By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
Dr Pius Odubu is the Deputy Governor of Edo State. Penultimate Monday, he marked his 25th marriage anniversary and birthday in Benin-City with over two hundred children from different orphanages. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, led other lawmakers to attend the ceremony at Odubu’s official residence in the GRA, Benin-City. In this interview, the Deputy Governor explains why he married on his birthday, life in politics and his belief in Benin tradition.
How has it been in the last 25 years of marriage and the years you have spent in life?
It’s been a mixed bag; the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course, you might say that is fact of life. We can only pray that the good times beat the bad times. For me, it has been 99 per cent good times and perhaps one per cent bad times, and, for this, we give God the glory. He has been very kind to me and my family. Twenty-five years ago, one was still a single young man. I got married at 31, of course that was because I sojourned out of this country in 1977 in pursuit of higher education. Returning home required a lot of settling down. It also took us a while to find our missing rib and, when I found her, she was just a perfect match. Together we started this journey that today is 25 years old and, of course, to every married couple, you pray for the fruit of the womb and God has blessed us bountifully. We have four lovely children, two of whom are in the university; one in the fourth year the other one in the first year.
During this period, I have contested elections six times; twice into the council, twice into the House of Representatives and twice as deputy governor. Four were successful, the initial two were not quite successful, not because we didn’t win, but because we were rigged out. And God has used us, in these 25 years to impact on the lives of our people; first, in Orhionmwon/Uhunmwonde federal constituency for eight years; and now, at the state level, as deputy governor. We thank Him for giving us the privilege to serve. As to whether we have served well, we leave that to the people, but I can imagine that the verdict of the people will be on our side; otherwise we will not have been here this long.
Meeting my wife
Some of my friends tease me that I was not an adventurist; that I just reached out across my street and married my wife. My family house is at Osarenmwanta Street. The next street is Ewasede where the family house of my wife is located. The missing rib that I found turned out to be the perfect one. She has supported me in everything that I have done. In our trying moments especially during the time we failed in our bid to become the chairman of Orhionmwon, she stood by me marvelously. In fact, she is my most fervent prayer warrior. She is always praying for me and the family and indeed the people of Edo State.
Was it difficult for her to say yes when you proposed to her?
Well, one will not propose marriage at the first sight. Overtime we found out that we were a perfect match, and marriage was just a natural consequence of our relationship. In due course, I proposed and she graciously accepted.
But before you met her, how was your relationship with women like, did you smoke, drink…?
I have never tasted alcohol all my life, I’ve never smoked all my life, in fact, the kola they eat after prayers, I’ve never tasted it. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I guess you will say I must have been running around with women. I also didn’t do that. I grew up a very shy person. Up till now, I am a very shy person and that affected my relationship with the opposite sex. Naturally a shy person will not be one that will be everywhere with girls. I was not really there in the world. My own was that I saw my father and saw everything good in him; so I wanted to be like him. My father never smoked, never drank and, of course, doesn’t eat kola. I didn’t play the field and I am too old to start now. I have always lived a modest life with the fear of God in mind.
Why did you choose to marry on your birthday?
Like some of us will like to be special in what we do, to do things in a special way;, we decided that the date, July 1, being my birthday, ‘let us marry on that day such that it will be double celebration’. It has also given me the opportunity not to forget our anniversary. So it is always easy to remember that you got married on your birthday and it has worked for us.
Were you brought up as a Christian or a traditionalist?
It was a mixture of both. A man that is 93 years old and a Bini has a traditional home setting, but, of course, with the fear of God always. My father brought us up to fear God, to respect every other human being, to live a disciplined life. He is a disciplinarian extraordinaire and he also taught us that in all that he did and all that he is still doing, that God comes first, that God is the ultimate and that God is God. He believes that there is a God and that we must all serve Him. Even at his age now, he is still involved in the work of God. Being the oldest man in the village now, he has seen it all and we are trusting that God will give him a lot more years.
How do you see Christianity and tradition? I am asking because you are always referred to as a native doctor?
I grew up a Christian; don’t mind the Okakuo(Warrior) they call me now. I attended a Catholic school, St Pius Primary School, Urhomehe, now Iyobosa Primary School. I got baptized in 1966 and confirmed in 1967. I was baptized by Rev Fr Usenbor and confirmed by Bishop P. J. Kelly. After I finished primary school, I selected Immaculate Conception College, Edo College and Western Boys High School for the common entrance examination.
I passed both the written and oral examination, and was offered admission by all three schools. Since Immaculate Conception College is a Catholic school, it was only fitting that I attend Immaculate Conception College and that was where I now chose to go and I went into the boarding house and the rest is history. I grew up as a Christian. So I have always been a Christian. I believe in the Christian faith, I believe in God and I believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and personal saviour.
Growing up, I had a lot of admiration for Rev Fathers and I have always wanted to live a disciplined life. So I saw in them a disciplined group of persons committed to the work of God, but it didn’t cross my mind one day to be a Reverend Father. Instead, I wanted to be either a medical doctor, a soldier or a musician. I guess that is why I am Okakuo, that is the soldier in me. I can also sing and dance well, but I ended up being a lawyer. As for tradition, I love and respect the Benin tradition because it is a perfect representation of the Ten Commandments. The Benin tradition says thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not commit adultery, and thou shall not covet your neighbour’s properties and so on. I am a respecter of tradition and in view of my foray into politics in a largely rural constituency, I had to know my people and how to communicate with them in our native dialect which is Benin, and in doing so I had to now master the language to some extent. I also know that the Binis campaign more through songs and parables and I admire that in my father. So I keyed into it. I listened to elders a lot and got to know some very good Benin parables that fit in to situations. So when one is campaigning to the people, I resort to a parable that will suit the occasion and also a song that will capture the essence of the message one is trying to deliver. Also, I am able to do a step or two of the traditional Benin dance, so everybody now just said this man must be a native man. And the name native doctor became popularized by my boss and senior brother, Mr. Governor, who sometimes jovially refers to me as one (laughter). Everybody knows I am a devout Christian.
What inspired you into politics?
I was born into a family of politicians. My father, a renowned politician in the NCNC/Otue-Edo days in the Midwest region, was one of those that fought for the creation of Midwest region. He was a councilor at various times in the council, limited to the council because of his level of education. I am quite sure if he was educated, he would have gone further than that, but for more than five times, he was in the council as a councilor. My mother is of the Osunde family in Ugo, a popular family, very prosperous family and very influential family also into politics. I grew up with my father as a councilor seeing prominent men in the then Midwest Region, coming to see him in the village.
Then crime level was very low. As early as 2am in the night, they have started coming to see him. I saw all that, and believed that this man must be a very influential person that everybody comes to see and I wanted to be like him. So when I returned home after studies, I went to the law school, after which I participated actively in the zero party election that came up then. As a young lawyer, I also assisted in making it a success and joined forces with others that supported Dr Roland Ehigiamusoe as the council chairman then. When the new dispensation came, I was the state legal adviser for the Liberal Convention in the then Bendel State. Then came NRC and SDP. One was just content to support people, but the people said arising from the influence of my father and the role he played, that it was pay back time and they all nominated me to go to the council as the council chairman; that was indeed how I ventured into politics. I think it is more-or-less reaping from the good job my father did. I was invited to come and contest the election and the rest is history.
Being deputy governor and loyalty to Oshiomhole
It is easy to work with someone whose belief and ideas you share, it is easy to work with someone who, to a large extent, is like you. I have always believed in hard work, I have always lived a disciplined life; I have always harboured this innate conviction of serving the people. I have always wanted to do things that would bring satisfaction to the people; I have always wanted to serve the people. I saw these and perhaps more in the Governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. So it was just easy for me to key into his mission and vision. No two persons can be exactly the same but to a large extent, perhaps over ninety per cent, we have the same vision and mission, so it has been a seamless working relationship because firstly, people say I am very simple and humble, but I want to tell you that Mr. Governor is the embodiment of simplicity. Don’t mind the very serious mien you see in him. He is one person that is very simple to work with, easy going yet very disciplined and committed to the welfare of the people. So for me, he was simply the right person to work with. The only difference people see in us is that I am an introvert, and he is an extrovert and you know they say opposites attract. I like working behind the scene. I am publicity shy and do not talk much. I just like to do my job and move on. So for me, working with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has been a very pleasant experience, there has not been a single second of disagreement; not because I am Deputy Governor and bound to always agree with him, but because issues are tabled, discussed and consensus reached. In that situation, you can rarely find disagreement. I have had a swell time working with him and I promised to do my part to ensure that he is not distracted from giving his best to the good people of Edo state.
Best and worst moments
My happiest moments in government are quite a few. First, when I was picked by Mr Governor, then Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, as his running mate. Secondly, when we were able to reclaim our mandate in court, third when I was picked again by him as his running mate, fourth, and perhaps my happiest moment, was the ground breaking ceremony of the construction of Evboeghae-Ugo-Urhonigbe road in Orhionmwon Local Government Area. From the beginning of time, that road has been very deplorable. We have always wished for the road to be asphalted, so when Mr. Governor performed the ground breaking ceremony, it became one of my happiest moments in government.
My most difficult time was the re-nomination exercise for our second term. For those of you that were in Edo State and indeed Nigeria, my nomination became the issue. It was as if I was the one contesting for governorship. It was difficult because as a deputy governor, you were not expected to campaign for re-nomination. Ideally, it was the responsibility of the governor in consultation with party leaders and elders to pick his running mate, but mine was so contentious as if one was going to contest election into it and in all of these,
I was not supposed to campaign, I was not supposed to do anything. So I was just at the mercy of the people who were throwing all manners of serious rubbish at me from all corners. It was a trying period for me because one was not permitted, allowed or supposed to go out and also state his case and campaign to the people. It would have been very easy for me to do, but we thank God that Mr. Governor saw through it all and stuck by me. I also want to appreciate the good people of Edo state who throughout that period stood by me in their various commentaries. Some took advertorials; some went through the social media in support of my re-nomination exercise. I also want to thank the traditional institution for throwing their weight behind my re-nomination. You are aware of the role the traditional institution played, how they spoke in my favour that I have been very diligent and that I have been very capable and able and that you don’t change a winning team so that for me was the most trying time in government.