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Edo Poll: Obaseki, Shaibu Tussle Signals Bigger Battle Ahead

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, are two intimate friends, but from indications things are falling apart between them ahead of the state governorship poll, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE writes. 

The drama playing out in the Edo State Government House on Osadebe Avenue will make Nollywood directors go green with envy, while political analysts will be left stupefied by the unpredictable nature of events in the last two weeks in the ancient city of Benin.

The two major characters in the drama that has tilted towards absurdity are the state governor and his deputy, Godwin Obaseki, and Philip Shaibu, respectively. They are both locked in a battle of wits, with the people of Edo likely to suffer, being the grass underneath the feet of two warring elephants battling for supremacy like in the proverbial tale.

However, their benefactor, Adam Oshiomhole, a former governor of the state and senator representing Edo North, may play a crucial role in the outcome.

An indication that all was not well between the number one and two citizens of the state gained ground when the news that Shaibu approached a Federal High Court in Abuja over two weeks ago to stop possible impeachment moves against him.

In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1027/2023, the Inspector General of Police, the State Security Service, the Governor of Edo State, the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, and the Chief Judge of Edo State are the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth defendants, respectively. Shaibu was seeking an interlocutory injunction restraining the 3rd, 4th, and 5th defendants/respondents, or their agents, from commencing an impeachment process against him. He also prayed the court to restrain the governor of the state or another person acting on his order from harassing and preventing him from effectively discharging his duties as the state’s deputy governor.

However, the governor has denied knowledge of plans to impeach his deputy while accusing Shaibu of planning to defect to the All Progressives Congress. He also said he was sure his deputy was desperate to become governor instead of allowing the government to finish strong and deliver on its promised dividends of democracy.

The governor said, “There is no plan to impeach his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu. The move by Shaibu seeking a court order to stop his purported impeachment is preemptive ahead of his defection to the All Progressives Congress.

“The deputy governor has been actively engaging with senior actors both at the national and state levels of the APC, negotiating his way into their party, and he is on the verge of finalising moves to defect to the APC.

“Philip Shaibu has never had the courtesy to discuss his ambitions with me. The last time we spoke of my successor after the House of Assembly election, I did say that we should be patient and that our task is to try and finish well and conclude all the projects we started. It’s only when we do this right that we will have the support of the people for my successor. I am not angry, but naturally, I should be disappointed. I understand what is going on.”

Despite pressing on with his court case, Shaibu also denied having plans to rejoin the APC.

The deputy governor, through his Chief Press Secretary, Musa Ebomhiana, said the report was the handwork of mischief makers who were bent on widening the deputy governor and his principal, Obaseki.

“Hackwriters are at it again. Mischief makers bent on destabilising our dear Edo State are still at work. They will stop at nothing to widen the gulf between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu.

“They have generated more lies from the pit of hell, saying that Rt. Hon. Comrade Philip Shaibu has perfected plans to rejoin the All Progressives Congress, next week. There is no iota of truth in this.

“To further put a lie to this, the spin doctors claimed that the APC National Working Committee, NWC, is set to receive him in Abuja. The question here for discerning minds is: is it the NWC of a party that receives a defector into the party? Shaibu has never minced words, vowing to sink and swim with his principal, Governor Godwin Obaseki. This, he has said several times in public fora.’’

However, unverified but trending reports about the current political happenings in the state show that at the centre of the rift is the desire of Shaibu to succeed Obaseki, who is said to favour a successor from Edo Central, a region that has yet to taste power after the court sacked a former governor, Oserheimen Osunbor, who is from the zone, in 2008 after 18 months in office.

Shaibu may also have incurred the wrath of his boss when he abandoned the swearing-in of commissioners in Benin to attend the inauguration of the National Assembly, where he met and fraternised with a former governor of the state, Oshiomhole, who is not on good terms with Obaseki and his deputy. The meeting between Oshiomhole and Shaibu was not seen as a chance meeting but as one that was arranged. Shaibu is perceived to be working towards mending fences with his godfather, which must have angered the powers that be on Osadebe Avenue in Benin.

Obaseki seemed to have responded to his deputy’s “insubordination” by placing revenue collection under the direct supervision of his office, which will include that of the local government, which was formerly under the deputy governor’s office.

The governor was also recently at the Sam Ogbemudia Stadium, receiving former Olympians and taking them on a tour of the facilities, a function that would have been carried out by Shaibu (who was away in the United States of America at the time) or the leadership of the sports council led by Yusuf Alli, a former Olympian.

However, at the plenary of the House of Assembly on Monday, there was no mention of the impeachment move against Shaibu, though those close to the Assembly said it was a matter of time as it already had the numbers to impeach Shaibu.

Expectedly, concerned citizens and groups have waded into the matter in a bid to bring a lasting solution to the rift. While some have chided the deputy governor for taking his boss and others to court, others have opined that Shaibu has the right to approach the court to save his political career.

A lawyer, Osagie Obayuwana, said that Shaibu did not have to wait till he was impeached (which bothers him on his rights) before making the move.

He said, “People take the EFFC and DSS to court (due to perceived fear) to get an ex parte order to stop these agencies from arresting them. And in many instances, those matters never see the light of day.’’

However, the former Commissioner for Communication in the state, Andrew Emwanta, said it was obvious that the governor and his team were not comfortable with Shaibu’s decision to run for governorship next year.

He said, “It is clear that the governor and his team are not comfortable with the deputy governor’s decision to run for the office of the governor. Oshiomhole is a mutual benefactor to the two of them. In 2016, he sponsored the candidature of Godwin Obaseki, who was relatively unknown in the political space. He saw Obaseki as a technocrat who needed to be brought in to manage the economy because he was the chairman of Oshiomhole’s economic team.

“Against all odds and advice, he was imposed on the party, and he also brought his political godson, Shaibu, who was in the House of Representatives, to run as Obaseki’s running mate. Unfortunately, Oshiomhole’s removal as national chairman was sponsored by these men through his ward chairman, who suspended him and removed him as national chairman of the APC. Today, Oshiomhole is a senator, and I hope Shaibu’s ambition is on solid footing.

“His impeachment sounded like a joke, but it has become real, and to avert that reality, there was a need to go to court to stop it. If the impeachment wasn’t real, I don’t think the deputy governor would have gone to court. The governor is denying it, but it is real. As one of the defendants in the case, he is supposed to file a counter affidavit, which he has not done. He feels it is more convenient to deny the impeachment moves in the media, but he needs to get his lawyers to do the needful and appear in court.’’

Reverend Olu Martin, a public affairs analyst, said that the deputy governor should be diplomatic and mature in his quest to succeed Obaseki.

“I think it’s just blackmail because Dr Pius Odubu tried to contact Oshiomhole and there was no problem. He even went ahead to contest the primary of the APC; at that time, Oshiomhole preferred Godwin Obaseki, and we didn’t see any court cases.’

There is nothing wrong with having ambition, but if your principal doesn’t give you that nod, it does not mean you should blackmail him. Because the governor has been having issues with some persons in the past, he wants to portray the governor in a bad light, so to me, it is a complete mischief.’’

“Their tenure will end on November 26, 2024. I think the deputy governor just realised that the governor may want to play fair. Don’t forget that Edo Central just had 20 months as governor that the law doesn’t even recognise.

“I think the governor is looking at a situation where all the major tribes in Edo State see themselves as brothers and sisters. So, I think he just wants to ruffle it a little.

“I cannot verify claims that he has been stopped from carrying out his functions. But the deputy governor has not shown any evidence to that effect; the only one in the public domain is the directive by the governor that revenue generation comes under his office. The governor has the right to do this. The constitution says that the only duty the deputy governor has is to assist the governor. So it is the governor who determines the level of assistance he wants from his deputy.’’

Oshiomhole may have shut the door against Shaibu when he said that the All Progressives Congress was not a place to rehabilitate failed politicians. However, in politics, anything is possible as the drama continues to unfold.

Nevertheless, the crisis may be the beginning of troubles lurking around the corner ahead of the state governorship election.

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