By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
When Comrade Adams Oshiomhole assumed duties as governor of Edo State in November 13, 2008, after the Appeal Court in Benin sacked, on November 12, 2008, the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government led by Prof. Osarhiemen Osunbor, there was this anxiety amongst his supporters as to whether he will be able to replicate his achievements as a two-time President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the governance of the state.
Having felt the pulse of the people when he took over the reigns of government, Oshiomhole promised the people of Edo three things: To end god fatherism in the state, provide infrastructure and stop all forms of levies in the markets and motor parks. Very smart of him you will say. The reason was that at the time he came in, the people were already fed up with the leadership of the PDP in Edo and their style of governance.
The people saw the PDP as elitist promoted by a cabal and had no connection with the common man. Therefore Oshiomhole immediately endeared himself to the people by his persistent attacks on the former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, who is generally seen as the symbol of the PDP in the state.
Though he initially tried to work with the PDP leaders by appointing three commissioners from the party, the romance with Anenih went sour when the PDP leader was said to have opposed Oshiomhole’s first budget when the PDP House of Assembly then, led by Zakawanu Garuba, Anenih’s associate, refused to approve the budget. In order to resolve the brouhaha, Anenih invited Oshiomhole and the then leadership of the House to Abuja but Oshiomhole came back to Benin worse than when he was dealing with only the lawmakers.
He lamented that all the laudable projects he promised the masses of Edo were removed from the budget by Anenih. According to Oshiomhole, “I wept after I left his parlour, that was how I knew why this state was ran aground by successive governments”, therefore he vowed to end the romance and be a man of his own.
After the ACN lawmakers took over the leadership of the House having won some of the seats through the court, the governor and his god son in the House, Philip Shauibu, plotted the fall of the PDP leadership in the House and, in a Gestapo manner, Zakawanu was removed and Bright Omokhodion, from Edo Central, who defected to the ACN few hours before the coup, became the Speaker. After that, Oshiomhole was able to get approval to pay the state counterpart funding of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme and other bills which had been hanging were passed.
He then commenced his developmental projects in the three senatorial districts, firing from all cylinders. He gained more support in his war against god fatherism in Edo and that was the main reason, the PDP leaders particularly from Edo South dumped the party for the ACN. He identified the problems of the people and vowed to solve them.
For instance, in Edo Central, the people had not had water since after the one provided those days by Chief Anthony Enahoro went into comatose. His government provided Dango drilling machines and deployed them there; today the people are celebrating it.
In Edo South, he identified the problem of erosion and flooding. He felt that despite the fact that Benin City is known as an ancient one, there is serious need to modernize it, particularly since it is the home of the revered Oba of Benin so that any tourist that visited will appreciate both the cultural heritage of the kingdom and the beauty of the city. Consequently, he commenced the beautification of Benin City.
As a matter of fact, the revered Benin monarch was so appreciative of his effort that he suggested that even if it means breaking part of the palace fence to make the project a reality, he would not mind. Oshiomhole also commenced the multi billion Benin Water Storm project which will cost the state N30 billion.
Today, even though the project is yet to be completed, the people of Edo have started feeling the impact as you hardly see flooding in areas like Five Junction, Teachers House and Tom Line areas when it rains. And while Oshiomhole was putting solid infrastructure in place, he was equally harvesting PDP members into the ACN.
Oshiomhole’s unique style of leadership in Edo endeared him to the people and it was not surprising that he won in all the 18 local government Councils in the state. Unlike other leaders who may prefer to confine themselves to the luxury of their offices, Oshiomhole sometimes escapes from the Government House without his security aides having knowledge of his whereabouts.
They will eventually find him either in beer parlours chatting and having a drink with commercial motor cycle riders (Okada) and youths or at the market with market women. He prefers feeling the pulse of the people directly than getting information from a third party. And once he does that, you will see multitude of people escorting him back to Government House with praises. Crime reduced drastically in Edo since he came in because he was able to cage all the guys people described as trouble makers in town.
He brought them together with good counseling that they could have decent jobs outside crime. And he gave them alternatives to life; as a matter of fact, unlike many other governors, Oshiomhole can attend birthdays or naming ceremonies irrespective of your status without feeling like a governor.
He once received knocks from the PDP on this issue when they described him as the Master of Ceremony in any gathering. He demystified governance in the state to the chagrin of the elite. One aspect of governance that is always difficult for any governor is managing the running of the state and party leadership. But he has successfully managed that. Oshiomhole will not give a party leader contract that will be detrimental to the people and he will as well explain to the leader why he refused but rather will look for another means to settle the person concerned.
And, at the end of the day, it will be a win-win situation even when you don’t get what you want from him and you will also notice that the party leader will understand his position and stuck with him even though some may describe him as being too stingy and autocratic in that regard.
The governor cheerfully explained while in a relax mood: “I know that some of my party leaders and commissioners are not happy because I don’t give them contracts, but the truth is that when people like Ibori and other governors are being paraded by the EFCC, did you see any commissioner or any party leader with them?
No. So since I am the only one that will carry the cross, I have to make sure that I award contract to reputable contractors so that I will not be embarrassed and I have no apologies about that”. His explanation on this particularly day elicited loud laughter from the friends around. And with all these achievements, it will surprise many to note that the same people who were in the PDP that were accused of running the state aground, are the same people in Oshiomhole’s cabinet.
But he identified their areas of prowess and positioned them strategically both in the governance of the state and in politics. He provided the leadership and they all keyed in to his visions and mission for Edo. Oshiomhole was said to have verbally abused people like the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ikimi, on several occasions due to one issue or the other, but, at the end of the day, they settled the matters over a bottle of wine.
He is so humble that he is quick to tender apologies wherever he erred and he does that in a manner that baffles people. There was a time the issue of who becomes his running mate almost tore the party apart, but he rose to the occasion by seriously appealing to the Pastor Ize-Iyamu group to allow the incumbent deputy governor, Dr Pius Odubu, run with him.
He got the support of the former Governor of the state, Chief Lucky Igbinedion and other party leaders, and the tension was doused. As a matter of fact, Ize-Iyamu mapped out the campaign strategy for the entire campaign, puncturing the PDP tactics.
And recognizing the grammatical prowess of the former member of the House of Representatives, Patrick Obahiagbon (Igodomigodo), a former PDP member too, the governor made him the Director of Rallies and, of course, Igodomigodo transversed all the nook and crannies of the state with the governor, adding spice to the campaign with his grammar. He is one person that is expected to play a major role in the incoming new cabinet which will take off on November 13, 2012.
Apart from Igodo and Ize-Iyamu, other PDP members who fought this political battle with Oshiomhole include Charles Idahosa whom he made his political adviser, Ikimi, Chief Osamede Adun (Bob Izua), Chief Goddy Edosa, Crosby Eribo, Isaiah Osifo, Usman Shagadi, Frank Erewele, Henry Idahagbon, Chief Francis Inegbeneki, Peter Obadan, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, Lucy Omagbon, Harrison Omagbon, Elder Sunny Uyigue, Ogbomo of Udo, Mallam Gani Audi, Stanley Odidi, Abubakar Momoh, Domingo Obende, Samson Osagie, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, Omo Ezomo, Pally Iriase, Bright Omokhodion and Omo Ojo.
The opposition PDP under rated the political prowess of the governor when they initially addressed him as a common labour leader who may not do well in governance but he kept harvesting their members. But, as it seems, that allusion charged the governor to commence his operation uproot PDP in the state by using former PDP members as his foot soldiers. He started teaching the PDP political lesson in Akoko Edo House of Assembly re-run election February 2009.
After that he went to defeat them again in Etsako Central House of Assembly re-run election. The PDP claimed then that he was able to win those re-run elections because the state government unleashed their might on the PDP in those areas and vowed to crush him in a general election where every body will have to man his area. But the April, 2011 general elections came, Oshiomhole strengthened his political empire by winning two out of the three senatorial seats, seven out of the nine House of Representative seats and 19 out of the 24-man House of Assembly. He crumbled the political empire of Anenih in Edo.
So it was not surprising that Oshiomhole secured a landslide victory in the last weekend governorship election in the state by scoring 477,478 as against the 144,235 votes polled by his closest rival, Gen.Charles Ehigie Airhiavbere of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). And the voting pattern indicated that he received overwhelming support in all the 18 local governments of the state; PDP did not even win any including in Edo Central, an area earlier regarded as the PDP enclave.
His victory was anticipated because even the traditional institution in the state, led by the Benin monarch, the Enigies appreciated his developmental strides. With his seeming political dominance in Edo, who knows, could he be the next god father?