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Balance of power and politics in Edo Central

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
24 December 2020   |   2:43 am
This paper dwells on the balance of power and politics in Edo State with a particular focus on Edo central. The choice of this topic by Edo-Okpa Unity Forum proceeds from the fact that Edo Central Senatorial District.....

[FILE] This photograph taken on September 19, 2020 shows a billboard showing incumbent governor of Edo State and candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Godwin Obaseki and deputy Philip Shaibu during the Edo State governorship elections in Benin City, Midwestern Nigeria, on September 19, 2020. – Hundreds of thousand voters gathered at the polls in Edo State, Midwestern Nigeria to elect a new governor or re-elect the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a second term, the first elections in Africa’s most populous country amidst coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

This paper dwells on the balance of power and politics in Edo State with a particular focus on Edo central. The choice of this topic by Edo-Okpa Unity Forum proceeds from the fact that Edo Central Senatorial District has been somewhat excluded from the mainstream of power distribution in Edo State. Perceptually, the power distribution has affected the wellbeing of the people from that part of the state. There is prevailing political socialisation in which the section of the population that controls the levers of powers tends to fend for that section only or ignore every other section to the pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

Therefore, the people of Edo central feels alienated from the scheme of things since 1999 when the current fourth republic was born. This obvious exclusion has bred concern that is counterproductive to the unity of a people with common ancestry. Recall that in the past there was the clamour for Afemai-Esan State by my late teacher Hakeem Haruna and other discontented power elite in the state. To be sure, exclusivity is counterproductive to development and existential harmony in any given community. Edo State cannot afford disharmony, and inclusivity is to be preferred in the exercise of power. I now address the power question.

Any discussion of politics is a discussion of power in both liberal and radical perspectives. Professor David Easton defines politics as “the authoritative allocation of values” while Karl Marx sees it as the sphere controlled by the dominant class and shaped by the economic base of society. Both definitions emphasise power. What we have not done in Nigerian academia is to introduce a course to be titled, power. It is not a grievous mistake or oversight. The reason is that to discuss the state is to discuss power embedded in its Weberian definition as that entity that is endowed with a population, territoriality, sovereignty, and that has a monopoly over the legitimate use of coercion. The way in which a given state is governed is an expression of power. Recall in the heyday of military rule when General Babangida faced robust opposition from the population, he exclaimed in one of his many broadcasts to the country, “we are not only in government, we are in power.”  
Scholars have sought to unpack the power question on the basis of certain attributes. Five categories are identified, namely, force, persuasion, authority, coercion, and manipulation. We are concerned here with authority due to the democratic context of our discussion; and it is simply defined as ‘legitimate power’ when it flows from popular sovereignty and therefore with the consequence for rights to command and elicit obedience. As Agara and Ajisebiyawo (2011) have noted “Authority by definition implies legitimacy and this is a condition in which power is exercised through established and accepted institutions of the state and according to rules that are generally accepted by all as just, right and proper. Thus, it is possible to seize power and rule but without the acceptance of the people. This means that such government lacks legitimacy which can only be ascribed through the people’s acceptance of the government and its institutions.” This is perhaps why some scholars have noted that it is a resource for power, and therefore distinct from power qua power.

Legitimate power flows from the consent of the people. This sort of delegitimises the undemocratic seizure of power which could only be sustained temporarily with the twin resource of coercion and manipulation. I share the Foucaultian holistic notion of power as ‘permeating all social relationships’, in other words, power inheres in the social relations of production. An important attribute of power given accent by Allison (1996) in the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics is intentionality. He argued that “if we do not include a condition of intentionality, then we are left with a paradoxical and useless concept of power.” He went further to state, “If a person has power, the consequences of that power must be attributable to that person, who is responsible for those consequences. Without intentionality and attributability, the concept of power becomes vague to the point of meaninglessness…” (Allison, 1996, p. 397). This is perhaps while Bertrand Russell was right to define power as “the production of intended effects” (cited in Allison, p. 396).

Therefore, to affect a given community in terms of its objective transformation and abundant life for its citizen, state power, in other words, legitimate power is required. It is given that power is not evenly distributed in terms of intentionality. Those who wield power at a given time may use that power for intentions that may lead to the exclusion of others within the community. For democratic governance, power as a social phenomenon must entail social responsibility. This is the incipient source of the agitation for inclusivity in the form of even distribution of power in Edo State.

In pre-colonial times, the Esan country was an important part of the Benin Empire and produced a sizeable percentage of the general staff of the Benin army (personal communication). The Esan people had always played an interventionist role to rescue the empire in times of crisis. In this respect, the legend of Okpota writ large. During the reign of Oba Ozolua, about 1481-1504 AD, it was Okpota, the great doctor from the Esan country who provided the Oba with the magic wand for fame and prosperity over which he was rewarded with residency in the vicinity of the Oba’s palace. The famous Urho-Okpota Hall located in the entrance to his home is named after him in recognition of his contribution to the development of the empire (Egharevba, 1968, p. 24). Again, when Benin was sacked by the British expedition force in 1897, and Oba Ovonramwen Nogbasi was exiled to Calabar, it was Esan country through the leadership of Ogbidi, the Onojie of Uromi which sustained the resistance through enduring guerilla warfare. That is history, always a useful teacher.

In post-independence Nigeria, the Esan people have played important roles in the politics of Nigeria, and Edo in particular, beginning in 1953 with the clarion call of Chief Anthony Enahoro on the British to grant Nigerian independence in 1956. It may be convenient to quote the opening paragraph of his motion in the House of Representatives on 31 March 1953. “Mr. President, sir, I rise to move the motion standing in my name, ‘that this house accepts as primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956’”. Chief Enahoro was an opposition member of the Federal House of Representatives and was later to become federal Minister of Information and Labour during the Military regime of General Gowon. 

At the central level, Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu became Chief of General Staff under the rule of the military, and within the politics of ‘development’ ensured that the Esan country had more local governments and a federal Specialist Hospital. These amenities have been quite useful to the Esan country. The hospital has saved lives and has also provided employment for the locals. 

In the Third Republic, two Esan sons played central roles. Although the process was truncated, Chief Anthony Aneni and Chief Tom Ikimi were chairmen of the two main political parties decreed into existence by the military, namely, The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) respectively. Again, under the notorious regime of General Sani Abacha, Chief Tom Ikimi became the Foreign Minister, although he was unlucky to serve under a dictatorship, Ikimi remembered his home town of Igueben, uplifted the status of the town through a network of road infrastructure within a policy context of planning without facts and morbid clientelism. 

In the Fourth Republic, Chief Aneni would later become the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party. We have had sundry representatives at the level of the House of Representative and the Senate: Senators Osarhiemen Osunbor, Odion Ugbesia, and Clifford Ordia have been in the senate while Honourables Oiyibo, Patrick Ikhariale, Itula, and Joe Edionwele among others have been representatives in the Lower House. We sent them to the legislative chambers to represent us, make laws for the good governance of the country, and attract development to Esan country though within the vortex of the federal bargain. Let me note that legislative positions are not executive positions and are limited in what they can attract to their constituencies. The only saving grace is the constituency allowance, though an abnormality, allows a window of development presence in the constituencies of the legislators if not abused. Indeed, the story has been one of the more you look, the less you see. 

Professor Akhaine delivered this paper, originally titled “Balance of power and politics in Edo State: Edo Central in focus”, at the 4th end-of-year celebration and award dinner organised by the Edo-Okpa Unity Forum in Lagos recently.