Sunday, September 17, 2023 3:43 pm
By Tony Iyare
On Thursday, as we celebrated the “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross”, somehow my mind was transfixed on Philip Shuaibu, Edo State Deputy Governor and his travails. Who will save him from a self inflicted conundrum? For weeks, we’ve watched the unfolding ‘roforofo’ fight and muzzle flexing between Shuaibu and his erstwhile close ally and boss, Governor Godwin Obaseki that has not only seen governance nosedived to mere fiddlesticks in our beloved state but took shine away from the 60th anniversary of our historic referendum that saw the birth of the Midwest (now Edo & Delta states) in 1963.
As a close observer of his blissful political career from a rosy nursery, I cannot but weep for Shuaibu, who’s now groaning under the sword of Damocles. My heart bleeds for Shuaibu even as I’m in a quandary on why a young man with a promising political future would invite wrath and odium unto himself. He must now be gnashing his teeth as he confronts the burden of carrying his jaded cross. Unlike Our Lord Jesus Christ who transformed the cross by dying on it to cleanse our sins, Shuaibu’s burden of bearing a cross could be the dawn of political Siberia. How are the mighty fallen, tell it not on Dennis Osadebey Avenue.
It will be intriguing to see how Shuaibu saunters through his debacle even after withdrawing his ill advised suit against Obaseki and other principal officials from the court. He’s not only stripped of his larger than life image of a political dinosaur but now has to operate from a less fancied office on the precinct of Government House. In short, he’s now been made to devour the humble pie.
Here was Shuaibu who had a flowery leeway with Obaseki and was endowed with privileges and power that no Governor either in the history of Edo or the country has ever conferred on their deputy, yet he squandered it on the alter of pride, ego tripping, pigheadedness and inordinate ambition. Unlike many of his colleagues who largely partake in governance from the sidelines or merely go to “read newspapers in the office,” he was graciously allowed to oversee revenue generation, politics, sports, local government and other allied matters apart from his constitutional function of presiding over boundary matters. No sooner, the swell of power, influence and cash from these privileges made Shuaibu carry on with a bloated swagger. He was deluded by the trappings of sharing the limelight with his boss and began to naively perceive himself as a ‘Co-Governor’.
As if on a race for pre-eminence with Obaseki, who allegedly leased the GRA Benin City home of former Military Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, which now serves as his private residence, Shuaibu also acquired the home of late revered Nationalist and Elder Statesman, Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro on 10 Aideyan Street also in GRA. In a sane country such a property would be a monument. He also bought the neighboring house as part of his move to fortify his new palatial abode. No one would fault Shuaibu for nursing an ambition to be Governor akin to looking for a pin in a haystack but plotting behind the back of his boss and amassing arsenals without Obaseki’s knowledge was reprehensible.
I do not know how many Governors would have taken an inch of Shuaibu’s affront. Obaseki was even gracious to have bent over backwards and tolerated Shuaibu’s excesses for this long. Perhaps it was cobbled as some playbook for their mutual survival as they wrestled powerful forces in the state. Unfortunately, the Deputy Governor was numbed to appreciate that he longed crossed the line. Against the run of protocols, Shuaibu usually strolled into public functions and Exco meetings long after the Governor would have been seated and the day’s proceedings began.
Although Obaseki’s cantankerous mien is a put off, his problems particularly with henchmen of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) like Chief Dan Orbih, leader of the legacy group and former Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike were largely on account of Shuaibu’s nuances. Even when Obaseki sought PDP ticket in his strive for political survival, haven been denied a second term birth on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), he insisted on running with Shuaibu. It was really to my chagrin that I saw a widely advertised press statement personally signed by Obaseki defending his deputy against a fellow Governor.
Shuaibu is the classical case of “those whom the gods wish to destroy are first made mad”. As a young man thrust into fame in a country where many of his contemporaries are beset with harsh economic realities, he ought to have reflected on this popular literary phrase which first appeared in exactly this form in Reverend William Anderson Scott’s book, “Daniel, a Model for Young Men” in 1854 and later in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora” in 1875. Shuaibu allowed the grandeur of power to get a better part of him. He became oblivious that the Governor’s Office in which the buck stops at Governor Obaseki’s table, is one. By treating his boss with disparagement and levity, Shuaibu may just have crossed the rubicon on his way to political Golgotha.
While I do not wish to undermine the efforts of the elders who are working to broker a truce, it will be inconceivable to expect Obaseki and Shuaibu to be back to their old churning relationship before their term winds down on November 12, 2024. At best Obaseki will be advised to dine with an unruly Shuaibu only with a long spoon. He may want to heed the admonition by Our Lord Jesus to forgive those who offends us seventy x seven times but which Governor will not glide with trepidation seeing a disloyal deputy under his nose? I doubt whether the elders can in all honesty counsel Obaseki to give warm embrace to a poisoned chalice.
Shuaibu ought to have learnt from the grace and humility of his immediate predecessor, Dr Pius Egberanmwen Odubu whom in spite of efforts by some fifth columnists to undermine his office, deny him second term and non support of his political ambition by then Governor Adams Oshiomhole, he never raised his hands against his boss. In spite of eliciting the support of many members of the cabinet who casted lot for Odubu to succeed his boss, Oshiomhole opted instead for Obaseki, a technocrat and then chairman of the Economic Team.
Odubu was undaunted by other challenges. He was unfortunate to serve under a boss who was as busy as a bee and was always itching to work for 30 hours in a day and scoffed at devolving powers to anyone. Oshiomhole always felt he could be his own minder, security man, driver, speech writer, spin doctor and often times rendered his tea boy jobless by walking briskly to the kitchen to make his tea and fetch some snacks. Many at times, he would complain that the convoy was too slow and instantly take on the wheels and be the pilot. Unlike Shuaibu who took full charge as Acting Governor when Obaseki was away, Odubu never had any such opportunity. But he never shred the cozy relationship with his boss.
Shuaibu could also have taken a cue from his other predecessor, Chief Mike Aiyegbeni Oghiadomhe who later became chief of staff to President Goodluck Jonathan. Oghiadomhe as deputy to Governor Lucky Igbinedion, who had predilection for the game of golf, also had some leeway but he carried on with humility. Igbinedion who loath the work on his table coming between him and golf, would normally ask Oghiadomhe to take charge particularly in the evenings when he withdrew to savour his favorite sport. This accorded Oghiadomhe some influence and means which opened his floodgates of relationship with Goodluck Jonathan, who was then enduring a cold shoulder as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State until fortune smiled on him.
What has now turned out as Shuaibu’s nemesis was his belief that he could rupture the political consensus that the Edo governorship seat should rotate amongst the three senatorial zones of a state whose indigenes share common ancestry. He also felt he had enough resources and grit to ride roughshod of the demands of the people of Edo Central Senatorial Zone who say it’s their turn to be Governor on the basis of “equity, fairness and justice”. Shuaibu had thought that since Obaseki was not looking his way for successor, it was better to go back to the APC and consummate his ambition. He must have reasoned that he would get the warm embrace of Oshiomhole, his mentor and prodigal father.
Shuaibu must have been shaken to his marrows from the leper’s embrace that he got instead from Oshiomhole who made it clear that APC was not an IDP camp for displaced politicians. Oshiomhole’s discomforting words that “I come from Iyamho, a small hamlet and would be happy to see us produce another Governor but Nigeria does not work that way,” may have nailed Shuaibu’s political ambition in the 2024 Edo governorship race. And his upbraids for Shuaibu to be loyal to his boss was loathsome.
Shuaibu who can be described as Oshiomhole’s protege owes his meteoric rise to the now Senator representing Edo North Senatorial zone. As majority leader in the Edo State House of Assembly, he doubled as a member of Oshiomhole’s kitchen cabinet when the latter was Governor. As a loyal foot soldier, Shuaibu was later elevated to the House of Representatives from where he became running mate to Obaseki as part of the matrix to balance technocracy with politics.
But he never bat any eyelids when he galvanized the movement to cut Oshiomhole to size and prevent him from assuming the role of a godfather in Edo politics. Against the wishes of Oshiomhole, who as APC national chairman scuttled his second term ticket, Obaseki with support from Shuaibu rallied a rainbow coalition to guarantee victory in the crucial 2020 governorship election. But consolidating the gains of that victory has been a sore point.
Tony Iyare, a Communications & Development Expert is a former Special Adviser to Governor Adams Oshiomhole on Media & Publicity