It couldn’t get worse. Like many family feuds, offence festered as quickly as affection grew. In this case, though, there was some hope that the feuding parties had too much going for them to risk losing all. And for what?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was the common glue. A decorated unionist and two-term governor of Edo State, Oshiomhole once made trenches his home.
He led the fight to dislodge the principalities of godfather politics embodied at the time by Tony Anenih, a man famous for bringing his own shade wherever trouble offered no trees. Oshiomhole humiliated Anenih and degraded the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo. He made an open show of the old man and declared an end to godfather politics in Edo.
In that fight against Anenih, Osagie Ize-Iyamu was on the other side; that is, he was for some time on Anenih’s side against Oshiomhole. Though he was a founding member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the legacy parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ize-Iyamu later switched sides, attracting the worst form of abuse from Oshiomhole. The only name that Oshiomhole didn’t call Ize-Iyamu was the name Ize-Iyamu’s parents called him: Osagie.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the feud at the time was Godwin Obaseki, the blue-eyed Lagos boy in smart suits and a vocab chest of avantgarde capitalism under his belt. Oshiomhole took him everywhere in Edoland advertising him as the new poster child of Edo’s future in whom he was well pleased.
Four years later, Oshiomhole would describe his labour of love as one of the greatest political mistakes of his life. Shedding many tears, he has gone from palace to public square, begging on bended knees, that Edo should forgive him for foisting Obaseki on them as governor. It’s bizarre for those who still remember yesterday. But who cares? Bizarre is the soul of politics. If you didn’t know that Oshiomhole meant Ize-Iyamu when he presented Obaseki, then that’s your problem.
On Saturday, Edo voters would decide which of the two Oshiomhole prodigal sons would be their governor: the one who returned and with whom he has made peace; or the one who left and who like the biblical Absalom, would kill him if he could.
Voters will have no excuses this time for making the wrong choice. Yet, even if they make the wrong choice by themselves without desperadoes on both sides holding them at gunpoint, that’s fine. It’s their wrong choice and they’ll have to live with it for another four years.
As I watched the live TV debate between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu on Saturday, it was clear to me that voters will have to sift the wheat from the chaff. Except if they don’t mind eating their rice with stones for the next four years, sifting shouldn’t be too difficult because the main contestants are quite familiar.
Out for the 14 political parties in the field, two major ones – PDP and APC – will dominate play. The estimated 2.2 million voters (up from 1.9m four years ago) will choose between Obaseki (PDP) and Ize-Iyamu (APC).
When both of them squared up four years ago, the winner, Obaseki, emerged victorious with 319,483 (66,310 more than Ize-Iyamu) or 52 per cent of the votes. But PDP got more votes in the presidential poll last year, even though APC defeated PDP by 100 per cent in the local (state assembly) polls two weeks later. Once again, the die is cast.
After four years, is life for the average Edo voter better than it was when Obaseki came to power? Is Ize-Iyamu a battering ram in a grudge fight or is he his own man determined and able to serve a higher public interest with his Simple Manifesto?
Speaking with the down-to-earthiness of a local Edo politician, Ize-Iyamu said during the TV debate that Obaseki had failed on his promise to provide 200,000 jobs; failed on his promise to revamp education and provide teachers; failed on his promise to provide doctors and reasonable healthcare; failed on his promise to provide security; and failed disastrously to invest in agriculture and seize other investment opportunities in the state.
In short, in spite of larger transfers from Abuja, Ize-Iyamu said Obaseki had failed roundly, his only distinction being in the department of importing outsiders to join the gravy train in Denis Osadebey House in a fest of squandermania.
In that debate, Obaseki engaged like a reluctant boxer, too eager to obey the rules while enduring body shots, a few of them below the belt. I suspect that Obaseki knows full well that given his role in the eight years of Oshiomhole’s government, he is to a large extent, a part of the success or failure story of that government.
Although it was clearly not ideological combat – and it couldn’t be with both contestants switching parties like a chameleon – the hardcore private-sector instincts of Obaseki and the more statist, populist-driven perspective of Ize-Iyamu could hardly be mistaken.
Ize-Iyamu was right that federal transfers to Edo have increased significantly. According to figures by the budget watchdog, BudgIT, the state received N25 billion in 2016 and in four years federal allocation has more than doubled. While internally generated revenue has also improved marginally, the state’s debt profile remains high relative to its investment in regenerative capital projects.
But we can say this now because there is a considerably higher degree of transparency in states’ budgeting than was the case before 2016 when a report by the Civil Resource Development Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) on budget transparency in the 36 states rated Edo as one of the worst.
Yet, available scraps of record, if they are anything to go by, suggest that Edo has made some progress. As of 2010 when Oshiomhole was in the second year of his first term, the NBS Annual Abstract 2017 said 93 per cent of residents in Edo had no personal computers; only 56.4 per cent had mobile phones; while only four per cent had access to the Internet.
By the end of Oshiomhole’s second term, Edo had the second-worst record of per kilometre roads tarred in the Niger Delta, though his supporters are quick to say that in relative terms, Edo was the second-lowest earner of federal revenue in the oil-rich region.
It’s important to keep in mind, too, that the facts do not support Ize-Iyamu’s claim that education under Obaseki has been a shambles.
On the contrary, Edo is placed third among the states that performed consistently well in WAEC exams between 2014 and 2018 and its best performances have been in the Obaseki years, during which Edo outperformed Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom that earn significantly more and was only second to Rivers State in the South-South.
And jobs? It was clear that the Governor, apart from his perfunctory references to community policing and increased flight frequency into Benin, was hard-pressed to explain with his own mouth where he created 157,000 out of the 200,000 jobs he promised in a state with unemployment at 19 per cent – interestingly the lowest in the region according to the August figures by the NBS.
Even though Obaseki named agriculture as the state’s mainstay, and correctly so, it’s obvious that he has yet to create the structure and incentives that could open up significant employment opportunities in that sector. It also remains to be seen how he would leverage technology to create opportunities for the youth, 68 per cent of who are below 30. His promise of jobs has been lip-service and his politics appear to lack the common touch.
Without a doubt, however, the spectacular falling out between Obaseki and Oshiomhole has produced a much larger and vibrant industry of opportunists and fair-weather entrepreneurs than ordinary Edo people deserve or could have wished for.
A good number of the elected members of the State House of Assembly were holed up in no man’s land, refugees from a failed attempt by the pro-Oshiomhole faction to hijack the House of Assembly leadership. There were many attempts to reconcile Obaseki and Oshiomhole but they came to nought leaving the governor looking over his shoulders and tripping over precious time and resources he could have used to make lives better for ordinary people.
Saturday would be another opportunity for voters to redeem lost time. If current trends in elections are anything to go by, though, the results after Saturday’s vote may not be final as our politicians have learnt not to accept defeat until the highest court had “cast” its own vote.
Voters must do their part, regardless. That would be the first step in repairing the damage that predatory politics has caused the state, especially in the last two years. They know the main contestants well enough to take personal credit or blame for the outcome of their choice.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview.