By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The nation has taken note of the poorly-choreographed shenanigans by the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, through a facilitated coup executed by five or nine of the 24 APC members that comprise the State House of Assembly. Obaseki and his camp had resorted to a gangsterish operation of forcefully “arresting” or “abducting” members of the other camp.
The “arrest” was to force them to attend the divisive inauguration held on Monday, June 17, while the “abduction” was to get them into the chambers to take the hemlock of forced swearing in. The controversial speaker, Frank Okiye, and his cohort have burdened themselves with a membership drive for legitimacy.
Legitimising the travesty of the rebellious minority in the attempt to supplant the established majority in the appropriation of the speakership position is herculean. The preponderant view is that sooner or later, the travesty will come to a denouement and rationality will be restored.
But the immediate concern is whether or not Obaseki is benefiting from good advice. Some people believe that the state’s governance architecture is being mismanaged. They are of the opinion that the governor is progressing in errors and making strategic missteps. He is thus escalating intra-party tension to the joy of the opposition PDP.
Those close to the development in Edo claim that Obaseki has resorted to arm-twisting and witch-hunt because he lacks the temperament to lobby and persuade; otherwise he should have been able to manage the disparate elements within the political family that he inherited from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
It is thus feared that the centre can no longer hold on the governor’s watch and there are reasonable doubts if this debacle was envisaged when Oshiomhole, single-handed, ensured that the party picked Obaseki as his successor. Building on the understanding of his political family, Oshiomhole had constructed a triumvirate that included Philip Shaibu as deputy governor and Osarodion Ogie as the Secretary to the State Government.
Whereas that is what every good team leader should do; Oshiomhole successfully managed the intricacies of power transfer. He purportedly arranged the team to be able to continue in his governance trajectory and preserve the administration’s legacy. Perceptibly, Oshiomhole did the right thing by ensuring that the APC supported his pick through the instrumentalities of conversation and rational argument.
However, Oshiomhole’s alleged overbearing leadership by those he carried on his back to get into offices would appear unfortunate. That is the complexion of betrayal. That he was not overbearing when he assisted them to power mirrors unconscionable dubiety. Obaseki remains the greatest beneficiary of Oshiomhole’s political eleemosynary acts.
Recall that Obaseki, a graduate of Classics, chaired the State Economic and Strategy Team for seven years. That would play a providential role in his choice. He was believed, against the run of his academic discipline, to be a mismatch. He was, however, said to be largely instrumental to the formulation of the policies that “transformed” the economy of the state.
Those close to him said he was smart enough to employ consultants on economy to assist in formulating policies for which he was touted as the “economic brain box” of the Oshiomhole administration. That Oshiomhole lobbied party leaders to support Obaseki’s candidature on that score approximated a catholic consultative approach and indicated his resolve to preserve the Zeitgeist of the administration through Obaseki’s governorship: continuity of APC’s development policies and programmes in the State.
Some party leaders are not happy that the governor has betrayed the philosophy that underpinned the idea of continuity. According to credible feelers from Benin, the governor has largely upended most of the projects that Oshiomhole started and which were conceptualized with his (Obaseki) input. A sampler: the N30-billion Benin Water Storm project, which was designed to address the perennial erosion problem in the state capital, has been abandoned.
Yet another: the Benin Central Hospital has yet to fully take off. The project was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari before Oshiomhole left office in 2016. What is required, according to credible information, is for Obaseki to use his good offices to ensure that the contractors supply equipment ordered as well as to emplace the requisite administrative infrastructure.
But the seeming change in policy direction must be curious to his estranged political leader and associates. This perhaps speaks to Obaseki’s disguised contempt for Oshiomhole and his alleged domineering leadership. Obaseki played the Chichidodo bird (in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful ones are not yet born) and secured a strategic endorsement by playing the possum- projecting the chimera of meekness and loyalty.
Although, some are wont to assert that Oshiomhole is in a cold embrace with karma, they have yet to issue convincing validations about the truth of that assertion. If Oshiomhole had entered into political agreements with some forces in Edo state and there was bad faith by the other parties to necessitate a determination of the agreements, he could not be said to have acted out of place.
Without a doubt, Oshiomhole’s relationship with Obaseki was that of “godfather-godson”. The claim that godfatherism had been dismantled in Edo is a fiery tale. What Oshiomhole did was to refine and redefine the concept to align it with democratic ethos of conversation, election and consensus. Certainly, godfatherism is an ecumenical concept and a cosmopolitan reality.
The godfather provides a protective shield for the godson. So it was with Oshiomhole and Obaseki. As quid pro quo, Obaseki was to give back fidelity to the philosophical inspiration of continuity of APC’s laudable development programmes and policies. It may, however, be difficult to know where Oshiomhole offended his godson; the opinion in some quarters is that Obaseki’s rebellion is not only a sacrilege but also not an appropriate comeuppance. .
There is a line of argument that Oshiomhole, who is national chair of the APC, possibly misconceived or misconstrued the Obaseki persona. The subsequent decision of picking Obaseki resides in the past. There is festering tension in Edo. Oshiomhole’s muted disposition is indicted in the worsening tension. Perhaps the plan is to undercut him in the miasma of Edo local politics.
But Oshiomhole’s position as national chair purportedly enjoys presidential approbation and can thus not be diminished in the circumstance of his godson’s rebellion. Even though, his purported proxy counterpoise in the festering battle to undercut him is more speculative than otherwise, there is a sense in which he is believed to be a rallying point for party men and women opposed to Obaseki’s alleged divisive governance style.
For instance, it is considered politically imprudent for the governor to ceaselessly aggravate APC leaders by characterizing them as only interested in having the state’s resources shared to them. Those who left the party before the 2019 general election are back and are committed to scuttling Obaseki’s second term bid. This is the point at issue. The governor knows and has been reaching out of the APC to allegedly procure curious endorsements.
Obaseki’s perceived hijack (whether it will stand or not is another kettle of fish) of the State Legislature is the latest desperate and dilatory attempt at power inebriation. With nomination for next year’s governorship election a few months away, Obaseki has become the proverbial chicken perching on a rope, causing the chicken and the rope to be ill-at-ease. He is on a rebellion, raiding the godfather’s political ark-a dangerous and provocative undertaking by every imaginable standard.
Can the godson, who is enjoying the support of his deputy, Phillip Shaibu, another godson to Oshiomhole, whose imprimatur is believed to be writ-large on the recent rascally act in the State Legislature, come back to his senses and avert a possible collateral damage in the APC? Can there be reconciliation and compromise? Are these possibilities now not too remote to contemplate? Can Obaseki shed his garb of perceived selfish politics believed to be what is ailing the Edo APC and return to the republican path? Only time will tell.
▪ Ojeifo, a journalist, contributed this piece from Abuja