By HRH PRINCE EDUN AKENZUWA – OGIEOBAZUWA
(THESE MATERIALS WERE FIRST PUBLISHED IN EDITIONS 260 AND 261 OF THE RELIANCE NEWSPAPER)
Some years ago, Western Region of Nigeria was engulfed in a political turmoil. The turmoil split the region in two. The two sides engaged each other in a fratricidal battle which threatened to destroy the time-honoured cultural heritage of the Yorubas. Non-Yoruba politicians, who had vested interest, capitalized on the crisis and supported one side against the other.
A few Yoruba men saw the damage the Yorubas were doing to themselves and were determined to restore peace in the troubled region. One of the few men was the versatile dramatist, Chief Hubert Ogunde. He produced a play he entitled “Yoruba Ronu.” In the play, he admonished the warring men to sheath their swords. He urged them to put on the “thinking cap” and to reflect on the damage they did to each other. Yoruba Ronu, literally, means: “Yorubas Think.” Leaders of the groups saw themselves in some of the characters in the play. The exposé was so damning to them that they got the play proscribed.
Benins found themselves in similar situation about 30 years ago. They were not in hot war with each other, as the Yorubas were, but their predicament was as precarious. Powerful non-Benin politicians traumatized them psychologically.
According to the last national census figures, the population of Edo South is more than that of Edo Central and Edo North put together. Despite the population superiority, Benins were subjugated by people in the minority. External forces decided the Benin person who will fill positions zoned to Edo South.
For example, Edo South being oil producing was to present the candidate who was to be appointed Commissioner in NDDC. On two succeeding occasions, the person so appointed was hand-picked by politicians outside Edo South. The federal government gave 38 boards to Edo State during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term as President. The politician who shared out the boards gave twelve to Edo North (Etsako) with 28 per cent of the State’s population; twelve to Edo Central (Esan) 18 per cent and fourteen to Edo South (Benin) with 54 per cent.
Three Chairmen were appointed from Edo North; three from Edo South and SEVEN from Edo Central. One of the chairmen from Edo South was Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia. He was named Chairman of PPMC. One of the Chairmen in Edo North was Chief Dan Orbih. He was Chairman of NNPC. Ironically, Dr. Ogbemudia’s PPMC is a subsidiary of Orbih’s NNPC. Yet, Ogbemudia was a member of the ruling PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) at the time.
However, truth must be told, no matter how bitter it is. Benin politicians have not performed well. Despite the fact that Edo South population is more than that of Edo Central and Edo North put together, Edo South has only ten members in the 24-member House of Assembly. Edo Central and Edo North jointly have 14.One senator represents 54 per cent of the State’s population in Edo South. In Edo Central, one Senator represents 18 per cent. In Edo North, one senator represents 24 per cent.
Rather than give thought to this inequity and seek a constitutional way to correct it, Benin politicians dance around godfathers, playing second fiddle. Instead of their legislators, state and national, to think of how to use legislative machinery to correct this anomaly, most of them dissipate energy on the so-called constituency projects. Party leaders, who ought to worry about the constitutional imbalance and the injustice done to the Benins, go grieving over what they call inaccessibility of the Governor and their failure to get contracts.
Benin Leaders of Thought (BLT) was formed at the time of this palpable injustice. One of its objectives was to neutralize godfatherism in Edo South. It launched a campaign to enhance the sensitivity of Benins to the fact that no other person but themselves should say who of them should fill the position zoned out to Edo South. BLT wants Benins to always aim for top positions in politics and business, and to realize that they can only attain that through the achievement of excellence.
It was at this juncture that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole surfaced on March 9, 2006. He was accompanied to the residence of this writer by his friend, Senator Albert Legogie, Deputy President of the 3rd Senate. Oshiomhole said he was doing his last few months as President of the Nigerian Labour Congress and that he would go into politics on completion of his tenure.
Oshiomhole requested the writer, as convener of Benin Leaders of Thought, to arrange for him to meet with its members. The meeting was arranged and, on April 3, 2006, he met them at my residence. Before Oshiomhole left, I gave him copies of newspaper articles written against the godfather, godfatherism and the injustice people of Edo South suffer. The articles were written separately by me and other Benin patriots. At that time, the population of Edo South was said to be 62 percent of the State’s population.
After much horse-trading, Comrade Oshiomhole contested the governorship election on the platform of AC against Prof. Oserheime Osunbor of PDP on April 14, 2007. He lost. Oshiomhole appealed against the result. The case went on for nearly one year. At last, the Tribunal ruled in his favour. Thus, he began his dramatic, novel administration in Edo State in 2008.The House of Assembly, then under Speaker Zakawanu Garuba, was controlled by PDP.
His first challenge was to break the solid PDP membership of the House of Assembly. He accused the Speaker of being used by the godfather in Uromi to frustrate his plans for the State. One of the plans was to construct a 6-lane road from Benin Airport to Oba Ovonramwen Square but the godfather saw the estimate and instructed the House to cancel it because the money was too much to be spent on only one road in Benin City and that, the 6-lane road, if it was to be constructed, would affect the Palace wall.
Oshiomhole said he was unabashed about his proposal to spend so much money constructing a modern road in Benin City because he regarded Benin City as the “Living Room of Edo State.”He said since the Living Room is the first place of contact in a house, it gives one an idea how the rest of the house is. He said he has travelled all over the world and seen that roads from airports are multi-lane and big.He said he had also requested the military authorities to swap the Military Hospital land for another piece of land and that when the deal was concluded, he would build a 5-star hotel there, to service the road and the airport.
Omon’Oba Erediauwa, great lover of development, was impressed by Oshiomhole’s plans. The Oba assured him of maximum support. The Oba said if the six-lanes would affect the Palace wall, he would use his own labourers to bring the walls down. The assurance gave Oshiomhole the green light he needed to demolish “illegal” structures in Benin.
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole threw his weight behind BLT’s battle against godfatherism. His life-style was simple. He would stop at a road-side corn-seller’s stall and buy roasted corn. He would cast aside protocol and wear French Suits all about. Sometimes he would shun his security details and live them behind. Some people saw this as a gimmick, but it endeared him to many people who hail “Oshio Baba,” anytime they saw him inspecting contractors at work.
Four years soon elapsed. His first term as governor was over. He visited Oba Erediauwa, as he said, to show him his “report card” and inform him that he would run for a second term. He was accompanied by his deputy, Dr. Pius Egberamwen Odubu. The Oba congratulated him on the successful completion of the “first term”. He was happy that the Comrade Governor never reported at any time, that his deputy was incompetent, disloyal or over-ambitious. The Oba said he was happy because when Chief Lucky Igbinedion, a Benin man was governor, an Etsako man from Edo North, Chief Mike Oghiadomen, was deputy, and he was known to be loyal to his boss. Now Etsako man is governor and a Benin man is deputy. The Oba urged Oshiomhole to go into his second term and continue to work with his team. The statement by the Oba was taken to mean that he endorsed the Governor and his deputy for a second term. It went viral.
Shortly after that, Oshiomhole had a Town Hall meeting at Idia College hall which all traditional rulers in the State attended. He told them he was there to present his “report card” to them. He reeled out his achievements. The traditional rulers gave him a loud ovation. Few weeks later, he invited enigie in Benin to take a bus-ride with him to inspect the stages of work on the Storm Water Project. They saw the massive under-ground drainage at the Ogba Road end of Airport Road. They had never seen anything like that in Benin City. The popularity of the “Miracle Worker” grew in leaps and bounds.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole showed me the design of a Shopping Mall he planned to build at Forestry Road. To make room for the mall, he compulsorily acquired and demolished a 3-storey building which belonged to the late business man, Mr. Uwagboe Agidigbi. A fly-over was to connect the mall to the near-by Oba Ovoramwen Square. The mall was never built. Did he hand over the design to his successor?
Towards the end of the second year of his second term, a lull had set on some of the projects he started so dramatically. Work had stopped on the Storm Water Project, a 5-star project of his administration. He told Enigie during a meeting with them at the EXCO Chambers that the work would resume when more money was available and that the project would be completed. He also assured them that the Specialist Hospital, another 5-star project, would be completed.
He and his party won the eighteen local government election. He won twenty one seats in the twenty-four-seat House of Assembly. Earlier in his first term, he said he would build three Model Schools, in the State, one in each senatorial district. He graciously agreed to locate the one in Edo South in Obazuwa.
He sent a 12-man delegation to inspect the site in Obazuwa. The delegation was headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education. They said the land was suitable as it had no hill, valley, or slush. They said another team would be there to physically measure the land which should be 3,000ft x 3,000ft. In anticipation of the team’s visit, community boys were told to measure the land and ensure that it was up to the required dimension.
As the boys were measuring it, militants from Bayelsa State came through Iko and attacked them with cudgels and machetes, claiming that the land belonged to Ijaws. The Governor was promptly informed and he directed his Chief-of-Staff to report the attack to the Commissioner of Police. Policemen were sent to provide protection for the people and to rescue two abducted indigenes. Some of the invaders were arrested and charged to court. The case is still pending at Okada Magistrate’s Court.
The attack by the militants was painful but the governor’s reaction to it was even more so. Instead of him to simply tell the two groups claiming ownership of the land that since it was government going to utilize the land for a project of public interest, he would go ahead with the proposal; he moved it away from Obazuwa to a place in Benin City. The place was water-logged and full of slush. The secondary school there, New Era College, was then battling with the menace. It is believed that Oshiomhole moved the project away from Obazuwa in order not to offend the Ijaws.
Many Benins do not still realize that non-Benin adversaries of the Benin use the Benins to score even for him. They used Benins when they fought Odubu, when they fought Ativie, Benins had the loudest voice against her and when they fought Ize-Iyamu and Igbinedion, Benins were their strongest and swiftest foot-soldiers.
Now it is Obaseki’s turn. The most vociferous of the preachers against him are Benins. Emergency ad-hoc groups spring up daily in Benin setting up trump charges against him. Many of the charges are frivolous. Some accuse him of discontinuing the “laudable” projects started by his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
They ask: “What happened to the Benin Storm Water Projectand the completed and furnished Central Hospital commissioned by President Muhammad Buhari…” These are some charges they levy against Obaseki. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Who does not know that work on the Storm Water project stopped two years before Obaseki became governor? Who does not know that the Central Hospital was locked up by Oshiomhole a few days after it was commissioned by President Buhari? Who does not know that some of the equipments in the hospital during the commissioning, were borrowed from Stella Obasanjo Hospital for the commissioning? Who does not know that the equipments were returned to Stella Obasanjo Hospital after commissioning?
Those orchestrated criticisms against Obaseki are loudly voiced by Benin people. One of such critics of Obasekiis Governor Oshiomhole’s former Commissioner for justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Henry Idahagon. He signed a press statement on behalf of a so-called “Concerned APC Leaders across the 18 LGA’s of Edo State. As a key member of Oshiomhole’s administration, he is in a position to know that those questions are frivolous and unfounded.
This is the time to advise Benin people to put on the thinking cap, as Hubert Ogunde advised Yorubas when they had their crisis and learn from their neighbours. When Comrade Governor was governor, he had cause to sack two of his commissioners. Incidentally, the two men were from his own ethnic group. They left quietly, without accusing the governor.
The curtain dropped in 2015 on the dramatic scenarios that made Comrade Adams Oshiomhole popular. The honeymoon was over. It was the twilight of his Administration. In July that year, I had a meeting with my brother, the Oba of Benin, Omo n’Oba Erediauwa. He asked me if BLT had begun searching for a successor to the Governor. The Oba named one person he believed would be a suitable successor.
Few months after the meeting, BLT began the process of seeking for a suitable person to succeed the Governor. Oshiomhole had assured me on three different occasions that Benins would themselves nominate the person to succeed him and that he would give the person maximum support. The third occasion he gave me the assurance was on September 16, 2016in my house. He had come to introduce his beautiful spouse to me. He was accompanied by Rev. Micheal Egharevba and his Chief Security Officer (CSO).
We sat in my Study Room where my daughter, (Mrs. Yvonne Osunde) decorated her with coral bead necklace, bangles, and ear-rings. After the short ceremony, she and my daughters moved to the Living Room where Rev. Egharevba and others were sitting.
Alone with Oshiomhole, I raised the issue of his successor, the desire of Benins to choose their own candidate by themselves and his promise to support whoever they chose. He said: “Your Highness, I’ve told you before. I assure you again, Benins will name the man they want. I will give him maximum support. That’s the only way I will show gratitude to our Papa (the Oba) for the support he gave me which led us to this stage. There’s no other way I can show my appreciation of the fatherly support,” I believed him. He sounded earnest.
I disclosed to him the man the Oba believed would be a suitable successor to him and asked him if he would give the man his support. He said he would, if he was a member of his party. He added: “My only fear is the new law made by the party that a person who has not been registered for a given period, cannot run for any position in the party”.
In January 2016, BLT invited fourteen persons known to be interested in the governorship position to came and obtain expression of interest form, free of charge. The fourteen persons, drawn across party lines, were: Prof. Osayuki Oshodin, Prof. S.E. Orobator, Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi, Dr. Pius Odubu, Barr. Osarodion Ogie, Prof. Ernest Izevbigie, Pharm Chris Iyare, Maj-Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Sen. Ehigie Uzamere, Chief Solomon Iyobosa Edebiri, Adviser Nowamagbe, Dr. Tonnie Iredia and Col. Wisdom Ogbewekon. Nine of them responded.
Towards the end of October, a rumour burst out that Oshiomhole was going to pick and sponsor a person to succeed him. I did not believe it. Did he not assure me only a month ago that Benins would choose their own man? BLT members who heard the rumour suggested that BLT should issue a statement and re-iterate its position against godfatherism but I did not think BLT should act on a rumour. I requested for time to enable me contact the Governor and find out from him if the rumour was true.
I wrote letters and sent text messages to him requesting for audience. I tried to speak with him on phone. He did not reply my letters and txt messages. I could not reach him on phone. In November, it dawned on me that he did not want to grant me audience. The rumour got stronger, so did the pressure on BLT to issue a press statement. Consequently, a press conference was called on January5, 2016.
After the Press conference, Oshiomhole announced the name of Godwin Obaseki as the person he had chosen to be his successor. Thus, he unilaterally foisted a candidate on Edo people! It was bewildering. What happened to the promise he made to His Majesty, the Omo n’Oba and to the people of Benin? For how long had he nursed the idea of sponsoring a successor? Did he demolish the godfather at Uromi in order to take his place?
In a press interview recently, his former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Henry Idahagbon, inadvertently confirmed that Oshiomhole is a godfather and also undemocratic. He disclosed that Oshiomhole called him up at 10pm one day and told him he had decided on who would succeed him.
He said: “I have the singular honour of being the first politician the Governor then, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole conferred in on his choice of Godwin Obaseki as a successor… I asked his permission to call Obaseki and inform him. I called him. He was already asleep…Oshiomhole de-odorized him (Obaseki) to sell him to the public because he had made up his mind that Obaseki should be his successor…” (Reliance Newspaper, Number 258 – July 23).
Idahagbon also said: “I have been part of many gubernatorial campaigns. I know of leaders collecting N50million, N100 million, just one leader, to support the candidacy of a person. I am not aware of any leader in APC that collected N5 million from Godwin Obaseki. Everybody worked for him, not because of him, but because of the enormous goodwill which Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had. Nobody collected money from him….”
This disclosure shows that the cause of their quarrel with Obaseki is money. Obaseki does not “service” party leaders as Oshiomhole did. Money palaver. Another Oshiomhole’s associate says he is also temperamental and impulsive. They cite the cases of Major Oloye, the widow petty-trader, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia and the Ojuromi of Uromi, to buttress this.
Oloye was said to have been overzealous while executing an official assignment. Oshiomhole was angry. He got him arrested and carried away to detention in the booth of a car. He was released though, after Oshiomhole cooled down. He compensated Oloye and appointed him as Permanent Secretary.
Ogbemudia was allocated a vehicle by Governor Oserhiemen Osunbor’s Administration. Osunbor was the man who defeated Oshiomhole in the gubernatorial election in 2007 though his victory was over-turned in Oshiomhole’s favour. Ogbemudia was Osunbor’s supporter and Anenih’s friend. Oshiomhole sensationally ordered him to return the vehicle. Ogbemudia complied and returned the vehicle. In his sober moment, Oshiomhole gave him two vehicles to replace the one he took from him.
The widow exhibited her wares in a wheel barrow on the foot-walk near Oba Market. Oshiomhole was angry that she flouted the rule against hawking or selling on the foot walk. He slapped her for breaking the rule. On being informed that she was a widow, he yelled at her: “Go and die”. Later, in his sober moment, he gave her Two million Naira and employed her as his Special Assistant.
Ojuromi, the traditional ruler of Uromi was said to have, gone to a polling station during an election. He saw a lady giving out money to entice people to vote for APC. The Onojie was said to have ordered her to stop doing so. There was an altercation. The Onojie was said to have slapped her and got her pushed away from the polling station. She reported the assault to Oshiomhole who gave the Onojie a query and slammed a week suspension on him.
The lady and her parents went to apologise to the Onojie for their daughter’s exchange of words with the monarch. Being indigenes of Uromi and his subjects, the Onojie forgave them. The atonement by the lady’s family and the pardon by the Onojie, were not good enough for the Governor. He converted the one-week suspension to out-right dethronement. He did not inform the State Council of Traditional Rulers, a body set up to advise government on traditional matters, of the Onojie’s action.
Oshiomhole left office without doing anything about the dethronement. The people of Uromi appealed to His Majesty Oba Ewuare II to intervene. Following the Oba’s intervention, Governor Obaseki lifted the order and restored the Onojie to his throne.
When the Proclamation Letter issue started, the Benin monarch and other traditional rulers in the State severally, intervened to resolve the matter between Oshiomhole and Obaseki. They did not succeed. The Oba then led the Traditional Rulers in the State to Abuja to appeal to President Buhari to reconcile Oshiomhole and Obaseki, both of whom are Edo sons and members of APC.
Before the President reacted to the request, Oshiomhole, the National Chairman of APC, looked the other way while Ihonvbere and Akpatason, both also Edos and APC members of the House of Representatives, raised a motion in the House calling the House to take over Edo State House of Assembly. That show of disrespect to our Traditional Fathers was reminiscent of Oshiomhole’s dethronement of the Ojuromi without the courtesy of informing the State Council of Traditional Rulers.
A group that calls itself Edo People’s Movement, EPM, does not want Obaseki to return for the second term. The group which says it is a group within the State APC, expressed concern that APC would lose the State if Obaseki was allowed to run in 2020. According to the group, Obaseki told the Party’s State Secretary, Mr. Lawrence Okah, to resign because of his “closeness” to the National Chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole (Vanguard, May 28 p. 16).
Why would the Governor of a state, who is a member of APC, be angry that the secretary of his party is close to the National Chairman of the party? Did the BMC, report the governor to the State APC? What did it say or do about it?
Idahagbon said they did not read Obaseki rightly before making him governor. “We saw him as a cool, quiet and urbane gentleman, soft spoken. In his own way likeable, a reluctant politician. He was never interested in politics. He got his APC card barely six months or a year before the elections. Any time you tell him about politics, his response was “no, no, no. I am not interested; Politicians and their wahala.” He was very dismissive of politicians and politics. Unfortunately looking back in retrospect, we didn’t read him rightly. We read him so very wrongly…”
In order to put in its proper perspective this statement by Idahagbon should read what another of Oshiomhole’s close associate, Lukman, says. Lukman, said he known Oshiomhole in his trade unionist days. According to him, Oshiomhole used to call him and two others “dogged fighters.”
Lukman says: “Lukman here is Godwin. I’m not sure you have met him before but let me tell you that he has been part of my idea of my being a governor. He was operating from the Lagos axis and I can say he organized the first fund-raising that made money available for my initial activities here in Benin while in government, he is the head of our economic team and the brain behind the success of my government…..
“It will shock you to know that Godwin rendered this huge service to the State without being paid, either as allowances or as salaries”. Then with a sense of finality and, in characteristic display of his usual authoritative Oshiomhole concluded: “I’m going to hand-over to Godwin so you people should work together…..”
“….With that, I stood up, had a hand-shake with Comrade and Godwin, and departed for a birthday party for which I was already running late….My phone rang. Behold, it was Comrade Governor calling. I had to leave for a meeting with Oga. I met Oga in the house with Barrister Henry Idahagbon, the then Attorney. Idahagbon of the State and Hon. Victor Enobakhare, the then Egor LG Council Chairman. They were discussing the issue of paying the accumulated unpaid salaries of Egor LG workers.
“…the matter of my successor has gone beyond personal or emotional consideration. First and foremost, the present financial position of the state is not as strong as our people want to think or believe. The good thing is that even though we are in heavy debts, we used the borrowed funds for infrastructural development, especially the Benin Water Storm project. Only Godwin understands how the money was borrowed, the repayment plans and the conditions attached.
The Benin water storm project has not been concluded but we have made appreciable progress, even though it is not easy for our people to understand how such humongous amount was spent. It was our plan to use the funds to undertake the water storm project and open up the main roads; Airport Rod, Akpakpava Road, Siluko Road etc. so that my successor would undertake the reconstruction of the link roads…..
“You see, Lukman, the state cannot survive a new governor, who is a politician, someone who has political structures and party leaders to service someone who is generous with funds. I chose Godwin because he has no political network to cater for… he would be very heartless and brutal to politicians. Godwin has never come to terms with why I should be giving public monies to politicians, monies they never worked for, according to his perception of it…..”
One will see from the above excerpts that Oshiomhole brought Obaseki into politics as an instrument he wanted to use to execute his pre-conceived programme and policy.
Oshiomhole, like Idahagbon, knows that Obaseki does not like politics and politicians. He knows he is frugal and has “not come to terms” with the way he gives out public money. In this triangle – Oshiomhole, Obaseki and Idhagbon who has misread each other? It seems Idahagbon has misread Oshiomhole.
Finally, all TRUE Benin should realize that the present battle is not between Oshiomhole and Obaseki but between Oshiomhole and corporate Benin.
Ivbiedo, uwa g’iman ro iro.