BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
Binis move to secure their interests in the post-Edo 2012 gubernatorial era.
For quite some time now, the political leadership of the Binis has found itself in a quagmire as regards the ability of the people to paddle in one direction in the politics of the state.
The Binis occupy the south senatorial district of Edo State and they are blessed with a larger population of about 60 per cent, while Edo Central and North share the remaining 40. The area is particularly known for its rich cultural heritage with the Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa, in charge of the entire land in the district.
But, politically, the people of the district have not fared well despite the fact that they have political gurus such as the two-time governor of old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia; the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion; Owere Dickson Imasogie; Sunny Uyigue; Rich-Arisco Osemwigie; Clement Edo-Osagie; and the former chief whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie. And due to the large population of the district, nobody can become the governor of the state without the support of the Binis.
There are several incidence to buttress this fact. In 1978-79, the Binis, led by Barr Eddy Osifo and Owie, agreed with other Bini leaders that since Ogbemudia was governor for old Bendel for about seven and a half years, it would be better to have a non- Bini as governor even though some Binis said they should continue in the office. As a result, a section of the Binis supported Air Iyare, who was also an aspirant in the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, against the late Ambrose Alli.
But Osagie- led other young Binis to appeal to their people to accept a non- Bini to be governor. Consequently, they drafted Alli who was from the present Edo Central into the race. Because of that arrangement, the Binis voted for the UPN and that was how Alli became governor. Of the ten House of Assembly seats in Edo South, UPN won eight seats while the rival National Party of Nigeria, NPN, won two.
However, before Alli’s tenure ended, the Binis accused him of reneging on some of the agreements reached with them. Sunday Vanguard learnt that he was supposed to make a Bini man the Secretary to Government (SSG), but, shortly after he became governor, he appointed one Uduobe, who was a blood relation of his, to the office. After that, he was said to have sacked Barr.Eddy Osifo, who was Commissioner for Agriculture, and one of the Bini political leaders who drafted him into the race. Consequently, the Binis moved against him during his second term bid.
The Binis drafted Owie to run against him in the governorship primary of November 1982, but, because Alli had a firm grip on the party structure, the exercise went in his favour. Consequently, the Binis mobilized for Ogbemudia who just retired from the Nigerian Army and now the governorship candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Majority of the Binis in the UPN, led by Owie, moved their structure to the NPN to support Ogbemudia. That was how Ogbemudia defeated Alli in the election. Ogbemudia’s tenure lasted for only three months before the army overthrew the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari.
The Binis also flexed their political muscle in 1991during the SDP and NRC era. Incidentally, there were two Bini sons in the race. Chief John Odigie Oyegun was the SDP candidate while Lucky Igbinedion was in the NRC. Of the two candidates, the Binis mobilized for Oyegun despite the fact that majority of the local government councils in the Bini speaking area were controlled by the NRC.
But when it came to the governorship election, the Binis mobilized for Oyegun who was the Bini choice. When the result in Edo North and Central were collated, Igbinedion was leading Oyegun with 14,800 votes but by the time the result of Edo South was collated, Oyegun offset the deficit of 14,000 and went on to defeat Igbinedion by 40,000 votes. And, in 2007, it was Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Prof. Osarhiemen Osunbor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The Binis were already tired of the PDP due to alleged poor performance of the PDP eight years administration of Igbinedion, so they voted massively for Oshiomhole who is from Edo North. Whereas Edo North and Central voted against Oshiomhole, the vote of Edo South gave Oshiomhole victory As a matter of fact, the votes from Oredo, Ikpoba Okhai, Egor (Binis) can offset votes in Edo North and Central Districts and that makes the Binis the beautiful bride in the state. However, all these successes were recorded when the Binis spoke with one voice.
With this background of the past prowess of the Binis in the politics of the state, one can understand the tension created in Edo, last week, when a socio-cultural organization in the state, the Enunuedo, led by Ogbemudia, called a meeting of the Binis. In an open letter to the Binis, prior to the parley, Ogbemudia had said, “In recent times, a feeling has spread to the effect that our community has been sliding and drifting and calls have accordingly been made for redress. While opinions may vary in accounting for this new feeling and what must be done in charting a new course, our inability to cohere in devising and advancing a common standpoint in the interest of the community has been generally implicated. Quantitatively, the rest of the country cannot do without the Binis.
God knew this and endowed us with mental acumen, such that qualitatively our approach to issues is second to none. Even this natural gift is now being put asunder. This should not be allowed to continue”. After the letter was made public, there were insinuations that the retired general may have decided to uproot the Oshiomhole- led ACN government in Edo come the 2012 governorship election.
There were also rumours that the group had perfected plans to install one of their sons, Gen.Charles Airhiavbere, who just retired from the army, as governor under the PDP. Finally, the meeting held on Thursday, November 17, and it was ,as expected, well attended by the crème de la crème of the Bini political and traditional leadership. Among them were the Iyase (Prime Minister) of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, Enogie of Siluko, Prince Omoregie Akenzua, retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice S.O.Uwaifo, former Minister of Science and Technology, Prof.Emmanuel Emovon, first civilian governor of the state, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former DG of NTA, Dr Tonie Iredia, Chief Oyiuku Obaseki, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, Madam Grace Bazuaye, Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr Pius Odubu, Chief of Staff to the state government, Mr Osarodion Ogie, Elder Sunny Uyigue, former Chief of Staff to the state government, and Mr Isaiah Osifo. However, in his address, Ogbemudia told the parley that he decided to call the meeting after pressure from Binis that he should salvage the problems that had bedeviled the people all these years.
“I also share the concerns raised. I am a proud Bini man and I believe that all other well-meaning Bini people must be concerned about the direction our community is steered. Going by the statements and reports from different sections of our community, together with my own observation, I can humbly say that our community is not performing or competing optimally, therefore we must find solution”.
In his address, Oyegun explained that the meeting was not targeted at Oshiomhole, noting that the governor has done for the Binis “what some of our sons failed to do. The issue here is Bini unity and this group will be open to all governorship candidates but what we are saying is that the interest must be paramount in our dealings”.
Guest speaker at the occasion, Dr Tonie Iredia, was more blunt on the issue. He recalled how difficult it was for the Binis before they produced the first vice-chancellor of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) despite the fact that the university has been on their soil for over thirty years. He also pointed out the appointment of ministers and other political appointments in the state since 1999, saying that, whereas the Binis, with the largest population, had produced one full minister in the person of Gen.Godwin Abbe and a junior minister in the person of Dr Chris Ogienwonyi, the Edo Central, with the least population in the state, had produced four full ministers.
“And the problem is that our people are always at war with each other but the Esans are not like that, they are more cooperative. Bini is the only sleeping majority”. He declared therefore that the Binis must re-strategize by ensuring that a Bini candidate is supported at all times in any election no matter the potential of the opposing candidate.
The state deputy governor, Odubu, however, called for caution on the use of the word “Bini candidate”. He argued that the problem of the Binis was not a candidate of their own extraction but the interest of the Binis in the politics of the state.
He further noted that the Binis may get it wrong again when they go for a Bini candidate who may not have the Bini interest at heart, but the interest of foreigners. He, therefore, urged the conveners to delete “Bini candidate“ and replace it with “Bini interest” so as to get the best out of the meeting. His views were immediately accommodated in the communiqué.
The meeting resolved that, “in all situations, the Binis should not play a second fiddle. As far as the 2012 governorship election is concerned, the Binis are open to all candidates that will promote Bini interest as negotiated”.
Oyegun, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard shortly after the meeting, asserted that the implication of the decision is that “in 2012 whoever wants to be governor of Edo State must sit down with us and we will tell the person what we want and what we want must be what will be in the interest of the Binis”.