By Jefferson Uwoghiren, Esq.
Political conflicts and disagreement in Edo State have always been worrisome and divisive but its intensity and consequences haven’t been this polarizing and devastating, as recent developments.
Any attempt to trace the history of these conflicts will result in a major seminar work, outside the scope of this brief write up. During the Babangida years, Edo politicians positioned themselves as bridge builders and gateway to North and South, with Chief Tony Anenih of the SDP and Chief Tom Ikimi of the NRC, both Ishans, from Edo Central, simultaneously leading the two dominant political parties.
With so much to gain from cooperation rather than competing, they strode the political landscape with some much political arrogance and annoyance.
Back home, the Binis, flaunting its famed majority, demanded exclusive executive leadership of the political parties.
The NRC, a rampart gathering of the old NPN projected Chief Lucky Igbinedion while the SDP, assembled warhorses of UPN and tapped feisty top civil servant, Chief John Oyegun as its flag-bearer in the 1991 General Election.
The two political debutants, awash with solid war chests; turned Edo State into a battle ground of antithetical progressives. Chief Oyegun won the election, but his government was short lived and abruptly shoved aside by the military moderators of the transition to civil rule, that was designed to keep the military in power.
The subsequent five registered political parties, organized for this purpose were difficult to tell apart with organizational notoriety, funding and objectives. In spite of the garrison command structures of the military inspired political parties, professional politicians in Edo State found outlets for their unending rivalries and resumed their unfinished political wars.
Chief Tom Ikimi of the NRC found job as Foreign Affairs Minister and spokesman of military rules. He quickly rallied Gen. S.O Ogbemudia, former Governor and Minister to form the UNCP, a dominant political party that won all the seats in the 15th March, 1997 Local Government election.
Chief Tom Ikimi’s political rival, Chief Tony Anenih also sought and found shelter and leadership in the not too popular DPN with remnant of his SDP folks.
It’s very instructive to note that these acclaimed “democrats” found comfort and satisfaction in a political process that resolved electoral conflicts by the tossing of a coin as when Gen. Jeremiah Useni overruled NECON’s decision to conduct bye-election in three area councils in Abuja, and declared that tossing of coins was cost effective and divine politics.
Embarrassed by the desecrated divisive politics of the military after the death of Gen. Abacha, these leaders sought accommodation and unity in the transition programme of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, using two novel political platforms, the Edo Mass Movement, (EMM) and Edo Peoples’ Congress (EPC). General S.O. Ogbemudia’s EMM was the dominant partner in the merger and unity talks with Chief Tony Anenih’s led EPC, with Prince Clifford Eweka, officiating as the broker.
Late General S.O. Ogbemudia and his allies of the defunct UNCP approached the negotiations with the seriousness required by assembling coteries of old, inflexibly determined friends that required walking sticks, constant doses of amlodipine and kolanuts to steady them during meetings. Chief Tony Anenih and his group as junior partners in the merger negotiations, on the other hand assembled a team of young and ambitious political scientists, hard boiled negotiators, and coffee sipping ideologues.
It was a meeting of ancient vs modern, military leader vs political leader, decisiveness vs inquisitiveness; conviction vs uncertainty; advocate vs integrate; ambiguity vs curiosity; strategies vs alliterativeness.
It was a strategic mismatch and the beginning of a new era in Edo politics, as the EMM group chose executive positions across board, in the planned People Democratic Party, PDP, powerful forces have tipped to form government. Chief Tony Anenih and his group, the EPC readily accepted party leadership and position in the proposed PDP.
Leaders of the two groups joyfully sealed the merger deal and privately celebrated the deft deception embedded in the agreement. The agreement expressly provided that General Ogbemudia’s group, E.M.M, to the exclusion of any other group was to bring and produce all the executive positions, in the planned elections, which included the Governorship, Senate, House of Representative, House of Assemblies, Local Government Chairmen, Commissioners and Counselors.
The agreement also provided that Chief Tony Anenih’s group to the exclusion of any other group was to produce and filled all leadership and party positions in the proposed PDP, which included Ward Chairmen and Executives up to National Party Positions.
The agreement also provided for exclusive powers to choose and nominate candidate for any position at Federal Executive Council, Federal Boards, Ambassadors, etc.
With this position, front line aspirants and erstwhile candidates and friends of the military like Chief Sam Iredia and Amb. Abdul-Aziz Garuba, lost out to new persons, willing to pay for the gubernatorial and senatorial positions which explain why Hon. R.S. Owie, was forced to step down from the gubernatorial race and directed to accept senatorial seat in Edo South.
In all the local government councils, the agreement was rigorously implemented. In Oredo LGA, the State Capital, Hon. Samson Esemuede, the Chairman exclusively assembled the twelve wards Chairmen who were answerable only to Chief Tony Anenih and Prince Solomon Aguele! Similarly, the beneficiaries of all the Executive positions were answerable to the Gen. Ogbemudia’s group exclusively.
The consequences of this mismatch did not unravel till few months later, but to discerning students of Edo politics, Chief Tony Anenih’s group have played a fast one on the big but vainglorious EMM group. They applied the 22nd Law of Power, as espoused by Robert Greene, which postulates that, when confronted by stronger opposition, use surrender to transform weakness into power.
With their grip on the party structures from the wards to national level, Chief Tony Anenih’s group moved quickly to consolidate and extend the reaches of the Abeni Guest House agreement, by using party structures to determine the emergence of candidates for executive positions in the 2003 general elections.
In Edo South, General S.O. Ogbemudia could not save his friend, Senator Roland Owie, the incumbent Senator, or help him get a second term. Mrs. Daisy Ehanire Danjuma with the help of Chief Tony Anenih crushed all opposition. Space and forum would not permit an elaborate spotlight on the Senatorial Affairs, suffice to say that, it was a deliberate coup to decimate strong base of General S.O. Ogbemudia’s lieutenants, and take over the leadership of the party in Edo South, and shift the Headquarter of Edo State politics to Uromi.
Not surprising, it was a seismic political coup, as Chief Tony Anenih became the clock and calendar of Edo State Politics, and National Leader of the PDP. Without shooting a single bullet, Chief Tony Anenih captured General S.O. Ogbemudia and his political capital, held his few remaining supporters hostages, until they capitulated and accepted his leadership.
Immediately thereafter, Chief Tony Anenih, stopped coming to Benin to attend political meetings, even when he conveniently landed in Benin Airport. All major meetings were held at his Uromi Country home, and Nova Hotel, Uromi, had permanent rooms for many influential Benin leaders, at their own expenses. Major political meetings in Edo South were held only with the permissions of Chief Tony Anenih, and any without his permissions, were deemed rebellious and details of such meetings were leaked to him by Benin leaders desperate for political appointments which only him could guarantee and provide.
From 2002 till his death, in October, 2018 Chief Tony Anenih never allowed any negotiation that threatened his leadership hold on the PDP in Edo State, not even when he was forced to cede the Governorship ticket to Prof. Osariemen Osunbor in 2007, which is the key basis of his disagreement with Prof. Osunbor’s short-live government. Unlike Gen. S.O. Ogbemudia’s group position, Chief Tony Anenih realized early in his political odyssey, that whoever controls the party in government controls the government!
While Edo South leaders were after the temporary gains of executive positions, Chief Tony Anenih group were strategically waiting outside the corridor of power, to seize and control government.
How did a police officer defeat a military general, with all the years of training in Liddel Hart’s Art of Strategy?
What is the fallout of this political gambit in Edo South politics? General S.O. Ogbemudia before he became Military Governor of Midwest Region was for many years, a notable instructor in the Nigeria Army, before his retirement in 1975.
He was infused with the big man theory of Command and control, which requires officers to make good decisions quickly and ensured compliance.
Chief Tony Anenih on the other hand was a graduate of the College of Ambiguity, where people were trained to see that there are multiple ways to look at a problem or situation. Mitigating ambiguity means suspending judgment and decision making, until more facts are known, or more interpretation or perceptive are articulated.
In effect, a leader must keep from making a decision until the best decision or at least a better decision is found. Tolerating ambiguity requires patience and being comfortable with the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing what is to be done.
Lack of this still often leads to what is known as rush to judgment. All these Chief Tony Anenih deployed against a General and a good man stomped and swapped by political lieutenants, who were not only local visionaries, but were blinded by private privations.
Unfortunately, politics in Nigeria is fueled and propelled by immediate personal gains, masked and shrouded in tribal sentiments.
But in the case of Chief Tony Anenih, his politics was fueled by political and economic domination of his environment, which explains why he was ready to remain in opposition in Edo State, during Governor Osunbor short stay in government House, than cede political power.
In 2007, with the opposition by Gen. S.O. Ogbemudia’s decimated, Chief Tony Anenih found his replacement in Senator Oseriemen Osunbor who quickly attracted the displaced remnants of Ogbemudia’s troops.
The target of the renew conflict was total and complete control of the PDP in Edo State. Consequently, parallel State Congresses were conducted in the State with Gov. Osunbor encamping his troops at Ogbe Stadium, Benin City where Mr. Edward Sadoh was selected as State Chairman. Chief Anenih’s faction took over NTA Pavilion on TV Road, Benin City with Chief Dan Orbih, the selected one.
Surprisingly, the National Leadership of the party recognized Barr. Edward Sadoh’s leadership of the party. A political civil war started in Edo State, forcing the National Leadership of the PDP to dissolve the antagonistic executives, produced at Ogbe Stadium and NTA Pavilion.
The intervention of the National Leadership led to the “harmonization” of party leadership between Chief Anenih Group and Sen. Oseriemen Osunbor’s group. Negotiating from a very weak structural position, Sen. Osunbor’s group lost, as late Barr. Samson Ekhabafe was chosen as State chairman, while the position of Deputy State Chairman and State Secretary were given to Sen. Osunbor’s group.
Hon. Clement Ben-Edo Osagie, the Deputy State Chairman, immediately got swallowed by the subtle guiles of the old war machines and PDP command and control centre was firmly returned and reestablished in Uromi. Frustrated by the inflexibility of the new leadership, a lot of PDP members moved over to the opposition ACN, teaming up with the deregistered No man is God group that left earlier to prop up fresh rebellion under Comrade Adams Oshiohmole leadership.
Suddenly, disaster happened. Barr. Ekhabafe, the former Commissioner for Justice and the stormy petrel of Uneme, died in a fiery motor accident that claimed his son, driver and a police officer. With no opposition in sight, Chief Dan Orbih easily waltzed his way to the chairmanship position of the party.
For over ten years, he held on to the ideas of party supremacy, under the guidance of Chief Tony Anenih and under the most brutal and punishing state and national embarrassments from the APC.
His comical digs at Comrade Oshiomhole amused his followers but not the electorates, who dented his records at elections back to back.
Like a cat with nine lives, he survived all intrigues to remove him from office, or attempt whittle down his powers. With a solid support base in Edo South, Chief Dan Orbih spoke hope and strength into his followers and rightly standing by them, in the protection and substances of their elective and party offices.
It was a marriage forged in Chief Tony Anenih’s school of sweat, tears and blood.
In 2020, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, orchestrated the ouster of Governor Godwin Obaseki from the APC, forcing the Governor to seek accommodation in PDP to actualize his second term bid. Unfortunately, the Governor was not sufficiently informed of the cloak and dagger grip of the party by the “real owners” of the party.
The whole political talk and marriage was built on deceit and cemented in subterfuge. Governor Godwin Obaseki wanted a platform. Edo PDP wanted a return to power, exploiting the enormous goodwill of the Governor.
The Governor was made to believe that he will automatically become the Leader and the new clock and calendar of the party, but it was a ruse.
A deliberate ruse and political fraud, executed with the most sophisticated hard boiled graduates of Chief Tony Anenih’s school of ambiguity. The parallel congresses of the last few days, is unsurprising a reminder of the Governor Osunbor – Chief Tony Anenih’s war and I am deeply concern for Governor as he embarrassingly extricates himself from the elaborate web of intrigue merchants of power have woven around him.
Unfortunately these merchants are not ready to sell nor lease power for now!
Jefferson Uwoghiren, Esq. is a Benin based political analyst and former Journalist.