OPINION | Edo: Beyond Oshiomhole and Obaseki

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By Hon. Josef Omorotionmwan

We have embarked on a long journey – perhaps a journey to nowhere. For all we know, we must occasionally pause to ask a few questions and to point ourselves to order, where necessary.

The social media space is quite busy. Notwithstanding, we shall today be x-raying two video clips – one ill-timed and the other issued in bad taste. The first is on Governor Godwin Obaseki and the qualification question while the second is a throwback to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 70. The historical falsehood contained in this video must be corrected. We saw the authors here struggling desperately to heap the causes of the Nigerian Civil War at the doorsteps of Omo n’ Oba n’ Edo, Uku Akpobkpolo, Eredianwa, the 39th Oba of Benin, CFR Prince Solomon Akenzua, as he then was. The story line runs that Nigeria was hopelessly divided at the time – those who supported Lt. Col. OdumeguOjukwu said the war was caused by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon while believers in Gowon said that the war was caused by Ojukwu; but in actuality, the war was caused by Prince Solomon Akenzua. This is a lie from the pit of hell. We must quickly add that the view that Prince Akenzua caused the war is not new. It has been the view of some misguided and uninformed elements of the Igbo extraction who wanted to see the Aburi Declaration implement hook, line and sinker inspite of its imperfections. And mischief makers will stop at nothing to distort history despite Oba Eredianwa’s efforts to straighten things in his life time. Listen to the narrative: The Aburi meeting, which held in Aburi Ghana, on January 4 – 5 1967 was an attempt to seek a peaceful solution to the Nigerian crisis. It was a meeting of the Military High Command – attended by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Odumegu Ojukwu, Major Mobolaji Johnson, Commodor JEA Wey, Alh. Kam Salem, etc, plus a few civilians, including Prince Akenzua.

It is instructive that at a point the civilians, including Prince Akenzua were excused from the hall. During the short interregnum, Ojukwu apparently outsmarted Gown.

Back home in Nigeria, Prince Akenzua and other top Permanent Secretaries reviewed the Aburi Declaration and found that Gown had, perhaps inadvertently, given out too much to Ojukwu.

It was the duty of Prince Akenzua to point out their observations to Gowon which he did in a well-crafted Memo dated January 8, 1967.

Armed with the memo, Gowon summoned a meeting of the Military High Command in Benin City, 16 – 18 January, 1967, at which there was a wholesale rejection of the Aburi Declaration. Meanwhile, Ojukwu had gone to town with his famous slogan, “On Aburi We Stand”.

After that, things fell apart and the centre could no longer hold, leading ultimately to the outbreak of hostilities at 5 a.m on July 6 1967 at Ogoja in present day Cross River State.

In this instance, the detractors have succeeded in telling us what we already know – Prince Akenzua was a profound Permanent Secretary who had his head on his shoulders – always on top of his elements. On intelligence and integrity, he was unbeatable. Of course, this runs in the family, given the dexterity with which his father weathered the storm in the turbulent days of the Action Group, AG, in the Wild-Wild West of that era.

In his days, Permanent Secretaries were the Chief Advisers to Government, unlike their present day counterparts who are basically glorified stenographers. The Permanent Secretary’s advice was to be accepted or rejected. His duty was to lay open, the policy options available to Government. Mr. Gray Longe, Head of the Federal Civil Service in the President ShehuShagari years puts it rather succinctly. As a Permanent Secretary, you are not to argue with the Minister. Your duty is to advise the Minister, which advice could be accepted or rejected. You have to tell him that his office is on the 6th floor from that 6th floor, there are three ways of getting down – he may use the lift; walk down from the stir-case; or he could jump down through the window. If the Minister opts to jump down from the window, the duty of the Permanent Secretary would be to procure all available foams and matrasses so that he does not break any limb when he jumps down.”      

Given this scenario, why would anyone continue to ascribe to Prince Akenzua, the principal causes of the Civil War when his advice to Gowon could have as well been rejected?

Is it not also clear that some outspoken Military Officers like TY Danjuma and Mortala Mohammed who were not at the Aburi Conference could have been more interested in knowing the accord? In good conscience, would anyone also say they caused the war?

Certificate racketeering has virtually become a way of life in Nigeria; and it has lost its lustre. If nothing else, it readily provides a comic relief for today’s politicians in their struggle for naked power. There are more fundamental issues than certificate racketeering that should be engaging our attention. It should bother us that this is no longer the Edo State that our founding fathers bequeathed to us. The state is gliding perilously towards the edge of a precipice!

Should it not bother us that far into the 21st century, people who won an election cannot be sworn-in? Should it not bother us that our Legislature is standing on just one of its legitimately assigned three legs even when a war-torn States like Borno stands on all fours? Should it not bother us that two-thirds of our people are not represented in the Parliament to which they believe they have since sent representatives?

The flawed interpretation of one-third quorum by our pseudo constitutional lawyers will soon be stripped bare.

Very soon, the National Assembly will embark on the ritual of constitutional amendments, some of which will require the concurrence of two-thirds of members of the State House of Assembly. It will then be seen how the strict constructionists will get 8 members to fulfill the two-thirds requirement of a 24-member House!

Flowing from the above, we shall soon realize that we are wallowing in illegalities and the legislations of this minority legislature will come to naught someday.

Edo is gliding dangerously on a slippery slope and we are all watching. The people who should do something about it are also watching. The golf is already so wide that each combatant has assumed the position of “here I stand” and none is willing to listen to the other side.

Evidently, the only meaningful intervention in Edo APC today can only come from outside the State. It has gone beyond waiting for the people to settle themselves. It has gone beyond Oshiomhole and Obaseki. They are already too deep in their respective trenches.

President MuhammaduBuhari has watched enough. The next election is around the corner. If victory is not going to slip off the hand of the APC, Buhari should wait no further to rise up and clear the mess in the State.

In all conscience, do we need any cult of experts to tell us that the problem of the APC in Edo State may not be too far from Buhari? See how it goes: At the Ward, Local Government and State levels, APC is thoroughly entrenched in the State. By whatever contraptions, APC wins the elections at those levels but when it comes to Buhari’s election (Presidential), the party hits the rock. And by benefit of hindsight, Edo is one State that ab initio embraced progressivism as symbolized by the outing of the Social Democratic Party. SDP, during the MKO Abiola debacle; and other subsequent elections before Buhari.

Now that Buhari is beginning to disengage from the scene, if he is not to handover that contingent liability to his successor(s), he must work earnestly hard to bring a change. Every effort should begin with settling the current imbroglio in the State.

The combatants must realize that there are two sides to every coin. Each side is right. As we embark on the peace move, each side must soften its stand. The process will involve a lot of compromises, horse trading, and a lot of give and take. For sure, this is not the time for shadow chasing while the substance eludes us. Edo is our State! It shall not die!


February 26 2020

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