By Ehichioya Ezomon
Doing a postmortem on the September 19, 2020, governorship election in Edo State, let’s consider the issue of power and character, as they relate to Governor-elect Godwin Obaseki.
On Tuesday, September 22, Obaseki featured in two events where he made contradictory statements as a fallout of the hotly-contested election tagged, ‘Edo 2020.’
As he preached cooperation with his government, the govenor extended the “olive branch” to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, even as he threatened to deal with him should he step out of line.
That day, Obaseki and Deputy Governor-elect, Philip Shaibu, were at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Benin City, to receive “Certificates of Return” for their re-election.
Obaseki also appeared on ‘The Morning Show’ on ARISE TV, and fielded questions on the election, and his dealings with Oshiomhole, his estranged predecessor in office.
Receiving the electoral certificate, Obaseki called on Oshiomhole, the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, members of the APC and other parties to join his administration in developing Edo State.
His words: “I use this opportunity to extend the hands of fellowship to my brother, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and his other colleagues in the APC, as well as other political parties to join hands with us to move Edo forward.
“I call on Adams Oshiomhole that the fight is over and he should come and join in building the house which he was part of, in laying the foundation. We have no malice but only disagree on the approach in moving Edo forward.”
But on the television programme, Obaseki returned to “the fight” he had said was over. He labeled Oshiomhole and the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as “danger to democracy,” and vowed to discipline Oshiomhole if he misbehaved.
Obaseki decried the roles both men assume in the polity. “For us, the challenge with people like Oshiomhole and Ahmed Tinubu is that they change their style and attitude; they pose a big danger to our democracy because they are extra-constitutional players.
“They are non-constitutional actors. There is no role; the role of leader. There is nothing in the constitution of our country or the constitution of that party (APC) giving the role of leader. The title, leader, has no role, no constitutional backing.”
Though he affirms Oshiomhole and Tinubu’s usefulness in the polity, Obaseki argues that the titles they bandy should be earned out of respect, without conferring on them any constitutional role.
On if he would run Oshiomhole out of town, as he had boasted, Obaseki warned him to “conduct himself in a civilized manner,” as he would “show no mercy” if Oshiomhole menaced Edo’s security.
“I have no plans (to chase Oshiomhole out) but if he continues to behave the way he has done, if he continues to be destructive, if he continues to fund his ‘lions and tigers’ in Edo State, and if he tries to create problems for us here, then, we will not have any mercy.”
For a governor craving for reconciliation after a contentious and bitter election, these are not comforting words for the opposition elements still smarting from “defeat.”
You can’t seek peace, and yet engage in sabre-rattling, blow hot and cold, or wave the carrot and stick. They don’t mesh. You should choose and stand for one alternative.
There’re cascading questions. When did Obaseki realise that Oshiomhole and Tinubu were anti-democratic, and pose a danger to Nigeria’s democracy? Is it pre or post-the September 19 poll?
When Oshiomhole ignored protests by core APC members, and from Obaseki’s family members not to trust him, and “imposed” him on Edo people, Oshiomhole wasn’t a danger to democracy?
When Oshiomhole literally carried Obaseki on his back, and campaigned for him, as if he (Oshiomhole) was on the ballot, he’s wasn’t anti-democratic?
When Obaseki became governor, and described Oshiomhole in superlatives as “Our leader,” “our mentor,” and “a freedom fighter,” Oshiomhole wasn’t a danger to democracy?
When Obaseki’s re-election bid was on the line, and he enlisted co-governors and went to Lagos to solicit Tinubu’s backing, the former Lagos State governor wasn’t a danger to democracy?
On what premise did Obaseki go to Tinubu? Was it because he’s an ordinary party man or on his recognition as the “National Leader” of the APC, who’s the clout to assist his re-election aspiration?
If Tinubu had acceded to Obaseki’s pleas, or if he didn’t make a “robot call” to Edo voters to back Ize-Iyamu at the poll, would Tinubu have constituted a danger to democracy?
The sting in Obaseki’s deliveries is that he and Oshiomhole “don’t share the same values or trust at all,” adding that for Oshiomhole to be forgiven, “he must earn his (governor’s) trust again.”
“It’s his (Oshiomhole’s) responsibility to build back that trust. As we say in Edo, ‘everybody should now maintain their lane,’ as whatever he is, and I will maintain mine,” Obaseki said.
Surely, Oshiomhole is down, and as the villain, he “must” earn the trust of Obaseki, whom he (Oshiomhole) had trusted, and afforded him the reins of governance. That’s the irony of life!
Power brings out the character in man. Or, as prominent American writer and orator, Robert Ingersoll, put it in 1883: “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
As he attested to President Abraham Lincoln’s character in a speech in Washington, D.C., Ingersoll said: “Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity. But if you wish to know what a man really is, give him power. This is the supreme test. It is the glory of Lincoln that, having almost absolute power, he never abused it, except on the side of mercy.”
Legendary Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.”
What about the idiom: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? Should all this define Obaseki’s status in the current power prism in Edo State? No!
But with power, he’s showing his character that’s latent when he served in the Oshiomhole government of 2008 to 2016, knowing he doesn’t “share the same values or trust” as Oshiomhole’s, and yet presented himself as a trustworthy successor. What deception!
Going forward, will Obaseki, in his dealings with Oshiomhole, and the so-called tigers and lions, choose to apply his power for “mercy,” as Lincoln did, and for “love,” as posited by Gandhi?
Or did he obtain power “by the fear of punishment,” in which case he would deploy it to crush his real or imaginary adversaries? The ball is in the governor’s court to play whichever way he deems fit!
Yet, if I were to hazard a counsel, Obaseki should follow his pacifist preachment on the eve of the September 19 poll, when, among others, he had advised the Edo electorate that:
“If anybody decides to act in a violent manner, just walk away because our lives are very precious. I have a covenant with God; if it will cost the blood of anybody for me to get into power, he should not let me have power.”
Well, God having answered his prayers, Obaseki should “just walk away,” as doing so isn’t a sign of weakness, but a mark of strength and leadership that he’s assumed in Edo State.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.