In Edo, solidarity is not forever
Oshiomhole, who some few months ago, was advocating change, is now singing the anthem of continuity. Those who want change in Edo State were those who once wanted continuity when Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was the tenant of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja. The man carrying the flag for change is Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Few people epitomize the shifting sand of Edo State politics better than Ize-Iyamu, a pastor of one of the Pentecostal churches where his wife also serves as a minister. He is a formidable figure in Edo State politics and his emergence shows that the old men who still control the PDP are serious about the challenge and opportunity presented by the forthcoming governorship election. Only four years ago, Iyamu was the Director-General of Adams Oshiomhole Campaign Team for a second term. The team won the election and Oshiomhole made history to become the second governor, after Lucky Igbinedion, to be sworn-in for a successful second term.
The success of that second term is now haunting Governor Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and hero of the Nigerian struggle against military rule. Though a lawyer, clergyman and farmer, Ize-Iyamu is an ambitious man. Long before Oshiomhole became a factor in Edo State politics, Iyamu was already a well-regarded local champion in Benin. He was one of the political knights who made Igbinedion, a former local government chairman, the governor in 1999. Igbinedion later made him the Chief of Staff, COS, in 1999, a position of primal importance, the job he did until 2003. When Igbinedion won the second term in 2003, Iyamu was made the Secretary to the State Government, SSG.
If he had remained mainly a PDP man, perhaps, Iyamu would not be as formidable as he is today. But in Edo State, they play the Game of Thrones, and alliances shift with byzantine regularities. In 2007, the Abuja group, led by the inimitable Chief Anthony Anenih, brought in a two-term senator, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, to become the governor on the platform of the PDP, despite the opposition of the Igbinedion group. Osunbor was declared the winner in a controversial election that was hotly challenged by Oshiomhole, the opposition candidate of the Action Congress who took his case to court. The Court of Appeal sitting in Benin, finally granted Oshiomhole prayers and declared him governor on November 11, 2008.
During the years of the struggle for Oshiomhole’s mandate, alliances have shifted in Edo State. The House of Igbinedion, led by the legendary businessman and pillar of Benin glitterati, Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, felt it was facing persecution with the coming to power of Osunbor who was alleged to have encouraged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to pursue its cases against the former governor. They saw Oshiomhole’s struggle as their own and when he became triumphant, they also celebrated with him.
It was the management of that victory that has now produced the Iyamu challenge. During his first term as governor, Iyamu was a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of Oshiomhole. He was then regarded as the point man of the House of Igbinedion and other denizens of Benin who were steadfast in their support of the veteran labour leader and pro-democracy hero. In 2008 when the Appeal Court pronounced Oshiomhole the governor, the group originally was preparing for a rerun, anticipating the Court of Appeal’s judgement. When the romance was good between him and Oshiomhole, Iyamu emerged as the National Vice-Chairman, South-South Zone of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the precursor of the APC. When the governor was running for second term, Iyamu was in the pilot seat of the campaign as the Director-General.
However, success is a problematic mistress. Relationship between Oshiomhole and his friends of the House of Igbinedion, soon soured. With this, Iyamu drifted back to base in the PDP. When he returned, Anenih and other leaders of the party received him like royalty and admitted him into the sanctum. During last year’s presidential campaign, he was the Edo State Coordinator of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation. Now, he is facing his old boss and friend, Adams Oshiomhole, a veteran of many old battles who is now wrestling with the challenge of a life time.
Oshiomhole believes that through Obaseki, he would be able to break the jinx of history and ensure continuity in Edo State. Obaseki belongs to an old Benin family with deep roots in history. Since his opponent, Iyamu, is also from Benin, both candidates have been flaunting the deepness of their roots to the Benin people, the largest voting block in Edo State. Before he plunged into Edo State politics, Obaseki was a corporate titan who had played dominant roles in the Nigerian Stock Exchange. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stock Brokers and was the founding chief executive of Afrinvest. Now he is riding piggyback with Oshiomhole to ensure continuity in Edo State.
Obaseki has played important parts in re-positioning Edo State economy after the disastrous years of Lucky Igbinedion. Many members of the Oshiomhole court regard the Osubor interregnum as an unlucky spell of foul weather when Edo State was held hostage by the remnant of the old Igbinedion regime. To help him re-position the state, Oshiomhole inaugurated the Edo State Economic Strategic Team in March 2009 and made Obaseki the chairman. The assignment of the team was to make Edo State rely on its internal resources for development. Obaseki embraced the job with missionary zeal and he soon achieved a lot of results including attracting investments into the state. In 2010, he and his team got N25 billion development bond from the Nigerian Capital Market. He was also able to negotiate a $225 million concessionary rate development loan from the World Bank. The Edo State government has already accessed $75 million out of this sum.
I was in Edo State last weekend for the burial of my mother-in-law, Mrs. Florence Oikelome, a native of Ekpoma. As you enter Benin from the Express Road coming from Ore, you will be confronted with many campaign bill boards, especially that of Godwin Obaseki. Anyone who remembers how Benin was in the concluding days of Igbinedion governorship, we know that Oshiomhole has changed the face of the city. He is correct to expect victory at the poll for his protégé, a son of the soil.
However, the situation is different in some other parts of Edo State. At Ekpoma, you will know that the town is facing serious neglect. Most of the roads, where there are roads, are in a poor state. To many of the people in that area, they no longer perceive Oshiomhole as the hero of old. They are saying, “No to third term,” an unfair jibe at Obaseki as Oshiomhole’s Man Friday. They regard Obaseki as the man who was used to impose “unfair taxes” on Edo citizens. The state-owned Ambrose Alli University still dominates Ekpoma, but it is gasping for breathe because of poor funding (most state owned university are suffering from poor funding). Despite this, Oshiomhole has gone ahead to establish another state university, the Edo State University, in his home village of Iyanmbo near Auchi.
Many of the old PDP chieftains regard Iyamu’s battle as their own and they view the next election as another opportunity to re-assert their relevance in the state. The big masquerades including Anenih, Raymond Dokpesi, the founder of the popular African Independent Television, AIT, network and Chief Tom Ikimi, the old handyman of the late General Sani Abacha, are all united to ensure victory for Iyamu.
This election would be a litmus test for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which has been moving like a clumsy dancer since the exit of that remarkable man, Prof. Attahiru Jega. Despite the incendiary rhetoric from the contenders, the campaign has not drawn much blood and clashes have been rare. However, INEC has to ensure free and fair elections so that the next governor can emerge conclusively.
The Edo elections would prove decisively whether the PDP leaders are involved in political necromancy or if indeed there is life after death. If the party wins in Edo, it would mean that in the entire South-South zone, the PDP has returned to its old dominant status. For the APC, the success of its candidate would validate the works of Oshiomhole in the last eight years. He would also join the ranks of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Shogun of Lagos politics, who against all odds, installed one of his protégés as his successor and has since succeeded in installing the successor of his successor. Whoever wins would also have the singular honour of being the first Edo man to present the staff of office to an Oba of Benin.