The title of this piece draws from James Carville’s famous quip: “The economy, stupid.” Carville was Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist in the successful 1992 presidential campaign that culminated in President George Herbert Walker Bush’s defeat. The phrase, reportedly, was for the internal audience of Clinton’s campaign workers as one of the three messages to focus on. The other two messages were “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care”. The quip later morphed into a de facto slogan for the Clinton campaign.
As a guidebook, the Carville paradigm is apt in the context of the electioneering for the 2020 governorship poll in Edo State. About a year to the presidential election in 1992, just as it is about a year to the governorship poll in Edo in 2020, the job performance rating of Bush on the economy had gone down; just as Governor Godwin Obaseki’s rating on governance generally has suffered a worse dip. That scenario in the US became electorally fatal for Bush.
Whereas incumbent Bush, as of right, became the standard bearer of his Republican Party in the presidential election, Obaseki faces the uphill task of clinching the nomination of his All Progressives Congress (APC) in next year’s governorship election. Apparently in the eye of a storm, Obaseki, arguably, does not look good to clinch the APC ticket. Even though, his problem would appear to be circumscribed within the APC; yet externally – talking about the wider Edo audience – he has an existential crisis of appeal and validation in daily striving to truthfully situate his performance within the context of his moniker: “Wake and see Governor.”
But rather than focus on governance, Obaseki had pandered to the allure of personal aggrandizement in the unnecessary battle to wrest the APC machinery in Edo from the control of his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the man who, virtually, single-handed, ensured his emergence as governor, against all odds. A smart politician who enjoys the benefits of good advice and strategy would not have taken Obaseki’s path in his first term. He should have waited till the second term to contemplate building his own structure or frontally challenging the structure that produced him as governor, if he considers the option necessary.
The motivation behind Obaseki’s ill-timed gambit is blurry. Had he learnt from the recent political history of Edo, he would have been more circumspect. The attempt by a former governor of the state on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor, to dismantle the structure of his godfather, Chief Tony Anenih, and build his own, largely cost him the governorship. Perhaps, afflicted by sheer delusion, Obaseki had thought that he could confront and neutralize Oshiomhole in the politics of Edo APC. He might just have been able to do that if Oshiomhole had not emerged as national chair of the APC.
Therefore, curiously drawn to challenge his benefactor, Obaseki has become largely distracted in the festering battle for survival. Instead of focusing on developing infrastructure and building a political brand in his first term, he, just as Osunbor, embarked on a self-immolating voyage. Whereas Osunbor enjoyed the backing of another political godfather, Samuel Ogbemudia, against Anenih who had a firmer grip on the party structure, Obaseki cannot be said to enjoy the backing of politicians of the clout of the late Anenih and Ogbemudia in the APC. Thus, feeding his desperation to upend the suzerainty of Oshiomhole over the APC structure in Edo lacks the requisite footing.
As it is, Obaseki has chosen intrigues over rapid infrastructure development and opted to challenge the superintendence by his former boss over the political wing of the APC administration in Edo. To be sure, that superintendence was in accordance with some original arrangements. Significantly, up until he threw down the gauntlet, Obaseki’s job performance had been uninspiring. However, to be fair to him, the embattled governor had, indeed, delivered, anyhow, the Iriri-Sapele road project; his other proposed projects that had benefited from huge budgetary allocations and expenditures have been, at best, midstream.
It is against this backdrop that the governor’s desperate and unruly exertions to secure a second term and preserve his political future amount to misplacement of priorities. Prioritising political schisms over service delivery is a strategic misstep. There is no more time for Obaseki to refocus. He has murdered sleep and will not sleep until the primary and the governorship election have been done with. Whichever platform he chooses to contest after the APC may have shut him out of its ticket; it is significant to consider the thrust of his campaign messages.
What messages will Obaseki sell to the people about his job performance to validate his claim to a second governorship term? What records of achievements will he flaunt? Whereas, about the third year into Oshiomole’s first term as governor, it was clear he would get a second term on the basis of the several infrastructure projects executed across the state. Obaseki’s “wake and see governor” moniker hinged on the pretext of his self-acclaimed development strides is a charade. His series of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with foreign and local bodies, for which the opposition PDP has dubbed him as “MoU governor” amount to scams. Indeed, Obaseki could have synergized with his predecessor to build on his legacies and, thereby, cut a niche for himself as a loyal successor who kept fidelity to the mantra of continuity – the reason Oshiomhole handed over power to him.
There would not have been crises in the Edo State chapter of the APC had Obaseki acted wisely. His failed promises also rubbed off negatively on his job performance rating. For instance, Obaseki said he was going to build the Gelegele Port, for which he raised the hope of the royalty and the hoi-polloi alike. He has been voting money to the project. The administration brought a Chinese company that has been doing soil testing for close to three years that had cost the state multi-billion naira, according to feelers. It is feared the billions had become sunk cost on the zero-prospect project.
Also, instead of operating the five-star Central Hospital that Oshiomhole built, he had initially abandoned it ostensibly out of political bile in a futile attempt to misrepresent the Oshiomhole persona. Obaseki resorted to unconscionable demonisation of Oshiomhole. Whereas, it would not have cost the administration up to 20 percent of the contract cost to keep the hospital running, Obaseki had scoffed at the populist project until recently when the administration began to run the hospital through some hazy private arrangement.
He had also abandoned the Benin Storm Water Master Plan and the critical projects within the plan as conceptualized by the Oshiomhole administration to address the menace of flooding in Benin City. Ensuring de-silting of the drainages, a subset of the significant flood-control project, would have guaranteed free flow of flood water but he chose to do otherwise.
To boot, he had reportedly sacked his Commissioner of Health, Dr. David Osifo, because he did not play along with him on the plan to indict Oshiomhole and his administration in the initial probe by proxy of the Central Hospital project: through the fifth State House of Assembly.
The governor had just recently appointed Dr. Patrick Okundia to replace Osifo. He had also threatened to probe the Benin Storm Water Master Plan in which he; his SSG, Osarodion Ogie; the suspended State Chairman of the APC, Anselm Ojezua; and, Frank Evbuomwan, among others, were involved in the conceptualisation and execution of some linkage projects either as Chair of the State Economic and Strategy Team or Commissioners in the ministries of works and environment under Oshiomhole.
Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, minister of state for budget and national planning, was also a Commissioner of Environment and Public Utilities under the administration. Obaseki must be contemplating some possible collateral damage. Interestingly, the shape and texture of electioneering for next year’s governorship contest in Edo State appear to be defining themselves. Edo’s political terrain will be a market place to sell and de-market governorship candidates.
From all indications, Obaseki may have to strive hard to validate his aspiration for a second term on any platform he can secure. That is how the cookie crumbles, having fouled the political atmosphere of Edo with his odious governance style. The critical mass and members of the elite class who are intent on stopping him are more likely to focus on the adversarial campaign about the his perceived poor job performance rating that recommends his electoral defeat and political retirement.
Ojeifo writes from Abuja via [email protected]