By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, let me start this epistle with a tale I’m not sure I have ever told. On Sunday, November 9, 2008, I was at the Lagos Marina with some friends when my phone rang. And who was on the line? No other than the one and only Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a man I call Uncle Adams for various reasons. He is about eight years older than me. We both come from the same Afenmai tribe of Edo State, though I’m much more affiliated and associated with the Yoruba people because of my birth in Ile-Ife, the cradle of civilisation, and the fact that my Mum is from Gbongan, a dozy town just a few kilometres from Ile-Ife. I have told the story of my dad’s migration from Ihievbe, now in Owan East Local GovGovernment of Edo State, to finally settle in Ile-Ife, Osun State, possibly around 1944, like many restless men of his time. His decision to make his sojourn in Ile-Ife permanent, probably en route the greener pastures of alluring Lagos, was because he met the naturally beautiful, slim and elegant Gladys who swept him off his feet and they married after a period of courtship. I am the only child of their union.
Comrade Adams had risen to become one of the more prominent sons of Afenmailand and I had tremendous respect for him as a scion of the society and a big Brother. I had followed his amazing trajectory, especially as a Labour leader, with very keen interest. I believe he had a meteoric rise to become Labour leader based on his fantastic managerial, organisational and persuasive skills. I always admire, and appreciate, those with humble beginnings, who struggle hard and manage to break free from the shackles of oppression and manacles of poverty. Comrade is a veritable example of such a person. He has done so with agilagility and tenacity. I must add that he also possesses not only nerves of steel but a steely and unbending resolve which for me has lately been harmful and injurious to him. More on this later.
I think we first met physically on a flight to South Africa about 16 years ago, when he had already become head of the Nigerian Labour Congress. We both recognised each other and exchanged pleasantries and contacts. We struck an instant acquaintance and friendship which has since blossomed into brotherliness. He became an avuncular figure to me, and he had my blessings when he threw his hat in the ring of politics. His pedigree as President of the Nigeria Labour Congress clearly, and readily, endeared him to many people. Theoretically, he was expected to be a friend of the masses, and the workers of Edo State were considered lucky to have such a man coming to liberate them from capitalists and oppressors.
Anyway, back to the call, prior to which, both of us had met in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s home where we had lunch with the former Governor of Lagos State. I knew Chief Tinubu was supporting him heavily and staked a lot on Comrade Oshiomole becoming the Governor of Edo State which has always been considered one of the crown jewels of the Yoruba nation and was indeed a part of Western Nigeria before it became Mid-Western Region of Nigeria in 1963 following a vote by the people of the region. Mid-Western Region became Mid-West State in 1967, Bendel State in 1976 and finally Edo State in 1991 when Bendel State was divided into Edo and Delta States.
During this auspicious call in November 2008, Comrade sounded worried and I asked what the matter was. He said he was anxious about the Court of Appeal judgment regarding his governorship election, which was slated for November 11, 2008, in two days time. I told him not to panic, that all shall be well, and I prayed for him.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008, came, in a jiffy, and Comrade was declared winner of the Edo State Gubernatorial elections. Prayer answered and I was greatly elated. He was sworn in as Governor immediately afterwards on 12 November 2008 and would later govern the State for two terms of eight years in total. As usual with me, I never visited the Edo State Government House during that period, although Comrade and I remained close and regularly called each other and met at various functions. I watched his inimitable style of governance from afar and prayed fervently for his success. He would call me sometimes, usually on Saturdays, after reading my column. On one such occasions, I recall, I was in Orlando, Florida, and he said he would want me to come to commission some projects in Edo State as a true son of the State. I said no problem. He promised to send me the dates, but he probably forgot or was too busy, whatever the reason, the call never came, the trip to Edo State as guest of the Governor never happened and the planned commissioning of projects by me never occurred. On another occasion, we met at The World Afenmai Congress in America and had a good tie together catching up on various issues. The truth is that we always bonded well.
I must confess that there were times I was troubled by the many controversies that trailed him during his governance of Edo State. Those who knew him as my big brother would call me to complain about his garrulousness and dictatorial proclivity. He also did not seem to be grateful on occasions.
For example, I recall that he constantly attacked and insulted the Igbinedions who I knew had supported him and I felt that this was not proper or right. Some of his media attacks went overboard. However, I premised some of his intractable opposition to major Edo chieftains to his promise to dismantle all the vestiges of godfatherism in Edo State and end the rent seeking system that it engenders. I felt that if he could achieve this, he would have done the State and the country a great favour by creating a super example for others to emulate.
Please, fast forward again. Close to the end of Comrade’s final tenure as Governor, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, his good friend, invited some of us to the launch of his $1 Billion investment in Okpella, Edo State. It was at that launch that I noticed the ubiquitous presence of Mr Godwin Obaseki who was extremely busy running around to make the ceremony a huge success. Obaseki informed me of his gubernatorial ambition for the first time that day. He and Comrade were like Siamese twins and their camaraderie was palpable. It was apparent that he had the support of the Comrade and he intimated me as much.
I was therefore not surprised when Obaseki announced his aspiration and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Obaseki became Governor with the unalloyed support of Comrade who placed all the appurtenances of Government at his disposal to ensure his famous victory. Comrade and Obaseki were inseparable and were seen regularly together at public functions from the inception of the new Government. One was the Governor Emeritus while the other was the tyro Baby Governor. I witnessed their cordiality, first-hand, at a Tinubu Colloquium about two years ago at the Eko Convention Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos. It was there Comrade “instructed” Obaseki to hold me tight. “Dele is one of our icons stolen by the Yoruba people. Please, you must bring him back home. I failed in achieving that in eight years, but you must not fail.” Obaseki gave me his direct line instantly. We chatted a few times and that was it really. The plan was to invite me to a reception and celebrate me amongst my father’s people.
Perhaps, he got distracted, but I understand perfectly given where we are today. Interestingly, this was what then Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola did, as Governor of Osun State, when he invited me to Osogbo and gave me a special recognition award as a distinguished son of Osun State.
Given the genesis of their relationship, Obaseki had been brought by Comrade into politics, from the relative obscurity of investment banking, to head the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team. The way they had carried on for seven years whilst Comrade was Governor, and for a while after Obaseki became Governor, I never thought for a moment that Comrade and Obaseki would ever quarrel like other godfathers and their godchildren have been wont to do in this peculiar Nigerian clime.
However, the ways of Nigerian politicians can never be understood by mere mortals like us, and things unravelled very quickly indeed once both men decided to part ways. Amidst allegations of betrayal, subterfuge and unbecoming insults, I am not in a position to determine who betrayed the other. For me it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that this should never have happened to two seemingly good people who were practically in a tight relationship with each other. I have had the opportunity of speaking at different times to both of them, especially Comrade who I met at breakfast in Eko Hotel Signature in Lagos last year. Comrade never said anything concrete enough to warrant the war of attrition that is now likely to consume at least one, or indeed both of them, if care is not taken. My own plea that day was for Comrade to forgive whatever iniquity or sin Obaseki might have committed. I’m one Christian who holds the Biblical injunction on forgiveness very close to my heart. There is nothing too big to forgive even if I can’t forget, and I do desperately try to forget as well. I have learnt that life is too short and there are always regrets all round afterwards.
In short, I continue to believe that Comrade should have treated Obaseki like a recalcitrant baby and leave him to his conscience because he is the older man and the benefactor. By playing dirty and wrestling in the mud with Obaseki, Comrade has diminished his status and importance in the eyes of onlookers nationally and internationally. In fact, Comrade has provided some lethal ammunition for his many vociferous critics and rabid enemies who have now, apparently, finally, gunned him down. How fatally he has been dealt with remains to be seen. I do hope that he heals quickly and bounces back
His firebrand style of politics is still something that I look forward to. Exactly two Sundays ago, I predicted what has happened to some mutual friends, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi and Hon. Oye Ojo when we discussed the raging imbroglio. As I also said to them that evening, what shall it profit a man who kills his own child in a pique and fit of anger? Especially when in the process the man himself appears to have sung his own nunc dimitis! I believe that if Oshiomole had left Obaseki alone, he would not have been suspended by his ward and there would therefore have been no basis for his removal as Chairman. Instead he went further to disqualify Obaseki as APC Governorship aspirant APC Party Chairman.
Comrade would have done well to listen to Confucius who wrote, “Before you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”!
It seems now virtually late to make amends. Comrade and Obaseki have stripped themselves naked in the marketplace. Their underbelly and nudity have been harshly exposed. It is such a monumental tragedy. The battle is no longer a localized affair but a national struggle for the control of the ruling party ahead of the 2023 Presidential election.
Beyond Obaseki, I feel that Comrade was fighting, like a poor General, on too many fronts. He should have read the handwriting correctly to see that Obaseki was now a pawn in the game but he didn’t.
This is unlike a man with his maturity in politics. I thought he was a master tactician and strategist but his performance as Chairman of APC totally belied this. The APC he presided over had become nothing but a “Fuji House of Commotion”, a place where, apologies to Chinua Achebe, the falcon could no longer hear the falconer. And so, things fell apart, and the centre could no longer hold.
For Comrade, that is not a sign of political craftsmanship but brinkmanship. It is called political harakiri!