It’s more than one year to the next governorship election in Edo state, which prides itself on being the “heartbeat of the nation”. But in a maelstrom that has forced the state’s heart to beat faster than is good for it, you would be forgiven to think the election is tomorrow.
The bad blood between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, is so bitter and so strong it has spilled beyond Osadebe House in Benin, splattering as far as Abuja courts, and daily smearing the front pages of newspapers.
Reports last week said the governor, fed up with seeing his deputy’s face, is preparing an isolation centre for him in the precincts of the government house, but far enough to keep him out of sight.
One cynical way to look at it is to say Shaibu is getting what he deserves for trying to do what Napoleon could not do. In Nigeria’s 24 years of unbroken civilian rule there are few examples of deputy governors who have succeeded their bosses by election, and only two of them – Mahmud Shinkafi (Zamfara); and Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano) – did so by mutual consent. The others, whether in Bayelsa, Kaduna, Sokoto, Ebonyi, Yobe or Oyo, were either by default or defiance.
Except Shaibu intends to make his luck, which will not only include raiding the vote bank in Edo South, but also subverting the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) structure in the state, and overthrowing Obaseki’s ego, history is not on his side.
Making his luck?
How can Shaibu make his luck when he is throwing everything into battle at once, the very opposite of Napoleon’s famous manoeuvre sur les derrie ‘res or the strategy of inferiority? He doesn’t even enjoy support in his Edo North home base, where the rival All Progressives Congress (APC) could have thrown him a lifeline.
Senator Adams Oshiomhole, APC leader in Edo and Shaibu’s former staunch backer, has told him that APC has no room for internally displaced politicians (IDP) in search of a rehabilitation camp. That may sound harsh, but I’m sure that Shaibu knows he deserves his current misery. Loyalty is not a virtue in politics, sadly. But if Oshiomhole is dressing Shaibu down, he has earned the right to do so.
Of course, Oshiomhole’s snake may have its hand buried in its womb, but it was this man, for all his hubris, that extended a helping hand to Shaibu, a former prisons service officer after an electoral defeat in his early political career in 2003 nearly left him for dead.
That helping hand, which he would later turn round to bite, was the hand that paved the way for him not only to later become the majority leader in the Edo house of assembly but also to represent Estako federal constituency in the house of representatives in 2015.
According to one account, in the good old days of comradery conviviality, the infernal idea of inaugurating a minority house of assembly of 10 members in 2019 after which the majority of 14 (APC) were locked out for entire four years was suggested by Shaibu, who was House Leader between 2009 and 2015. It was a coup that benefited all the plotters.
Yet, however deserving he may be of his current misery, it would be unfair to ignore the circumstances under which Shaibu parted ways with Oshiomhole in 2020. Oshiomhole who was then party chairman of the APC had supervised shambolic primaries in a number of states.
Things fall apart
The primaries in Edo were obviously meant to settle scores with his protegee, Obaseki, who had developed a mind of his own. Shaibu joined the train of “conscientious objectors,” ostensibly led by Obaseki, who were obliged to part ways with the APC, taking refuge under PDP’s umbrella provided by the former Governor Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
But Obaseki, the other significant party in this pathetic drama playing out in Edo, is a man of infinite contradictions, whose chameleonic gifts are matched only by his ruthless deployment of power. Against the run of fair play, Oshiomhole imposed him as his successor in 2016, in a self-aggrandising bid to copy the Tinubu-Fashola model in Lagos; he being the Tinubu of Edo, and Obaseki, the former stockbroker from Afrivest, Edo’s Fashola.
The experiment turned out to be a catastrophic fiasco. Barely two years after take-off, the falcon began to defy the falconer and the monster created in the process now threatens not only the creator but also the supplicant who has dared to challenge it.
Birds of a feather
Obaseki and Shaibu deserve each other. And Oshiomhole, the father of this incorrigible pair and high priest of their shenanigans, must be sorry at what his experiment has brought upon the people of Edo. In all of this, my heart goes out to the people who must now endure 12 months of a government in disarray, hampered by in-fighting and back-stabbing.
The deputy governor has been stripped of his responsibilities of monitoring and reporting the collection of internally generated revenue and also benched from supervising the sports ministry.
But it gets even pettier. Shaibu’s sister-in-law, Sabina Chikere, who was until recently permanent secretary of the Sports Ministry, has been redeployed to “Central Administration”, an administrative wasteland. She was lucky not to have been lynched by a politically motivated mob as she tried to retrieve her personal effects from her former office.
And to asphyxiate his deputy, Obaseki sacked media aides attached to that office in a vendetta straight out of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s playbook during his face-off with Atiku Abubakar.
A resident, Edosa Okunbo, described the fight as “selfish, shameful and diversionary at a time when the state is bedevilled by bad roads and daily killings by rival cult gangs.” Another resident, Isaac Olamikan, said, “The people will be the worse for this in-fighting.”
Even as videos of the governor’s convoy stranded in flooded Benin roads trend, there is still something he manages to do well: calling out the Federal Government’s profligacy. How a governor can superintend over a shambles at home, call out Abuja with a straight face, and also win local elections overwhelmingly at the height of his hubris are part of the inexplicable alchemy of Nigeria’s politics. I don’t get it.
But it doesn’t matter. The emergence of Obaseki in 2016 propped by political heavyweights and supported by some of Nigeria’s high and mighty, including Aliko Dangote, must feel like an investment in junk bonds now. And the governor’s union with Shaibu must feel like a marriage made in hell.
I can imagine that folks in Edo Central who have been hard done by over the years must be fancying the clash between Obaseki who is from the South, and Shaibu who is from the North, with extraordinary amusement. It may well be the argument that advances their case for a shot at power in 2024.
I hope, however, for the sake of the long-suffering people of the state that the governor and his deputy will sheathe the sword, let common sense prevail and serve the people they have sworn to serve for their remaining time in office.
I have seen what appears to be a letter of rapprochement by the deputy governor addressed to the DSS, the governor and the chief judge, on official letterhead and was pleased that Shaibu still has access to his letterhead. I hope the truce holds. As things are now, apart from the two contenders, the only people profiting from this ego-fest are political opportunists and assorted jobbers.
Edo people deserve far, far better than being spectators in a pointless, diversionary ego war.
•Ishiekwene is editor-in-chief of LEADERSHIP.
Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of METROWATCHXTRA.COM.