Former Governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, has maintained a low profile since leaving office seven years ago. Ahead of his 57th birthday today, he broke his long silence in the public space during an interview session with journalists in Abuja last weekend.
Igbinendion affirmed that he had been wrongly perceived by the general public, asserted that he exceeded the performance of all governors before him and also claimed that he left office a poorer man than when he entered. Excerpts:
By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
WHY have you maintained a low profile since your exit from power?
Out of my own free will. It is not because I was forced to keep quiet. I just felt that having served for eight years, it was good to give the new hands time to be their own boss. You do not want to start bringing down somebody. I did not even attend state functions, I decided to lie low.
I believe when the music is over, you should go home and wait for the next time when the concert is up again. If you see some states, you see strife between the former and the current (governors). The former still wants to have a hold or a say. I guess everybody has his own style.
So, how has life been after power?
Just like it was before power. You are back to the basics. You are back to yourself. Some people will abandon you for sure. You do not really know people until you give them a position of authority or you entrust them with wealth or power. That is when the real man comes out. We have had a lot of betrayal. But then, your friends are still your friends, especially those who grew up with you.
Like I always tell people, that first day of your inauguration, you have all these brilliant photographs and albums. You should always keep them so that towards the end of your first term, go back to the album and see how many of them are still around you.
When you win the second term, take more photographs during inauguration. At the end of that tenure, go back and see who was with you throughout the eight years and ask yourself why or why not. There is no way you can satisfy everybody or meet their expectations of all.
What are the things you miss most outside power?
Nothing. You know I am not a siren person. The only times I ever used the siren were when I was traveling or going for official functions. Outside of that, when I closed from office, I drove home myself and other cars drove behind me. I used to play football.
Sometimes, I used to stop by the road side and buy roasted plantain. That is why I said I do not really miss anything. The only thing is that the stress and tension are not there anymore. That office makes one age quickly.
What have you been doing since you left office?
I come from a family with a business-oriented philosophy. We have a lot of businesses my father started before I became a governor. Before I went into politics, I also started my own businesses. Some of them were mismanaged while I was in office because I could not pay enough attention. Some of them were sold out.
So, I am trying to build back myself. I also happen to be the eldest child of the family. One has to keep an eye on things in the family. We have businesses spanning from education, aviation, sea, real estate and oil and gas. There is no shortage of what to do.
There was a quote attributed to your father that “if a child fails an examination for the first time, you give him another chance to rewrite it…” and that it referred to your performance in Edo State?
That was just a joke. There are jokes about leaders all around the world. My father never said anything like that. In terms of performance, I am glad history is beginning to reveal itself. I performed credibly well. The perception and expectations are two different things.
In terms of performance, I stand to be challenged that my performance surpasses that of every other governor before me. But a lot of people tend to forget things.
Where was the state before I came on board? This was a state that was run by the military for over 15 years. This was a state that was unable to pay its civil servants and pensioners. Parastals were condemned to self-sustenance policy. The College of Education was nowhere. The university was producing criminals.
Everything was completely dead. People do not look back and say this was a man that paid over 24 months of arrears. Institutions that were dead were revived.
They tend to forget easily because people are looking for the new day gratification. In my first hundred days in office, there were projects sited in every ward in Edo State. Civil servants were becoming civil again rather than being evil.
They were not looking like skeletons anymore. I revived the civil service. The Ogbemudia stadium, I revived it. Some people were even coming to me and asking me why did I not just build a new one and put my name? I told them that is not a legacy. As far as performance is concerned, nobody can underrate me because I touched each and every life in Edo state positively.
At what point did you lose touch with the masses?
I did not lose touch. That perception was from those gunning for office. That perception was from those vying for positions. We had an understanding that there must be power rotation in our state just as we believe there must be power rotation in the country. Like the power was in the South-West for eight years. It is supposed to go back to a region in the north for the same period.
And by the time it comes back to the south, it should have gone to the South-South or the East. That was the PDP arrangement though. It was not in the Nigerian constitution. It was our own way of ensuring everybody had a fair share of power in the state.
So, what now happened was that we had the same arrangement in Edo State. We said after eight years of a Bini man, an Esan man should be the governor. I stood firmly on that ground. But some people in government, unknown to me, had different ideas. They started causing fractionalization within the party. People started calling some unholy names- politics is a very dirty game.
Did godfatherism tie your hands?.
My hands were never tired. If there is anything, godfatherism taught me and this is the first time I am saying this. But for the first time, two people that I owe a lot of gratitude to in Edo State that made my tenure successful were my father and Chief Tony Anenih.
In the darkest of days when the state was broke and could not pay salaries, I would run to these two people and they would borrow me money. They borrowed the state money. It is documented and you have it there. When the banks could not trust us, I went to them. My father just felt you have got to do what you have got to do.
There were days the pensioners would cry to him or block the road to Government House. We had to run to them just to keep the government running.
Was it that the allocations from the Federation Account and your IGR were too small?
I was more like an accountant and the allocations were definitely too small.
Were there moments when you had regrets of becoming a governor?
Yes, if not for family pressure, I contemplated resigning, especially during my second tenure. I just asked myself why was I going through all these troubles? First and foremost, you do not have the money to do some of the projects you wanted to do.
Money to pay salaries
In situations where your Accountant-General goes to Abuja to collect money and two days later, he is running away from you because there is no money to pay salaries, what do you do?
President Obasanjo accused you of spending the state’s money on ‘owanbe’
How do you spend on owanbe? He was having owanbes himself too.
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
I am so confident of what I did as governor of Edo State that if I have to do it all over again, I will do it. I believe whatever I did then was done with the best of intentions for the betterment of my people and to the best of my abilities. I have no regrets at all.
Do you think Edo people are enjoying a better deal than they did during your time?
That is up to them to decide and not for me.
What would you recall as the high and low points of life for you in the last 15 years?
I am a man of stable emotions and I try to keep it that way. My wife has been married to me for close to 30 years.
A man that betrays his emotions either through excitement or anger is not a real man. You must learn at all times to control your tongue and maintain a calm disposition in order to be able to take the right decisions. A leader is that person that is not so conscious of praise or afraid of blame.
With the EFCC prosecutions, are you still emotionally stable?
Very stable. EFCC do not have sharks there. They are just doing their job. If they challenge you, you answer their question. I have nothing to fear.
I was outside the country when they said I was declared wanted. I came back. If I had any fear, I would have been running, but I had the confidence that there was nothing to fear. If there is anything, it is the state that is owing me money and not me owing.
…The perception is that you looted the state.
For you to loot, there must be something for you to loot. Edo State had no money to loot. I have just told you that I borrowed money from my father and from Chief Anenih. Chief Anenih is around the corner here, you can go and ask him whether I borrowed money from him or not.
Then what was this deal between you and EFCC on returning money to Edo State?
I did not return any money. They found N3.2 million in my account. After my tenure, I went to Ribadu and told him I was going outside the country. I gave him my number. I asked him if it was ok for me to go and he said yes. So, I went with my wife. I needed to rest after leaving office. That day I left office, it was as if ten trailers were removed from my head.
I was in America when I heard I had been declared wanted and I asked what I had been declared wanted for? You will not invite somebody and all of a sudden, you declare him wanted? Why will you declare somebody wanted without any justification? After looking at the whole thing, I told my lawyers to write them that I was not running from anything.
I even put a date for me to return. I just said let me finish the programme I am doing here so that by end if next week I will return. On that day, I arrived here in Nigeria and the next day, I went to EFCC by myself.
Not that I was arrested. They said I was to appear in Lagos.
So, I said let us to go to Lagos. I got there and they started asking me all sorts of questions. In all of these, there was no place where they said I took money from a particular place or inflated contracts. Or that they found a certain money in my account. Some of the officers came and told me everything was political and that they did not have anything on me. They said they were just doing their job because the orders were from above.
I said so PDP is doing this to a fellow PDP member. I said maybe it is because of the fight we had in Edo State. That was what caused the whole problem. Later, they brought over 150 charges and I said I was not guilty. After all the arguments, I told them they were wasting my time. I asked them what they needed me to do so I could be free and they said we should find a win-win situation for all sides.
They said our both lawyers should sit down, craft something and save our faces. Considering that I knew where I was going, I needed to put all these behind me and face my business.
Forfeiture of money
They searched all my accounts and found nothing. I told them if there is any money in my account, go and seize it. After a while, they went to Code of Conduct Tribunal and said I refused to disclose the amount in my account which was N3.2 million.
That was what I was charged for and asked to forfeit the money. You can go to the courts and find out. They dropped all the charges and brought that. All these ones that you are talking about billions, I do not know where they got these billions from.
Are you saying you became poorer than the way you were before you became a governor?
I would have become richer if I had stayed outside of government. Being in government made me poorer.
What is your relationship with Presidentt Goodluck Jonathan?
It is very cordial. I have tremendous respect for him. He is piloting the affairs of the state to the best of his abilities under the circumstances. It is tough being the leader of a country like Nigeria.
You spoke very fondly about Anenih, but many people believe he is the problem of Edo politics and that of Nigeria.
If you listened to me carefully, I told the truth about every situation and how Oshiomhole came on board. The quarrel was not between Anenih and myself. It was those that were playing the intrigues of 2007 elections. We were both used as puns. We never quarrelled.
Do you still relate with your friend, James Ibori? Do you see his prosecution as political?
Definitely, I do. I explained my own aspect to you that Edo state does not have the resources to play with. I cannot speak for Delta State. Ibori is in a better position to answer that.