By Yinka Odumakin
The September 19 Edo gubernatorial election was not just about electing a governor, but more of stopping a major affliction that has put democratic rule under siege in our country: the joule of godfathers.
When I called my brother and friend, who was the symbol of that struggle, three days after God won a big victory for anti-lawless movement, he opened my eyes to a major dimension of this scourge that we have not seriously addressed.
Said Governor Godwin Obaseki: “You know as a governor, I am governed by the constitution and every action I take can be measured by the provisions of the constitution, but a godfather is not known to the constitution, but operates by his own rule.”
Godfathers have truly established unconstitutional order and they are there like the mafia. They have wrecked states and they are major contributors to our poverty index. They drill holes into the treasuries of states and they are not seen in any budget line. They use the fingers of others to pull the chestnut from the fire. Their myth is sustained by manipulation of the system, the control of reward system and the use of violence when necessary are their weapons of warfare all the time.
Taking control is key for them and that is why they don’t allow the system to function except according to their manipulation. The late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, who used to be a godfather in Oyo State politics, once made a faux pax when he told journalists that he once asked Senator Rashidi Ladoja to share some of the state security votes because “what insecurity can come outside of me?” At the peak of his mad reign in Oyo State, he practically burnt down the state the way the Uba brothers did in Anambra when they put the state under siege.
The characters who play godfathers in Nigeria are mostly outlaws with no enervating values and it takes people of low esteem to put themselves under their whims and caprices. I saw a time bomb in the waiting from the moment I saw Godwin Obaseki on the scene. He was suave and thoroughly polished and you see a god-fearing man in him if you are very perceptive.
My sympathy was with his opponent in 2016 when he first contested because I never trusted his ‘cover’ that time, right from the time he ran the Labour movement and was using the fate of workers to cut deals. He became Governor dealing in sophistry and Kant. Like an evil spirit producing holy witness, he started his deception with one-man-one -vote. But you can’t deceive all the people all the time. He organised a rally at the Benin Stadium on April 29, 2010 and invited the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and leading “Democrats” in the Action Congress to witness the event. They were already in the stadium before realising that the man who annulled June 12 election, General Ibrahim Babangida, was already in the background and Senator David Mark who vowed that Abiola would only assume his mandate over his dead body was to play a key role. Soyinka took to his heels and the AC leaders followed him before Adams Oshiomhole could fully execute his coup. They spoke clearly that they could not in good conscience be participants at a democracy rally that has General Babangida playing a key role, but Oshiomhole defended the invitation saying it was time Nigerians should shun exclusion for inclusion. Those who still had any illusion in the former sweet -talking labour leader could no have read him well as a “salad man”.
There was no adjective he did not use to describe Obaseki when he sold him four years ago. That he was ready to do to him what godfathers are known for four years after shows that the successor must have tried to be a governor which godsons don’t have the right to be.
He was going to throw him outside the process. It was too tedious organising to defeat him at the primaries. The godfather put a screening committee together who said they disqualified Obaseki because he lacks certificates. I laughed my head off because I know Mr Mike Orobator who was Obaseki’s teacher in 1972 unlike the man who wanted to chop his head who we cannot trace his teachers as the Iyamho modern school he “attended” was created after he finished there. Senator Daisy Danjuma once told me where he [Obaseki] did his youth service somewhere in the North-Central. The only worry was if Obaseki would have the testicular fortitude to engage the godfather and rub his nose in the dust.
As this all started festering, I watched Obaseki on Channels TV and he was saying the right things. He listed all the good things which he had started for Edo State and could not afford to walk away. I said to myself that if the man I declared my guy of the year for 2019 was speaking from the heart, he deserved all the support in whatever decision he takes.
He was to take a position that would pose a challenge to me. He was to declare for the PDP where a man I had known when I was a little over 20 at Ife was a front runner for governorship. Kenneth Imasuagbon was not only my friend at Ife but a strong pillar of support when I ran for Union leadership which I won. I owe him support in his endeavours. But the Obaseki situation was to put me in a situation where I had to plead with him to shelve his ambition for now.
I remember I told Pa EK Clark that I know Kenneth to be so strong-willed, but we have to try the best to talk to him. When I first broached the topic with him, I knew it was the mutual respect we have for each other that made his response not to be as fierce as it would have been. I followed up on Ben TV where Mr Obaseki was to appear on Zoom meeting but sent his brother Don Pedro Obaseki. There was hot exchanges between Kenneth and Don, but I poured water intermittently. When Kenneth said “Godwin will have to defeat me o”, I told him strongly that “You and Godwin will not run against each other”.
The breakthrough came when I visited my friend, brother, Governor Bello Matawale of Zamfara State in Abuja. I called Kenneth and told him I was with Matawale who happens to be his good friend. I gave him the phone and they spoke lovingly. The Governor said Kenneth was the first person he would see in Benin and he should not take any decision yet. Twenty-four hours after, Kenneth and the two other aspirants had stepped down for Obaseki.
Aftermath was the focus on 19th September which promised to be a serious war but God took control and it was only a battle between the will of the people and the impunity of the manipulators. All worked together and God won it for Obaseki and the Oshiomhole machine was beaten silly by Edo people.
On the eve of the election, Obaseki said God should give victory to his opponent if his own victory would cost the blood of any Edo man or woman. He won with a clear gap without the death of any soul. The tendency for any man that had the kind of support he got was to become swollen headed but not Obaseki. In victory, he extended hands of fellowship to Oshiomhole, indicating that the battle was over with a profound statement that God forbids that he should nurse the ambition of becoming a godfather. The other thing he said that impressed me after his victory was that it would be highly immoral of him to use PDP in his time of need and return to APC in his victory. You don’t get men of conscience like that in this environment of ‘end justifies the means’.
I hope the rest of the country takes the necessary lessons from Edo State and make godfatherism an anathema. Congratulations Obaseki.