MATTHEW AisagbonriodionÂ Urhoghide, a pharmacist by education and training, is also a businessman and politician by calling who has firmly registered his presence on the political turf in his native Edo State years ago. Urhoghide cut his political teeth in the heady days of the Babangida transition; he was Director of Administration in late Bashorun MKO Abiolaâ€™s Hope â€˜93 Campaign, where he worked closely with Dr Jonathan Zwingina, the Campaign Director.
In the current political dispensation, however, Urhoghide has been active, first in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) where he sought but failed to get the partyâ€™s governorship ticket. With ANPP more or less off the radar in Edo State, Matto, as he is fondly called hearkened to the voice of his supporters who urged a berth in the Action Congress, the political vehicle that lent its appeal to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who later became Edo State Governor after a lengthy legal battle.
With his eyes on a seat in the Senate, Urhoghide in the interview below fields questions on his political activities and the situation in Edo State. Excerpts:
How is Edo state now politically?
Edo State is okay and I want to say with a lot of joy that Edo State is working again. What eluded our people for a very long time was the lack of development in the life of the ordinary Edo person; it was virtually coming back and confidence is gradually coming back and the people are having confidence in government. The future was bleak in the past when people are suffering under the weight of neglect and ineptitude of government and of course the very uncompassionate posture that we had in the state.
But now, we have a compassionate government that is focused on providing the basics to our people. The roads that were not there before, they are all changing, the schools that have forests around them are beginning change into habitable environment for conducive learning and also the quality of teachers are changing and proper utilisation of the workforce has also changed.
The same you will see in the health sector, things are changing, hospitals that never had qualified doctors are beginning to have them, nurses and other para_medical staff that were not available in those rural areas are now forced to go to those places to work. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry is beginning to review the status of the industries that were abandoned.
Generally, a lot of activities are beginning to spring up because the government is energizing the whole place. Commerce has picked up and the people have the solution on their side and they continue to have hope. The only thing we are praying for is that the state governmentâ€™s efforts be complemented by the other tiers of government, like the local governments, and of course, proper representation at the federal level would be able to facilitate more development and input from that level, if we are able to get people into the House of Representatives and the Senate who will key into the philosophy of this government.
By doing so, we will be able to attract a whole lot to the state. That is what we are looking at now and we hope that in the very near future, we are going to have proper representation which I describe as effective representation that can bring about good governance in terms of productive representation that can change the lives of people.
Talking about productive representation, where do we factor you in the scheme of things in Edo State?
My desire since 2006 is to represent the people of Edo South in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that senatorial district is a very strategic district where you have the majority of the people in the state. We are actually talking of over 50 per cent of the state in Edo south senatorial district.
The ACÂ government in the state no doubt has been thrown up because of the very huge contribution of Edo south senatorial district in terms of quality votes that we have added and of course the massive support for the governorship ticket.
The district provides the capital for oil in the state and the manpower in the government, you will see have greater majority of the people from the district in government, so, that being the case, we believe that the input that we have to make for local government council or local government administration, Edo south should take the lead because most of the urban local areas are situated in Edo south district and you expect that effort of government at that level is very feasible in the Edo south senatorial district.
So we are equally craving that the quality of persons that will have to take over the governance at that level particularly in that 7 local governments must be credible persons who knows what development means, people who knows exactly what is expected of government.
You speak of â€œproper representationâ€. Just what do you mean by that?
Proper representation of Edo South senatorial district in the Senate will be a prototype, an example of what representation should be because with greater majority of the people, the other two senatorial districts which constitute less than 50 percent of the state and of course with the effect of government very visible in that district, I think we just cannot do without a proper representation.
I am talking of giving excellent representation and excellent representation is not just all about roads or schools or hospitals, excellent representation is proximity to the people that you represent which has been lacking.
On this, I make bold to say that we really have not had effective representation because people representing us are far from the people; they have not even tapped into the desires of the people, they have not tapped into the wants of the people and I want to say that I canâ€™t remember whether anyone has even organised a town hall meeting to ask his constituents what they want him to do or say on their behalf.
So you can see that it is one sided and that is why I say the people have not benefitted from representation; they have not had input to what is to be said or what has to be driven by the people representing them in the National Assembly. What we are saying now is that we want somebody that will be very close to the people; afterall, good representation is a function between the people you represent and you that is representingÂ them.
When the distance is very wide, that means you have not represented them well. So when I say the representation has not been effective, it is because they have been too distant from the people. Now we want to close that gap to enable the people of those seven local governments areas that constitute Edo South have their say and input and of course it is they that will drive and tell me what to do there and it is their desire I have to put into the national grid at that level so that we know exactly how their level of representation has to be.
For a long time you have had a political structure on ground; how have you strengthened that structure to actualize this ambition for effective representation come 2011 for Edo South?
I want to tell you that I have been on this since 1992 when I wanted to go to the senate on the platform of SDP and the same drive that informed my desire to run for the senate is still there, yes, let me go there to help make proper laws that will govern and direct the executive.
My background as a union leader, coming from an idealistic position does not have room for failure. You donâ€™t have rooms for excuses. If you make laws, the laws are supposed to be absolute and that is the way the law is, the law has to be exercised, it has to be obeyed.
So, I have always thought that a political career in the legislature was really my ambition from the beginning because of my background as a union leader and of course, one has always known the desires of our people. Also, I have always fraternized with our people from the different areas ofÂ Edo south senatorial district. I know that the people of these seven local government areas are a bit different from other local government areas, even though we have the same language, so the peculiarity that I see among the different peoples that constitute my senatorial district will inform the kind of work I have to do for them.
The structure I have put in place from the SDP days, I still have them and those days I have ventured to run for the governorship on the platform of ANPP, all those structures have collapsed into Action Congress now.
From SDP to ANPP, now to AC. How will you factor in the impact of national play in terms of our politics on your aspiration and Edo state?
Let me just tell you that the SDP had a national coloration in 1991 up to 1994 and that why I even went through it after we finished our primaries in 1992 to go into Abiola campaign organisation which was a national organisation with Senator Zwingina and I anchoring Abiolaâ€™s campaign for two years.
So, I was in the mainstream and when that one failed (I was not involved in the leprous five political parties of Sani Abacha), I have no regret about that because most of us really who were major players in Abiolaâ€™s campaign organisation did not have anything to do with that despotic government. But I want to say that immediately after the 1999 played, there was a display of principle on my side because most of those persons who constitute the strategic leadership of the PDP were the same person who truncated the actualisation of the June 12 election and on the note of principle, I decide not to join the PDP.
Because of the privilege of the information which I had on what transpired between Bashorun Abiola and the leadership of the PDP, there was no way I could join them. It was on a personal note and based on principle. Even though I knew in ANPP at that time that we had no chance of getting government at the federal level, I thought there was a way we could still do few things taking the peculiarity of our state into consideration, to be able to get an ANPP government in Edo.
Of course, my friends were in the PDP government then, I did not have anything against them, I remain loyal to our friendship and to the government and I think today, history is there for us to recall. I want to say after the ANPP thing happened there was now a re_alignment of forces.
Those who were victims of over_bearing effects of those godfathers now know there was no way our people will move forward, there was no way our state will move forward if we donâ€™t remove them, so there was a coalition of forces and that was where I keyed in when I left ANPP for reasons that were beyond me. My people said no, donâ€™t go to PDP, please come and join forces with us to overcome the PDP forces in the state. That was how I joined forces with Comrade Oshinomole and the rest of progressive forces in the state.
It seems your support to the Oshinomole machinery and other political forces in the state has somehow been able to shut out PDP in the state. What is the strategy?
The strategy cannot be far fetched. The people were completely despondent, over laboured by the crass intolerance of the ruling class, the few elements who were pauperized them, who have made them slaves in their own land. There was a total lack of development, in fact Edo State was not a state that could be navigated from anywhere.
What happened was that the people are already down and they needed forces to raise them up and that was the platform we provided as alternative.
We said, look, PDP has done you all evil in the world and that is how it stands till today because PDP was like a cult in the state. When we came, we told them look, you can see light from a different angle and of course they never believed it, but now they see it can happen and that is why the Action Congress did not exercise the extraordinary, we did not have the money, but we have people on our side.
The ways things played out in the last few months, the political term of Governor Oshinomole expires 2012, but there is a political term that is bound to expire in 2011. Do you see the interplay of those dates affecting political activities in Edo?
Definitely, it will because Governor Oshinomoleâ€™s second term will not come until 2012, so he is going to ask for a fresh mandate from the people. The other tenures on ground, the state assembly and National assembly are going to come up next year.
Now, what they call the fortunes of our party people in 2011 elections will be a function of the AC government, so what Adams Oshiomholeâ€™s government does will stand as a testimonial because that is only thing we have to flaunt for the people because that is what will make the difference.
You were chairman of the assets verification committee after Governor Oshinomole came on board. Can you give us an insight into what happened?
The asset verification committee, that was one of the first committees set up by this government because there was no formal handing to Governor Oshinomole by Senator Osunbor, there was need for the new government under Oshinomole to know the financial state and then look at some other things that could serve as information to government.
So, that was what we did and letters were sent out to ministries and parastatals to furnish the committee with necessary information to guide us to get much needed information to government by asset and liabilities.
So, we called them and quite frankly, all the things we found out particularly those ones, we limited the time to 14months of Professor Osunbor because Professor Osunbor has similarly set up such committee to verify that of Lucky Igbinedionâ€™s government and the document to that effect was made available to us, so there was no need to revisit what was done before.
Even at that, itâ€™s instructive to note that Osunbor set up such a committee even when Igbinedion formally handed over to him. But he did not handover to Comrade Adams Oshinomole, so we needed to go on this chase and found out things and the things we found out were very startling and we have all those ones available to government.
It was thought you were going to play an active role in Oshinomoleâ€™s government through a major appointment. But that never happened. Why?
Before Oshinomole came in, you will remember that we all contested election and by the time he came in, my case was still at the appeal court. I had one of my prayers granted at the election petition tribunal that the election for Edo south senatorial district be cancelled and it was cancelled.
I was still at the appeal court when that government came in, so there was no way one could take active position in that government and in fact, the government has been in place for close to a year and half before the judgement came and you know there must be stability in government. I am not saying his mind, but I think those he has picked as commissioners, I think he sees them as people doing well.
What about the balance of power in the state house of assembly?
It has been done through the court and most of the things you see in Edo has actually been achieved through the courts and after that, today we have 13 members in Action Congress and they are now 11 when the new speaker who defected from PDP to AC, we have 13 clearly.
You will find out that aÂ party rising from eight members to 13 members shows that Edo State is now getting equilibrium and a lot of people that contested election against us are now in AC and we are still having other inflow. Now that they are coming, the party cannot deny them membership.