At the Gate of Political Hell, the Godfather’s Last Gamble, By Louis Odion
Ordinarily, the choice before Edo voters on September 10 should not pose a burden heavier than the simple ceremony of sieving the grain from the chaff. The contention is between APC and PDP.
But given the ongoing legal cockfight in PDP resulting in its iconic umbrella being literally torn in the courts of law between Markafi and Sheriff, it is safe to assume that a fatal preliminary own goal is already scored against the Edo branch of the once “biggest party in Africa”.
Barely a week to the election, no one is able to answer a very simple question with confidence yet: Is PDP’s votes on the D-Day for Markafi’s Osagie Ize-Iyamu or Sheriff’s Mathew Iduoriyekemwen?
If the foregoing observation is legal, the second test is material. From 1999, PDP ruled the acclaimed “heartbeat of the nation” for 114 months, while APC has administered it for 94 months so far.
However, looking back, whereas the majority of Edo people will ascribe to APC under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole plaudits for improving the human condition appreciably with a surfeit of monuments across the state as further proofs, PDP’s testimonial is hideously scanty besides the cultivation of a small oligarchy whose hierarchs have either successfully completed jail term for colossal looting or are today luxuriating in obscene wealth amassed solely through the grace of Tuketuke politics.
Based on these verifiable facts, it will not be out of place to submit therefore that PDP is already too morally fractured, facially disfigured to stand a chance in the coming election. But drawing the curtains on the debate there so summarily would rob distant observers the opportunity to fully understand the shape and nature of the real forces now at play, ferociously angling for Edo’s political soul. It is actually a titanic battle between defenders of a movement that boasts of delivering something to the society regardless of its own imperfections and the barons of a discredited past plotting a return to power.
The historic challenge before the intelligentsia today therefore is to help bring some illumination that the people can make informed choice in the leadership recruitment process. For clarity, I do not only hail from that section of the country but was also privileged to have served as a commissioner in Edo until my resignation last November. During the period, I gained sufficient insight and had one-on-one interactions with the key players across the divides.
So, as a writer, one is not shy to admit one has a professional interest, and as a native, a civic responsibility to share one’s perspective for Edo’s advancement.
True, no one will say incumbent Adams Oshiomhole is perfect. All known angels will be found in heaven. To me, whatever personal inadequacies the comrade governor may have pale into insignificance considering the weight and value of his contributions in the past eight years. Really, it is impossible to change society without making some enemies. The tale of transformed physical landscape under his watch is now all too familiar to warrant a recap here.
This leads us to the next question: so who is better equipped among the gladiators on the field to extend the frontiers? From all the candidates have said, shown or promised in the last three months of campaigns, I make bold to say Godwin Obaseki represents the best hope for Edo’s tomorrow. For the four years I spent in government in Edo State, I happened to have interacted closely with him.
To be sure, he is not as gifted as Oshiomhole in terms of oratory. He is decidedly a man of short speech whose few words however carry deep intellection and almost evangelical zeal to follow through ideas from conception, incubation, implementation to evaluation in an otherwise treacherous environment where most people view tasks only from the naira and kobo that comes back to their pockets.
In these economically perilous times, Edo surely needs a conscientious steward who can think and act on his feet to chart a new course, and is irrevocably committed to working for the poor and not the coven of famished godfathers feverishly seeking to regain a paradise already lost.
Such sterling qualities are however in acute deficit in PDP, the bastion of Tuketuke politics. For non-speakers of Bini, Tuketute is a generic name for any vehicle on the verge of falling apart, but still commercially exploited by the owner by being forced on the road.
Tuketuke therefore describes rent-seeking politics where the provincial godfather continues to milk a dysfunctional order in self-aggrandisement at the people’s expense. People famish for the godfather to flourish.
To sustain the hero-worship of the godfather, Tuketuke politics abhors men of ideas or intelligence or other evidence of demonstrable independence of the mind. In the new world otherwise driven by big ideas, the only skills required in Tuketuke politics are not more than rigging, seamlessly sharing bribes and bottles of Schnapps gin on election’s eve and maybe suborning of the most pathetic species of the media running dogs, eager to plant articles praising the godfather in the newspapers but too ashamed to affix their real names on such panegyric.
Only the Tuketuke magic could have explained the transmogrification overnight of Chief Tony Anenih. Between 1993 and 1998, it is public knowledge he had fallen on hard times, only surviving on crumbs from the table of Chief Tom Ikimi (who was quite influential during the Abacha junta), and maybe the little return from his “short time” hotel Nova in Uromi. But after just a short career as PDP’s “Mr. Fix It”, Anenih had become so stupendously rich he could by 2014 now afford to lend hundreds of millions to sitting President Goodluck Jonathan! (At least, that is his claim in a statement to EFCC earlier this year when asked to account for his N260 million share from Dasuki’s $15 billion loot).
It is in this dim light that Anenih’s desperation to have PDP restored to power in Edo today should be situated. Having had his political oxygen mask abruptly demobilised in Abuja, he now seeks rehabilitation at home. As for the other PDP campaigner, Ikimi, parables have been made about an old Chevrolet jalopy, which guzzles 10 litres of gas for a mere kilometre. That Tuketuke contraption is obviously in dire need of affiliation to a big depot for sustenance.
At corporate level, the Tuketuke spirit is what also manifests in PDP’s continued obsession with building new industries as key campaign promise (as if the chain of phony industries Igbinedion claimed he built ever functioned for a single day)!
In the market-driven economy of the 21th century, you allow the private sector to take the driver’s seat. On account of its structure and orientation, government no longer has business running businesses. Rather, its remit is to create the enabling environment – like durable social infrastructure and formulate coherent policies – to help businesses grow.
One can therefore relate with Obaseki’s promise to create 200,000 fresh jobs. The bouquet of durable social infrastructure – including more than 1,000 kilometers of roads – delivered by Oshiomhole in the past eight years already offers a solid foundation to build on. Vast opportunities surely abound in the agriculture sector where the state has comparative advantage. The big mechanised farms will accelerate urbanisation of our rural communities, particularly in Edo South, thereby helping to curb rural-urban drift.
Requiring sustenance is the land reforms started by Oshiomhole which has removed swathes of land from the control of old political godfathers who only use same to secure personal bank loans or sublet to tenants. Genuine agro entrepreneurs who benefit will certainly deliver more jobs.
Only last Monday, Pat Utomi, the renowned professor of Political Economy, flagged off a $136m farm project located in at Ugbokun Community in Ovia North East in Edo. This will deliver thousands of fresh jobs. It is perhaps instructive that Utomi hails from neighbouring Delta State. In choosing Edo to locate such gigantic industry, the discerning intellectual must have noted Edo’s comparative advantage.
Apart from Utomi’s Integrated Produce City, there are no fewer than a dozen other mega agro-allied companies including the $750m farm promoted by Idahosa Okunbo that have either taken off or are nearing completion stage under an investment-friendly climate Oshiomhole has created in the last eight years. Really, these are the terms in which Edo’s economy of the future should be discussed, not fantasising over the new “sharing formula” likely to be approved by the godfather for the state’s next monthly allocation from Abuja as suggested by the incoherent economic agenda so far touted by PDP – high on utopian promises but short on how-to.
Under PDP’s suzerainty in the past, the state’s land stock was only parlayed into primitive feudal racketeering. In the twilight of Lucky Igbinedion’s administration in 2007, more than 120,000 hectares, representing more than 70 percent of Edo’s reserved land stock, was released and not less than half of that allocated to Esama directly or shell companies linked to the family alone under the guise of utilising same for agro-allied enterprises. The “His Excellency, sir, chief, doctor of Okadaland” simply added his loot to the stock already sub-let to Yoruba farmers who, in turn, would pay him royalties running into hundreds of million yearly!
The culture of predation perfected by PDP also explains why whereas the state-owned TV/radio station, the EBS, withered during PDP’s reign, Igbinedion’s ITV prospered. And while state-owned Ambrose Ali University floundered, Igbinedion University in Okada flowered.
On discovering the land scam in 2012, an angry Oshiomhole issued an executive order revoking the allocation. The imperial Esama has not forgiven the governor ever since.
Well, the aforementioned illustrations are provided today to assist Edo people connect the dots and realise where the rain began to beat them. The desperation to re-foist PDP on the state is actually a disingenuous design to restore the old thieving Tuketuke order.
How ironic that PDP is now whining about the desirability of “a level-playing field” come September 10. But when it had the fabled “federal might” in 2012, it wielded it without the fear of God or man. When Anenih still had his finger on the trigger, raw power and awesome financial war-chest were crudely deployed. State institutions were openly induced and compromised. One of the few exemplars was Major General Obi Umahi, the then Commander of the Fourth Brigade, Benin City.
A thoroughly professional soldier with steely Christian values (said to carry a small Bible around in his pocket), Umahi (elder brother to the present Ebonyi governor) consistently refused mouth-watering bribes and choking pressures from the PDP godfather already assured by the “Niger Delta militants” they would invade Edo and help orchestrate violence, thereby creating an enabling climate for election results to be fixed, but only on the guaranty that the military would “cooperate”.
The brave officer threw the final bombshell at the joint-security council meeting held on the eve of the July 14, 2012 polls when the time came for him to speak at the gathering attended by heads of all the security and paramilitary agencies: “I’ve told my soldiers to shoot to kill anyone who tries to do anything funny or rig the election!”
Of course, it is easily recalled today that the exemplary patriotic conduct of officers and men of the Nigerian Army made the difference on the D-Day as all the thugs and mercenaries imported into Edo to enforce the rigging plot chose to keep a safe distance as the battle-ready soldiers kept vigil across the state. Oshiomhole won his reelection by an unprecedented 75 percent.
Expectedly, Major General Umahi eventually paid a huge price for his principle. In a matter of weeks, he was redeployed from Benin to an obscure post in Lagos through intrigues believed to have been masterminded by the politically wounded Anenih. A kangaroo panel raised by the then clearly partisan leadership of the Army to probe Umahi on trumped up charges soon recommended his summary retirement. But apparently pricked by conscience, the then Chief of Army Staff, General Azubuike Ihejirika, curiously chose to foot-drag on the implementation. But once Major-General Kenneth Minimah, the favourite of PDP wheeler-dealers, took over, Umahi’s retirement was one of his earliest actions. The rest, as they, is now history.
Indeed, statecraft remains a work-in-progress. Wherever Oshiomhole may have failed in the past 94 months, I am sure Obaseki has the wisdom, the depth, the range and, most fundamentally, the integrity to make amends if voted.
So, at the dawn of September 10, the Edo voter should appreciate the enormity of the historic rite ahead. Voting Obaseki is the covenant. It is not a favour to anyone, but the duty of every Edo freeborn to secure a better Edo tomorrow for our children.
Enter Chief Zebrudiah Okorocha Alias 3.0
When he arrived Owerri in 2011, he said he came on a rescue mission. But it is obvious the rescuer himself is now urgently in need of a rescue. Meanwhile, the performance of the new Zebrudiah continues. As I heard they say openly in Owerri these days, this Okorocha comedy “has no part II”.
Viewers – particularly the older generations – missing “The New Masquerade” (what an oxymoron!) should find consolation in the comic turn of events in Imo State today. The nostalgia would most likely be for the lead actor of the old television comedy series, Chief Zebrudiah Okoroigwe alias 4.30. For instance, awarded the coveted national honour “MON”, he would later tease that “EY” was not added to fetch him “MONEY”.
Overwhelmed by the challenge of governance today, Governor Rochas Okorocha would seem to have resorted to trying on the costume of the old comic, obviously to divert public attention and stave possible civil revolt at being swindled by a political conman.
When the other day questions were raised over Okorocha’s absence from his duty post Owerri for weeks, the government spokesman rose stoutly to the occasion. With a straight face, he lectured that his boss only travelled abroad to – what else – “attract foreign investment”. But the stark truth finally emerged last week when the new Zebrudiah of Imo landed Owerri airport. Apparently unaware of the lie his publicist had told on his behalf, Okorocha said: “I went to the land of the dead and our ancestors turned me back, saying it was not yet time.” Thus confirming the earlier speculation that he was stretchered out of the country in a grave condition. So, people are now left wondering when “foreign investors” became a synonym of “our ancestors”.
Earlier, Okorocha had blissfully advertised his poor political education by announcing the formation of the “fourth tier of government” to bring governance much closer to the people. He boasted the idea would catapult rural folks into the boardroom of power. But other than the champagne bottles later popped that night at the Government House in toast of his “wizardry” and “sagacity” for such ground-breaking innovation, nothing else has been seen. The truth: it is only the fulmination of a confused mind.
The same brainwave apparently led the Zebrudiah of Owerri into his latest brew, which, for ease of reference, we can roughly term “Formula 3.0”. In spite of the billions of naira that the state received from Abuja in bailout funds, civil servants are still owed arrears of salaries. Of course, prioritising contractors’ pay is far more lucrative to the approving authority for obvious reasons.
But not to worry, the governor of comedy in Imo soon announced that state workers are now to work for three days and spend the remaining two working days on their own personal farms or in pursuit of anything “to keep body and soul together”. With that, he must have expected to be garlanded as the most ingeniously considerate governor in history.
But the long-suffering state branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress are not amused and have, in fact, responded by staging yet another march against the governor. The same way the Federal Government – though not exactly known for any profundity of thought either – observed the proposal must be the next worst voodoo visited on Imo after the Otokoto saga of the 90s.
Without shame or remorse, Okorocha brought more comedy to the debate a few days ago by shedding light on the rationale behind his proposal: “Instead of being devoted to the work they (civil servants) are paid for, they use their official hours to loiter about; they sell groundnut, gala, chin-chin and sieve egusi (melon seed chaff), among others in the office. I decided to reduce the working days because I want to enhance agriculture in the state.”
But short-sighted Okorocha is unable to appreciate the original idea behind the civil service. Really, in these lean times, the real challenge is how to optimise manpower to create wealth to augment government earnings. If workers were found to be idle, shouldn’t the duty of a wise manager be to reassign them where their energies are better utilised to enhance productivity?
Myopic Okorocha will not know he invariably shortchanges the state further by suggesting workers would continue to earn full pay for less work. Only a small mind thinks that way.
Without conscience still, Okorocha took his pontification to another level a few days ago by advising President Buhari to declare “state of economic emergency” to revive the economy from the present coma: “We have to declare a state of economic emergency right now in Nigeria and all hands must be on deck… For some us and I think for all Nigerians who travel out, we know that we need to stand up and avoid sentiment and face the issue.”
Sharp words indeed. But if there is indeed anything to say of the globe-trotting politician of Owerri, it should begin with an admission that elsewhere public accountability would have forbidden him from lying that he travelled abroad to seek investors when in reality he was bedridden at taxpayer’s expense.
Before asking Buhari to declare emergency in Abuja, one would have thought Okorocha would set a good example by proclaiming one in Imo already overtaken by filth, buffoonery and tales of graft. For instance, before he took over in 2011, Owerri was rated by the Federal Ministry of Environment as the cleanest city in Nigeria on account on an aggressive green advocacy and urban-renewal initiative. But that is now history as the new Zebrudiah literally turns every thing up side down.
Once upon a time, Imo was a shining beacon in the education industry. Not any more. Nothing perhaps emblematises the story of a worsening crisis than a statement by JAMB recently that no fresh students would be admitted into Imo State University (IMSU) for the next academic year. Reason: those offered admission for the 2015/2016 are still languishing at the gate since the institution has been under lock and key for several months due to a protracted industrial action that has brought to bold relief Okorocha’s poor managerial skill. Sadly, just as workers wait on Okorocha’s for the arrears of back pay, admission into IMSU will certainly now be conducted in arrears in future!
All told, what baffles is the air of indifference Okorocha continues to exude at home over these serial derelictions and the shamelessness he exhibits outside. When he arrived Owerri in 2011, he said he came on a rescue mission. But it is obvious the rescuer himself is now urgently in need of a rescue. Meanwhile, the performance of the new Zebrudiah continues. As I heard they say openly in Owerri these days, this Okorocha comedy “has no part II”.
Louis Odion is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE).