As an Igboman who spent close to a decade schooling in Benin city, Edo State capital, I make bold to declare that Benin city is my second home after Ihiala, my hometown in Anambra state. During my last trip home last December I had spent more time in Benin than Ihiala, Lagos and Port Harcourt because I had my teenaged roots there. I know Benin city more than any other city or place in Nigeria and have more friends there than any other place (including here in my station outside Ngeria). Apart from developing the academic radicalism there while pursuing academic excellence I had come to see the place as a great kingdom with a responsible modern King (Oba) adored and held in high esteem by his people. Whilst my only surviving sister, Lovina, and her family are based there it is a cosmopolitan city where almost very tribe in Nigeria is represented.
So, given this special attachment to a city and a people one is always concerned with any good or bad news emanating from Benin city in particular and Edo state in general. I was in Benin City when the executed outlaws Lawrence Anini, Monday Osunbor and policeman George Iyamu were terrorizing the rich and powerful and using the proceeds of their violent armed robbery to ’empower’ the poor in the markets and on the streets! I was there when the June 12 national electoral crisis erupted and had participated in the “IBB-Must-Go” riots; I was among those inside the Oba’s Palace at King’s Square when the late President-elect Moshood Abiola visited the Oba of Benin. I was in Benin city when the Oba of Benin was sued by the Igbinedions forcing the decent Monarch to walk to the high court premises bare-footed accompanied by thousands of his subjects horrified by the desecration of traditional royalty.
I was among those that lined New Lagos Road out of curiosity to catch a glimpse of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida during his state visit to Edo State when Gov. John Odigie-Oyegun was there as chief executive; I was in Benin when the former Oredo Local Government Chairman, George Idah, was murdered in cold blood in his office; I was in the city when Odigie-Oyegun and Lucky Igbinedion engaged in a ‘mortal’ gubernatorial combat with the former prevailing — with his grey hair as a campaign catch-phrase. I was a resident of Benin when the ancient city was described as a “developing village” during the Lucky Igbinedion debauched administration; I was present when Gen. Babangida, by military fiat, carved out Delta and Edo from the then Bendel state and we exuberantly wrote that we preferred remaining ‘Bendelites’! Of course, then, I felt more like a ‘Bendelite’ than an Edo ‘indigene’!
Indeed, Benin City has changed for good, transformed into a modern city worth its rich history. From Ikpoba Hill to Ikpoba Slope down to Ring Road; from Oliha Quarters to New Benin down to Sapele Road; from Ugbowo to Ekenwan Road down to First and Second East Circular Roads the residents of the old city are singing a new song of salvation, a new song of liberation! As I drove around the city during my last December trip what one saw on the ground bore eloquent testimony to what is possible with sound scrupulous leadership, one based on higher calls of duty! Though there was still room for improvement Gov. Oshiomhole must be given a thumbs up for his unassailable sense of commitment to duty.
Comrade-Governor Adams Oshiomhole has done his best in changing the fortunes of a great city abandoned and left to rot away by past Governors whose mediocrity had never been in doubt. Apart from the late Prof. Ambrose Alli whose tenure brought about some monumental developmental trends Dr Samuel Ogbemudia gave his very best at a time politics was a noble profession and politicians desperate to succeed and leave some lasting legacy behind. Today, Edo people must thank God for making a sound choice in Oshiomhole because his achievements speak volume of the man’s determination to deliver on his campaign promises. If one quarter of Nigerian Governors are like Oshiomhole then most of us lamenting our national degeneration may not have any cause to continue in our constant expression of sadness at the leadership deficit and moral deficiency afflicting our beloved nation.
When he was elected Governor six years ago (a mandate initially stolen by the PDP but retrieved through judicial dint of hardwork) the diminutive former trade union leader was up against history, one of godfatherism and diffident leadership in Edo state. But he has soldiered on using service delivery and administrative openness as a ‘war’ strategy to conquer entrenched anti-people forces. During his eventful first term he took on the powerful forces refusing compromises and channelling resources where they were most needed — towards the improvement of the lot of the poor masses. Roads were built, schools rehabilitated, hospitals constructed, villages electrified, buses bought for cheap mass transit and what have you. Edo state in general and Benin city in particular suddenly became a huge construction site where contractors were competing among themselves to deliver on their commissioned projects. No monkey business, no hanky panky or hocus-pocus, no guile.
As the man of the people was busy performing socio-economic ‘miracles’, empowering the oppressed to their popular acclaim, however, the old politicians in the state and outside were busy hatching up plot after plot to ‘destroy’ him and his legacy. A fatal road mishap was organized to snuff life out of Oshiomhole last year and though he survived it by the whiskers some lives were lost in the process. Soon after, his Principal Secretary, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, was murdered in his home at wee hours of the night. Today the police and the SSS are still trading recriminations over which suspects were real from those presented as fake! Gov. Oshiomhole has clashed with power in Abuja on many occasions over the Oyerinde assassination including the last reported heated encounter with the corrupt conniving Attorney General of the Federation Mohammed Bello Adoke.
One of these entrenched political forces (apart from the vanquished old godfather, Anthony Anenih) is the richest man in Edo State, the Esama of Benin, Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion. Apparantly feeling understandably uncomfortable with the positive development taking place from Benin to Uromi, Okada to Auchi, Ekpoma to Jattu (with the recent memory of his son’s guber failures still fresh in his mind) Igbinedion has decided to present a formidable opposition during the recent controversial local government election in the state. Joining forces with the opposition PDP the controversial randy billionaire who had clashed severally with royalty in Benin Kingdom went beyond his limits infuriating Oshiomhole and forcing him to go public with a scorching rebuke.
According to the khaki-wearing Governor who spoke at the inauguration of the 14 newly-elected local government chairmen in Benin city recently: “I want to send a warning to Chief Igbinedion that he should take it easy; he has acquired a lot of government land that the people have not engaged him on. He walks as if he is above the law. He was a chief tax collector in this state, pocketing 25 to 30 per cent of every kobo that accrued while his son was the governor….There is evidence that he (Igbinedion) has undermined the prosperity of the state for a very long time. Those who live in glass houses do not throw stones….I have not looked back because my mandate is to look forward. I want to put him on notice that if he continues with elderly rascality, I will bring him to justice….He must never ever underestimate the fact that I have the will and I have the capacity to deploy that will; if he crosses the law, he will be cut to size….Elders must teach the younger ones to behave responsibly.”
Berating Igbinedion over his overbearing conduct on election day in his Okada “Wonderland” hometown Oshiomhole continued: “You heard how he is using ITV in a very reckless manner, in clear breach of the NBC code. He reduced himself as a high
chief, leaving where he is registered to vote and going all the way to Okada on a day movement was restricted across the state….He got to Okada and illegally used mobile policemen to walk on the street; going to the police station where sensitive election materials were kept in order to vandalise the sensitive electoral materials to ensure elections did not take place….If he misleads himself into believing that he has the birth right to continue to appropriate and privatise the resources of Edo State, he is living in a fool’s paradise.”
The ruling PDP from Abuja through Olisa Metuh weighed in describing Oshiomhole as “a rampaging evil” for cancelling local council elections in Esan North-East Local Government Area. For the PDP “an abrasive display of a very crude form of tyranny, a sustained subversion of democracy, a grotesque pantomime, really, is playing out in Edo State with Adams Oshiomhole his electoral undertakers, the EDSIEC and his party, the ACN as chief promoters”. And asking pertinently: “should the gods be blamed for the case of Oshiomhole? This is a man who was a civil rights activist, renowned labour leader, a man, who on the strength of the PDP’s stricture to the rule of law under late President Yar’Adua was enthroned as Governor; a man whose re-election was chiefly assisted by the firm resolve of President Jonathan to put the era of flawed elections far behind Nigerians; yet, this is the same Oshiomhole who has become a metaphor, a bye word for the brutish truncation of the wishes of the people. Who should be blamed? This Governor surely needs a deliverance.” Who really needs deliverance by the way? Oshio ‘Baba’, GEJ, PDP or ACN (or APC)?
But Gov. Oshiomhole has remained undaunted maintaining thus: “the era of primitive imposition is over. No one will govern this state any more except as determined by the Edo electorate. That is why we have worked hard to show presence in all the Local Governments….the PDP has tried to give the impression that they lost because the election was not properly conducted. They hired some miscreants to keep carrying flags denouncing what they claim to be an election that was not properly organized. But the only reason why people are talking about election in Edo state is because we are different and we have demonstrated that we are different. We remain resolute in our commitment towards upholding the principle of one man one vote….The PDP has no response to that. They are detained by their past. This election is the best ever organized, not only in Edo state but in our neighboring states. I understand that we lost ward 6 in Oredo, but even as we were losing it, we did not disrupt election in that ward, but PDP knew that they will not win anywhere, their best option was to recruit thugs to cause trouble.”
Warning the leaders of the PDP in the state and outside the state “who are using Abuja power to know that this state belongs to all of us. So, we will resist any attempt to use Abuja connection to intimidate our people….We will fight to defend this democracy. Our resolve against godfatherism is non-negotiable, it is almost completed….we are not tenants on this land. This is our land.” Of course power belongs to the people and the land is theirs and not for godfathers and political ‘gods’ in Abuja. Mr “Fix-It” Anenih, Mr CoS Oghiadomhe, Minister Onolememen and others must leave the Governor alone to do his job.
Between power (Oshiomhole) and money (Igbinedion) democracy must prevail in every battle for supremacy. The democratic evolution in Edo State must not be allowed to be sabotaged or corrupted by the randy billionaire and his love of lucre. Any attempt to play “elderly racality” must be met with swift sanction. If a big man plays an ‘outlaw’ he must be made to understand that money is not everything; there is a law governing every society to which he must submit himself and his activities else cutting him to size becomes the only alternative to maintaining order and preserving the inviolable sovereign will of the people.