11 June 2012

Nigeria: Battle for the Soul of Edo

To the average Edo man and woman, the July 14 gubernatorial election is neither that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nor Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), but that of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole versus Chief Tony Anenih.

To the average person also, this is the last political outing of the Uromi chief who had enjoyed three decades of uninterrupted political sojourn. The irony of it all is that the man does not know when to quit the stage. He has simply danced himself out of tune with the political realities in the state and allowed a David to tame the war chest of a political Golliath. Those political actors who do not understand the rhythms of political panjandrums end up being beaten silly like drums themselves. They combine the warped thoughts of being over-celebrated with the penchant for political domination and end up being consumed in their political inferno. The exit game is often the most delicate part of their delicate drama woven in several contradictions and delivered for the listening pleasure of their contrived political followers. When the realities of over-indulged omniscient and protagonist status is deflated, the tragedy is often double-edged.

Anenih is surely not having the best of times in Edo State because he simply cannot understand why the political compass of the State slipped away from his grip in a manner that apparently exposes his weakness. Seen by most Nigerians as unelectable political material judging by the fact that he had never contested any serious election and owing to his unattractive political engagements in the past, he has steadfastly acted out his sobriquet of being "Mr. Fix it" by virtue of his political undertakings that have seen him being part of a larger plot each time to make a Nigerian president. Even when his role is not distinctively self-defining, he enjoys claiming credit for being the architect of the fortune and misfortune of any political engagement. His Mr. Fix it sobriquet sounds more famous than his baptismal name and he seems to enjoy the sentiments of such misplaced adulation once it was understood that the credit belongs to him.

Those who understand the politics of Edo State would concede easily that Oshiomhole has been a fast learner in the political laboratory of leadership recruitment process in the state. Coming from a labour background with bubbling energies and unquantifiable convictions about service delivery, he has learnt the ropes much faster than was expected. With such labour activism, no one expected him to master the theatrics of politics and its addictive properties. The fight to reclaim his mandate from the PDP ab initio was as Herculean as it was tortuous. It was a battle of one main godfather in conjunction with several other godfathers against a man whose diminutive size doesn't portray him as a fighter. Having acquired enough nuances of labour protests, Oshiomhole threw his "feeble" weight in the political ring and stayed the course till he humbled the godfathers. The rest as is often said, is now history.

Unashamedly, the PDP is still mustering the vaunted courage to showcase itself this time with a candidate that appears defeated even from day one. Conscious of its own excess luggage, the PDP now gladly tout itself as New PDP, peopled by the same set of political chieftains who bled the party into a state of coma. Yet undone, it decidedly went for a candidate who is rumoured to have "very deep pocket" and ready to go the whole hug to prove to the world that it meant business. Short of any selling points to woo the Edo electorate, the PDP has now resorted to personality campaign, raking mud and odium to rubbish the performance profile of a governor who has literarily turned the state into a huge construction site. They grab at any object within their conjectured sight to make some noise and remind Edo people that they still exist in one obscure corner of the state. The chieftains of the party, waiting patently on the instructions from the presidency, have been boasting about a grand design to rig the elections. The exposition from the now suspended voter registration exercise with copious signs of underhand dealings give fillip to the claim that there indeed exists a grand plot somewhere to shortchange Edo people.

I am sure from my inner recesses that Anenih must be convulsing deep inside his mind about the Oshiomhole brand that has refused to peter out. He must be wondering why the game has assumed this level to the extent that little kids now mimic the symphonic description of the Uromi chief as an overcooked vegetable ready to be served on the menu list. But those who are vegetable eaters understand the danger in consuming overcooked vegetable soup. It will simply run your stomach mad. The fact that Anenih has not been sighted in any of the PDP public outings in terms of campaigns, says something about his withdrawal tactics. Often adored at political gatherings of the PDP as the leader, Anenih has now been reduced to an Uromi chief by no other person than Oshiomhole through populist programmes that appear novel in the eyes of the people and thus distinguished the governor as a performing leader who understands the aims and aspirations of the people.

The PDP has made election into public office unattractive in Edo State. People genuinely express great concern about the desperation of the PDP and the militant nature it has carried out its message to the people. If it is not "we will recapture" Edo State this time, it is that "Oshiomhole Must Be Defeated at all cost campaign," leaving the substance of what should ordinarily be a platform for gestation of ideas to a platform for throwing mud at Oshiomhole. Anenih as a political planner, knows deep inside his mind that this is a lost battle, little wonder he has not been sighted at the campaigns of the PDP. If he decides to join them later on by no ordinary design of his own, he will be doing that out of the compelling need to provide shelter for his dithering flocks out there on the field. If he does not appear in public, it is because he already knows that to withdraw before election is better than to wait for election to come before withdrawing. The retirement benefit which an Arhiavbere election would have meant for Anenih would now be converted to political gratuity.

Talking seriously, I think there is something fundamentally wrong about our democracy and the struggle for political control in Nigeria. There is too much of ego-worship of certain individuals who are seen to be in control of the levers of power. Rather than champion the ideological content of the political party as easy selling points, people are easily carried away by the self-serving idiosyncrasies of political chieftains who appropriate the collective patrimony of the people on the altar of greed and personal aggrandisement. Locked in horn with political opponents, the PDP has since discovered that the Edo scenario has defied all known techniques of rigging and appears more daring to invoke the sentiments of a federal might to add pep to its deflated ego. How far that would drive the PDP campaigns remains a discussion for another day.

Has politics gone that bad to the extent that campaigns are no longer defined on the basis of issues that would impact on the wellbeing of the people? Coming from a disadvantaged point of view, the PDP has now deployed its energy on deliberate distraction loaded with blackmail and false alarms to impress on the hapless citizenry that it meant business. Rather than come up with plausible solutions to the challenges of governance in the state, part of which the governor has been able to seriously address, the PDP has devoted more attention to showcasing the carcasses of Oshiomhole's building in the rustic setting of Iyamho as its campaign blueprint. Such ridiculous idea being bandied about by ridiculous political chess players can only help but further expose the emptiness of a political campaign, parading messengers that harbour no message. I am still wondering aloud how an uncompleted three-bedroom duplex affair can score for a N10.8 billion worth of property.

How possible? If it were to be real, do they think that the Comrade Governor will have embarked on such a project situated along the road, before the very eyes of Edo people, and yet have the effrontery to be preaching accountability in governance? The PDP publicists, at the nadir of their warped intellect, did not remember that the Comrade Governor duly endorsed the asset declaration form and has a moral duty to protect and defend all his actions in office. To state the obvious, a house as expensive and dubiously gargantuan as the one in question exists only in Uromi and Benin City where the PDP political godfathers reside in, but certainly not a house under expansion in Iyamho.

The Edo election of July 14, is a lost battle for Anenih and the PDP. Instead of embarking on campaigns, the PDP has vacated the turf for the ACN to have a field day. Accusations of voter cards buying have been on everyone's lip in the state, as an inelegant testimony to the fact that rigging will play a role in the entire elections. But Oshiomhole has travelled this road before. He now understands the mechanics and dynamics of what is dubiously called scientific rigging often displayed by PDP to out-rig smaller parties. It would be interesting to watch Anenih being humbled at the election and being shown the exit door out of a platform that he has dominated for sometime. The signs of the times point in the direction of a younger generation of Nigerians taking their political destinies in their hands and the Oshiomhole example offers very illuminating insight into what is to come if such men are given opportunity to run the affairs of the country. The Oshiomhole revolution also offers illustrative lessons in selfless service to the people. Going by his achievements in the last three years, the people are forever grateful that the Comrade Governor has surpassed the benchmark set for him and are now willing to re-elect him come July 14, 2012. That will mark the beginning of Anenih's march to political oblivion. Ask the PDP candidate what their vision in government is; they will readily tell you that they want President Goodluck Jonathan to enjoy full support of PDP dominated South-south. Is that the campaign manifesto that will put food on the table for Edo people?

•Afegbua is Director, Media and Publicity, Oshiomhole Campaign Organisation.

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