By Sam Omatseye
Governor Godwin Obaseki’s cheeks should bloom in his election victory. It is his supernova hour. The people illumined it, gave him their word, and beatified it in their vote. No one on earth has a ground to begrudge him. The voice of Edo people is the voice of God. The people lined up, breasted the tape for him, appended their choice, INEC attested, and the tally anointed him the people’s ally.
If even this essayist was not, and is not, his fan, the majesty of democracy must take its course. Some have questioned the turnout. Few people came to the polls. But those who came conquered. It does not matter that one person, or a million, showed up. Democracy or a democratic constitution does not compel choice. If you want to vote, it is your right. You have the right not to use your right. It’s thumbs up for those who thumbed down. Those who did not vote gave power to those who did. Democracy is about numbers. Numbers legitimise a vote, superior numbers. It is not about eligible voters, but men and women who defied rain or sun or wind and spoke with their first fingers.
Democracy is about what is, and not what might be. Some assert that Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu might have won, if all voted. That is speculative. You don’t count imaginary ballots. This malaise has afflicted democracy for decades. Trump won because blacks who gave Obama the edge shrank into their homes on polling day.
It has led many to question democracy as a form of government. No one has come with a better idea since Greece. It is still the best form of popular persuasion. Democracy is about rights, not who is right. The majority may be foolish, as philosopher John Stuart Mill has asserted in his On Liberty, but they are entitled to their foolishness. After all, since the Greek century, democrats have voted out democracy in exchange for tyranny. We saw it in Spain and Italy and Germany in 20th century. Even in the guise of democracy, we still vote in tyrants, like Trump, Duterte and Erdogan. Democracy thrives more on culture than reason. Just as in Edo, we cannot rule out sentiment over enlightenment in the popular will. French philosopher Rousseau enshrined the concept of popular will. Tyrants like Robespierre, Danton during the French Revolution and later Napoleon exploited it in the name of the people.
So, in Edo the people won. But this is a time to rejoice but not to gloat. Governance is no party but work. Rather than radiate the humility of victory, Obaseki still reflected the bitterness of a fight. As Winston Churchill noted, “In war, resolution; in victory, magnanimity; in defeat, defiance.” Rather than open a tent, he was looking askew at his opponents. He saw triumph not as grace, but as triumphalism. He started jabbing at what he called godfathers and how their positions are not tenable in the constitution.
It was a moment in hypocrisy. He did not rile at godfathers when Adams lofted his arm four years earlier and pivoted Edo voters to make him governor. He snuggled under Adams’ shadows like a new baby. Now that Adams turned against him, godfathers are sinners overnight. When he came with his fellow governors like a thief in the night to seek Asiwaju Tinubu’s support for the APC ticket, he did not know it was extra constitutional to be a national leader. Welcome, Mr. Godwin, to knowledge in the 21st century Nigeria.
If anyone should condemn godfathers, it is not Governor Obaseki. Has he not been playing godfather in his state? When he started strong-arming local government chairmen, did he not act outside the constitution. Was he not wielding the autocratic powers that all governors bask in? Did he not reject the Edo nominee to NDDC? Our governors have almost monarchic muscle over their state? Was it in the constitution to ask Adams to seek permission from him to enter or leave Edo State?
A democrat does not foreclose about two-third of lawmakers voted in by the people for years from exercising their rights. Strongmen bend the law to suit their democracy, and not the other way.
If we all should squelch godfathers, we should not cherry pick the autocrats we like or hate. It is not in the interest of democracy. Yet, we lie if we deny that some individuals of certain skills and influences can ennoble democracies. Obama’s candidacy drew momentum when men like Ted Kennedy endorsed him. Charles De Gaulle amassed his personal charisma to rally his people against the Nazis and French democratic leaders. After all, democracy is made for us, and not us for democracy. Strongmen can sour it, too. In her opus, the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt wondered how democracies in Europe gave birth to colonialism and Jewish autodafe, and how power elites bond with the mob. Democracies can be dangerous. It calls for vigilance. Hence the Russian writer Maxim Gorky wrote that the only people who deserve liberty must be ready to fight for it every day. When it fails, democracies yield tyrants and yield to them.
Even the APC was not vigilant within. It went into battle a divided house, a prefigure of its 2023 fortunes. Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal had hinted that the Edo fortunes would declare the state of the APC. He was probably right. If elections were held today, PDP might win. They are a better coalescence than the APC house of cards. The next year will give us hint whether the party will become like a broken car where PDP will fish for spare parts. The party has to look in and re-tie its knots. President Buhari has the time to repair.
Even in Edo State, I foresee those who defected to APC may start moving back ‘home.’ In our politics of mobile whores, everyone is looking for a room with a view.
In the final analysis, Governor Obaseki is now alone with Obaseki. He has no Adams or Ize-Iyamu or Tinubu to bark at. No #EdonobeLagos bogeyman. Edo State is now his responsibility for the next four years. He was not voted in because he performed so well as chief helmsman. He will not have Wike from Rivers or the APC wheel horses who backed him on the sly. They will not provide security or jobs for his people. Columnist Azubiuke Ishiekwene praised him for improvement in WAEC. But education reforms don’t bear fruits in WAEC until years after. If anyone should take credit, it is Adams. After all, Obaseki, who stumbled at the debate, did not really do much of education reforms.
Edo State is in a bad state. The education, economy and infrastructure need him. When Lincoln won election to the presidency, he told reporters, “Boys, your troubles are over. Mine have just begun.” Obaseki’s began four years again.
He had a great career in the private sector. We need that expertise in government. He vilified the Lagos where he made his mark and earned his daily bread. It is the lot of Lagos that hides the failures of this federation with its success. Yet those who fatten on Lagos come back to bite it. Obaseki has to unite his state. It is still divided in spite of his solid vote. He won not because voters love Ize Iyamu less, but because they love Edo more. He must turn Edo love into progress.
As a former investment broker, he should follow St. Paul’s words, “as poor, making many rich.”
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