COMRADE Adams Oshiomhole, the immediate National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Edo State, X-rays Saturday’s governorship election which, he says, his party would win convincingly, how he fell out with his successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki, just as he calls for peace amidst rising tensions of violence in the state. Excerpts.
How has the campaign been after moving around with the candidate of your party? What have been your feelings, observations interacting with the people again after you left office?
I have been quite excited to see the worth of the people across the 18 local government areas, people are extremely warm and they are excited seeing me after four years. It is like what more do I expect from a public office other than to govern a place for eight years, go back there after four years and I have been succeeded by a governor who has turned hostile, who tried to destroy my legacies and even lied effortlessly on a variety of issues, but to find that the people are not fooled and they have very fond memories of my time, my style and so on and so forth?
It goes beyond physical infrastructure, social infrastructure and all of the things that we did then. I remain proud that the people are quite appreciative. Even the human touch, the recognition that you are just another guy down the road that God has favoured using people to make you the governor which is very transient and that there is life after it.
Everywhere I go, when I see elderly women, I can notice them from the crowd saying “yes, that is him, look at him”. I can see the joy in them; so it cannot be better. I am so fulfilled and happy that I am able to join the candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, across the 18 local government areas, across the 192 wards. Besides the fact that I enjoy doing that to support him, it also helped me to also renew my bond with the people of Edo and I find it extremely exciting and fulfilling.
What are the chances of the APC in this election considering that you are contesting against an incumbent governor?
Now, incumbency can be an advantage and at the same time it can be a liability. When a governor has performed, then you can use the slogan ‘tested and trusted’, but when a governor has failed woefully like Obaseki, he is tested and failed and it is not difficult.
But my problem with the media is that you don’t report all that you see, you edit yourself out, otherwise I will pose the question to you, in all the rallies you have attended, when the question is put to the people “do you have a new school in your neighbourhood?” the answer is always “no” and there is always the cry, “we do not have teachers”. A royal father told us he had two and a half teachers in the school in his community and I was like “two and a half teachers, how?” He said because they are only three, one is the Principal and out of the other two teachers, one will retire in December and if Obaseki remains as a governor, he will be left with two; so, on education, it is zero, you can’t teach people without teachers and he lied effortlessly and a section of the media indulge him when he talks about EdoBEST, he even paid for plastic award.
How can you talk about EdoBEST when a government has closed the College of Education where teachers are trained in formal, structured academic manner and you are using consultants, some of whom have never taught and you pay those consultants N1.5m per teacher? If you want to read education in the University of Benin, you will not need N1m for a four-year degree programme to be able to teach, so all these are just fraudulent things that I am shocked that Obaseki has got himself into.
You heard people saying “we have had no light for four years” and Obaseki goes to those communities like Ilushi and says “I know you have no light for four years, but if you elect me, in three months I will give you light” and the people are like “so, you can fix it in three months, what you have refused to do for us in four years” and they just laugh at him.
There are fears of violence ahead of the election and during the election…
I believe that there will be no violence; it is a pity that most commentators have made that a big issue, but also the commentators derive their take off points from the comments made by the governor and his deputy and even lately the wife of the deputy governor. The governor had started about a year ago saying his second term is not negotiable and, according to him, he deserves it and he earns and he will have it. Now that in itself is a foundation for violence because if it is not negotiable, it means nobody will contest against you. He holds the view that it is his fundamental human right to remain governor; that undemocratic pronouncement laid the foundation for the tension.
Second is again the media; I came here to Benin at the invitation of the Oba and, when I went out in the night, I was told by my orderly that some people had arranged truck loads of thugs and they were throwing stones into my compound shouting all kinds of slogans. He said he had called the police and, by the time I got home, I met close to 100 policemen and they told me they had dislodged them. Till today why they did that, I don’t know.
The same policemen that came to my rescue, when the issue became public, then police commissioner shamelessly denied that there was such incident; rather, he said he gave me more than 25 policemen to escort me to Oba’s palace and back to the airport. So the question is why will a Nigerian citizen require 25 policemen to escort him from here to Oba’s palace less than seven minutes drive? Those who were involved in that exercise, I got their names, I did a petition, they were invited, some of them confessed, they had video where they recorded and they were boasting how they came to my house and police let them off and I said to the police “this is how crime starts”.
The second incident, I was coming to Benin for the burial of the mother of Hon. EJ Agbonayinma. I was on my way to the airport and I got information that thugs were at the airport, they had sent thugs because Obaseki’s people did not consent to my coming to Benin and I called the CP, he said the matter was under control but, by the time I got to the airport, the CP called to say I should better stay away because the thugs were too many and I said to him “these are the names you have been given that are in the airport”. He said the governor has immunity and I asked “do the thugs have immunity too?” He said I should just stay away from Benin. I told the CP he was joking, that I was going to come to Benin and he should go and do his job.
I came and on landing, he called that I should stay away but I said I was there at the tarmac. I was shocked to find out the entire airport road was blocked with police supervising the blockage and they were making bonfire on the airport road, destroying that beautiful road, but I came down with the efforts of the air force personnel.
It took me an hour and a half instead of seven minutes to drive from the airport to my house. I went for that function, I came back and my attention was drawn by my security that they blocked the two entrances on the street to my house with Edo State Waste Management Board vehicles. I called the Inspector General of Police that I was under siege and he directed the CP to intervene.
The CP sent more policemen and himself came and I was shocked when he said that they went to see Obaseki and he agreed that he (governor) ordered the blockage because he did not want me to hold any political meeting in my house. In his naivety, he thought those harsh, repressive and undemocratic measures he took will scare me and other people from asking questions about his second term. In that case, he forgot my background. In the night, they set one of the trucks near the transformer on fire and their calculation is that because the transformer is close to my house, it will explode and possibly affect my enemy, yet nobody was arrested.
Many people complained when they dropped explosives in Chief Francis Inegbeneki’s house in Benin, at the residence of the party Secretary Lawrence Okah, at the office of former Attorney General Henry Idahagbon and five other party leaders; this is not to add the ones he used bulldozer to destroy their hotel. Somebody who has gone to court and the court was to deliver a ruling on Friday and, on Wednesday, he sent bulldozers to level the place, a 32-room hotel and he once had a political meeting in that hotel. All of these laid the foundation for the tension people are talking about.
The governor is on record, now the world is so sophisticated that nobody can escape, the media cannot kill any story so you Google it you will find where Obaseki was threatening that if I come to Edo without permission from him, he will deal with me decisively, he will tell me he is the executive governor of this state. About four weeks ago, on television, he said if they want violence “I will give them violence, I will tell them I am the governor of this state”.
When a governor talks like that, what do you expect his followers to do? Not done, about three weeks ago, Obaseki said himself and his deputy are the only two people who have immunity in this state and any other person, no matter what he was before and you know “what he was before” is referring to, “I will deal with him ruthlessly” and his supporters replied “you will give him wake and see treatment”. So when the emperor talks like that, he laid the foundation for this tension. I challenge these commentators, including the media, to show me anywhere I made any violent statement.
In all our campaigns, I tell the people there will be peace, we are going to use white chalk to celebrate, we don’t want blood; I say so every day and I will keep saying so. We went to the palace, you heard what the Oba said, he said “Obaseki, call your deputy to order;” he spoke like the royal father that he is without fear or favour and the following day, the wife of the deputy governor, check it on Youtube, was talking to women, most of them far above her mother’s age and she said “take their pictures,” if I have reports that any of you associate with Women on the Move, that is a political movement that is supporting Ize-Iyamu’s wife’s campaign, she said she will flog them, so who is talking violence. I challenge the media to reproduce anywhere I said anything violent. I told the women in Jattu that they should not worry but use their PVCs to flog Obaseki’s government out of power. As a governor, we had three elections. Did we have tension this way? When have the people changed? We have a crusher as governor but the PVC will crush him peacefully on September 19th.
The governor said one of the reasons you had issues with him was when he stopped the sale of Edaiken Market to your kinsmen. What is the story?
He went to Egor trying to play divide and rule, like the headline in your paper, ‘Why I fell out with Oshiomhole’, I am hearing it for the very first time.
He alleged that I sold a market, but because the way the media take stories on their surface, he gets away with it otherwise the journalist should ask him, particularly if the journalist is not compromised, “may we have evidence of this deal” because to sell a market is not a verbal transaction. He is the governor, I challenge him to produce the document showing that I was involved in the sale of any market, not just that market and then he goes on to try to play ethnic sentiment which I find very unfortunate by saying that my not being from Benin, I do not like Benin people.
Obaseki saying that and that I tried to knock the head of two Benins. So when he contested against Ize-Iyamu four years ago, was it that I hated the Benins and I supported him? I could have easily supported an Ishan man, so when a man goes into such divisive primordial sentiments, you know that he is bankrupt in every material particular. He went to a place in Igbanke, part of Orhiomwon local government area, to campaign, the governor of Delta State tried to help him: you know when confusion sets in, even rational people begin to act in a manner they think that they are smart but the political consequences and interpretation are damaging.
The Delta governor had to send bulldozers to grade one or two roads in Igbanke. Iganke is in Edo, Governor Okowa’s wife is from Igbanke. Seeing the condition of the roads, he had to send tractors to go and grade the bad portion of the road and Obaseki went there to campaign and, very unfortunately, it rained and the road was not passable. He now wanted to drive through the road that I constructed.
There are about 10 roads in Igbanke, I did eight, the one that was left which he ought to complete was 1.2 kilometres, and he didn’t do it. Since I left, he has not been to Igbanke; so when he went there that day to pass through the graded road by Okowa, he couldn’t make it because it was marshy having rained all night. He now tried to reverse and drive through the tarred roads that I constructed and the youths blocked him and say “look, go and pass that place”.
It takes a completely failed government like that of Obaseki for another state to help you do grading, something that a local government council is expected to do and, if you look at the books of Orhiomwon local government area, you will see where the governor purportedly approved for the grading of roads but it was not done. Another government coming to help Obaseki grade a 1.2 kilometre of road because that road did not require consultancy, did not require MoU…
Yet when I was governor, BUA Cement was established, Dangote Cement started construction. We have a ceramics company here, we have a steel company working, we have a glass factory working. Azura Power started all these things we did without signing any MoU. In some instances, I only constructed roads, gave them land and they started work.
Just on Tuesday, again the media covered up and it is dangerous for the media to be covering up bad governance because you can’t turn back later to say Nigeria is failing; you saw market women at Ekiosa protesting, they blocked the road, why were they protesting? They expected you the media to convey it, they were protesting that their market got burnt. Obaseki didn’t visit there until two days after; it was not an emergency enough to him, peoples’ means of livelihood, women, their market got burnt, then he promised them when he finally got there that he will rebuild the market.
The women said “allow us to rebuild some temporary structure”, he said no, he will build a model market. He has not built the market. He also promised he will give them N100 million to support them as partial compensation for what they have lost and I know the Federal Government under President Buhari sent some relief materials to those women. Obaseki did not redeem his promise till today, he has neither built the market nor gave the women N100 million he promised them, that is why they were demonstrating; so he is an incumbent liability.
We were at Uwelu Spare Parts Market today (Thursday), you needed to be there, there was nobody wearing branded fez cap; so they are not party members, they are just voters and they narrated their story of how their market got burnt. Obaseki went there after the fire incident, he saw the grief on their faces and he promised to help them rebuild the market and also to give them some money to restart their businesses, they have not seen his brake light since then, they told us.
If he was an asset, no party will throw away an asset even though he has issues with his qualification as to how he could get admission to the University of Ibadan with three credits without English Language and Mathematics, it remains a mystery which the court will unravel. PDP sued him before out of time but we have sued him within time. The best thing that has made our campaign easy is that it is not a contest between two strangers, it is a contest between a sitting governor or, if you like, an MoU governor, as he is now called, and another person.
Incidentally, these two have contested against each other before and they have only changed political party platform. But remember that even with my support for Obaseki then, he got about 300,000 votes while Ize-Iyamu got well over 200,000; now Obaseki is an orphan, he is not an indigene of PDP, it is a marriage of convenience, he procured a Zimbabwean dollar ticket that has no electoral value with all the uncertainties arising from the academic qualification which is before a Federal High Court. But for PDP tax collectors as my very good friend Governor Wike called them and I will like to believe Wike, even when he hits me hard you see I don’t reply because he is my good friend, in politics you can exchange some friendly fireworks but he told some hard truths.
You joined the party today and by tomorrow you are the candidate and everybody was forced to step down because Obaseki cannot afford any form of contest, so now he is going to really face election for the very first time on his own. You have been here, you are familiar with all the political actors in this state, power of incumbency is when a sitting governor begin to roll out what he has achieved in the critical areas because Nigeria is still basically at provision of basic needs, people simply want roads in the city, the rural people want roads to connect the rural economy to the urban areas, they want good schools and qualified teachers to teach; even though their parents are poor, the child will have the opportunity of upward mobility, but this governor has closed the school of nursing, he has closed down the College of Agriculture both in Iguoriakhi and Agenebode, he reduced the subvention to Ambrose Alli University from N270m a month I was giving to them when I was governor to N96m, that is about one third. As a consequence, the university has been borrowing to pay salaries; last month, no bank was willing to borrow them and they defaulted in salary; so like the other institutions, AAU can close if Obaseki is re-elected.
How come you did not see this other side of Obaseki. Did he deceive you?
It is a simple thing; you can never vouch for the character of a man until he has money or he has power or both, then his true identity comes out. Obaseki didn’t believe in the development agenda of Edo but he successfully pretended for eight years. Otherwise the Benin-City master plan, how could any Benin man who sees the flooding problem in the city abandon that project? You know what it is now when it rains. I think Obaseki is just a proverbial debtor who thinks tomorrow is far.
What went wrong between the two of you?
I am sorry to mention names. Obaseki appealed to Aliko Dangote that he could not stand politics, that he hoped I could help him handle that but I said I won’t be here all the time, I wanted to relocate to Abuja because if I was here, people will be running to see me, seeking favours and I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to be a burden. I wanted to maintain an excellent relationship with my successor and the only way to achieve that was to stay away. We agreed that once in a year or once in six months, seven of us; the governor, his deputy, SSG, Chairman of the party, Secretary of the party, Political Adviser to the governor and myself will meet; the idea was that these people will assist him on day-to-day basis to deal with the political environment, but where they had issues, they will share with me and I could come in when necessary.
We had the first meeting here in this room; the seven of us. They told me they, that is, the deputy governor, the SSG, the party Chairman and Secretary, had two problems; first problem was that all his jobs he was giving them to people who were not resident in the state, they gave an example that even small things like master of ceremony in official functions, he contracted them to people who were not from this state, who were not living in this state and so the young men and women who were following us who were introducing him during campaigns were feeling they were no more useful and they gave me an example of the MC that officiated the Alaghodaro Summit to mark his first anniversary who did not know the politicians and mixed things up, yet we have these people here and they all worked for him, some are employed to work for government and he abandoned all of them. Somebody showed me a menu card for an event here that was printed in Port Harcourt. He said when he (Obaseki) was campaigning there were printers in Benin printing his posters, his leaflets, his billboards now he is governor there are no good printers in Benin again. They told me some of the party leaders including his Political Adviser boycotted the inter-denominational service because they said let “this consultant come and pray for him”; they said he has not constituted the board of companies, so those whom worked are saying “after victory only two or three people are in government; the governor, his deputy and the SSG”.
What gave us the most popularity here was the most basic thing; education; you are from this state you know however small a village is in Edo, they will have a primary school or both primary school and a secondary school, our people believe if government will not give them school they will build community primary school or community secondary school; so, since I left, the Red Roof, the idea of building new schools, stopped even though he collected the money from UBEC and because he is not building schools, the small contractors are complaining because they normally handle those jobs.
I sat with them here and I said “Your Excellency, these are the complaints and I feel you will do well to begin to look at them because by my experience, the beauty of building schools is a win –win situation. You give it to a local contractor because they are not complex civil engineering works which most local contractors can handle. As you give them these contracts, they in turn recruit bricklayers, carpenters, tillers, woodworkers. Members of tipper drivers association have jobs supplying granites, supplying cement, moulding or selling blocks, the painters have jobs and the ceramic tiles are made here in Benin, the iron rods are made here in Benin, so all of that money circulates here, the only one that goes out of Benin is the money for the long span aluminium which we normally buy from Delta Aluminium Company, so if you like it circulates within Bendel”.
This was why they said Oshiomhole had turned Edo to a huge construction site because in every ward there is construction work going on. We awarded 192 school construction jobs for the 192 wards and ‘mama put’ will spring up to be cooking for those who are working, the young boys and girls have jobs to do and that way you keep people busy, that way you generate tens of thousands of jobs, demand-driven jobs. He said he needed the first year to settle down and carry out some studies; that some consultants were looking at some things for him.
But I don’t need a consultant to tell me that this school without a roof, without windows, I need to rebuild it; the only consultant I need are two; the architect to design the school and the quantity surveyor to do the costing. I was elected July 24, 2017 as National Chairman of the party and the SSG told me that when they get to Benin, there should be another of such meetings for a midterm review; we were getting to two years.
We had a small meeting when we came to Abuja which coincided with the period of primary election for National Assembly polls and they gave me the short list of the things that were not in place and, even more worrisome, they told me that, as things stood, if he didn’t address those issues, we may lose the elections approaching particularly in Edo South because people were grumbling. We had a meeting and the same things still came up; still he had not started building schools yet collecting money from UBEC, still he had not employed any teacher from the list, he hadn’t constituted the boards, the Central Hospital remained closed, he was not sinking borehole in any community.
They told me he was told about the boards and he asked that they should submit lists, they submitted the first list, a second list and when they asked for a third one, the people said no, now it is like they are just deceiving them and they feared that even our party members may sabotage us if the situation persisted into the election. We had the meeting and I raised the issues by the people working with him and they are the same issues and “you are almost two years” and I told him, point blank, “if we go into the coming election like this, we will lose flat particularly in Edo South because in Edo South, their expectation is higher because they rightly feel that if a governor who is not from Benin City by lineage could do six lanes on airport road, could deal with the ‘mammy water’ at Teachers House and construct six lanes there, introduce street lights in Benin and power them with generators, build a modern hospital that everybody can see, you can’t deny it even if you hate me, so they expected that my successor coming from Benin will do more and so the shock going to the first year nothing, second year nothing was huge”. I said this is the time to change gear.
Meanwhile his deputy was one of the persons complaining, “you party Chairman, Ogie (SSG), say something” and they were now saying “it is not as bad as that”. Then I told Obaseki “you are in trouble; when you intimidate your appointees because you all here are the sources of the information I have, you only asked me to help raise the issues in this meeting but it is like because of his reaction you are now saying it is not as bad as that”.
I also told him we will lose the next election because these things are not rocket science. I told him “what I owe you is to tell you the truth”. I asked him “how are you going to campaign? I built schools, roads and others but you need to do more than that. In the heart of Benin, I am told you are doing some roads, I have actually quietly driven through those roads but the quality of those roads are different from what we promised Edo people because we said standard; every road must have sidewalks, they must have side drains; any road without drains is going to fail”.
I am proud to say that all the roads we tarred when I was there are testimonies of what I am saying. I told him “unless you change ways it will be difficult because I introduced eye mark, not earmark” especially if the person is a sitting governor, he should show the people what he has done. I offered Obaseki honest advice but when he wasn’t listening, I called Dangote, a mutual friend of ours, and I said “advise him, these are the problems”, and three of us had a meeting. Even the hospital I had to do a documentary on it to show that the hospital has been equipped. And our friend told him “you can’t build a thing like that and leave it for two years, the warranty is running whether you use it or not”.
There was nothing personal but I was concerned because when we introduced him, many people said we didn’t know him and I had to say “don’t worry you will know him; his style will be different from my style of course because our background is different but the mission is the same. He will continue with the projects we started” but he has abandoned all of them. God knows I raised these issues with him in good faith.
Only God knows how much we invested to take Edo out of PDP and, as you can see, since 2008 that I succeeded under God’s guidance to achieve that, we have not been able to claim any new state in the Niger Delta, so for whatever I needed to do to assist him, I was going to do that. This is the betrayer, betraying the dream, the promise of continuity, not for my good but for the good of Edo.
Accident involving your convoy and allegation that it was an assassination attempt.
To be honest with you, I think it is a natural accident, this is my personal view. It is true there might be people who may wish me dead, even you, there might be people who may wish you dead; there is no question about that, but all I want is that the police should do thorough investigation. I think it is the usual recklessness of our drivers. However, it was a pitiable sight, seeing those policemen die, especially after our discussions before we left Abuja that we were all on out of station assignment; their colleagues felt bad about the accident but I had to appeal to them to be professional.
What you said against Ize-Iyamu in the last election is now being used against you for suddenly supporting him…
I think it is a lazy man’s argument’ General Collins Powel was a Republican Secretary of State loyal to the Republican Party, he was appointed by a Republican President as Chief of Defence Staff; he is known to have supported Republican Party, but twice he has found himself endorsing a Democrat.
To the electorate
My appeal is that we should not be provoked, election is not war, election is not a do-or-die affair and whatever we do, only one person will emerge and only the living will be governed and I think here, President Jonathan’s statement readily comes to mind when he said no political office is worth the blood of any person. This is the state, one man one vote, one woman one vote.
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