By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
It has been the battle of women in red and those in white in Edo State. The women joined the fray between Governor Adams Oshiomhole, his predecessor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion and his (Lucky) father, the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. Oshiomhole had alleged that certain things went wrong under the Igbinedion administration, alleging that the Esama played a part.
The governor accused his predecessor of alleged removal of $31milllion from the coffers of the state, while also alleging the diversion of the over N600million meant for the dredging of the Ikpoba River in Benin City, the diversion of the funds for the construction of the road leading to Okada, the village of the Igbinedions and allegedly use of state authority to confiscate over 200,000 hectares of land belonging to the state government which was sublet to Yoruba cocoa farmers in Okada who pay royalty.
Oshiomhole’s war against the senior Igbinedion is believed to be the outcome of the latter’s rejection of the Land Use Charge introduced by the state government which the Esama’s supporters alleged was targeted at him and his family. Following the governor’s outburst, some women dressed in red embarked on solidarity march in support of the senior Igbinedion, describing Oshiomhole’s tirade as an insult to the Esama.
The woman admonished the governor to apologize to the Esama. “We are women and, as mothers, sisters and aunts to Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, we say no to any form of disrespectful behavior to the person of Chief Igbinedion. We cannot see evil in the land and support it. We are against the action of the governor, particularly against Chief Igbinedion and his household. We want the governor to apologize to the Esama. All we are asking the governor is to stop insulting elders from Benin Kingdom, so that we do not completely go naked and place curses on him”. They alleged further that the insults on the notable Bini chief was uncalled for, noting that the insulting language employed by Oshiomhole was worrisome and offended the Benin nation, who were very ‘respectful people’ and adored the sterling lifestyle and qualities of the Esama.
But another set of women in white, numbering over 6,000, staged a rally, described in Benin as the mother of all rallies, denounced the attack on Oshiomhole by the Igbinedions. The women, who marched through the major streets of Benin and the state House of Assembly before converging at the Government House at Osadebey Avenue, backed the governor’s attempted probe of the Igbinedion administration.
They vowed to use every means to ensure that the Esama complied with the Land Use Charge which, according to them, will help address the problems of the poor in the state. “We decide to wear white because we want peace in the land. Last week, some women, who wore red, demonstrated in favour of Chief Igbinedion. Since Oshiomhole came, Edo has changed and we don’t want any big man to fight him. Oshiomhole is God-sent to Edo and God will continue to protect him. We will not allow the Igbinedions to rubbish him because when the son was governor, we didn’t see dividends of democracy and our people remained poor. But since Oshiomhole came, he changed all that,”their spokesperson said. “Oshiomhole is not a selfish man. We support our Comrade Governor because he is fighting for the poor and no weapon fashioned against him shall prosper”.
The women were addressed by the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr Victor Edoror, before they marched to Government House where they were addressed by Oshiomhole. The governor, who expressed joy for the support he has from women across the three senatorial district of the state, assured them that “no god father can intimidate me.”He added: “Rather, I will be the one to chase them out of the state”. Oshiomhole, who is the Omokpa Nabebho (one man like one country), a traditional title given to him by the Otaru of Auchi, took time to explain that he was being attacked by the Igbinedions because he revoked the contract his predecessor allegedly signed with his father at the Benin Central Hospital where the state government was allegedly paying the bills for the training of medical students of Igbinedion University, Okada. He also told the women how he revoked the 200,000 hectares of land the junior Igbinedion allegedly gave to his father in Okada. The governor went further: “They said they are Mr Exemption on the Land Use Charge but in Edo the only exemption is the Oba of Benin and not the Esama. I laughed when I saw some women wearing red last week accusing me of insulting Chief Igbinedion.
“They said I always abuse elders but which elders have I abused in this state? Talking about disrespect, it is on record that Chief Igbinedion was even the first that took our Oba of Benin to court; himself and his son, Lucky. Igbinedion owns property all over the world.. If people are afraid of the Igbinedions, I am not scared of them and I will never be. For me, only God in heaven will define my tomorrow. They said I have a house in the village; those who know me know that I have a house in the village since 1990. The remaining time I have here, I will do my best to continue to work for Edo people, all they are trying to do is to divert attention but I will remain focused. The hospital, I will complete it; 2nd East Circular Road will be completed. When the time comes, we will publish our report card and they too will publish their report card for ten years”.