Political Emancipation Of Esan People: Looking Back And Looking Forward, By Prof Osunbor

POLITICAL EMANCIPATION OF ESAN PEOPLE : LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD
By
*H.E. Sen. (Prof.) Oserheimen Aigberaodion Osunbor, KSC.*
A Paper Presented at EDA Mega Summit on 27 December 2021 at Uromi Town Hall.

Protocol

Introduction
I am delighted to be at this programme whose aim is to brainstorm on the well-being and future of our people – the Esan people of Edo State. I thank the organisers immensely for inviting me. I am particularly grateful to Air Vice-Marshall Anthony E. Okpere (Rtd), Professor Peter Ibadin and others who reached out to me in person and impressed it on me that this was going to be a conference of eminence for which reason I had to adjust my itinerary in order to be present and to deliver this paper. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak before the highly distinguished personalities here gathered today.
I have been asked to speak on the topic of “Political Emancipation of Esan People”, examining it retrospectively and prospectively into the future. There is no better time than now as the year draws to an end in a few days’ time to interrogate the past and look forward with hope to the future. The subject of Political Emancipation of Esan people is one which has been agitating our people in recent times and will continue to occupy the minds of many for some time to come. Observers decry the current state of affairs which some describe as the “political marginalisation” of Esan people in the scheme of things both at the State and Federal levels while others prefer the less emotive description of “under-representation” of Esan people. Whatever the nomenclature the words refer to the same unsavoury realities of what has befallen our people in recent times.
For purposes of clarity, to ensure that we are all on the same page and to avoid possible misunderstanding, misinterpretation or even misrepresentation, it is appropriate to define some key terms and expressions used in this paper.

Political Emancipation
The word “Emancipation” can be used in many different contexts. Many here are familiar with the popular Reggae song by the legendary Bob Marley titled “Redemption Song” where he waxes – “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds ….” Thus emancipation can be mental or a state of mind.
In History we read about Emancipation which led to the abolition of slavery.
In the legal context, emancipation refers to the act or process of liberating one person from the control or authority of another. For example, the release of a minor by his or her parents from parental control or authority and a repudiation of parental obligation.
There is also “human emancipation” which entails equal status of individual citizens in relation to the state; equality before the law regardless of religion, property or other private characteristics of individual people. “Women’s Economic Emancipation” is a term commonly used to mean the capacity of women to participate in or contribute to benefit from growth processes in ways that recognise the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth (Google).
Wikipedia defines “Emancipation” as any effort to procure economic and social rights, political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally, in discussion of matters. Synonyms of the word “emancipation” include, liberation, freedom, independence, freeing, release, liberty, discharge, setting free, letting loose, untying, deliverance, unchaining, manumission, enfranchisement, unshackling, unfettering, etc.
Given the above definitions of the word “emancipation” or the phrase “political emancipation”, I have some inclinations that they may not be a completely apt description of the place of Esan people in the politics of Nigeria or our State. I take this view because Esan people cannot be said to be under any shackles, fetters, chains, manumission or restraint of any kind to warrant a call for their liberation, freedom, liberty, independence, release, etc, which is what emancipation implies in the strict sense of the term. The expression, however, can be properly understood in the context of contemporary politics in Nigeria in general and Edo State in particular, to mean a reversal of the situation we find ourselves today where Esan seems to have lost out in the scheme of things in political arrangements particularly elective positions and offices. That, I believe, is the intendment and I use the expression in this sense in this presentation. This state of affairs has not always been so. The near complete absence of any Esan person in political office is, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented in the anals of our history.

Esan in Retrospect
Esan people have a rich history of accomplishments in diverse fields of human endeavour. In no particular order or hierarchy, Esan has produced world class achievers ranging from sports – (Isaac Ikhuoria in boxing, and the current top international footballers, Odion Ighalo and Victor Osimhen), music – (Sunny Okosuns) the commanding heights of the nation’s economy – (Dr. C.E. Abebe, the first indigenous Chairman of UAC, then the leading conglomerate in Nigeria, business moguls like Chief Emmanuel Ijewere and Engineer Leemon Ikpea), Professors Ogbeide and Aimakhu, the first two Vice-Chancellors of Ambrose Alli University, Church Ministry – (Bishop Matthew Okpebholo and Pastor Chris Oyakhilomen), and others in diverse fields, too numerous to mention but many of them well-known to you. Please feel free to add your own to this short list.
In the field of politics Chief Anthony Enahoro blazed the trail which greatly influenced the interest of our people in politics. He occupies an immortal position in the political history of Nigeria as the first person to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 long before independence was achieved in 1960. A lasting legacy of Chief Enahoro in politics is that he brought pipe-borne water to Esan. In the struggle for the creation in 1963 of the Midwestern region, Esan people played very active roles and their efforts were rewarded with prominent Ministerial positions of Works and Transport and Internal Affairs among others, in the regional government constituted in February 1964. In the second republic Esan people were blessed with the election of Professor Ambrose Alli as governor of Bendel State in 1979.

He spread developments equitably throughout Bendel State, now Edo State and Delta State. Among the most memorable in Esan are the establishment of Bendel State University (now Ambrose Alli University), Bendel Feeds and Flour Mills (later renamed Ewu Flour Mill and now Prime Feed and Flour Mill), a good network of high quality roads and free education.
During the long years of military incursion into Nigeria’s politics, military officers of Esan extraction held prominent positions. They include Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Admiral Augustus Aikhomu), military governors of States (AVM Gregory Agboneni, Commodore Joe Abulu and Rear Admiral Peter Ebhaleme (Ag Military Administrator) and Minister (AVM Anthony Okpere). The creation of Esan Central Local Government Area and the establishment of Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital are some of the more visible legacies of Admiral Aikhomu.

 

Before the Third Republic was aborted, two Esan personalities were each elected National Chairman of the two political parties, (i.e. the Social Democratic Party –“a little to the left” and the National Republican Convention – “a little to the right”) decreed by the military under the transition to civil rule programme. They were Chief Tom Ikimi of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Chief Tony Anenih of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
At the dawn of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Esan people occupied prominent positions as Ministers and, at some point, National Chairman, Board of Trustees of the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP) in the person of Admiral Augustus Aikhomu and of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the person of Chief Tony Anenih.

In 2007 an Esan man in the person of this writer, having been overwhelmingly elected as governor of Edo State was in office for 17½ months only from 29 May 2007 to 11 November 2008 when his election was annulled by the courts. That singular act, unfortunately marked the beginning of the decline in relevance of Esan people in the politics of Nigeria in general and Edo State in particular, hence the clamour now for “political emancipation” and restoration of Esan relevance in our politics.

Advocacy For Esan Renaissance In Politics
The popular agitation for the restoration of Esan people in politics has become pervasive and cannot be faulted.

The advocacy for Esan renaissance goes well beyond Esanland as many powerful advocates of this cause can be found amongst the two other Senatorial Districts of Edo State.

They range from organised groups, associations to individuals. One of the most recent and strongest public expressions of the case for Esan restoration was at the instance of Esan Okpa Initiative in their Address presented to His Excellency Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State on 8 August 2021. The group, led by its President, Barr. Matthew Egbadon, thereafter addressed a Press Conference at the NUJ Centre in Benin City same day.

As many of you may know, Esan Okpa Initiative is an umbrella body for a number of Esan groups and associations, comprising highly respected Esan personalities of clout, pedigree and personal attainments.

It includes Ikolo Esan based in Benin City, Esan Club 30 based in Port Harcourt, Association of EsanProfessionals with Headquarters in Lagos and other groups and individuals, traditional institutions, religious bodies, Youth groups, Women organisations, student bodies and community leaders in Esanland. In the address they drew the attention of His Excellency the governor to the distressing current political dispensation where only two Senatorial Districts, Edo South and Edo North, occupy the following top positions –
1. Governor of Edo State – Edo South
2. Deputy Governor of Edo State – Edo North
3. Ambassadors – Edo South and Edo North
4. Hon Ministers – Edo South and Edo North
5. Secretary to the State Government – Edo South
6. Chief of Staff to the State Government – Edo South
7. Many other key appointments in Federal Government Agencies and parastatals – Edo South and Edo North.

Edo Central has notably only the Speaker of the State House of Assembly and the State Chairman of the governing party the PDP and the Chairman of the main opposition, the APC.At the Federal level are Ms. Patience Oniha, (DG, Debt Management Office) and Adolphus Aghughu (Auditor-General of the Federation). These two can be regarded as technocrats who rose through the ranks into those various offices at the Federal level by dint of their personal efforts rather than by political appointment or election. These are hard facts that cannot be controverted.
Other issues raised in the EOI address include –
– The frightening state of insecurity in and around Esan
– Industrialisation of Esanland
– State of Affairs in Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma and
– Fear of extinction of Esan language.

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While we await government’s response to the issues tabled before it, it is my personal conviction that the political rebirth or renaissance of Esan people holds the key to speedy realisation of these objectives through ascendancy to high political office which, for now, is near absent. Hence every effort geared toward the realisation of Esan Agenda 2024 will be a step in the right direction.

The onus is on us to lead the crusade to reverse the deprivations of the moment. Happily, there are many in Edo South and Edo North who also wish to see that this imbalance is redressed. The people of Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North are, after all, basically of the same Edo ancestry and origin.

It is therefore easy to forge amongst the population a consensus that we should see ourselves united as one rather than be divided into bitter rival camps. This calls for fairness, equity and fostering a sense of belonging by the various segments separated by accidents of history.

Looking Forward

Political Emancipation is and should be geared toward achieving a purpose which the five-points statement by Edo Okpa Initiative referred to above encapsulates and more. The reality of governance in modern democratic societies is that election into high political offices holds the key to a quick realisation of the demands and aspirations of the people for development and progress.

No matter how rich an individual may be he cannot do from his own pocket anything near what government theoretically can do with the huge public funds at its disposal.

This effectively means in Nigeria election to the office of President, Governor and, to some extent, Chairman of Local Government Council and appointment into office as Minister, Commissioner or other high executive position.

This, I believe, is what has inspired the “Esan Agenda” which is a clarion call for the election of a person from Edo Central or Esan as Governor of Edo State come 2024.

The big question which should be of concern to us is how do we achieve this? Let me propose the following ideas.

1. Unity.

As the saying goes, in union lies strength. Divided, we can achieve nothing, but united we can move mountains.

We must avoid the mistakes of the past that cost Esan people dearly and avoid “Pull Him Down” syndrome which is simply too prevalent in our society and in which, sadly, many seem to derive sardonic joy. Two cannot move together unless they be united. If you do not value what you have others will not. As the Esan saying goes – “Ono yan okpan kha tiole ukhiome, ono bha yalen ki role he iku”. Accordingly, we must all value our own so that others will likewise value it.

This does not necessarily mean that we must all agree on every point at all times.

That is impossible in politics. However, we should settle our differences and agree when it comes to core issues, such as the much talked about “Esan Agenda”. As we pursue this worthy course we must show sincerity and commitment.

2. Negotiation with Other Senatorial Zones.

While the Esan Agenda is no doubt attainable it should be realised that our Senatorial Zone alone, even if we agree 100%, cannot achieve it. As a matter of fact, no one Senatorial District without the support of others can elect a governor into office. It is crucial therefore, to negotiate with others, particularly party leaders, to get their support.

Political positions and elective offices, are not offered on a platter of gold but rather result from lobby, negotiations and compromises with assurances and guarantees as to what is in store for others.

Central to this is a guarantee of equity, fairness and balance in the allocation of political offices, development projects and patronage within the limits of the law. The entire state should see the governor as their own and accessible to them.

For this reason I personally prefer the term “Edo State Governor of Esan Extraction” rather than “Esan Governor” in order not to give room to cynics and the mischievous to deliberately misconstrue it to mean that the governor will be there only for Esan people.

3. Rotation

The demands for a governor from Edo Central is also supported by the principle of rotation.

Since Edo South had 8 years (1999-2007), Edo North had two terms of 8 years (2008-2016) and Edo South will be completing same 8years by 2024 the principle of rotation favours Edo Central to produce the next governor in 2024.

We are mindful of the fact that there are some who oppose rotation on the faulty ground that it is unconstitutional.

Recently, at the Federal level, the Northern Governors Forum declared that rotation of the office of President is “undemocratic” and “unconstitutional”.

At the States level some advance the same argument which in my view is untenable based on a community reading and a broad and purposive interpretation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Section 14 of the Constitution states that –

“(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principle
of democracy and social justice.
(2) ….

(3) The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no preponderance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.

(4) The composition of the Government of a State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such Government or Council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or Council, the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the Federation”.

Furthermore, section 17(1) provides that-
“The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice”.

The above provisions of the Constitution form core parts of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy upon which our politics and social fabric are built.

They are meant to foster a sense of belonging by all segments of society and thereby avoid societal discontent.

Any attempt to jettison these fundamental principles on how we should live together as Nigerians risks plunging society into upheavals and disorder.

It is true that these Fundamental principles along with others in Chapter II of the Constitution are not justiciable by themselves but they provide a basis or guide for actionable legislation and the conduct of the business of governance generally.

It is a misconception for the critics of rotation to label it as unconstitutional merely because the word rotation is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution.

Whatever the Constitution does not prohibit by itself or is not prohibited by any other law is permissible, hence constitutional.

Otherwise, it could be argued by the same token that since “Governors Forum” is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, that too is unconstitutional but that argument would be flawed.
Rotation is to be worked out and agreed as a political question, hence the Constitution and manifestos of some political parties, if not all, provide for it. It is legitimate therefore to lobby and make a case for the rotation of the governorship of Edo State to Edo Central come 2024.

There are strong reasons to believe that this move will receive support across the three Senatorial Districts of the State.

Conclusion
We have attempted to demonstrate in this paper the need to recognise the dynamism in the politics of Nigeria, including Edo State. Over the years Esan people have excelled in the field of politics as in other spheres of life.

The current downturn in the fortunes of Esan people, I am convinced, is a passing phase.

Esan people have never been in political servitude or doldrums and by the grace of God never will. We are a free, emancipated, confident, high-flying and successful people.

It could well be that, at some point in time, the change of baton, as in a relay race, was not properly executed but we can pick up again and recover lost ground.

In the pursuit of Esan Agenda and the emergence of a governor of Esan extraction, some key lessons must be borne in mind.

The age of political docility is gone and gone forever.

What has emerged is politics of ideas with the people being paramount rather than an individual or a cabal.

The contest of ideas which is mostly driven by the youths has been aided by the emergence of social media and information technology.

The Edo State governorship election in 2020 as well as other subsequent elections including the recently concluded Anambra State governorship election have shown that there is no more room for godfatherism in its crude form in Nigerian politics.

Instead, character and a verifiable track record of competence and good performance in previous positions of responsibility are the ultimate determinants of electoral success.

It could even be that ethnicity and tribe which used to be huge factors for electoral victory are on the decline.

We must continue to encourage our youths to pursue that which has over the ages given Esan people a competitive edge and that is – education. Any attempt to deride education and the educated under any guise or manner whatsoever must be discouraged and eschewed.

Common cynical remarks like “who education help?” are counter-productive and regressive. Education, liberates the mind, is a pathway out of poverty and emancipates whether politically or otherwise.

In contrast, ignorance is a disease. As it had done in the past, education will continue to give us a huge leverage for a long time to come.

On a final note, we should give every encouragement to those of our youths who are interested in building a career in politics especially those that are willing to be guided and mentored.

This will ensure that at all times there is a ready pool of experienced politicians to sustain the place and relevance of Esan people in politics now and into the future.

Thank you for your audience.

I wish you a Happy New Year in advance.

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