Obaseki’s Ride With Folly

Godwin Obaseki

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki’s inability to choose his battles, remains his major undoing, writes Olawale Olaleye

If there’s any takeaway from the politics of Edo State in the last three and a half years of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s reign, it is the new reality that good deeds may not pay after all otherwise it must be measured and thoroughly evaluated.

The September 19 governorship election in Edo State has proven to be one of the most sought after political shows of the year, even though another governorship election is due in Ondo State on October 10.

But as the different tendencies battle for supremacy in the Edo election, one man, Captain Idahosa Okunbo hasn’t only become a recurring issue in the artery of the state’s polity, he is arguably a one-man power centre and ultimately, one of the game changers in the September 19 governorship election, a reason he’s become the cynosure of attention.

It is public knowledge that the businessman and philanthropist, Okunbo, is not going to be on the ballot on September 19, when Edo State would go to the poll again to either elect another chief executive officer of the state or re-elect the incumbent, Godwin Obaseki.

But he has remained an issue in the state’s political horizon, even before the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the space open for the contest.

For a very long time, the swirling rumour was that Captain Hosa, as he is fondly called, had an interest in the Edo governorship, a mere assumption that was sculpted by agent provocateurs to set the political space on a fire of competing ambitions, pit certain political forces against him and close the space for further deliberate mischiefs.

Although Okunbo tried as much as he could to dispel the rumours, not many were sceptical. This was understandable too, because if he truly had an interest, it might have been a fait accompli, as he seemed to have everything going for him – money, influence, contact, goodwill, compassion and a staggering chunk of the grassroots is with him.

This, of course, soon precipitated unintended political animosities, which pockmarked certain power and political blocks against the retired commercial pilot, because they already considered him a potent threat to their many extrapolations.

It was not surprising, therefore, that Okunbo’s businesses and reputation started to face unceasing attacks, designed to willfully damage him and vitiate whatever influence he might have in the political equation.

Worse still, when his body language suggested he might be sympathetic to Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the attacks escalated, fuelling increased rivalry and animosity in the state.

All along, Okunbo maintained a dignified silence, even though many people and groups stood in his defence and pushed back some of the attacks to the enemy camp, considerably. But his stately and measured silence was strategic and deliberate as his response was aimed for an auspicious time.

Nonetheless, it appears compelling to interrogate reasons the state has considered Okunbo such a potent threat, that it has deployed practically everything within its reach to decimate him.

Although Okunbo has not shied away from discussing with close allies his many disappointments, not only about the state of affairs in the state government or the character of Governor Obaseki, particularly about how the situation had begun to poorly change the Edo narrative. And, finally, when Okunbo released the bombshell, Obaseki’s reply only passed for a waste of time as he failed to address the issues but danced around them.

After an evaluation of the attacks, he came to the conclusion that, as a good-hearted son of the soil, he did not deserve the embarrassing treatment, because his pedigree would not have allowed him to deliberately concoct any wrong against Obaseki, who today, enjoys the mandate of the good people of the state.

But he was shocked to observe that despite his sincere commitment to support the anticipated infrastructure development, progress and other social investment initiatives of the state through modest goodwill and network of capital, the response from the state has been to paint Okunbo with a brush of public odium that verges on mischief, he reasoned.

Regardless of his unpleasant experience, Okunbo continued to be at peace with himself, a situation, which according to him, made the governor, by his actions and inactions, uncomfortable. Yet, that didn’t stifle him from further supporting the Obaseki administration in different areas. And this is evidenced by facts.

From sponsoring the governor and his team on an investment trip to China, to mobilising support for him at the Edo Convention in Toronto, Canada; donating five houses worth N50m (Fifty million Naira) to support Obaseki’s housing project in Benin for indigenes in the Diaspora as well as donating to the state’s Covid-19 relief fund campaign, Okunbo insisted he had done nothing but wished the governor and his administration well.

He also mentioned how the governor requested of his daughter to work for his administration and how he (Okunbo) has continued to sustain her after the allowance approved for her didn’t run past five months, in addition to purchasing a brand-new Toyota Hilux to enable her discharge her responsibilities on the project she was assigned, all in the bid to see Obaseki succeed. Yet, that changed nothing as the governor’s mind appeared made up.

An objective analysis of Okunbo’s stories confirms the fears many others had expressed about Obaseki’s seemingly vindictive and vicious leadership disposition. From Oshiomhole, who is his main benefactor to others, who invested hugely in his governorship in collective interest, Obaseki has done nothing but repay their good with evil, as many are wont to infer.

Apart from crying wolf by alleging attempts to coerce him into fleecing the state resources, Obaseki has yet to provide any cogent reason, why he moved against those, who made it possible for him to become governor, yet, setting an all-new example of classic ingratitude, motivated only class suicide.

Unfortunately, for Obaseki, his popularity, many believed, is more of a façade, sustainable only to the extent of the patronage he is able to dole out to those currently goading him on.

With an attitude that does not speak to any principle, philosophy or sound worldview, Obaseki, has consciously burnt too many bridges, such that even if he made it back to the Government House, his only legacy would be a sharply divided and bitter people with a sorry plight.

For an individual believed to combine the spirit of ingratitude, vengeance, treachery, betrayal, and the ‘pull him down syndrome’, Obaseki might have lost the chances to prove otherwise, especially, when he made preventive diplomacy impossible in the thick of his differences with Oshiomhole and by extension, other stakeholders in the state.

Little wonder, many consider it bothersome that Obaseki, whose performance as governor has been everything but stellar in the last three and a half years by allowing political disagreements to steal the show of his record, says more about a mindset that is more petty than constructive.

In the final analysis, there is just one instructive lesson from all of this, and it is that the battle line is drawn as far as the Edo governorship is concerned and for as long as this is about the survival of the state and her prosperity, Okunbo, with his goodwill and staggering followership, doesn’t sound like he is going to stoop to any form of oppression but instead, confront and suppress the collective fears of the people.

Whether or not the state and its agents are determined to change their style of deliberate subjugation of both the real and perceived enemies, what’s waiting on the other side also appears more like an organised resistance, designed to principally engage them in equal proportion and push back the many forces of the state. It goes without saying that Obaseki willfully chose to play it dirty with Okunbo, Oshiomhole and many others, who staked their goodwill, credibility, integrity and generosity for his governorship to sail through in 2016.

But, without a doubt, there might be a payback on September 19, when the power centres would live up to their calling.