In Edo, It’s a Battle Between the Godfather and His Godson

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Adibe Emenyonu writes that the rift between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and his benefactor who is also former governor of the state, and National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has become obvious

Not too long ago, precisely on the May Day rally in Benin City, capital of Edo State, Governor Godwin Obaseki who flew in same day after his four-week annual vacation to celebrate the with workers, was confronted with the questions on the differences between him and his predecessor but he bluntly denied, saying there was no rift.

Similarly, when the governor visited APC members in Edo Central, he also said there was no rift between him and his predecessor, insinuating that the polity was experiencing some heat due to the activities of some Abuja-based detractors of the, which he did not name. He went further to reiterate that he won’t use Edo resources to satisfy their insatiable greed.

In spite of the denial by the governor, investigations revealed that there is actually a face-off between him and Oshiomhole. The way it stands, the battle line has been drawn. Loyalists of both war lords have positioned themselves for the mother of all battles if there is no truce between now and the 2020 governorship election in Edo State.

The event at the 10km Okpekpe Road Race, actually exposed all the denials by Obaseki and the taciturn posture of Oshiomhole, which confirmed the speculation that the relationship between the two leaders has become fragile.

The annual event, in the past four years, usually features Oshiomhole and his successor, Godwin Obaseki in attendance, along with other political figures in the state. However, this year’s edition, which is the 7th in the series was devoid of the usual pomp and pageantry.

During the race, it was observed that not only was Obaseki absent from the event, Oshiomhole ran in another VIP race tagged, “APC Race” which was strange for an international event of that magnitude.

While Oshiomhole ran alone, the State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu; and Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie; ran alongside other dignitaries in another VIP race.

The fragmentation of the race by the organisers is believed by many political watchers present at the event was as a result of the friction between Oshiomhole, his successor and his political sons (Philip Shaibu and Osarodion Ogie).

Besides, his absence at the Okpekpe road race, Obaseki was also not present at the Founders Day ceremony of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH which had in attendance Oshiomhole and former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon.

The governor, it was learnt, had to stay away when news got to him that his predecessor was at the event. But his aides were quick to dismiss the assertion and blamed the authority of the teaching hospital for the governor’s absence, attributing it to the sudden change in the time the governor was expected to be there.

It was gathered that the sole motive for the seeming fight is the pressure on Oshiomhole by his loyalists to stop Obaseki from flying the party’s flag in the 2020 governorship election. This agitation appears to be gaining momentum by the day.

Though Obaseki is serving his third year as governor, unfolding political events in state indicate that not minding the decoy of not being a politician but a technocrat, he is interested in having a second term of office.

This is what the Oshiomhole loyalists don’t want to hear. Their reasons for wanting Obaseki out is crystal clear: His inhuman attitude to party men and women who he frequently warns that Government House is not APC party secretariat. The people accuse Obaseki of not handing out political patronage through board appointments, contract and above all, lack of welfare.

They also claim that apart from the dualised Ehaikpen Road that runs through TV Road and the Irhirhi – Ogheghe road that is still on going, the governor has not done much. Most road projects in the state which Obaseki has appropriated to shore up his performance index were actually carried out by development agencies like State Employment and Expenditure for Results (SEEFOR), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Area Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC) as well as the World Bank.

According to them, most of the projects done by these development agencies that is being claimed by Obaseki, have had their counterpart funds paid by Oshiomhole before he left office in 2016 and so, there was nothing to account for the “wake and see”, a sobriquet that his followers have bestowed on Obaseki.

Last week, the lawmaker, representing Oredo East Constituency, Chris Okaeben, came out to accuse Obaseki of trying to obliterate Oshiomhole’s legacies in the state.  He recalled the blunt refusal of the governor to open the ultramodern Central Hospital built by Oshiomhole and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari, three years after. Worst still, he said the governor was the Chairman of Edo Economic Team when the hospital was conceived and built. He queried why Obaseki did not advice against it rather that turn around to set up a kangaroo committee to look into the viability of the hospital.

The governor is not taking it easy with his critics> At different times, he fired back at those who do not want him to have a second shot at Dennis Osadebey House, seat of Edo Government House.

Recently, a chieftain of the APC in the state, Mr. Martins Osakwe, came out in defence of Obaseki, saying well-meaning politicians in the state chapter of the APC are solidly behind the governor and admonished him to ignore the tantrums of a handful of self-serving politicians, who he said are bent on cornering the state’s funds for themselves.

Osakwe, a proprietor of Paragon Demonstration Group of Schools, insisted that only enemies of Edo State will deny Governor Godwin Obaseki a second term in office. Osakwe in an interview with journalists in Benin City, added that it is only a handful of greedy politicians that are against another term of office for the governor because of his refusal to settle them with monies meant for the development of the state.

According to him, “Only an enemy of Edo State will say Obaseki doesn’t deserve a second term. Governor Godwin Obaseki is perhaps the best we have had. Those against him are people he told he can’t share Edo money to, and they are angry. This state has more than four million people and those of us in politics are not more than five percent. The governor was elected to serve everybody and that is what he is doing. God wants him to serve the majority. The opposition will even vote for the governor with his performance.”

The school proprietor cum politician said there was no denying the governor’s sterling performance, he pointed out that Obaseki has astounded many in the state and beyond, noting, “There is no doubt that Governor Obaseki has performed wonderfully well. It is not only the quantity of project that he has delivered but the quality. You can deliver 100 projects without having 10 good ones. But Obaseki has not only delivered so many projects within a short time he has delivered on projects qualitatively.”

To Osakwe, there are roads in Benin City that people thought could not be executed by any state government, one of which was Lucky Way that has being delivered.

He further noted that even the much talk that some of the roads are being built by development agencies is neither here nor there because these agencies have existed since the past administrations. The roads they build cannot stand pressure. He asked them to concentrate on building durable that cannot be washed away in the rainy season.

With this development, the APC is obviously divided into two camps: The “Abuja” group with the sole agenda to rescue the party from the grip of the governor; and the “Home” front with the mandate to ensure Obaseki is returned for a second term.

On the front line for Obaseki in the political show of force is Oshiomhole’s once political strategists and presently the Secretary to the Edo State government, Osarodion Ogie, Deputy Governor, Phillip Shaibu, Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele, former Political Advisers to Oshiomhole, Charles Idahosa, APC state Chairman, Anslem Ojezua and  Osaro Idah, Political Adviser to the governor among others.

Among the anti-Obaseki politicians is former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Henry Idahagbon; former House of Representatives member, Samson Osagie; State Secretary of APC, Lawrence Okah; Frank Evbuomwan, former state Commissioner for Works; Alhaji Charlton Mogaji, Chief Francis Inegbeniki, Hon Patrick Ikhariale, former member of the House of Representatives; former Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Thomas Okosun,  Ken Ihenseikhien, former member, Edo House of Assembly; and Chris Ebare.

Others are the foot soldiers like Tony Kabaka of Akugbe Ventures, Osakpanwan Eriyo , aka ‘Nomoless’ an executive member of Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Abuja.

Incidentally, the anti-Obaseki’s group in APC is not resting on its oars to ensure the second term ticket eludes him. Using a special purpose vehicle known as Edo Peoples Movement, (EPM), the group has met twice. They came up with a resolution, handing out a red card to Obaseki and reiterated its earlier stance to sink his second term ambition.

At the meeting, the group also gave a stern warning to the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to stay away, noting that the party in Edo as its stand presently, risks a loss to the PDP should Obaseki be allowed to come back for a second term.

The group comprises political leaders across the three senatorial districts of the state. It is led by Frank Evbuowan. This platform, which is becoming stronger by the day was convened by the former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Samson Osagie and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Henry Idahagbon.

Part of the group’s grouse against the governor was spelt out in a communique signed by members where they noted that, “the monumental loss of the All Progressive Congress in Edo State in the last Presidential and National Assembly elections was as a result of the actions of Governor Godwin Obaseki towards the party and its members

That as the next governorship election in the state approaches, they have resolved to work and deliver any candidate who is adequately equipped to strike a balance between delivering on good governance for the people and promoting the party platform that forms the government.

That since Governor Obaseki certainly does not fit into this description, the National Chairman of APC is hereby urged to support the candidate to be chosen else, the party stands the risk of losing grip on the government in Edo State to other political parties, which they accuse the governor of empowering secretly.

That the group condemns in the strongest terms the resort to intimidation and harassment of loyal party members by the governor and his aides on account of their dissent with the style of governance and none fulfillment of promises made to many local government areas during his campaign.

Not one to fold his arms while blows are thrown at him, Obaseki is also fighting back. Recently, he was alleged to have threatened to deal with the state party secretary, Mr. Lawrence Okah who he perceived to be close Oshiomhole.

A source close to a meeting the governor held with leaders of the party in Oredo disclosed that  he asked the state party scribe to resign. According to an eye witness the latter told Obaseki to his face that he cannot resign because he was elected. At a recent meeting of the party in the locality, Okah was said to have been giving a clean bill of health to continue as secretary by the executives of the party.

Not done,  the Vice Chairman of Orhionmwon council, Eleduwa also got a bitter pill when he was recently impeached by councilors. He was alleged to have prodded some aides and acolytes of the governor on account of his closeness to the former Deputy Governor of the State, Dr. Pius Odubu who also contested the governorship primaries in 2016 with Obaseki, a position he is presently eyeing.

Also, a Special Assistant to the Chairman of Uhunmwode Local Government Council was alleged to have been recently sacked on the orders of a latter day convert of the governor on account of his posts on social media about the state of infrastructure in Uhunmwode LGA.

These and many other acts of alleged harassment and intimidation of party members, according to the group has been the hallmark of the Obaseki administration.

 As the supremacy battle between the pro and anti Obaseki group rages, another group in support of Obaseki under the aegis of Concerned Edo Youths, have emerged to support the governor. They say he must not succumb to ‘greedy politicians’, who have decided to attack the governor over his refusal to settle them with public funds.

The youths, armed with placards bearing different inscriptions in support of Governor Obaseki, stormed the King’s Square in Benin City, insisting that the governor must contest and run for another term of four years, regardless of the misgivings of a few greedy politicians, who want to corner the people’s patrimony.

One of the leaders of the protest, Mr. Kelly Okungbowa, said: “Governor Obaseki has done well. Testimonies abound in all parts of the state to prove that. Anybody that says the governor is not working, doesn’t live in this state.

“We want him to run for another term. We take offense with what some greedy politicians are saying that the governor is not sharing money to them. We don’t want him to share Edo people’s money to greedy politicians. We are solidly behind him on that.”

A top party leader in the state who pleaded anonymity has however, dismissed the rumour of rift between Obaseki and his predecessor, saying that it is wrong for anybody to conclude that Oshiomhole’s silence gives credence to the fact that the rift is real. He argued that the national Chairman’s silence could also mean that there is no rift.

Amidst torrents of endorsements for second term and accolades of good performance, as well as condemnation by some party leaders for running an administration that lacks human face,  Obaseki has been advised to resolve all disagreements if any between him and his predecessor, before aspiring for a second term.

The Okanlete of Esan Land, Major General Cecil Esekhaigbe (rtd), who gave the advise in a statement titled: ‘Governor Godwin Obaseki and the Cocktail of Endorsements,’ said rather than relying on endorsements, the governor should do the needful by immediately reaching out to Oshiohmole, to sort out whatever grievances they may have against each other.

The traditional ruler said evidence abound in Edo State and elsewhere, where attempts to replace an existing formidable political structure, with a new self-styled structure caused a collateral and irreparable political damage.

He cautioned Obaseki to be conscious and resist the temptation of being misguided by the assumed support of many he described as political soldiers without weapons, adding that “it is obvious that the political class in Edo APC is yet to realise the need for genuine rapprochement between the governor and his predecessor.”

Every well-meaning APC stalwart he continued, should support the state party Chairman towards this rapprochement, as they must be conscious of the fact that Edo State is not a one-party state, pointing out that this is not the time to play the ostrich and subterfuge.

Esekhaigbe emphatically enjoined the Edo governor to bridge any gap with Oshiomhole and other political leaders before crossing what he termed the “start-line” for the imminent political battle. He noted that doing so, does not mean Obaseki is mortgaging his political authority and freedom of action as governor of Edo State because any scotched-earth tactical approach in political battle naturally leads to Armageddon.

The retired military general and traditional ruler said he is not convinced the governor has enough ammunition from these drum beat of war and proliferation of endorsements.

He also asked Oshiomhole to reminiscent the good relationship he cultivated with Obaseki over the years to ask himself if the battle is justified in order to have receptive and meaningful dialogue, adding that the governor was capable of taking the state to the Next Level as he has started well and should end well.

Drawing inference from the words of his forebear who he said once told him that “those who encourage a child to over-eat in the night, may not accompany the child to the toilet in the mid-night,” the traditional leader said since the governor got elected into his first term without any unnecessary fight, his second term should not be different.

Some of the names speculated to be interested in occupying Osadebey Avenue include a former Minister of State for Works, Dr. Chris Ogiemwonyi; former Deputy Governor Pius Odubu and retired Major General Charles Airhiavbvere. Who amongst the three is capable to upstage Obaseki? Or is there a third force?