Politics is seldom about competence.
If it were so, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, incumbent Edo State governor, financial guru, corporate mandarin and tested technocrat would not be losing any sleep about the September 19, 2020 elections, which will determine whether he returns as governor.
And to extend that thought, he would not even be running under a new party, having been thrown under the bus, literally and figuratively, by his former party and predecessor.
But that is politics where competence and pedigree count for zilch.
As the decisive elections loom, calls are coming from various quarters asking Obaseki and his main contender Osagie Ize-Iyamu as well as their supporters to toe the path of peace and let the voters determine the winner through a strict democratic process.
The Oba of Benin has convened a peace meeting as have other eminent Nigerians. A prominent cleric also made the call asking the contenders to sheathe their swords. The British government has even threatened to sanction those who foment trouble.
On paper, Obaseki would be the clear winner. Over the course of four years, the previously untested politicians has shown that what Nigeria needs to function properly are men and women versed in the language of business and finance and strategy who will step to the political plate and apply their know-how to the running of the affairs of state.
Under Obaseki, teachers are paid on time and have been equipped with laptops to aid their work and build their capacity to share knowledge under the EdoBEST initiative. Pensioners are paid and the state has witnessed a facelift. But most importantly demi gods have been demystified and this is where Obaseki has drawn the ire of those who wish to keep the state in their thrall.
Politics is a game in which 2+2 seldom equals 4.
As D-Day looms, artists and sundry creatives from Edo State have rallied behind Obaseki whom they have identified as a visionary patron of the arts and a progressive beacon of innovation and development.
Their support for Obaseki must be situated within the context of the old Bini Empire which was renowned for artistic excellence. Igun Street remains a bustling precinct of sculptural brilliance and Obaseki, since emergence as governor, has worked assiduously not just to sustain the artistic enterprise but has facilitated the ongoing conversations around repatriating artefacts looted centuries ago from the Bini Kingdom.
“Gov. Obaseki is a man who knows and respects culture, enables it and enhances it. Before he became governor he was an avid collector of modern and contemporary art. As governor of an important cultural state like Edo, he has rejuvenated my love and affiliation for my state of origin,” says Victor Ehikhamenor, Edo indigene and one of Nigeria’s most recognisable contemporary artists.
And Mr Ehikhamenor is not being merely sentimental. In 2017, as Nigeria struggled to make its first appearance as a country at the Venice Biennale, government officials in the culture sector paid the promoters no mind. Those in charge of Nigeria’s culture industry could not see the significance.
Their buy-in was necessary because for a country to participate it must present a “commissioner”; an official promoter, if you will. It was Godwin Obaseki who agreed to play that role and as Victor Ehikhamenor remembers it “he was the Commisioner and a huge supporter of the inaugural Nigeria Pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2017.”
Since 2017, Obaseki has pursued an aggressive artistic and cultural agenda which many creatives believe would be abandoned if he does not return as governor.
The governor has been at the forefront of negotiating the return, by European institutions, of prized Benin Bronzes that were looted during the British Invasion of 1897. In 2019, he facilitated the visit to Benin by the Europe-based Benin Dialogue Group, comprised of many museum directors and curators. The much talked about Benin Royal Museum is in progress and his collaboration with the monarch and his palace has moved the needle significantly to the extent that funds are being raised and an architect has been commissioned already.
Under his watch, too, Benin has returned to the world culture map with the Washington-based Smithsonian museum staging a major exhibition at the National Museum in Benin City.
For Enotie Ogbebor, artist and creative director of Nosona studios as well as
Member steering committee Benin Dialogue Group, Obaseki’s election as governor has “been a breath of fresh air. He is someone who understands the value of soft power. There has been a lot of support to creatives like never before in Edo State and I can reference the support and funding of the Edo festival for Art and culture (Edofest); Supporting the hosting of NAFEST; Embarking on building a modern world class museum as well as renovating the federal government owned National museum.”
Mr Ogbebor believes that Obaseki’s return for another four year term will help see the completion of several ongoing projects and initiatives.
“Obaseki’s return will guarantee a completion of the New Royal Benin museum and speed up the progress made with a call for repatriation of Benin artefacts. It will also see to the development of a film village and the completion and implementation of the Edo tourism masterplan. Other projects in the creative sector include reaching an agreement with 26 European museums that have Benin artefacts in their collection to support the funding and execution of the museum project as well as return of artefacts.”
Jeff O. Ajueshi, who is founder/artistic director, Thought Pyramid Art Centre in Abuja and Lagos notes in his submission that “Obaseki’s return will ensure continuity of the groundwork which has begun. As a lover of arts and creativity, you can already tell that he is well versed in this sector and thus has a vision which would end up benefitting the state and country as a whole.”
Ajueshi agrees that Obaseki is not the only governor giving fillip to the arts and culture sector but he says Obaseki is set apart by the fact of his “driving innovation and collaboration and promoting problem solving ideas using creativity. Simply put, Obaseki is playing a similar role to the Medici family’s role in Florence during the Italian renaissance. Obaseki has turned Edo State into an attractive hub for creative innovators from all over and the ripple effect of this is that it will create an explosion of conversations and collaborations between creatives from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences. For me, Obaseki is the Medici of our time, single handedly bringing the Medici effect to life in Edo state and allowing this creativity to affect and effect change in diverse sectors.”
Olu Ajayi, an academic, former chairman and fellow of the Society for Nigerian Artists, Trustee of Guild of Fine Artists as well as Visual Art Society of Nigeria and listed in the “Who is Who in Nigerian Art” at the Smithsonian library in Washington DC.
Mr Ajayi believes that “Obaseki deserves a second term on account of his support for the Venice biennale, creation of a center for artistic development and a platform where young artists can be trained.”
The Distinguished Alumni of Auchi Polytechnic and Life Time Achievement award recipient of the Society for Nigerian Artists adds further that, as governor, Obaseki has encouraged the ventilation and distillation of ideas. “I think being able to have access to the governor is very important. When somebody has access and he’s able to put forward his ideas and the governor listens I think that’s another aspect that one must commend. In my view, Obaseki’s return will impact the art industry significantly because he has demonstrated his understanding of the impact of art as a tool for development and diplomacy in terms of patronage. He will swing the doors open for government to acquire art works for its collection while inspiring other stake holders in the development of the arts. I think that’s very important”.
Prince Eweka Ken, a Benin based professional artist says, “As a creative individual I want to believe that looking at his antecedents /approach he can do better with a second term in office. I say this based on some of the interventions he has made which include the Benin Royal Museum which is in the making; his support for the Edo Global Centre and his promise to revisit the Benin Art Council”.
Continuing, the full time artist adds that “I think that with a second term, he will be able to consolidate the development of the State and there would be great impact on all aspects of life. He needs to create a template that future governors of the State will adapt.”
Osaretin Oswald Guobadia, founder Edo Global Foundation acknowledges Obaseki as having supported the initiative in words and in deed “over the last three years. He understood the vision and gave full support as he aligned to our larger vision of expanding the Edo State creative space. Edo global is in the process of building a space to present our culture and artistic talents to the world. The facilities being developed at #2 Sakponba will be seven floors dedicated to the art and creativity ecosystem. This initiative will eventually be replicated across the state to ensure we capture, cultivate and celebrate our greatness as Edo People”.
In his conclusion, Mr Guobadia provides a fresh perspective which traces the nexus between arts and politics. “Art and politics are siblings. Art is life and politics aids life. Where politics depicts how we have structured ourselves, Art shows how we have loved, lived and documents results from our political activities.”
After Obaseki’s political sojourn, these creatives will surely be waiting to document his life and times as a politician and visionary leader.