Adams Oshiomhole

* ‘I only wanted to be like Pa Imoudu’

Governor Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole of Edo State turns 57 today. In this interview with Sunday Vanguard conducted at his Iyanmu country home, also known as Camp David, he gives an insight into his upbringing and life, first as a labour leader, and now as politician. He also gives his views on the planned electoral reforms, the genesis of his crisis with the former chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, and other national issues. Excerpts:

By Simon  Ebegbulem , Benin-City

You don’t look like 57.  What is the secret?
I am very young. May be I should go and further reduce the age.

How do you keep fit?
Honestly, I believe health is just a gift from God. Of course we all have to make effort, watch what you eat, the quality of food you eat and how often you eat. There is not much value in eating too much and eating too late to sleep. I also believe that one needs to do exercise for one’s physical and mental health, but on the whole I think that one should just give thanks to God because without him nothing is possible.

What was the transformation from labour activism to politics like?  I am sure there are certain things you used to do before your assumption of office as governor but which are now difficult for you to do?
I think actually a lot of people talk about the differences between labour and politics. I think the difference really would be between business and politics.  Politics is about mobilizing the people and organizing them around a set of ideals which is called a political party. And then you go through the electioneering campaign process, get elected or get defeated and if elected, you use the mandate to address what you promised the people. In labour, that’s exactly what we do: we organize, we mobilize try to convince  people that you are better than the other candidate. You articulate the agenda which you hope to address if you win and if the people are convinced, they choose you in place of others and if you are chosen, you are expected to organize and mobilize to address the promises you have made including the ones that were not foreseen which develop in the cause of your leadership. And I think because we are government, you have resources to deliver on your promises, you have security men, you have police and all of that to protect you and also to secure you against attack. But in labour we do not have those instruments of coercion.  So, we rely exclusively, and entirely on persuasion. You have to persuade people. To persuade the people to take that risk it requires a lot of skill. You must have the capacity to mobilize, to inform and above all to inspire them.

To get the whole country to agree to support a protest to queue behind you and to make people to believe you rather than believing the government.  For me, nothing can be more political. I think perhaps the only difference is that in Labour, you talk about the worker but in truth the difference between the worker and the rest of the society is basically academic because the worker is part of a larger society. He lives in a community and he shares the aspirations of the people of that community. He earns his wages but however in terms of politics, you are elected by the worker and every other person. And you have responsibility for all.

Looking back now, did it ever strike you that you could ever hold a public office, that of governor, for instance?
I never really thought of a public office in the sense of being in government. I think the closest I ever thought of, growing up, was hearing the names of people like Pa Imoudu. People who listened to radio then used to tell us that there was one man called Pa Imoudu from our area here. People were singing with their names and how he fought the white men. Well, in the villages like ours, I never had radio but I just wished I would be like that man in terms of fighting for the people. The way people were celebrating his courage was something that had a strong appeal to me. I did not even know him at that time. But to ever be in government and as Governor, I never thought of that and if some one ever said that to me I would say no, it is not possible.

What then was your vision while growing up?
My interest was actually to be an architect. I love architecture a lot because people can sit down and design, produce some thing that is original that you will say I created this, not as if you copied from somebody. That was some thing I wanted to be.

The truth is that while I was growing up, I never thought of women. Growing up in the village, life in the village then, you were not expected to be funny with women. I think my first real contact with a lady was the one I married. I never dated two different women at the same time, no. My first friend ended up as my wife.

You have been rather quiet on the controversy generated by President Yar’Adua’s ailment and absence from public glare, why?
Understandably at the beginning, no one was sure of the state of the President’s health condition and the Vice-President was standing in for him. Later it became clear that after that broadcast to the BBC, he, more or less admitted that he was ill and he was hoping that when he recovered that he would return. It was clear at that point in time that we could not allow a vacuum and I believe every Nigerian of note and patriotism agreed that it was important at that time to fill the vacuum by asking the Vice-President to act.

That has brought in a level of stability to the country. And the Acting President has been doing very well. I think on the whole, when you factor all that happened, you will know that the process has been reasonably well managed and I so believe that the Acting President is doing very well. He is taking it step by step to consolidate and getting the economy working. Talking about the dissolution of the Federal Executive Council, I believe that a man who is presiding over the council is in the best place to understand the workings of that council. As a Governor, nobody can come and tell me about a Commissioner who is working or not.  It is only the Governor who presides over, who assesses general contribution, strengths and weaknesses of each Commissioner, that is in a better position to make a decision. And if you check, the Acting President did not rush to make that decision, so he must have genuine reasons for dissolving the cabinet.

How about the planned electoral reforms?  What areas are of particular interest to you?
Well I think that the whole idea of President Yar’Adua setting up the Electoral reform committee was an admission that the system needs to be reformed. It is very clear that we need to reform the system, no doubt about that.

But I think what is now important is to talk about which law needs to be amended to achieve what. I think the controversy has been between those who want the Uwais report to be implemented in toto and those who said no, it should not be implemented in toto, they should pick some areas and implement. Those are basically the two forces.

For me the real challenge is in so far as all of us are now talking of reform. We are however not all saying the same thing.  For example, the current arrangement says the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall appoint the INEC chairman. Not only the INEC chairman, there are also other commissioners that work with the INEC Chairman.

Uwais report says the President should not exercise these powers, the power should be vested in the National Judicial Council. At least, at the level of perception, the INEC man will not be seen to be appointed by a President who may be a candidate in an election. For me, I think this is straight. I support it in toto, that the President
should not be allowed to exercise those powers. And we are talking of the President, we are not talking of Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan, we are talking of any body. There will always be future Presidents.

The mistake that I see some people try to make, what I call eye service is to say we should trust this President. It is not about this President, it is about the future. But I know that there are people preaching reform who are also saying, let this clause remain. Those people are preaching deform, they are not preaching reform. Uwais also recommended that civil society groups, women group, the Guild of Editors and a number of other civil society organization, that each of them should recommend an INEC Commissioner that will work with the chairman who will be subject to either the approval of the National Assembly or the President. Again, I know that many Governors and Ministers are opposed to this; they insist that rather than the civil society organizations to nominate these people the President should do that. For me, I believe that the INEC chairman and others should be nominate by these people, not because they are perfect but because they will be seen to be neutral. The President has partisan interest.

Again, I know that may be about 80 per cent or more in the legislative and the Executive arm at Federal and state levels, many prefer that the system should remain. And I can easily see why they feel so. As we are speaking, three years out of a four year mandate, there are many Senators, House of Assembly and Representatives cases that are still in court. What manner of justice is that that is making mockery of the entire concept of justice?  There can be no justice when a man who stole some body’s mandate will continue stealing even when the man whose mandate was stolen has gone to court. Only a man without conscience will insist that this injustice should remain. And it is completely inconsistent with the criminal law that a man is alleged to have stolen a car and the man whose car was stolen went to court. Now the car that is in dispute is left in the custody of the thief and the thief keeps driving the car while the matter is still in court. What manner of justice is that? So what has happened is that the Nigeria elite is simply trying to perpetrate fraud and encourage electoral dishonesty by crafting the law in a way that now distinguishes our attitude to electoral fraud to other categories of fraud. And it has completely make mockery to the entire idea of judicial intervention.

People are wondering whether you can finance the projects you are executing across the state?
Yes, many people are asking this question, where are you getting the money from. Of course I also know that my opponents, the Dan Orbih faction of the PDP, since they cannot dispute the fact they now say, don’t worry he will not finish the work, where will he get the money to do that.  Edo State is, may be, the poorest in the South South., but like I said in the beginning, what we lack in resources, we have in will. I decided to take some time to look at all the leakages in the system.  That is why from day one, we brought in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) that will enable us examine how our finances are organized.

So we are able to block the loopholes. Secondly, I found out that over the years in Edo State, Professor Osunbor for example, I think that for every one naira that his government spent, about 80 kobo or 85 kobo went into the current expenditure because the trick is don’t follow what the budget says, look at the actual spending in the end. When you spend so much money on recurrent, you simply will have little or no money for capital projects. I brought in some guys from the private sectors to help me and while I was in court, a lot of these young men contributed financially to support the struggle. These people are not the big time millionaires you know but they have enough for themselves and their families.

We started planning even while we were in court. We decided that we were going to spend the first year to look at all our problems critically and see where we have leakages. If you recall during my campaign, you remember when I went to visit the families who lost their babies through flood and their houses washed off, I said what Edo State needed was not a piece meal approach, you needed to come up with a holistic plan to check flooding. And the few contractors we invited told us that you needed to deal with the question of drainage and to deal with it, you need a master plan. We had to spend some time doing that and while doing that we were saving the money while telling every body that we have no money to spend on frivolities. Even the South South Governor’s Forum, I refused to host them until recently because when you spend two naira here and there before you know it, your money is finished. While we were working on the master plan, that was when our opponents said we were not prepared for leadership. By t
he time we are ready with the master plan, we were ready to go.

During my one year anniversary, I announced that we have saved over N30billion for projects. The other thing we did is looking at the resources base, we are earning N300million, to the best of planning there is not much that you can achieve with that, no body was paying the correct tax in Edo State.  We had to revisit it. Some of my friends had the fear that we might lose the goodwill if we enforced the tax law, but I said we are still going to lose it at the end of the day if in the end I did not work. Three days ago, I saw employees of Federal Government agencies, like UBTH saying that they will not pay tax, they will pay 5 per cent. They were doing as if the law is a proposal or a collective agreement. The law is statutory:  if you do not pay your tax, you go to jail. And I am proud to the fact that in all my trade union life, none of the strike actions I organized was about taxation. I learnt early in my union training that it is part of the civic responsibility of a good citizen to pay his tax. And there is a lot of hypocrisy, like I spoke to the ASUU chairman in Ambrose Alli University , Ekpoma, he said it is not expected that we should pay taxes, on the other hand we should not increase school fees, education must be free. I said very good, this is where hypocrisy lies. And told him I accept, but if education must be free, some body must pay for it and who pays for it? Is the Governor going to use his blood, even if I sell all the blood in my system, I do not know how many litres I have. How can we provide free education and provide tax free environment, how?

During the early stage of your administration, you were very close o Chief Anenih, at what point did both of you part ways?
I have known Chief Anenih for a long time when I was in the NLC. And that time, a lot of our people came to meet me to take them to Chief Anenih to assist them to become local government chairmen, councilors. I can mention their names, Gani Audu, Stanley Odidi, Lucky James and others. They always told me that if you did not have the blessings of the godfather no way for you. And when I was to come in to this political scene, he told me he would like to support me, that he knew that I would be a good governor but he wanted somebody from Esan, particularly that he wanted Ugbesia and if he could not get Ugbesia it would be Osunbor. I told him that I didn’t understand it that way.  That I would go and contest on a different party platform. He actually tried to manipulate me that he would make me a Senator.  I said how can you make me a Senator when I am from Edo North and you do not vote in Edo North. So I decided that I was going to fight my battle. Some people came to me that Anenih would still rig me out that there was no need for me to contest. He said by 2015, when I would have completed two terms in the Senate, I would then become  Governor. You see, he talks with the finality of God. I now wondered, that who told you that we all would even be alive then. But that arrogance of allocating is always there. He went to Chief Dan Orbih’s residence and said Edo North should wait till 2015 and they were clapping for him. I said I would confront them as usual. And if you remember, while I was campaigning, I made godfatherism subject of my campaign.

So I did not just jump into it. I asked the people to vote that I would defend the votes because I saw it as a very serious problem here in the state because of one man. However, after they rigged me out, you know that I mobilized almost a million people to the streets that day. It is just that as cowards once they finish robbing they will run away. If we had found any of them around that day, they would have gone with that rigging because we were ready. You see, we cannot build a new world if we cannot destroy the old order. But unfortunately they ran away that day. But after I won, I said God has won this battle for me, let me work with every body, that I am going to forgive so as to bring down the political tension. That was how also said I was not going to dissolve the Local Governments so as to carry everybody along. And I asked Chief Anenih to nominate some Commissioners, but I thought he will not accept after doing all the terrible things he did to me. But to my surprise he asked for four Commissioners but I said, Sir, I can only give you three.

And he brought the three, but as I now know, he single handedly nominated those three. He did not consult with any body in the PDP even Dr Ogbemudia or Akhigbe. Then we had the problem of the budget.  Chief Anenih invited us to Abuja.

The Speaker, the chairman of the Appropriation Act, the then Majority leader and others, then.  I now also went with Philip who is of the Action Congress so that I would have one witness. I was shocked when Chief Anenih at his age and exposure, would not accept that Edo State government should increase the number of schools in the state. If you check my budget, I said I wanted to build 19 model schools. Two in Oredo, one in each of the other 17 Local Governments. But Chief Anenih said no, Adams you cannot do it. I said, Sir; we need to do that because I promised the people during my campaign, that pupils sit on the floor in our schools. He said forget it, you cannot do this one now. I said, Sir, there are so many accident victims in our hospitals today as a result of motorcycles, so I want to bring in some hundred buses just like Lagos is doing. The Chief said, no. Then I said to him, we need a holistic approach to the problem of Benin and that we need to change the face of the city.

Those key projects were eliminated by him. Of course I had no card else to play. He now told Zakawanu and others to go and pass the budget. But what surprised me is that the Deputy Speaker is a Bini man, but he could not even say any thing to support the projects from his area. He was just looking like a baby doll. So we came back to Benin. That was the test of my own maturity. How to deal with a man who is not elected but who is dictating to an elected Governor. I took my time and I knew that majority of them sitting at that meeting (House of Assembly leadership), majority of them, their elections had been nullified by the court. So I knew that it was a matter of time, that many of them would go. They actually discussed the possibility of impeaching me within the first three months of my administration. What was the problem, there were couple of things they wanted me to do, which was very strange to me and I said no. They could not impeach me, but of course I laid low. Some of my friends called me to complain about this father and son relationship, but I told them to be calm, when the time comes, you will know who is my father. My father is Oshiomhole, not Anenih. And I will hate to have a father like Anenih who celebrates imposition; who does not concede that the young shall grow. That cannot be my father. I wanted to survive the oppressive environment to change it. I think West Idahosa summarized it in his interview that, three months ago, he would not have said what he said in his interview because the environment was so suffocating. But today Edo is a free state and it can never be the same again. And the god father according to West is now an expired politician of no value.

Today he is a very lonely man, he now begs councillors not to leave the PDP but of course they have all left him. But in all these, I have personal respect for Chief Anenih as an old man, old enough to be my father. If I were his son, I would advise him, “old man, there is time to start a business, there is time to hand over. After all you are blessed with children, but if you insist that Edo State will die with you, no; Edo State will not die with you”. Edo State will live and grow stronger while he grows weaker. Trace his recent history. He moved in when Ambrose Alli was elected as Governor of Edo State. Ambrose Alli was an Esan man like him. But he was manipulated out of office and subsequently he spent many years in jail. What was his crime, he would not take orders from Anenih. Anenih wants to be the only Iroko tree in Esan forest, so Alli had to be wasted. Anenih’s party, the SDP, produced Oyegun. Anenih fought him because he wanted to control, even when he was not elected. After Oyegun, it was Igbinedion. After the federation account meeting in Abuja , Lucky would come back home to do Edo allocation accounts commission where Anenih would decide who got what. For as long as the state was in his pocket there was no vacancy in Government House. Lucky was the best Governor. But after the second term when Lucky said he could not continue this way, their fight started. He had another Esan man. Osunbor. He supported Osunbor reluctantly when Obasanjo said Ugbesia must not run for the election. Again, he fought Osunbor even though that was a stolen mandate.

Their fight brought about the two factions of the PDP that are still here today.  You knew how he appointed the late Ekhabafe as Chairman of the party in the state. After that he single handed appointed Orbih. Chairman of a party is now being appointed like a brigade commander. At the national level, he compromised Abiola’s mandate. He went on with Shehu Yar’Adua. You remember the motion he moved about military disengagement.  As soon as it became convenient he revered. When Yar’Adua got jailed, he went abroad justifying the imprisonment and the man died in that prison. In the confusion that followed, Obasanjo came in. OBJ whom he justified his imprisonment, he had no difficulty in reversing himself and became the “leader”. Before Obasanjo got to Otta, he had shifted base. Now he talks as if he was not part of that administration where he had over N300billion to fix roads but he could not even fix one that connects his own state. Now he had to shift to Yar’Adua.

And I remembered I told President Yar’Adua even before he took ill that you do not need characters like Chief Anenih around you, that he will stain your name. And I know that right now, he is doing all he can to walk his way into Goodluck Jonathan because if he does not walk his way into Goodluck Jonathan he will not be able to remain a tyrant at home. Because the Federal powers that he uses to intimidate, blackmail people at home is already working on Goodluck as we speak. But I will be surprised if Goodluck allows that.
This man has never won a councillorship election in his life, yet he oppresses people. When you look at all that, you will see what God has done for me and Edo people. The man is now history in Edo . I cannot be happier. We are waiting for them. I am even more proud that we are doing a lot in the state as a free people under God and not under man.But for us in Edo state, one man one vote is the struggle of our lives. There is no going back. We must deepen it, we must sustain it until our people are completely free of dictatorship by one man.


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