By Ikechukwu Amaechi
TOMORROW, Friday, June 12, Nigerians will celebrate 21 years of “democracy”. On the face value, that is a significant milestone given our chequered political curve. But in reality, we have had two decades of civilian rule that has not asphyxiated under the jackboot of military potentates and not necessarily a democracy.
Our system of governance does not have democratic temperament, disposition and character. If you are in doubt, take a closer look at the unfolding political drama in Edo State. As editor of Daily Independent, I was in Edo to personally observe the July 14, 2012 governorship election, which, in my reckoning, was a consequential poll. A standalone, off season election, the stakes were quite high.
The incumbent governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, was seeking re-election on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. The atmosphere was tense but the election, by and large, was peaceful. In the evening, as officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were collating the results, the then Commissioner for Information, Louis Odion, invited me and three other senior journalists who came from Lagos to meet with Oshiomhole who was monitoring the result at the Government House.
The governor, a man of drama, who had framed the poll as a referendum on godfatherism, was at his dramatic best. Many leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state, particularly Chief Tony Anenih, who played anti-party, literally, by helping Oshiomhole retrieve his stolen mandate at the tribunal from Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, had fallen out with him and were poised for a cold political revenge.
But as the results started trickling in, it became apparent that Oshiomhole had convinced the people to rather teach Anenih and his co-travellers on the boulevard of power bitter political lessons. What a shellacking! Oshiomhole’s telephone rang non-stop that evening as party agents called to update him and he would jump down from his seat and do a victory jig after each call.
“We have walloped them,” he would say. “I have permanently retired the godfather,” he shrilled when he was told that ACN won at the Uzenema Primary School centre where Anenih voted, scoring 3,120 votes against PDP’s 1,004 votes. The PDP candidate in the poll, Gen. Charles Airhiarvbere (retd.), and other party chieftains, including Gabriel Igbinedion, lost in their wards. Oshiomhole also won in Ward Unit 7 where the Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Jonathan, Mike Oghiadomie, former deputy to Governor Lucky Igbinedion, voted, scoring 169 votes against PDP’s 129.
At a stage, Oshiomhole, beside himself with joy, would run from one end of the room, screaming and dancing that he had sent the godfathers to their political graves. When the room could no longer contain him, he jumped into his car and drove off. We left for our hotel. When the final result was announced by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, Prof. Osayuki Oshodin, who was the returning officer, Oshiomhole polled 477,478 votes (73.72 per cent) of the 647,698 total votes cast, winning in all the 18 local governments. Airhiarvbere, his closest rival, polled 144,235 votes (22.27 per cent).
The jubilation was spontaneous and rapturous. The refrain was unanimous: Oshiomhole’s victory, a triumph of the people against godfather politics and patronage. Anenih never fully recovered politically from that trouncing until he died. But having successfully lifted Anenih’s choking knee from not only his own political neck but also that of Edo people, Oshiomhole became the new political principality in the state. That reality is the reason for the crisis of confidence between him and his successor, Godwin Obaseki, who he foisted on the APC and railroaded to power in 2016.
Now, having fallen out with Obaseki, Oshiomhole, as the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, wants to tell him that he holds the political aces in the state by denying him a second term. And Obaseki, having decided to go down fighting, has framed the September 19 governorship election, just as Oshiomhole did in 2012, as a referendum on his predecessor’s godfatherism. The people are caught in-between.
So, no one should make any mistake about it. The raging Oshiomhole-Obaseki feud has nothing to do with the longsuffering people of Edo State. It is not a referendum on Obaseki’s first term. It has everything to do with elephantine egos. It is all about control – who pulls the levers of power, who plays the piper. It is about who effectively and authoritatively allocates the resources of Edo State. It is the archetypal godfatherism in its ugly regalia. The puppeteer is bent on teaching his puppet that back stepping from oafish political agreements has consequences.
But in doing so, Oshiomhole has refused to learn from history. While anyone can aspire to become the Bola Tinubu of Lagos in his assumed sphere of political influence, if Oshiomhole were a good student of Nigeria’s recent political history, he would have known that Tinubu’s chokehold on Lagos politics is an exception rather than the rule.
Nigerian politicians don’t get it. They are blinded by ego, greed and ambition to infinitely dominate their environment. The only reason Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, a man intent on playing the godfather to the hilt, chose Sullivan Chime as his successor in 2007 was because of his impression that he was the most pliable of all his commissioners. How wrong he was! Chime bared his political fangs the moment he took his oath of office and almost buried Nnamani politically.
Since 1999, only governors Sani Yerima of Zamfara State and Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State, had willingly supported, sponsored and worked for their deputies to succeed them in office. Today, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has become Kwankwaso’s political nemesis in Kano. In July 2006, Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his family’s political machine, Reality Organisation, which had become the powerhouse of Abia State politics, formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA and handed his chief of staff, Theodore Orji, the party’s governorship ticket for the 2007 poll.
But before the election, T.A. Orji was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and detained over allegations of money laundering. While still in detention, he won the governorship poll, trouncing his closest rival in the April 14, 2007 governorship poll with over 200,000 votes. This feat was pulled off by Kalu. Yet, barely two years later, Orji had gone back to PDP and Kalu became his bitterest political enemy.
So, what gives Oshiomhole the confidence that even if his preferred candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, wins Edo governorship with his help, he won’t be another Obaseki? Beyond all these, what role do the people play in Nigeria’s democracy and at what stage do they come in? Tomorrow, Nigerians will pretend to be celebrating democracy – government of the people, by the people for the people – where unfortunately the people play no role. An oxymoron!
The supremacy battle between Oshiomhole and Obaseki mirrors Nigeria’s systemic dysfunction. It is a veritable proof of the lack of internal democracy, a milieu where the president and governors as of right determine their successors. It does not matter what the people want. This insidious political journey starts from the manipulation of the primary election.
If a political party’s selection process for candidates – whether through direct or indirect primaries – is not based on popular mandate, whoever emerges subsequently is unpopular. He comes into the general election with a handicap because he didn’t come through popular will. Expecting to have a good outcome in elections without internal democracy in the political parties is an illusion.