By BILESANMI OLALEKAN
Solomon Edebiri contested the 2012 governorship election on the platform of All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, in Edo State. His party is teaming up with other parties to form the now All Progressives Congress, APC, for the forthcoming elections. In this interview, he says the emergence of APC is good for Nigeria, democracy and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, controlled Federal Government even as he returns to the drawing board for the 2016 governorship election in Edo State. Excerpt:
Do you think the APC experiment can work?
Yes, it will work. Let everybody, the Federal Government, PDP support it because it is only by doing so that they can help the polity . it is going to stimulate the polity in a positive direction, it is going to create healthy competition in the polity, it is a complete exercise of domination where one party tends to dominate the others. If you look at the polity today, you will see that it is one national party which is the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Other parties are regional.
ACN is merely a regional party, known in the West. If you look at ANPP, it only won election in the North-east and West of the North. And you know certainly well that if you go to APGA, it is a mere eastern party. The CPC only won election in the North. What the merger has come to do is to put these regional parties together, so that we can have a true national party so that while you are saying PDP is a true national party, you can be saying the same of APC. Of course other parties like Labour, Accord and the rest will still be around.
Secondly, having multi-national parties would make the ruling party to be on its toes so that it can sit up, because once you know there are other parties which can remove you in the next election, you will work hard. This is a positive development, we should pray for its success, and we should allow it to work.
Your party appears not to see any tangible merit in the emergency rule in some parts of the North. Do you agree?
I don’t think there is any time too late to impose emergency rule in these troubled states. It is better to act late than not acting at all. The decision of the president is well taken. We cannot have two governments in a nation. You cannot have two military authorities in a country. When a group tries to make the nation ungovernable, of course the commander-in-chief of the armed forces rose to the occasion. I believe he should have taken the decision earlier, but, as I said earlier, every government has its style.
The style of the president may be to explore all options until when all options seem not to be working, he can now take the inevitable one which was the emergency rule. And I hope it corrects the situation at the end of the day. But, beyond that, I think we should look for a permanent solution to insecurity in the country, I believe it should be addressed permanently. People cannot just wake up one day and start taking the people for a ride just because they feel they have arms and become lords unto themselves. It is like those who are kidnapping people for a million naira and above which has suddenly become free-for-all trade. I think the president must rise up to these challenges.
You contested under the ANPP platform during the last election, though some have argued that it was a good man contesting on the platform of a wrong party?
One problem we have in politics is that when you lose election, you go back to sleep. I think that is immaturity. As soon as the election was over, I called my people that we should go back to the drawing board and start strategizing for 2016; so we have started on the road to 2016. That the platform I sought to govern Edo State was faulty was not correct. Two things worked against us. First, the mentality of the people. We have not completely taken away the personality rather than party away from our electoral system ,but we are gradually getting to that. Second is the incumbency factor.
The performance of the governor aided the election in favour of the governor. Knowing fully well that from where Edo was before coming to office after about 10 years of PDP administration, of course Oshiomole was making the difference and it was even a visible difference. People will naturally say, ‘oh, this man has done this, let us vote for him again’. But a lot of people called us at the end of the election saying, ‘don’t worry’ Edebiri, you are the best candidate in this contest but please let us allow this man to finish his second term so that he can conclude all that he has started’.
I know that you can never conclude anything in governance. The only thing is that one must sustain that continuity factor, so that somebody must be able to continue from where the immediate person stops. That was another factor that didn’t help our case. And if you look at it, they are germane factors because nobody would have done otherwise in the face of these factors. Now we are going to 2016, there will be no incumbency factor as everybody is going to be coming on a level playing ground and a lot of us will go into the primaries as APC, not ANPP against ACN or CPC. All of us are going into the same house to vie for one ticket.
Many people think the primaries could actually be the beginning of the end of APC eventually?
Contest is contest, it has nothing to do with unity of the party. The party is one but when one, two, three, four begin to have an interest in a particular position, of course the party will be divided along that line. The party would be split into four interest groups, in fact into five because there is going to be a group that is neither here nor there. Once the contest is over and one person emerges as the candidate, everybody will rally together to give him total support.
Are you sure they will?
Of course, there is no reason why they should not.
You talk confidently about a party that is not fully on ground?
Yes I am confident of the party because I have been part of the process, all through. And the way we arrived at the name of the party ,the logo, constitution, manifestoes, the way decisions have been taken so far by the committee, shows that it is a party that is united. I have been part of the internal machinery right from the very day the idea of the merger was mooted. I was and still part of the merger committee, sub-committees, part of my own party committee, I was the vice deputy chairman, South–south of my party.
So I am equipped enough to know what is going on. The way we have come along in the last six months from February when we said we should form the merger shows that, yes, there would be political divide when the time comes, particularly during internal election, but as soon as it is over, we shall put it behind us. Like when we were coming up with the logo, we were divided, may be four different camps, but, as soon as decision was taken on the type of logo we wanted, everybody came together and accepted it.
But we have seen how ambitions of members divide parties…
For APC, ambitions should be put aside until we have fully consummated. A lot of the leaders who are ambitious have said they are willing to say yes and no;. they are willing to step aside for the party to carry on. What the people want is what they will take. That is one of the decisions that have been taken by a lot of the leaders. So I don’t see a situation where at the end of the day if you are given a position, you will decamp, decamp to where? PDP? You won’t go to PDP.
A political party must have people with ambitions, but all of them cannot be in one office. If 10 people are interested in being a governor, of course we all know that it is only one person that will emerge eventually. We must learn to develop accepting favourable results so that if you win, to God be the glory and if you lose, all the same, you just move closer to them in order to move the state forward.
So it is not a do-or-die for you?
No, no. If the people say they don’t want me, fine. We will rally round whoever emerges for the good of the state. The people is the issue here, not me or the other person contesting. We must do everything in our power to continue to protect their interest. I have my work. I don’t live on politics to survive. I am a professional. If they give me the opportunity to help my people, fine, if it turns out the other way, fine, I return to my office, just as I did in 2007 and just as I have done now.
You contested the last election, and you intend to contest the 2016 election, is it compulsory you contest for the office of governor?
I need a position where I can help my people and the only position where you can effectively help your people is the executive position. I have been around many countries of the world and I have seen a lot of things and I know that there are lot of things still lacking in Edo State and the only way I can be of help is to go for an elective position; without that, it will be difficult to achieve all those things. Yes, as senator, you can have impact but not as immediate as that of the office of the governor.
Do you have the war chest to execute this ambition?
No, I don’t. But it does not end there because politics is changing. You must not have all the funds to execute the project. We are working and we are earning money and we are sure that between now and 2016, we would be able to put in a lot of resources to execute the project. Because of the way the people have accepted us, we are not going to spend that kind of money others will be spending for the same project at the end of the day. We are going to ride on the good will of the people because they have already seen us, they know our capability and they know that their money will be safer after Oshiomhole in the hands of Edebiri; so they will be willing to give us their support. Already we have grassroots support.
Can you objectively assess governance in Edo State?
I have said it before that this government’s performance is a good departure of the previous. And the governor has done quite a lot but, given what is on ground, I think he still has a lot to cover. But I can say that the good work he has laid as foundation will help subsequent governments coming. He has done very well, no doubt about that. As a matter of fact, his performance is now going to be used as benchmark for the in-coming government because you must perform better than him if you must be taken seriously at the end of the day.