By Ehichioya Ezomon
There’s a socio-political critic in Edo (Bendel) State called Air Iyare. He’s the type that lobes dynamites at the authorities, and together with his moral suasion, you ignore him at your own peril.
That’s the lesson Military Governor Husaini Abdullahi learned in Bendel (March 1976 to July 1978) in Mr Iyare’s crusading, when he wanted to turn a secondary school in Benin City into a hotel.
Writing in the once-flagship Bendel-owned Nigerian Observer, Iyare held that sustaining the grammar school far outweighed the advantages derivable from turning the complex into a hotel.
Closing his article, Iyare stated that should Abdullahi seize the school for commercial purposes, he “will not be remembered as Abdullahi the Governor, but Abdullahi the hotelier.” And that did it! Mr Abdullahi, who retired as Vice-Admiral and died in 2019 at 80, let the grammar school be.
The moral here isn’t Abdullahi’s succumbing to public opinion, but the legacy he would’ve left behind had he turned the secondary school buildings into a commercial venture.
Coming to the now, what legacy does Godwin Obaseki want to be remembered for after his eight-year tenure in 2024 in Edo State? Is it as Obaseki the Governor or Obaseki the “demolisher”?
Mr Obaseki should ponder this, as he embarks on a bulldozing spree of property of his real or imagined enemies, many, to wit, are stalwarts of opposition All Progressives Congress in Edo State.
Obaseki’s first act was in February 2020, when, on the excuse of “building on government property,” he sent bulldozers to pull down a multi-million Naira hotel owned by Mr. Tony Kabaka Adun.
Obaseki said the hotel was built on government land, and warned that, “anybody who contravenes the law, no matter how highly placed you are in Edo State, you will be dealt with.”
“Businesses cannot thrive when there is anarchy and complete disrespect for the law. For us as a government, whatever we need to do to ensure that there is law and order, will be done,” he said.
Having ignored an order of the court that’s about to give judgment on the hotel, Obaseki turned round to demand N18 million from Mr Adun, as the cost of downing his edifice. What an irony!
Barely a year after, the demolition squad uprooted the property of former Deputy Governor of Edo State, Dr Pius Odubu; a House of Representatives member, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere; and the Chief Executive of PADMOZI Sports Marketing, Mr Mike Itemuagbor.
Secretary to the State Government, Mr Osarodion Ogie, rationalizing the destruction of the property of APC’s top shots, said the Certificate of Occupancy (C-of-O) of the property was revoked, as “they were parting gifts” by former Governor Adams Oshiomhole to his allies on the eve of his departure from office in 2016.
What’s the government’s explanation to the claim by Prof. Ihonvbere that his property wasn’t a gift from Oshiomhole, and that he had paid all necessary fees and ground rent for the demolished property under construction?
If Obaseki was acting in the public interest to retrieve the “limited” government property at the GRA in Benin City, why didn’t he bulldoze other property, starting with his own property?
That’s why critics, especially the Edo chapter of the APC, accuse Obaseki of vendetta, for “regularly and willfully demolish property belonging to perceived opponents, and dissenting or critical voices in the state, in the bid to foist a siege mentality on the citizenry.”
As noted by the publicity secretary of the APC chapter, Chris Azebamwan, “the proper thing is for the government to wait for the outcome of the court process” instituted by Dr Odubu when he learnt that Obaseki had revoked the C-of-O of his property.
Obaseki had used “disrespect for the law” as cover to demolish Mr Adun’s hotel. Why won’t the governor, who owes his re-election to the rule of law, as intervened by the courts, obey the law and wait for the courts to pronounce on the property at issue?
Perhaps, as Mr Azebamwan alleged, the Obaseki administration “knew that it was pursuing an illegal agenda,” and had to demolish the property, to render nugatory any order by the courts.
Obaseki has debunked any “political undertone” in the demolition of property on government’s lands, but official action seems targeted at allies of Comrade Oshiomhole, who “made” Obaseki governor in 2016, but worked against his re-election in 2020.
Polity watchers deduce that Obaseki is going after his “enemies” ostensibly to demonstrate that he’s still “the Governor of Edo State,” as he had told Oshiomhole during the 2020 poll cycle.
But does Obaseki need to prove his status that Edo voters, and the courts have made clear since September 2020? It seems the Oshiomhole political ghost hasn’t been properly rested!
To salvage his re-election that’s almost truncated by the Oshiomhole-led APC, Obaseki defected to the Peoples Democratic Party. So, is it payback time for Obaseki against Oshiomhole and his loyalists in the APC?
Poll over, Obaseki, receiving a Certificate of Return from the INEC, said the “war is over,” and called on his challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and Oshiomhole to join him to move Edo forward.
Obaseki has denied any personal grudges against Oshiomhole, but only dislikes the APC’s former national chairman’s style of politics – the method Oshiomhole deployed to enthrone him as governor.
It appears the governor’s random declaration of “no enmity with Oshiomhole” is always for the moment, as he hasn’t taken off his foot from the gas pedal since the build-up to the 2020 poll.
Recall that Obaseki had established a judicial panel to probe the contract for the Specialist Hospital in Benin City, in which Oshiomhole sunk billions. The panel report indicted Oshiomhole.
Obaseki has constituted another panel to probe the Benin City Storm-water project, began by Oshiomhole’s administration to remedy the seasonal flooding of the Edo State capital.
Obaseki has vowed to bring Oshiomhole to book, for allegedly squandering the huge funds he (Obaseki) said he had sourced while serving as head of the Economic Strategy Team (EST) that backboned Oshiomhole’s government from 2008 to 2016.
Obaseki’s words: “I was part of that administration, because I believe Edo must be developed. So, I sacrificed my time for eight years to help organise the state. I went to the World Bank to raise money for the state to enhance its development.
“But with what I have seen in the books, I look like a fool; while I was arranging finances and other things, I didn’t know that the money I was raising was being frittered away.
“I don’t like probing; I like to go forward, but it has become very difficult, because when I look at the cost of contracts I awarded in 2020 with the ones awarded 10 years earlier, people have questions to answer.
“This type of behaviour must stop and you can’t do something wrong and be shouting that someone is wrong because you don’t want people to know what you did wrong.”
No rational mind would begrudge Obaseki for what he says is “cleaning the house so that when you (PDP members) come in, there will be no issues and we will not be deceived any more.”
But the governor should avoid utterances and actions that portray him as undermining the rule of law, prejudicing matters in the courts, and intimidating leaders of the opposition.
Besides, his government’s actions should have a human face, which was absent when the bulldozers rolled into the premises of the affected, as relayed by Mrs. Precious Odubu, wife to the former deputy governor’s younger brother occupying the property.
“The way they came in, not through the main gate, I was afraid and asked about their mission and they told me that they want to demolish the house and if there are children in the building, they should be brought out,” Mrs. Odubu recounted to newsmen.
“Without even waiting for my response, they just brought in their bulldozers and started destroying the house without allowing us to remove our properties.”
In trying to cleanse the Augean stables of alleged financial sleaze committed on Oshiomhole’s watch, Obaseki should weigh the import of an Esan proverb, which says: “If you pursue your enemy without restraints, you will pay for it.”
Obaseki will earn applause of his followers if he continues with the demolition of property of opposition elements. He shouldn’t tread that route, but ensure the “war” is truly over with Oshiomhole!
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos