I am not a politician even though I have been tempted three times by do-gooders to throw my hat into the gubernatorial ring of my state, Akwa Ibom. I have bluntly refused because I prefer to stay in journalism’s vineyard all my life. My ambition in journalism is to continue to fight with my pen for a better society. I am not a member of the APC or PDP, or any other party for that matter. Being a member of a party would rob me of my independence and my ability to say the truth as I see it. I am not from Edo State but I am happy that Governor Godwin Obaseki won last Saturday’s governorship election in the state for several reasons.
One of them is that he was very shabbily treated by his party, APC. But first, President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for not using the humongous muscle called Federal Might to interfere in the election. That was the fear of many people before the election. Therefore, Buhari’s congratulatory message to the winner Mr. Godwin Obaseki, is honest and credible. He says: “I have consistently advocated for free and fair elections in the country because it is the bedrock of true democratic order. Democracy will mean nothing if the votes of the people don’t count or if their mandate is fraudulently tampered with.”
Before the election, based on the incendiary words spoken during the campaigns and the fear that the ruling party, APC, may attempt by means, fair and foul, to reclaim the state, the country’s adrenalin level had risen astronomically. There was a palpable increase in tension and the huge army of policemen and soldiers shipped to the state from various points of the Nigerian compass gave the impression of the imminent kick-off of a shooting war. Mercifully, the bloodshed that was feared could happen didn’t occur. A few skirmishes happened but nothing near the Armaggedon that doomsday pundits predicted. The security men deserve kudos for this, which made INEC to deliver a relatively freer and fairer election than it did last year. Part of the reason might be that it worked hard to redeem its image that was badly soiled by the fraudulent elections of last year. The other reason is that this is a one-state election, not multiple-state elections conducted in one day. INEC deserves to be commended. This election is significant for several reasons. It was an election that was to determine the durability of godfatherism in Edo State.
The former governor of the state, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, was largely responsible for bringing Obaseki into office as governor. He praised and marketed him vigorously as an experienced, well educated, can-do person who would run the state efficiently. They listened to him and voted Obaseki in as governor. Somewhere along the line, the dam broke and both men went their separate ways. Oshiomhole didn’t want the man to have a second term. He ensured that the man was denied the party’s ticket. It is a pity that the party allowed him to get away with such reckless ego-tripping, but Obaseki found favour with the PDP, a party from whom Oshiomhole seized power. Oshiomhole promised to give him hell. Now the story is different. It is Obaseki who delivered hell to Oshiomhole last Saturday. On hearing the result, he must have stood wherever he was as though he was fastened to the wall. It is depression time for him. His loss is Obaseki’s gain. In fact, it is only a few people who mentioned Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the APC candidate. The Edo people knew that the real battle was between Obaseki and Oshiomhole. Ize-Iyamu was merely a lame pawn on the chessboard of Oshiomhole’s politics. Oshiomhole had from his trade union days acquired a lot of fighting skills, but not wisdom, the wisdom to choose his battles wisely. He thought he would wrestle a sitting governor to the ground, forgetting that incumbency comes with gargantuan powers. He should have known because he, as governor of Edo State, dropped Chief Tony Anenih, the PDP strongman of Edo State, on the canvas with one punch. Oshiomhole told me in an interview that he was in a conciliatory mood when the Supreme Court gave him victory over the PDP man, Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor. He had to meet with Anenih from time to time to get his cooperation for his government to survive. After the first year, Oshiomhole was able to “persuade” the PDP legislators in the House of Assembly to come over to his side.
With that done, he gave Anenih a cold shoulder. He reached for the lingo of pugilism to describe how he conquered Anenih, the man well known as Mr. Fix it. He said: “I gave him one upper cut. He fell and was counted out.”
What gave him that enormous power? His incumbency as governor. Why he thought that Obaseki would not draw from that prodigious source of power, I don’t know. But he did. And that is what saw him through. That has put a nail in the coffin of godfatherism in Edo State. That coffin was made a few weeks ago when the venerable Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, said, even though he was not a politician, he was opposed to godfatherism. Edo voters heard him loud and clear. They took those words to the polling booth last Saturday.
It is a silly practice, mainly prevalent in this part of the world, for parties that are lucky to have incumbents to allow their own party men to compete with the incumbent. Opposing parties can contest but people within the same party are forbidden in decent societies. The reasons for this are (a) incumbents always have achievements that they can showcase. (b) Competition within the party for a position where there is an incumbent often tears the party apart and creates avoidable disharmony. But Nigerian politicians prefer to do things differently, not necessarily decently. I was flabbergasted when I heard Asiwaju Bola Tinubu say, with a straight face, that Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was a good governor of Lagos State but a bad party man. So, for Tinubu, governance is inferior to politicking or politricks. And Tinubu’s hapless followers took those words to the polling booth and Ambode, a performing governor, was sent to the wilderness of political oblivion by his own party.
Obaseki’s triumph also represents the shredding of the falsehood that Oshiomhole was peddling about Obaseki. His attempt to swallow his words by stating that he never really knew Obaseki before he recommended him to the Edo people has been seen for what it is: jiggery-pokery. No politician must be allowed to get away with such flips and flops, which are often followed by an apology and crocodile tears. That is tomfoolery. Truth-telling must be accepted as the legitimate instrument for governance. Politicians who change their words like chameleons must be dumped on the refuse heap as filthy trash. There must be truth-telling in politics and governance. Lie telling in Nigerian politics is a soul-deep flaw that in decent societies is considered as self-punitive behaviour. If any media organisation chooses to match promises made by Nigerian politicians with their achievements they will notice that the gap between both is gargantuan.
Most of the promises are always forgotten as soon as they are made. They promise to their constituents that all the trains will run on schedule. At the end of their tenure you find that there are no trains. If there are trains, there are no train drivers. If there are train drivers, there is no fuel. If there is fuel, the drivers are on strike. They promise that there will be a chicken in every pot. At the end of their tenure, you find that there is neither chicken nor pot for anybody. The voters were simply swindled, screwed, gyped. That is political gimmickry, a version of 419, collecting votes by false pretences. And they do it with vulnerable arrogance because they know that they will never be called to account.
The Obaseki victory also signifies the triumph of people power over the strength of the strongman, the godfather. People power represents the institution, which I often refer to as the Office of the Citizen. It is the most important office in the land but those who work in that office seem not to realise how powerful they are. If we can strengthen the Office of the Citizen, if we are able to resist falling for the miserable crumbs that come from the opulent table of the strongman, the godfather, we can take our country back. And our lives back. And our democracy back. Let the scales fall from our eyes. Now.