Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, in this interview, bares his mind on what he expects from President Goodluck Jonathan in the unfolding dispensation. He also shares his views on the call for the abrogation of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and how his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, defeated the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Edo State. Excerpts:
By Simon Ebegbulem
The revered Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa, has, on several occasions, endorsed you for a second term, but you have been silent on the call. Why?
I am very humbled and I feel extremely very privileged to have such positive comments from one of the most outstanding traditional rulers in Nigeria. I cannot express my gratitude enough and I see those comments as a kind of additional directive to work hard. Idea is what drives development and every day when I wake up I think about how to move our state forward. I am really humbled by His Majesty’s comments.
When we get to the point where the issue will arise, that will be the time to discuss it. There is no strategic political advantage in announcing it ahead of time. You know that my decision to come to Edo State was deliberate, people initially said I should go for Presidency but I said I must start from somewhere. I have resolved to do even more for the state and for Benin City, Edoland.
I think what we have been able to do is to identify young men and women who believe in the cause of Edo people, who believe that governance is about the people and that the power that we exercise is entrusted to us for the good of the majority. And if you are able to find such persons with a commitment to public good, you will be able to deliver because the needs of our people are still very basic.
I think what we have done is to identify these areas of basic needs in Edo because when I entered office, the revenue accruing to the state dropped from an average of about 3.5-1.6 per cent with a wage bill of about 1.8 when you add over head, pension benefits and others.
I think we entered office under that harsh environment; so we had to think through how to survive. I had argued that the challenge of a leader is not to join the people in lamenting challenges in the system but to take the people to the promised land. You recall the initial reaction to taxation. We have moved it now from N300million a month to N1.3 billion monthly under two years.
I also realize that it is not all about making the income but how to stop leakages in the system. When we came in, we were able to save N500 milion in the cost of running government in the recurrent expenditure and that, savings made, we have saved more resources to boost our capital expenditure. And, at the end of the first year, we were able to save N13.5 billion to be used for capital projects. We prioritize our problems and identified the ones that will have greater multiplier-effects on the socio-economic life of the people.
What about even distribution of projects?
I am even surprised with the level of progress we have made across the 18 local government areas in the area of electricity, education, water supply, roads, if you don’t have one you will have the other.
And, my commissioners are probably the poorest in the country, I have to agree. Because we had to cut our over- head substantially. My commissioners are not able to stay at Hillton Hotel when they travel to Abuja which is probably a shame but this is because we control our cost. I hope that we can build on our achievements because I am glad that nobody can come now to Edo as a leader and say things are impossible in the state. Edo is moving again and we are happy.
There is the call for the review of the revenue allocation formula. What is your reaction on that?
I have not seen any governor objecting to that so far. That is very important to do as quick as possible.
The good people of Edo can see what we have done in two years and, if you ask us what are the federal projects in Edo since 1999 you will be disappointed. If you look at the federal road from New Lagos Road to Ugbowo, the potholes on that road are horrible. Now, if you ask, Edo ought to have a share of that 52 per cent because what we are spending in the state is our own share of the remaining 48 per cent. The total money accruing to state governments is 26.4 per cent. Edo’s share of 26.4 per cent is what we are pointing at today.
But how about Edo’s share of the 52 per cent which the Federal Government is spending on behalf of the people of Edo?
That tells you the gaps. Even federal agencies, the police and others, all the vehicles they are using in Edo today, we procured them. We have installed communication system for them but yet it is a federal agency. The same problem occurred on the issue of minimum wage because in the case of the doctors, the Federal Government says the states will pay the same thing with the federal despite the fact of an unfair appropriation. So, we have to re-address the revenue allocation formula.
Like if the Federal Government is not able to maintain the police, then the revenue accruing to the police should be reviewed because the Federal Government collects the resources but it is not delivering on security. People cannot see the president here; the person they see is the governor but the resources to the police go to the Federal Government. A lot of things must change.
The former Minister of State for Defence, Mike Onolehmemen, recently accused you of fighting Esans in your administration. Do you have a problem with the Esan ethnic group?
(laughter) They have no response to the challenge we have posed to them; so they resorted to ethnicity. As I speak, the most important ministry in most governments is the ministry of finance. My Commissioner for Finance is from Esanland. When an Esan man (Osunbor) was governor here, he was unable to work with the commissioner for finance, so the man had to resign his appointment on account of the fact that he was being sidelined.
Now, I had a commissioner for finance from Esanland who I did not know before I became a governor.
He was appointed strictly because I wanted technocrats. And, he oversees everything happening in my government unlike the PDP politicians who will appoint, just like Osunbor did, the accountant from their own part of the state. My accountant-general is from Benin. My financial transactions are in the hands of an Esan man and a Bini man.
That tells you about the character of the governor and my idea about loyalty and trust. The commissioner for land and housing is from Esan. And the ministry in charge of water and energy are in the hands of an Esan man. If I drop two commissioners out of five and three remain what statement does it make? Second, have we replaced the commissioners from Esanland with any other part? Have I brought Edo North or Edo South persons to replace them? Onolememen is in trouble, they have to look for new crowd to canvass support. All I have done is to challenge them with facts!
If you analyse the votes that we got in Esanland, Edo Central with the votes that PDP got, we had substantial supporters in Esanland than them. In one local government area, we defeated them. That is the challenge Onolemenmen is unable to address as a former minister. Esan people know better. In Uromi, where Onolemenmen comes from, my administration is constructing two roads there. One is already asphalted. Even the Enogie of Uromi attests to the fact that what I have done in two years for the people of Uromi, PDP did not do it in 10 years!
He made it in a public statement and he asked Uromi people to vote for us. We lost votes in Esan because of the in-fighting by ACN leaders in the area, who worked against their party. My thesis is simply that today, in terms of the number of registered voters, ACN won elections in 90 per cent of Edo. Edo South accounts for 55 per cent of the registered voters, we cleared the results there. Edo North accounts for about 35 per cent, we cleared there.
Edo Central accounts for about 15 per cent. If you take all the facts into account and go into the distribution you will find that we have confined them to 10 per cent. These are facts. And, to appreciate that all of these changes have occurred under two years, show that we are too much. If we do free and fair election without manipulation, no sabotage and I contest election with Onolemenmen, I will defeat him in Uromi. And, if he wants to deny this, let him file for nomination, let’s dig it out.
When are you conducting LG elections in Edo State?
We just came out of an election now. The state EDSIEC will look at the modalities. Let us get the president sworn in and the new House of Assembly proclaimed, then we look at the next agenda.
Why is it that the presidential candidate of your party, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, lost in most ACN- controlled states. Does it mean that you people preferred President Goodluck Jonathan to him?
Well, you cannot ask me how Edo people voted. The thing about elections is that on election day, it is the day of the electorate, it is not the day of the parties. I believe the result in Edo reflected their preference and even in Nuhu Ribadu’s ward and polling unit, his people voted against him. That simply confirms the thesis that, in this election, the votes actually counted in most parts of the country. We saw people who were boasting that they would deliver their states, they could not deliver themselves because the system did not allow them to rig.
In particular I continue to celebrate the election results in Ogun and Oyo states. In Oyo, you know the influence of thuggery, the role of the late godfather of Ibadan politics. You saw how a complete gentleman won the election against the riggers. In Ogun, you saw that the votes counted and the under-dogs took over the two powerful blocs and PDP was swept away. Again, you know that President Jonathan had said before the election that the South-West was too important for PDP to leave in the hands of the opposition.
And, there is no doubting the importance of the South-West in the politics of the country and the votes counted and PDP lost after all. I think in all this Nigerians spoke their minds.
Now the thing to review is what informs the reaction of the people. My thesis is that you cannot confuse mass murder, mass killings for protest. That is not protest. I have led protests in many states of Nigeria and nobody was killed. Now that the inquiry has been set up, we will find out what was the motive. I think what they did was pure criminality that is unacceptable.
If people are to be appointed by party leaders based on who delivers which area, then the challenge of delivery on the promise of the president will remain an issue. I think that the president should find Nigerians who may not be able to win a booth, but they will be able to deliver on the promises made by the president. I am in office now, and I know the president had the opportunity of rising from deputy governor to president. He has a lot of experience. I am sure that he knows that in all his core areas, he has to find men and women who can deliver because the debt of gratitude he owes is not to those who claim to have delivered their states but to those who were delivered, that is the electorate.
They are the ultimate source of legitimacy of political power. And so, to deliver to them, you have to see beyond the narrow confines of PDP as a party and go for people who are competent. Competence may also not be enough but people who are also patriotic because some people may be competent but they will deplore that confidence in a way that it will compromise national interest. So, he has to find people who believe in his mission and vision for the nation.
Call for the abrogation of NYSC
The problem with a lot of our leaders is that we make pronouncement on the basis of the spur of the moment. There have been killings, pure murder, whether these were categorized as arising from religious differences or whatever, how does the abolition of NYSC settle those issues of avoidable killings, arson and other acts of violence that have occurred in different parts of the country? The death of these Corpers is extremely painful but not any more painful than the death of any Nigerian who has not been sentenced to death by any court.
So I think that to hide under the unfortunate incident to call for the scrapping of NYSC is completely uninformed. The challenge of guaranteed security of life and property, whether of young people or of old people, it is not only NYSC members who serve in states that are in danger.
And if you abolish NYSC, that does not mean that Nigerians cannot live in any part of the country. How does the abolition now address that? I think the call is an uninformed argument. If those people were not NYSC, they were just indigenes of those states and they were killed, does it make it more acceptable? I believe NYSC represents an attempt to assist