• Says Jonathan cannot afford to make too many enemies
•‘PDP unable to manage victory’
By Henry Umoru
Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia is a retired brigadier-general of the Nigerian Army and a politician. He was the military governor of the defunct Midwestern Region between 1967–1975.
Ogbemudia joined politics and was elected governor of the old Bendel State in October 1983 on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, where he took over from the late Professor Ambrose Ali of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. Bendel State gave birth to Edo and Delta States.
The elder-statesman, however, lost his position as governor in December same year when General Muhammadu Buhari seized power in a coup d’état that overthrew the government of Alhaji President Shehu Shagari.
When General Sani Abacha became head of state in November, 1993, the Edo leader was made the minister of labour and productivity. He has been out of the country in the last months where he was hospitalized in Wellington Hospital, London. He is still recuperating.
In this interview, Ogbemudia bares his mind on the security situation in the country, President Jonathan’s administration, his ministers, the minimum wage, his party, Edo State, among others.
What is your take on the current security situation in the country, especially the attacks by the Boko Haram sect?
I really don’t have much to talk about, but, when it comes to security, I must say that security is more of a serious problem and that is why every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens. What I had expected is that before the people, I mean those responsible for planting the bombs, strike, security agents ought to know in advance if they have enough resources to deal with the challenge. So, it is for government to give them enough resources to be able to identify the problem before it takes place.
But, having taken place, it is now for them to find out the origin because, without knowing how it came and who started it, it will not be easy for anybody to find a solution. We have many of our people killed at different venues of the bomb blasts and I think we have had enough. We should now go and find out the source and who is responsible, so that we either talk to him or deal with him in accordance with the bells of tradition.
Do you think government should dialogue with the Boko Haram people?
If government wants to stamp it out once and for all, it has to go to the root cause. What is the reason for the uprising? Once we know, we solve the problem. But to arrest, kill or maim the people on the streets will not solve the problem.
Force Headquarters was recently bombed by these same people. What does it connote for our security system and what implication does it have?
I think the Inspector- General of Police has been let down by his intelligence service. I also believe that the IG was not properly briefed when he took over. I believe the incident itself spread beyond the assumption of office of the IG. So he ought to have been given a full briefing so that he could make a plan on how to arrest the ugly situation.
But, having found ourselves in this situation, the IG has a number of alternatives one of which is to overhaul his intelligence service so that they can go underground and find the source and root to be able to deal with them. The parade in the streets cannot help it. The waving of the gun cannot solve the problem. Therefore they should go back to the root cause and the people that can do it are not those in uniform, but under-cover agents.
As an elder statesman, if you are to speak generally on Nigeria now against the background of where we are coming from, where are we?
Last year, I stuck out my neck to give my fullest support to President Goodluck Jonathan because the South-south people felt honoured for the first time to have one of their sons take on the responsibility of governing this country. Therefore, we all believe we ought to see him to the election and beyond.
Now, having won, he becomes the president of Nigeria, not of South-south, or South-east or South-west. Therefore, he must get efficient and dedicated Nigerians to help him because he is laying a foundation that will be examined by historians and our prayer is that the verdict of history should be in his favour.
Nigeria is a difficult place to govern not because the people are ungovernable, but because they are advanced in knowledge, education and everything.
Therefore, anybody who wants to govern them must be two steps ahead of them. And I believe that Jonathan’s education, training and the experience he has gained from being deputy governor to governor to vice president will help him tremendously to achieve that objective. He must put in his cabinet the right people, not those whose mouths are sharp, not those who believe that they want food.
The worst aspect of government is about to come, that is the sharing out or appointing people to the various boards. If he allows an individual to produce names and then pull them out, then he is going to make more enemies than friends; so we pray that he does not make so many enemies because we want to be part of his success. Jonathan must appoint his own staff not subject to zoning, he can take a man and wife, and cousin provided they can make him succeed because success is paramount to everyone now in the country.
The president sent names to the Senate, they were screened and confirmed and they have been sworn-in. What would you tell the new ministers and also the National Assembly especially the Senate?
There isn’t much to tell the new ministers. It is Jonathan, the president, who will give his dreams to the ministers to evaluate so that every step they take will be towards the achievement of that dream.
The behaviour of any society, call it the executive, call it anything, is a reflection of the quality of leadership that they have. So we are hoping that the excellent quality that Jonathan has displayed since he took the reign of power will spread to the ministers and the ministers will in turn sell it to their subordinates so that, at the end of the day, Nigeria will be better for it.
You did so well in government as governor of the old Bendel State. With the benefit of hindsight, what magic did you put in place then that, 30 years after, your legacies are still being felt in the state, now Edo and Delta states, that the present governors should emulate?
Thank you for your sentiments, but, I must say that, like I said before, those that are lucky to have circumstances thrust upon their shoulders have the responsibility and a duty to leave sufficient evidence for historians to evaluate so that the verdict of history will be in their favour. I am hoping that the verdict of history will be enjoyed by my children and their children. And I believe that anybody at the head of government will think the same thing. But if anyone seeks my advice, I will give my honest advice because, if anything goes wrong, it will affect me, it will affect my children. So I don’t want such a situation, I look forward to a day that I will have the unique privilege of meeting the president and expressing my views to him, because he needs not only my own, but also other people’s. There are millions of Nigerians who have better knowledge of the goings-on in Nigeria than all of us.
That honest advice, the 36 states governors, what would you tell them if they come to you?
When God created man, man needed three things, namely, shelter, food and mobility. As time went on, they added companionship and then they started expanding each item; mobility became transportation, food in their various forms, shelter in all the things we can think of. Day after day, we are expanding these needs of the people; so the governors have a duty to make their states peaceful and ready to support the government of the day. If the 36 states are peaceful and they have no problems, the Federal Government will not have to sweat it out to find solutions to problems that do not exist.
I believe that the government of the states have a duty to ensure the success of the Federal Government. But, if on the other hand, the states are in difficulty, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to help them and solve their problems, that’s how it goes. So we pray the Almighty God to grant them the wisdom to undertake a peaceful rule and a dedicated attitude towards finding solution to every problem.
Part of the problem in the state is this issue of N18,000 minimum wage which some governors are saying they can’t pay it. What is your take on this?
I don’t think that people really appreciate the enormity of the N18,000. It is not the N18,000 that the states cannot pay. It is the multipliers effect, it will go on until you get to the permanent secretary. Take, for instance, those whose allowances have been monetized including civil servants, cooks, drivers, etc., if those that are on the ground floor get N18,000, then all the others will get equivalent percentage increase all the way and, at the end of it, some of the states will become bankrupt. So we look forward to a day when they will all pay the minimum wage and perhaps have the higher echelon to make sacrifice.
You are a founding member of the PDP, you are a NEC member. If you are to speak on the party at the national level, what will be your take? Has the party got it right especially from the view of you as a founding member and, now that there is an acting national chairman in the person of Abubakar Kawu Baraje, where do you think he should take off from?
Baraje is taking off in the middle of the stream and he has a duty now to paddle the boat in the right direction to its destination but that is not the problem of the party.
Baraje is a competent hand and he will get there, but the root cause of the PDP declining is poor distribution of victory fallout, poor management of victory. Sometime ago, the party, in its infinite wisdom decided to appoint Dr. Alex Ekwueme to look into this matter and Ekwueme produced a brilliant report. Why they have not implemented the report or produced a White Paper remains a mystery. Apart from that, the party, at various levels, has its problems and since the top cannot solve its problems, the bottom cannot solve theirs.
So if the PDP on its dream of ruling this country for 50years, will remain an objective, then it needs to go back to the drawing board and re-establish its root so that it can negotiate all the obstacles while focusing and keeping its eyes on the objective. There is no magic to it. The people at the top must show good leadership. The people at the bottom must be good followers and they must remember that we have started what is now called democracy and democracy has ingredients and the ingredients include freedom, so they should apply them.
Coming to your state, Edo, do we still have factions; if we have, what is the way forward?
Edo PDP will continue to have factions, but I always try to explain that when this thing started, I had nothing to do with it. O stood for Osunbor, A stood for Anenih, but when Osunbor left and joined Chief Anenih which ought to have marked the end of the resistance from a side, the people behind him said they won’t. So they came to me and asked me to lead them.
That is how I got involved. As far as I am concerned, I am looking forward to a day when the PDP will grab the governorship of Edo State.
But, people are saying that in 2012, PDP will contest. PDP cannot genuinely talk about winning an election in 2012 if it hasn’t commenced bringing the party together. Besides, the people of Edo are hungry for development and, whether we like it or not, Oshiomhole has been providing that development and many of them are taken in, they love it and they are interested in what he is doing.
So it will be an uphill task to say let me displace him. My view is that we should sit down with Oshiomhole at a table, produce our card, let him see it, we see his own and we discuss where we go from there and it is only then we will enjoy Edo State. But, as things stand now, there is a lot of bad blood between various leaders, it won’t help. We should first of all try and reconcile the leaders and then we will find ourselves heading for a defined objective.
Generally, what will you tell Nigerians?
The advice one can give which I have found to be very useful is that if you support the government of the day and you stay within the government circle, you can effect a lot of changes because changes, advice from within takes less time to execute than changes advocated from outside, which is seen as an opposition.
So what Nigerians need is to give Jonathan a chance in his four years. We must help him because he wants to leave behind a legacy for us to remember him; just like America and the world is talking about Lincoln, we will be talking about Goodluck Jonathan.
The other thing I felt very happy about is that, for the first time since independence, an elected southerner is governing the country. So Jonathan in effect is the arrow head of the younger generation that has opened a big gate for everybody to participate and for everybody to believe that they belong.
It is only that, that will help. Today, many Nigerians see themselves that ‘I can be the president of Nigeria tomorrow’. So nobody bothers whether I am a southerner, a northerner, an easterner or a westerner and that is what Jonathan has achieved and we should help him to concretize it.
Some governors apologized publicly to Boko Haram. Was this in the right direction?
I have no facts to support their action, so I cannot make a meaningful comment.