By Azu Ishiekwene
I GOOFED, but may be just a little, because this is not how the story ends. In January, I predicted that the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and his protege and Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, would drag themselves to the brink, but that just when everyone thinks they’ll fall off the edge, they would stop to avoid mutually assured destruction.
They got to the brink all right, but just when the APC primaries screening committee headed by one Jonathan Ayuba, a professor of history at the Nasarawa State University, pushed Obaseki over the edge, the governor somehow grabbed the chairman by the hem of his gabardine pants. Both men are now in a freefall, with no bungee cord to ensure a safe landing.
While Oshiomhole’s fate hangs in the balance after an Appeal Court ruling reaffirmed his removal as chairman, Obaseki is in a political no-man’s-land after announcing his resignation from the APC shortly before the court ruling. The only thing that is guaranteed apart from a mutually assured destruction, is that this will either be the beginning of the end for godfathers in politics or the day when their godsons will learn to live with the yoke forever. All bets are off.
Dog in the fight: Anyone without a dog in the fight should be careful to take sides, because this is not how the story ends. If all the king’s horses and all the king’s men manage to stitch the shattered pieces of Humpty Dumpty together again, Oshiomhole and Obaseki may well sit together over a beer, look back at the current hubris, have a good laugh and then bury the hatchet in the back of their foot soldiers.
The first thing every politician learns is that politics is quite a game. And in this game, as the famous Black US Congressman, William Clay, once said, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Of course, this sounds so Machiavellian it smells like an endorsement of situational ethics. It shouldn’t be.
It’s simply caveat emptor, a warning sign to naive supporters on both sides, who in spite of numerous fairly recent examples in our stunningly opportunistic political space, still refuse to lend themselves common sense. Yet, the cautionary tale of surrogacy politics has a fairly long history to make fools wise.
A litany of avatars: We saw it between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. When things fell apart between them, there was no name that Obasanjo did not call Atiku, to which the latter was also obliged to respond in kind. But after all said and done and after all the missiles thrown and explosives flung across acres of media space, both men have finally found love.
They found where their common interest lies and buried the long knives in the back of their foolish errand boys. It happened between Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai and President Muhammadu Buhari, though both were members of different political parties at the time. El-Rufai, a dangerous friend to have and a visceral enemy to keep, said Buhari was so out-of-date that he did not know the difference between Blackberry phone and Blackberry fruit.
Those who thought it was a wicked joke teased him to recant, but El-Rufai said he meant it. The damage was so lasting that even after they made up and joined the same party, Buhari’s campaign organisation had to dress him up in a suit with a bow tie to prove that he is a modern man. Here’s the lesson: After reconciliation Buhari and El-Rufai have been so close that a number of those who considered themselves insiders at the height of the dispute have been left out in the cold.
Former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and his successor, Rauf Aregbesola, fell out, fell in, and fell out again as their interests collided and aligned in the pursuit of their political ambition and the ambition of their parties. At a stage, Senator Iyiola Omisore, a most unlikely ally in any genuine progressive camp, even joined at the hip with “progressives” in the APC to wrest Osun from the PDP.
‘Anenih wins’: I didn’t even need to go outside Edo State to find examples of how political long knives can be valuable weapons of war in bad times and yet tools of mutual comfort when politicians find, as they invariably do, that they need one another more than their supporters are often genuinely misled to believe. In his former life, Oshiomhole said unprintable things about Ize-Iyamu, who was then in the PDP.
If Ize-Iyamu was a prized stock, Oshiomhole said enough to dissuade any potential investor from taking the man, even for free. But all that is in the past. Bygones are bygones and Ize-Iyamu is now the hottest political stock since Dennis Osadebay, the poet, journalist and iconic administrator of the former mid-West region, after whom the Edo Government House was named.
Even former deputy governor, Pius Odubu, who fell out spectacularly with Oshiomhole over Obaseki’s candidacy four years ago, has now returned to the fold. And the icing on Oshiomhole’s cake is the support from APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has had not a few bitter spats and frustrations of his own with the comrade. Interests have aligned once again – at least for now.
That’s why Oshiomhole’s undecided fate and Obaseki’s current road show should serve as entertainment and deterrent: entertainment for those without a skin in the game, and deterrent to fools who take political combatants too seriously. Think about how this love affair, which started after exquisite dating reportedly arranged by Aliko Dangote, has turned into a nightmarish contest of airing dirty linen.
What happened? Only a few weeks into his tenure, there were allegations that Obaseki was “dismantling” structures of his predecessor. Then the governor made the seismic remark that: “Government House is not where money is shared, but for serious business.” Following that statement were disputes over position sharing in Obaseki’s cabinet, how many Oshiomhole men the governor had executed and how many were left stranded; who would control the state House of Assembly and who would not – a dispute that finally left the losing remnant fleeing to Abuja, where they remain in a limbo.
The fate of the constituencies of 10 lawmakers who fled since last year, is obviously nobody’s business. If Obaseki travels from today till tomorrow and even invokes the spirit of the inimitable Tony Anenih to usher him into the fold of the PDP for a ticket to run again, it still says just one thing: he fell out with Oshiomhole not as a matter of principle, but as a matter of conflicting interests.
If it was a matter of principle, it would not come to this. From the day it became clear to him that he would no longer get the APC ticket (and that day should have been when the screening committee cleared Osagie Ize-Iyamu) he should have declared his race run and his course finished. If Edo or the country needs him in future, they would find him at his second address. Scavenging for shelter in the same party that he poured contempt on only yesterday or waiting outside the door for the principalities of APC to let him back in doesn’t look good on a man with a second address.
Our political parties are growing but not maturing. They’re fielding candidates and winning elections, but trampling on their own rules and in the process, giving the courts more and more leeway to decide who was qualified to run and who won. The parties are growing, but by and large, they’re still the fiefdom of a few. But save your pity. There are no victors and no vanquished in this game, only a temporary clash of personal interests.
Hopefully, Edo voters will eventually decide who they want. Hopefully. Whichever way it goes, I’m almost certain that Oshiomhole and Obaseki would patch it up when their interests align again in future. Never say never. Our politics tells me that future may not be as far away as some may think. Until then, I commend Obaseki to the slightly modified wisdom of Babatunde Raji Fashola, a politician beaten by many stripes as he walked this very path: May the test of your loyalty lead you to the discovery of your true self.