By: DR. FRANCIS ODIGIE
No one ever heard of the name Obaseki in the political geography of Nigeria following the return of partisan politics to the country in 1999. The most significant Obaseki in history was Agho Obaseki who betrayed both Oba Ovoramwen of Benin and the Benin people following the Benin massacre of 1897 by the British who then looted humongous numbers of Benin artifacts which today litter several international museums scattered around the first world nations. Agho Obaseki organized the native manual laborers who carted away the legacies of his ancestral land through the gele-gele river. It is on record that he struck a deal with the British to give him power and wealth. They did exactly that and even more. They made him the Chief Iyase of Benin and he was accountable to the British and not the Benin Monarchy. He got so powerful that he wrestled the Benin throne with Prince Aiguobasimwin Ovoramwen who by the grace of the ancestors managed to retain the throne of his ancestors. Ironically, Agho Obaseki was a close friend and trusted ally of Oba Ovoramwen who managed the economic affairs of Benin on behalf of the Oba at that time.
Another Obaseki who surfaced in the political arena was Gaius Obaseki who was the son of Agho Obaseki. He became a Member of the Federal Executive Council of the Colonial Regime of those days and acquired power, wealth and importance in his time. He is known to have organized the Benin Landlords together and got that body to confer the title of the Iyase of Benin on him without the consent of the Benin Monarchy which is the only traditional institution entitled to confer such on any deserving person on behalf of the Benin Kingdom. These events don’t just belong to history, they suggested a significant genetic behavior of a lineage of persons.
In 2008 when Adams Oshiomhole became Governor of Edo State, he brought Godwin Obaseki from Lagos to serve as the head of his economic team. He was very unknown and insignificant in the affairs of Edo State. Those who knew him where surprised. He had no successful history of business. Many remembered him for hustling around, looking for businessmen who were willing to buy shares and whose portfolio could thereafter be managed by his small company. His business was an economic dwarf. It did not grow and could not grow as he was said to be manifestly unprofessional in the way he robbed Peter to pay Paul. By 2007, his company AFRINVEST was in a state of surrender. He had mismanaged millions of other peoples’ money and was running around looking for rescue. This was his condition when he was brought to Benin City by Adams Oshiomhole to serve as the head of the economic team of Edo State Government. It is not clear how exactly he met Oshiomhole. One thing is certain, Oshiomhole never really knew the impostor that he contracted for such a sensitive job.
Inspite of the several warnings received by Oshiomhole from various quarters, he stuck to Obaseki and eventually handed over to him as Governor of Edo State in 2016. Oshiomhole was sure he made the right choice. He told the public that Obaseki had the connections and expertise to turn Edo State into an economic Mecca. Oshiomhole
was indeed a poor student of history as it turned out to be.
Godwin Obaseki immediately set out to do what he knows how to do best. He quickly deployed his promise of magic. From creation of 200,000 jobs , construction of Industrial hub, world class educational centers, Gele-gele port et al, he left nothing untouched. Everything was promised. Eldorado was coming to Edo land and everyone was happy. To make matters worse, sudden resurfacing of tarred roads dotted Benin City. The people nick named him WAKE AND SEE. Such was the hypnotism that Obaseki inflicted on Edo land.
In a matter months, the scale began to fall off the eyes of the public. There were no jobs created as promised. If anything, they were not near 5,000. Most of the few jobs were even on sale by agents of Government to the detriment of the poor of the poorest in Edo society. The roads tarred were washing off like white wash following the slightest rainfall in the areas were such roads were located. The shock was that most of those roads were later found not to have been resurfaced by Edo State Government as they were indeed resurfaced by NDDC and the World Bank through its SEEFOR projects.
Obaseki’s totalitarianism started to show its face. The Medium Prison facility at Oko in Benin City was now home to several drivers and petty traders who could not pay the fines imposed on them by Mobile Courts set up by the State Government on the directive of Governor Obaseki. NGOs often visited the Prison to pay the fines of fortunate prisoners while the unfortunate ones were left to rot in jail. Educational institutions including the University of Education in Ekiadolor, College of Agriculture in Iguoriakhi, Technical College in Benin, School of Nursing and Midwifery in Benin and a host of others were shut down on the the pretext that they would be renovated. They have remained shut till date.
Obaseki instituted a reign of MOU’s. He became an “Ajala” who traveled round the world signing MOUs in the company of his passion boys who provided him all round pleasure. His powerful Personal Assistant and intimate friend from Delta State flew in Chartered planes and first class cabin of world class airlines at tax payers expense. The State became an economic colony of other Nigerian States. Consultants were brought in from Lagos and Delta States to handle all matters to the detriment of the egg heads in Edo State who had become strangers in their land. They were treated like intellectual and technocratic lepers and kept far away from the affairs of their State. Tears rolled down the cheeks of many.
In the midst of these, Obaseki annoyed the leaders of the political party which brought him to power. They questioned his style of leadership. This challenge led to a huge political crisis. Obaseki hurriedly described them as thieves who were angry that he refused to share the common wealth of Edo State for their personal benefit. The fight itself revealed the real Obaseki. Easily the most intolerant and ruthless elected political office holder in the history of southern Nigeria.
Without blinking an eye lid, Obaseki descended on critics within his party. He sacked elected council chairmen with ease and against the spirit and letters of the Nigerian constitution. He did the same to elected councillors. He sacked Commissioners who had the faintest relationship with his critics. He revoked certificate of occupancy over land legally acquired by his critics and their relations. He sealed up hotels and commercial buildings belonging to his critics. He did not stop there, he authorized the demolition of a magnificent hotel which belonged to one of his critics even when the hotel itself was the subject matter of litigation in a court of superior records.
Obaseki’s intolerance is indeed uncommon. A terror squad was secretly put together under the command of one Muntari. The squad is directly supervised by one Haruna from Kogi State who serves as his Special Adviser on Security matters. The squad includes the likes of Osaigbovo Iyoha, Ebo Stone, Austin V-boot and a host of others. It was this squad that was responsible for a spate of bombings of the residents and offices of known critics including Lawrence Okah, Henry Idahagbon, Francis Inegbeneki and other victims. Police investigations into the said bombing incidents in Benin City appear to support this averment, giving the statements made by the suspects so far.
How on earth can the House of Assembly of Edo State made up of 24 members be run by about 8 members at the pleasure of the State Governor in a democracy? Since June, 2019, over 60% of the State Legislative Constituencies are not represented in the State’s House of Assembly. There are no Constituency projects’ budgets for such areas as there is no elected Member to push for such. Such Constituencies have been short-changed in matters like job creation, infrastructure development, legislative advocacy, poverty alleviation and other spheres of governance. How on earth can this happen in one of the States generally considered as very educated and enlightened in Nigeria? From recorded history, this has never happened in any State of the Federation. It is a sad commentary on our national life that an elected Governor in reckless abuse of power kept out about 60 % of elected law makers from the State’s House of Assembly to which they were validly elected and Edo citizens could not engage in affirmative action to correct this subversion of their collective right to representation. It is even more tragic that while this state of affairs still persist, such a democratic rascal would nurture the unholy ambition of continuing in office and there are people who mindlessly echo “4 + 4 torgba” as if they still live in the State of Nature where life was nasty, brutish and short and for which political thinkers conceived modern government under the rule of law.
It is the very definition of hypocrisy that the same Governor who claimed that he was being fought by his party men in APC for failing to share public funds to individuals, that has now opened the vault of Edo State to the PDP, a political party known for “sharing the money.” How can Obaseki justify the billions of Naira expended on purchasing a mere party nomination for his second term ticket from PDP? Whether it is 15 billion naira or 18 billion naira as some have claimed, it is odious that a man who claimed to be the protector of Edo public wealth can expend same for himself? If he wasn’t the Governor of Edo State, where would he get 15 billion naira or so to buy a ticket from a political party that sued him in 2016 for possessing questionable educational certificates and wanted him disqualified from contesting the position of Governor of Edo State? It smacks of crass desperation to hand over such a huge amount of public funds to a political party known to have contributed to the dwarfing of our country’s growth as a nation just to have an opportunity to contest for office. What then is corruption, if this is not one? ICPC and EFCC must be dusting their files on Edo State. This is a big invitation to treat. Those Agencies must accept the challenge.
There is another reason why ICPC and EFCC must visit Edo State. Obaseki’s Company, AFRINVEST Limited, was said to be in distress in 2008 when he became the head of Edo State’s Economic team. He spent all his time doing this job and had no time for other businesses. As soon as he became Edo State Governor, AFRINVEST began to pay its creditors huge sums of money that it owed them over a long period of time. Many were curious about this sudden wealth of that company. Those who paid close attention to this development, allegedly discovered that Obaseki was making those payments from the funds appropriated for the security of Edo State as well as part of the internally generated revenue from the State. Today, AFRINVEST has not only paid its creditors, it has applied to the Central Bank to be issued a Commercial Bank’s license. In other words, the company probably has more than 20 billion naira to be deposited to the Central Bank to qualify for such License. Is there anyone still in doubt as to why the security in Edo State is in such a pallors state? Is it not clear why the State is now the harbinger of murder, rape, assaults, robbery and State terrorism? Do you need rocket science to understand why poverty debilitates the State ravishly? Just in case we have forgotten, where is Osaze Ero, the State Commissioner For Culture arrested and allegedly detained in an Italian Prison for laundering over $2,000,000 on behalf of Governor Obaseki sometime ago? Despite being in jail, his post remains vacant for obvious reasons. Obaseki knows the consequences of replacing that Commissioner. No one is surprised that he continues to keep the agreement with Osaze Ero who is in jail till date.
Obaseki’s tenure in office is so despicable that nothing can support it, but an electoral red card on 19th September, 2020. Edo people must accept the mistake that was made by electing him. This is not the time to blame those who led us into such error. There is work to be done in rebuilding our state and bringing back the traditional peaceful atmosphere that the State is known for. Obaseki should “GO” in the name of Almighty God. Edo State does not belong to him.
Dr. Francis Odigie is a scholar and public affairs commentator based in Lagos.