Monday, 15 June 2020

OBASEKI AND APPROACHES TO ANTI-GODFATHERISM

Godwin Obaseki, Governor, Edo State
Nwachukwu Ngige

The political history of Africa avails two major tactics to successfully deal with what can be called Godfatherism we know today. First is pretended subservience, playing a willing tool till such a time enough balls and muscles are developed in what historians term playing Mohammed V of Morocco. The idea is to pretend and hit when the iron is red-hot. How?

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Mohammed V was chosen by France instead of his elder brother as Sultan of Morocco in 1926. They thought of him a pliable tool for colonial administration. For many years, Mohammed aptly played the sheep to the disgust of his compatriot nationalists. Things came to a head when the Second World War exposed the underbelly of France. Morocco made immense contributions to the French contingent of the allied forces that at the end of the war, Mohammed secured the commitment of the US President Roosevelt to Morocco’s freedom. France demurred and wasn’t ready for concession. Mohammed wasted no time in rebelling and demanding immediate independence. France was alarmed, deposed and exiled him to Madagascar. But the popular support for the deposed Sultan whose real colour emerged, grew the more, leading to incredible protests and mass action, forcing France to bring him home in 1956 with independence granted the same year.

The second strategy consists of an out-and-out ruthlessness, scorched-earth encounter that leaves zero consideration for vulnerability in the eventuality of loss. The option repulses failure even if it stares in the face. Samouri Toure, a West African military adventurist and Mandika Empire builder(18881-1889) who brutally resisted the French, defeating them in pitched battles while losing others; shunning suspicious alliance with the rival Soninke Ahmadu of Segu is a perfect example. Samouri was the first West African ruler to engage the Europeans in modern warfare.

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He was mercilessly destroying and devastating villages, towns and farmlands as he retreated from the furious advance of the French forces, leaving behind desolation that deprived the aggressors’ means of sustenance. Samouri somehow played diplomacy along the way by setting the British in Freetown against the French but failed. He however, saw on time the dishonesty of imperialism and immediately denounced the Bisandugu Accord of 1886, ready to defend the Mandika Empire. Samouri so devasted the French that he was beseeched to cease fire with a huge offer to retire unharmed to his village in modern day Guinea.

However, the two strategies can also be combined as a suave option especially where the subject has the benefit of time. It may involve Fabianism. Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia successfully employed this in long-stretched skirmishes and failed negotiations that readied Ethiopia to humiliate Italy, then a world power, with a crushing defeat at the battle of Adowa in 1896. Italy lost about a thousand men!

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In Nigeria, godfatherism is largely associated with the administration of Dr. Chris Ngige as Anambra Governor, though a kinder form had existed. The very moment he became the flag bearer of the PDP in November 2002, was the very instance his godfathers led by Chris Uba unveiled chains to gag his independence and strip his executive powers when elected. Just like the French thought of a pliant in Mohammed V, the Anambra godfathers erroneously thought Ngige was a puppet that would rubberstamp their stranglehold on the coffers of the state.

And Like the Moroccan Sultan, Ngige, played along, won election, sworn in and bared his fangs in battle of his life and future of his state. July 10, 2003 was the climax; the overthrow of the godfathers and the liberation of the state . But that was only a battle as other theatres of war raged. Similar to Samouri after the fall of Bisandugu Treaty, Ngige was ready to die for the cause he believed in. Top PDP leaders were ready to broker a deal to afford him respite, at least finish his term. All, he turned down, delivered unprecedented stewardship and unbowed until a conniving judiciary joined forces with the godfathers. For bluntly refusing to sell the state to free only himself, Ngige became a Messiah and amassed a huge political capital that will last the end of time. He left office but not without banishing the godfathers.

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Peter Obi who succeeded him is an attempted godfather but his handpicked successor, Willie Obiano rebuffed him. Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, like Samouri Toure ruthlessly banished Chief Jim Nwobodo from Enugu, while Adams Osimohole who today plays avatar to godfatherism brutally dismantled the father of all fixers, late Chief Tony Annenih. Only Rashidi Ladoja fell to the garrison commander, Lamidi Adedibu in Oyo State.

Drawing from the above therefore, what currently happens in Edo indicates Governor Godwin Obasaki has not adequately mastered the art of dealing with godfathers. He failed to incipient ambivalence over which of the two strategies to use while his later decision to apply a combination got fraught with indecisiveness. Lest, when Menelik decided on battlefield to settle the Italian question, he never looked back and when Samouri repudiated the Bisandugu Treaty, he didn’t disguise the wounded lion in him. When I saw Obaseki lose the battle to oust Oshimohole last year and failed to follow up with another tenterhook, knowing his election was by the corner, I concluded he is not a student of history. He would have learnt that no amount of plea from powerful Cleopatra of Alexandra stopped Augustus from assassinating Caesarion, her son for Julius Caesar. “Two Caesars are one too many,” Arius of Didymus had warned Augustus.

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Fortunately, Obaseki is said to have a brilliant stewardship, hence the support of Edo people. Consequently, no option would rival unconstrained scorched-earth. Attack every object that looks like Oshimohole is the mode. That Obasaki sometime last year tried to play a Brutus on Mark Anthony on the Ides of March or Ambode on Tinubu during the 2019 elections is a fatal error. Oshimhole was far too bruised for placation. Recall that Brutus spared the life of Mark Anthony when Cassius had already penciled him down to die with Julius Caesar. Anthony would later join forces with Augustus to kill Brutus at the battle of Philipi in BC 42. Anthony only paid him back by singling out his body for decent burial with purple linen. Similarly, Ambode cowered away when he had the opportunity of making things extremely difficult for his oppressors and paid dearly.

It is not late but a lot more effort is now needed to save the prince of Benin from the barely literate textile worker that climbed on the back of unionism. He had an opportunity to open up more frontiers of war to ensure Oshimohole is never king over the Edo governorship primary and has fellow governors willing to support him. He failed to do this, thereby placed Oshimohole sure-footed at the bridge exit. But he still has the opportunity to pull down the entire bridge while he concentrates on his new option. Good lawyers abound. The bridge can be repaired thereafte, after all, the Biafrans pulled down Niger Bridge and shut out Murtala’s three bloody attempts to cross the river. A pun on the word bridge, anyway!

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My stand is that godfatherism be dismantled so that democracy will be in word and in deed.

Nwachukwu Ngige, a journalist writes from Abuja

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