Godwin Obaseki

The Edo State governor will, again, likely ‘surprise’ his opponents in the coming election, writes Dele Olowu

The political turmoil in Edo State guarantees the political space unending prime attention. Its chief executive, who has customarily come across as taciturn, now storms the barricade exhorting his followers to keep the faith. The fire and unusual power of his advocacy have raised his image recognition and have turned him into an a-list political celebrity. Most of this deconstruction has been largely involuntary. Governor Obaseki would much rather have preferred to be left alone, working beneath the footlights to expand the happiness of his people. A few years back he enjoyed this anonymity using his skills as a technocrat to raise the performance of the Oshiomhole administration.

Furthest from his thoughts was the prospect of serving as the political helmsman. But the storyline changed; the backwater became a marina and destiny clamored for Obaseki’s anointing. Even though the APC primaries threatened to be a keen contest in 2016, Godwin Obaseki was a surprise entry. Among the hopefuls, he was customarily sniffed at as a returnee technocrat, who had made his home in corporate Lagos. The home-based boys, so some speculation ran, would impede his emergence and in the unlikely event that he rose from the dead, the political goliaths were poised to eat him up. To continue with this figure of speech, it can be said that when Obaseki rose on the day of the primaries, his political adversaries were asleep!

Godwin Obaseki contested against eleven other candidates, amongst them Pius Odubu, the then Deputy Governor of Edo State. Obaseki scored 1,618 votes while the Deputy Governor, a distant second, turned in 471votes. In the governorship election which later followed, Godwin Obaseki stood against Pastor Ize-Iyamu. Again, much store was placed on the pastor. He too had been plucked by his friend Lucky Igbinedion from his Lagos law practice years back. Many felt Iyamu had gathered more political moss. Again, on the day, Obaseki put Iyamu to the sword! Obaseki received 319,4833 votes as against 253, 173 pooled by Pastor Ize Iyamu. Often under-reported, the technocrat from Lagos, had shown that iconic political strokes can be delivered by people from the fringes. Obaseki seems to thrive in self-effacement and anonymity. However, those who mistake his relative reticence as lack of sophistication, or the absence of steel, have been left rueing their misconstruction.

It is true that Obasekí´s emergence and presentation to the public in 2016 were substantially the handiwork of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Nowhere was Oshiomhole’s commitment to this cause more elaborately expressed than in the July 2016 campaign for Obaseki in Ovia Local Government. At the event, the Comarade danced; he contorted; he promised, and pledged. It was a delirious performance. But even though this theater was reputedly for Godwin Obaseki, it’s star was Comrade Oshiomhole. Ultimately, all the lights and mirrors were not about Obaseki, but about the comrade.

Governor Obaseki managed to retain his composure all through the other campaigns even though a philosophic consideration of his emergent administration was underway. Once sworn in, he acknowledged his political debt to Oshiomhole; It was however clear that he Obaseki, had not been sold into political slavery. The difference between the immeadiate past administration and that of Governor Obaseki began to unravel. Oshiomhole’s was a government of excessive verbiage. And after eight continuous years of daily moralization from a near evangelical Oshiomhole, Obaseki’s government, even without effort, looks like a calm after the tempest!

Much is made in the Nigerian environment of the pressure felt by governments to expand infrastructure and produce social good. This has been a wider obsession in post colonial Africa. Since independence, one government after another has consequently pledged to provide light, water, roads and the usual litany. This imperative has not surprisingly challenged the Obaseki administration and he has responded with a great deal of imagination. Citizens in Edo are however specially fascinate by Governor Obaseki’s system approach to some of these conundrums.

He has rather deftly been able to free the state from the illicit hegemony imposed by thugs and non-state actors on the Edo political community. So corrosive was this stranglehold in previous administrations, that these centers of violence denied the state of substantial income streams. Under the new security regime, internally generated revenue rose from N19.1billion in 2015 to N23billiion, N25billion and N27billion in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Further fascination deserves to be reserved for Governor Obaseki’s very determined effort to reform the civil service. This effort emphasizes functionality and seeks to achieve this through human capital development driven by knowledge-based learning. The Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation also called EDOBEST has attracted positive notices and must be considered a most helpful initiative in capacity development. It has so far trained over 15, 000 government teachers and pupils. Governor Obaseki has also actively promoted vocational education seeking to get away from the frustrations produced by an exclusive reliance on grammar school -type education. Roads and public buildings are getting some attention. But this is not all there is to governance.

It is important to build roads and expand infrastructure. But wise is the leader who also seeks to build bridges of understanding amongst his people and unite them behind the public purpose. This seems to have been one of the commitments Obaseki has sought to push from his privileged end. He is not a khaki-wearing activist proclaiming the imminent death of capitalism. He is an egalitarian who frequently conducts his work unaccompanied by an ADC or a large retinue.

The continued existence and misuse of ADCs by our public officials is an odious reminder of the bestiality of the Nigerian condition. Why an ADC, often an individual of considerable rank, should be treated with such gracelessness, offers an insight into why our leaders treat us as conquered people. Obaseki seems to offer greater humaneness in the manner he deploys aides.

A man cast in this mould was an unlikely opposite number in a political joust which now threatens to consume not only the antagonists but also the party in whose name they invoke their visions. Edo State without the current clamor would just have produced the ideal setting for the Obaseki vision to be realized. Again Governor Obaseki has been thrust into the familiar role of a David against the rampaging opponent in his freightening Goliath robes. They must be many who wish that this whole unpleasantness can be avoided.

However the war party has acquired a life of its own; with its own cheer leaders; with its own suppliers of polemic fuel and a band of merrymen who now make hay from the boiling pot. Besides, the routine calculation is that Governor Obaseki, a child of anonymity is available to be shredded politically. He has surprised many in the past and we may not be about to hear the last of this Houdini.