Many factors will stand against the re-election of the outgoing governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki at the September 19 governorship election. But very importantly, his decision not to carefully select those he picked as enemies and refusal to heed the advice of unbiased Edo indigenes, who urged him not to escalate his political war with his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiohmole, would haunt him.
Rather than bury his ego, Obaseki did not only fight Oshiohmole, he ended up pissing off most of the prominent leaders in the state and notable members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and started building his own political structure that could not even survive the party primary selection stage of the nomination process.
Perhaps, when the governor narrowed down on a very prominent Edo son, businessman and renowned philanthropist, Captain Idahosa Okunbo, as the possible choice for his replacement, he did not hesitate to launch a desperate and aggressive smear campaign against the retired commercial pilot.
Obaseki’s resort to taking his fight to Okunbo would definitely have negative consequences on his second term ambition for obvious reasons.
One, it gave him up as a desperate politician. Two, he pissed off a lot of Edo indigenes, because they considered the oil magnate an easy going individual, who does not deserve to be humiliated and thirdly, it portrayed the governor as a disrespectful person. This is more so because Okunbo said it repeatedly that he was never interested in the Edo governorship.
But the man Obaseki chose to attack has an impeccable personality and also enjoys a lot of goodwill among his people. Little wonder, one Hon. Marvelous Zibiri, who was believed to be acting the governor’s script said, had described Okunbo in unprintable names, because of an encounter the businessman had with the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in 1995 and for which he was exonerated.
Although Zibiri later recanted and apologised profusely, his deliberately careless statement soon released a floodgate of reactions that nearly consumed him, such that the governor’s camp, believed to have instigated him, also immediately abandoned him and left him to his fate.
Then another one, Adaze Emwanta, wrote equally false narratives about Okunbo in what confirmed that the governor’s men had been assigned to start the character assassination project against him.
He was very embarrassed by how recklessly the governor targeted him and so also were his friends from home and abroad. The people were amazed at the deluge of falsehood that was maliciously created to destroy his hard-earned reputation and lower it before the general the public all in the name of politics.
Okunbo had narrated that in 1995 during the era of General Musa Bamaiyi as the NDLEA Director-General, a petition was written to the anti-drug agency, querying how he came about his wealth and acquisition of choice properties. But he immediately instituted a legal action against the NDLEA in a case with charge No: MOT/L/163/95 at the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, Lagos.
It was concluded that the prosecution had not made out a prima facie case to warrant him to even defend himself, and as such, was discharged and acquitted of all charges on a ‘no case’ submission.
“I’m wondering what I had done wrong to deserve these reckless, false and malicious attacks on my person from individuals associated with the incumbent administration,” Okunbo lamented during the attack on him.
Though he said he had endured deliberate character assassinations from people he described as “beasts of no gender,” an apparently disappointed Okunbo added: “I would no longer gloss over any intentional mischiefs that do incalculable harm to my person, name, business and brand.”
Many Edo State indigenes did not take kindly to the governor’s course of action. A number of them came to the open, not only to defend the person of Okunbo, but to also condemn the orchestrated and coordinated attacks. The people were collective in the description of Okunbo as a man of impeccable integrity.
Admonishing those running the errands of attacking Okunbo, a lawyer and Apostle of Edo renaissance, Daniel Osa-Ogbegie said, “if one is sent an errand of a slave, one should carry it out as a child (a freeborn).” He meant that they were doing the wrong thing and should not just do it because they were pushed to do so.
Just as the Latin word: Vox populi, vox Dei, meaning the voice of the people is the voice of God, a long list of people from different walks of life had come out to vouch for Okunbo’s impeccable integrity.
Former House of Representatives member, Hon. Sunny Aguebor, who described him as a man of integrity, said the attack on him was baseless and unfounded.
“You have built a name and business empire for yourself over the years. You are a man of strong character. Sir, I advise you to kindly disregard the cheap, malicious character assassination. It does not deserve your precious time. My father told me only a tree with fruits attracts stones. You are a big tree with so many fruits, so stones are expected,” Aguebor urged Okunbo.
Also, reacting to the attacks on Okunbo, a lawyer and Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State, Mrs. Bisi Idaomi, assured the philanthropist that the people of the state would take up his fight if the governor’s men do not desist from peddling further falsehoods against his person.
Idaomi said: “Here is a man, who does more for our people, leaders, students, women from Edo extraction than those in the present Edo State government – sending one of your aides to insult and peddle falsehoods about our son would be resisted by the ordinary Edo man and woman within the ambit of the law. This is a firm promise.”
To another former House of Representatives member, Hon. Samson Osagie, Okunbo is as an inestimable asset in Edo’s socio-cultural and economic framework saying, “Those whose official duty is to malign and pull down others usually don’t go far in life. We must continue to extoll our own frontline generals in business, politics, administration and in all facets of human endeavours.
“For those with power today, remember there is nothing permanent in life, not even our positions today. We stand with Captain Hosa at this moment of the ineffectual attempt of some carpet beggars and unfriendly people to undermine his humanity,” he said.
The publisher, Mid-west Herald and former Commissioner for Transport, Hon. Orobosa Omo-Ojo, also lent his voice to the discussion. He eulogised Okunbo’s sterling records as a youngster. He said he had been “tested and polished by the vagaries and the whimsical arbitrariness of Nigeria’s economy and political uncertainty. Like precious metals, the storm only brought out your gem!”
Others like Hon. Razak Edo-Osagie said Okunbo’s intimidating and progressive profile has been a source of worry to some, including his friends. Also, Hon Festus Ebea and many more commentators assured him that the people would resist any attempt to malign him.
The prevailing scenario was aptly captured in Osa-Ogbegie’s response to Emwanta where he said, “Wẹ will nọt accept Godwin Obaseki’s recourse to strangulation of the businesses and politics of Ẹdo sons and daughters anymore. There are better ways of playing politics without all these shows of desperation and aggression.
“It is gratifying to note that a majority of Ẹdo people is pleased with Captain Idahosa Okunbo. I am sure the palace is also pleased with him. God Almighty and Enikaro oghe Ẹdo hia will continue to serenade him with all good things.”
This is a brief capture of how people responded to attacks on Okunbo by the Obaseki-led government. It showed that the people didn’t want their son messed up in the otherwise intractable political war between Obaseki and Oshiohmole and that is the general feeling among a majority of the people and so it has to stop.
Despite the advice not to do so, the governor successfully made an enemy with Okunbo and that is one enemy too many, because though he is not a politician, he enjoys a huge support among the people of the state and that support is now working in the favour of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The governor’s predicament would have been minimised if he had taken heed of the advice of the Okanlete of Esan Land, Major General Cecil Esekhaigbe (rtd), who as far back as early 2019, warned him to desist from going into the election, quarrelling with those that supported him to win his first term election.
He suggested that instead, he should forge a working alliance with them. But the governor felt otherwise. He added more enemies to his battles. And when he began to receive torrents of endorsements for second term and acknowledgment of good performance by his so-called supporters, Esekhaigbe (rtd) told Obaseki that the endorsements were not enough to win him a reelection.
He said any attempt for the governor to alter the political structure on which he came to power would have negative impacts on his reelection.
“He (Obaseki) should be conscious and resist the temptation of being misguided by the assumed support of many political soldiers without weapons. It is obvious that the political class in the Edo State All Progressives Congress (APC) is yet to realise the need for genuine rapprochement between the Governor and his predecessor.
“Every well-meaning APC stalwart should support the state party chairman towards this rapprochement, as they must be conscious of the fact that Edo State is not a one-party state. This is not the time to play the ostrich and subterfuge is not a virtue.
“I am not convinced the governor has enough ammunition from these drumbeats of war and proliferation of endorsements. The imminent battle is a needless one as it fails the requirements of jus in belloand jus ad bellum (a just war and a justification for war).”
Surely, Obaseki is aware that he has a very formidable opponent in the person of Ize-Iyamu, whose ambition is a response to calls by notable leaders, who consider him capable of putting his wittiness to work in policy formulation, ensuring more even distribution of wealth, proper management of human and natural resources.
Although the jury is already out, it is only proper to let an irreverent and ungrateful Obaseki stew in his own juice. September 19, here we come!
*Bademosi wrote from Okpella, Edo State