The Benin monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, on Wednesday intervened in the frightening atmosphere of violence in the polity ahead of the September 19 Edo State governorship election, calling all the major political actors to order and to give peace a chance. At the crucial meeting were the candidates of the two major political parties, incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, of the All Progressives Congress, APC as well as their running mates, namely Philip Shaibu of the PDP, and Gani Audu of the APC.
Also at the meeting were the former national chairmen of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, and Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, as well as the state chairmen of the two parties namely Tony Aziegbemi of the APC and David Imuse of the PDP. Dan Osi Orbih, the chairman of the PDP campaign council was also present.
The royal father particularly came down hard on Shaibu, the state deputy governor whom he cautioned to immediately rein in his thugs, disarm them, and stop further violence.
Expressing grave concern over the prevailing climate of fear and apprehension, Oba Ewuare 11 confessed that he had been having sleepless nights for some days over the political violence and thuggery in the state.
Setting the tone for the meeting, Oba Ewuare 11 said “Today (Wednesday) is a historic and significant day in the history of Benin Kingdom. From the ancient throne of Benin Kingdom, we appreciate your respect and we also respect you. Those who are falling short should respect the tradition of Benin Kingdom.
“I have noted that Benin’s (Edo State’s) politics has been in the news for quite some time for all the wrong reasons. I have been having sleepless nights for some days. We are all from Edo State. We are no strangers. I became so worried when the conflict between Oshiomhole and Obaseki started. I have personal relationship with almost everybody here (at the palace).
“I am not sure I will call Shaibu my son again because of the way he is going. Shaibu refused to honour his assurances to me. You do not say something to me and you go against it. Why do you want lives to be lost by arming thugs who will later hide the guns? Enough is enough. Let the September 19 governorship election in Edo State be peaceful. Be mature and be proud of Edo State. Do not make Edo State a laughing stock.
“Shaibu, behave yourself. Calm down. I learnt you control thugs. Tell your boys to ceasefire and drop their arms. Let your boys calm down. Must it be a do-or-die affair? Do not turn Benin into a city of thugs. Do not kill yourselves because of public office. Stop the shootings. I am very sad about what is happening in Edo State. This is the worst scenario. Let us eschew violence and give peace a chance in Edo State”.
Demanding assurances from the political gladiators, the Oba pleaded that there must be violence-free environment ahead of the crucial election to shame people who would want to laugh at Edo people, stressing that there must be a positive change after the peace meeting. He said emphasis must always be placed on peace and tranquility.
Baring his mind on the strained relationship between Obaseki and his predecessor, the Oba went down memory lane to recall how Oshiomhole imposed his successor on everyone. According to him, “I had some memorable times with Oshiomhole as governor. People were asking me who would take over from Oshiomhole in 2016. I asked Oshiomhole to propose not impose whom he had in mind as his successor, but he said he was still thinking about it, promising to let me know at the appropriate time.
“Two or three weeks later, Oshiomhole came back to me and he said he had thought through it and gave his position with analysis. I will not bother you with the details. He mentioned three aspirants, but he zeroed in on Obaseki. Oshiomhole gave the strongest reasons in the world why it must be Obaseki and nobody else, particularly that he was then the Chairman of his Economic Team. I was not against Oshiomhole’s choice and imposition of Obaseki, but I said no word.
“Halfway into my seeing off Oshiomhole that day, he stopped and asked why I said nothing about his choice of Obaseki. I told him I would give my opinion in the future. Some royal members of Obaseki’s family and many other persons were against Obaseki’s choice by Oshiomhole. I am keeping some sensitive parts out.
“Again, after three weeks, Oshiomhole came to me, but I said I still had no opinion. I told him that his decision on Obaseki was not a proposal, but an imposition. That was why I had no opinion. Oshiomhole said Obaseki would do much better than him and to continue with his legacy projects.
“Oshiomhole invited Alhaji Aliko Dangote to speak with me on his choice of Obaseki. Dangote came to Uselu (in Benin) and he spoke with me on Obaseki for over one hour, but I kept quiet. Oshiomhole and Obaseki also visited me in Uselu, but I still kept quiet. Since Oshiomhole brought only a governorship aspirant (Obaseki), I had no choice. I knew Obaseki when I was in Atlanta, USA. Dangote stood as a guarantor for Obaseki to be of good behaviour and that if Obaseki misbehaved, I should contact him (Dangote). I still kept quiet.
“Oshiomhole and Obaseki were initially very close. What I thought was going to be a smooth ride, turned to unprecedented conflict. I tried to intervene several times and I still went to President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter. At a point, both of them started avoiding me, but I kept praying for Oshiomhole and Obaseki for God to resolve the problem between them, but it kept deteriorating. Family members can quarrel, but there must be resolution today (Wednesday). You are all Benin Palace’s family members”.
The Oba regretted that “This crisis led to the disqualification of Governor Obaseki from the APC. The same credentials that qualified him in the last four years couldn’t qualify him again…I cannot have you fighting. I want to plead with the politicians and the political actors to sheathe their swords, because the international community is watching. We have done traditional prayers to avert violence before, during and after the September 19 governorship election in Edo State. I am strongly pleading with Edo politicians to control the youths and their thugs…”I want assurances from you people, to me and the people of the state, of a peaceful atmosphere in Edo State. I don’t like the ugly incident outside my gate when the Governor was embarrassed by some persons.”
Addressing the respective leaders, Oba Ewuare said “I do not expect John Odigie-Oyegun to be on either side, but to call both sides to ceasefire. Enough is enough. Let the election be peaceful. Dan Orbih, please do your best to cut down the temperature in Edo State. Let there be peace and tranquility, because everybody is afraid. Show respect to the traditional institution without lip service just to get votes. Odigie-Oyegun, my in-law, I will hold you responsible if you do not use your elder-statesmanship status to stop the violence in Edo State.”
Oba Ewuare 11, a former diplomat, opined that there was the need for the 14 governorship candidates and their running mates to debate in order for them to sell their manifestos instead of fighting. “Let there be peace in Edo. Let us have a good relationship like that of former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari. We are begging all the political gladiators in Edo to give peace a chance; don’t kill yourselves; stop the bitter statements to each other.
“Your home and families are here, so give peace a chance. We are all afraid that the state will burn to ashes. Please we need peaceful election in the state. I want to see that you are not paying lip service to the traditional throne; the Benin throne is not partisan. I am entitled to a vote; it’s my right as a citizen to vote, but I can’t vote for one candidate because it is just like I have already taken sides by voting for one person. This is the sacrifice I have to make to ensure there is peace in Edo. Please communicate this meeting to your foot soldiers that they should stop the shooting and ensure the state is peaceful for all. I want both of you to work together for a peaceful election.”
In his remarks, Obaseki thanked the monarch for his fatherly role in ensuring that the state is peaceful before, during and after the election. He said “As the Executive Governor and Chief Security Officer of the state, I have sworn to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and protect the lives and property of our people. I will never encourage violence as it would be irresponsible of me to do anything which would lead to breakdown of law and order in the state. I am not a violent person; I don’t have such tendencies. I have not participated in any form of violence and I will not. I have committed enough resources to ensure safety of the citizens”. Shaibu simply said: “I will do as you (Oba of Benin) have directed, by telling my boys to calm down”.
On his part, Ize-Iyamu, appreciated the Oba for the timely initiative and intervention, and assured that he and other APC leaders would speak with their supporters to always give peace a chance as they had been doing. He demonstrated his commitment to peace by walking up to Obaseki and embraced him, describing the governor as his elder brother.
Also responding, Oshiomhole thanked the Oba for the peace meeting. He said he had been preaching free and fair governorship election in the state, with emphasis on one man, one vote, without violence. He described himself as a product of peaceful election, winning in all the 18 local government areas of the state. Odigie-Oyegun assured the monarch of peaceful election and to continue to speak with all the political actors in the state. Orbih asserted that it would be in the interest of the people of Edo state to ensure peace before, during and after the September 19 governorship election.