I am in one of the pretty priced hotels in Benin City, capital of Edo State, lying on the bed and staring blankly at the ceiling. My wife is on my side, and there is a reason we are not talking to each other this pretentiously lovely afternoon. We are a stone throw or, if you accommodate the metaphor of today’s Nigeria, a bullet away from the Police headquarters. Nothing explains this more than the intermittent staccato sound from the station.
Each time my wife jumps. What is happening here? She asks worryingly. Down stairs by the pool, once those gunshots were heard, a middle-aged lady and her friend had had to a jump to the lobby, saying we don’t want to stop a bullet with our bodies. You need to understand the troubling theatre of the absurd playing out and why people are living on edge. A few weeks earlier the #End SARS movement had reached a blood-letting crescendo in parts of the country, and was particularly very horrible in the state where the prison doors were flung open in the afternoon for the inmates to take a scram. To understand how tragedy could be choreographed, what happened in the city in full glare of the law, was repeated at Oko Prisons, some little drive from the city centre. Even if you are not good in mathematics like this writer, you will easily reach the conclusion that the number of criminals has swelled in Edo State.
And this is very annoying. Just when you think you have a trophy in your hands, just when the rest of the country was beginning to look up to Edo State as some kind of redeeming paradigm for our very flawed democracy, through an election that shamed all projections and shenanigans, some bizarre spanners are being thrown in the trail of excitement. This cannot be Edo State!
I am not in the State to attend the inauguration of Governor Godwin Obaseki. That was last week (the writer started this material in November 2020). That very week, cost of air ticket from Abuja to Benin was N65, 000 for Economy while Business Class was N115, 000 for a journey of less than forty minutes. This communicates a system that is broken. The roads or whatever you may want to call them have become homes to bandits and kidnappers and since nobody looks out for anybody, not even government looking out for the citizens (I mean the arm of government holding the entire security arms in a pouch), those who can afford the fares don’t want to die a painful, miserable death in the hands of people without souls. So, they fork out the cash and slug it out for a ticket. The way we are going the fittest may be unable to survive very soon!
The Edo State governorship election was full of bile and political flatulence, made worse by a receding dodo who thought he would control the levers of power forever and that those who didn’t want to worship in his shrine would be made to face ignominious dismissal from politics. To add more pepper to an eye already brimming with tears, a misnomer from a part of the country suddenly came up with the story and a bogus but virtual register of those who fought for democracy, claiming that since the name, Godwin Obaseki, wasn’t in that register, he wasn’t entitled to a continuing political leadership of the state. You see Nigeria is a place where the wrong people, only those with a very strong voice and veiled force of arms, remain in the harvest field to rip from the sweat of the people and they do it with comprehensive avarice, and flaunt their ill-gotten wealth to shame those who work hard.
The people of Edo State have a mind of their own and they made that very clear with the election results. That was last year.
But I have my take away from that election. I have my fascination with what happened during the campaigns. The contest was fierce. The people, who normally enjoy no significance in our democracy, suddenly became the corner blocks of a system fighting for life. The politicians traversed the land, promising heaven and the moon with its unfolding layers of beauty, you know, like a young man serenading his first date. Except that there was no beauty here. The power of incumbency was vapour. This was dog fight. The State handed down by great leaders like late Samuel Ogbemudia and Ambrose Alli, and Odigie Oyegun, who remains with us, has suffered so much abuse in the hands of political desperados who suffer the illusion of messianism. The story is that Obaseki’s attempt to try and correct some of these latent misnomer had pitched him against powerful political figures.
So the campaigns came with loads of promises: to build roads, to build bridges, to build factories, to dig bore holes, to take electricity to far flung villages, to help develop agricultural settlements – things that look very ordinary but which in our part of the world are used to bait the voters – and, in fact, to work for the people this time, which is what democracy should be were it not reversed inwards by our politicians.
I have been lucky to go through some parts of Edo State recently and I can attest that the footprints and evidence of that campaign – billboards, posters and all kinds of campaign insignia – still litter the State generously to demonstrate that two giants did indeed fight here. At the time, the job did look clear-cut for Obaseki, to bring development and more development to the people of Edo State.
If you ask anybody now, that job definition has given way to a more supervening intrusion, which is security: to secure the lives of the people who live in, or are visiting Edo State. If you are from that State which can conveniently be described as the cradle of ancient civilization, the State of the powerful Bini Empire that boisterously resisted the intruding forces of the colonialists in 1897, the State that was an exemplar of sports development through the ingenuity of Ogbemudia, if you live in the State that had one of the first Oil Palm Research Centres in the world, the type that Malaysia benefitted from, you will have to accept the truth that the State needs deliverance very desperately from criminality.
If insecurity across the nation has become a troubling headache causing Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to make a desperate call the other day, the painful truth is that Edo State has been in so much of bad news because of insecurity that Governor Obaseki must make it his prime focus, at least, in the immediate to return the State to the path of peace and sanity.
The current state of being looks nasty and brutish. A jailbreak that marked the horrific climax of #EndSARS protest, cult war all over the State, kidnapping for ransom, robbery and herdsmen ubiquitous evil operations in our forests and highways, making the State a-no-go area for those who live outside of it. Do a little search on the Benin-Auchi Road, it will turn out that it is one of the most dangerous roads in the country at the moment.
This is not the time for nice games and double speak. I am a proud son of the State with my umbilical cord firmly buried in the soil of my fathers. This not the State we grew up in, where we read about the exploits of Oba Ovonramwen in the primary school. Edo State is in dire strait and needs help urgently. I have seen people jostling for advantage to produce the next governor of Edo State. There is nothing wrong with such aspirations. But what Obaseki needs in the immediate is help to build a team that will work with him to redeem the State from the axis of evil. While I support the view of those who plead equity and balance in producing successive leadership for the State, a solid team is needed to build the State for life ahead. The age of demonism and god-fatherism may be gone but the genie is still on the loose with satanic havoc.
Just on Wednesday afternoon, Uromi was in uproar. The women had come out in their numbers to protest the activities of the herdsmen, blocking all the roads leading to the commercial nerve centre of Esan land. According to some of the messages, the herdsmen don’t only destroy their crops, they rape them in the farms, and kill them gruesomely. The women needed the intervention of the Onojie who, perhaps, should take their message to the governor. That may only be the beginning; the rumbling of a volcano boiling within.
While the women’s action clearly indicate the failure of their political representatives, I want to implore Governor Obaseki to study the metaphor of the ant and sip from its bravery. The ant doesn’t run away from a fight and will never abandon its home. With its tiny frame, if the ant has to lose any fight there must be a mark on the ground that a giant had fallen.
This is not to say that Governor Obaseki will lose any good fight in Edo State. Scoring over 57 per cent of the votes in the September election, he has a pretty good crowd looking up to him for leadership. First line of political leadership is security of lives. The people of Edo State are not sure of this anymore. The governor needs to give the people life in appreciation of their votes. He needs to step into the trenches and forfeit, momentarily, the distractive pleasures of office.
Okoh Aihe writes from Abuja