It is said that most politicians die twice – first when they are thrown out of office, and this explains why Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is fighting for his life. The mild-mannered technocrat, thrust on Edo people in 2016, has learned that politics is a different kettle of fish from the relative sanity of the private sector where he excelled.
The particular toxicity of Edo Politics today means it didn’t take long for him to figure out the enormity of the task ahead: to drive the state forward while looking over his shoulder at the establishment which put him in the driver’s seat.
Apparently, one big argument against ‘godfatherism’ – as illustrated by the Obaseki saga – is a corollary of the Machiavellian precept: all is unwell that starts unwell.
The governor has commanded more than his fair share of headlines over the past year – each more unsettling than the previous – culminating in his sensational disqualification for the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming Edo governorship election. It was a revolting nadir in a season of anomie for a ruling party on the edge of a precipice and intent on dragging the rest of the country with it.
Stunned political watchers recall that barely a year ago, another APC governor, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, saw his re-election bid scuppered in a tediously similar manner. Ambode, like Obaseki, was generally lauded for his developmental strides, but was nonetheless jettisoned for not grasping the nuances of establishment politics.
Indeed, history repeats itself as farce.
In Ambode’s case, he was taken to the guillotine for rubbing the Lagos kingmaker, Bola Tinubu, the wrong way. Obaseki, however, met a brick wall after falling apart with his predecessor and estranged godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, who is also the national chairman of the APC.
No sooner had Obaseki been inaugurated than his troubles with Oshiomhole began. As of today, 14 members of the state assembly have yet to be inaugurated over the power tussle that has split the state into warring camps.
Speaking on his bitter feud with Oshiomhole on ChannelsTV, Obaseki said: “Our quarrel has been that we are doing things that are outside the constitution of our party. The logic of democracy is that it’s the people that should drive democracy. Democracy should be built bottom-up, and not top-down. Democracy should start from the base.”
He was right and wrong. In a democracy, sovereignty ideally belongs to the people. But it was naïve of him to assume Oshiomhole was interested in the entrenchment of democratic ideals in the state, or anywhere else at that. At the very least, the existence of ‘godfathers’ is anathema to democracy, and that leaves the overbearing Oshiomhole and his likes in a limbo they are not prepared for, nor would ever be.
“All politics is local,” Oshiomhole has declared on a number of occasions, and to him this translates to a great deal of influence back home irrespective of national status or responsibility. To wield this influence, Oshiomhole copies from the playbook of the acclaimed national leader of the APC, Tinubu, by deploying proxies, bootlickers and thugs. Tinubu doesn’t get to decide even peripheral positions as ward heads on account of his popularity alone.
Hence, Obaseki’s campaign against thugs and sanitisation of the political space was considered by Oshiomhole as a declaration of war. The APC chair wasn’t about to brook this upstart, he’d show him the door.
Oshiomhole’s undisguised ambition to become the ultimate power broker of Edo politics shows just how far he has come, or fallen, as some may say. A former Labour leader and champion of the masses, Oshiomhole pulled a political stunt by sweeping to power as governor of Edo State in 2008. His message then was simple: to “demystify governance and end godfatherism in Edo.” This was an easy sell for the former Labour leader who was seen tear-gassed and hounded in protests to better the lot of the masses. He had a sentimental appeal which was well leveraged to usher in what was heralded as a sea-changing moment in Edo Politics.
Hence, it beggars belief that the same Ooshiomhole is now twisting arms and fouling the public space in his desperate quest to be ‘godfather’. Like La Rochefoucauld said, “Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to virtue.”
Events of the past few weeks have shown he may have overplayed his hand and the Tinubu template may be unsuited for the treacherous Edo terrain. First, his position was greatly diminished after the Appeal Court upheld a ruling by a Federal High Court suspending him as APC national chairman.
Nobody likes a loser, and he was quickly thrown under the bus when his former ally, President Muhammadu Buhari, endorsed the dissolution of the party’s national working committee. This effectively brought his tumultuous stint as APC chair to a juddering halt.
Second, Obaseki has proved to be a good student of power by turning the table around. Unlike Ambode, he didn’t cower with his tail between his legs as he was pushed aside; rather he gave the fight to his traducers by defecting to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and clinching the nomination in a consensus vote.
He not only united the opposition party, he managed to rally Edo people behind him. Shortly after his defection, all 18 Local Government chairmen of the state said they were in support of his battle against “godfatherism, thuggery and impunity.”
Days ago, the hashtag #EdoIsNotLagos trended in a clear temperature check ahead of the gubernatorial poll.
With the APC seemingly on the verge of implosion, Obaseki will greatly fancy his chances against Pastor Osagie Ize-Oyamu, Oshiomhole’s anointed godson whom he beat as PDP candidate in 2016. But the APC remain formidable foes as illustrated by the fireworks witnessed in the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.
It remains to be seen whether Ize-Iyamu would get the backing of federal might that has sadly characterised recent polls. If he does (which is likely seeing as Edo is APC’s only stronghold in the oil-rich south-south region), Obaseki’s fate will ultimately depend on the people putting their money where their mouth is by defending their votes and showing that indeed, ‘Edo is not Lagos’.
Either way, the September 19 poll which was meant to be the affirmation of Oshiomhole as the undisputed godfather, is fast turning into his waterloo. A victory for Ize-Iyamu will see him beholden to new ‘godfathers’ – or to the people, in the event of a free and fair poll. On the other hand, victory for Obaseki will be the final nail in his political coffin.
History is strewn with stories of conquerors whose fatal flaw was in not knowing when to stop, and Oshiomhole has just added his page to it.
However his remaining years are spent, one thing is certain: he’ll wish he’d given the people their victory. That’s what democracy is about, after all.
For the Lagos puppet master, the writing is on the wall.
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