Shaibu’s popularity test amid uncertainty

As the race to succeed Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State in 2024 gradually gathers momentum, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE x-rays the insistence of the Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu contest next year’s governorship election despite his principal’s earlier opposition to the decision

After weeks of intrigues and drama of the absurd, which saw the ostracising of the Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, by his principal, Governor Godwin Obaseki, over his (Shaibu’s) ambition to succeed his boss, his recent declaration for the top seat at a ceremony in Benin, may have reignited Shaibu’s feud with his principal as the governor seems bent on playing the role of a godfather by backing Asuen Ighodalo, a candidate from the Edo Central, who he introduced to leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party in the three senatorial districts of the state.

Recall that the deputy governor’s office was relocated outside the Government House in Benin ostensibly on the orders of the governor as the feud raged. Despite the clamour that power must shift to the Edo Central zone, the governor’s insistence to produce his successor is in sharp contrast with Obaseki and Shaibu’s belief that the state should do away with godfatherism as both swore to quash the idea. They both fought a former governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, to a standstill when he (Oshiomhole) fell out with the duo before the end of their first term in 2020.

The problem at that time was that some party faithful who felt annihilated by Obaseki reported to Oshiomhole who they knew would be able to talk to the governor. Party members had felt that Oshiomhole, who against all odds and advice, worked for the emergence of Obaseki as the governor of the state in 2016, should be able to talk to him on the need to give party members a voice in his government.

Oshiomhole approached the governor to present the grouse of loyal party members, but Obaseki felt Oshiomhole was meddling in the governance of the state and trying to play God, and that was the beginning of the feud between them.

However, the bubble burst in 2018 as Obaseki and Shaibu battled Oshiomhole to a standstill and relished their re-election victory in 2020 under the People Democratic Party, which they defected to after they were denied a second term ticket by the APC, the platform that brought them to power in 2016. After the victory, they declared that godfatherism was dead in the state.

At the height of the crisis, Shaibu said in an interview that he would fight on the side of Obaseki and would not support Oshiomhole who was playing the role of a godfather. He said he supported and got injured while backing Oshiomhole against those who tried to oppress him while he was the governor. He noted that he was only giving his support to Obaseki just like he gave to Oshiomhole when he was being harassed by politicians who felt they owned the state.

To Shaibu, the support he gave to his principal during the governor’s face-off with his benefactor (Oshiomhole) was purely based on principle. He felt that interference in governance by an outsider, no matter how highly placed in the society, could be counterproductive.

With this conviction, he set about his business and his desire to succeed his principal despite the perceived “persecution” he suffered at the hands of the governor and his allies to the point that he became irrelevant in the government. Apart from being evicted from the Government House, the local government administration he supervised and sports which had experienced tremendous improvement under his supervision, were taken away from him and he became an “orphan” in a government he helped to midwife.

Some confidants of the governor are of the notion that Shaibu is too ambitious and should have supported his principal’s choice instead of declaring his intention to run for the number one seat of the state. The deputy governor’s big declaration did not come without a hitch.

Less than18 hours before the big event, the Eterno Hotel at the Government Reservation Area, where Shaibu hired to declare his interest, returned the payment made by the deputy governor’s camp, stating that one of the governor’s support group, Obaseki must end well, had paid for the same hall and would be using it at the same time the deputy governor intended to announce his governorship interest.

In a swift move, the deputy governor’s camp made alternative arrangements and secured the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre where the declaration for Shaibu’s governorship bid took place without rancour as invitees and journalists were thoroughly screened by stern-looking security officials.

The declaration speech was short but loaded as Shaibu, who described himself as a homeboy, reeled out what he had achieved in his political career, which he said, spanned 30 years. He said clearly that he remained the best candidate to succeed his boss and that nobody would stop him from realising his ambition.

According to Shaibu, while working closely with Obaseki in the past seven years, a solid foundation for progress had been laid in the state, noting that under his supervision, the state Internally Generated Revenue grew impressively, which he attributed to the introduction of digital and cutting-edge ideas.

He said, “Under our administration, we have seen remarkable achievements and milestones, but there is still much work to be done. I am aware of the need by the greater Edo people for a more inclusive government, a government of the Edo people, by the Edo people, and for the Edo people.

“My administration will be a government of individuals who have been there and know the pains and wishes of an average Edo people. Back in the day, you didn’t just call me ‘Mr Constituency Project’ for nothing. In my time as a legislator, I delivered 49 constituency projects at the state level and 13 solid constituency projects within my short stint at the federal level.

“I have fought the good fight for you, my people. Along the way, I suffered humiliations and enjoyed many moments of victory, but I am thankful in all things. I have been pressed but not crushed, persecuted but not abandoned, badly hurt but not destroyed. I resonate with the tireless and irrepressible Spirit of the Edo People. By the Grace of God, nothing and no one can stop us. After all, I be original Edo son; your 100 per cent home boy.

“This is why today, I stand before you with great conviction and resolve, as I declare my intention to run for the office of the governor of Edo State under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the upcoming 2024 election”, he stated.

Shaibu hinged his campaign on five pillars, including infrastructural development, economic diversification, education, and sports. Others are skills development and job creation, healthcare and social welfare system, agriculture, rural development and poverty alleviation as well as environmental sustainability and transparent governance.

According to Shaibu, his antecedent gives him an edge and no godfather, and no amount of intimidation can get him off the track. He also underlined his readiness for the battle ahead as a functional campaign office along Airport Road in Benin had already been opened, while he was said to have offices in other locations in the state.

However, with Edo Central lobbying to produce the next governor to balance the power rotation equation in the state, Shaibu faces an uphill task in becoming the governor in 2024 as the aspirant his principal is putting forward is from the zone.

The Chairman of the Centre for Registered Political Party, Samson Isibor, commended Shaibu, for declaring his intention to contest the governorship seat, noting that no person should play God under the political dispensation. He expressed surprise that the governor who alongside his deputy fought Oshiomhole to a standstill over the allegation that the former governor was acting like a godfather was involved in the same act.

He said, “I commend Shaibu for declaring his intention to run for the governorship seat of the state despite the intimidation he has suffered. This harassment could have affected him mentally and physically, but he did not allow that to stop him from declaring his interest. What he has done is 100 per cent in order. I have said before that nobody, not even the President, can stop anyone from aspiring to a higher position.

“Everyone has a right as enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria. You can vote and you can be voted for. So, no person can play God and prevent someone’s aspiration to contest elections as stipulated in the constitution. So, what Shaibu has done is proper, though we were so furious when he apologised and begged the governor for forgiveness, now that he has taken the bull by the horn, we commend him.

“When Oshiomhole imposed Obaseki on us, we condemned Oshiomhole for doing it. Oshiomhole said he was bringing in a technocrat, how has that better the lives of the ordinary citizens of Edo? So, why is Obaseki trying to do the same now? We are backing Shaibu purely based on human rights as we have no ties with him. So, what right does Obaseki have to stop Shaibu from contesting? Is the person he is bringing who is being touted as a technocrat known to the people?

“If the person known to the people and can do well is a farmer, we will vote for that person. We will not allow someone who has not stayed in Edo State and does not feel our pain to become the governor again. Obaseki and Shaibu fought Oshiomhole over the issue of godfatherism, which he is trying to do now by preventing his deputy from running. He has even become dictatorial in his approach. He is also desperate to install his successor. Is he trying to cover up something? He should not play the role of a godfather because we all fought against it and it will not happen in Edo State again.”

Former APC senatorial leader in Edo North, Sunny Okomayin, said Shaibu, like every other person from Edo State, has the right to vie for the governorship seat, adding that he had the experience to do well as the number one citizen of the state.

He said, “Shaibu, like every other person, has the right to contest an election. There is nowhere in the constitution that stops anybody from contesting an election. This is not the first time this has happened. We saw a governor trying to prevent his deputy from contesting an election in 2020. When Obaseki was thrown out of the APC by Oshiomhole, we all rallied around him to stop godfatherism. I was the senatorial leader of Edo North at that time. I threw away my position and followed Obaseki to the PDP.

“I am shocked that Obaseki is doing the same to Shaibu by trying to become a godfather. We were expecting this as we thought that we had banished godfatherism in Edo State politics. Shaibu led us to the battle, and we succeeded by bringing Obaseki back to power. Those of us who do not believe in godfatherism will stand behind Shaibu to fight this injustice.”

However, Rev. Martins Olu, a rights activist, said that though Shaibu had the right to declare his interest in running for the number one seat in the state, the deputy governor should not heat the polity.

“Shaibu can declare, and nobody can deprive him of that right just like he doesn’t have the right to heat the polity with his declaration. As of the last count, I am sure we probably have well over 50 persons who are aspiring to become governor across the three major political parties as well as the New Nigeria Peoples Party. Until you get the party ticket, you have no business with the public. I don’t think the governor has attempted to stop him. He (Shaibu) should handle the situation more maturely.

“Dr Pius Odubu, then deputy governor under Oshiomhole, ran against the interest of his boss, we didn’t hear of any controversy. It is not that Oshiomhole did not try to cut Odubu to size but he (Odubu) went about his business calmly. Shaibu has declared his interest and there is no need to make too much noise about it,” he added.

Olu stated that the declaration should reduce the rift between the duo as politics should not affect their working relationship. He added, “The interest should be political, but they should have no problem working together. We must realise that politics, by its nature, is contentious especially when interests are divergent.

“For me, it is Shaibu who is throwing the punches. He is the one accusing the government and the governor of doing things to him which is not necessary. It appears that he wants a fight to create an impression that the governor is against him. This is between him and the people who feel that Edo North and Edo South have had their fair share of governance, and it will be fair to have a power shift to Edo Central. So, it will be difficult to win that argument of shifting power to the central part of the state.”

On the governor playing the role of a godfather, Olu stated, “I don’t think the governor is playing the role of a godfather because he suffered in the hand of a godfather. He can have his interest, and nobody can say a sitting governor cannot have an interest in where the party ticket goes. However, we expect the governor to create a level playing field for the aspirants.

“If he eventually has a favourite among those contesting, he should talk to a few persons to help give his candidate a free pass. However, everyone must be subject to the screening process. All of us supported him when he was persecuted, and he won that election because we felt it was wrong for someone to play God.

“Nobody should impose any candidate on the people. Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Right now, it is an intra-party affair. The governors have power and influence over the affairs of their state. So, he does not need to impose anybody on anyone because he has all the human resources at his disposal at the state and local government levels.

“He can use his influence to give his choice candidate an edge and he can also persuade. The level of enlightenment is high; so, that cannot happen at this time and age. When you impose a candidate on the party, you still have to market him to the public with the help of your party bigwigs who may be disgruntled that you imposed a candidate on them, which may be counterproductive,” he added.

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