With Governor Godwin Obaseki’s deft handling of the rift between him and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, many analysts believe that the deputy governor is walking a tightrope, writes Wale Igbintade
Nobody would have expected that the cordial relationship between Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Hon. Philip Shaibu would break so soon and easily to the extent that the centre can no longer hold. Not even the governor or his deputy saw it coming. In the build-up to the 2020 governorship election in the state, both men had formed what many had thought was an unbreakable alliance. Together, they confronted the onslaught of the then National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole to emerge victorious as governor and deputy governor respectively.
Signs of friction however surfaced when Shaibu showed interest in succeeding his boss in the upcoming governorship election in the state in 2024. His decision did not go down well with the governor who felt Shaibu’s true intention was to undermine his authority.
It was alleged that Shaibu did not formally inform his boss of his intention and embarked on consultation over his ambition, apparently with the intention of informing the governor at the appropriate time. However, Obaseki appeared unwilling to support his deputy’s ambition.
The governor was also said to have appealed to his associates who were interested in the governorship race to focus more on ensuring that the administration finished well and strong.
Since the feud began, the governor has stripped his deputy of state responsibilities he had once controlled such as revenue supervision and sports administration in the state. Recently, the governor had ordered the disbandment of his media crew over what the state government described as an ugly and unfortunate incident that happened during the colloquium held to mark the 60th-anniversary celebration of the Midwest Referendum at the Sir Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub.
Penultimate Sunday, there was a mild drama at the church service to mark the 32nd anniversary of the creation of the state, as a security operative attached to the governor, stopped Shaibu from approaching his principal.
As the deputy governor approached Obaseki who was seated beside his wife, Betsy, and the representative of the Delta State Governor, Charles Aniagwu, to greet them, he was embarrassed by a security operative who stopped him within two meters away from the governor.
Governor Obaseki looked the other way as Shaibu explained himself to the security operative who firmly, but in a friendly tone, kept the deputy governor away. Shaibu embarrassingly returned to his seat as the service continued.
In spite of this, the deputy governor however, still expressed his loyalty to his boss at the event.
“But that does not stop anything that has to do with ambition. Ambition is personal and it does not affect loyalty. My loyalty to the governor remains absolute. I see that everybody is doing solidarity. I am also in solidarity with the governor. I am also declaring my unalloyed solidarity and loyalty to the governor and nothing more,” he said.
Obaseki’s strong body language against his deputy’s ambition may not be unconnected with his alleged desire to cede the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s ticket to Edo Central Senatorial District, a zone that is expected to produce the next governor of the state based on the unwritten agreement of power-sharing in the state. The zone has consistently insisted on fairness, equity and justice.
Edo South and Edo North have dominated the governorship since 1999. Senator Adams Oshiomhole, who hails from Edo North Senatorial District, was governor for eight years between 2009 and 2017. Governor Obaseki who succeeded Oshiomhole is from Edo South.
The crack between the two men manifested when Shaibu approached a Federal High Court in Abuja and alleged that the governor and the state House of Assembly were plotting to impeach him. The court granted the deputy governor an interim restraining order pending the proper determination of his application.
Shaibu’s search for legal protection came to Obaseki as a shock, setting the stage for the feud that has dominated major political discussions in the state and Nigeria. The state House of Assembly and the governor denied knowledge of any plans to impeach the deputy governor.
Obaseki in his reaction, accused him of disloyalty and planning to overthrow him because of his desperation to become the next governor of the state.
According to him, “Shaibu went to Abuja and was boasting that he has connections in Abuja, that he has people in the National Assembly, that they are all with the president now, that they will take care of him if he cannot get the ticket in PDP, he knows what to do.
“I kept quiet and said I thought we were together. But what struck me, and I have never said this to anybody, is that after I proclaimed the House of Assembly, we were now going to elect officers.
“He was in Abuja; he came back that day. I am the chief security officer of this state. I get any information I need. But I have that responsibility to keep quiet and use the information properly.
“My deputy called the leader in APC, telling him that during the elections the next day, particularly the election of the speaker of the House of Assembly that he has five members who are loyal to him and that he would like the seven members of APC to work with his five members of PDP to produce the next speaker.
“As far as I am concerned, that was not working in our common interest. Why would the deputy governor seek to have another speakership candidate outside what the governor wants? Are we working together? That was when I knew we had a problem. That the deputy governor has become so desperate to take over.”
Obaseki had recently described the rift between him and his deputy as unfortunate, sad, and avoidable because “the people know where we are coming from and what we have gone through.”
“What has happened in the last few months is strange. I thought we came together and will leave together and let the people say you have done a great job and they will now make the decision themselves.”
Speculations are rife that Shaibu may not survive the political gang-up, humiliation and annihilation that lies ahead if developments in the last few days since he returned from his annual leave are anything to go by.
Since Obaseki is determined to cut him to size and clip his political wings, some political watchers believe that the embattled deputy governor should eat the humble pie and toe the path of honour. They believe that since genuine reconciliation is not feasible, it will be best for Shaibu to tender his resignation letter.
On more than one occasion, the deputy governor has severally expressed optimism that the storm between him and his boss will eventually be resolved outside the prying eyes of the public and the media. But how that can be achieved remains daunting, as the gulf between them widens daily.
But despite the withdrawal of the suit he filed to stop the alleged plots to remove him from office, Shaibu last Monday commenced the relocation of his office out of the Government House, Benin.
The office, located at No. 7 Dennis Osadebe Avenue, was formerly the office of the state Public Procurement Office inaugurated by Oshiomhole on December 16, 2014.
Even though it was gathered that the new office is not habitable as there is no electricity, is waterlogged, and the office spaces are significantly small, a memo directing the relocation to the new office was issued by the Permanent Secretary, Head of Office to the Permanent Secretary, Deputy Governor’s Office, and a reminder was also issued last weekend.
THISDAY had penultimate reported the move by Obaseki to relocate Shaibu from Government House. As it is, not even the intervention by stakeholders into the rift between the first two citizens of Edo, made the governor to reverse the decision to relocate the deputy governor.
Shaibu stated that the decision to withdraw the suit came after a series of meetings involving himself, the governor and well-meaning indigenes of Edo and Nigerians, including party leaders, traditional rulers, and the Archbishop of the Benin Archdiocese of the Catholic Church.
However, it is not yet clear if the gesture will make the governor shift ground in his favour.
But for now, many are calling on Shaibu to eat the humble pie and resign before he is kicked or subjected to further embarrassments and humiliations.