Edo politics, Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole's fixation
By Johnson Momodu
These days, it is difficult to listen to the Comrade Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, for a minute without hearing him mention the name, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. It does not matter where the governor is speaking from, who his audience are and what the issue is. If the governor is speaking to television reporters or addressing a world press conference, don't be bored if the name of Ize-Iyamu resonates throughout the event; if he is hosting market women on an arranged solidarity visit, the governor must not forget to tell how a certain Ize-Iyamu is the one making it difficult for his government to perform; and if Oshiomhole is confronted on the brewing anarchy in his state's Assembly, which is down to his own intolerant political temperament, his readymade answer is Pastor Ize-Iyamu! Who the hell is this larger-than-life Ize-Iyamu?
The ubiquitous showing of Ize-Iyamu's name in every discussion on the enveloping crisis in Edo politics has naturally nudged inquisitional interest in the persona and activities of this citizen who is now an incubus to the comrade governor. From what has been picked up, Pastor Ize-Iyamu was formerly a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State. He was an influential member of the Lucky Igbenedion cabinet. As a matter of fact, he served as chief of staff and secretary to the state government under Igbenedion. But beyond these formal positions, Ize-Iyamu is acclaimed to be a great mobilizer of men and women and a stubborn grassroots politician. It is not surprising though that Ize-Iyamu has many people following him everywhere he goes; he is also a known preacher of the word, a fisher of men, that is.
Although, it is convenient for Oshiomhole and his aides to deny now the focal role Ize-Iyamu played in the process that led to the electoral victory of the comrade governor in 2007, the neutrals attest to the ingenuity and steadfastness of the pastor and his Grace Group in the making of the comrade governor. These forthright people speak of how Ize-Iyamu provided direction and strategy to the Oshiomhole campaigns in 2007, when the political rains started beating the former labour activist in his quest to wrest power from the PDP. By then, Ize-Iyamu had left the PDP with his supporters to join the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) because of their disenchantment with the manner they were deregistered and edged out of the PDP by a powerful faction of the party in Edo State.
The truth, which Oshiomhole and his acolytes are working assiduously to downplay, is that Ize-Iyamu and his Grace Group provided the governor with the political platform to have his name on the ballot after being rejected in two other political parties, namely the PDP and ANPP; and that was after the comrade governor and former labour leader, like a political nomad in a desperate quest for power, had dumped the Labour Party when he realised it would be difficult to realise his ambition on that platform. It is also said the same Ize-Iyamu led Oshiomhole to the two major financiers of his campaign, one of whom Oshiomhole now refers to as “one Capt. Hosa”. Don't be shocked by the governor's ingratitude; power, we are told by Shakespeare, changes the nature of men.
Even after the courts returned Oshiomhole as winner of the 2007 governorship election in Edo State in November 2008, the grounds were not plain enough for him to tread. Oshiomhole and his party, ACN, were in the minority with lesser number of members, in the House of Assembly. Of course, there was a pressing need to lobby the dominant PDP members, first to get their support and later, in a shenanigan-like manner, to defect and join the government in power to make things easier for the governor. Many of the PDP members of the Edo State House of Assembly who defected to join Oshiomhole and his party, now APC, readily agreed that they were convinced by the pastor to whom Oshiomhole had in the past confessed to his assistance. During this period when Oshiomhole was hand in glove with his political Man Friday (Ize-Iyamu), he (Ize-Iyamu) could do no wrong in the sight of the governor who nominated him into the caucus of their party. But like all hot romances, they do come to an end, leaving in its wake broken hearts and memories.
Ize-Iyamu has returned to the PDP from his sojourn with the APC and since he took this very personal decision, the politics of Edo State has not been the same again but at best convoluted, setting off chains of events. There has been an exodus of very prominent members from the ruling APC to the opposition party, the PDP – from market women to members of the royal family in Benin, from private citizens to Oshiomhole's aides. As matters stand now in Edo, it is more like, who has not left the APC? The defection of about four lawmakers in the state Assembly appears to have hit the governor so badly that he is now responding like a runaway train. A man who stabilized his regime from the outset by luring PDP lawmakers to his party is now extremely intolerant of defection of APC lawmakers to PDP. He has been here and everywhere shouting how Abuja is pumping money to have him impeached by a legislature that his party enjoys a comfortable majority.
It is clear that Edo state is perching precariously on the precipice of anarchy. The engine of the government in the state, the legislature, is currently in turmoil. And this is down to Governor Oshiomhole's obsessive apprehensions over a single politician, Ize-Iyamu. The latest in the governor's roughneck tactics is the kangaroo impeachment of the deputy speaker of the House, Hon. Festus Ebea, by APC legislators who sat more or less in the governor's office in clear violation of the democratic principle of separation of powers. If you think that is the only absurdity that Oshiomhole has employed in recent times, then you are wrong. The comrade governor has threatened to get market women in his state to enforce a purported 'court order' on the defected lawmakers in Edo Assembly if the Police could not. That is how low Adams Oshiomhole has sunk in Edo State.
Oshiomhole and those who speak for him like his Commissioner for Information, Louis Odion, have famously dismissed Ize-Iyamu as a nondescript figure in Edo politics. Yet their quixotic and reductionist understanding of the recent crisis in Edo House of Assembly as having all the imprimatur of Ize-Iyamu gives them away as people living in awe of the former SSG. Interestingly, Ize-Iyamu is not talking about them. Oshiomhole and his people are the ones fixated on the man and eternally worried about his next move. Embarking on cheap blackmail and strong-arm tactics are not likely going to help Oshiomhole out of the political mess he has fallen. He should rather be more introspective by asking himself, why are those who were with me yesterday leaving in their droves today? Maybe he can find the answer to the travails of democracy in Edo under his watch!
Momodu, a public affairs commentator, contributed this piece from Benin City.