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But for Solomon Iyobosa Edebiri, the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the July 14 governorship election in Edo State whose responses to questions were spot-on and helped to moderate the tension occasioned by innuendoes that Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Major General Charles Arhiavbere (retd) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hurled against each other, the July 5 governorship debate organized by the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG) and aired live by the African Independent Television (AIT) could have passed for a platform of raw and undisguised personal attacks.

Well, the reason Edebiri did not join in the fray or was not drawn into the arena of conflict is understandable. The permutations and calculations do not accommodate or position him as a force to reckon with or a game changer of sort in the election. In other words, Edebiri is far away from the odds of winning the election and therefore it is needless to say whether or not the odds favour him. He is, in fact, no threat to the two frontline candidates. So, in essence, he has been working at his own pace and not ruffling any feathers, especially as demonstrated during the debate when he was waxing utopian in his own world, sandwiched by Airhiavbere and Oshiomhole.

Although the organizers had, from the outset, clearly stated the ground rules for the debate, they could not enforce one of the rules that forbade candidates from leaving the issues to attacking personalities: Oshiomhole emerged as the greatest culprit on this score. In his bids to respond with equal venoms to Airhiavbere’s sharp interrogations of his opaque governance style and penchant for disobeying court orders, Oshiomhole had embarked on a voyage of blackmail and intimidation when he said that he had information that Airhiavbere left the Army under questionable circumstances. But Airhiavbere, unlike Oshiomhole who was forgetting the questions after addressing extraneous issues, said he would not join issues with Oshiomhole on his retirement from the military.

On two occasions during the debate, Airhiavbere had answered questions on his background that was capable of building trust and the length of his military career, explaining how he spent forty-two and a half years in army uniform. He said he won all the honours that were there to win: Forces Services Star, FSS; Passed Staff College, PSC; Meritorious Service Star, MSS; and Medal of Honour for commanding meritoriously the Army Finance Corps as Director, and that because he was an invaluable asset, the Army extended his service by more than a year. He said he was redeployed as a Directing Staff to the Institute of Policy and Strategic Study (NIPPS), where he was a participant in 2007 and graduated as a one of the best students, from where he retired from the Army in July 2011.

It was on the second occasion when Airhiavbere was clarifying the issue of length of service raised by Ide Eguabor, one of the panelists, that Oshiomhole, while taking his turn, left his question unanswered and went for the person of Airhiavbere who must have shocked him by resisting his strategy to drag him out into making a public show of the structured and disciplined system in the military in the public because an Oshiomhole had made a spurious allegation which was a counterpoise to the proposition by Airhiavbere that it was immoral for the governor to award contracts without due process and divert public funds to build a mansion and other structures in his Iyamho village.

Oshiomhole, who had all this while shied away from publicly responding to the building claim, labored hard to diminish the import and impact of the scandalous project. He was economical with the truth as he danced round the issue and tried to dismiss the opposition claim that the project was more than N10 billion. But at the end of the day, it was clear that Oshiomhole did not convince anyone, not even himself, that his hands were clean. After pontificating on his capacity for propriety right from his years as a labour activist, he had admitted not to be a saint but a decent human being. But how decent is he? One thing I know is that if there was nothing of such as claimed by the opposition, Oshiomhole would have taken the press and concerned groups on a tour of the place to put a lie to the claim.

Nevertheless, one must commend Airhiavbere for putting Oshiomhole on his toes and enervating him by exposing the underbelly of his government. The PDP candidate faulted the process of awarding contracts without following due process as well as wasting billions of naira on some road infrastructure such as the 6.82 kilometer stretch Airport road which, according to him had gulped over N11 billion. But rather than fault Airhiavbere’s claims, Oshiomhole said: “He (Airhiavbere) keeps on talking about advertising contracts but he was at the army at that time (and) I don’t know what time he had to look out for tenders.”

Airhiavbere challenged Oshiomhole on his failure to conduct local government election even as he has continued to defy the provisions of the law and the constitution by keeping in office appointed Transition Committee Chairmen for Local Government Areas in the State. Besides, he said that the governor gleefully defied a court judgment nullifying the appointed committees. It was shocking that Oshiomhole’s answer to that was that it was a general problem that was not peculiar to Edo State. These are the critical issues.

I must admit that Oshiomhole is good at talking. He is also very clever in all his ramifications. That was why he was able to circumvent the real issues and played up inanities around Airhiavbere and other leaders of the PDP; that was why he was able to run the NLC as president from 1999 to 2007 and deployed it for his economic empowerment. When he was asked to talk about his background in his opening gambit at the debate, he cleverly sidestepped his education career and dwelled on his activities in the labour union. By so doing, he denied the Nigerian people of hearing from the horse’s mouth whether or not he only attended a modern school as claimed in some circles and how he got into Ruskin College, London, that is always on his bio-data. If he was proud of his education background, he would have talked about it.

Indeed, it would not have taken Oshiomhole more words to capture his education career than he used for his self-adulation as a global phenomenon. Read him: “I served as the NLC president for eight years; I was the longest serving NLC president. All my predecessors served for six years. I was the first to serve for eight years. No one has made that mark so far. Some of us denied ourselves of comfort, we lived on our pedigree. I have made my name around the world. I am not a saint, but a decent human being.” Huum! But nothing in all his ripostes to critical issues of accountability and transparency as raised by Airhiavbere had the component of decency. Rather, the governor became agitated, looked for ways of fighting back anyhow and in the process forgetting the questions that were fired at him and had to be reminded.

That Oshiomhole was able to cleverly twist critical issues and make his opponents appear unsure to the people does not mean that he (the governor) has acquitted himself. In fact, that is the chicanery, nay deception that has, for the past three years and some months, been elevated to an art in the governance of Edo State by a man with a sugar-coated tongue. Has the governor walked his talks? Or has he succeeded in claiming to have done more than he has actually done? Why is it that it is now that election is around the corner that he is claiming to be doing one thing or the other? Why did he not do them long before now?

To the informed, Oshiomhole’s claim, each time he spoke on issues on which his opponents had reeled out what they would do, that his administration was not making proposals but was actually working on the areas pointed out, is self-serving to press his case for continuity in office through re-election. The truth is that the costs of the projects so far on ground are not commensurate to the billions that have purportedly been expended. This is the issue. But indications on ground in Edo State do not suggest that a majority of the elements would accord Oshiomhole the luxury of a second term in office.

Written By By Johnson Momodu

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