Letter to Comrade Oshiomhole

“Very well, thank you for coming.” I know you will remember me by these words alone. But for readers who may not understand, Dear Comrade, let me explain.

These words were taken from a joke I shared about six years ago at the LEADERSHIP Annual Conference and Awards, where Governor Adams Oshiomhole was honoured as Governor Of The Year.

It’s a fable about the ambassador’s wife who, in spite of her best efforts to master protocol, still got snagged when it was time to say goodbye to the large number of guests at a dinner hosted by her husband.

She had started out saying, “thank you very much for coming,” but after repeating and needlessly bending the lines many times as guests streamed out of their home, she stumbled on her own folly and produced several embarrassing versions, including the one at the beginning of this article. She could have saved herself the trouble by keeping it simple.

Comrade loved the joke and, often mimicking the ambassador’s wife, he has never ceased to tease me the few times we have met since.

It seems, however, Comrade, that after eight years of being in office, just when it is time for you to say goodbye, you’re haunted by the cruel fate of the ambassador’s wife. Except that this time, you risk not just personal embarrassment but also the loss of the respect and principles which endeared most of us to you.

This must be a very difficult time for you indeed. With the announcement of the death of the Oba of Benin, your exit in sight and an apparently self-inflicted rebellion in your government, you must be wondering what is next.

Edo was a jungle when you took office. The roads were rickety and narrow and the streets congested and filthy. It might have been bearable, especially for passers-by like me, but the crime rate, perhaps one of the highest in the country at the time, made Benin a no-go area. Even using the Benin bypass on my trips to Delta, was a nightmare.

Social infrastructure was another story. The schools were broken; many of them without walls, roofs, desks, chairs or blackboards. The hospitals were not different – they were anything but hospitals.

If things were not going well for the state, they were not going badly at all at Dennis Osadebey House, the seat of government in Benin.

Between Lucky Igbinedion and Oserheimen Osunbor, two PDP governors who were in office between 1999 and 2008, Edo received over N1trillion from the federation account. Whatever was not used from the treasury to keep Igbinedion flying from one exotic destination to another or to service his libido with regular supply of undergraduates from the University of Benin, was used to maintain Godfather Anenih and a few party faithful.

Edo was a captive state with a wounded heart beating only for a privileged few.

That was what you promised to change, Comrade; that was what many of us believed you came to change. And you came with a reputation and a record. As a labour leader you fought injustice from the shop floor in Kaduna to the corner shop in Lagos. You gave a voice to the voiceless and challenged government not just to account for the use of public resources but also to govern with compassion.

You carried this same revolutionary zeal into politics in 2008, vowing to crush godfatherism in Edo and to make government work for the people. Where the PDP behaved as if Anenih’s vote was equal to that of the 1.7million registered voters in Edo, you demanded and fought for one-man, one-vote, the essence of democracy.

If anyone thought your first coming was a judicial fluke you proved them wrong when you recontested and defeated the PDP in 2012, with 73 per cent of the votes, a victory that nailed the coffin of godfather politics in Edo.

Or so we thought. Events of the last few weeks in Edo suggest that Anenih’s politics may be dead, but the godfather lives – and that you, Comrade, are the new godfather and the reincarnation of his reprehensible politics.

How can you so blatantly embed yourself in deciding who succeeds you that you deny any other candidate, apart from your anointed, the right to contest even the party’s primaries? Apart from gradually drifting into running government like a cult, you have taken over the powers of the party, captured the press and silenced the security services, including the police. It is either your candidate or no one else; your way or the highway. Slowly, but surely, you are making Anenih look like an amateur.

We did not bargain for this, Comrade and I’m sure you know what I mean. We did not bargain for a time when out of desperation to prevent your deputy from contesting the party’s primaries, you would instigate his impeachment even when the echoes of the guns of his alleged assassins can still be heard. Where is the compassion, the justice, the right to one-man, one-vote that you passionately spoke about and fought for? What is Anenih thinking now?

I wanted to write this letter earlier, after your now controversial press statement announcing the death of the Oba. I don’t know which one made me more miserable – the death of the Oba or the “iconoclastic” violence to English language in the statement announcing his death. I have no doubt that your pain was sincere, and your grief, genuine.

But when I remembered that only three years ago, you dramatised and ridiculed, on TV, the literary incompetence of Augusta Odemwinge, a secondary school teacher in Edo, I expected a much higher standard from the Government House, especially in a statement announcing the Oba’s passing. It was not just about the misuse of one word, no. There was a deep, structural flaw pointing to fundamental problems in government. Maybe, the “competency test” should have started from Dennis Osadebey Avenue.

The state House of Assembly has now been engulfed in the rebellion in your government, confirming my worst fears.

Comrade, whatever former governor Igbinedion may say about the N1trillion your government received in seven years, infrastructure in Edo is much better today than when you came to office. The streets are cleaner, there are smarter businesses apart from commercial Okada and more schools look like schools. Yet, you risk losing whatever modest gains you have made in your last desperate act to become the author and finisher of Edo’s future.

The thing you fear most may happen. If you are not careful, you may lose even the residual power to influence who emerges your party’s next candidate, damage your respect and goodwill and expose your legacy to a hostile takeover, whether your party wins or loses.

But you can still save yourself from the impending “iconoclastism,” Comrade. Easy does it. Remember the ambassador’s wife?