Mike Igaga Jr. warns of the dangers of closing the civic and political space by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State
In a recent review of the Edo State governorship election for 2020, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the election will be characterised by backstabbing, betrayals and violence. The validity of this assertion draws from the negative political expression that has dotted the state in recent times. The undercurrent for this perception is expressed in the hostile attitude of the state government to even members of its own party who dare to hold dissenting opinions, an attitude which has severely polarised the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Last Thursday and Friday the people of Edo State experienced yet another dimension of state brutality as the government evolved crude resistance to the return of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to the APC. The government issued all forms of threats to the citizenry who would dare attend the rally put together by Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s supporters to honour his movement to the APC.
The government closed all private schools in the state. Citizens were threatened with losing their Certificate of Occupancy if they allowed any rally in their premises. The governor summoned an emergency security meeting and a false alarm on security breakdown in Edo State was raised. This indulgence in subterfuge was intended to ensure that social life in Benin City was officially restricted on Friday December 13, 2023. The governor, for whatever reason, succeeded. The rally at Garrick Memorial School was stopped by the order of the Inspector General of Police. On the morning of the rally, policemen had taken over the premises.
To give credence to this abuse of power by the government of Edo State, thugs were hired to burn tyres at the airport road in Benin and other feeder roads in the state. Soon, the situation was hijacked by criminals who vandalised vehicles and robbed commuters. At least, one person had his vehicle burnt while many had their windscreen broken. At the Adesuwa junction of the Ugbor area, hired thugs wielding guns attacked one of the vehicles going to Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s compound.
To further confuse the country, heat up the polity and give a false narrative to the security agencies, videos of the burnfires orchestrated by the government and its agents were made and circulated through the social media network.
The management of the political space in this negative dimension calls for serious national concern. It is also a serious problem for the leadership of the APC. The APC is a party that evolved from the tenets of progressive ideology anchored on equality, freedom, liberty and fraternity. To that effect, the present expression of the party in Edo State is antithetical to its ontological base as a platform for progressive ideas.
It is now a risk of life for any persons or group to organise a political meeting to discuss the state of affairs either in the APC or to discuss the running of governance in Edo State. A number of times, such meetings are raided by gun wielding thugs and attendees macheted.
The crudest dimension of this buccaneer indulgence manifested when members of the House of Assembly who were alienated from the induction of the house were attacked by gun shots at the Golden Tulip Hotel while they were meeting to consider their travail. Since the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly, 14 members of the Assembly have been put on flight by the tirade of violence which is brazenly displayed by government related persons and interest. These members were never inducted even if they were legitimately elected by their constituencies to represent them.
All these are indicative of the state of anomy in Edo State. The bother is: what could have been the cause of this bellicose indulgence by the governor and his allies?
No doubt, the governor wants to come back for another four years. It could be assumed that he intends to seize control of his party to serve that purpose. The justification of this view find root in the hostile air which drives the governor in his relationship with Adams Oshiomhole. No doubt, both the governor and his deputy cannot deny the role that Oshiomhole played in bringing them to political limelight. The attempt to bleed Oshiomhole which began with the alienation of his foot soldiers soon assumed a dimension of threat to life as claimed by the National Chairman of APC. There are claims that his Benin residence was attacked by thugs and during the inaugural convocation ceremony at Edo State University Iyamoh, hired thugs who were supposed to disrupt the ceremony and rough handle Comrade Adams were repelled by the community youths.
In an attempt to justify the hostility towards Adams, statements from government house in Benin has informed that Adams is pressurising the government to disburse state funds to party loyalists and individuals. Adams has been accused of Godfatherism among others. These themes of blackmail had worked effectively for the governor until recent times.
On the wrongful induction of the House of Assembly, the governor alleged that Adams had plans to impeach him when the house is inducted. The worry for thinking minds is: how could Adams have been planning to impeach you when the house has not been inducted? Here lies the absurdity of the governor’s claim.
Furthermore, the question of Adams trying to corrupt the governor runs into its own contradictions as well. Adams might not be a saint. But his antecedents in the labour movement in juxtaposition with his empirical records on governance delivery does not reflect the content of a person who will share money corruptively.
The question remains why is Obaseki fighting Adams? Why is he resisting the coming of Osagie Ize-Iyamu into the APC? The truth is that Edo State is in serious lack of governance delivery currently. It is a fact that Edo State is sunk in a dangerous debt profile. The governor has borrowed about N38.150b ($109m) in the last three years thereby moving the external debts of the state from $168m to $277m. The domestic debt record of the state has jumped from N45b to N84b in the last three years. The worry is that nothing in physical infrastructure justifies these added loans taken by the government.
Government is not about what is available to be spent. Good governance delivers on the capacity to generate resources that is used to provide physical infrastructure for the state and fiscal capacity that guarantee the welfare of the people. Perhaps, Obaseki, in the face of apparent incapacity, is afraid of the wrath of Oshiomhole who danced everywhere to make him governor. To pre-empt that reaction, he took the critical initiative by attacking first
Obaseki is skilled in subterfuge. He had placed Oshiomhole in bad light before the Binis already. The only saving grace that came for Adams is his performance record as governor of Edo state. This include the construction and rehabilitation of supposed federal roads that have been neglected and served to deface Benin City over the years. Also of significance is the improvement of the educational sector among others. It is this that saved Oshiomhole from the governor’s antics of blackmail and arm twisting.
The measure of this positive spirit of the Binis was practically expressed when thugs alleged to have been sponsored by allies of the governor came to attack the house of Adams Oshiomhole. Bini youths mobilised themselves to dislodge the attackers. The point at issue among the Binis is that Obaseki has not been able to replicate the achievements of Oshiomhole in the turnaround of Benin city not to talk of transcending it. Many of the natives appreciate Adams Oshiomhole and cannot be ungrateful to him.
Presently, the Edo State House of Assembly runs with 10 members and the remaining 14 members are exiled by the iron hands of the Tsar. It is painful that this infraction underpins the content of our present democracy as it bears on Edo State.
The closing of all private schools in Benin as well as the threat to revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of any person who allows the reception rally of Osagie Ize-Iyamu to hold in his compound begs for clarification. It has become the norm in Edo Sate that government arm twists any person who stands on its path as it patronises the alter of perfidy. People are being threatened with the demolition of their houses for holding opinions that are contrary to what the government is doing or intends to do. Without any gainsaying, the people of Edo State have been held captive and now live in fear of the nihilistic dimension of the government they elected to protect them and guarantee their welfare. Edo State is, definitely, under siege.
There is no doubt that Osagie Ize-Iyamu poses serious threat to Obaseki’s second tenure. Even if Osagie Ize-Iyamu did not decamp, Obaseki has so terribly mismanaged the APC to that extent that most members of the party would have voted for Osagie Ize-Iyamu as a PDP candidate. Obaseki is a threat to the sustenance of the APC control of Edo State. It is a bitter pill too dangerous for the APC. He is a terrible infraction on our democratic gains. He did not share in the barricade years of our democratic struggles. Therefore, he does not understand the primordial basis of the APC as a party.
It is important for the Federal Government to be non-partisan and genuinely help Edo State out of this dangerous ground in which it is locked. A governor who exhibits the level of subterfuge associated with Godwin Obaseki is a threat to peace and order in the social space. It is to be noted that he has a contrived State House of Assembly in place. So, he has subverted the check and balances institution of the democratic ethos. Edo state lives with a dictator who has outsmarted the judiciary by exploiting loopholes in the constitution.
We aver that a morally bankrupt government alters the moral scale of the social whole. It engenders a negative mindset orientation for our youths. It is an antithesis that negates the objective basis for community. Obaseki need a reorientation on the core values of the democratic ethos and the basis for community in the context of the present trend of cosmopolitanism in social engagement. He must understand that democracy thrive on the contest of ideas. Its delivery is enriched by the synthesis of ideas that, at the beginning, stand as antagonistic. His Excellency, Governor Obaseki needs elevated minds around him. You cannot run government with thugs on suits or agbada. At the heart of power and its application, is the people who we ought to be serving; the electorates who gave us the mandate
The import of this decay in moral worth is that public perception of the state is at a very low ebb. Furthermore, at this time of multilateral cooperation, it is doubtful if corporations of the appropriate standing will do business in an environment of political uncertainty and rancour. To that effect, it continuously deepens the poverty scale of Edo State. The people of Edo State must evolve the necessary political will and sagacity to save the state and regenerate the developmental trend of the state which has been lost since this government came to power. Nobody will do it for us.
* Igaga Jr. writes from 9A Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi Lagos