Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State
By Isiramen Enobun
In seasons of intense politics, truth is always the first casualty. So it is in Edo State at the moment, elections are holding on September 19, 2020, and the people are trying to understand the true meaning of reverse thinking, of the difference between the two major candidates, Godwin Obaseki of PDP, who is the incumbent governor, and Ize Iyamu, who is running on the platform of APC, and how Adams Oshiomole has appropriated the story to become the common factor in a context that should otherwise be very exciting.
As it is the beauty of democracy is unfolding in the state. Politicians are crisscrossing the land advertising their wares and capacity, but so also is the nastiness of politics. Some deviants in their midst are threatening fire and brimstone, and the tigers and lions which were once restricted to the Ogba Zoo in Benin City may be released on that particular day.
This is also the season of the appraisal to determine previous performances and readiness or caution for the future. Iyamu has little testimonial here, as he has not been in the front end of politics in the state, thus leaving Obaseki the onerous task of having to pitch for another opportunity to stay for the next four years.
This is where the story begins as quite a number of people believe that Obaseki has really not behaved like a politician, just doing his own things and hoping that his works will speak for him. That runs against the nosiness of the average Nigerian politician who would do a little and spend more money to market and glorify himself. Obaseki can not be accused of this.
But forced to move around and interface with the people he governs for proper interrogation, quite a number of things are coming out although they are still more of testimonials. For instance, the Onoje of Uromi in Esan North East, His Royal Highness, Anslem Aidonojie, commended the Obaseki administration for the developmental strides in Edo State, including the construction of ten roads at Uromi alone. The venerated Esan king who once had a tiff with the former governor, Adams Oshiomole, leading to his dethronement, was concerned by development more than his reinstatement by Governor Obaseki.
At Ekpoma, headquarters of Esan West Local Government, the story was even more profound, leading to very emotional scenes. Under Obaseki’s predecessor, Oshiomole, Ekpoma was a town forsaken. The town which produced one of the best governors of the state, Prof. Ambrose Ali of blessed memory was like a city bearing a curse. For whatever reason, the government simply abandoned the town and its university, even as criminality took over the environment. The fortunes of the Ambrose Ali University plummeted as the National University Commission (NUC) withdrew accreditation from some of the faculties that used to be the best. The glory departed from the citadel of learning even as Oshiomole inexplicably built a fresh one from the scratch opposite his abode at Iyamo, near Auchi, less than forty minutes’ drive from the forsaken Ambrose Ali University.
The story has changed under Obaseki. The broken-down road infrastructure at Ekpoma has returned to life. The students tell their stories and the lecturers are also singing a new song. Travelling on a journey with a lecturer from the University early this year, one of the most respected professors of the institution confessed to those who cared to hear that for the first time in his academic career, he was no longer ashamed to invite visitors to his office. The surprised occupants of the vehicle asked him what happened. The Professor explained that the coming of Governor Obaseki has brought infrastructure renaissance to the institution with the proliferation of new buildings all over the place.
The governor, he enthused, has brought life to the university and by extension to the whole of Ekpoma and its environs. This sense of achievement may also have stirred some fire inside the governor. Speaking to an appreciative Onojie of Ekpoma, His Royal Highness, Anthony Ehizojie Abumere, during his campaign, Obaseki explained that he could not understand why a university town would be allowed to decay, a consciousness that pushed him to fix the town and the university, promising to do even more.
But for elections, nobody was talking about all these things; the students and institution confessed and celebrated their luck quietly and the people simply returned to their old ways even as they prayed for the man who remembered them. Put all this together, the conclusion is right that Obaseki is taciturn and doesn’t fit the model of an everyday politician.
“If he wasn’t a politician,” Senator Domingo Obende pointed out, “he wouldn’t be out there canvassing for votes. Rather he is a very good man who people claim to be arrogant because of his intellect and superior reasoning. A longtime friend of Obaseki, who remains a high ranking member of the APC, Obende is praying for the success of Obaseki in the coming elections because “he is a performer, a prudent man, someone whose desire is to make people’s lives better, and I think God sent him at a time like this to become a catalyst for change in Edo State. I wish him well.”
On why this support across party lines, Obende explained the nature of his character, the kind of person who would never abandon a friend for the decision he has taken. Explaining the relationship that preceded political activism, he pointed out that “previously, myself and Governor Obaseki belonged to the same political party and we stood on common grounds. We are from the same business community. We both lived in Lagos at different times before moving to Edo State. He is seeking the second term in office as I did in 2015. He has performed excellently well as the governor of Edo State; I also did very well as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as I projected Edo North in a very good light. So many things can be linked to my relationship with Governor Obaseki. I see him as an intelligent person and when Adams Oshiomole introduced Obaseki and said clearly that Obaseki would do better than he (Oshiomole) did, I believed him. Without mincing words, Obaseki has performed creditably well. I see no reason why I shouldn’t be one of his crusaders. I know he means well for Edo State, and I believe in his second term, he will do better.”
But in Nigeria, character attestation doesn’t buy votes, otherwise, politicians with woolly background parading Chicago certificates, will not be the poster image of the country’s politics. Obende says the character is very important but also readily points to projects that will greenlight development across the state. The Ogbe Stadium in the heart of the state capital has been totally refurbished and restored beyond old glory. The power plant at Ossiomo and the Edo Modular Refinery at Ologbo, which are near state of completion are perfect examples of a creative leader who looks more at the future than immediate benefits. When in operation, the projects will brighten the developmental strides of the state and beyond, provide a job for tens of thousands and boost the economy and life of the people in general.
There have been criticisms however that these are private projects being appropriated by Obaseki for political benefits. To this, some have quickly responded that the responsibility of government is to provide a good environment for businesses and also be able to go into private relationships with individuals and corporate bodies that can flag projects that will benefit the people. Globally, the government doesn’t always have enough money to do projects. The new word is PPP – public-private partnership. Some people are of the opinion that with the power plant and refinery, Obaseki is actually pointing the way Nigeria should go and should be praised instead of being condemned.
“I think Obaseki should be given political peace, and various forms of development would come to Edo people,” Obende counselled.
Elder Augustine Giwa Agbomeirele also affirmed that Obaseki is a strategic thinker who is very deliberate in his choices, and therefore would need the next four years to consolidate on the structure he is building for Edo State. An original PDP member who worked very closely with Chief Anthony Anenih, the Ishan sage of blessed memory, Agbomeirele confessed that he didn’t know that Obaseki was doing so much until the romance with the PDP started. Now, he explained, the governor is an easy sell having done so much for the state, including correcting the imbalances imposed on the state by the governor before him under which the Esan people suffered disgrace and orchestrated neglect. Besides, he has also catered for a particular group of people that were overlooked by previous governments, the pensioners.
While assessing ongoing campaigns in Edo State, Agbomeirele explained that the biggest campaigners for Governor Obaseki in terms of impact are the pensioners who are no longer hungry after the governor has paid all their pension arrears. Pointing out that what happened to the pensioners before the present administration in the state was pitiable, Agomeirele lamented that “a situation where at over 60 years one was reduced virtually to nothing without pension having served your state for over 30 years, wasn’t a sight to recall. A man wants to be able to feed himself, put food on the family’s table and be able to address other personal needs. That Edo State pensioner is able to do courtesy of the governor.” he said.
Unlike some people who claim they can’t trace anything to Obaseki in terms of development, Agbomeirele avowed that he could point to tangible things that Obaseki has done in the area of education which is attracting peer review within and outside the country, healthcare, the elderly in terms of pension, and even in terms of fresh project development.
“I believe it is commendable when people say he is running into political brick walls because he is stingy and not extravagant as other politicians, and also very arrogant. You cannot accuse him of wasting people’s money. Even those who campaign against him cannot accuse him of wastages. This much I know. In another four years, he has set up things, structures and infrastructure that will affect the social, economic and political climate of Edo State and bring meaningful development to the people. I was blind, now I can see,” Agbomoirele enthused.
In the manner of Agbomoirele, the political campaigns in Edo State are opening up blind eyes, figuratively. But the choice is clear. Between an incumbent and a wannabe, between a strategic, structured thinker and a fellow with a hazy past, and between a man who rests his hopes on the people and a has-been who wants to appropriate the power of the people. The choice is clear. Not about one man but about the future of the state.
* Enobun lives in Benin City, Edo State