BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
THe Edo state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)recently kicked off its preparations for the 2012 governorship contest with a stakeholders meeting. In this interview with Vanguard, state chairman of the party, Chief Dan Osi Orbih, reflects on the governance of the state, the alleged inadequacies of the administration and the purposefulness of the PDP’s constructive criticisms of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) government. Giving the party’s determination to wrest control from the ACN he narrated how the party was able to save the people from the burden of a toilet tax he claimed had been proposed by the ACN government.
YOU just held a stakeholders meeting, can you give us an insight of what the meeting was all about, the focus?
Well I want to say that from our deliberation, we have come out with a very strong message to the people of Edo state, especially the workers that they should tighten their belts and be prepared for a very difficult time.
After a careful review of the government activities, we have come to a conclusion that Edo state is broke and the workers and the people of the state should be prepared for a very difficult time.
Before now, we raised an alarm that going by our own observation about the activities of this government, we said it that the ship of the state was heading for the rocks. We were very uncomfortable by the burden of loan taken by this government and it was clear that there is no way this government could survive.
As at last count, the state is well indebted to over N60 billion. When the governor submitted a supplementary budget to the State House of Assembly, just for the remaining months of this year, there was a budget of N7.2billion to service the loan portfolio of the state and this is a government that has continued to tell the people of this state that they did not borrow any money. No matter how you hide the masquerade, it must come to the market place to dance.
Now, we are all seeing that all that they have been hiding has come out. N7.2billion added in the supplementary budget for the remaining part of the year to service the debt burden of the government.
What that tells you is that this government has taken far more that they can chew and the ordinary man in the street is the one suffering and the first class of people to have a taste of the difficult time are the workers. It is an irony that we have a labour leader in government who has taken no interest at all to the welfare of workers in the state. And watching his utterances, one can easily conclude that the general conduct in handling the affairs of the workers, bothers on arrogance and executive rascality and this is not the time for it. I believe that the government should be sincere enough to come and tell Edo people that they are broke instead of running to the press to say that they are ready to pay minimum wage. This is a government that is always playing to the gallery but the day of reckoning has come.
But your own party is still in trouble, people are still decamping from the PDP to the ACN despite what you observed about this government, what are you doing about that?
The mere fact that Oshiomhole is shopping for PDP members shows that the party is not on ground in Edo state. How come the government is still busy looking for people from the PDP to strengthen their party? Our ship is full, is the excesses that are dropping out. And I have said that under my able leadership we are repositioning the party.
The strategic repositioning of PDP in Edo state is a task that must be done and I have told all who care to listen that you either be part of the effort to reposition the party to reclaim the government of Edo state or you honourably find your way out of the party. So we are glad that those who cannot keep up with the pace of our strategic repositioning of the party have decided to find their way out.
There is also this general feeling now that the opposition appears to have run out of steam, particularly the PDP to be able to give the desired opposition to the ruling ACN government?
What we have been doing is that every time we come out with a position the people of the state will appreciate it. We don’t just come out to talk for the sake of talking. When we talked about the debt portfolio of the government, the government was jittery because they know that we have the facts in our hands.
Now, to save this state from perpetual indebtedness from financial institutions, I have written a very strong worded letter to the CBN governor to look at the possibility to ensure that banks don’t give out loan to Edo state government far above their capacity to repay the loan during their tenure in office so that you don’t leave a debt burden to our future generations. Like I have said, we are engaging this government on constructive criticism. Unknown to you, we just saved the state from another obnoxious tax which the governor wanted to impose on the people of the state.
Calling on all those who want to build new houses that the planning authorities should count the number of toilets in any new house in Edo state. He wanted to put toilet tax that shows you the extent that this government was going to go. For our timely criticism and alarm they dropped it. Now he is talking of consumption tax which they have signed into law. These are the things we are talking about.
Today, the PDP is ready and prepared to reclaim the government in Edo state. One thing that we had going for us as a party is that the initial euphoria about Oshiomhole coming to power is gone. At one point, people felt that because we are out of government so we did not see anything good about what the government was doing.
At that point it was strategic to drop the tempo so that people can see things for themselves and realize the evil this government has brought to bear on the people of Edo state. About a year ago who could have ever imagined that the workers who embraced this government as a government of their own will be among those who will rise up against this government. It shows that people are tired with the deceit in this government. People are tired to continue to pay tax to accommodate the expansion of walk ways.
We are happy that even those who are not politicians are now crying out because it is a question of time, anything built on deceit cannot stand the test of time. A government that has continued to engage in wanton destruction of property, all in the name of expansion of roads.
These are property that were duly approved by the relevant town planning authority. Property over fifty years of existence are being destroyed today without adequate compensation of the owners. What we are doing now is that the failure of Oshiomhole’s government on its own is appealing to the conscience of the people to join hands with the PDP to put an end to this unfortunate government.
But how do you think you can reclaim the state in 2012 when more members of your party are still decamping to the ACN?
What we have decided to do as a party because we have decided that each time we give out names of those who are decamping in thousands to us from the ACN, the Governor goes back to them giving them money and buying jeeps for them asking them not to leave. So what we are doing is quietly harvesting people from ACN without making so much noise about it. In fact as at today, there are more people leaving ACN to join PDP in Edo state.
How prepared is your party for the 2012 guber election in the state?
2012 governorship election is going to be an interesting political battle in Edo state. It is going to be interesting because people are tired with the burden of taxation, people are tired of unfulfilled promises. What we need as a party is to present a credible candidate through free and fair primaries. Once that is done, we will be preparing the inauguration speech of a PDP governor in Edo state. What we have done as a party was to appeal to all men of good conscience who have the interest of the state at heart, to come to the arena, declare their interest. For us as a party we will ensure free and fair primaries.
Whoever wins the primaries is the party’s candidate. We are not zoning the governorship to any particular senatorial district. We want a winning candidate with impeccable character.And once we identify one who is accepted by the generality of our people that becomes our official candidate.