BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
‘IT is possible!” was the promising inscription on the the T-shirts worn by the hundreds of sympathisers of Barrister Ken Imasuagbon, one of the leading Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial aspirants in Edo State last Saturday at the Urokphota Hall, in Benin, Edo State.
But when some thugs descended upon the sizeable crowd, who overflowed into the Ring Road area, many of Imasuagbon’s sympathisers did not think twice before they yanked the red and green T-shirts that had combined with the red and green flags of the PDP to give some tint of festivity to the occasion. As the urchins were pushed back by enraged youths loyal to Imsaugabon the message on many tongues changed to “It is possible, but it would be bloody.”
Imasuagbon’s declaration at the Urokphota Hall was the boldest declaration from within the PDP of its determination to puncture the air of invincibility that has hovered around the second term prospects of Governor Adams Oshiomhole.
Before Imasuagbon, the immediate past governor of the state, Senator (Prof) Oserheimen Osunbor; former presidential adviser, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere and a few others had also declared. But none had the grandiose celebration and bravado that characterized the Imasuagbon affair at Urokphota Hall last Saturday.
Imasuagbon’s declaration was witnessed by a wide array of party stakeholders from across the state with two busloads of delegates from each of the wards in the state. His political journey has indeed been remarkable. Just before the 2007 election, Imasuagbon had the gubernatorial ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN almost in his hands before the political manifestation of Comrade Oshiomhole.
Beating a retreat
Imasuagbon had gone to the ACN in 2007 when the powers that be in the PDP then shut the door against him. When the ACN also shut the door against him, he beat a retreat to the PDP.
Last Saturday, as he formally commenced another gubernatorial run, the bitterness of the pre-2007 contest was forgotten. The immediate past vice-chairman of the PDP in the state and a notable leader, Dickson Omasogie, was the chairman of the occasion.
A man who claimed not to be given to too many words, Omasogie’s comments last Saturday were, however, punchy. He was particularly critical of Governor Oshiomhole’s handling of the Airport Road project alleging the administration’s repeated provisions for the road project since 2009 without completion.
“2009 budget, he used it for Airport Road. 2010 budget, he used it for Airport Road. 2011 budget, he used it for Airport Road and now 2012 he is still bringing a budget for Airport Road,” Omasogie said as he flayed the administration for its alleged repetition of the road project in budgets without completion.
Omasogie was to reassure Imasuagbon and his supporters that the 2012 contest would be open to every one irrespective of ethnic origin. The reassurance follows press reports that the desperation of the PDP and its leader, Chief Tony Anenih to deal with the Oshiomhole problem had made them to zero in on Edo South, which has more than half of the entire population of the state, to produce the gubernatorial candidate.
“It is going to be a free level ground, we are not going to tell the delegates that you must vote for a Bini man or you must vote for an Ishan man or you must vote for an Etsako man. Any leader who tells you that is not having the interest of this party,” Omasogie said.
Following him, a veteran “students’ leader,” Olmaen Austin popularly known as Okadigbo on account of his verbosity, mounted the platform to denounce the present administration’s stance on educational issues.
Besides flaying the government’s policy on school fees, Okadigbo, as he was egged on by the many youths in the crowd, promised that Imasuagbon, who he hailed as the Rice Man would reverse the lot of the poor in the pursuit of education in the state. Former member of the House of Representatives, Barrister Ehiogie West-Idahosa, a man known for his own oratory was to add his own flavour to the occasion.
West-Idahosa, in his comments, appreciated Imasuagbon’s role in uniting the party following the strife that shadowed the last PDP administration during the Osunbor era. “The PDP you see today has the capacity to rebuild Edo State,” said the former federal legislator.
“I am very sad that this December alone, this state lost more than N2 billion because our sons and daughters who used to come every December, did not come because they were afraid for their lives. We have a duty to ensure that our children are not afraid to come home.”
“Look around you and see whether we are where we should be,” West-Idahosa said against the background of the filth and foulness around the Urokphota Hall.
“When the PDP was in difficult times, I know one man who put his time, energy and money to work for this party. I know one man who was going round everywhere trying to make the party big again while many were decamping, I know one man who continued to speak the truth and he said if you give me the chance I will give value to your money.
What is happening today is that people are tarring one road and at the end of the day you spend the money for three roads to tar one road. I believe that this must stop, I believe that there must be a new Edo State.
Many call him the rice man, but the question that I ask you is if you don’t eat, you die. Is that a lie? If he gives you rice, he gives you life. If you don’t eat, you die. So, no one can reduce him to a rice man. For me he is a life saviour!” West-Idahosa said as he introduced Imasuagbon to the crowd as the one man among the aspirants who can be trusted not to let the people of the state down.”
Imuasagbon is known as the rice man for his annual ritual in distributing rice to the populace during the Christmas season. Also speaking, former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Zakawanu Garuba, threw aspersions at the integrity and intentions of the present ACN administration.
Recalling his early opposition to Oshiomhole, he said, “at the time people didn’t understand him some of us knew the character called Governor Oshiomhole and that was why we resisted him.”
Noting that Governor Oshiomhole promised to create 10,000 jobs at his inauguration in November, 2008 he asked: “How many of those youths are employed today? When he brought a bill to the House of Assembly requesting that he needed an employment law, some of us told him that such law was already existing that if you want to employ you can utilize the existing civil service commission.
Part time employees
But Comrade Adams Oshiomhole would not take that he would rather want a law that he would use to make all our people part time employees. He would want a law where he would employ a university graduate as a street cleaner and pay him N5,000. We resisted that and made sure that when the bill was passed we made it an offence to have part-time employment, today he is not implementing that law.”
He also queried the administration’s implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) law and the governor’s execution of road projects earmarked as federal roads. After the salvos, it came the turn of the big masquerade, Imasuagbon.
The aspirant was preceded by his wife, Kate who let out the secret that one of her ways of pleasing her husband was to sing for him in the bedroom! She subsequently delighted the crowd with her secret acts with two songs interlaced with prayers for Edo State.
Pledging his determination to correct what he described as the wrongs of the present administration, the aspirant pledged to put correct value for the money of the state. He also hit at the Oshiomhole administration accusing the government of “spending money for three roads in constructing one road in Edo State.”
“I have come to change things in Edo State and I am dedicated to it. We must return this state to the PDP because our people have suffered so much as a result of over taxation, increase of school fees and cosmetic actions of government”.
However, his promise of returning the state to the PDP remains a sore issue with many non-partisan stakeholders in the state. The PDP’s first two terms in office are not days that many in the crowd were themselves willing to cherish again!