St. John Clarke comments on the unraveling political impasse in Edo State
Criticism is a popular sport in Nigeria. The art, if it can be so called, requires no special gifts or any particular training, for that matter. It has no regulating guild and a lack of qualification can debar no one from participating in what sometimes looks like a national pastime. What you require most, is an obsession with a cause, a crisis or in many instances, a huge load of prejudice, professionally disguised as public or community interest.
The unraveling political impasse in Edo State has continued to attract comments, both helpful and unhelpful. However, vultures are now flocking to the prey. Interventions like that of Kassim Afegbua have in particular also been a distraction and have done nothing but set the pot boiling. Fortunately, his partisanship on the matter at hand is difficult to conceal or misread; We concede that Kassim Afegbua’s free ranging professional genius can adopt causes and briefs even without a contract or proper briefing; In 2018, he found himself in a professional quandary after he issued a statement on behalf of General Ibrahim Babangida. In the statement, IBB was reported to have made a demand on General Buhari to retire and make political way for fresh young blood.
This statement did not earn either IBB or Afegbua, his self-appointed spokesman, a bouquet of flowers in government circles. Indeed, Afegbua was invited by the Police to say on whose authority he issued the statement. The police intervention was itself not applauded in pro-democracy circles and was understandably, not therefore pursued to its logical ends. That probably saved Kassim Afegbua’s pride. But till this day, suspicion is rife that Afegbua has been under no contract or license to speak for IBB. On that matter the public can regard Afegbua as a lucky meddler! Kassim Afegbua has issued a somewhat magisterial sounding statement on the crises in Edo State. It is ponderously titled ‘Edo Political Conundrum’. Even though Afegbua’s effort pretends to be an analysis of the Edo crisis, it is essentially a vicious and partisan attack on the quality and contributions of the Obaseki years. It is thus better to engage the analysis with the understanding that the presentation is an attempt by a prodigal associate of Oshiomhole to feather the nest of his political father. This rhetorical health warning is an important precursor to any unbiased appreciation of Afegbua’s philosophical drift. It is worth recalling that Kasim Afegbua was for example part of Oshiomhole’s government in 2016. He served as Commissioner for Information and Orientation. However even though Afegbua has since parted ways with Oshiomhole he more than most, understands the authoritarian streak in Oshiomhole and has sometimes called attention to this. Afegbua’s portrait of Oshiomhole is understandably composite and sometimes confusing. In an interview with Adekunbi Ero of Tell Magazine some 11 months ago, he said this of Oshiomhole
‘I will rather he allows the incumbent Governor the opportunity to be his own man and take full responsibility for his actions and inactions. That’s the way to go. Once anyone meddles into the affairs of a governor, he or she carries part of the blame. I see a lot of friction coming but like one adage in my village says, if you have sacrificed a rabbit for the gods, you remove your hands from its tail.’
Afegbua in the same interview issued a warning to Comrade Oshiomhole thus
‘My quarrel with Oshiomhole is knowing when and where to apply the brakes when confronted with a political disagreement. Leaders are called leaders because of certain qualities in them that are not in others. If you fight against godfatherism on the one hand and exhibit all traits of godfatherism on the other hand. Your followers won’t take you seriously.’
This stiff-necked authoritarianism, correctly identified earlier, as the root of the Edo crisis, now gets no mention in Afegbua’s latest prognosis of the difficulties in Edi. Seized by what looks like residual partisan loyalty, Afegbua has instead attacked Governor Obaseki for being able to consolidate on the gains of the Oshiomhole years. Some of the arguments leading to this conclusion are weak and sometimes laughable. Afegbua bellyaches about Governor Obaseki’s inability or refusal to tar township roads in his native Okpella, and in Freudian slip reveals that this same neglect was one of the reasons he was alienated from Oshiomhole’s government. Afegbua went on to grouse about decay in infrastructure; in health and education and flood control under Obaseki. It is a massive portfolio of grievances, and in compound terms, contained extremely unreliable and sometimes ignorant charges. Afegbua has posited rather lamely, that if Edo State under Obaseki could not employ 400 additional teachers how could the Obaseki government claim to have claimed created 157,000 new jobs. Coming from Afegbua this is a grave intellectual howler. It is shocking that he associates job creation with the effort by government to directly employ people. Job creation is activated when government through public provisions opens up the economic space for business to prosper. The orthodoxy which required government to involve itself in business is now old hat. Those who can remember, will recall that Ogbemudia, perhaps our most famous son and ruler, established over 72 government businesses. Most of them were wiped out by experiential contradictions. That way is no longer the preferred route. Afegbua is invited to kindly note this. We can also bear witness to the fact that it was this same attitude of regarding the service as a welfare haven rather than a tool for expanding social good, that has landed most states in their present unsustainable condition. Recurrent expenditure has risen exponentially in relation to gravely capital provisions. This is a danger of which a technocrat like Obaseki is well aware, and labored along with Oshiomhole to establish an equitable capital/recurrent expenditure ratio.
The charge by Afegbua that 2,520 teachers interviewed by Oshiomhole are yet to be employed under Obaseki is of little consequence. Protocols and observances require to be fulfilled before hiring is perfected. In any case, funding is an important consideration, and it is worth reflecting on what might have disabled Oshiomhole from perfecting the appointments himself. A Warri proverb says that, “When you have identified a hurdle on the highway in the daytime, you do not require illumination to avoid it at night.” No excuses, but Obaseki’s circumspection on these matters is perfectly justifiable.
But perhaps Afegbua’s most bizarre turn was his charge that insecurity in the state had risen citing the recent kidnap of a judge in the state as an indication of how badly things have gone wrong. This is clearly in violence of the understanding that security is on the exclusive list and that no residual responsibilities devolve on the state.
These arguments will continue to animate public discussions for as long as we remain active political animals. But neither the insincerity of Afegbua’s labored prognosis nor the partisan computations of rival gangs can deny the real achievements of the Obaseki government. The reconstruction of several government buildings including the Secretariat in Benin stand out.
The Secretariat is one of the more iconic structures in Central Benin. It has remained neglected by government after government and ultimately became an architectural scar on the face of the city scape. Other institutions such as the Benin Technical College, the Ogbe stadium and Ekpoma township roads have also received robust attention. These recitations are essentially banal and are only deployed in response to Afegbua’s irrational denunciation of a government he regards as hostile.
Afegbua’s unreasonable impatience is typified in his disgruntlement that a Gelegele-Okpella Road, which he said Obaseki adopted as a blueprint has remained undeveloped. The project if it really was an Obaseki initiative, would require a bit of time to be realized. Oshiomhole’s Airport Road pet project covered a mere seven kilometers and was an urban initiative. It took Oshiomhole 20 months and several variations and reverses to complete. Afegbua watched patiently and saw nothing wrong. Benin-Okpella is stretch of 190 Kilometers and Obaseki is only three years in office. Yet Afegbua is already straining at the leashes! With people like this, Governor Obaseki can put no foot right. Whatever goes on, Obaseki is damned!
But the citizens and residents know better. The violence which threatens to arise from the ongoing political crisis is alien to Obaseki’s nature and family environment. A technocrat and man of considerable refinement, Obaseki prefers debate and dialogue to threats and coercion. Those who seek war must look beyond and outside him. There is still a chance that peace will prevail and that people like Afegbua, no stranger to ideological somersaults, can still find accommodation in Obaseki’s large heart.
* Clarke writes from Abuja.