21st August, 2020
By Louis Odion
The Bini word “Nosagie” (“Osagie” for short) translates roughly as “the one sent by God”. For incumbent Edo governor, the invocation of “Godwin” undoubtedly served as a talisman in his electoral conquest of 2016.
For his second-time challenger and serial contender since 2007, however, the omens seem rather sufficient this time to make a higher claim to the prophetic blessing with his own name.
Buoyed by a unique convergence of providence and opportunity in Edo today, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu (POI) would appear better positioned more than any other time to seize the moment and clinch the crown that had eluded him, thereby getting rewarded for an uncommon resilience that perhaps places him next to President Buhari who won power only at the fourth attempt.
To invert the famous Napoleonic quip, yesterday was obviously too early for POI and tomorrow would be too late.
Indeed, as the countdown to the September 19 poll begins, Edo airwaves have understandably become divided fiercely along partisan lines. No less fierce is the babel growing outside Edo borders. While a few are driven by genuine concern for the corporate interest of Edo people, a good many others, it must be recognized, are interlopers barely able to conceal dark motives that are either commercial or hegemonic.
But as a proud native, as someone acutely conversant with the Edo condition, who had the rare benefit of a ringside insight into its democratic evolution in the past 21 years as a journalist, and who also once had the privilege of being saddled with marshaling state communications with a view to mobilizing the population to share a common vision, it is simply impossible for this writer to stay neutral ahead of September 19, lest he shirks his civic and historic duty to the homeland.
So, mindful of our storied past, conversant with the promises made presently by both candidates, consistent with my deep progressive values and desirous of an inclusive future for Edo, let me now state categorically that I have no hesitation in rising above partisan lines to make a strong pitch for POI in the coming election for reasons that shall soon become evident.
For clarity, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole remains my friend. Neither is Godwin Obaseki my enemy, nor POI a stranger to me. In fact, for the four years I served as Information commissioner, GO often sat next to me in the state exco as chairman of the Economic Team.
Often perching next to him was Oseni Elamah, the chairman of the state tax board and Okavbiore of Benin Kingdom. And usually facing me on the other side of the coated mahogany conference table was Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo) as Chief of Staff, flanked by Orobosa Omo-Ojo as Transport Commissioner.
Against the backcloth, the first fallacy I shall now proceed to dismiss is the attempt to frame the September 19 challenge simply as a grudge match between a turncoat godson and his estranged godfather. While the bitter feud between Obaseki and Oshiomhole is what might be readily apparent to the casual observers, the underlining issues are however much deeper.
While attempting a reading of the incipient Edo political storm during an online conversation recently, Mayor Akinpelu, one of Nigeria’s icons of celebrity journalism, had surmised that the incumbent governor had the anointing of the consequential Oba of Benin based on what he described as “his body language”.
Akinpelu‘s position was, however, punctured by a respondent in a counter-argument which drew a parallel with 2012.
On the eve of the historic 2012 polls, a national sensation was created when the Great Erediauwa reportedly told visiting President Jonathan at the palace that he could not receive the PDP campaign entourage and its standard-bearer ahead of the July 14 governorship contest because he had earlier said that Oshiomhole had acquitted himself creditably and so was deserving of a second term. The Edo Oracle is not known to equivocate.
Eventually, only President Jonathan was received exclusively in the “inner chamber” more out of courtesy, while PDP’s top honchos (including the Esama and Tony Anenih) were restricted to the outer lounge.
But this time, the Edo people, Akinpelu was reminded, were yet to hear Erediauwa’s illustrious son, the mercurial Ewuare II make similar declaration.
As an aside, let no one however attribute the Oba’s pregnant indifference today to Obaseki’s recent colossal cultural faux pas in failing to bring customary kolanuts when he, in company of PDP governors, went to the palace to solicit prayers for his second term bid. Nor is it necessary to add that the Otaru of Auchi, arguably the next ranking after the Oba of Benin, subsequently made a poignant statement by bestowing a traditional title “This is our own” on POI ahead of the poll.
Indeed, looking into the future, the Oba of Benin, like the rest of the Edo nation, knows that a lot is at stake in the coming election, requiring bi-partisan introspection and truth-telling. For, its outcome will either be definitive or disruptive for the acclaimed “cradle of black civilization” in the next decade and beyond.
With its vast arable land and unique demographics, the “heartbeat of the nation” surely has a comparative advantage to dominate the nation’s agro-allied industry. More of cottage industries are needed to optimize the value-chain. But the enduring challenge in the past twenty-one unbroken years of democracy is having a political leadership imbued with the wisdom to not just focus more on building durable infrastructure to drive its economy in that direction, but also the talent to mobilize the people behind a common purpose.
Unfortunately for GO, whereas a convincing argument can be made by POI as deserving the benefit of doubt over his “SIMPLE” agenda, same defence can no longer be sustained for the incumbent as the past four years offered a platform to interrogate his ideas, measure his strength and test his character.
While it is true that vision is key to leadership aspiration, no less critical is the facility to share the dream and the talent to rally a considerable number to buy into it and make it sustainable. In the context of human transactions, persuasion is certainly more potent and profitable than force.
This is precisely the bitter truth Obaseki apparently has no true friends to tell him. Conquistadorial skills that might have served well him earlier in the smoke-filled boardroom of corporate brinkmanship are hardly ever sustainable in the present arena of partisan politics. Increasingly, the impression created is that the whip the Edo helmsman uses to chastise folks escaping to the proverbial Eko is, as they say in Bini, also deployed ruthlessly against those fleeing back from the coastal province.
Obaseki’s own handicap can, for instance, partly be seen in the continued depletion of his key followers ahead of what should actually be his defining moment, leaving bare-foot praise-singers to be re-arranging the sitting order in an obviously sinking Titanic.
Nothing further illustrates that fragility more starkly today than his command of only seven members in the state assembly of twenty-four members and the stubborn refusal of many serving officials to join him in his new sanctuary in PDP.
If the promise of 200,000 jobs was Obaseki’s silver bullet to capture the people’s imagination in 2016, now it has obviously become the noose around his neck before the Edo electorate. If truly much has been created, he seems unable to offer a schema for measurement.
How many were issued formal letters by EdoJobs? Should skill-training in few locations be equated to job-creation? If truly a vast generation of entrepreneurs have been created, are they registered with CAC? Their TINs (Tax Identification Number)? Really, empty sloganeering by the hordes of repatriates sallying around the power shrine in Benin City is no substitute for cogent answer.
It is very convenient for Edo officials to now bandy sexy employment ratio ahead of the poll to insinuate a new economic Eldorado. More jobs should translate to a quantum leap in PAYEE actually. To validate such fantastic claim, no rocket scientists are needed to tell a genuine boom.
Note, in 2016, Edo’s monthly IGR averaged N1.6b. (Relatively, the figure Oshiomhole inherited in 2008 was a paltry N300m and was grown to N1.5b by 2012, representing a phenomenal 500 percent leap.)
Today, the figure has only grown marginally by 12 percent to N1.8b, putting a lie to the touted economic nirvana in the past four years and the exaggerated claim that “what used to go to the pocket of party leaders now comes to government’s treasury”.
No one put it better than Taiwo Akerele who simply asked during a recent national webinar, “Where are the jobs?” What makes that quite telling is that Akerele, earlier head-hunted from the World Bank, was the governor’s Chief of Staff until April. Apparently, he too had grown tired of mouthing the chicanery.
The story is told that Akerele’s frustration partly stemmed from the shame in not being able to name just a single beneficiary of the touted jobs bonanza in his native Akoko Edo whenever agitated youths pointedly confronted him at home on return from Benin City every weekend.
To be fair, Obaseki has shown uncommon courage in containing “Agberos” in the city centre as well as wrestling down the nefarious land speculators in the communities masquerading as CDAs (community development associations). But along that welcome urban reforms has also emerged a new elitism and, in the blighted suburbs, neo-feudalism.
True, agitation by factions of the political elite for preferment is real. But the anger expressed against Obaseki is, it should be clarified, also partly against the perceived predation of a sneaky Delta cartel officially incubated in and around the iconic Dennis Osadebey Avenue with dingy outposts in distant Rivers and Lagos.
Paradoxically, while Edo people are busy trading abuses on social media along party lines, these identified economic arrivistes from outside are said to be quietly carting fortunes away.
Again, it might look visionary to invite “investors” to Edo. But it is no justification for parcelling ancestral land belonging to poor communities in Ovia, Owan, Ehor, Luleha/Ora/Ozalla to rent-seekers from outside disguising as “prospective industrialists” through opaque MOUs. I refer specifically to the growing agitation of poor farmers in dozens of rural communities including my own native Odiguetue, and neighboring Odighi and Agbanikaka whose cause is, happily, now being championed by an NGO known as E-MALL (Edo Movement Against Land-grabbing & Livelihood Losses).
Those yet to be sacked by marauding killer herders have had their ancestral land taken by fiat and given to outsiders posing as agro-allied investors without consultation, much less equitable compensation to the dispossessed. But experience shows that, often, the new land-owners are only interested in quickly securing C of O on such generous land allocations to tender as collateral for bank loans eventually diverted elsewhere. It is the worst form of feudalism.
Against this overwhelming baggage, the truly perceptive should, therefore, be contemplating a post-GO Edo by now. For POI, the immediate concern will, of course, be the crisis of expectation after victory.
But if there is anything the generality of Edo are now agreed on, it is aversion to the “Agbero” culture. Unlike GO who seems temperamentally irreconcilable, part of the challenge before POI will, therefore, be drawing up a comprehensive programme to channel the energies of these maladjusted youths to meaningful engagements.
For, to truly prosper and foster a growth that is inclusive, Edo certainly needs to harness the talents of all, including those often derogatorily termed “miscreants” in official circles in the past four years.
That essentially is the challenge of September 19.
-Louis Odion is the Senior Technical Assistant on Media to the President.