Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, was a Special Adviser on Project Monitoring in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Following that, he sought the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP ahead of the 2007 election. He, however, lost out in the intrigues that shadowed that contest.
Four years after and following some remarkable reinvention of the PDP in Edo State, Ihonvbere is again in the starting blocks in the PDP race for the PDP governorship ticket. He spoke to Vanguard on his pursuit.
How far have you gone in resolving the internal crisis in your party?
Every party has some sort of crisis. In this country, there is absolutely no party that has no crisis, either at the state or national level. I think the test of maturity is how such crisis is managed. So, every party has a sort of crisis or the other. Here in Edo State, I think the PDP has the ability to manage the crisis.
Yes, some people defected to another party but many of them are coming back, which is something interesting.
We have elected a new state executive that apparently is acceptable to us.
Nobody is complaining; nobody is going to court or holding any protest. And the ability to elect a new executive has put paid to the issue of litigation against the executive.
Some of the top leaders who were estranged are now in some sort of dialogue with those who have not come back. They are dialoguing and they are talking. But I think that is a very positive development for the party. And we can build on it, we can develop it and it means that the PDP is ready to regain Edo State like it always has.
Against this back drop, how poised is the PDP for the July 14, 2012 governorship election?
Well, if seven governorship aspirants can emerge on the platform of the party, it means they still see the party ticket as a winning factor in the contest of political power in the state.
And I think I am one of the aspirants and I think I am fully prepared to move into Osadebe Avenue after July 2012. I don’t know about the others, so I can tell you that the PDP is sufficiently mobilized, sufficiently activated, sufficiently focused and ready to engage any opposition or any government in power and re-claim Osadebe Avenue.
We didn’t lose it in an election; we lost the state through the court. So, this is the first time that we will be testing our popularity in the field and I have no doubt in my mind that the PDP knows what it is to be in opposition and we don’t want it to continue. That is the utmost motivation that drives all of us.
With what you experienced during the PDP governorship primaries in 2006/2007 at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, why are you still in the race?
I can assure you that my experience in the 2006/ 2007 governorship primaries was a great lesson in several ways. I have learnt bitter lessons, painful lessons,
I have had time to reflect, time to brood over it, some of those contradictions may not have been removed from the political landscape, but I think I am coming back as a more matured, more focused, more enlightened person and ready to confront the realities that comes out from what the political engagement might throw up.
I will continue to build on that and I think that has prepared me with enough focus to say yes, this time, I will do it right and the party will get it right.
In spite of these contradictions and humiliation as you said, some people had expected you to defect from the party but you still remain faithful to the party. What gives you that spirit to remain afloat within the PDP?
Yes, many people expected that I would have defected. In fact, I know that immediately after the governorship primaries, certain approaches were made to me at that time and I resisted them.
And several opportunities came up but I was by-passed and people had expected me also to leave the party.
It has been a very difficult time and it is not easy to stay six or seven years without even a Board membership from your party that you spent so much on; that you work so much for, you sacrificed so much for.
I believe that apart from Chief Tony Anenih who is at the top echelon of the party, I am properly the only Edo man who has done three National Conventions for the party in addition to rendering services to it at different levels, be it at appeals panels, governorship appeals, local government primaries and so on and so forth.
But there are insinuations that the governorship arrangement may not favour your Senatorial District?
The zoning in PDP begins with the election of the governor. Even President Goodluck Jonathan said so when he went to submit his form to the PDP and in the interview that he granted to the press. They asked him to comment on zoning within the party.
He said look, once you elect the President, you begin to zone other positions. The same thing is happening in the Edo State chapter of the PDP and we still respect zoning in Edo State. Strategically, it is best to pick somebody from Edo North Senatorial District where Governor Oshiomhole comes from and split his base. So that there will be no resort to Afemai Agenda or my brother, my sister campaign.
It would be a question of party loyalty and if you have a good programme, you can pick up those who are not members of political parties, but who are voters.
And we have strong leaders in Edo South and Edo Central who can hold their own and I think that will be a wining strategy for the PDP. I think whichever way it goes; I will be in the primaries because I have remained with the party.
I have been truthful to the party, I have sacrificed for the party, I have worked for the party, I have shed sweat and blood for the party, I have lost property for the party and I have worked out institutions, structures and processes for the PDP in Edo State and I am sure that the PDP people are not going to overlook that for a new comer or somebody who is just joining the party.
Politics aside, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is your friend. So, what is your assessment of his three years in office?
Well, we came from the same Senatorial Zone, we are both Afemai people, and we knew each other in the Trade Union Movement many, many years ago. I have a lot of respect for him as a human being. He is the governor of my State and I think he is doing his very best.
Every time, you can look at the state, they have done some roads; they are building some General Hospitals, some modern schools. I am not a charlatan to say those things have not happened.
But what I can say is that in the overall, I don’t think he has done very well. It is not enough to just do a few roads and I think roads that were already good; Mission Road, Akpakpava Road and Sapele Road, compared to other roads in Edo State, were excellent roads.
There are over 2 million potholes in Edo roads and I think those roads should be rehabilitated and refurbished so that people can use them; the feeder roads are not being touched at all and I think that is not good. But to use the roads he has done is not a good parameter for judging his performance in office.
Edo State is one of the States with the highest unemployment which has transcended into criminality and social deviance. In that area, there is no success.
We don’t see any industrialization, we don’t see small-scale industries, foreign investors are not coming here, we don’t see any seriously integrated packaged agricultural policy, and education is dying in Edo State due to criminal increase in school fees.
But even if you are going to increase school fees, you need to carry the stakeholders and constituencies along, but then you need to have some palliative measures like bursary and scholarships or loans, which I promise I will bring within the first six months if I become the Governor of Edo State because I know how this works and I can make it work.
On security, most of our businessmen, pastors, professionals and even furniture makers are relocating to Abuja and Lagos out of fear that they would be kidnapped.
That is not good. If you cannot provide secured environment for people, you cannot grow in business; you cannot grow creativity, you cannot grow initiative, and you cannot grow tourism. People are building hotels in every nook and cranny, but who is going to stay in these hotels where people are afraid that they would be attacked. So, if you take the totality,
Edo State can do better and I think I am the person that can do that. I have the education, I have the intellect, I have the exposure, I have the network nationally and internationally to make such significant and rapid changes that will go far beyond what the Comrade Governor has been able to achieve in his almost four years in office.