Coming Out of His Shell

1
Godwin Obaseki

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the face-off between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole has forced Obaseki, previously perceived as weak to display valour and candour historically associated with his forebears

Without the comfort of colleague governors from the South-south region who share the same partisan inclination as members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of Edo State is somewhat lonely. He stands without help from other equals in the South-west, North-east, North-central and North-west , who naturally have an ideological shoulder to lean on. What should have been a source of comfort to him with the elevation of his erstwhile friend and former governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has, unfortunately, become a source of enduring distress.

For about seven years, Obaseki was a trusted lieutenant, who served Oshimhole as the Chairman of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team. It is largely to Obaseki’s credit that the state’s Internally Generated Revenue shot up. One year after his appointment, he was able to secure, for the state, N25 billion infrastructure development bond from the Nigerian capital market in 2010. Deploying his knowledge as an Investment Banker, Obaseki helped the Oshiomhole administration to usher in an unprecedented era of prosperity to Edo. Particularly, for this reason of continuing to grow the state economy, Oshiomhole felt confident that he was leaving the state in the hands of a capable administrator.

Previously, Edo was mostly in the news for issues relating to human trafficking. In the last couple of months, however, since the Obaseki versus Oshiomhole spat which was vehemently denied by both parties has blown into a full-scale quarrel, without restrain, the face-off has submerged all other reports coming out of the state. Apart from the principal characters in the broil, their acolytes have lined up behind them to fire shots at the opposing camps; some of them seizing this inauspicious moment to air pent up aggression or settle old scores. That is how the intervention of the former APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is being perceived in some quarters. Odigie-Oyegun was ousted from that office by a perceived sabotage from a powerful bloc in the party supported by the National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu. Oshiomhole is believed to be a close confidant of Tinubu and has the backing of the APC National Leader in most of his actions.

What is happening between the Edo State Governor and the National Chairman of the APC is not particularly new. Many former Nigerian governors have the disreputable character of trying to control an incumbent governor, who was installed by them. After a season of acquiescence , the insistence of the governors to be removed from the apron strings of their ‘masters’ usually lead to serious conflict, which affects governance. Under the illusion that the apparatus of control is still within their reach, the ex-governors embark on a futile gambit in which they come out, mostly diminished. The incumbent governors, having fully got a handle on the enormous powers available to him, deploy it, sometimes reluctantly against their former boss.

These all too familiar disagreements between former governors and incumbent governors have assumed a recognizable nature: At the centre of the dispute, typically, is struggle for control of the finances of the state. With the ex office holder making an attempt to decide what juicy pies should come to him, and the sitting governor complying for a period of time, then a phase of divergence follows, when the current governor insists on being his own man. The simmering crack filters to the public through tell tale signs like the former ‘master’ refusing to appear in public with the present governor. Speculations start flying everywhere while attempts are being made to reconcile both parties, who studiously deny the existence of any rift. The unwillingness to shift position, particularly on the part of the former governors who still retain a vaunted estimation of themselves, soon enough, results into irreconcilable differences. At this point, the warring personalities are ready to remove all pretences and go full-throttle at each other.

More than anything else, the face-off with Oshiomhole has made the public to see Obaseki in colours they never knew he had. Away from the perceived timorous attitude, the Edo State Governor has recently shown a display of valour and candour historically associated with his forebears, the Iyase of Benin, that is, the Second in Command (to the revered Oba of Benin), Prime Minister, Commander-in-Chief. With such a heritage, it was a miscalculation to see Godwin Obaseki as a weakling, who lacks confidence. This was a wrong interpretation of his self effacing disposition and humility. It could also be that he was playing the part of his profession, as a Stock Broker, which demands being conservative and discrete.

If you do not know him, the Edo Governor could just melt into a crowd. All that has changed. The Oshiomhole challenge has awakened the sleeping ghost of his war-like ancestors. The 62 year-old Governor is ready to show that he has got some fire in him. Obaseki has come out of his shell, throwing damaging punches. In a short spell of time, he has shown capacity to understand the peculiar terrain of Nigerian politics. Recovering from a dramatic loss in the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections, he led the APC to 100 percent win in the state house of assembly election. That victory is being tainted now with the wrangling over the propriety or otherwise of the proclamation which the Governor made to inaugurate the assembly. Again, his opponents have underestimated Obaseki. They thought he would run away when they bark. His resilience and fighting spirit has been amazing, sometimes, even scoring surprises. So far, he appears to have an upper hand, with the state assembly remaining functional, much to the dismay of the national headquarters of the APC and the House of Representatives that have instructed him to issue a new proclamation.

Interested parties and the whole nation are watching with keen interest the Edo State imbroglio. Much of what is happening now is a direct permutation for the governorship contest slated for next year. Already, Oshiomhole’s loyalists, who are also known as the ‘Abuja group’ have threatened Obaseki with the ‘Ambode treatment’, meaning, like the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, he will not be given the opportunity to serve a second term. But Obaseki’s supporters have dismissed the warning, claiming that if the Edo State Governor is not on the ballot, APC can kiss the state goodbye.

In a widely reported, not-so-veiled statement, Obaseki said he will not give away the resources of the state to politicians in Abuja. He said the crisis rocking the state’s House of Assembly is because of his refusal to spend public funds on some private individuals who claimed they brought him into power. In the wake of the fight with his former principal, Obaseki has become more determined to live true to the nickname, ‘Wake and See Governor’, which further describes his inclination towards not claiming attention to himself and avoiding speech making in the execution of projects. He would rather have the projects speak for him.

OFF THE CUFF:

* The only thing they have said is that I refused to share money; I am not taking care of the people who brought me into office. I said 300,000 Edo people voted for me to be governor; if I do for the people, everybody will benefit

Obaseki tracing the genesis of the face-off between him and the immediate past governor of the state, Oshiomhole

*Is it not ironic that in a state where we have one party ruling, and that has all the 24 seats in the House of Assembly, we have this kind of a crisis? At the centre, we have our own person who is supposed to superintend (over) this (matter). So, if your children are fighting and you cannot come and settle them, then what authority do you have to even be a father?

Obaseki blaming Oshiomhole for the crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly

*I will not allow Edo State to be a pawn in anybody’s political chess game. For me, I keep asking the question, what have I done wrong? What is my offence that they want to now get people to come and create confusion in the state?

Obaseki suggesting that Oshiomhole and his cohorts want him to be their pawn

*I did this (developing the state) silently behind the scenes for eight years before I became governor. The money we are getting from Abuja isn’t enough. So, given my background, I sought to bring investors so that they can engage our people. I have gone to great lengths to try to explain; it is about reform to change Edo from what it is to what we hope and pray for it to be

Obaseki reiterating his campaign promise to help develop the state

*I don’t have any future political ambition, but only to finish by the grace of God and go back to my business which is suffering. I didn’t come to make money at Government House, I didn’t come to make a name. By the grace of God, He has given me one. Edo is for Edo people, not for individuals, no matter who they think they are, we all will play our own roles and leave, what will remain is our state. I have endured so much as governor. As governor, I have not been able to even nominate somebody for a federal appointment. Meanwhile, federal appointments are made every day, I will sit down they will call me from the Senate. Are you aware of this? I keep quiet; I cannot be governor and not be governor

Obaseki stating his resolve to remain as astute servant of the people

*How can I as governor conduct elections and someone will come and cancel them and be manipulating and throwing all sorts of people in there and now wants to use the people to fight me and remove me from office, and you want me to keep quiet?

Obaseki explaining why he took charge of the state house of assembly election to save Edo APC from embarrassment

“We have tried in the last two and a half years to do so much, so quickly. We have no fear, at all. We have resolved that we will continue to do what is best for our state and for our country. We have no doubt that we are on the right course. We know that God is with us. We know that the people are with us. If all the people are with us, who can stop us? We dare you! Nobody can stop the progress of Edo state. Abuja politicians want to disrupt the peace in Edo. We will not let them

Obaseki stating that his administration has done well in education and infrastructure and has also cleared a backlog of pension