Edo 2024: Asue Ighodalo The Stranger

Posted on June 10, 2024

HON. PIUS ALILE 

It is an established fact that the 64-year-old candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for the 2024 Edo State Governorship Election, Mr. Asue Ighodalo, neither understands nor speaks his mother tongue, Esan, which is one of the dialects of the closely knit Edo Language. This unfortunate situation became evident, when recently he visited Ewhohimi, a predominantly Esan speaking community, and had to use the services of an interpreter to communicate with his “kinsmen”. 

 

This gross deficit in fundamental language competence calls to question Mr. Asue Ighodalo’s cultural and spiritual connection with the Esan people, nay Edo people despite the fact that his father originated from Ewhohimi, Esan South East. It calls to question his identity with his roots and the bond he has with his people. And it illuminates the assumption that Mr. Asue Ighodalo desires to govern a people he neither understands nor has ever identified with.

 

Those who sympathise with the PDP candidate are inclined to arguing that this regrettable deficiency can be excused on the ground that Asue Ighodalo was neither born nor bred in Esan Land nor any part of Edo State where Esan or Edo Language is spoken. It is a fact that he was born and bred in the South West, and has lived most of his childhood and adult lives between Ibadan and Lagos, where he has made friends and acquired cultural perspectives different from that of Edo people with regards to our way of life and relationship with traditional institutions.

 

Meanwhile, I would like to say that being born and bred outside of ones parents’ home of origin is not peculiar to Mr. Asue Ighodalo. Neither is the choice to remain a stranger by deliberately distancing oneself from the language, society and culture of one’s parents. While there are people like Asue Ighodalo, who prefer to adopt the language and culture of the place of his birth, there are, however, others who feel the necessity of reconnecting with their people by learning their language and spending time amongst them. For a man of Asue Ighodalo’s age, exposure and experience, his deficiency could only be as a result of a deliberate repudiation of his Edo identity until now when it became expedient for him to use it in advancing his political ambition and that of his friend and business associate, Governor Godwin Obaseki.

 

It is very instructive to note that if not for his aversion for Edo Language and culture, Mr. Asue Ighodalo has had ample time and opportunity to bond with Edo people for the fact that he has been involved in the governance of Edo State since he came along with his friend and sponsor, Governor Godwin Obaseki, to serve in the administration of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole as a member of the economic team, of which Obaseki was the head, and then continue his service in the economic team of Governor Obaseki. Sadly, despite working with the Edo State Government in the past 15 years, Mr. Asue Ighodalo made no effort to learn the rudiments of the Esan Language. He had stayed away from Esan Land and the community of Esan people because he did not feel comfortable to be identified as an Esan man even though he bears Esan names, which could only have been to honour his father who gave him the names.

 

Again, those supporting Asue Ighodalo and the PDP would argue that one does not have to understand or speak the language of a people to govern them and perform. I would say that such reasoning is derived from a simple contemplation of the role of the Governor. The performance index for a governor is not only about executing personal plans for infrastructure development. It is not about having grandiose plans and being grandiloquent in articulation. It is fundamentally about managing a state with its peculiar traditions and institutions, and using a template which encourages the fulfilment of the expectations and needs of the people.

 

Another argument that they have been advancing is that the Governor of Edo State is not only for one tribe and of one language. Again, that is a simplistic way of looking at it. As mentioned above, the parent language of all the languages of Edo State, is the Edo Language. Whether Benin, Esan, Etsako or Owan, there is a similarity among the dialects. There is a connection which translates to shared experiences and expectations, which a stranger can never relate to. A stranger in this instance, is a governor who does not understands the language or cultural perspectives or practices of the people.

Edo people, despite the various dialects, are culturally related. They have similar traditional and cultural practices. They have a traditional governments, with similarities in character and peculiarities of administration. These traditional governments are headed by rulers who are not creations of conventional governments – whether state or local. They have anciently established structures which cannot be tampered with without bringing about disruption of social harmony. It logically follows that anyone who understands and speaks any of the variants of Edo Language is bound to identify with and understand Edo people because he invariably shares in their experience and worldview.

On the other hand, someone who was not born in Edo, dwelled among the people, speak any of the dialects, is practically a stranger and cannot understand them or their shared aspirations and expectations. This is the burden which the PDP candidate carries and which will invariably affect his performance in all ramifications as we have seen in the administration of his friend and sponsor, Godwin Obaseki, who is a perfect mirror of Mr. Asue Ighodalo.

The resemblance between Asue Ighodalo and his sponsor, Governor Godwin Obaseki strikingly clonish. Like Asue Ighodalo, Governor Godwin Obaseki came up as a Benin project despite the fact that he could hardly speak the Edo Language and had no history of political or social relationship with Edo people within Edo State, save for the experiences of his childhood up to secondary school, which he dumped and became a stranger.

Like Asue Ighodalo, Obaseki had lived most of his adult life in Lagos and became forged in the furnace of Lagos culture. Yet, he had been promoted as a Benin Governorship project. But what happened when Obaseki became governor? His true nature surfaced. Alas, his attitude towards the Benins in particular, and Edos in general, was, and has been that of someone who does not understand them, respect their traditional institution or administer to their development and growth priorities.

Obaseki’s strange cultural orientation has made him to be in utter disregard and disrespect of the traditional institution of Edo South, symbolised by the palace of the Oba of Benin. Obviously, because of his disconnect to the social cultural evolution of the people, he has covertly and overtly made attempts to subvert the authority of the Oba over the Benin Kingdom and his subjects. This is mostly evident in his attempt to balkanize the Kingdom of which the Oba has been the sole ruler and overall administrator since the beginning of time. Obaseki has attempted to do this by invoking a misinterpreted traditional council law of the defunct Bendel State as applicable to Edo State, in his quest to create unprecedentedly, traditional councils for the seven local government areas of Edo South to be headed by Enigie, servants of the Oba, to be appointed by the Governor, directly or indirectly. This move by the Governor is obviously an attempt to reduce the influence of the Oba over the Enigie, who are appointees of the Oba, and who traditionally exercise their authority at the discretion of the Oba.

Similarly, Governor Obaseki has subtly been at loggerheads with the Oba of Benin over the artefacts stolen from the Palace during the 1897 invasion of Benin and plundering of the Palace by British soldiers. Taking advantage of his office as governor of Edo State, Obaseki had sought the diversion of the artefacts to be repatriated, to the possession of Edo State Government under his control or that of his successor, whom he desperately wants to be Asue Ighodalo, instead of the Oba who is the undisputed owner of the artefacts by way of natural inheritance. While the Oba has conceived the idea of a royal museum within the Palace for the warehousing and display of the royal artefacts, Obaseki has continued with a museum projects in collaboration with associates of which Asue Ighodalo is said to be among, for the purpose of keeping the repatriated artefacts.

It is instructive to note Mr. Asue Ighodalo’s publicly declared opinion about the ownership of the Benin. Asue Ighodalo had in reaction to a question about what he would do in relation to the appropriation of the artefacts if he became governor. On the occasion, Ighodalo had said that as governor, he would distribute the artefacts according to ascertained ownership. What this response suggests is that Asue Ighodalo, may not be conversant with the history of the Benin artefacts. And this indicates his distance from the history and culture of Edo people. The artefacts belong to the Oba and none else. On the other hand, his response underlies the motive he shares with his sponsor and confidant, Godwin Obaseki, which is to use the power of Governor to share the Oba’s artefacts.

Another area of concern about Asue Ighodalo, who shares similar traits with Governor Godwin Obaseki, is the empowerment of foreign interests outside of Edo State with the resources of the State to the detriment of local contractors and businesses. It a well known fact that Obaseki has been patronising his business allies from Lagos and other places like Port Harcourt and Kaduna. The allocations and revenues accrued to Edo State have by this means been taken out of the State to enrich and develop foreign entities. As it were, Asue Ighodalo as a member of Obaseki’s economic team is complicit in this attitude and is most likely to continue with the tradition.

There is also this penchant for Obaseki treating Edo people like those who do not know what they want because he is distant from them. His projects have never made any substantial impact on the lives of the people. He has engaged in a spree of renovations at humongous costs. And he has left hanging at the stage of outlandish verbal commissioning, abandoned projects such as: the Gelegele Seaport; Edo Industrial Hub, Emotan Estate, Auchi-Uzairre Airport, 192 Health Centres across the State, Edo Innovation University, among other fantastic shenanigans. In all of this, Mr. Asue Ighodalo is implicated as a member of Obaseki’s development caucus and projected successor.

From the exposition above, the strangeness of Mr. Asue Ighodalo, the PDP Governorship Candidate, to Edo people is obvious. Despite the pretensions to win the confidence of Edo voters, like Obaseki, his true disruptive nature would emerge should he be entrusted with the office of the governor. What is more, he has shared ambitions with his godfather, Godwin Obaseki who through Asue Ighodalo will pursue his agenda of whittling the capacity and influence of the Oba of Benin; patronage of external economic forces, and implementation of dream projects that will never see the light of day, keeping Edo in a state of arrested development and unnecessary political conflicts.

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