When a technocrat unravels amidst Nigerian politics
Ordinary citizens of Edo State see him as ‘Wake & See’ governor on account of his quiet governance style where he shuns needless fanfare in his development strides. But if this narrative has gained currency among the ordinary Edo folks, the same cannot be said of those who seem to hold the political ace in the state and who decides what is good or bad for the people. So while the ordinary people pull in one direction and would readily endorse their ‘man of the moment’, the usual political sharks think otherwise.
This is the sum total of the battle Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is facing today and which may define the direction of politics and fate of Obaseki who has declared he deserves a second term in office. But the ‘unelected’ godfather or godfathers are not having any of Obaseki’s reelection rhetoric. In fact, if they had had their way in the House of Assembly face-off, Obaseki might well have kissed his office goodbye by now. But he foresaw the political hurricane coming his way and acted promptly to avert, or at least, delay it till another day.
What surprises Obaseki and appears ironic among many political watchers is that he is the only All Progressives Congress (APC) party governor in the entire South-South. So, rather than being pampered, Obaseki is being haunted out of office, according to the whims and caprices of the powers-that-be in the party at the centre, led by his predecessor and APC party chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Now it appears APC is in tatters in Edo State.
Former Governor Akinwumni Ambode of Lagos State’s treatment seems reserved for Obaseki, where he was stopped after his first term in office. And it seems those who hatched that plan are bent on bringing to fruition. Like Ambode, Obaseki is being accused of the same crime, of neglecting to financially oil the political structures that brought him to power, for making a solo run in the governance of the state and neglecting the godfathers and other hirelings. While Oshiomhole and Obaseki’s enemies deny this allegation, Obaseki has repeatedly stated he would not share the people’s money meant for development. His position is at the root of governance failure in the country, where the people’s money becomes the money for just a handful of political jobbers. The results are plenty of bad roads, poorly funded education, healthcare, and many other governance failures.
A major private sector player who suddenly finds himself in politics, imbued perhaps with the patriotic zeal to serve his Edo people diligently, Obaseki probably didn’t reckon with the sharks that infest Nigeria’s political waters. Perhaps, having been sponsored by a comrade politician and labour leader, who should be pro-people, Obaseki felt secure that he had the best backing. But events would have shown him that the sort of ‘comradeship’ badge that Oshiomhole wore was just a ladder to climb unto political power, which he would thereafter burn to deny others his brand of patriotic fervour obviously ‘forged’ to fool the peope.
The antithesis to Obaseki’s travails is that while the majority of Nigerians cry for technocrats to go into politics and government so as to change the poor development narrative, those already in politics and government want more career politicians to swell the ranks of ‘politics as biggest business bazaar’ in Nigeria. Any wonder why, while politics is growing bigger and bigger, businesses are growing smaller and smaller every day?
A simple enumeration of failed businesses in Edo State suffices. Bendel Insurance, Ukpilla Cement, Edo Flour Mills, Ethiope Publishing, Bendel Brewery, Nigerian Institute for Oil palm Research (NIFOR), Benin Sawmill, Edo Textile Mill, Edo Galvanise Steel, Edo Pharmaceutical Ltd, and Leventis AG were among some of Nigeria’s premier industries in the state, which have all gone under even while those same businesses still thrive elsewhere. So from Lucky Igbinedion in 1999 through to Oshiomhole and now Obaseki, it has been all politics all the way while the productive industries that ought to take a chunk of youths out of the streets and away from crossing hazardous sea routes to Europe are left to die out completely.
Perhaps, it was Obaseki’s sterling performance in the finance sector in founding thriving businesses that attracted him to Oshiomhole when he made him chairman, Edo State Economic and Strategy Team, Tax Assessment Review Committee for Edo State Internal Revenue Service (TARC), and Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) respectively. So perhaps, it is pertinent to ask: has Obaseki lived up to his rating by the former governor, who is now chairman of his party? Is Obaseki really spending all the state’s resources to improve the lives of ordinary Edo people? Has he left the political jobbers in the cold? What plans has he to revive some of the shut industries or open new ones? What investments has he brought to Edo State since assuming office that should endear him to the ordinary people who hold Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that can retain him in the office next year?
As a businessman, Obaseki would have learned the all-time wisdom that poverty has been politically weaponised in Nigeria to keep the poor perennially down so they settle for cups of rice, pieces of cloth, and what Ayodele Fayose aptly called ‘stomach infrastructure’ that renders useless the power of PVCs in voters’ hands. Again, Obaseki would have imbibed the wisdom that it is only an economically empowered populace with jobs and thriving businesses of their own that can liberate themselves from the plague of ‘stomach infrastructure’ so they can effectively wield their PVCs to vote in those who can do the job. But if these maxims escaped Governor Obaseki and he has merely busied himself with building roads, schools, which are good in themselves but failed to economically empower the people with sustainable job opportunities, then he possibly has no business fishing among the political sharks.
Very often Nigeria’s elected political office holders only equate the building of physical infrastructure to democratic achievements in office. That narrow measure of achievement is why a governor would commission a bridge or culvert or transformer with fanfare and even invite Mr. President to the charade. What about the soft infrastructure that empowers the minds, the human capital for economic development? What about attracting investors to change the industrial space of a state and really empower the people rather than buy them tricycles, wheelbarrows, sewing machines or shoe-shine kits.
Does Obaseki have time on his side to begin rewriting his governance story in an endearing manner that would woo even the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to his side?
Perhaps, Oshiomhole and his political enemies didn’t give him much credit at the start of the face-off, but he has since dug his heels in. He has won his first battle from the courts that say he cannot make another proclamation for a fresh inauguration of Edo State House of Assembly. Abuja is still peeved. House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said the judgment would be appealed. That shows admittance of failure and frustration on the part of Obaseki’s political detractors. However, a group within Edo State’s APC is raising a storm against the governor and its chairman, Mr. Anslem Ojezua. Are they hirelings of Obaseki’s enemies working for his ouster? Does the governor have the numbers to put them in their place? Isn’t their anti-party activity that should attract sanctions? Who imposes the sanctions and how effective?
More importantly, would the 9th National Assembly revisit the new Electoral Bill early enough so electronic voting would be entrenched in the voting system so it becomes less open to gross abuses that disenfranchise a majority of the electorate? Perhaps, Obaseki and other embattled officeholders would need to intensify their lobbying arsenal to get NASS to rework the bill so Mr. President gives it early ascent. That appears the only guarantee Obaseki’s ‘Wake & See’ governance style. That way his pro-people policies would be championed through reelection. Otherwise, the sharks are cycling around for him for a hint of blood so they could bare their teeth.
Or just perhaps, the governor still has his aces in alleged Plan B that may see him cross over to the opposition party to ensure his reelection if APC continues in its offensive to its only governor in the oil-bearing region. When and if the ‘no permanent enemies, no permanent friends’ political credo plays out, APC may be the ultimate loser in its needless heckling of one it’s own. But that is how directionless politics goes, as has become evident in the Nigerian environment. Here, the performer becomes an enemy, because he fails to submit the state’s resources to godfathers to deepen the woes of the ordinary people who merely standby and watch the fight among the titans.