Tongues are wagging over the series of drama in Edo State due to the succession battle between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, ahead of the 2024 governorship election.
Political pundits say the rift between friends turned foes is affecting governance in the state, as the two top politicians who are supposed to deliver dividends of democracy are at daggers-drawn.
Our correspondent gathered that the bone of contention is Shaibu’s ambition to contest the governorship election and succeed his principal on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Analysts, however, said Obaseki believed that Shaibu was courting his perceived enemies, including traditional rulers, with the aim of getting support to actualise his ambition.
It was gathered that although Governor Obaseki was not disposed to his deputy succeeding him in 2024, a source close to the duo said Shaibu’s romance with a certain traditional ruler worsened the already strained relationship.
Things began to fall apart when Obaseki accused Shaibu of perfecting plans to defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC) to actualise his ambition.
He was said to have informed Shaibu that he was picking his successor from Edo Central for fairness and equity although there is no clear cut agreement on zoning of the governorship ticket in the state.
As the rift is widening the gap between the duo, Obaseki had accused Shaibu of manipulating Edo Youth Council election in pursuit of his “selfish ambition” to become governor.
“Shaibu worked behind me in an attempt to fester his ambition through the youth council. The reason why my deputy governor manipulated your election is because he has political ambition and thought he could control and use the council to achieve his political goals,” the governor alleged.
Speaking at a campaign rally ahead of the September 2 local government election in the state, Obaseki said, “My deputy has become so desperate to become the next governor and is ready to do anything, including carrying out a coup d’etat to ensure he kicks me out and become the governor of Edo State.
“What struck me was his action after the proclamation of the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) and preparing to elect officers. He was in Abuja and came back that day. I am the chief security officer of the state, so I get any information I need but keep quiet and use it quietly.”
The governor claimed that Shaibu wanted to install the Speaker of the state House of Assembly during the election, working with the APC and five of his loyal PDP members. He added that it was one of the reasons he barred the deputy governor from entering his house during the meeting.
To ensure that Shaibu retained his position as deputy governor after they had moved from the APC amid the crisis in the run-up to the 2020 governorship poll, Obaseki said he made a lot of sacrifices.
He said the deputy governor never discussed his governorship ambition with him, adding, “Shaibu went to Abuja and didn’t tell me, only for me to see him on the social media and television as the video was all over the place. He was going around boasting to leave the party.
“Before now, he had been going around saying he was consulting. We had a meeting and I urged them to ensure we finished strong, as whatever we do now will help us sell who will succeed me. I charged them all to come together to solidify the party as the PDP would produce the next governor of the state.
“He told me he was going on holidays and I approved it for him as usual. He didn’t tell me he was travelling, but the next thing I saw was a court summon that he was to be impeached.
“I called the Speaker to find out from him, but he said there was nothing like that going on. What bothers me is for him to swear an affidavit that we stopped him from coming into exco. This is a wrong information from a public officer.”
Reacting to the alleged desperation to oust him, Shaibu said, “Political jobbers sold the dummy to the governor with a view to provoking more crisis so that they can benefit from it.
“It is a privilege to serve as Governor Obaseki’s deputy; and I have consistently, within the last seven years, demonstrated commitment to the advancement of a shared vision for Edo State,” he said.
He said the insinuation that he harboured ulterior motives or sought to undermine Obaseki’s leadership was nothing short of a fabrication.
As the crisis rages, it was gathered that the governor’s men had plotted Shaibu’s impeachment through the State House of Assembly, but his men within the Assembly informed him of the plot, thus, he ran to court, which temporarily halted the impeachment move.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that some of Shaibu’s aides have been negatively affected following the succession battle as they have been intimidated and harassed, while others were barred from carrying out their duties with the governor.
The renewed onslaught on the deputy governor allegedly started after he received a rousing welcome at the Benin airport by his supporters on returning to the state from vacation. Last week Sunday at the festival hall during the 32rd anniversary celebration of the creation of Edo State, Shaibu was said to have been prevented by the governor’s security from reaching him.
On August 28, during Midwest @ 60 anniversary, the feud took another dimension as members of the press crew attached to the deputy governor were reportedly ordered out of the event.
It was gathered that the deputy governor and his press crew had already seated at the venue of the event for coverage when the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr Andrew Okungbowa, led the security attached to the governor and ordered them out of the venue.
It was alleged that he reportedly identified members of Shaibu’s press crew one after the other before the security details physically forced them out of the venue.
Shaibu was said to have made efforts to intervene but was rebuffed by the security men, who told him it was an instruction from above. The deputy governor, who was angered by the development, stormed out of the event in protest, saying he could not be where his media crew was barred.
Shuaibu ‘s media crew disbanded
As the feud continues unabated, Governor Obaseki disbanded the media crew attached to the Office of the Deputy Governor. The governor in a statement directed the Ministry of Communication and Orientation to take charge of media coverage of activities of the deputy governor.
“This directive followed the ugly and unfortunate incident that happened during the colloquium held to mark the 60th anniversary of Midwest referendum celebration, where some journalists, who claimed to be the media crew of the deputy governor attempted to force their way into the hall where the governor and other invited dignitaries were already seated,” he said.
On September 5, Shaibu withdrew his suit against Obaseki, Inspector General of Police, State Security Service, Chief Judge of the state and the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
He said, “Arising from the series of meetings held with me and also with Mr Governor by well-meaning Edolites, Nigerians and party leaders, traditional rulers and my Archbishop, The Most Rev Dr Augustine Akubueze, the Archbishop of Benin Archdiocese on the issues that led to my going to court, I have instructed my solicitors to withdraw the suit forthwith”
Shaibu, however, appreciated Governor Obaseki, who he described as his boss, mentor and brother “for this path of peace.”
Meanwhile, the state chairman of the PDP, Dr Toni Azeigbemi, described the withdrawal of the case as a step in the right direction and a good thing for the party.
“This is the right thing to do. Things have to happen for other things to happen. But since this has happened, we have a 50-50 chance of better things to come,” he said.
But Obaseki sent Shaibu and his office staff out of the Government House as the deputy governor relocated to a building under renovation.
The new office, located at No 7, Dennis Osadebey Avenue, is an abandoned and dilapidated building formerly used by the state procurement agency.
One of Shaibu’s aides who confirmed the development said staff in the Deputy Governor’s Office had started moving to the new office.
“The civil servants are the ones moving now; the deputy governor is yet to move. We may move before the end of the week,” he said.
Governance replaced with drama
Speaking on the development, some citizens of the state expressed worry that the rift between the governor and his deputy was affecting governance in the state.
A resident of the state, Dada Ayokha, who spoke with our correspondent, called for an amicable resolution of the crisis, saying, “It is impacting negatively on governance in the state.”
According to him, governance is being replaced with drama as a result of the disagreement between the two top politicians.
“The first impact is the distraction, which is already manifesting. Government’s attention is already diverting from governance to release series of non-profitable statements on who is wrong or right in the succession battle.
“A classical example is the recent tour of Obaseki across the state ahead of local government election,” he said.
He said that throughout the tour there was no commissioning of projects or laying of foundation of laudable projects by the governor but comments on Shaibu’s alleged disloyalty to his boss.
“Shaibu in turn is going about in search of solidarity rally and statement about his ambition. And the way it is going, if not checked, they would resort to use of thugs,” he added.
But Lucky Isibor said the feud had not yet taken a toll on governance as the governor was still performing his functions. He, however, said, “I can’t say what would happen tomorrow with the way the crisis is going.”