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I’m not experimenting with public funds – Oshiomhole

EDO: THE NE XT 4 YEARS: I’m not experimenting with public funds – Oshiomhole
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Governor Adams Oshiomhole was his bouncy self penultimate Saturday evening in the Presidential Guest House, Benin as he prepared for the interaction with a team of visiting journalists.

It was a fitting time for the Comrade Governor to reflect on the journey of the last four years and pep into what the next four years portend for the historic legacy he has clearly established.

Oshiomhole: I am no godfather

Oshiomhole’s first term has clearly reconnected the people of the Heartbeat State with government given the infrastructural impact of the administration in the last four years. At the twilight of his first term Oshiomhole still carried on with an enthusiasm quite unusual for one with a second term in his pocket.

The Comrade Governor was, however, to explain that to him winning election for the second term was not the end of what friends and foe have come to regard as the Oshiomhole phenomenon.He spoke on his plans, politics and philosophy of government among other issues. Excerpts:

How did you feel when some workers took exception to your move to collect taxes?

For me, we had to re-educate the people that it is in the interest of the poor that taxes are paid. For every one naira you pay, someone else is going to pay one million naira. But the good news is that what then accrues from the process will be put to public use in a way that is not value-free, but one that is deliberately skewed to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

Initially, they went on strike largely because they misunderstood what mine involvement in politics represents. First, I believe that a worker must earn his wage. We don’t pay salary out of pity, we pay salary because they have been earned. So, if you don’t work I am not going to excuse you because even in the world of labour, workers in their wisdom have had cause to hire and fire their own leaders who they believe did not perform optimally. So, if you don’t work and we sack you, there is no contradiction.

I said to workers that when I was in the NLC that a worker mustn’t see himself just as a wage taker, he is first and foremost a citizen and what determines his quality of life is not the factor of pay. As important as it is, it is the overall way in which the polity and the economy is managed or if you like, mismanaged.

You have eight hours to spend at work and you have 16 hours to spend outside work, so if the world outside the workplace is not properly looked after, your wage level will not determine your overall quality of life which means that the state or the worker must be interested with what government does with regards to healthcare, water supply, power supply, etc.

So, when you ask workers to understand why we must draw a critical balance between what goes to wages and what goes to healthcare, education, water supply, environment, it is a matter of communication. He doesn’t understand in the short run, it is your lot to persuade him and I think in a sense after the first one or two years, we had greater understanding.

I let them know that if we give you good wages and you buy a car and the roads are bad, where do you drive it? So, there are challenges.

So, it is about having a balanced policy with regards to direct and indirect compensation. Direct in terms of wages, indirect in terms of access to healthcare, to good roads, to water supply, to electricity etc.

Did you get to understand these issues as governor or did you know them as a unionist?

Even when I was in the NLC I was always clear that wages are important, but wages alone do not determine the quality of living, it is wages taken together with other factors. So, I have always understood that. But let me say that the logic of organising remains valid, namely that for every kobo that accrues to government, there are competing interests. Who gets what is often a function of who is able to exert power. In Nigeria of today, some people would say that given the paucity of funds why do we pay a minimum wage of N18,000. Good argument.

But someone would also say, if you cant pay N18,000 why should a governor be travelling with 10 vehicles in a convoy? Why is it that we can afford to fly some people overseas for malaria treatment? So, there is no question in my mind. I remain convinced that even the best kind hearted governor needs to be reminded not to forget the social purpose of governance.

So, I am not surprised. I have benefited from union pressure. I have. Because there are also other forces that make demands on your office and how you eventually resolve them will depend on first, who you think you can persuade to give up his rights or who you can manage or contain easier. Something must give. But the difference between me and other governors is that I am not surprised when workers go on strike, I am not hostile to the idea because I recognise the legitimacy of a strike action. But additionally, I also know that when you misuse the weapon, I am supposed to keep you in check because that is a game in which I can be said to be a veteran.

I also think that the worker doesn’t see me as his class enemy so even when we disagree it is like a family disagreement.

That deep seated suspicion, ‘that you know these guys, they don’t trust us, they don’t like us, they are opposed to us’ they don’t look at me in those terms. Conversely, I don’t see the worker when he is protesting and say, ‘he has ulterior motive, he just wants to discredit me, somebody is using him.’

Because sometimes, when those in government talk like that I used to feel offended when they accuse us that we are being used. It is as if, if I am not being used, I don’t know I deserve a wage increase. I don’t deserve healthcare? I don’t deserve to have my pension paid as at when due? I need to be told by somebody that I needed to be treated with respect and dignity?

Whereas some others read ulterior motives, I don’t. Even when I do not agree with the method, I also understand that sometimes under certain circumstances, workers could make legitimate mistakes in the terms of the strategies they opt for in their quest to get matters resolved in certain ways.

Whereas some other persons always think that when those things happen that ‘my opponent must be behind it’. So, for me, I am very much at home.

Nigerian governors often slow down in the second term after winning re-election. What is the assurance that you would sustain the momentum that was seen in your first term?

But let me say one thing to you, what I do is out of my conviction, that the people are entitled to get value for the resources that the state or the operators of state appropriate in the name and in the authority of the people. It is my conviction. It is not something that I have done so that I might remain. It is what I have done because I believe in it. After all, when I was in the NLC, I took risks, including life threatening risks, not so that I might remain because there is no benefit, but because I believed in it.

But if you are an opportunist, then the question will be an issue. But if you act out of conviction, it is not an issue because you get satisfaction everyday that you convince yourself that you have given yourself to your state.

I am aware that there are many governors who didn’t perform and they did more than eight years. Not just eight years, they did more than eight years, precisely because they did not perform. Let me explain. Because they didn’t perform, they did not win an election, then they rigged themselves back to office, then the court found that they rigged the election and the court nullified the election, they then perfected the rigging and then they were returned to office and then ended up doing another four years plus the rigged period, then they ended up doing more than eight years.

So in terms of the empirical evidence, people have been rewarded for non-performance in this country. So, there are people who believe that the best way to remain in office is not to perform but to accumulate money and then buy over all the controlling instruments, including police, INEC and other security agencies and then you will have your return certificate, written even before the election day!

So, for me what I have done in the first term is not because I needed a second term, but because I believe that was the right thing to do and I am conscious that I am accountable not only to Edo people, I am accountable to all Nigerians who were curious and said, ‘lets see what the comrade would do’

In fact, the American Counsellor General when she visited Edo some years ago, I said to her, one of my policies is that I don’t make experiment with public funds. She asked, what do I mean, I said if I want to build it a road, I wont give it to a contractor who is not known to have performed elsewhere and she said, ironically, you are the newest experiment. By this she meant, the world is watching how an activist will perform as a governor.

So, I am conscious of that. Even in the media, I have friends who have written extensively in my favour when I was in the NLC and opinion was divided whether a “successful” labour leader could also be good in government. Some pointed at Chiluba in Zambia who apparently wasn’t successful, but there were those who pointed at Lula in Brazil who was very successful. So, if it is possible to be successful, it is also possible to fail but I believe I will be successful because I have deep convictions and I believe that the only honour in public office is to be remembered with what you have been able to accomplish for the vast majority of the people. So, I have acted purely out of conviction.

When you talk to Edo people and they will tell you that if it is about electoral calculations, I have put resources where the vote that would come from the area is not necessarily commensurate with the amount of resources I have put there and I have worked consciously in places where people didn’t vote for me in 2007 which explains this time around it was easy for me to say and for the people to believe that if you didn’t vote for a man and he worked for you, what happens if you vote for him. So, I have acted out of conviction.

Are you the new godfather in town?

The contest in Edo was not to replace one godfather with another, it was to liquidate godatherism. My problem was not that we had a bad godfather, it was that we didn’t need godfathers because by their very nature in politics they can only exert negative influence. So, if I saw godfather as something negative, then I cannot plot to liquidate one and replace him with myself. No, that is not it.

I think Edo is now free of godfatherism, the people have taken charge and the difference is clear. We will never return to godfatherism.

But sometimes it is not deliberate act to become a godfather and most people who were in the PDP under the previous godfather or godfather would see ACN…

(Interrupts) I think you point is under the previous godfather because there is no more godfather (laughter).

Ok, after four years would you not influence your successor?

You have asked a very interesting question. Should anybody be uninterested about his future? Will that be a positive value or quality to be celebrated? That I am not interested in my future. Don’t forget that my citizenship of Nigeria and my indegenship of Edo State will not end with my tenure and every indigene of Edo State will always be interested about the future of this state. You don’t have to be a governor to be interested about who becomes a governor because you have vested interest, mainly to be governed by decent human beings who will creatively apply public resources for the good of the majority.

So, I am not apologetic and it will be stupid if I were not to be interested about the future governance of this state. So, obviously, I would be. But not anymore than any roadside mechanic would be or any other person.

To be interested is not intrinsically wrong. I think we need to find a way to define the concept of godfatherism in the context in which we talk about it in Edo State as a system in which one man, or two, three people can sit down and say, you will be the next governor. Why? ‘Because you would listen to me, I will tell you when to wake up and when to go to sleep. By your nature you cannot ask question.’ ‘You, will not be because we cannot manage you. You are likely to ask questions and you will contest issues, we don’t want troublesome people.’ ‘Your allocation has arrived, don’t touch it until I have told you what to do with it.’

These are the issues. If you ask many people around Edo State government, those who are managing commissions, including local governments, they will tell you that they now have freer hands than was ever the case before because I think if you give a man responsibility, he should be able to do it. If you are a tier of government it is up to you how you manage.

So, no godfather can succeed anymore in Edo State . Even the old godfather before the total liquidation had tried to moderate, but too little, too late! People are no more going to accept that XYZ will be your candidate and that is it.

No, that is not going to happen.

You sacked some commissioners last year reportedly because they couldn’t deliver their constituencies during the general elections, is that part of your performance appraisal?

Not because they couldn’t deliver, but because they consciously worked against the party. If people don’t vote for you, it is not your fault, but if you work against the party because your preferred candidate was not selected by the majority, that is unacceptable. That is what we fought against; that the person who emerged as a candidate, some people didn’t like him so they decided to work against him. They are free to express support for a preferred candidate, but once a candidate emerges, we are all obliged to work for the candidate.

Do you believe in power shift?

I believe in power shift. I think that to surmount the geopolitical challenges of Nigeria , we need it. At this level of development, we cannot be too idealistic about it. But the good news is that there is no part of the country where we do not have power issues. No matter where it shifts to, another Oshiomhole will not be the next governor.


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