Political tension rose in Edo State penultimate Thursday when two time Governor of old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, gathered the cream of Bini leaders from all sectors of life for a discussion to deliberate on the course of the Bini nation. The gathering which was called under the aegis of the Enu-nue-Edo, a Bini Socio-cultural organization, fueled insinuations of a Bini agenda ahead of the 2012 governorship election.
Following the meeting, Dr. Ogbemudia spoke in an exclusive interview on the purpose of the meeting and other national issues including the state of the nation’s sports and the debate on the proposal to remove subsidy in the price of petrol. Excerpts:
BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
There has been tension in the state since you called for a meeting of the Binis, can we know what motivated the meeting?
What actually happened was that I received many calls and visits from people I regard as serious stakeholders, expressing concern about how things are going on and how Edo South is faring. From the way the callers discussed with me both on the phone and in person, I knew that calling everyone together to discuss the issues of politics, insecurity, the economy of the State, social issues, education, unemployment etc. will be better for us. And it turned out to be an excellent gathering of all times and praise the Lord.
What were exactly their concerns?
Most of them said that Edo South was not faring well in the scheme of things and they wanted a critical assessment or a review of our strategies, to repackage ourselves. They said that we could do much better than we are going. If you allow them to nurture such ideas individually, you could have explosion. It was better we all got together and agree on the way forward. Mind you they did not blame anybody or hold anyone responsible.
On the contrary some were worried that the information flow between leaders and the led was weak and faint while others said that there is obvious break in communication. Many expressed satisfaction with the present developmental pace while others called for improved standard of living.
The earlier fear among some persons in the state was that this meeting may be a gang up against Governor Adams Oshiomhole who is from Edo North senatorial district, what is your take on that?
We are concerned about Bini land, Edo South in all aspects, socio economic, political, unemployment etc. we are interested in anything that would advance our interests. We have no reason to gang up against Comrade Oshiomhole. On the contrary, we have many reasons to appreciate the developmental pace in our Senatorial district. We will do everything lawful and legitimate to improve Bini land.
Does that include replacing Comrade Oshiomhole with a Bini man as it is being rumoured?
We would support any person from any part of the State that would help to develop us.
But there is this strong rumour that you want to plant a Bini man as Governor in the forthcoming 2012 election?
This is good news; I have also heard that I want to perpetuate Comrade Oshiomhole in office. Truth is that I as Ogbemudia would not take any personal decision. My people have cried to me and I have called leaders from all sectors to assess the situation and take the best decision in their greater interest. In doing so, the interest of the rest of the State is also being considered because we are all brothers and sisters.
For example, the Binis care less who is there, provided he or she can deliver the goods. I have been thinking of Prof. Ihonvbere, a man with a lion heart, a leader of great dignity, an excellent strategist who could be given a chance. Then, Prof. Osunbor did not complete the good work he started. Many people want Retired Major Gen. Airhiavbere who is my own brother. So that is the situation.
But as a leader of the PDP, who amongst the aspirants do you prefer to face Governor Oshiomhole?
You are still asking one question in different ways. The gathering you just saw was non partisan, across party lines- PDP, ACN, ANPP, Labour Party, non politicians, etc. They were all there. I am encouraging PDP to bring up the best candidate, with superior programme. That person would contest for a space in our heart with Comrade Oshiomhole.
But what is your relationship with Chief Tony Anenih because there are conflicting reports about the true situation in the state PDP after Admiral Mike Akhigbe, a member of your faction said he has no deal with Anenih yet?
I have never had a personal quarrel with Chief Anenih. We are still the best of friends. Our objective is the same and will remain the same. But we do have different approaches to political issues. But these are not permanent things. The interest of the State, that of the people, are what is permanent. On this we are in agreement.
You are a notable leader of the party. Is your opinion on issues normally solicited in the many problems of the party?
Notable leader? Weighty opinion? Come off it. Listen, I had an accident in August last year 2010 while on duty. I was flown to London, Wellington Hospital. It is over one year now. Not a word from the Party I belong to. Do you think I have ice water in my veins?
Is the leadership of your Party aware?
I spoke with some of them, but when they wrote to invite me to a Board of Trustees meeting, I replied that I had accident, and couldn’t make it. Everyone who cared to know what happened to me and where I was after the enlarged caucus meeting which endorsed President Jonathan for the presidency, knew that I had accident.
Does it mean they did not care about your problem?
I was at the Wellington Hospital in London both as an admitted patient and as an out-patient for six months. I heard that the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was also there. I heard also, that a delegation of government and party men came to see him.
It was obvious that Edo State where I come from being an ACN State is not important to PDP. When the appeal court removed Prof. Osunbor and installed Comrade Adams Oshiomhole the PDP said that losing Edo State was not a big deal as PDP was still comfortable with 26 states. We were left to be on our own. My fear is not what is going to happen to Edo State but South-South in the long run.
But have you…
(cuts in) Look here, get me right. I am not complaining, just stating facts. As for the Ikemba, he is my good old friend and a former boss, he was a Lt. Col. and Governor of Eastern Region while I was a major. He is not a PDP leader. He is the National Leader of APGA. But he is a statesman. He deserves more than a delegation.
You are also a statesman having fought gallantly during the civil war to keep Nigeria together?
Please ask the next question. PDP decided and PDP executed.
What is your comment on the security situation in the country?
I am not happy with the handling of the problem. It is more of internal problem. Gen. Azazi was appointed National Security Adviser and I applauded the appointment. Gen. Azazi is good and competent, however he does not have to go out himself to investigate reports.
We want to believe that those whose duty it is to feed him with information are doing so rightly. The opposition against President Jonathan is also targeting Azazi. If Azazi is not receiving accurate information, he can’t advice President Jonathan.
Years back, when I was in a position to know, most intelligence reports were discussed in the evenings at the Polo ground in Lagos. Until the President secures the support of some hardliners, we will continue to have problems. Now it would appear that the fear of the fifth columnist is the beginning of wisdom! We must all come together and address and reverse this ugly trend. There is no bad peace and there is no good war. As for the government, charity should begin at home.
You are one of those that have tried to develop sports in the country, what is your view on the current state of our sports?
Sacking Siasia was a mistake. Keshi is good but his effort will yield no substantial result because NFF remains the same. The problem of Nigerian football and Nigerian Sports generally are bigger than replacing Siasia with Keshi. Pouring old wines into new bottles or new wines into old bottles would not solve the problem.
We must honestly accept the problems. NFF is in place, get them busy. Let it courageously confront sports problems. At the risk of sounding like a cracked record let me repeat that a gold medal in sports, or to be specific, winning the World Cup would advertise Nigeria better to the world than full pages of paid adverts in the Wall Street Journal.
The government should take a policy decision. Either use sports for recreation or if it wants sports to galvanize the nation, speed up development. As a matter of fact, I think the ruling party or any other political party should adopt sports as a political issue for presidential campaign. That will help to improve our sports.