Senator Odion Ugbesia, a formerÂ political science lecturer, is one of the associatesÂ of Chief Tony Anenih. For more than two years after he was reportedly stopped from picking the PDP gubernatorial ticket just before the 2007 general elections, Ugbesia kept a low profile, rejecting requests for media interviews. It was not as if he was quiet in that period as he kept to his duties both as a senator and in his learning as a faithfulÂ loyalist of Anenih.
Recent events in Edo State and pronouncements by officials of the state government there may now have altered Ugbesiaâ€™s proclivity to political concealment and conciliation. In this interview, Ugbesia articulates his reservations on what he describes as the slide in political discourse in Edo State, parries questions on the alleged schism of the party in the state and baptizes himself as a godson of Edoâ€™s leading political godfather. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja
WHAT is the state of affairs in Edo State?
To me, as a person, I think we are not losingÂ sleep over the political happenings in Edo State. These are things that must necessarily happen in politics of underdevelopment and in an underdeveloped country,Â especially when we are dealing with a fledgling democracy. We must sort out a few things. Some institutions have to be properly rooted, the constitution has to be properly interpreted. Some power base must be properly defined. I am not surprised that we are going through what we are experiencing in Edo State, it looks, to me, like some natural political evolution.
Do you agree that the PDP in Edo State is becoming endangered specie?
That is wrong. PDP is not. I have had cause to say that those who have left PDP can be categorized into different groups. There are those who are perpetually, habitually looking for greener pastures. Even if they were not in PDP, wherever they are, they must move to theÂ government in power because they are essentially looking for greener pastures.
Then there are those who are inordinately ambitious and, because of that, they cannot see through situations because they feel that their ambitions can be better fulfilled with theÂ government in power and also because they are ambitious, they are more vulnerable to the tactics of intimidation that the government of Edo State has decided to employ. That is exactly what is happening.
What do you mean by tactics of Â Â Â intimidation?
Incidentally, only yesterday (Tuesday), the House of Assembly passed a resolution asking the government of Edo State to release to some local governments money that is theirs from the federal allocation. That money was withheld by the government in Edo State but some local governments where the chairmen have crossed to AC have since received their money, but those that have refused to cross had their money withheld. That, to me, is coercion or intimidation.
But some blame the affairs in Edo State on Chief Tony Anenih that he is dictatorial. From your close relationship with him, how true is that?
That cannot be true. You see, when it is time to fund an election, you rely on this same leader to fund your election and it is the same leader you will turn around to sayÂ he is dictatorial orÂ autocratic. So, it is totally untrue that the man is autocratic or dictatorial.
You mean he has been funding elections in Edo State?
Of course yes.
With his money?
With his money and that I can swear to. Ask anybody.
What is the latest on the reported rift among leaders of the party in the south and central senatorial districts?
That rift is exaggerated. I donâ€™t play tribal politics and leader (Anenih) doesnâ€™t play tribal politics. There are some people who are trying to introduce tribal sentiments into the politics of the state. The most attractive basis for the demand for the creation of Edo State was the cultural affinity of the people of Edo State. We cannot now for reason of convenience say that the leader is from Edo Central, and he should, therefore, be restricted to Edo Central whereas when it is time to give leadership its true meaning, you rely on this leader from Edo Central to fund your election in Edo Central, Edo South and Edo North. That is the irony.
It is reported that the rift has led to Chief Anenih and Chief Ogbemudia parting ways.
I donâ€™t know about that. This is a question that either Chief Anenih or Dr. Ogbemudia can answer. But I am aware that they donâ€™t have such rift.
So, what do you make of Dr. Ogbemudiaâ€™s presence and alleged approval of Governor Oshiomohole at his first anniversary celebration?
I have had cause to say that one, as a citizen of Edo State; two, as a former governor of Bendel State, that he has the right to attend any function to which he is invited. If he was invited to a function in Benin by the state government and he attends, I donâ€™t hold that against him. What he said there, your interpretation of it may not be the same as mine. My interpretation of what he said there may be different from yours due to our individual judgmental discriminations. There is nothing I can do about that. If there are other questions by what he meant or what he said, only him can answer. Odion Ugbesia cannot.
So, you interpret his presence at the celebration to the fact that he was invited?
Did you invite him for the PDP unity rally?
He was not in the country. ThatÂ is what I was made to understand.
The PDP in Edo State has lost the two most recent bye-elections and another one is at the corner. What are your partyâ€™s chances?
If there is a free and fair election, PDP will win. All we are asking is, let there be a level playing field. Let the government of Edo State not employ government apparatus to rig the election.
But it is not the state government that conducts the elections.
But where government officials are involved in carrying ballot boxes, you canâ€™t but conclude that it is government sponsored rigging.
Not long ago, you were chorusing the same tune with Comrade Oshiomhole on the stateâ€™s representative to the board of the NDDC. So what has happened?
Nothing has happened.
What then made you to agree to support the nomination made by Oshiomhole?
Well, I was consulted. On the floor of the Senate, I said I had reservation initially and that reservation was cured by the consultation that was eventually conducted by both the governor and some leaders of the party, but I cannot say the same now.
It is alleged that at that time back in July, there was an understanding between the two parties. Is that true?
No, no, there was no such understanding. No agreement. You know when Oshiomhole was declared by the courts to be the winner, we reached out to him as concerned citizens of Edo State, we were concerned about moving the state forward. It is that passion, it is that spirit about moving the state forward that made us to reach out to Adams Oshiomhole. It is our commitment to the development of the state that drove us to that point. If we went that far and he is not now reciprocating that gesture, then it is a different matter entirely.
Has he betrayed the confidence you had in him?
As far as I am concerned, yes.
In what way?
What baffles me is why he has resorted to this morbid style of campaign against the person of Chief Tony Anenih. Oshiomhole is one Nigerian who came close to bringing down governments in this country through very toxic criticisms of government over some policies. Venomous criticisms of government over whatever, so I expect a person with such background to be able to accept a criticism that borders on advice. What did the leader say?
That he should know that there is a difference between activism and governance. That is a fact that is unimpeachable. It is a fact that is incontrovertible. There is a difference between labour activism and governance, whether Oshiomhole likes it or not,Â that fact is there. To now resort to personal attacks on the person of Chief Anenih, to me, is very unbecoming of the person who holds an office as high as that of the governor of the state.
Wishing the godfather dead to me is a tall ambition because the concept of godfatherism has been with human society as far as I can remember. If you want to baptize a child in the church, you go and get a godfather. You canâ€™t wish that kind of thing away from modern society. In my own culture, you take kolanut to go and get a godfather. It is part of our culture. He is somebody who provides inspiration, somebody who provides support to other people. So, if I choose to call somebody who provides inspiration or support to me a godfather, how is Oshiomhole going to stop that? Go to the dictionary and find the meaning of godfather.
Do you have a godfather?
Yes. Chief Tony Anenih is my godfather.
Has he been helpful to your political career?
Has he been beneficial to Governor Oshiomholeâ€™s political career?
That is between him and Adams Oshiomhole.
Can you confirm that there was a collaboration between Oshiomhole and Anenih during Oshiomholeâ€™s quest to unseat former Governor Osunbor at the courts?
Again, that is between Oshiomhole and Chief Anenih. The point I am making is that, not Oshiomholeâ€™s, nobody else can kill the concept of â€œgodfatherism.â€ If godfatherism is given a negative interpretation in Nigerian politics, that is a different matter entirely. I am saying that there will always be godfathersÂ in religious circles, in political circles and in cultural circles.
There is nothing anybody can do about it. To now resort to this morbid style of politicking in modern day NigeriaÂ is unbecoming. It is very, very unbecoming. If today, people are still carrying coffins to political rallies, itÂ is morbid politics and we should not encourage it and, for a governor of a state to be involved in that kind of thing is totally condemnable.
Given the trend in recent bye-elections in Edo State, can you still say that the PDP won the 2007 gubernatorial elections?
Oh, yes. Absolutely.