Everyone with an eye on the ground watching the nation’s political landscape knew that November 11 was pregnant. And when the day delivered in the form of a judgment by the appeal court in Benin City, Edo State, it became clear that there was nothing anybody could do anymore concerning the legal tussle between Adams Oshiomhole, Action Congress, AC, governorship candidate, and Oserheimen Osunbor of the People Democratic Party, PDP. The judgment confirmed Oshiomhole as the first labour leader under the aegis of the Action Congress, AC, to become governor. But like the high expectation that is a by-product of the Barack Obama success at the polls, it also places upon Oshiomhole the heavy burden of eight wasted years of the Igbinedion maladministration.
But for many Edo people, the November 11 judgment at the appeal court is different stroke for different folk. Hillary Edoghase, a spare parts seller at the popular Evbareke spare parts market is unperturbed and unmoved. “Yes, it is good Oshiomhole won. Let us see what he can do now that he has been given the chance”, he said. However, Dennis, a vendor seemed much more downcast than Edoghase. “As you can see, I’m not happy. Please I don’t want to talk. I’m not in the mood to talk. In fact I’m going home’. But at the palatial residence of Gabriel Igbinedion, the father of the former governor, it was jubilation galore as the gates to that mansion were flung open for whosoever cared to join in the spontaneous celebrations broke out following the November 11 judgment. The Igbinedions are believed to have bankrolled Oshiomhole’s election and are expected to play key roles in the Oshiomhole government. If that is the case, then it means that while he strives to rise above the ghost of the administration of Lucky Igbinedion, he would need to manage his relationship with a family that is not in the good books of the Edo people.
Created on August 27, 1991, Edo state has an estimated 2007 gross domestic product, GDP, of $11.89billion and a per capita also estimated at $3,623. However the state has witnessed trying times. In the 1992 election that pitted John Oyegun of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, against Lucky Igbinedion of the National Republican Convention, NRC, that election was annulled because Igbinedion claimed that the Benin monarch unfairly supported Oyegun to become governor. Even though Oyegun’s victory was upheld on March 18, 1992, it hardly harnessed the popularity and goodwill that swept it to power, by sustainable development for Edo state. The rot that began with the Lagos-Benin highway seemed to have extended right into Benin City, the centre of the so-called heartbeat of the nation. Therefore, with Igbinedion bouncing back to power in 1999 expectations were still high that he would perform. Unfortunately however, decay set in. The popular three-junction along television road in Benin City which was a link from the outside world to the centre of Ring Road became impassable, even as health facilities at the Specialist Hospital crumbled right under the watch of the dormant administration of Igbinedion. In droves, young upwardly mobile Bini men and women who could not land a job in Edo State because there were no industries or factories that could absorb the teeming population of young men and women resorted to travelling abroad either to engage in prostitution or got involved outright in the cocaine and heroine business. Edo state and its indigenes, became eyesores and semi-pariahs to citizens of Europe, particularly Italy, Norway, Belgium and Germany. The incoming Oshiomhole government therefore has inherited a state without self confidence in its ability to harness its human and material resources for the betterment of all.
Analysts also worry that for history not to repeat itself and to halt the culture of the Igbinedion decay, Oshiomhole must transit quickly from his successful aluta-style of doing things to being a real politician. At the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium where he took oath of office as governor, he warmed up to his supporters with his usual strong union-picketing language, and insisted that he henceforth wanted to be referred to as ‘Comrade Governor’, rather than as ‘Your Excellency’.
To others however, Oshiomhole has a herculean task ahead of him to manage the EDHA. ‘The PDP has 16 of the seats in the 24-member composition of the Edo State House of Assembly EDHA. He must be able to manage the legislature and maintain the delicate balance among the peoples of Edo State. The only way to do that will be for him to be honest with the people and let them know, from the beginning of his administration that the path to sustainable growth will not be an easy one to chart’, the source said. The source said if Oshiomhole did to succeed in getting the EDHA behind him, it would be very unlikely that any meaningful development would take place. The EDHA has a chequered history of upchucking on itself by wantonly removing and replacing officers alleged to be on the black books of the strongman of Edo politics, Anenih. At the third session of the Edo State House of Assembly inaugurated on June 5, 2007 Zakawanu Garuba a two -time member representing Etsako-West 1 constituency was chosen as Speaker of the House. He, together with his fellow assembly members pulled the carpet of the feet of Patrick Egbadon and Thomas Okosun in 2000. If feelers from the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium where Oshiomhole took his oath of office as governor are anything to go by, the battle seems to be drawn by Oshiomhole, who said that even though he was ready to negotiate and discuss with the EDHA, he would not bulge in matters that concerned his mandate to the Edo people. There are sundry allegations that apart from the fact that some members of the EDHA are Anenih’s errand boys, most are said to be compromised and only ready to impeach a governor if they were not ‘settled’ every month by him.
Reliable sources confirm that Oshiomhole said he intends to form an administration made up of technocrats and professionals. ‘We want to make a difference in the lives of our people. We want to build a state where it will be impossible to hire the child of the poor as thugs to rig elections while the children of the rich are waiting for political appointments. We want to redefine politics that emphasize that the people must be the target of our political activities’, he said recently. Good talk but in one of the first executive functions he carried out as governor, Oshiomhole banned the collection of tickets by the local mafia, from market women and petty traders along the Ekiuwa and Edaiken markets. Already, that has pitched him against very powerful interests in the Benin metropolis who daily feed on these hapless men and women in Benin City and in other parts of Edo state. One of the greatest of these is a businessman, Bob Izua, a transporter and major domo, who once was in charge of all of government property in the tenure of Lucky Igbinedion. Perhaps as a token of the fine methods he used in taking care of government property, the former government of Igbinedion was alleged to have ceded the whole of the Ring Road to him as a his sphere of influence. Commercial bus drivers in Benin who used that route were not allowed to park anywhere close to him. In addition, he was alleged to have taken over control of nearly every building within that area of his jurisdiction. Known as very ruthless and unflinching in the face of a fight, it would be interesting to know how the new government of Oshiomhole will handle thugs like this who are alleged to have formed a partnership with the Igbinedions to bleed the state dry.
Gani Fawehinmi, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said through a press release that even though he was excited at the prospect of having a ‘tested and principled progressive to govern a state like Edo, which had in the past been plagued to stupor by irresponsible and corrupt leadership’, he insists that Oshiomhole’s victory is a challenge ‘to give maximum joy and happiness to his people through policies and programmes, like the creation of employment opportunities, extensive electricity supply and pipe-borne water, among others’. Like the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Fawehinmi suggested the prosecution of Osunbor and those who ‘helped him to perpetrate the electoral fraud’.
As the dust generated by the Edo state struggle for power begins to settle, the judiciary has again resurfaced as the beacon of hope for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. For instance, after the March 20 judgment that sacked Osunbor, counsels to both the AC and PDP said that the judiciary deserved to be commended. According to Adeniyi Akintola, counsel to Oshiomhole, ‘If all of us both at the Bar and Bench play our role the way we should, Nigeria will be a better place to live in; it is not because we have won but because of the fact that we have no other country to call our own’. Alex Iziyyon, counsel to Osunbor at the March 20 judgment expressed almost the same sentiment when he said that the tribunal had ‘done your best. This is the beauty of democracy!’ In a statement released through his counsel, Osunbor said that he accepted Oshiomhole’s victory as victory for the rule of law.
Nigerians across board feel a huge sense of relief at the November 11 judgment, saying that it is a catalyst that would set in motion the process to eradicate injustice in the country.