By Michael Ovienmhada
I got a call from Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu in early 2016. I had never met him but someone had given him my number. He said—- “My name is Osagie Ize-Iyamu. I would like you to come and work for my campaign. I have seen several of your articles and one thing that is not in doubt is that you love Nigeria. Well, Edo State is Nigeria. Here’s a chance to get your feet in the mud.”
I was bowled over, thankful that someone so esteemed had recognized my work and at the same time thrown a challenge. You challenge an Esan man to your peril. We do not back down. He sent me a ticket and I flew to Benin to join him at dinner. Before my trip, I had called up some of my friends in Benin to ask them questions. Who was this fellow? What does he stand for? What are his antecedents? Everyone I spoke with, friend or foe, had one thread running through their assessment of him—- a common refrain about him was——-that guy is a leader.
Our country has been in search of people who would lead from the front. Since the demise of the First Republic when the titans were vanquished in an unfortunate coup and subsequent counter coup, Nigeria has been in a state of suspended animation. Nothing has been spared the hurricane of military governance that blighted the moral, economic, political and ethical fabric of our country. However, Edo State was in some measure, spared the disaster that befell the nation in those years because we were fortunate to have Samuel Ogbemudia and Professor Ambrose Alli. Those two, helped to stop the general slide of underdevelopment that enveloped the rest of the country.
In my discussions and interactions with Osagie leading up to the elections of 2016, what I saw was a man who was very single-minded and focused on the task ahead, calm, rarely agitated and always ready to listen. These are attributes we need sorely in Nigeria but which, sadly, have been missing from the political landscape.
As the 2020 elections are upon us, we need to take a cursory look at Edo State in the last four years. One thing is clear. Obaseki is no longer an unknown quantity. In 2016, he barely spoke a word. Oshiomhole spoke for him, interviewed for him, danced for him and sang for him. Obaseki just stood by Oshiomhole’s side, smiling, almost handsome, compared to his godfather. We all wondered, mouths wide open, our brains spinning. How could a man stake so much for another human being? Oshiomhole at the time reminded me of John the Baptist. John, humbled that he would baptize Jesus, quickly became small in his own eyes and we all know that John was no small guy. A man who could confront Herod and challenge him that what he had done by taking his own brother’s wife could not have been a small guy by any measure.
However, when he saw Jesus- he declared without equivocation- he must increase and I must decrease. Even though I was working for Ize-Iyamu at the time, we could not but admire Oshiomhole’s total endorsement of Obaseki and his willingness to stake his own future on a man he barely knew. We then concluded that Oshiomhole must have known something we did not know.
After my candidate lost, I joined him for dinner one evening and I asked him what he was going to do next. His reply surprised me. “Well,” he said, “we have a governor who has been elected by the people and affirmed by the courts. I will work with him if he is willing to accept help. The guy does not really know the people and the people do not know him but we can help him.” I had tears in my eyes. It was comforting to hear those words coming from a man who had just lost an election to which he had devoted so much time and resources through the past year. Such is the metal from which Osagie Ize-Iyamu is forged and the Cloth from which his character is cut.
As Obaseki’s tenure began to unfold, we were at first hopeful that he would bring great development to the State when we saw construction equipment prowling the streets of Benin, fixing roads. I was impressed. The press coverage of his achievements were positive and everyone began to applaud his choice.
It did not take long for him to bare his fangs and begin to growl at his benefactor. He rode roughshod over all the political blocs Oshiomhole had deployed in taking him to Osadebey House. In Macbeth by Shakespeare, King Duncan famously expressed the lines—there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face —after he was informed that the Thane of Cawdor had been executed for his crimes of treason. I do not know Oshiomhole. I have never set eyes on him in close proximity. All I know of him is from press coverage of him when he challenged the Obasanjo regime as he fought for the rights of workers. Everyone loved him and the late Gani Fawehinmi begged him to run for president. The man went to Edo State to run for governor, and helped along by people like Osagie, he ascended the throne at Osadebey House.
The relationship between Osagie and Oshiomhole got complicated to the point that Osagie felt he needed to get out of the way completely to allow Oshiomhole do his job, unhindered. He did.
When Oshiomhole completed two terms and nominated Godwin Obaseki to succeed him, one thing was clear: Oshiomhole was not going to let Godwin Obaseki go into the field against a tried and tested political giant like Osagie Ize-Iyamu in Benin by himself. He would be eaten for lunch. Oshiomhole had to deploy everything in his arsenal to fight for his nominee.
For people like me who had a front seat in that epic battle, the day Obaseki began to spew venom at Oshiomhole, I called up friends in Benin to confirm if he had not been misquoted. He had to have been. No way. Alas, it was true. Obaseki had gone to the trenches very quickly to wage war against his benefactor. I saw a screaming headline that read — it’s fight to the finish. Obaseki would take no prisoners. He would stop at nothing until he not only tore down Oshiomhole but also put him behind bars after a hurriedly assembled Commission of Inquiry, which implicated his benefactor in heinous crimes.
I found that laughable because he was by the man’s side for seven years as trusted economic adviser. If he saw the wrongs at the time, why did he not expose it and resign? Everything Obaseki has done to Oshiomhole speaks to his character as a human being.
The reader may draw his or her own conclusions but this is my view when it comes to the nature of Nigerian politics. I do not like godfatherism. It may be beneficial in some cases but I think it is mostly bad for our democracy. If a man has enough confidence in himself and in his own ability to galvanize a followership, he may form his own political party and run for office. That way, he would not be beholden to any special interests. If however, a man bows down to another man, be it in a shrine as in the case of Abia State, many years ago, or as in the case of Oyo State in Adedibu versus Ladoja, or in Ambode versus the Jagaban, it is my view that you must play by the rules of the godfather.
The godfather never sleeps said JK Randle and nothing could be truer of the godfather in Nigerian politics. Adedibu killed several cows everyday in Ibadan to feed the hungry and pay house rent for the needy and school fees for children whose parents did not have jobs. The political machinery of the godfather has to be oiled for it to keep on spinning and producing the same way you as governor were produced. It is, I believe, a betrayal of the cause for a beneficiary of the largesse of the godfather to turn around and not only despise the godfather but also seek to bite off his head. This is where I have always stood on the matter of godfathers.
I do not belong to any cult and I do not like cults. When people choose to join cults or covens and enter into covenants, they owe a duty to that institution. Let it be clear to my reader that I have no part in covens or covenants but let it also be clear that covens and cults have rules. Their overriding rule is not higher than the natural law—- you cannot have your cake and eat it. You cannot approbate and reprobate. This is where I stand and I therefore draw the line.
In the matter of Oshiomhole versus Obaseki, I have no doubt that Oshiomhole is the better man. I applaud him. I respect him. He may have suffered short term setbacks but history will judge him better in this matter.
In the old days in Israel, there was famine in the land. There was no food to eat. Two women came to an agreement. Hear the complainant in her own words to the King as she requested that the matter between her and her neighbor be adjudicated. Read her: this woman said to me, give thy son that we may eat him today and we will eat my son tomorrow. So, we boiled my son and did eat him: and I said unto her the next day, give thy son that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. The King looked at them, bewildered. He had his own problems. He wanted to kill Elisha the prophet. Such my friends is the nature of covenants, even evil covenants. There is a price to pay.
Now that the battle lines are drawn between Godwin Obaseki and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, one thing is certain. Obaseki must run on his own record. He promised 200,000 jobs. Did he deliver? Let the electorate shine a light on his period in office and let them judge him. Does Edo deserve four more years of a man who spent the last three years fighting his benefactor? Does Edo deserve four more years of a man who has set the EFCC on all his political opponents? Does Edo deserve four more years of a man who has been revoking C of Os of political opponents and pulling down their property? Does Edo deserve four more years of a man who has not made new friends in four years as governor but has managed to create so many enemies? I asked this question a while ago of a friend— does Obaseki plan to live in Benin when his tenure comes to an end? My friend just chuckled. I chuckle too.
Obaseki was given so much by his benefactor. The people of Edo State gave him so much support. It is my verdict that he has squandered his time in office by essentially scoring own goals.
We have a choice before us in a few months in Edo State. Osagie is prepared with the SIMPLE Agenda. He told me in one of several meetings we had that he wanted to be to Edo State, what Awo was to the Western region. He broke it down in practical terms. He believes that with prudent management of the resources of the State, we can have free and qualitative education and put a laptop in the hands of every child in Edo State. He believes that the State can go into partnership with BEDC instead of fighting them, to improve the state of electricity substantially in the State. He believes that every young man and woman who needs a job should be able to come to Edo State as a mini Nigeria to find one as he plans to embark on an agricultural revolution that would put 6 acres in the hands of every young farmer in Edo State, back them up with infrastructure and capital and have a Commodity Marketing Board ready to purchase the produce for exportation to the rest of Nigeria and outside.
He plans to introduce skills acquisition to the school curriculum such that every child, upon graduation, from Secondary school, would have two certificates. One can send him on a journey to University to pursue a dream. The other can help him to start his own business as a skilled entrepreneur with capital at the ready from a Small Business loan, prepared to create jobs and raise a family.
With these core beliefs, I do not think anyone should be in any doubt that the man whom everyone who has been privileged to interact with, calls leader, would indeed lead when he gets the chance. Let us all, therefore, join hands to help propel Osagie Ize-Iyamu on his journey to Osadebey house and we must also be prepared to hold his legs to the fire for the next four years.
●Ovienmhada is a political commentator, playwright, poet and author.