In 2016, many Edo citizens had misgivings about the conduct of the governorship elections which led to the declaration of Godwin Obaseki as Governor of the state. But having gone through all the processes including the segment on the settlement of election disputes, it became expedient for us as good followers of democracy not only to accept him but also to support him to give us good governance.
Luckily, Obaseki’s take-off point, his style on policy formulation and implementation as well as his commitment to the strengthening of societal institutions showed that the new governor was development oriented. Those of us outside the state were inundated with eyewitness accounts by our kith and kin on how virtually everything was progressing at home. Particularly noteworthy, was the change from the old cosmetic order of executing only 2 projects and publicizing them for as many as 20 times. Thus, the title ‘wake and see’ governor naturally evolved as a reflection of the general feeling of satisfaction by all with respect to the approach of ‘working silently for the good of all.’
Paradoxically, it was members of the ruling All Progressive Congress APC, the party that formed the government of the day that began to fight themselves amidst distracting Obaseki from working for the people. Where he went wrong was hard for us to comprehend. Was it because he followed technology and streamlined state resources? Who was angry that he created a standard framework for the administration of urban and regional renewal which reduced the cost of acquiring Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) from N300,000 to N50,000? Was it that APC members were angry over the excitement of Oredo market traders who got a 50% reduction as tax waivers by the governor? Was Obaseki’s industrialization reforms designed to leapfrog the state’s basic education system irritating to some people? Which party was angry that the Nigeria Union of Teachers NUT named Obaseki as the Best Performing Governor nationwide in 2019? There were no answers.
In due course, antagonism against the governor for drawing a line between party politics and government developed among his party members. Should there not be a difference? Is Obaseki governor for only the APC or governor for all Edo people? When we interrogated their accusation that Obaseki neither carried them along nor met their expectations of political patronage, we found that the problem was premised on doing things as before. But how was the governor to resolve the usual urge by those who claimed to have been engaged in physical fights for Obaseki to be given revenue collection assignments which the introduction of technology would not accommodate? The real crux of the matter was let out of the bag by the governor during the second anniversary thanksgiving of the APC Christian Prayer Contact Committee when he announced his determination to not share state funds among party stalwarts. In reaction to this, party leaders angrily tore the party into two factions.
The best opportunity we thought the party had to reconcile the factions was the crisis in the state House of Assembly in which 14 members elect were not sworn-in. Painfully it was bungled by the APC caucus in the National Assembly. On the prompting of the National Executive Committee of the party, the governor was directed by the federal legislature to issue a second proclamation to make room for the 14 legislators elect to be sworn-in. This position was ingenuously arrived at without recourse to the absence of any law that gives any chamber of the National Assembly power to direct a governor. As expected, the strategy failed, yet the party encouraged the aggrieved legislators to squander the time available to them to retain their seats. In addition, when different factions of the party suspended each other, the party’s national leadership failed to play the role of a father; instead they took sides with one group before purporting to set up a panel to look into the crisis.
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One obvious reason the crisis became intractable was because many of its Edo originators were virtually hoodwinked into seeing their national chairman as an invincible character in the corridors of Abuja power. Indeed, some of them believed the Ambode treatment would be meted to their governor without realizing the fine difference between Edo and Lagos. Others were convinced that even if Obaseki by chance wins the governorship primaries of the party, the national chairman who holds the power to submit the name of the party’s flag bearer to INEC would veto the results of the contest. With these claims, many APC members among them outstanding governorship aspirants surprisingly got glued to Oshiomhole. Amazingly, none rationalized the futile claims until a court endorsed his suspension by his ward, thereby making the conflict in the party a national embarrassment.
Unfortunately, reactions to the court judgment and the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari do not show that the line of thinking within the party has returned to normal. This is why some people are able to see a stay of execution of a judgment as victory. But is it really so? Besides, is it not essentially against the run of play for the President who called a truce only in the dying minutes of the game to have dictated only a one-sided set of conditions for peace? Our considered opinion is that the sobriety of the rescued chairman especially his unusual temperate diction in accepting that he has learnt his mistakes are instructive. He has done well for himself. But if those on his side do not immediately put on their thinking caps and read the APC chess game appropriately, Oshiomhole might end up saving only himself with all our brothers left in the cold.
At this point, there are a number of issues which all the contending groups and individuals need to note. First, Edo APC has proven to be a party that is ever in an electioneering mood and no time for governance. For example, it was at the peak of Lassa fever in the state that they intensified their factionalization and daily squabbles. Put differently, Edo people are free to see the APC as a party which fights to instal a governor only to distract him from governance as was done to Obaseki for the better part of his tenure. Second, with the nearness of this year’s governorship election in the state, we are waiting to see who would be the party’s flag bearer; if they field a different flag bearer from Obaseki, the message would be for us to forget about development because a new candidate is likely to be one who in the name of carrying party members along would share our state resources among themselves. Third, those of us from Edo south would also note that any of our brothers that APC would accept as governor would not be our choice but one whose godfather is from Edo North. In the circumstance, can APC be justifiably angry if Edo south people vote for the candidate of another party?
Dr. Tonnie O. Iredia, OON, is former Director-General of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)