By Eric Elezuo
The greatest fight politicians ever engage in has remain the struggle for who controls the structure of a given political setting. In Edo State, and between immediate past governor and current Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and the incumbent governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, the overriding crisis, almost suffocating the state at the moment, is the struggle for the control of the state’s political structure.
In 2016, Obaseki emerged the party’s flag bearer against all odds, considering that the then deputy governor, Mr. Pius Otubu, who served diligently with Oshiomhole for two terms of eight years, was also in the race. Oshiomhole chose to support Mr. Obaseki and premised his campaign for him based on the fact that he was a successful technocrat. He had argued that Obaseki would be able to consolidate and turn around the economic fortunes of the state, even as oil revenue from the Federal Government was fast dwindling. Obaseki was the head of his Economic and Strategic Management team for eight years.
In the last couple of weeks, both gladiators have been victims of attacks from loyalists with each blaming the other for orchestrating the attacks.
Oshiomhole, an accomplished unionist, was first attacked in Benin City, and days afterwards, Obaseki in company of the Oba of Lagos and other personalities were attacked at Oshiomhole’s house. This was after attending the maiden convocation ceremony of the Edo State University, Iyahmo. The incidents have been trailed by blames and counter blames..
But that was on the surface as stakeholders believe that there were more to Oshiomhole’s choice of Obaseki than meets the eyes. It was and still is assumed that beyond the commendable qualities of Obaseki as a technocrat and Oshiomhole’s government economic powerhouse was an underlying role Obaseki played for him during his legal battle for the number one seat in the Government House in the past. It must recalled that Oshiomhole became governor of Edo State after a prolonged legal battle against Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor, who was returned as elected by INEC in the 2007 election. The choice of Obaseki was seen as merely a compensation for his efforts.
However, be that as it may, not a few believe that the compensation was worth it as the governor has been said to live up to expectation in turning around the fortunes of the only APC governed South South state. Ever since, the duo has collaborated in all aspects of governance and sustained the legacy of the state.
But events hit a rebound when a few months ago, rumours began to filter in suggesting that Obaseki will be denied a second term by an emerging force allegedly loyal to Oshiomhole. This according to sources discomfited the Obaseki camp, and they took it serious. It was believed that the information was a distraction, but the attention given to it by the Obaseki administration seem to give it a little credibility, and so the fight ensued. Reasons deduced by the ‘detractors’ included that the governor is not ‘playing ball,’ as well as not paying obeisance to his benefactor, Oshiomhole.
Another tradition berthed the duo’s soured relationship on the composition of Obaseki’s cabinet after his victory in the 2016 governorship election. Though it was said that the tension was quickly doused for obvious reasons, but the cracks created lingered on and developed into gullies. The efforts to hide the animosity between the governor and his erstwhile godfather finally fell apart during the party primaries for the 2019 general election in the state and all hell was let loose leading to Obaseki’s indirect attack thus:
“The state will not be left in the hands of selfish political gladiators marauding themselves as father in a bid to create confusion.”
In another development, the governor, while receiving Muslim faithful at Government House, Benin, to mark the end of Ramadan, Obaseki noted insinuated that the era of sharing public funds to “a few greedy politicians” was over. He also said the plot of detractors to frustrate his administration would never come to fruition.
“Only God gives power. What is going on in Edo State is the handiwork of detractors who want to frustrate the administration so we can fail in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people. But that will never happen. As a governor, I will continue to do my best and spend the state’s resources to ensure the people get the best.
“The election is still a year ahead. What is playing out is a plan by very few greedy people who are concerned about themselves. We will continue to do our best in paying our workers and pensioners, and will continue to develop the state, as the time for sharing money is over. The resources of the state are meant for the people,” he said.
Lending his voice to the crisis, Oshiomhole during an interview with Vanguard described why he is not pleased with the governor. Among an avalanche of issues he raise include his displeasure over the shabby handling of the ‘abandoned Central hospital’
Also, I feel bad about the abandoned Central hospital. I felt terribly bad and embarrassed that as governor, I decided that we should not lament the poor state of health facilities in Edo state particularly the Central hospital that was built in 1903.
So we built what I call a 5-star hospital and I deliberately went out to look for a competent Commissioner for Health, a professor of Medicine from UNIBEN to superintend over the procurement process and we ensured that we brought state of the art equipment to that hospital. We built the hospital with Edo tax payers money.
We gave the contract to Vermed Nigeria limited, VERMED is well known for manufacturing hospital equipment. They operate in many African countries. We placed orders for them to supply equipment which they did even though at the time they were given the contract the exchange rate was 195 per dollar.
By the time they finished their processes the naira had been devalued. But thanks to the governor of Central Bank, he assisted to ensure that we had access to forex at the old rate and they got their dollars at N308 to a dollar.
Before I left government I paid 75 per cent of the total value. All I expected my successor to do was to pay the balance. But this hospital was locked up and I read in the newspapers every day my political opponents arguing that there was nothing in the hospital. And this hospital was commissioned by President Buhari about one week before I left office. From the equipment that were already delivered, the President was impressed.
But after I equipped this hospital it was closed for two years. I kept speaking to the governor, the best way to answer PDP criticisms was to open the hospital. When it is open for business, people who go there for medical treatment will bear us witness.”
Oshiomhole insisted that he has no personal issues with the governor other than governance and sustenance of legacy. He maintained that those causing problems are political jobbers. He said:
“Let me assure you that this governor is not under threat, the problem is with those who are making money from the crisis, those I call merchants of confusion, who are only relevant when there is a fight. They are the ones that will tell the governor they want to impeach you. But the governor should ask himself what he has done to deserve impeachment.”
But Obaseki has said that Oshiomhole’s frustration lies in the fact that he would not allow him run his government or control party machinery in the state. He stressed that Oshiomhole has lost grip in the political structure of the state, and accuse him of political intimidation. He spoke on the heels of the arrest of his Security Adviser, Andrew Momodu, adding that Oshiomhole’s intent was an “attempt to plunge the state into chaos and cause panic…”
While blaming Oshiomhole for the arrest, an aide of the governor, Crusoe Osagie alleged that “Investigations revealed that the security from Abuja have orders from above to pick up not less than 50 persons loyal to Obaseki, in an attempt to plunge the state into chaos and cause panic in the governor’s camp.
“Those penciled down for arrest, according to sources privy to the policemen’s modus operandi, including Special Adviser (SA) to the Governor on Political Matters, Edo South, Hon. Osaigbovo Iyoha.
“Others on the list are Albert Obazee, Kelly Okungbowa (popularly known as Ebo Stone) and Muktar-Osagie Muntari, who heads the state’s Public Works Volunteers (PUWOV).”
In the face of the crisis, “extremely hostile, malicious and incorrect statements” have continued to be the order of the day with one party in the habit of denouncing a particular allegation and then going ahead to dish out a counter.
Obaseki has further incurred the wrath of the APC national chairman when he issued a proclamation to the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly with only nine members in attendance, The opening session produced Hon Frank Okiye emerging Speaker. As expected, Oshiomhole and the other 14 members rejected the proclamation. Oshiomhole’s position was further boosted by the stand of the National Assembly, especially the Senate, which directed the governor to issue a fresh proclamation. Of course, the governor refused, and went to court for an injunction.
Obaseki surmounted pressures from the Nigerian Senate having obtained an order of the Federal High Court to maintain status quo. The court restrained various parties from interfering in any matter with the activities of the Edo State House of Assembly
But dragging the fight on, 11 ward chairmen of the Owan Local Government Area, vowed that Obaseki will not be getting a second term in office if he fails to issue a fresh proclamation
The fight between these two political tycoons, however, might come to an end if the rumours making the rounds that Obeseki is set to dump the ruling party are to be believed.
While many has speculated the possibility of the governor dumping the APC, Obaseki maintain that he is in firm control of the party in Edo State, adding that there is no reason whatsoever to even moot the idea of leaving the party where he enjoys tremendous support and goodwill both at the state and the national levels.
Oshiomhole is not giving up; Obaseki, who has so far been thoroughly been in the act of political does not look good to give; so the battle rages on. Who blinks first?