History plays a role and shapes our future. Today, I share with you my interactions with the two leading candidates for the Edo State Gubernatorial Election, Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Godwin Obaseki.
Firstly, it was around 2001/2002 that I first met Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. We had gone to appeal to him concerning the closure of Ambrose Alli University (AAU). For those of you who cannot remember, AAU was closed down after students legitimately protested against management high-handedness and, in the process, cornered a Coca Cola truck. We asked for his intervention to support the re-opening of our school. He told us that AAU students were bad; that we were thieves, cultists and never-do-well. Based on that flawed generalisation, he said he supported the decision of the governor on the closure of AAU as a punishment for our misconduct and “SINS”.
While the government of the day was using the conduct of the students as an excuse, the real reason for the closure was lack of funds to pay staff of AAU. As you all know¬– and as a direct consequence of this action – we, the students, at that time lost over two years of our lives to this unnecessary and unwarranted closure. That memory never left me!
Again in 2004, after I was elected as President of the Law Students Association, I embarked on an audacious and daring task to honour our First and Foremost Dean of the Faculty of Law, the Late Professor D.O. Aihie. The Late Aihie – as Dean and, later, Vice Chancellor of the then Bendel State University (now AAU) – saw the formation and growth of the Faculty of Law. His legacies and achievements are overwhelming. As at that time, it was 10 years post death, so we thought about hosting a lecture and dinner in his honor. We wanted to do this so that the labour of our heroes past will not be in vein. We wanted to show others – his family, the school community…and so on…that we were proud of his time as Dean and, later, Vice Chancellor. Several speakers were selected for this event and Osagie Ize-Iyamu was one of them. He was selected because of his profession as a lawyer and then a possible role model for would-be lawyers. As president, I personally went to his office with an invitation letter, and also asking for his support towards the programme. After waiting for several hours, he came out, reviewed the letter, asked questions and then told me that he didn’t think the late Aihie achieved anything worth celebrating. I explained to him that the very foundation of excellence at the Law Faculty was laid by this same Aihie, and that – in any case – this was worth celebrating. In fact, our theme was “For Our Today, He Gave Us His Yesterday”. At that point he lost his temper and asked me to leave his office.
As far as he was concerned, who was I to argue with an SSG? He made me sadder than I came in. Not only did he demonise my school, he shattered the legacies of our hero, Aihie. Mind you, the same document I gave to him was the same that I gave to Professor Itse Sagay, the Ugbesias (who overwhelmingly supported the event), Tony Anenih and so on. They were, indeed, very delighted; at last, someone had found the courage to honour an author of excellence.
Now fast-forward to 2007, I graduated from the Law School and emerged as the Law School’s all-time best – breaking all records previously held before me. I graduated with a First Class Honor, the first student from AAU and Edo State to make that history at the Nigerian Law School. Yes, I was from AAU, a school that Ize-Iyamu and his government characterised as a school for thieves, thugs, prostitutes and the never-do-well. That year, my set at the Law School will never forget the standard set by AAU students at the Nigeria Law School. Even Lucky Igbinedion – the then governor who claimed AAU was no good, shut down our school, made us lose two years of our school lives – praised my success as part of his achievements in office.
In November 2007, the late president of Eghosa Old Boys Association (EGHOBA), Dr Ekhator of blessed memory, invited me to receive an award. At the award ceremony, I was honoured alongside Godwin Obaseki. That was the first time I met Obaseki in person although I had heard about him, particularly because I was working in a leading law firm and had the opportunity to be the one of the lawyers advising the buyers of some assets where AFRINVEST, a company founded by Obaseki, was the financial adviser. In fact, at that time, the major financial advisers on big-ticket transactions were either Afrinvest or Vetiva Capital. After I received my award, Obaseki, in spite of his wealth and standing, walked over to where I was with humility, congratulated me and gave me his card and personal email address. In his words, “would you like to join my team? Send me your resume before Wednesday so I can get an interview scheduled for you”. He didn’t bother himself about the school I attended or who I was or where I came from. Rather, he saw excellence and wanted to reward excellence. I was invited for the interview, hired and then I turned it down after I spoke with my mentor about my plans for the future. The offer was mouth-watering, and even higher than the pay I was receiving then, with perks that would drive one crazy. Obaseki called me some days later when he heard that I turned down the offer. He asked me if I wanted more pay so that I would join his team, then I explained to him about my plans and he welcomed the idea then wished me good luck. After that time, I saw him several times at meetings and public functions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I put before you two candidates; one, Ize-Iyamu, who had the opportunity to reward excellence but rather chose to demonise AAU in order to appease his pay masters and destroyed every fabric of our hero, Prof. Aihie, and the other, Obaseki, who had the opportunity and took it to reward excellence. Won’t you rather vote OBASEKI than an Ize-Iyamu? For those of you who know me, I promote and support excellence. I support Godwin Obaseki as governor for Edo State!
Oronsaye writes from Benin City