by Frisky Larr (M. A.)
Within the past two months, Nigerians have witnessed not less than ten media headlines reporting the alarm raised by Governor Adams Oshiomole over impending electoral manipulations in Edo state. Each time, he is accusing the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of planning to rig the forthcoming gubernatorial election in that state coming up in July 2012. He raised the alarm the loudest, when he narrowly escaped death from a traffic mishap, in which a tractor reportedly ran into a vehicle in his convoy traveling to Benin en route from a political event.
Even though many neutral observers attributed the fatal incident to the characteristic lawless driving patterns of government convoys in road traffic, the circumstances surrounding the crash seemed nonetheless bizarre to say the least. The Governor’s life was saved by a whisker. Rather than being chauffeured in his official vehicle, he was reported to have driven himself in a nondescript and unmarked car in the middle of the convoy. There were good reasons to believe that a political motive was not improbable even if it was not a compelling necessity. The alarm was blown again a few weeks later. This time, a close aide and confidant of the Governor was killed in the middle of the night by assailants. The Governor wasted no time pointing accusing fingers at the PDP and even claimed to have received report about the venue, time and participants of the clandestine PDP meeting, in which the nefarious assassination plan was hatched.
The Governor did not tell Nigerians however that he had other compelling reasons, which made the death of Olaitan Oyerinde particularly painful to him. Subsequent media reports uncovered that Mr. Oyerinde had been strategically positioned to take over a leadership position in the country’s umbrella labor union Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC). It is this revelation that is exposing a can of worms in political machinations involving the Governor. It marks the Governor’s personal betrayal of public trust and his own involvement in manipulative restructuring. Adams Oshiomole as a man of the grassroots rode favorably on his tenacious commitment to the interest of workers in his capacity as a former labor leader. This factor single-handedly shot him into the hearts and minds of ordinary people before he became an action Governor counting on visible achievements.
Nigeria’s recent encounter with a major socioeconomic dispute bothering on welfare and corruption however showed a reversed attitude on the part of a man who moved from being a comrade to becoming a GOVERNOR. The fuel subsidy dispute showed Oshiomole’s overnight transformation in a virtual psychological sense. He became a vocal advocate of the removal of fuel subsidy in clear disregard for the pains it meant to ordinary people and in clear negation of all that he had stood for all the years of his leadership in the labor union. He sought to perform a delicate balancing act that was not supposed to place his sympathies in Public Square for all to see. Insiders and experts knew however, where his sympathies lie. This was partly evident, not the least, in his guarded admonishment at a point in time, of a cabinet colleague who expressed unreserved sympathy for protests against subsidy removal. In the end however, the subsidy removal project was defeated and Oshiomole’s glamour image suffered a major dent.
Being sympathetic to the cause of a federal government that was bent against all odds, on removing the subsidy, Oshiomole is reported to have worked for the restructuring of the country’s umbrella labor body, which was the arrowhead of the mass uprising in January 2012. The plot sought to work quietly to replace the leadership of the NLC with characters that are more sympathetic to the government’s cause of removing the oil subsidy without any meaningful public resistance. The adverse effects of the move do not seem to matter. Olaitan Oyerinde was one person that was reportedly designated for one of the top positions in the NLC. The swapping of positions was said to be a matter of time. A very short time!
Oshiomole was therefore in no hurry to point out this aspect of developments surrounding the political résumé of late Oyerinde. Pointing fingers at the opposition party had more political expediency even though the option of opposition’s involvement cannot be discounted. It is at this point however that several critics began asking aloud if the Governor is not just getting a little too desperate. Indeed, he has reasons for desperation too.
The prospect of losing the forthcoming gubernatorial election more likely by crook than by hook is looking increasingly realistic. It is not the desperation of the opposition PDP alone that is likely to unseat Governor Oshiomole with the federal might but critical fingers are now also beginning to flash the light of improprieties his awesome way. Quite lately, pictures emerged, of mansions and several other structures that he is building in his private estate at Iyamho, for which his salary and other emoluments cannot readily account. Several Journalists do not hide their complaints and grudges these days that the Governor is peccably following the familiar footsteps of his predecessor in office Mr. Lucky Igbinedion. Aside from working too closely with and often employing the services of the university cult, the “Black Ax” movement, for political intimidation and other vices, excessive orgies of womanizing is the least of all worries. Like his predecessor too, Gov. Oshiomole is said to be advancing construction works on his private Iyamho site with the services of South African contractors.
Often reportedly taking advantage of his annual N2 billion budgetary vote on security as is granted to all Governors, Adams Oshiomole – people say – has no difficulties dishing out millions for unexplained purposes and from unexplained budgetary sources these days. I remember the days of the subsidy protest when violence spilled into Benin City. The district called Hausa Quarters was reportedly stormed by protesters who killed 5 resident Northerners. Information of the killing reached the BBC correspondent in Lagos through informal sources, who promptly filed his report for the next hourly news. On calling some friends at the Press Center in Benin City to get more information, I was told that the Governor in an attempt to suppress the media coverage of the killings had paid 3 million Naira to reporters covering the event not to report the killings. At the time I told my contact on telephone however that the information was already on BBC news that same evening and the information was passed over, I could hear many people in the background burst into loud laughter in amusement. The first question I asked my colleague was where the money was taken from, if the claim was true. The answer I got was simple. What is N3million in a security vote of N2billion? The security vote is an area that no Governor is required to render account on. It is the source of random spending such as the purchases of Jeeps for friends and political sympathizers.
Today, complaints are growing louder. People complain of several improprieties of shocking dimensions that will leave several mouths agape if another Governor came in to expose the books. My information uncovers that construction work on the Airport road was awarded to a company called Servitek belonging to a man popularly known in Benin City as “Captain Hosa” – a man who is not an unknown political quantity – at the cost of N4billion. The total length of the road is just 8 kilometers. For some reason however, Captain Hosa defected to the PDP from the ACN. The contract was promptly taken away from him and re-awarded to a company called SERTRACO belonging to one Alhaji Inu Umoru. It did not matter that the work had been started and done in a minimum part. It was suddenly re-awarded for N6billion – 2 billion Naira in excess of the previous amount! Till the moment, the discrepancy remains unexplained.
People complain that indigenes of the state are hardly employed to work in the multiple construction projects. The contract for the construction of roads in the district called Ugbowo was said to have been awarded to a company called Hydrek owned by one Mr. Tinubu – don’t ask me which – who is definitely not an indigene of Edo state. Several Lebanese and South Africans are said to be having lucrative positions in many of the projects. In fact some sharp-tongued critics even blamed the recent collapse of the building under construction at the Central Hospital, on the haste to complete and commission the project before the July election date.
It has become obvious to many observers that several construction works that were started in the early days of the Governor’s tenure were still lingering with no prospect of completion any time soon. With so much internally generated revenue, Edo state is said to have amassed more cash than at any other point in the history of the state. Today however, people suspect that the government has become cash-strapped and that the projects may never be completed even halfway through a second term, if Oshiomole wins a return ticket.
One fact that should not be ignored however is that there are several roads that people are proud to point at! Roads that have been beautifully constructed and completed. Fixed drainage systems that have rescued several districts from the cyclical agony of the rainy season! There are several teaching and boarding facilities, schools and other public institutions that were dilapidating and have now been revamped and equipped for normal function the way they were conceived of in the days of Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. In fact the repeated claim of Governor Oshiomole’s achievements is not a mere window-dressing claim. The man has several completed projects to show for his tenure. This perhaps, is the reason that he is believed to be having a strong grassroots followership that should make him win re-election easily in a level playing field.
To survive, consolidate his position and perform these feats however, it is an indisputable fact that some form of protective and sometimes offensive thuggery is indispensable in a Nigerian political landscape, in which only the fittest survives. Unfortunately however, Adams Oshiomole seems to have lacked the finesse and sophistication of personal composure. Like Olusegun Obasanjo who achieved quite a lot for Nigeria and ends up simply being derided and abused by seemingly ungrateful Nigerians, Oshiomole’s personal arrogance and larger than life attitude seems to be his undoing factor. There is hardly anyone close to government house, who does not complain in private, about Oshiomole’s arrogant and conceited nature. He does not seem to have learned to tread the more psychologically productive path of humility and bending down low. This precisely, may turn out to become his undoing factor as the opposition now loudly and treacherously accuses him of disrespect for elders – a trick that may stick. One fact is certain though: ACN under Oshiomole much like PDP under Airhiavbere will both do their part in election rigging and violence to win the Governorship seat. They have both been bracing for the moment with psychological and physical weapons of all sorts.
In the highly likely event of Oshiomole’s ACN being outdone in election rigging and violence during the Governorship election, will Oshiomole be able to muster the force of people’s power in street protests? The same people that he so dispassionately and shamelessly betrayed in the fuel subsidy disaster? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Frisky Larr (M. A.) Radio/Television Journalist/Communication Scientist Govt.-accredited Translator/Interpreter of the English language Germany