The politics of Edo State has dominated public discussion in the past one week. It’s all because of the startling decision by a screening panel to disqualify the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, from contesting the upcoming party governorship primary. That ruling has upset many citizens of the state and it may well cost the All Progressives Congress (APC) not only the governorship but also the goodwill of the people who now feel insulted by the party leaders.
The evidence on which the panel relied to disqualify Obaseki was high-handed, inequitable, prejudiced, thoughtless, dishonest, and must be proven.
People on the ground in Edo State are the focal lens through which we can assess Obaseki’s achievements or failure. They say Obaseki is doing a fantastic job, that he is taking care of the basic needs of the poor, that he is paying salaries promptly, providing financial support that helped to ease the hardships that confronted citizens because of COVID-19, and undertaking capital projects regardless of the economic challenges. With this stellar performance by Obaseki, why would the APC leaders remove the man who symbolises steadfastness, unpretentiousness, and positive energy?
What a difference four years makes in the life of a politician. Four years ago, Obaseki was the poster boy of the APC. At various public rallies, APC chairperson Adams Oshiomhole eulogised Obaseki. Oshiomhole made us to believe that Obaseki had no blemishes and that, with him as governor, Edo State was in safe hands and politically advanced.
Here is the glaring hypocrisy in the APC decision to exclude Obaseki. Four years ago when Obaseki received the support of the APC to contest the governorship of Edo State, APC leaders did not spot any stains on Obaseki’s certificates and his family name. Today, APC leaders say Obaseki is a political liability because of issues relating to a missing letter in his family name and his higher school certificate. How revealing. How duplicitous. How narcissistic. How contradictory.
Someone said last week that it is Edo people who should decide whether Governor Obaseki deserved a second chance. It is not politicians far removed from the ground who should superimpose their views on the people’s choice of a governorship contestant.
There is a clear case of inconsistency relating to the manner in which Obaseki was judged. Oshiomhole himself provided unvarnished testimony of Obaseki’s character and qualifications. At one public event, Oshiomhole spoke highly about Obaseki. He said Obaseki had all the educational qualifications. He said Obaseki completed his primary and secondary school education. And that there were no questions about the qualifications. He also said Obaseki studied for his undergraduate degree at the University of Ibadan, and completed his master’s degree in the United States. These attestations came straight from Oshiomhole’s mouth. On what basis, therefore, could APC leaders now say there are questions about Obaseki’s higher school certificate?
Apart from academic qualifications, candidates for the office of governor must show they are men and women of high character, that they have an enviable track record of achievements, that they are hardworking, that they are credible, that they are tireless, that they are authentic or believable, that they are amiable and, above all, that they can serve the people and provide leadership.
So, when did Oshiomhole and APC leaders discover that Obaseki had major flaws that would undermine the party’s interests in Edo State? Why didn’t the APC leadership abandon Obaseki four years ago when they knew he was not an immaculate governorship candidate? Surely, Oshiomhole and the party leadership did not just wake up last week to realise that Obaseki was not a backable governorship candidate.
The chairperson of the screening panel that assessed the eligibility of the candidates for the party’s primary said Obaseki and two other candidates were ruled ineligible on three grounds, namely: questions relating to the authenticity of their educational certificates; irregularities in their names; and discrepancies in their ages.
The ruling against Obaseki was dubious. If Obaseki possessed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, why should the panel be obsessed with his higher school certificate? If Obaseki did not possess the certificate, how did he gain admission into the University of Ibadan? And why did the party leaders support his candidacy four years ago?
There is something sneaky in the APC disqualifying Obaseki in 2020 when the party supported him to win the governorship election four years ago. Years ago, Oshiomhole stated on record that the key qualification outlined in the Constitution was the ability of a political candidate to read and write, not possession of educational certificates. That was an incorrect claim.
Another reason given by the screening panel for disqualifying Obaseki was an error in his family name that appeared in his NYSC certificate. Just one letter “i” was found to be missing from the name “Obaseki.” For that reason, the panel ruled to disqualify him. It is obvious the panel was looking for evidence, any evidence, with which to hang Obaseki. The panel did not consider that the error could have been from the NYSC authorities. After all, Obaseki did not award the certificate to himself. Yet the panel considered the error a significant crime with which to truncate Obaseki’s re-election dream.
Some years ago, Oshiomhole recounted his own experience in 2012 about how his middle name Aliyu could be spelt in various ways such as Aliu, etc. On the basis of that difference, a PDP candidate went to court to challenge him on what appeared to be an error in his middle name. Oshiomhole survived that challenge. He made light of that experience by questioning why the governorship of a state should be decided on an error in his middle name. So, if an error in his name did not invalidate his candidacy, why should the screening panel find fault with a missing letter in Obaseki’s family name? Different people, different rules.
Obviously, the APC suffers from memory impairment because an error that was overlooked in Oshiomhole’s case eight years ago has now been used to terminate Obaseki’s ambition for a second term. How cruel can politics be? Where is the law of equity?
Nigerian politics is a circus. As soon as he received the report of the panel that investigated the candidates in Edo State, Oshiomhole advised the disqualified candidates to appeal the decision. That was a ploy designed to make him appear like a democrat, to give the impression that he had nothing against Obaseki and other disqualified candidates.
As a wily politician, Oshiomhole understands clearly why he needs to take a position that would not raise the fury of Edo people. In my judgment, it is now too late. The people are not fooled by his gamesmanship.
APC leaders must not misinterpret public silence or hushed conversations in Edo State as evidence that the questionable screening process that led to the disqualification of Obaseki has been widely accepted by people in the state. If indeed there is silence in Edo State, it must be the silence that forebodes the onset of trouble.