governorship and there was no basis upon which he could have interfered in the administration, the Obaseki administration was packaged by Oshiomhole on the philosophy of continuity of the policies and programmes of the APC administration that he superintended over in Edo for eight years.
Through Oshiomhole’s political nimbleness, the monumental sacrifices that he made and the risks that he took confronting the behemoth of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the APC has been able to maintain its hold on Edo as the only state it controls in the entire South-south zone. If there was anything that spoke eloquently for the revalidation of mandate in the APC in Edo state, it was Oshiomhole’s goodwill that was produced by his pro-people governance approach that got the vast majority of Edo people to support his administration, especially in his fight to upend the influence of the tribe of obdurate political godfathers in the state.
Oshiomhole’s “one-man-one-vote” mantra gave a sense of inclusive participation and importance to the masses in the democratic process of determining who their leaders would be. His rapprochement with civil servants in the state benefitted from his understanding of the terrain as a former president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC); and, this accounted for his administration’s decision to implement the payment of N25, 000 as against N18, 000 as minimum wage to Edo workers.
There was massive infrastructure development, which was largely celebrated while Oshiomhole was in the saddle. Some of the laudable projects such as the Benin Water Storm project, Benin Central Hospital, etc., were to be continued and completed by the Obaseki administration. Has Obaseki completed them? That is one of the concerns in the APC. What of APC’s political structure? How well has Obaseki managed and deployed it in consolidating the victory of the APC and its administration in Edo? That is another concern.
Perhaps, it was the mismanagement of the political structure ahead of the 2019 general election that created the division in the state chapter of the party. The governor’s failed bid to impose his men who were perceived as unpopular candidates on the party in that election was, perhaps, partly at the root of his grouse about Oshiomhole.
Whereas, according to a grapevine, Oshiomhole was interested in the APC fielding popular candidates who could win election, Obaseki differed because the perceived popular candidates happened to have all served, just as he did, in Oshiomhole’s government; and, to that extent, they were categorized as Oshiomhole’s loyalists. The subsequent animus had produced frenzied reactions by Obaseki who was said to have threatened on different occasions to align with some governors to remove Oshiomhole as national chair.
Besides, the governor is always quoted to have declared his readiness to fight. As it is, the coast is clear for him to fight since he has made up his mind to defy the directive of relevant stakeholders to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the State House of Assembly. I doubt if he can withstand the free for all in the APC with the 2020 governorship ticket as the prize to win or lose.
The party’s position on a fresh proclamation, regardless of judicial intercession, is supreme. The support of the National Assembly is critical. The approbation by the Presidency and the intervention by the royal fathers in the state, which Obaseki discountenanced, are supportive. Except, Obaseki has perfected his exit strategy to pick the governorship ticket of another party, he is headed for political hara-kiri in the APC. Can he run the gauntlet in the governing party? Can he have his cake and eat it? Time will tell.
*Ojeifo contributed this piece via email@example.com