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Okunbo: The Ace in Edo’s Hole By Abdulahi Taminu

The volume, velocity and variety of campaigns of calumny against Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, in the last few weeks, underpin the consensus among the elite and the average electorate in Edo State, that having wilfully taken on some of its illustrious sons, Governor Godwin Obaseki is an ill wind that blows no one any good and should be voted out of Government House by September 19th. Obaseki does not deserve pity of any kind, really.

He self-destructed by scrapping with well meaning apolitical but wealthy Edo sons, who are now all out to see his back. A statesman like Capt Hosa, for instance, is the centripetal force of the governorship election with just one mandate: chase Obaseki out. Prior, he would have remained in the background, because of his professed non-political stance.

But the governor and his administration had mindlessly and serially besmirched him and his businesses. For Capt Hosa, the September 19th governorship election is a battle he is committed to helping Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the All Progressives Congress, APC, win, not for any ulterior motive but the need to rescue Edo from the impostor in Government House.

Fighting needless battles with people especially those that have impacted the lives of the people for decades remains one of Obaseki’s mortal undoing. He sadly and patently epitomises and embodies the biting aphorism that no man is wise enough or good enough to be trusted with unlimited power.
Pre-2016, Obaseki was dutiful, loyal and meek; virtues that won him over to the Edo State elite, notably, Capt Hosa. For any right-thinking government, whether state, national or international, Capt Hosa is an ace in the hole – an effective adviser and sounding board for economic policies and directions. That Obaseki failed to capitalise on his hand of fellowship is one of the major indicators of his administrative and governance ineptness and ignorance.

et, in the early days of his administration, Captain Hosa was one of Obaseki’s cheerleaders – supporting, rooting and collaborating with him to make Edo work for the generality of the people. He contended that if Obaseki succeeded, it is the people of the state that would be the greatest beneficiary and if he did otherwise, it is still the people that would bear the brunt.

Knowing Captain Hosa means knowing a man at peace with himself, humanity and his creator. Undeniably one of Nigeria’s most successful and humane businessmen with interests in diverse sectors of the economy spanning petroleum, marine, construction engineering and agriculture, Captain Hosa has given as much to humanity and his native Edo State nay Nigeria as much he has been blessed by God.

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Over the years, much as he is not a partisan politician, he has always supported progressive politics and those with the passion and devotion to better the lots of the people.

Because of his commitment to making Obaseki and his administration succeed, Capt Hosa, in 2016, had a meeting with the new governor on how to make the state an investment hub to expand revenue base, drive economic growth, and lessen the financial burden on the public purse so the state government could spend even more on public works.

Believing that he and the governor were in sync, Captain Hosa sponsored him and his officials on an investments pathfinder’s trip to China, because of his firm conviction in private sector-led participation as being the key to the economic and industrial development of the state.

On another occasion, as a guest of the governor at the Edo Convention in Toronto, Canada, he announced the donation of five houses valued at N50million to support Obaseki’s housing project and earn him the goodwill of Edo people at home and in the Diaspora. Capt Hosa did all of these and more without necessarily expecting any patronage from the state government.

The eventual point of departure between him and Obaseki, according to Capt Hosa, was when he started an avoidable fight with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the then APC National Chairman.

“At a time, I spent almost three hours of my precious time in the governor’s house, explaining to him the need to build synergy between him and in the best interest of the development of our state. He was blunt that he was not interested in any peace talk and that he was embarking on a fight to the finish with Comrade Oshiomhole,” Okunbo recalled, in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Edo people.

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A man, who holds firmly that politics is about morals and values, and that nobody needs amoral friends with shitty values, Capt Hosa said he decided to hands off the matter, having done all he could do to engender a peaceful atmosphere for governance and development of Edo.

At the time also, it had become apparent that Obaseki’s style of governance was anti-people and divisive while his strong suit is demonising those who don’t share his base political beliefs. Worse, Obaseki and his rapacious crew pandered towards venality while he made a botch of the state’s economy.

They deified and enrobed him in transcendent garb without commensurate achievements or substance and he believed his own hype and turned a deaf ear to voices of reason. He did virtually nothing to assure the populace that people can stay connected and respect each other even if they differed politically.

Then, Obaseki began a reign of onslaught against Captain Hosa. First was the sponsored and sustained rumour that he was interested in the governorship seat. Despite his strong rebuttal, the Obaseki camp feasted on it. Later, Obaseki, in a press statement, blatantly accused Oshiomhole and Captain Hosa of plans to recruit thugs to disrupt the September 19th election.

Subsequently, an aide of the governor, one Marvellous Zibiri, wrote an incendiary article wherein he described Capt. Hosa as a ‘drug baron’ because he was investigated by the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in 1995 and given a clean bill of health.
It bears recalling that after the NDLEA absolved him of any crime, Capt Hosa instituted legal proceedings against the agency at the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, Lagos, where it was established that the prosecution had not made a prima facie case against him that would warrant the tribunal to ask him to defend himself.

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Thus, Hon. Justice Tijani Abdullahi, who presided over the tribunal, discharged and acquitted him on a ‘no case’ submission. It was this case that Zibiri referenced and caused to be widely published and syndicated. The article was one of many calculated attempts to bring Capt Hosa into disrepute.
Although Captain Hosa fought back, got Zibiri arrested and the young man, who realised his mistakes, openly apologised. For a man with a large heart, Captain Hosa forgave him and brought him like a son. Zibiri had since written a few articles, doting over the manner of man that Captain Hosa is.

In an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and the people of Edo, Capt Hosa stated bluntly: “This spate of coordinated attacks, with their attendant mode of vicious execution, can best be described as the unconscionable actions by attack dogs and hirelings of the desperate Edo State Government on the watch of Governor Godwin Obaseki.”

According to him, as a good-hearted Edo son, he did not deserve the embarrassing treatment even as his pedigree will never let him to deliberately concoct any wrong against his state and Obaseki.
“I am, however, shocked, bewildered and pained to observe that despite my very sincere, robust and stated commitment to support the anticipated pace of infrastructure development, progress and other social investment initiatives through the deployment of my modest goodwill and network of capital, for which I am eternally grateful to God, alas, the response has been to paint my person with a brush of public odium that verges on mischief.”

Well, the die is cast now. The skunk at the garden party in Edo State will be marched out in September. But the honour, respect and reputation that Captain Hosa had built over the years remain immutable, no matter the antics of detractors. What more, Okunbo is set to be honoured soon on September 11 for the Best of Africa awards, a few days to the governorship election. You can now understand why he remains the ace in Edo’s hole.

*Taminu lives and works in Abuja, the nation’s capital

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