Finishing Strong is a cliché that rules the political landscape whenever office holders are coasting home to the end of their tenures, and the ovation gets louder if nothing is amiss between the principal and his deputy or if the party structure remains intact. But signals from the Heartbeat of the Nation, Edo State, seem to be conflicting and more of a dysfunctional heartbeat or worrisome palpitation as Mr. Governor and his deputy dance in the market place.
Both men from two extremes were espoused for an uncommon destiny and agenda but quickly reinvented themselves, realigned and questioned the audacity of the priest (Adams Oshiomhole) who joined them in (un)holy matrimony and while Godwin Obaseki cuts as a consummate and renowned technocrat but was branded a political neophyte and allegedly foisted on Edo people, the politically savvy Philip Shaibu was brought from the ruling house to checkmate any rascality from the outsider – Obaseki!
At the twilight of his administration, Mr. Governor appears to repeat history by trying to smuggle through the back door another outsider and political neophyte (according to his deputy) and placing him above everyone to steer the ship of the state – a deal the deputy rejected with a full chest- degenerating into a scuffle and a hurried apology.
For keen political observers and initiates, the services of prophets were not necessary to foretell that the truce between Mr. Shaibu, deputy governor, and his principal, Mr. Obaseki, executive governor of Edo State, was a ruse.
The pretences were short-lived, and the reaction of the governor to the apologies was not lost on anyone, that these excellencies may not part ways excellently.
One could feel the silent hostility despite the animated cordiality of the deputy, but Mr. Governor’s disposition revealed a completely different tale.
Today, Edo people watch in amusement the age-long drama of the cat-and-mouse relationship between the governor and his deputy over succession.
This intriguing Benin ring-road blockbuster is not only keeping the people of the state entertained but triggers genuine concerns for reflection because it re-enacts a scenario akin to the loud cry of Emilokan by the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the heat of the 2023 presidential election campaign.
It is no longer news that Tinubu did not enjoy the support of some key members of his party, including the then President, his party chairman and members of the cabal of the kitchen cabinet. But lessons learned, destiny does not respect godfatherism often thrown around by His Excellencies (incumbent presidents and governors).
It is high time the Edo imbroglio triggered a change of mindset and recalibrated the relationship between the governor and his deputy, but most importantly, set in motion a constitutional review.
The issues on the table look straightforward, but egos and superiority complexes seem to stand in the way because central in the heart of the matter is the senatorial zone the next governor should come from.
While the calculation appears simple, the fundamentals of democracy are yet again tested and approximate the thoughts of former president Olusegun Obasanjo and questions the wholesale applicability of democracy we practice in light of our political evolutions, socio-cultural and ethnoreligious realities.
The argument is that Edo South produced Governor Lucky Igbinedion, the North threw up Adams Oshiomhole, but the Central had barely 18 months, and this is the premise on which Esan people set up a powerful committee to reach out to all stakeholders across Edo State and got tacit endorsements that the zone should have the next slot and the understanding was that this is the only route to guarantee equity, justice and fairness.
So, the problem is either the approach in forging that understanding was faulty or personal ambition beclouded reasoning.
The position of Mr. Governor that his deputy must perish his ambition and fall in line was premised on the above argument – insisting that in any pluralistic society, such arrangement gives every ethnic group a sense of belonging and a taste of leadership, but the deputy thinks otherwise.
While it is true that the governor is privileged to request his men to step down and align with this possibility, it is beyond his rights and a constitutional breach to consider opposing opinions as an affront and not acceptable.
Yes, freedom of choice of candidate is his right to the extent that it does not take away the rights of any citizen of Edo State to contest for the highest office because anything short of that is a criminal breach of the laws and dislocation of democracy.
The truth is, such a situation demands tempered caution, persuasion and constant engagement with reasonable and non-violent dissidents even when they refuse to stand down provided they operate within the ambits of the laws and the governor deploying the instrumentality of the state to force people against their inalienable rights is not statesmanly.
This is a fundamental problem with our brand of democracy, and it is not limited to Governor Godwin Obaseki. See what is happening in the neighbouring Ondo State. The governor is sick, but with his consent, all the forces around him will not allow his deputy to assume office in an acting capacity. They had to drag themselves to President to get a truce, yet the deputy remains in the woods. So, at what point do these begging contestants transmute from being servant leaders to being gods to the electorate- oh yes, a mini-god because a president or governor in Nigeria can determine the life of individuals irrespective of what the position of the law is?
Back to the Edo crisis, with the deputy governor thrown out of the Government House and relocated to one obscure facility on account of this same issue, he finally declared his intention to vie for the highest office of the state with or without the support of the sitting governor and his men. Will he be the first – not at all, but will he suffer persecution, harassment and intimidation directly from the governor and his men – he should brace up for any possibility. Some had taken such a gauntlet and succeeded while others failed, so why not enjoy the pleasure of trying and the guts to dare.
At what point can we ever as a people rise above religion or ethnicity to recruit competent people that will run the government? If we cannot do away with such primordial proclivities, then “rotationalism” as a system of allotting political positions from the local government to the federal should be enshrined in the constitution to spare us these unwarranted dramas from the political class.
Is it not possible for both men to enjoy cordiality while pursuing their different agendas? When the going was good, Shaibu took his political godfather (Oshiomhole) to the cleaners to ensure the governor (Obaseki) got a second tenure when some critics avowed that he did that primarily for self-preservation and ambition, the governor reciprocated when he insisted against the wishes of PDP state party chieftains that it is either Shaibu or no deputy, so what went wrong.
Politicians come to the dance floor in different attires and show their true colours as events unfold because anyone would have vowed that Obaseki and Shaibu was a union made from heaven, but again, the maxim rings louder – no permanent friends or enemies but permanent personal and selfish interest. If the constitution does not whittle the powers of the presidents and governors, or if we cannot find a way for people to contest elections on a level playing field, then this democracy will remain a sham.
The government in Edo State may not be finishing strong as a broken team, and contesting/winning primaries or general elections should not be the preserve of political leadership in true democracy because the legitimacy and sovereignty of any government rests on the people.
But amid all this bickering, where is the place of development, and what tangible dividend of democracy has this Obaseki-Shaibu government delivered in the last eight years? Are Edolites satisfied with the results posted, or is it just about the allure of power and influence?