BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
COMRADE Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the Governor of Edo State, who is seeking a second term in office as governor, in this interview spoke on various issues including why he wants a second term. The interview was monitored from African Independent Television, AIT.
Where did you meet Edo State when you became the Governor?
I think we can say that Edo State was a place that was completely behind in every facet of life.
The infrastructural situation was in a very bad shape; roads in Benin city were not passable and people were scared once it was going to rain because of the serious problem of flooding. Not a few were stranded around the Tomline area, traditional ground and Five junction once it rained even for just five minutes. There were many families who lost their children to flooding right from their bedroom.
In the educational sector, the children were completely abandoned. In short, education was privatized by default in the sense that, the government completely diverted public money and the result was that, even the poor had to struggle to send their children to private schools.
The health sector was not better off; the Central hospital that was built in Benin City in 1903 had not received any major maintenance. Across the length and breadth of Edo state, nothing was done. In Esan land, water remained a very critical problem. Many rural communities were not connected and their schools were the same as that of Edo South and those in Edo North.
Many communities in Edo North had given up as if it was their fault or rather, that of the ancestors to have chosen to live where they found themselves because they thought it was impossible to have them connected to the economy of the state through road networks. Workers worked for couple of times for months without being paid their salaries, pensioners were known to have protested and died without their pension being paid.
So, both the social sector, the infrastructural sector; everything was in bad shape. In fact, Edo was dismissed as an unviable entity. It’s politics was privatized by few individuals who were accountable only to themselves and they were the only ones who decided who became councilor or anything in the polity of the state through rigging. People were imposed by a few individuals to become councilor or chairman.
So, both in terms of the polity, the economy, infrastructures; name it, everything was posing negative and Edo people seemed to have resigned to their fate. They had given up, thinking that there was nothing they could do about election rigging, imposition of people on them and the state of infrastructure.
There was nothing they could do about it because they were persuaded that Edo State was too poor.
For workers, they owed them several months. They also owed salary arrears and many workers were dismissed in the year 2000 in their thousands and nobody paid them gratuity, nobody paid them wages and all of these were the reasons Edo people simply gave up, hoping that one day something miraculous would happen.
So, Edo’s case was more or less a dismissed one. You know people who have lost their pride, that spirit of up and down, that fighting spirit and that sense of pride they have, all of that were lost but I argued then that these were not acts of God. It was as a result of many years of mismanagement of the state resources and many years of misapplication of resources. Then even the polity, we had to deal with the issue of infrastructure and the social economy issues. We needed to revisit the polity because, if people are not elected and they are imposed by few godfathers, they can only account to those who imposed them. Like they say; you can’t serve the devil and God at the same time.
And so, since the state resources were privatized, that was why nothing was available to address the need of the people both in the economy and social sector. So everywhere you went around Benin City, everybody had given up. You couldn’t find one functional dual carriage road in Benin City. There was no one road in Benin City with street light, there was not any one public school that you could truly describe as a school.
Our children were sitting on bare floor and even at that, they did not have enough bare floor to sit. I have visited a couple of schools where the teachers showed me how they were alternating in a classroom; where you have primary one at the side of a classroom, you have primary two in another side of the classroom and the teachers alternated. Even at that, the classroom had no roof and pupils were sitting often on bricks. In some other situations, they were sitting on the floor with potholes; across the length and breadth of Edo State, the story was the same.
The picture you have painted seems very correct; three and half years down the line, some people are still saying that Edo people have not departed from the misrule of the past and they categorized your administration along side the previous administrations. Why is it that you are seeking a second term, if as they say, nothing has been done?
Unless you are living in the bedroom of one of the political parties especially, the one that presided over the liquidation of Edo state; it is only people like that can speak the way you have spoken. I mean, the fact is that even on your way to this premises, you find that the Akpakpava road that links to this premises with those funny roundabouts that they used to have there, is now six lanes and we now have streetlights all the way from Oba Ovonramwen Square through Akpakpava, through Ikpoba River and all the way to NNPC. So, how could you say that nothing has changed?
You don’t have to approach it that way, except if you are taking the PDP point of view as the people’s point which is a gross mistake. It is also not a secret that we can show you effortlessly, in every ward, in every local government beautiful schools that were built; so beautiful that very ordinary people refer to them as Universities. I am talking of primary schools; even children were able to point out the difference between the blackboard that was used and the whiteboard that we now have in all our primary schools.
In Esan land, a young man said the schools under the PDP were like where goats sleep and described the new ones we built like America and people asked; have you been to America? He said he saw it from watching movies. So, where are you coming from?
Along the length and breadth of Edo State, we have registered our presence and if you want me to enumerate the work that I have done, I will mention a few. In Sapele road, it is now six lanes. There was no one six lane anywhere in Edo State. I am sure you know that the road is complete with street lights. Edo people have never seen a thing like that before. On Airport road, six lanes are under construction and would be completed over the next few months.
On Sokponba road, the dual carriage way is now complete with street lights. On Oba market road, if you are familiar with Benin in the evening, if you are not able-bodied, you would avoid that area because it was completely taken over by thugs and extortionists. Today, we have cleaned up the place and it is complete with six lanes and streetlights.
Siloko road was completely impassable. That area was completely abandoned and now it is six lanes from the end of Oba market down Siloko road. As we speak, the second phase of Siloko road that will be leading through the Teachers’ House with six lanes is being done. We are working on a major drainage that would de-flood the entire flood in Ugbowo through Uselu down to Ogba River. It will also de-flood all their adjoining streets.
I told you earlier of what people in Benin refer to as the Tomline River, they call it the Tomline River because when it rains under five minutes, even with your height, you can’t pass there even if you are using an SUV car, and this is a fact very well known to Edo people.
Today, we have not only de-flooded Edo by constructing major drainages, we are building additional four lanes; two on each side of the road to make it an eight lane road right from around the University of Benin down through Adolor, the traditional ground and to connect to Dawson road, to New Lagos road.
If you are talking about new Lagos road, it is now six lanes. Although it is a federal road but that road was abandoned for several years. We have rebuilt it to six lanes and complete with streetlights. As against what the federal government is doing on that road; patching and resurfacing the old dual carriage road, we have added additional two lanes; one on each side of the road to make it six lanes. We have concluded our part of it but the federal government is still struggling to resurface the road. Where a PDP leader, Dr. Samuel O. Ogbemudia lives, we have about twelve roads there.
Even Dr. Ogbemudia told me he was being persuaded to abandon that area because a lot of his neighbours had left on account of flooding over the past 25 years, that area had been completely abandoned. We have reconstructed over 10 roads in that area and they are complete with walkways and streetlights. It was the one commissioned by General Gowon just few weeks ago.
For Costain/Isonorho road, this was an official dump site. The ministry of health told me that they had to convert it to dump site and as a measure for controlling erosion. But to me, it was crazy. Today, we have cleared it up and about nine roads there have now been renamed after Gani Fawehinmi. Each of those streets is complete with street lights, drainages and walkways. I mean we can go on and on.
Go to the Stadium road, before now, it was impassable. We have done the road with drainage and walkway but ask the people who live around Second Circular road perhaps the Baptist Church, for 30 years, they could not access that neighbourhood. We have to rebuild it, and it is complete with walkway and drainage and the people there are ever grateful.
In Edo Central, the late Au
gustus Aikhomu phoned me before he died and he was informed that we were constructing the road from Irrua-Usugbenu-Ugbegun-Ebudin-Ujiogba, that was a project that for 35 years, the people had been doing petitions to successive governments including one that was led by Edo prominent sons and daughters. Nobody gave that area any attention. But today, we have achieved that. We are taking the road down to other communities from Igueben-Ewohimi-Ewato-Ohordua Road and the people there told me that they have never seen a road as beautiful as that. That has been completed.
We have built a complete new hospital at Ewohimi and that is a Hospital after 30 years that successive governments kept playing politics with.
Then from there, you go to Uromi and from Uromi down to Ugboha. One of those roads we constructed in this part of Esan is one of the first roads that were awarded and it has since been completed with road marking.
In Edo North, Auchi now has a dual carriage connecting Auchi to Jatu and it is complete with street lights, and dual carriage way for the very first time outside Benin City.
Then you have in Owan area, this is a road that was built about 1950 connecting a number of communities that were abandoned, that road is 95% completed. The hospital there has been completed and we are building roads that connect the two Owans between Owan West and Owan East. Before, you have to go through a roundabout to travel from One Owan to the other. As we speak, it is more than 60% completed.
In each of the 18 local government areas, we built a number of ultra modern primary schools, junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools. In addition, we have abolished school fees in all our schools including all levies since we assumed office. Even if the previous government claimed to be implementing the Universal Basic Education, UBE, by implementing free education to primary and Junior , they were paying money for examinations, money to buy chalks, money to buy duster, they money to hire security to guide the premises and by the time you add all their contributions together, it is more than school fees. But today, we have removed all of that.
Edo State Government has introduced centralized examination in our primary and in our junior secondary schools and Edo State government pays for the examination of the students. So, education is truly free at primary and junior secondary school levels.
In addition, January this year, we abolished every fees in our senor secondary schools those fees that were introduced by the previous government over the past 10 years. We now can talk in Edo State of truly free, compulsory and qualitative basic education through our primary school, junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools and our children are now talking about using marker on a white board instead of chalk.
In addition, when you talk of one man, one vote, in Idia College, the pupils are now excited that in one of the schools, they can now see one man, one vote in policy which means that for them as children and pupils can now boast of one child, one desk, one pupil, one desk.
In the past, they lumped five, six children on a bench and this was in those primary schools or the high profile schools. You have children squeezed like Sardine on a bench and now, each of them has a desk to themselves.
In a situation where a child has a desk, we have also eliminated the possibility of exams malpractices because when you squeeze children together, they are forced to copy whether they like it or not but when your desk give space, you will have to peep before you can copy. So, the revolution going on in Edo is so loud and so clear that the blind people know it.
At Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Edo people have been known for sport for so many years, that stadium has been ruined down completely. We have completely renovated it and put it to international or FIFA standard such that even Ogbemudia was exited that in his life time, he is happy to see that the stadium is wearing a complete new look.
We are working in every facet of our life; we are building a modern hospital; that is Central Hospital in the heart of Benin City which is getting to forth floor though we had an accident there recently, but that was construction accident. Once we clean it up and we re-establish that, we are continuing with the project.
And finally in Edo North, you may have heard of a place called Imiegba, Okpekpe, these are areas that for many years, there are generals who are from those areas who told me that when they were in military government, they did their best to construct those roads but they could not just that the resources required they could not have it in their government. They said it was impossible for people to live in those areas that we have transformed to beautiful holiday resorts by constructing the roads. When I took John Momoh to visit his village, he confessed to me that for the first time in his life at 53 years old, he was able to drive in comfort to his village; this is something that was unimaginable.
Someone told me that the mother decided to go and live in the village because she was afraid that if she died in Lagos, there would be no road except helicopter but how many of her children friends can afford helicopter? Anegbete road is a federal road that the former Minister of works said was a terrible terrain and so, when people die in that area they don’t get buried until the next dry season and they have to go there through Uromi.
Today, that road is 95% completed with modern bridges. So, across the length and breadth of Edo State we have worked and we are still working.
As for water in Ekpoma, this is an area that people have similarly given up. There was an overhead tank that had been there for more than 30years just hanging but we acquired the right technology and water is flowing in Ekpoma today. Water is also flowing at Eguare, Iruekpen among other places in Esan land.
Comrade Governor, you just painted a very beautiful picture but this must not have come without cost and the 2012 budget is balanced and we are happy to see that 57% is spent on capital but the fact remains that in 2011, Edo State had to go to capital market to raise N25 billion for capital infrastructure. How do you intend to pay back?
Well, that is fine but, I was thinking that you are going to talk about the ratio but before I answered your question, in 2008, previous government over the years, we looked at the structure of their expenditure and there was a ratio of average 80% recurrent and 20% capital and even at that, a lot of the capital funds were not release. Now, we have revised that to 60% capital and 40 % recurrent.
Yes, we went to the capital market in 2010 and we raised N25 billion out of that, we have been paying back every month. So, we had by the end of 2011 paid back almost N7 billion out of that. By now, we have paid back over N9 billion from 25 billion. But, if you compare the figures to PDP federal government because, you must make comparison; where they are spending 75%, 80% of their budget for recurrent and 20% for capital and even at that, the House of Representative, the Senate and both the Villa agreed that the budget have not been performing even at 60% and yet. In one year alone, the federal government is borrowing over one trillion naira.
So if you are talking of Edo N25 billion, you also see Abuja borrowing in trillions and spending 80% of that on recurrent but you try to understand it when our opponent here make argument and I asked them their own federal government that is PDP control, what is the structure of their expenditure; recurrent visa vis capital and if you check what they are using to service their debt this year alone, it is going to over 1.3 trillion naira to service over 6 trillion naira debt. So, I think the important thing is that whereas, others borrow because of their might, we borrow because we have established credibility, we have established track records and we borrow not to fund our recurrent expenditure, we don’t borrow to pay salaries.
But you are paying interest on the loan?
You must of course service loans. Loans are not free; those who deposit money with banks also get interest on their savings. It is a very simple and elementary principle of economics. Now listen, when you borrow, there are economic logic to it. If we don’t build the roads today and we postpone building the roads tomorrow, between today and tomorrow, the rate of inflation will wipe off even the savings and so you are looking at, over time, that if I refuse to buy this cup of tea today, if I chose to buy it next year, what will be the cost? If I borrow to pay it today, compare to if I don’t do it next year.
When you borrow, you don’t ask me if I am paying interest. Of course I am paying interest because there is not one borrower in Nigeria or anywhere in the world who borrows without paying interest. What varies is your rate of interest and the conditions that is attached to it. Anybody that is familiar with public finance will tell you what matter is; what did you borrow to do? This is the point I am explaining. We have not borrowed unlike others, to pay salaries, we have not borrowed to host conventions, and we have not borrowed for recurrent expenditure.
We are borrowing for development and I am happy that if you take the average of states in the south-south region, you will see that Edo State is the least borrower within the south-south zone including those states that has huge derivation, Edo State is the least borrower. The cost of construction of road in 2009 will not be the same rate in 2011, it won’t be the same cost in 2013 because it depends on the rate of inflation and it also depends on the time of the factoring. To answer your question, I will just tell you this; first, we have borrowed, we are the least borrowed in our sub-region even outside our sub-region but though, we are servicing those loans and nobody will lend to you, if you have not shown capacity of services and we have tied those loans specifically to projects.
What are you doing about alleviating poverty in Edo State?
Now, what I have just explained is also that, I will not borrow and use the money for poverty alleviation. How do you alleviate poverty? I told you that we are building roads to communities that have been abandoned; you don’t fight poverty by buying tea and putting it on the table for a poor man. But, you alleviate poverty by constructing roads to communities, to enable the villagers to sell their farm produce to the market; that is when you are helping them economically.
The Chinese will say: you rather teach them how to fish, than giving them the fish. So, if we borrow to give a road to a community that has been abandoned, if you borrow to extend water to a community to meet one of the basic Millennium Development Goals, you are dealing with poverty. There are various ways of dealing with poverty, including access to some of these basic needs of life. When you borrow to extend electricity, build roads; build health centers to address basic social infrastructures that are where we spent money.
Comrade Governor, let me put it to you in another way. Some have argued that money borrowed was put in building of schools, roads, health centers and basic human needs but, it seems that you should have put that money on project that might have been better; may be, building cottage industries and industrializing the state and create employment and it would bring about such other input that would help you generate the resources to repay the funds?
No, the responsibility of government is to create an enabling environment for the private sector people to set up their business.
The real thing around the world is that government must invest in infrastructures such as roads, water, education so that you can have citizens that are skilled and therefore are employable. You have roads so that those who want to invest their business do not use their capital to construct or repair roads; you extend electricity so that they can be connected to power. Government does not have a good history from running business and in any case, which one comes first; if you locate a business in a place you can’t access.
You will not make sense, if you are to build a factory at Okpekpe for example; how do you carry the raw materials to Okpekpe? How do you evacuate the finished products? How do you get your skilled workers to agree to work there? In fact, the reasons we started on roads, I can explain that to you; to be able to deliver on the basic needs of the poor, the starting point is access to site. And to eliminate poverty, you must integrate every community into the economy of the state and the starting point is roads.
If there is no road to AIT, how do I come here? So, road is one of those basic infrastructure. Ask people who have travelled far and wide; I guess you have also traveled far and wide. When you talk about the Chinese economy growing with ten percent digit over the years, it is not just so because they started building factories, those factories are the result that they have already put the basic amenities in place such as provision of electricity.
First, they made sure that their pupils go to school and when the multi-nationals come to build business, they don’t have to spend their money to build roads, to bring water and to bring electricity. The business of Nigeria private sector today, is that every business man is expected to be a municipality to himself; he has to build roads, he has to sink his own borehole, he has to bring his own generator, he has to provide his own security guards and when he adds all of that together, the business is no longer competitive.
The challenge of government everywhere in the world is to provide these amenities and that is the much talk about enabling environment. As we are doing with Bank of Industry for example, to now give credit to people who want to set up what you call cottage industry. It is better we encourage Edo people to set up industries than for Edo State government to set up the cottage industry.
Government can’t run business that is the truth. So, just to say that those funds are meant to support and create an environment for ordinary people to be able to do their businesses and the response we are getting is very interesting. Go to villages and you find that villages that you don’t expect that anything can happened and all of a sudden petrol station are springing up, people are buying land to setup businesses. So, you have to understand that, to fight poverty, the starting point is infrastructure.
We are not borrowing money to build schools and to be honest, our school project are funded directly from the regular budget while that of the bond was tied to specific projects. Now you are talking of N25 billion; one major contract that we have awarded in Benin City is N30 billion and that is much more than the entire money we borrowed. This a major project we are doing in respect of the investigation we carried out and that is the Benin City water storm master plan.
The report of that study shows that we need to construct more canals in about five different basins within the city to be able to drain flood from the roads we are constructing into those primary canals that will take them eventually to either Ogba River or Ikpoba River. Now, if you do not deal with that, you could wake up one day, as you saw in Lagos and in some part of the country that Benin City is inside water. This has happened not only in Nigeria but, in so many parts of the world.
I tell you that nobody will come to Edo State and will be feeling unsafe during raining season now. Ask people and commuters plying the Lagos/Ugbowo road and they will tell you that, if it rains for five minutes, people will avoid going through Benin City. If you are already at the University of Benin, you won’t dare to go to the King Square because, you can’t pass through the traditional ground and you can’t pass through Adolor or Tomline area and these are things you need to do to clear the environment for the ordinary people, before you go to set up industries.
The youth development policy of your government; how are you going about it?
I think the starting point is that our investment in education is our foundation. We are talking of young people who are out of school and how to equip them, to enable them to earn their living and be able to look after themselves and their families; the starting point of that is that, we needed to reinvest in public education, I emphasize public education because, there are few people who can afford to take their children to private schools.
When you have youths that are uneducated and because they are uneducated, they are unemployable. They might have passed through those abandoned and worn-out schools without teachers, and without facilities. They even claim that they have a certificate but in truth, they are simply unemployable.
They can’t even benefit from this training because they do not have the basic education. From my understanding, for the two hands to be able to feed one mouth, they need to be skilled and to acquire skills, you need to be educated.
I think with the investments we have done in the public education, we have not done half of it looking at what is yet to be done. We are shifting focus to technical education; we have already established contacts with a number of foreign organizations for example, the Benin Technical College. When I visited the place, I saw how the facility has been ruined down and I said: what can we achieve by re-equipping it?
We have resolved that, we have to build that technical school so that, people who want to acquire basic skills such as electrical, plumbing, wood work among others could get those basic skills. These are areas where you will find that across Nigeria, not only in Edo State but Edo state inclusive, you will find our people have gone to school and outside clerical work, there is simply no employment and in the 21st century, clerical works are no longer available because every office has its laptop; you can produce your letter, use you e-mail among others. So, having a team of clerk is no longer in vogue.
With ICT, one computer operator can feed-in all kinds of data and retrieve them effortlessly, so the era of clerical work is almost completely out and therefore what we now need is to acquire the basic education; primary and secondary education. We now must create opportunity for people to acquire technical skills. So, only the point we have been focusing on in our second term is to begin to invest in these technical schools so that our people can have exposure in work and basic technical jobs.
I mean it is unacceptable that around the country, you find a lot of the construction companies even as they say no vacancy for X Y Z, they will tell you that they require electricians to do their jobs. They want plumbers but they can’t find good plumbers and people like you go about looking for mechanic to repair your vehicle outside the major mechanic garage, you simply can’t find very competent mechanic to repair your car now. These are things we believe we can do by equipping the technical schools.
My understanding of youth empowerment is basically to give them skills and I also believe that the state should lead by example. Whereas, I am convinced that government can’t create all the jobs. I also believe that government can lead by creating some jobs in the public sector and that is why we have already set up Edo Youth Employment Scheme. Under that scheme, we have employed people and the disable people or physically challenged also have their quota, where we train them on traffic control, sanitary inspectors, environmental sanitation, road maintenance, road and street sweeping and neighborhood watch.