Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state celebrated his third year anniversary last Saturday in a grand style. It witnessed different Nigerian artistes. Edo people also used the occasion to watch an International friendly between the Super Eagles and the Bostwana National team. Amidst his anniversary events, Saturday Vanguard cornered the Labour leader turned Governor for this exclusive interview.
And as usual, he bares his mind on some of the security problems bedeviling the state, his optimism on President Goodluck Jonathan led administration and the proposed removal of the fuel subsidy. Governor Oshiomhole also speaks on his preparedness for the forthcoming 2012 governorship election in the state, asserting that “this election will be the easiest for me”, among other national issues. Excerpts:
Nigerians are worried about
the menace of Boko Haram sect. How can we check the problem?
The Federal authority should know all the facts because I am sure they have facts which I cannot have. And I want to believe that they are dealing with it to the best of their ability. This is something that is completely known. But I believe the government is doing its best to tackle it.
You know security issues are not easy. I am sure there are couples of things they must be doing that they cannot discuss in the media. We just pray that somehow we are able to sort out this issue. I like to believe that the Federal Government is doing its best. I think everybody is worried that things we used to watch in the movie or on TV are now happening here. But I am aware that the Federal Government is trying to acquire some gadgets to check the excesses of both the Boko Haram and kidnappers. For us here, we have made effort to empower security agencies in Edo. Over four 400 kidnappers have been arrested and facing trial today in the state. We have bought about 100 vehicles and communication gadgets to assist them. And they are doing their best. But my appeal here is that when I see the PDP in Edo state talking about insecurity in the state, I ask who is responsible for security? The security of Nigerians is in the hands of the Federal Government and it is a PDP government. All security agencies are under the Federal Government. We are just here to advise and to compliment the effort of the Federal Government. But the constitutional responsibility for peace and security is the responsibility of the Federal Government. And when they are talking about security, they are indicting the PDP government because that is where the power resides. Do you know that I have given a couple of orders that a couple of people should be arrested? They told me no, that Abuja has given a counter order and those people are walking freely in the streets. However, I know that President Jonathan is doing his best to solve these problems.
Removal of fuel subsidy
Nigeria for me is a reality. We passed through the civil war and we cannot break up. Yes, some of our country men and women are angry but I believe in the unity of this country and I will work on the side of one Nigeria.
The problem is that we have far too many, greedy and selfish people who are ready to undermine the system if it does not work according to their selfish interest. I do not see how oil subsidy affects the disintegration of Nigeria. It was not oil that brought us together. The issue of debating whether oil subsidy should stay or go has been on right from the time of the military, so you cannot say that the military never thought of it.
Whether it stays or goes is not what will disintegrate the country. But I think we should be careful in the way we comment on very serious national issues. We have seen many countries passing through serious economic turmoil. United States was almost going bankrupt just few months back. They had to pass a law to raise their borrowing requirement. Greece is currently going through serious liquidity crisis, almost bankrupt. They are dealing with it their own way. The entire Europe is experiencing economic crisis but I have not heard anybody talking about disintegration. Disintegration is not the solution. This country must be defended and we must defend the country. I think we can engage in a very healthy national conversation. What is the best way to fix the economy? Should subsidy be removed or should it stay? This for me is a healthy national conversation, but no one should go beyond that and talk about disintegration. Nigerian cannot be on the mercy of few individuals.
PDP has vowed to recapture Edo in 2012. How prepared are you for the 2012 guber race ?
I appreciate your recollecting their exact word. They want to take over. That is a military language. Coups have been outlawed and it remains outlawed. Those who are still wallowing in the past that they want to take over are day dreaming. That is probably why I heard they are considering a General, may be they expect the General will bring out the guns from the barracks. They will use the armed forces, both serving and retired to rig the election for the General. That is probably why they are using the word take over.
But I am sure that the General will reconcile with the reality that coup plotting is not in place in a democracy. The people will vote. He has to persuade those voters and we will meet in the field. And he will be able to speak to his pedigree and I will be able to speak to my pedigree. Both when he was a soldier and myself when I was in the NLC. Everybody has a pedigree before we came here and we will enlighten Edo people to look at the characters and ask themselves the question, who can we trust?
That issue will come. But I believe that politics is not magic, it is not one of those miracles. We can see through the behavioral pattern of the electorate. Since we assumed office here, on the basis of a certain campaign against godfatherism which is a campaign against imposition, campaign against pocketing public resources and subjecting the people to wallow in hopelessness, Edo people have since bought this message.
I take you down memory lane. By January 2009, from the PDP leader down to their stewards, they were boasting that my being Governor was because the judiciary was just generous to me; that otherwise Edo was a PDP state. What is their evidence? They pointed to the fact that all the members of the National Assembly were PDP, all the Local Government chairmen were PDP, that the state House of Assembly had the 2/3 members in PDP. They came to a conclusion that I was a governor by chance; that it was because Chief Anenih had disagreement with Osunbor that was why I won the case in court as if Chief Anenih controls the judiciary.
It is not courtesy of Chief Anenih. It is because they rigged the elections. And we are able unlike in the past where once you rigged election, they called you and gave you some money and asked you to forget the mandate. They tried to do it to me, they offered me over N2.5billion to forget the election. I said no I cannot monetize it because my purpose of getting into politics was not because I needed money to complete my family house.
I wanted an opportunity to make a difference. I also reminded them that people died for that election, so I could not do that.
From that situation, we went into some bye elections arising from the nullification of some of the elections they rigged. When we won the first one in Akoko Edo, Chief Anenih said I deceived him, that the next time around, he would teach us a lesson. If you remember, it was after Akoko Edo election that he started abusing me; that I don’t know the difference between labour and politics, that they will chase me out of government House.
That was how we defined the battle line. I have defined the struggle till date. After Akoko Edo, it we went to Etsako Central election. Under Prof.Iwu, Chief Anenih had all the influence. They got Iwu to post away the Resident Electoral Commissioner because the man was obstructing them from rigging in Akoko Edo. They brought in an INEC Resident Officer one Raji who they have used in rigging election in other places. They ask him to come to Edo.
The then Minister of Defence, General Abbe, decided to disband our Operation Thunderstorm because he felt that it would create an obstacle for them, in terms of the arms they wanted to move to the area. And they even decided to impress on the then Inspector General of Police that they should bring Police from Abuja. They brought police from Abuja under the command of an AIG.
But I said they could change everybody but they could not relocate Edo people. We went into that election. They tried to rig and we got some of them arrested and we won them hands down. After that, we went for another election in Akoko Edo and we defeated them again. We also had a re-run in Ovia South West again we won the election.
The godfather now knew that people of Edo state were determined. You cannot see what is good and replace it with what is bad. And of course, they said because those elections were isolated, that when we had a general election, where everybody is manning his own area, that they will use all their Federal might and resources to fight. We went into this last election. They spent so much money yet we rooted them out. The whole of Edo South, the largest senatorial district, they could not win even one seat. We now know how they do their rigging and that is why they are in the cage today. In Edo North, even with Senator Braimoh and Akogun, the leader of the House of Reps, we defeated them beyond any question. The whole of Edo South, they lost their deposit. The whole of Edo North, they lost their deposit. In Edo Central, we made few mistakes; first we fielded one or two wrong candidates. One of them has already returned to PDP.
That shows we should not have fielded that candidate. One DPO that has been working for the godfather tampered the election in that area but we still won in some areas. Yes, they won few seats in the Central. Then we had the Presidential election.
Our members supported Jonathan and they came up with one trick, telling people that from now on everything, is PDP but I came out to say no; that was only for Jonathan now. We must be back to pure politics. And we defeated them in the general election. On the basis of evidence, just last April, we are not talking of few years ago, few months back, we moved the people back to ACN after the Presidential election and we won. We won two senatorial seats. Of the 10 House of Reps we won eight, of the 24 House of Assembly, we won 19. So where is the godfather’s strength? We have confined him to his area and he is down and out. The only reason that he is still breathing is that Abuja has placed him on political oxygen but how far can he go? He can be relevant in Abuja but in Edo, people have moved on. I keep saying it put the PDP’s name in a ballot paper and my name in a ballot paper, I will defeat him even in his village. Because I can pinpoint what we have done in his village. I have built a road and schools in his village. As far as I am concerned, when they say they will capture, that is a military language. They must democratise their language because if they don’t know, elections will be conducted on the basis of one man one vote. Many people have told me that they said they will flood Edo with soldiers both retired and serving. I will like to see. If President Goodluck Jonathan did not use soldiers to rig elections for him, how their own retired General who was not in the combatant wing will use the army, serving and retired, to rig election in Edo state. We are waiting to see how he will do it. But if you ask me, this election will be the easiest because it is not being contested by strangers. I have been here. The people can see what I have done in three years. The PDP has been here. The people can see what they did in 10 years. Even the road, with due respect to Prof.Osunbor, he built some roads but Simon, where are those roads now? The roads have all failed because they built them without drainage.
The election will be won and lost on the basis of issues. The report card of PDP between 1999 and 2008 and ACN report card to July when the election will take place, that will be about three and half years. Then the second level is to look at the character, who is Oshiomhole and then the people will look at whoever will be their candidate. They will look at his pedigree, his accomplishment. Some of us have been detained in the course of the union work. We can say why we were detained. If they have also been detained in the course of their own work, they should be able to tell us also why they were detained. The beauty of democracy is that once you have come to the village square, you are entitled to go through the extreme. It is not going to be what they are thinking that they will print result sheets and announce results then we can go to court. I want to see how they can do it. For me, I want to continue to deliver to the people of Edo state, use the current mandate to the fullest so as to justify why we are asking for a second mandate.
PDP says the federal government contributed to most of the on-going school projects, that it is not the sole effort of your government.
You know when I read all these PDP lies, my only complain is that it is not in the mouth of a liar to lie to those who know the truth. The media knows the truth. Therefore, if you find people who live and survive on lies over the year, you just ignore them. This is why we call them People Decieve People or Papa Decieve Pickin. PDP was in government since 1999. In Edo state, at the state level, at the Local Government level. They had absolute control of every thing. And the Federal Government is a PDP Government since 1999. If it is true that the funds were there just for people to take, what stops them from going to Abuja to collect the money to develop the state. After all, some of them in their electioneering campaigns against my candidature said Edo state should not be isolated, they should be in the main stream of politics. Now, how come they who were in the heart of PDP with their godfather as the leader of PDP, did not get the money to develop the state if what they are saying is the truth? In fact, that makes it more annoying and that is the more reason Edo people should stone them. You are part of the Federal government, the “Leader” here, the godfather is the leader of PDP at the national level. You said these funds were there. Why did you not take them. It means they hated our people. Let me tell you, there is a Universal Basic Education and I did not hide the fact that I was shocked on assumption of office that for six years PDP government refused to access the UBE fund because they were not ready to contribute the counterpart funding. And I decided that we must raise the counterpart funding which they were not prepared to do ,even when I met an empty treasury. Because when I assumed office, not one dime was in the treasury. I met a huge debt of N10billion. So we raised N2.5billion to pay the counterpart fund so as to develop the state. So for me, these are just empty, incoherent, laughable statements which for me portray them more as people who are in politics with no purpose.
Their second allegation is that we have been borrowing. Again , you go to the stock market, you know how much the Federal Government has borrowed or is borrowing. Within our South South region here, I am surrounded by PDP controlled states. You know how much they have borrowed through the capital market and you know how much they earn from Federal allocation, Edo is the least in this region. We have only gone to the stock marker once and we raised only N25billion where others have raised N100bilion, others N50billion. For us to raise that money, we had to demonstrate that we have the capacity to pay back and from December last year when this bond matured, we paid from the Federation Account because it is deducted at source, N520million monthly to service that bond, including both capital and the accruing interest rate which we are already paying into a fund that is being managed by a board approved by the Stock Exchange. As we speak, this year alone, we have already paid over N6billion.
So what is left now is N19billion? You see, people who have no brains will not be able to understand how government works. But the important thing is only to remind them that this government is not the first to take bond in Edo state. The PDP Government also accessed bond in Edo state. The issue is have we pocketed this money? The money is still available and that is why not one of our contractors has abandoned site on account of none payment. We are the least borrowed state across the country.
Allegation of expending N3billion for 3rd year anniversary celebration
Even if these people don’t know God, even if they must lie by habit, at least they should lie in a way that makes some sense. What is the line up of the anniversary that it will cost even a hundred million not to talk of N3billion? What they are confused about is the fact that this government enjoys enormous goodwill. I am sure when they heard that the Super Eagles were coming to play an international march with Botswana at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, they thought that Oshiomhole must have hired them. I will get a copy of the letter from Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to you where they said, ‘Comrade, we want to come to Benin to acknowledge your contribution to the development of sports and development in the state’. (He gave the letter to Saturday Vanguard).
So we did not lobby, we are not the one paying. This is purely the gift from NFF, not out of pity for us but in acknowledgement of what we have done. When we were doing these roads in Benin, they said all we were planting flowers. When we wanted to do the Airport Road, they said we wanted to destroy the Oba’s palace. But thank God, the Oba is far more knowledgeable and more exposed than any of these political rascals. We said we were going to remove those funny roundabouts which Osunbor put on Akpakpava Road, to create an additional lane to make it three lanes, they said it was impossible. But today, people hardly remember those funny looking PDP roundabouts on Akpakpava road.
When we decided to build additional two service lanes on Ugbowo road to Uwelu to create additional lanes, the then Minister of State for Works said it was impossible; that he would revoke the contract. How can you revoke what is not yours. There is nothing we have planned here to do that they have not tried to twist. But for me it does not bother me anymore because the people are watching and seeing our developments. In any case, if they said Edo is broke and we are spending N3billion, where did we now get the money?
How has it been ruling Edo state in the past three years?
For me it has been quite exciting, no dull moment. As I have said to many people I thank God that I decided to get into politics and I thank him for what he has used his infinite powers to accomplish for us in terms of being able to prevail over some of these very powerful dark forces that have dominated the state for a long time. I have come to the conclusion that our people are extremely easy to govern. And they are a very appreciative people.
They are willing and ready to corporate for anything they believe is in the interest of the majority. I have had enormous support across social classes, even to some extent across political divide. So it has been a very rewarding experience for me. But I must confess that in the first few months in office, I was a very troubled man. I was troubled by the fact that I assumed office at the peak of the oil crisis, oil prices collapsed and the allocation to Edo state also collapsed to a level that was below what we needed to pay salaries. And given my back ground there was so much expectations.
But three years down the road, I am a much more happier person, far more confident and with a sense of fulfillment, I am proud that from what seems to be a complete hopeless situation one has been able to re-engineer the governance of the state, the politics of the state such that even my most ardent critique now accept that tings has changed and Edo is changing. At least we have cured our people of that self doubt, now our people again can proudly refer Edo as the true heart beat of our great country. I feel quite happy that God has used me and other people in government to bring about this re-awakening and to God be the glory.