SOME years ago, Western Region of Nigeria was engulfed in a political turmoil. The turmoil split the region in two. The two sides engaged each other in a fratricidal battle which threatened to destroy the time-honoured cultural heritage of the Yorubas. Non-Yoruba politicians, who had vested interest, capitalized on the crisis and supported one side against the other.
A few Yoruba men saw the damage the Yorubas were doing to themselves and were determined to restore peace in the troubled region. One of the few men was the versatile dramatist, Chief Hubert Ogunde. He produced a play he entitled “Yoruba Ronu.” In the play, he admonished the warring men to sheath their swords. He urged them to put on the “thinking cap” and to reflect on the damage they did to each other. Yoruba Ronu, literally, means: “Yorubas Think.” Leaders of the groups saw themselves in some of the characters in the play. The exposé was so damning to them that they got the play proscribed.
Benins found themselves in similar situation about 30 years ago. They were not in hot war with each other, as the Yorubas were, but their predicament was as precarious. Powerful non-Benin politicians traumatized them psychologically.
According to the last national census figures, the population of Edo South is more than that of Edo Central and Edo North put together. Despite the population superiority, Benins were subjugated by people in the minority. External forces decided the Benin person who will fill positions zoned to Edo South.
For example, Edo South being oil producing was to present the candidate who was to be appointed Commissioner in NDDC. On two succeeding occasions, the person so appointed was hand-picked by politicians outside Edo South. The federal government gave 38 boards to Edo State during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term as President. The politician who shared out the boards gave twelve to Edo North (Etsako) with 28 per cent of the State’s population; twelve to Edo Central (Esan) 18 per cent and fourteen to Edo South (Benin) with 54 per cent.
Three Chairmen were appointed from Edo North; three from Edo South and SEVEN from Edo Central. One of the chairmen from Edo South was Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia. He was named Chairman of PPMC. One of the Chairmen in Edo North was Chief Dan Orbih. He was Chairman of NNPC. Ironically, Dr. Ogbemudia’s PPMC is a subsidiary of Orbih’s NNPC. Yet, Ogbemudia was a member of the ruling PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) at the time.
However, truth must be told, no matter how bitter it is. Benin politicians have not performed well. Despite the fact that Edo South population is more than that of Edo Central and Edo North put together, Edo South has only 10 members in the 24-member House of Assembly. Edo Central and Edo North jointly have 14. One senator represents 54 per cent of the State’s population in Edo South. In Edo Central, one Senator represents 18 per cent. In Edo North, one senator represents 24 per cent.
Rather than give thought to this inequity and seek a constitutional way to correct it, Benin politicians dance around godfathers, playing second fiddle. Instead of their legislators, state and national, to think of how to use legislative machinery to correct this anomaly, most of them dissipate energy on the so-called constituency projects. Party leaders, who ought to worry about the constitutional imbalance and the injustice done to the Benins, go grieving over what they call inaccessibility of the Governor and their failure to get contracts.
Benin Leaders of Thought (BLT) was formed at the time of this palpable injustice. One of its objectives was to neutralize godfatherism in Edo South. It launched a campaign to enhance the sensitivity of Benins to the fact that no other person but themselves should say who among them should fill the position zoned to Edo South. BLT wants Benins to always aim for top positions in politics and business, and to realize that they can only attain that through the achievement of excellence.
It was at this juncture that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole surfaced on March 9, 2006. He was accompanied to the residence of this writer by his friend, Senator Albert Legogie, Deputy President of the 3rd Senate. Oshiomhole said he was doing his last few months as President of the Nigerian Labour Congress and that he would go into politics on completion of his tenure.
Oshiomhole requested the writer, as convener of Benin Leaders of Thought, to arrange for him to meet with its members. The meeting was arranged and, on April 3, 2006, he met them at my residence. Before Oshiomhole left, I gave him copies of newspaper articles written against the godfather, godfatherism and the injustice people of Edo South suffer. The articles were written separately by me and other Benin patriots. At that time, the population of Edo South was said to be 62 percent of the State’s population.
After much horse-trading, Comrade Oshiomhole contested the governorship election on the platform of AC against Prof. Oserheime Osunbor of PDP on April 14, 2007. He lost. Oshiomhole appealed against the result. The case went on for nearly one year. At last, the Tribunal ruled in his favour. Thus, he began his dramatic, novel administration in Edo State in 2008. The House of Assembly, then under Speaker Zakawanu Garuba, was controlled by PDP.
His first challenge was to break the solid PDP membership of the House of Assembly. He accused the Speaker of being used by the godfather in Uromi to frustrate his plans for the State. One of the plans was to construct a 6-lane road from Benin Airport to Oba Ovonramwen Square but the godfather saw the estimate and instructed the House to cancel it because the money was too much to be spent on only one road in Benin City and that, the 6-lane road, if it was to be constructed, would affect the Palace wall.
Oshiomhole said he was unabashed about his proposal to spend so much money constructing a modern road in Benin City because he regarded Benin City as the “Living Room of Edo State.” He said since the Living Room is the first place of contact in a house, it gives one an idea how the rest of the house is. He said he has travelled all over the world and seen that roads from airports are multi-lane and big. He said he had also requested the military authorities to swap the Military Hospital land for another piece of land and that when the deal was concluded, he would build a 5-star hotel there, to service the road and the airport.
Omon’Oba Erediauwa, great lover of development, was impressed by Oshiomhole’s plans. The Oba assured him of maximum support. The Oba said if the six-lanes would affect the Palace wall, he would use his own labourers to bring the walls down. The assurance gave Oshiomhole the green light he needed to demolish “illegal” structures in Benin.
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole threw his weight behind BLT’s battle against godfatherism. His life-style was simple. He would stop at a road-side corn-seller’s stall and buy roasted corn. He would cast aside protocol and wear French Suits all about. Sometimes he would shun his security details and leave them behind. Some people saw this as a gimmick, but it endeared him to many people who hail “Oshio Baba,” anytime they saw him inspecting contractors at work.
Four years soon elapsed. His first term as governor was over. He visited Oba Erediauwa, as he said, to show him his “report card” and inform him that he would run for a second term.
He was accompanied by his deputy, Dr. Pius Egberamwen Odubu. The Oba congratulated him on the successful completion of the “first term”. He was happy that the Comrade Governor never reported at any time, that his deputy was incompetent, disloyal or over-ambitious. The Oba said he was happy because when Chief Lucky Igbinedion, a Benin man was governor, an Etsako man from Edo North, Chief Mike Oghiadomen, was deputy, and he was known to be loyal to his boss. Now Etsako man is governor and a Benin man is deputy. The Oba urged Oshiomhole to go into his second term and continue to work with his team. The statement by the Oba was taken to mean that he endorsed the Governor and his deputy for a second term. It went viral.
Shortly after that, Oshiomhole had a Town Hall meeting at Idia College hall which all traditional rulers in the State attended. He told them he was there to present his “report card” to them. He reeled out his achievements. The traditional rulers gave him a loud ovation. Few weeks later, he invited enigie in Benin to take a bus-ride with him to inspect the stages of work on the Storm Water Project. They saw the massive under-ground drainage at the Ogba Road end of Airport Road. They had never seen anything like that in Benin City. The popularity of the “Miracle Worker” grew in leaps and bounds.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole showed me the design of a Shopping Mall he planned to build at Forestry Road. To make room for the mall, he compulsorily acquired and demolished a 3-storey building which belonged to the late business man, Mr. Uwagboe Agidigbi. A fly-over was to connect the mall to the near-by Oba Ovoramwen Square. The mall was never built. Did he hand over the design to his successor?
Towards the end of the second year of his second term, a lull had set on some of the projects he started so dramatically. Work had stopped on the Storm Water Project, a 5-star project of his administration. He told Enigie during a meeting with them at the EXCO Chambers that the work would resume when more money was available and that the project would be completed. He also assured them that the Specialist Hospital, another 5-star project, would be completed.
He and his party won the eighteen local government election. He won twenty one seats in the twenty-four-seat House of Assembly. Earlier in his first term, he said he would build three Model Schools, in the State, one in each senatorial district. He graciously agreed to locate the one in Edo South in Obazuwa.
He sent a 12-man delegation to inspect the site in Obazuwa. The delegation was headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education. They said the land was suitable as it had no hill, valley, or slush. They said another team would be there to physically measure the land which should be 3,000 ft x 3,000 ft. In anticipation of the team’s visit, community boys were told to measure the land and ensure that it was up to the required dimension.
As the boys were measuring it, militants from Bayelsa State came through Iko and attacked them with cudgels and machetes, claiming that the land belonged to Ijaws. The Governor was promptly informed and he directed his Chief-of-Staff to report the attack to the Commissioner of Police. Policemen were sent to provide protection for the people and to rescue two abducted indigenes. Some of the invaders were arrested and charged to court. The case is still pending at Okada Magistrate’s Court.
The attack by the militants was painful but the governor’s reaction to it was even more so. Instead of him to simply tell the two groups claiming ownership of the land that since it was government going to utilize the land for a project of public interest, he would go ahead with the proposal; he moved it away from Obazuwa to a place in Benin City. The place was water-logged and full of slush. The secondary school there, New Era College, was then battling with the menace. It is believed that Oshiomhole moved the project away from Obazuwa in order not to offend the Ijaws.
Many Benins do not still realize that non-Benin adversaries of the Benin use the Benins to score even for him. They used Benins when they fought Odubu, when they fought Ativie, Benins had the loudest voice against her and when they fought Ize-Iyamu and Igbinedion, Benins were their strongest and swiftest foot-soldiers.
Now it is Obaseki’s turn. The most vociferous of the preachers against him are Benins. Emergency ad-hoc groups spring up daily in Benin setting up trump charges against him. Many of the charges are frivolous. Some accuse him of discontinuing the “laudable” projects started by his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
They ask: “What happened to the Benin Storm Water Project and the completed and furnished Central Hospital commissioned by President Muhammad Buhari…” These are some charges they levy against Obaseki. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Who does not know that work on the Storm Water project stopped two years before Obaseki became governor? Who does not know that the Central Hospital was locked up by Oshiomhole a few days after it was commissioned by President Buhari? Who does not know that some of the equipment in the hospital during the commissioning, were borrowed from Stella Obasanjo Hospital for the commissioning? Who does not know that the equipment were returned to Stella Obasanjo Hospital after commissioning?
Those orchestrated criticisms against Obaseki are loudly voiced by Benin people. One of such critics of Obaseki is Governor Oshiomhole’s former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Mr. Henry Idahagon. He signed a press statement on behalf of a so-called “Concerned APC Leaders across the 18 LGA’s of Edo State. As a key member of Oshiomhole’s administration, he is in a position to know that those questions are frivolous and unfounded.
This is the time to advise Benin people to put on the thinking cap, as Hubert Ogunde advised Yorubas when they had their crisis and learn from their neighbours. When Comrade Governor was governor, he had cause to sack two of his commissioners. Incidentally, the two men were from his own ethnic group. They left quietly, without accusing the governor.
Prince Akenzua is of the Benin Royal Family