By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin City
Former Minister of State for Works, Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi is one of the governorship aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he declares that Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who is being backed by Governor Adams Oshiomhole cannot intimidate him out of the race. He insists that his 35-year experience in the oil sector and popularity in the state will propel him to victory. Excerpts:
Sir, you were in PDP and now in APC; what will you say is the difference since you joined the governorship race under the APC?
On the issue of internal democracy, comparing the PDP and the APC, I think the APC has put in place a mechanism to allow aspirants to demonstrate their interest in any office. That was something that never existed in the PDP. That of the PDP is a situation where the party leadership and godfathers were too dominant. In the APC, there is a level-playing field for everybody to participate and that is the difference between them, and I am very happy about that.
But some other aspirants have raised alarm over alleged plans to manipulate the delegate list in favour of a particular aspirant; what happened?
To me it was a rumour that was everywhere in the state, that there was this plan to distort the list of delegates but the national leadership of the party dispelled that rumour, explaining that they have the authentic list of the delegates, so it cannot be changed. They said no addition nor subtraction will be done on the list until after the primary, and that gave us confidence.
For the delegates, my message for them is that they should look at the aspirants based on their manifestoes, based on issues and how they proffer solutions. Delegates should look at aspirants in terms of their credibility, their work experience, their pedigree, and the delegates believe in our core values. This is my advice to them; that the era of money politics should be de-emphasised. The era of throwing up eba and rice is no longer fashionable in our today politics.
If this is done, the delegates will have the sincere mind to elect who they believe will represent the party better. APC in doing this, should realise that there is a major election in September, so they must ensure that they have a candidate that has the capacity to defeat the PDP come September. Edo State must remain an APC state because the centre is APC. We don’t want to play opposition politics any more.
Were you not intimidated seeing the National Assembly and Edo State Assembly APC members picking nomination form for Obaseki, and each time he holds event they are all in attendance, unlike some of you?
If you see what I navigated in my career to get to the top, you will know that I am a man of courage. Because of my courage and the desire of the people more than the desire of the few in the House of Assembly that did this, because the people want real change, the mass will subsume those few numbers that picked the form for him.
The truth is that the people have decided; they need a man who can create jobs, a man who has the capacity, a man who is independent, not a man being carried. We have heard so many stories; one man from Kano State is bringing money; another from Lagos State is bringing money. These people never bought their own states. We are not for sale. The time has come to take our destiny in our own hands. Whatever it will take, we will fight oppression, we will fight deceit; we are not cowards.
Talking about money politics, we are aware that some of the aspirants are scared of you too, because they fear you have the deep pocket to outsmart any of them; don’t you see this as an advantage in this race?
I just came back from the US where I went to witness the primaries in two states, New York and Indiana. My brother, you don’t hear about money, either from Clinton or from Trump. What they are talking are issues, policies, your antecedents, work experience, your capacity, your exposure internationally. When I start here, what I want to introduce is that money should not be the issue in politics; we should allow those who don’t have money but are solid upstairs. What makes a man is not pocket. We should de-emphasis money; let us look for those who are brilliant and competent.
And that is what I am preaching; that the era of throwing money to delegates is becoming mundane. We should give delegates hook to go to the river and kill fish and not to give fish to delegates. Buhari did not spend money to win his election; Buhari said at the convention that I have no money to give but if you believe in me, vote for me. Nigerians are becoming wiser. One of the candidates of the tattered PDP went to Lagos with a plane loaded with foreign currency and every evening, the prominent people were called to come and take their own. They were there for four days. God bless the people of the South-West. They took all the money and voted their conscience. Edo State people, if deep pockets come to you including me, choose your best. Vote your conscience; you can take the money and vote your conscience. It is our money.
There has been this tension in your party since the Deputy Governor’s campaign team was attacked in Auchi; what are your people doing to ensure such a thing never happens again?
APC is not a violent party. We the aspirants in APC are all friends and I think the violence that we observed is a new phenomenon. Between mid March and early April this year, I toured 17 out of the 18 local government areas and it was very peaceful. I had a resounding welcome, especially in Edo North. On the incident at Auchi, I was in America when it happened but I am glad that the Inspector General of Police has taken over the case.
But what I heard was that the Deputy Governor was seated inside the hall with the party chairman, Alhaji Umoru Akokhia. These skirmishes occurred between the area boys and some of the security officers that came with the Deputy Governor. That was what we heard and if that was the case, the word assassination and serious violence against Odubu might not be as it is being suggested.
Your former party, the PDP has been boasting that they will dethrone the APC; don’t you have fears that internal wranglings may give them that chance?
Let me tell you, PDP boasted that they will rule Nigeria for 60 years but some of us who were there before, we cautioned them to stop the looting that we saw going on in government. You saw the former Governor of CBN questioning some money that was due to the Federation Account. What I am trying to tell you is that we knew they were lots of leakages at the federal level as at then. As a minister, my option was not to be part of the rot. That was why I resigned and left the party. What people don’t know was that PDP never knew that they will lose in that election but God wanted to expose them in that election.
If they had not lost the election, they would have cooked up all the books to cover up their sins. But let me tell you, when the results of the ongoing investigations are out, most of them will go to exile. Even those who see themselves as governorship aspirants in Edo state, some of them will go into exile and PDP will eventually collapse. On the political scene, you can see what is happening now; they have two groups already. PDP is disintegrating and this is the beginning. When the results of the probes start coming out, many will take off.
And for we aspirants, we will not let internal crisis kill us. The aspirants in APC are all matured people. What the aspirants are saying in the usual APC ways of doing things, is that they want the kind of primary that threw up Buhari. It is now a reference point for primaries. So we expect the Edo own, come June 18, to be the same. Once there is a level-playing field, there won’t be any problem. And we know it’s going to be free and fair. So the PDP should not be hoping that we are going to have crisis. There is no tension in APC; we are all doing our normal jobs. There won’t be any problem.
How optimistic are you that APC will win in the September 10 guber election?
The truth is that the people of Edo State are very good in doing comparative analysis. Oshiomhole has been there for seven and half years; PDP was there for ten years before Oshiomhole. If you compare the two governments, you will realise that PDP has nothing to show. But today APC through the Comrade Governor has done a lot in roads, education, hospitals and so on. So people will base their judgment on what they see on ground. The APC has done creditably well in Edo State.
Just look at that five star hospital at the Central Hospital; that is the first of such in the South-South. APC is already blessed because the outgoing Governor has already laid a solid foundation for any body to build on. If Oshiomhole had met something on ground, probably we would have gone far more than we did today; maybe we would have been pursuing Lagos State in terms of Infrastructure. But he started from minus zero. So in this coming election, the APC is already ahead.
Your message to Edo people
My message is that because Oshiomhole has done so well, they should look for a governor that will do better than Oshiomhole. A governor who will use the platform Oshiomhole has created to quickly jump-start the work. They should look at all the aspirants in terms of credibility, in terms of experience, acceptability. In doing that, the APC must pick our best, our first eleven. We should say no to money politics. We should look at the programmes of the aspirants, how they can change their lives. Those are the things we should be talking about.