So many things have been said about him. He has been described as a native doctor; some regards him as an extreme introvert. He has even been accused of excessive loyalty to his boss, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. So many things that this reporter may not be able to point out in this interview. However, Sunday Vanguard took a trip to the residence of this man, Dr Pius Egberame Odubu, Deputy Governor of Edo state, shortly after he was sworn in for a second term as Deputy Governor of Edo state last Monday. On getting to his GRA residence, he was seen with some elders obviously from his village sharing some drinks, speaking the typical Bini language as if they were in the village square. One was baffled by his humility and the ease at which he shared drinks and discussed with these men and women who ordinarily may not attract the attention of a deputy governor. But when Sunday Vanguard inquired, Odubu said : “I am a villager , or you want to harass me again that I am a native doctor? ”
BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin City
I am from Uromehe community in Urhonigbe North ward, Oriomnwon local government council of Edo State. I was born 55 years ago, attended St Pius Primary School, Uromehe as it then was, now Iyobosa Primary School; it was a Catholic institution. From there I wrote my common entrance examination and passed.I had the choice of attending either ICC, Edo College or Western Boys High School,but, because I am a Catholic, I chose to attend Immaculate Conception College (ICC), Benin. When I finished at the ICC, I proceeded to the United States immediately where I got my first degree in political science and thereafter to the Law School where i got my doctor in jurisprudence degree. I proceeded again to specialize in international and comparative law in Washington. After that, I came back to Nigeria and went to the Law School;i was called to the Bar on October 17, 1986.
After my Youth Service, I went into private practice here in Benin- City and practiced for about thirteen years. But about three years into legal practice came the civilian dispensation. I was first the state legal adviser of Liberal Convention. I was very active in politics. So, when this dispensation came in 1999, i found myself in the PDP and won election into the Federal House of Reps. And, if you recall, I won the election as an unopposed candidate because, after my nomination, Hon. Anthony Inye, who was the ANPP candidate, stepped down for me. According to him,the action was due to the respect he had for my father.
My father was one of the pioneer politicians in the then Midwest Region. So, I was returned unopposed into the House of Reps and, in 2003, I won the election and went back to the House. I was there for eight years. And towards the tail end of my second tenure, there was this agitation in the state; some of us were not happy with what was happening in the PDP, so we decided to migrate to what is today called Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). And I was lucky to have been found worthy to be nominated as running mate to Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomhole. They rigged the election, but with the doggedness of the Comrade Governor and support of Edo people, we reclaimed our mandate. We just won our second term in office and I thank God for every thing. I am married with four children; my wife is Deaconess Endurance Odubu.
Having listened to your upbringing, you did not train as a native doctor. Why then is it that people see you as one and even call you Okaokuo (King of War)?
I just told you my back ground. I was baptized in 1966 and confirmed in 1967 as a Catholic. All those things you hear are part of the fun in politics. It is the part of the fun we have with the governor; you hear him always calling me a native doctor. I have a very solid Christian background, and, as you are aware, my wife is a deaconess in Church. Yes, I will not say that I am a traditionalist in the sense that I am into voodoo, but I respect tradition and I have made conscious attempt to master the tradition of the Binis.
People are surprised that I went to school outside the shores of this country because of my mastery of the Bini language. It is some thing that I love and I have found that the Bini tradition is one that can be likened to the most civilized in the world because the Binis had a republican type of government. They have separation of powers, respect for human right and, if you really study the Bini tradition, you find that most of it falls within the ten Commandments: thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill, thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. So I love my tribe and I have tried to master the customs and traditions of the Binis. That does not make me a traditionalist or a native doctor. I am very deep rooted in Christianity.
But you don’t go to church?
I do go to Church. You are also aware that since we came on board, Mr Governor, as you are aware, is a Catholic too, we have resuscitated the Government House Chapel, and, every Tuesday morning, you see us in the Chapel while, on Sundays, we go to St Paul’s and I am a migrant parishioner of St Patrick at Ugbowo.
How do you spend your leisure hours because people see you as a chronic introvert?
Do we really have the time to relax? We don’t really have the time to unwind because the business of running a state like Edo is a very challenging one particularly when you work with a workaholic governor like Comrade Oshiomhole. I grew up in the village and I am very proud to say I am a villager. I tell people I am a good old country boy,and like the American will say, you can take a man out of his country but you cannot take the country out of the man.
So I still have that part of me, that culture of sitting under the tree in the village is still in me. There was a day I came in at about 6:30pm; my son, about 11 years old, asked me,’ Daddy, what happened, you came in too early today?’This is Oshiomhole’s work habit for you, we don’t really have the time to unwind. On weekends, every body wants you to attend one occasion or the other, but I love being with people; so I try as much as possible to attend whenever I am invited. But what ever time I have, I like listening to music and watching wrestling.
PDP politics between 1999-2003
You know my tenure in the House of Reps ended in 2007 and in the processes leading to it, there was this talk about registration and some of us who were perceived to be of particular tendencies. I have always had this indomitable spirit and that is why, while growing up, I said I was going to be a professional because I don’t like any body dictating to me what to do. So, when that came up in the PDP and some of were de-registered, we all gravitated to a new political party. Let me quickly clear the air here, I was a legislator at the national level, I did not operate at the state level. I was a member of the Federal House of Reps; so my business was business of making laws at the national level, so I cannot be tied to whatever happened at the state at that time.
But being a former PDP member, what do you think was the reason for the people of the state to reject the PDP?
Without mentioning names, some of us were dissatisfied with the way the party was being run, coupled with the fact that we were de-registered and we decided to move on. And like- minded persons came together and it is always better to be a born again democrat than to die an anti- democrat. So,we all came together and decided to work with like- minded progressives in the state ably championed by the Comrade Governor and here we are; you can see what is happening today in the state; it is clear that this crop of leadership means well for the people. You can see the difference in terms of development, in all aspects of human endeavor; today Edo State is reference point for achievement and performance by any governor in Nigeria.
How has it been working with a labour activist like Oshiomhole?
They say the opposite attracts. Mr Governor, you know, is an extreme extrovert, but I am an extreme introvert. So we just blended very well and, no matter the stoic picture you see of Mr Governor, he is one of the most simplistic human beings in this world: Easy to get along with, easy to work with because he believes in a governance that carries everybody along. All of us have unfiltered access to him whether in the office or at home. So, what ever issues that were raised, you have direct access to him and you discuss.
He is always engaging stakeholders on any issue; there will be arguments, but, at the end of the day, consensus will be reached and that becomes the position of government. So, he is a wonderful human being, and very humorous; as you know, he is the one always referring to me as a native doctor. So, we operate as brothers, he is my senior both in governance and in age but we joke a lot. I accord him the maximum respect because he deserves it. He is a man that means well for the state, he is a man that is consumed with the passion to deliver to the good people of Edo State. And indeed I am one of those that would lead the campaign to have him drafted to national politics at the end of his tenure as governor. Because if we have a man like him at the national level, Nigeria will surely benefit from him and we will move forward.
Yes I am a villager
Like I told you, I have this love for people, it does not matter who they are. I rose from being a village boy to where I am now. I am at peace with all cadres of persons. I grew up in the village and my parents are still in the village. I still know the roads to the place where my parents farm. I can go to the village and sleep in a room without a fan, that is my kind of person. I relate with people in the village; I don’t forget my background.
I also believe that no condition is permanent.
To me, the very first day I won the House of Reps seat in 1999, that was when I started preparing for my eventual disengagement from public office because, if you allow yourself to believe the hype, you find that you will have problem adjusting when you leave office. I believe we cannot be here forever, you must be in touch with your folks; any body that wants to succeed politically must situate himself, his actions with those of his immediate constituency. It is easy for me to relate with the common man because I am a common man myself. My parents are farmers, though my father ventured into politics, he was returned in the Council for more than six times in the then Midwest Region. So, if there is anybody that should be referred to as ordinary person, I am that person but God has blessed us and God is using us well.
Yes, I have fought many political battles. This last election was my sixth election and, by the special grace of God, I have never lost a primary and I have always operated from the position of an underdog. May be because of my family background and my kind of person because they say if you humble yourself you shall be exalted. The most difficult for me was the last one, that is, the one for the deputy governorship prior to the 2012 governorship election. It was difficult for me because I was unable to do anything, because you are not supposed to contest for the position of deputy governor; you are not supposed to run for the primary, but here I was being vilified. I was called a native doctor, called a ritualist, called a cultist and was even called a thief. But I could not reply because who will I campaign to?That was the most difficult situation because we had a group of persons who, for one reason or the other, wanted me out, hauling insults and abuses at me. I could not reply and I was just like a lameduck because you don’t campaign for a deputy governorship position, it is left for the governor and the party leadership to decide. To me, it was a trying time and I thank God for helping me through. And I thank the people of Edo State for giving me massive support. I did not even know that the people had that likeness for my person because I got overwhelming support from the length and breath of the state; phone calls every day, hundreds of text messages every day, people from the rural areas. They came to me to say they were with me and praying for me, that they applaud me for the continuous support and loyalty to the governor. That gave me hope and that was what sustained me throughout that period. And I thank God that we have put that behind us.
I want to tell Edo people that Mr Governor intends to consolidate on the gains recorded in the first term. You will agree with me that Mr Governor has done the greatest good to the greatest number of persons in the shortest possible time. Before the Oshiomhole administration, like I said during the debate, Edo was in a state of coma and people were just watching for that day to come to give up on the state. Now, Mr Governor came and he has touched every aspect of human life in the state. Today, I make bold to say that in every local government in Edo State, there is an on-going project. You are also aware that thousands of classrooms have been rehabilitated or rebuilt. Before now, pupils sat in the classrooms without roof such that when it rained they were drenched. Before now, you had about four, five different classes in one room, but, today, all that is history.
Before the governor came on board, there was embargo on employment and indeed promotion. People were sacked. But, today, the governor has not only lifted the embargo on employment and promotion; he has also employed thousands under the YES scheme. Under the Neighborhood Watch, thousands of people have been employed too. And, indeed, teachers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, accountants are being employed. As we speak, the Post Primary Education Board is in the process of employing five hundred science teachers. Pensioners now receive their salaries before other civil servants. We now have electricity, in my village, we have Trunk A road. Talking about water, we have three dedicated Dando rigs, one to each senatorial district.
Before now, pipe borne water was impossible in many parts of the state. Hospitals are being rebuilt or renovated and today we have a state of the art building currently going on at the Specialist Hospital. You have seen markets, roads and many others. The governor has touched human lives in many aspects and that is what he is going to continue to do. But I want to appeal to our people to continue to give support to the governor because in times like this, in order to succeed, you must step on toes. Some powerful individuals, few of them though, are not happy with what he is doing, but he is being sustained by the prayers of the vast majority of the people of the state and he remains undaunted, and, by the special grace of God, he will overcome.
We have a very big challenge of funds. Like when we came in, the major challenge we faced was how to fund our projects. Yes, Edo is an oil producing state, but it is very marginal. But like the governor said, he did not come to lament; so he sat down and planned his strategy. There was this day that we slept at the Government House having Exco meeting. We were fashioning out ways to look inward so as to generate money and that is how the formula on internally generated revenue came about. When we came on board, the IGR was about N250million, but, today, it hovers around N1.5billion; it got to N2.2billion at a point ,but went down because of the subsidy issue. They said they have removed subsidy, but that means less funding for states. The governor also decided that we must cut costs, we have blocked all leakages so as to save money. And if you look into our 2013 budget, provision for recurrent expenditure is about 1/3. We have 60 in terms of capital and 40 percent for recurrent. This shows that we are going to continue with the developmental projects.
After this tenure where is Odubu heading to?
We are believing God to continue to use us in the manner that will be of benefit to the people of Edo State. Primarily, for God to continue to use us to support Comrade Oshiomhole maximally such that he will deliver maximally to the good people of Edo State.
That remains our goal now, that remains our priority, and that is what we are going to do. Let us for now justify the mandate that the people of Edo have given us, thereafter we can look at other areas.