Oshimohole, Obaseki, who gets the last laugh
Underground battle to thwart Tuesday’s House of Reps motion
Osadebe House: Before and after
Stories by Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta, Gabriel Enogholase and Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu (Benin City)
WHEN Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State posited, last weekend, at the 2019 annual retreat and convention of the Usagbe Club of Nigeria in Abuja that “there is no rift between the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and I, as is being projected by people”, political watchers knew it couldn’t be the whole truth.
However, the technocrat-governor, who is fast learning the ropes, verbalized the manner a politician would and should face no antagonism for it is the same position that Oshiomhole had also adopted on the raging affair. Only that an Oshiomhole aide, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard put it a little poles apart: “The battle is not between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, but Obaseki and APC leaders in Edo state.” He did not say that Oshiomhole is the masquerade the said APC leaders kowtow.
On the other hand, Obaseki could be correct that there was really no issue as people have painted him and Oshiomhole, and the Oshiomhole aide also dead right that the brawl had nothing to do with the APC national chair.
However, those who read between the lines inquire: If there was no crack between them, why did President Muhammadu Buhari consider it expedient to direct Obaseki to meet Oshiomhole and entreat him when the governor met him, last month? What informed the visit of business magnet, Aliko Dangote and APC governors, who accompanied Obaseki to Oshiomhole in Abuja thereafter? If the meeting ended well, what is the reason for the two men continuing to play hide and seek? Why is Obaseki no longer having his usual meetings with Oshiomhole between 2.00 am to 4.00am when he comes to Abuja?
A knowledgeable source told Saturday Vanguard: “During his first two years in office, Obaseki goes to Oshiomhole anytime he was in Abuja and they, the two of them only, usually discussed joint matters between 2.00 am to 4.00 am.”
Despite the red herring by both sides, Saturday Vanguard learned that it is no longer contestable that there is a fissure between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, the question now is who giggles last?
Unquestionably, the problem did not start as a straight battle between the two; it was between Obaseki and the forces that believe in Oshiomhole. A former Political Adviser to Oshiomhole, now Obaseki’s top man, Mr. Charles Idahosa, had unambiguously stated that Oshiomhole was the invisible force behind the forces arrayed against Obaseki.
Last week result
Obaseki pulled a clever one at the closing stages, last week, when he got the Federal High Court sitting in Benin City to issue an order restraining the party’s National Working Committee, NWC, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu and others from interfering, disrupting or obstructing the constitutional duties of the Edo House of Assembly.
Though an interim injunction until October 9 fixed for hearing of the motion on notice, the order was a political masterstroke that countered the plan of anti-Obaseki forces the previous week.
The state House of Assembly turned the new battleground because Obaseki on June 17 moved to foil an alleged plan to use the lawmakers to checkmate him by ensuring inauguration of the House with a small number of members, where his anointed one, Hon Frank Okiye emerged as Speaker.
In fact, out of the 24-member House, only five were on the governor’s side as at noon, June 17, but to form a quorum, four members were said to have been coerced into the House for inauguration of the House to make them nine members.
From available information, the Deputy Governor superintended over the process.
That week ended with the Speaker, Hon Okiye announcing that the lawmakers were 12-12 with one of the dissenting members, Hon Emmanuel Agbaje representing Akoko Edo II constituency taking oath, last Thursday. A good week it was for Obaseki.
Conclusion this week
The current week started with Hon Eric Okaka, one of the four members-elect they took to the House of Assembly for the June 17 inauguration, stating he was not with the pro-Obaseki camp and the true position is that the anti-Obaseki lawmakers were 14 and pro-Obaseki lawmakers are 12.
If there was still doubt about who is saying the truth, the anti-Obaseki lawmakers evidenced their case when 14 of them, Tuesday, stormed the National Assembly to demand proper inauguration of Edo Assembly.
The 14 lawmakers had fled the state after thugs allegedly loyal to the state government attacked them at a hotel in Benin City, beating up four of the elected members, including the younger brother of the national chair of the APC, Mr Seid Oshiomhole.
On June 9, the 14 lawmakers protested their exclusion from the affairs of the Assembly and abduction of four members to the House of Representatives. “On 17 June, 2019, they caused the Clerk of the House to swear-in nine members out of 24 outside the time recognized by the House rules for legislative business. We are worried that given such illegality and growing insecurity in Edo State, no normal legislative business can take place unless the House is properly inaugurated,” the protesting lawmakers said.
They were in charge, this week, with their visit to the House of Representatives, which has changed the narrative.
House of Reps sends warning signals
Following the protest, the House of Representatives resolved to set up a seven-man probe panel to investigate all the issues that led to the inauguration of the House on June 17. Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa) chairs the committee. Members rejected the move to take over the assembly without first investigating the issues.
Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas called for full investigation of the circumstances and bringing erring individuals to justice. He termed as unfortunate the violent turn the issue has taken and giving Nigerian democracy a bad name.
It is to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the crisis tearing the state Assembly apart, and then seek ways for amicable resolution.
Feelers already were that the National Assembly might in the long run, take over the affairs of the state Assembly.
Edo Speaker reacts
Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Hon, Okiye, in a statement, said, “Apart from the fact that the Edo Assembly complied with the Nigerian constitution in the inauguration of the House, there also exists a court order with suit number FHC/B/CS/70/2019, FHC/B/M/285/2019.”
He asserted that the court gave an order directing the” National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police in Edo State, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, all defendants, their servants and agents not to interfere, disrupt or obstruct the constitutional duties of members of the Edo House of Assembly.”
“We welcome the decision of the House of Representatives to investigate all the issues surrounding the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly. We are confident that they would not find anything contrary to the provisions of the Constitution.
“We humbly advise them to be guided and not get involved in petty politics to fan the ego of anybody,” he added.
The House of Representatives o n March 9, 2016, passed a resolution to take over the legislative functions of the Kogi State House of Assembly, following the crisis that broke out from the tussle for the speakership position between two factions of the state assembly.
It directed the Inspector-General of Police to seal up the House of Assembly until the crisis was resolved, but the Kogi State Government represented by the state’s Attorney-General and the House of Assembly, filed a suit on April 29, 2016 before the Supreme Court, challenging the House of Representatives’ resolution
Nevertheless, the Kogi state government sued the National Assembly and the Attorney-General of the Federation before the Supreme Court, asking for an order nullifying the House of Representatives’ resolution to take over the legislative functions of the state’s House of Assembly.
It is roughly positive that the Edo state government may sue the National Assembly if it takes over the functions of the state assembly, but leaders are exploring other peace options. It is mostly likely that with the window of dialogue recently opened with the Senate President, Governor Obaseki may see eye to eye with his competitors on tactful options out of the crisis.
A former Commissioner and Attorney General of the state, Mr. Henry Idahagbon, told Saturday Vanguard on phone: “It is true that the House of Representatives has constitutional power to take over the duties of any state House of Assembly if there is chaos, confusion and the House is unable to discharge its functions.”
Idahagbon, a co-convener of Edo People’s Movement, EPM, the arrowhead of the forces massed against Obaseki in the state, said: “The court cannot stop the House of Representatives from taking over the functions of a state House of Assembly except the conditions precedent were not met.”
The governor’s political camp already knows that with Oshiomhole as national chair of the party, it will be difficult for him to get a second term ticket just like APC national leader denied former governor of Lagos state; Akinwunmi Ambode a second term ticket.
Obaseki hopes to get APC ticket. His political camp is also working on a plan B in the case of any eventuality.
We gathered that behind the klieg light in the National Assembly, both at the Senate and House of Representatives, there were efforts to make Tuesday motion not see the light of day. Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shuaibu, were in Abuja to press buttons
For the first time, Governor Obaseki also agreed behind closed doors with the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan. He also met with the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. He had avoided meeting with the Senate leadership, last week, but it was practical this week that he had to.
A source said, “The Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives do not have any special interest in the matter, except getting the right thing done, but the National Assembly wants to offer Obaseki the opportunity to either negotiate for peace or indicate otherwise.”
“Governor Obaseki was critical of the National Assembly intervention and reportedly told Senator Omo-Agege that Senators might not be welcomed if they come to take over the functions of Edo assembly. However, his host reminded him that National Assembly members would not come to look for him in Edo if they take over the assembly, but he would be the person coming to meet them in Abuja,” the source said.
Saturday Vanguard learned that the Senate actually stepped down hearing the motion on Edo state, which the House of Representatives took on Monday in order for the Senate President to hear Obaseki and give him opportunity to make improvements. The battle to stop the motion in the House of Representatives was unsuccessful.
Clearly, five House of Representatives members from Edo state, Hon Ihonvbere, Hon Akpatason, Hon Oghuma are with the 14 lawmakers, while Hon Dennis Idahosa and another appear to have pitched tent with Obaseki.
Prior to moving the motion in plenary, the five House of Representatives members disagreed on move to call for takeover of Edo assembly and probe into the circumstances that led to the June 17 inauguration.
Osadebey Avenue under Oshiomhole, Obaseki
OSADEBEY Avenue named after the first Premier of the defunct Midwest region, the late Chief Dennis Osadebey is the seat of power in Edo State. Some people call it Government House, Benin City.
Many governors have ruled the state from the time of Midwest to Bendel and now Edo state. Before the advent of the current governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, Osadebey from Asaba in present-day Delta state was the first Premier. It became known as Bendel state until it was split into Edo and Delta states with the late Dr Samuel Ogbemuia, late Prof Ambrose Alli, former national chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Prof O. Osunbor and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as military and civilian governors.
Oshiomhole, a former President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, held sway between 2008 and 2016. He re-introduced the populist ideology, which immediately endeared him to the masses.
He demystified government and Osadebey Avenue to the extent that even when there were protests by interest groups in the state, he readily welcomed them.
He once told workers that being a labour leader; he would not mind joining them to protest against his own government.
In the eight years of Oshiomhole as governor, going to Osadebey Avenue was not a big deal to anybody; the rich, the poor, the low and mighty had unhindered access even some without any mission, but just for the pride of that “I am coming from Osadebey Avenue.”
Oshiomhole, during his tenure, had course severally to reprimand his security aides for denying people entry to Osadebey Avenue or coming close to him. In 2011 when President Muhammadu Buhari, then of the Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, visited Osadebey Avenue for his campaign, not less than 100 commercial motor cyclists, called Okada rode alongside his convoy into Government House, an incident that created a huge security breach
Entrance into Osadebey Avenue was unrestricted, while politicians and political appointees created an informal gathering point under a tree in front of the Governor’s Office, which they called ‘Parliament’. Some people just go to ‘Parliament’ to hang around for politicians from who they could get something.
Under the current dispensation, that is Obaseki administration, it is a completely different game. Going to Osadebey Avenue without justifiable reason is a waste of time for the visitor will not get attention.
Osadebey Avenue now runs like a strictly government entity, mainly for business and nothing more. A very prominent Benin Chief once shared his experience with Saturday Vanguard, which he said made him stop visiting Osadebey Avenue without invitation.
“I had visited the governor after his victory in the Court of Appeal over his governorship election. I expected to see many party faithful and leaders celebrating, but I was surprised that when I got there, the place was without any sign of celebration, they told me that the governor was attending to files in his office. I left and decided never to visit unless invited”.
However, Governor Obaseki said it several times during his campaign that there was no reason people should go to Osadebey Avenue without any cause. He once said that every political activity would be at the party secretariat while Osadebey Avenue would be for governance.
For the eight years, Oshiomhole was in government, the dress code in Osadebey Avenue was his traditional labour khaki attire and virtually all political appointees, including contractors adopted that dress code as a way of identifying with the governor and possibly currying favour. In fact, Pidgin English was as good as the Queen’s English.
With a technocrat like Obaseki in government, the dress code has changed drastically from a carefree style to completely formal style of dressing. Virtually everybody is smartly dressed like bankers and pleasantries always straight and brief, no ceremonies on greetings and visits.
What has also radically changed is political patronage from Osadebey Avenue, which is now almost nonexistent. Paying courtesy call or visit to Oshiomhole was a delight and the visitors were sure of lunch, either in cash or in kind. This encouraged virtually every group and associations scrambling to visit Oshiomhole, including those without any clear mission because Oshiomhole, being the ‘peoples’ governor’ “would not allow you leave Osadebey Avenue without lunch.
A civil society activist, who shared his experience on how they visited Obaseki and were not even given water, on the other hand, said: “There is nothing wrong in that, it is just about his own style of interacting with people and the style has actually paid off because Government House is no longer crowded.
One source asserted: “Obaseki’s first action shortly after inauguration was to ban politicians, especially those from his political party, the APC, who had no business at the Denis Osadebey Avenue, as it was during the days of Oshiomhole. The Government House has thus been turned into a no – go area for politicians who have no business there.”
Inspection of project is another area of very sharp difference between Governor Obaseki and Oshiomhole. While Oshiomhole was continuously embarking on project inspections, where he also had the opportunity of mingling with masses and sharing their feelings and used the opportunity to tell them what more projects his government would execute, Obaseki hardly goes on project inspection. He prefers to rely on other government officials believing that they would always work to specification.
Attitude to work
However, one of Obaseki’s appointees said that change was needed going by where the state was coming from and where it needed to go. He said, “There are so many things out there that people do not know and if we do not manage things differently, we will run into crisis and in any case, this is the reason our predecessor picked Governor Obaseki because he believed that he has the managerial capacity to handle the issues and make a difference. “
“For instance, we were having resources before, oil prices plummeted, there was no direct good fund coming into the state again, so things have to change radically because things have changed. So entire style required change, they, the politicians are still benefiting but not in the same mold it used to be when Comrade was there. However, they will still go to Comrade and say he is starving us.
“The services some of these other persons needed to survive (referring to political thugs, who were collecting revenue of behalf of government), we do not need them now so the governor had to change the style,” he added.
An APC leader said, “He made it known to the foot soldiers of Oshiomhole that he remains a technocrat, who believes that the revenue from the Federation Account and the Internally Generated Revenue were meant for the development of the state and not for sharing among politicians.”
“Unlike his predecessor in office, he is on the quiet side and as a bureaucrat, he believes in speaking to the files and that his works will speak for him. Although he chose to concentrate on his works, when pushed to the wall, he has proved that he can bite, a trait being demonstrated in the ongoing crisis between him and his political godfather, Oshiomhole over the control of the soul of the party in the state,” he added.
Oshiomhole’s plus and minus points
For some political leaders in the state, the power struggle between Oshiomhole and Obaseki did not take them unawares for both are two antithetical individuals. Whereas Oshiomhole has an experienced labour background, Obaseki is from the corporate world before his foray into the foggy waters of politics.
Even if they were Siamese twins, they have their individual characteristics and worldviews on events surrounding them. Therefore, those who expect them to view things from the same perspective are to some extent wrong.
As a man from the labour background, Oshiomhole believes in populist policies and sometimes do not believe in protocols when he wants to achieve results in what is topmost in his heart.
He demonstrated while in office that he is a party man, who believes that government should reward stalwarts that worked and laboured for the party, but sometimes, he is very impatient and brash with those who drooped in the implementation of policies.
A party leader, who spoke to one of our reporters, said, “The problem started when governor banned APC leaders from entering Government House, saying the days of sharing money at Government House was over. It is not between him and Oshiomhole, we were the ones that met Oshiomhole and asked him to intervene, but he kept saying we should be patient.”
“If not for Oshiomhole, who insisted, he was not ready to conduct local government elections and until now, he has refused to make board appointments because he does not want to empower politicians. Some APC leaders, including the powerful Mrs. Lucy Omagbon and her husband, Bob Izua and others have all dumped APC because of him,” he added.
Multiple sources confirmed to Saturday Vanguard that Obaseki made it known from the onset when he assumed power that he would concentrate on the governance of the state and would leave the running of the political party to the politicians with Oshiomhole as the political leader.
Speaking for himself at last weekend’s Abuja event, Obaseki said: “If you understand what happened in Edo state up to 2006, the lone state actors (referring to thugs) became empowered by the political class. They were collecting revenues, determining things. They were like an alternative government. They constituted themselves into a vermin that were used for political activities.”
“Part of the crises we had to deal with was how to remove these thugs from the streets, from collecting revenue and intimidating private businesses,” he said.
A source close to Obaseki said: “Some of these persons fighting the governor had some expectations when he entered power, so when they were not met, they got angry. You could walk to Oshiomhole when he was governor as a party complaining about your problem and leave with something, but under Obaseki, you cannot get anything.”