Obaseki, The Emperor-Governor

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By Tunde Rahman

The only way the good, excellent people of Edo can win the coming election is for Godwin Obaseki to lose it and exit the Governor’s House. This election is not the ordinary contest between politicians in competing parties. This election pits a smart and honorable man in Osagie Ize-Iyamu against someone who fancies himself as an emperor-governor. Ize-Iyamu seeks to serve the public to the best of his ample capabilities. Obaseki seeks to ride the public as a ruthless owner does a meek, beaten-down workhorse, until the poor animal is exhausted and spent.

In this, Obaseki has embraced a most perverse and acrid view of a governor’s relationship with the governed. He has it all wrong. A governor is meant to be the agent and servant of the electorate. Obaseki believes a governor is elected to be an imperial overseer. He thinks he needs not to tend to the needs of the people and needs not obey any constitution or law because he is a law unto himself and because his personal wants always supersede the collective necessities of the people. That Obaseki thinks he is a law unto himself means but one thing; he is, in essence, an outlaw. He finds no value in democracy and the rule of law because he derives no windfall profits from the exercise of these ideals. He fears these noble beliefs will constrain his quest to place the state and its people under foot.

Thus, Obaseki has done something that no governor in Nigeria has ever had the ruthless disregard to do. Instead of using his position to foster democratic progressive governance in the state, Obaseki has tried his best to thwart it.

Obaseki did not win office because of himself. He won the governorship because of the collective efforts of APC members. By himself, Obaseki would not have garnered more than the handful of votes that represent his immediate family and his small number of hangers-on. Obaseki won because he promised to be faithful to and guided by the progressive, democratic tenets of the APC. He said these things only to get the party ticket. He did not believe in the party’s aims.

His was a subterfuge for he wanted the opposite of progressive people-oriented governance. He desired only the governance of one man for that same one man. Once he gained office, he would brutalise every good belief and institution that stood in the way of his burning desire to arrogate all state power to himself.

Thus, although it was through APC support that he came to office, one of Obaseki’s most telling acts was to illegally bar the majority of the State Assembly members from taking their duly elected positions. These State Assembly members were elected in free and fair elections. There was no question as to the legality of their election and their right to function as legislators on behalf of the people of the state. Obaseki had no constitutional right or legal reason to bar them. He did so for one reason only – he feared they would do their job. He feared they would exercise the oversight envisioned by the constitution. He feared they would pass progressive laws intended more to benefit the people than to benefit him. The very presence of these lawmakers offended his sense of omnipotence and his chance to do to the people as he wanted.

His very actions in this regard makes him singularly dangerous and unfit for office. First, his actions prove his words as a politician are counterfeit and his promises are false. He purposefully deceived APC members in the state to get the position he craved. Some people will say that such is the way of politics. To a degree, these people would be right. This is the way of bad politics and such politics is not what is needed; for bad politics always leads to bad governance. The politician who relies on falsehood to gain office will lean even more heavily on falsehood to keep that office.

Second, and more important than even his deception against the APC, Obaseki has offended the very constitution and laws that allowed him to attain the governorship. No one tried to illegally bar his entrance into the Governor’s Office. Had he been barred, Obaseki would have cried a loud and ceaseless cry.

There would be no end to his lamentations. He would knock at every door and stop every passerby to tell them how rudely he had been treated. Yet, Obaseki’s narcissism allows him no sense of fairness. Although he voluntarily swore before Heaven and humankind to uphold the constitution, Obaseki has unabashedly violated that sacred oath by preventing State Assembly members from assuming their proper constitutional duties.

This is no small or laughing matter. Obaseki intentionally broke his public vow not due to some unexpected imminent threat. He undertook this egregious and unprecedented violation simply to prevent the proper and legal sitting of the legislative branch of government. He sought to forbid this because he sought to toss away the checks and balances mandated by the constitution against executive overreach. Obaseki did not want to govern under the proper constitutional setting. He did not want public oversight of his arbitrary and wrong actions. He did not want a State Assembly passing laws that would benefit the people while not necessarily profiting him.

For a very long time, people tried to persuade Obaseki to correct the serious constitutional breach he created. The truth be told, Obaseki opened himself to impeachment by this flouting of the constitution and State Assembly. His was simply an exercise of naked, benighted political power. There was no reason for it save that he is the sole and only reason he can see.

Seeing that Obaseki would never embrace constitutional reason and democratic logic, the State Assembly members he wrongfully exiled ultimately decided to exercise their duties and rights. A few weeks ago, they determined to make their way to the State Assembly building. At that late hour, Obaseki had a chance to redeem himself had he let the lawmakers take the seats duly given them by the Edo electorate. Instead, Obaseki revealed his true criminal colors.

He purposefully sent hired lackeys to destroy the roof and other aspects of the state assembly building to make it unfit for use. Unsure that this would be enough, he deployed hired goons to prevent people entering the building.
However, Obaseki missed a vital point with this crude, undemocratic exercise.

True power resides not in any building or symbol such as a mace. These are merely objects. True democratic power resides in the people and in the constitution written to safeguard the rights of the people. Tearing down a building does not tear down the constitutional rights of the people to be represented by the lawmakers for whom they voted. In destroying the building, Obaseki thought he did a cunning thing. All he did was to show his criminality.

He cannot abrogate the state legislature by razing a building or any part of it. To think so is to adhere to the foolish thought that the law of land somehow resides in brick and mortar or that the constitution is inferior to the whims of one man. In improperly spending state money to destroy state property and to prevent the functions of the state assembly, Obaseki has shown himself to be a destroyer of representative democracy and good governance. These are not the acts of a leader intent on improving the living conditions of the people. These are the errors of a man who cares for nothing but himself and who sees himself as superior to those he claims to serve.

If there is one thing his tenure has proven, it is that Obaseki is proficient at breaking the law. If reelected, he will surely break the law even more; he will do so not for the people but for himself. There is no reason for him to break the law if his goal is the collective benefit because the law also is meant to serve the collective benefit.

As Election Day nears, people must begin to ask themselves who is most likely to honor his commitment to the people, Obaseki, the serial violator of law, the constitution and progressive ethics, or Ize-Iyamu, a sincere man of his word and man with faith in democracy and its institutions.

Ize-Iyamu will use the money in state coffers to develop the state. Obaseki is of a different sort. Whether another person’s money or state funds, Obaseki will seize them as his own. He would take your money then publicly insult you for asking what became of it. If you persisted in seeing redress, he would destroy the roof of your house just as he did the State House of Assembly building to prevent your lawmakers from doing their vital constitutional duties. These are not the ways of a governor of a great, important state. These are the acts of a bully and coward who has found himself in a position for which he is unfit. He is too small minded and too petty to be the governor that Edo needs.

Edo and its capital Benin are known as the cradle of black civilisation. This is a precious and noble distinction that should never be undervalued. Yet, Obaseki seeks to break the cradle and ignore the longstanding principles of that civilisation. The great venerable capital is known as a place of historic achievement, wisdom and enlightened governance. This is a civilisation which is globally known and universally respected. Ize-Iyamu walks in this noble and proud tradition. Obaseki subverts this tradition merely to promote his own transient ends. He sees himself as bigger than everything. He does not see development of the state as his goal because he sees the state merely as a personal playground where he can romp about as he deems fit. Obaseki has shown himself to be without regard to the constitution and rights of others. Some people may think this makes him a strong man.

All it does is make him the wrong man, for a governor without regard for your rights is a governor with no regard for the duties he owes you. Obaseki has broken many things. Vote for Ize-Iyamu that they may be repaired before Obaseki causes more harm.

•Rahman is Media Adviser to Senator Bola Tinubu