The Fissure in Obaseki’s Campaign
By Sufuyan Ojeifo
There were evident gaps in Godwin Obaseki’s governorship campaign in 2016. A quick, non-exhaustive checklist: his vacuous personality, lack of appeal and validation, unpopularity, questionable pedigree and a handful of quirky negatives that unflatteringly defined a drab and uninspiring persona. But mercifully, these were effectively filled by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s indisputable charismatic eloquence and spunk.
Approaching the terminus of his eight-year rule, Oshiomhole needed a trusted ally who would keep fidelity to the philosophy of continuity of his administration’s policies, programmes and projects, to succeed him. He had, single-handed, picked Obaseki, having sidestepped a number of loyal associates and flamboyant politicians.
Oshiomhole’s exertion at selling the candidature of Obaseki to all that mattered was writ-large. Both parties (APC and PDP) did not lack sufficient crowd at their campaigns, just as we are witnessing with the electioneering for the September 19 governorship election. It does not matter who is renting a crowd, though not being able to mobilise a crowd is a critical gap that separates reality from make-believe. But for his focused disposition four years ago, the install-Obaseki-as-governor enterprise would have fallen through.
When the chips were down and the going became tough; when the prognosis, close to the eve of the election, pointed to an impending Obaseki’s defeat by the then standard bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Oshiomhole had deployed brinkmanship and the magnitude of his office as governor in causing the postponement of the election by another two weeks.
That was the counter strategy that disrupted the near utilitarian tactic of Ize-Iyamu for upstaging the applecart of the APC’s candidate in the 2016 governorship election. Evidently, Ize-Iyamu ran a robust campaign on the PDP platform. I played some role in helping to drive the media component of the campaign. The campaign was hope-raising. We campaigned to win and we believed the candidate deserved to win. A vast majority of Edo people still believe that Ize-Iyamu won that election.
But Oshiomhole adroitly pulled the critical levers and inserted the obligatory wedges to truncate Ize-Iyamu’s run to Osadebe Avenue, the Edo State Government House. The Iyamho-born activist-politician had deployed his achievements in office in projecting the Obaseki offering against a formidable Ize-Iyamu. It is significant to note that Oshiomhole, without any pretensions, realized that mere deployment of achievements and offering of Obaseki’s candidature via gubernatorial anointment were not sufficient enough to ensure his victory.
Oshiomhole had to assume the driver’s seat during the tension-soaked electioneering. He had to practically put Obaseki on his back. He shouted, danced “azonto” and unleashed a barrage of political yabis on Ize-Iyamu just to de-market him. In the entire political drama, a timid Obaseki stayed calmly and unobtrusively in the shadows of Comrade, the man he now conveniently charges with the original sin of being and acting like a godfather.
Whereas, when Oshiomhole offended many people by foisting (Obaseki) on the APC and Edo people, he (Obaseki) did not give a hoot whether or not Oshiomhole was a godfather. Today, in his electioneering outings, Obaseki makes the defeat of the godfather an issue, thus deepening a philosophical contradiction in a political arrangement that has thrown up a neo-godfather as typified by himself. The imperial governor – and this is the characteristic weakness of all governors – issues out diktats and deploys “mega resources” in the fashion of his bogus mega manifesto in funding political enterprises aimed at unhorsing an imagined godfather and enthroning another in himself.
This is a fissure or gap Obaseki has willy-nilly created in his electioneering. He creates the impression that an imagined godfather wants to ride roughshod over him and hence he must pull down the entire state to retire him. If he succeeds, the place of godfathers in politics cannot be obviated. It remains. This is a cosmopolitan reality. Whether he likes it or not, he will circumstantially assume the role. How then will he rationalize a situation where, as governor and leader of the party, he becomes the rallying point for members?
This is a gap that Edo people will fill up on September 19 – whether to ignore Obaseki’s dodgy anti-godfather mantra – after all, Oshiomhole is not a contestant in the governorship election – or to accept his treatise and witness the transformation of a neo-godfather. The unfolding contestation for governorship power is much more fundamental as it borders on the question of ownership of the land of Edo State. Yes, we want to know those who own the land. The outcome of the September 19 plebiscite will answer the question in accordance.
But the truth is that Obaseki has not been able to effectively take care of that yawning “godfather” gap that exposes his chicanery and unravels him as a desperate fear monger who is on the rampage to hold on to power at all cost to satiate his authoritarian disposition and hubris. Appealing to the sensibilities of the masses and, sometimes, when convenient, playing the ethnic card, the governor has tried to no avail to impress outsiders that he is the frontline candidate. Nothing could be farther from the correct situation on ground.
His stratagem of deliberately intimidating the various power centres because of obvious lack of support on the one hand and due to lack of capacity to engage them on the other hand, has triggered political tension in the ecology and cosmos of Edo State, thus turning a political process that should have been seamless into a convoluted voyage that has become a veritable bugaboo to the extent that the revered Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, had to invite the two leading candidates and their selected political leaders for royal admonition as well as peace, trust and confidence building.
The Oba’s intervention was quite significant: to help Obaseki and his men to fill up the gap of disconnect created by orchestrated political tension, acrimony, recrimination, and the violence that have characterized the Edo governorship election. For instance, while the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, was widely believed to be on the rampage allegedly sponsoring and instigating violence at the APC electioneering, the former State Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih’s interventions at rallies had up until the intervention by the Oba, left much to be desired.
Instead of elevating the content of speeches at the rallies, his mantra of “PDP pepper them” and “Oshiomhole take Edo money marry Oyinbo…” had diminished the podium opportunities. He had added to the growing tension and acrimony gap through unnecessary argumentum ad hominem. Whereas, a decent campaign was possible, they scoffed at it.
Understandably, the Oba of Benin was unflattering in his speech when he addressed the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, pointedly on the issue of violence during his meeting with the two leading governorship candidates and leaders of their political parties. The royal father heaped the moral burden on Shaibu who was seen standing up, jamming and rubbing his two hands together in dramatic penitence even if pretentious.
That was the way Shaibu’s cookies crumbled before the majestic Oba Ewuare II. That encounter bore a gaping hole in Obaseki’s campaign and has left the PDP apparatchiks, having now become used to that odious trajectory, with the uneasy task of hiding behind a finger in the continued orchestration of violence to blur the integrity of the September 19 poll.
No post-poll rationalization will now avail or be able to cure any political mischief that finds expression in violence before, during and after the election. The meeting in the Palace of the Oba has clearly defined the direction to look at in the quest for the unsettlers of the peace of Edo State. But I expect that having been reined in by Oba Ewuare, Shaibu and his boss, Governor Obaseki, should review their gratuitous assumption that because they enjoy immunity, they could lead the process of unsettling Edo State and harvesting violence whether overtly or covertly unchallenged in the determination of the outcome of the September 19 plebiscite.
And, perhaps, the greatest gap that had been unwittingly created by about four years of lack of foresight is the uninspiring performance of the governor such that at campaigns he has continued to condemn his tenure as governor. When he says the APC has not performed, he refers to himself. The little things he has achieved were on the platform of the APC. That leaves him with an appeal and validation gap, which he seeks to fill on the platform of PDP that exposed his foibles and mouthed his poor performance in office before he crossed over in a desperate bid to secure re-election. But filling the re-election gap is in the hands of Edo electorate to achieve. I don’t think they will resolve the issue in Obaseki’s favour.