ANAYO EZUGWU reports on the impasse in Edo State over Governor Godwin Obaseki’s inability to constitute a cabinet a year after he was inaugurated as governor for a second term
From all indications, Edo State is witnessing fresh issues which may shake the popularity of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its supporters in the state ahead of the next election in 2023. Though the state is not a stranger to such crisis, the current development in the home state of democrats like the late Pa Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence and several others is believed to portend weighty consequences for the party.
While the party is yet to recover from the fragmentation which emanated from the runoff to the 2020 governorship election, it is now a reference point that the state has operated for about four years without a full complement of its lawmakers, the crucible of democracy.
Daily, the hope of the remaining House of Assembly members loyal to a former governor of the state and immediate past chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole gets dimmer. Since Governor Godwin Obaseki’s rancorous reelection on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which emanated from his battle with his benefactor, Oshiomhole, he has failed to constitute a cabinet, calling the bluff of party leaders who worked assiduously for him.
Whereas the action queried the party’s democratic disposition and the involvement of the people in the governance of the state, the governor’s failure to constitute his cabinet about a year after his reelection is generating bad blood among party chieftains and other leaders in the state.
The non-constitution of a cabinet is contrary to the provisions of section 192 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which states that “there shall be such offices of the Commissioner of Government of a state to be established by the governor of the state.”
This constitutional provision envisaged the vital role of plurality of expertise, skills and competences for which every state is richly endowed for the smooth operation and governance in order to bring development to the people in a participatory democracy. Worse still, boards of government agencies and parastatals in the oil-rich state with a population of over four million have been dissolved and this exclusion has created disaffection among party faithful at the wards, local governments and state levels, such that they are currently considering their stance in the party.
Reacting to the development, the State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Chris Nehikhare attributed the delay to government’s current efforts to clear the rot in the state civil service, employ and train the staff in line with the governor’s dreams and aspiration before new commissioners will assume office.
He regretted that the reorganization has taken so long, but added that posterity will judge the governor for taking a stand that will position the state on the part of success. He added that party members who worked for the election of the governor should understand that their individual interest, important as they are, cannot supersede that of the general interest of the generality of the people if the state.
However, some party leaders across the state find it inconceivable that the governor, who enjoyed bipartisan support during his second- term bid, and his deputy, Hon. Philip Shaibu, whose relationship was impenetrable, could leave them without compensation after the election. Hence when information which was found to be untrue filtered into the online media during the week that Shaibu was defecting from the party, there were jubilations on the streets in the state in a manner reminiscent of the victory dance in the state after last year’s election. Another dimension was however, added to the mix during the week, with the rumour that Shaibu is nursing a governorship ambition ahead of the 2024 governorship poll in the state.
This has further created a wedge between the governor and his deputy. A party chieftain in the state wondered why this should be a source of concern at this time about three years to the next election, even though he stated that the deputy governor’s experience, track record and loyalty, eminently qualify him to succeed his principal Responding to the develop ment on a television interview during the week, Shaibu said there was no relationship on earth that is entirely okay, but he expressed his loyalty to his principal and the party irrespective of the current state of affairs, while expressing the view that the cabinet would soon be constituted to the benefit of the people.
A source close to the PDP leadership in Edo, who spoke on the deputy governor’s loyalty, recalled the feisty battle that led to the retirement of a political godfather and his followers during the governorship election and the role played by Shaibu. A longtime ally of Oshiomhole, Shaibu cut his political teeth as student union activist when he became the National President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 2000, from where he delved into mainstream politics to become representative of the Etsako West in the Edo State House of Assembly for eight years. After serving as Majority Leader in the Edo House of Assembly, he was elected into the House of Representatives, as a federal lawmaker representing Federal Constituency in the House for 18 months, where he built a political pedigree.
In the run off to the governorship election in Edo State, especially during Obaseki’s faceoff with Oshiomhole and the former’s consequent disqualification from the APC governorship primary election, Shaibu not only remained loyal to Obaseki, but expressed his readiness to sink with him, where necessary. At every given opportunity, Shaibu asserts his loyalty to the governor and the state. In a media interview, he said: “Oshiomhole wanted me to join him knowing that I was close to the members-elect then of the Edo State House of Assembly.
This was because I spent eight years as a member of the Edo State House of Assembly and about 18 months in the House of Representatives. I have goodwill among the lawmakers because of my own style. “He wanted me to use this goodwill that I have to remove the governor and succeed him and I said no because it is not in my nature to betray anyone.
If I did not betray Oshiomhole when I was NANS president and he was NLC president, when I was offered money to get Nigerian students out of the planned strike then, and I did not betray him when I was chased with money and a plot of land in Maitama, Abuja, to support his impeachment when I was in the state Assembly, then I cannot betray my own governor. “And I said ‘I don’t have those tendencies.’
I pleaded with Oshiomhole, I knelt down before him that this government is doing well and we are taking the policies that we adopted during his own time to the next level. I begged him that no matter and when I asked what errors Obaseki committed, he gave flimsy excuses and when I could not hold anything against him, I knelt down and pleaded that I’m your son, why not forgive him, no matter what offence he may have committed. But instead of listening to my plea he said my action was an indication that I have taken sides with the governor.
“I stood up and told him that if you want to remove the governor, you will have to remove both of us, but you cannot use me to chase him away. If the governor leaves, I leave. The truth is that I hate oppression. When Oshiomhole was being oppressed, we fought on his side. I was brutalised and my family was at risk.
Hired assassins came to my house at the lawmakers quarters…They shattered the house with guns and the cars there were badly damaged. I threw my family across the fence and that was how they were saved. All of these were to save Comrade Oshiomhole from impeachment. “I told him the same energy I used to fight on his side when they wanted to impeach him would be used for Governor Obaseki.
I became an activist because of my hatred for oppression. If you check my records during the military rule, I was part of the struggle for this democracy and Oshiomhole had the plans for the House of Assembly. All these members of the House were not those who won the APC primaries, but Oshiomhole got up and replaced all of them.” As developments keep unfolding in Edo State, observers believe that rather than resorting to mudslinging and name calling, political leaders, the governor and the leadership of the PDP should ensure that democratic and constitutional provisions are followed.