…Speaks on origin of the crisis; alleges Obaseki abandoned those who made him governor
…Narrates how Obaseki shunned interventions by Dangote, El-rufai, Bagudu, others
….Captures what pains him most about Edo Govt
….Dangles Olive Branch, offers solution to crisis
National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in this interview with Saturday Vanguard, broke his silence on the crisis between him and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State.
He affirmed that he had no personal quarrel with the governor, rather the governor failed to heed his advice to carry party members along in governance which according to him had factionalized the APC in Edo state.
He insisted that unless Governor Obaseki retraces his steps and seeks genuine reconciliation with party members who felt abandoned after he became governor, it will be difficult for him to be re-elected for second term even if he gets the party’s ticket.
Just an appetizer: Asked if he will support Obaseki’s second term re-election, Oshiomhole said:
Have we gotten there? Let us get there first. As it stands right now, has he told you he is contesting? And has he told you I am opposed to him? … What will I gain if Godwin does not get second term? Excerpts:
Have you resolved your differences with Governor Obaseki?
I heard people talk about Oshiomhole’s faction and Godwin’s faction. The truth is that I don’t have any faction. We founded the party from ACN, to APC. It hurts when people can’t make a distinction between policy positions and unhealthy debate about options in dealing with specific issues. Let me start with the issue of the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly.
I was governor when PDP had 16 members and we, while in ACN then, had eight members. But we had to learn how to live with the reality that the parliament was in the hands of opposition, so all we needed to do was to cultivate ways and means of playing up what united us as a people and getting the opposition to recognize that we were all elected even from different political parties for a purpose, namely the sustainable development of Edo state.
And we managed that until the people favored us with majority. Right now in Edo, we are obviously far more fortunate that all the 24 members of the House belong to APC. So, no matter the differences about preferred Speaker, I don’t think this was enough for us to breach all the rules, regulations, customs and traditions that were well entrenched as regards the simple straight forward matter of proclaiming a House of Assembly.
When I see Nigerians taking side on it, I just pity people who can’t make a difference between your personal affection or love for someone and dealing with issues of principles and law. Now, I remain convinced that it is not in the interest of our democracy for nine members of an elected parliament to seek to secretly inaugurate a House at 9:30pm, which I understand the Supreme Court in another judgment has described as nocturnal hours, so that a particular person can emerge as a Speaker and in the process you exclude 15 members of the House.
Nine persons cannot elect the Speaker or Deputy Speaker on behalf of 24 members. Number two, it is also the tradition and the law that when you are elected by your various constituencies, the day of your inauguration is not a state secret to be shared by those who are favored.
The proclamation must be published stating time and date. If there is any Nigerian who has followed inaugurations in the 36 states and the FCT, it is a settled fact that proclamation letter must be communicated by the clerk to all the members-elect so that they can go there that day with their families and loved ones.
Now to try and do that at 9:30pm, even if it was done by my biological son, God will give me the courage to tell my son that this institution is governed by law. Parliament is an autonomous arm of government, delete it and there will be no democracy. So, we pointed out what I thought would be obvious to every Nigerian that first, four members out of the nine, who are already in the minority, have said they were invited for an informal conversation with the deputy governor, from where they were bundled into a waiting vehicle and were driven to the House of Assembly. They were then forced to take oath of office against their wish. One of them was wearing a short. These are facts, the people have spoken, they are still alive, they are still protesting.
Then somebody said that because I am the National chairman of the party, I ought to turn the other way. If it is wrong in Bauchi to have secret inauguration, how can it be accommodated in Edo state. For me, these are the issues. And it is shameful that in this case, all the 24 are APC members.
As a former governor who had the privilege of presiding over Edo state for eight years, I will tell you that there is little or nothing the executive can do in the final analysis. I was there at Government House Benin, not too far away from Anthony Enahoro’s building, the seat of the parliament when I heard that the parliament met and decided to change their leadership, and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was their privilege to do. So, the issue is not between me and the governor; anybody who suggests that is just being mischievous. It is about what is right and what is wrong.
The Speaker, Okiye accused you of planning to impeach the governor with your loyalists while Governor Obaseki, also accused you of orchestrating the crisis from Abuja
First of all, Okiye is not the Speaker, he is a member elect. I watched the governor say those things but the truth of the matter is that he knows better than that. The question is, is it within the discretion of the state governor to decide who becomes the Speaker?
The only option for him is to lobby and if he lobbies but in the end he is unable to get everybody to toe his line, he has to concede that these are not his Commissioners or Special Assistants whom he has absolute monopoly to appoint. But even at that, if they are commissioners, they must be screened by the House of Assembly, that is the law.
So if he chooses to put it in the manner that he has unfortunately put it, giving the impression that as the governor he can do everything, is there anything in the constitution that you know, that empowers a governor to decide who becomes a Speaker? But like every other person in a democracy, you get what you are able to negotiate, the operative word is negotiation, persuasion, that was what we did in Abuja.
But in spite of all our efforts at the Federal level, we conceded in the end when Senator Ndume said he would not go the way the party wanted. We could not deny him that right to contest, he went and contested and he got 24 votes. So that is the way to go. It was not within the power of the President and Commander in Chief to use his state instrument to prevent Ndume from contesting because it was his right so to do.
All the President could do which he did was to deploy his influence both through the party and other channels to persuade people to ensure that this time around APC has a national leadership that we believe can work in harmony with the President. When I was governor, I went through the same process, we persuaded the members, we called all of them, we first explained to them the need to ensure geo-political balance. Sometimes we would suggest who we thought was better equipped to handle legislative matters.
Secondly, Okiye being the beneficiary of the purported inauguration, said the agenda was to impeach Obaseki, did he tell you what offence Obaseki has committed? Was the governor known to have committed any impeachable offence? Somebody who has just been elected, he has not even been inaugurated and his first agenda was to disturb the system by seeking to impeach a governor who was not known to have committed any offence. Is impeachment a tea party? It does not make sense. By the way, who is Okiye, does he know what was invested in the making of the governor?
Can he possibly lay claim to loving the governor more than those of us who went round the state, staked our reputation and invested our energy and persuasive skill to market the governor to the people? If there is one man that wants Governor Obaseki to succeed so that everything I said on his behalf would come to pass, I think it will be me. I have absolutely nothing to gain if someone that I told the people would do well ends up not doing well or I make a statement that contradicts my earlier position.
Because all I have that I brought to this job called politics is integrity and integrity is about being consistent and sometimes being predictable. So, Godwin knows that I have no quarrel whatsoever with him, but I do not think that it is right to inaugurate the House of Assembly at night. Exactly the same way the governor of Bauchi said Oshiomhole was his problem.
Let me say that one day, we may have a President who may decide to order the military to make sure that they secure the National Assembly and allow, say about one quarter of members to go in at 12 midnight to elect a Senate President and Speaker and then thereafter whoever wishes to be inaugurated can go one by one. That will be a sad day for democracy. So, if we refuse to defend the letter and the spirit of the constitution, as regards how the legislative arm of government will come into play and we reduce it to individual contest, it will be unfortunate for democracy.
But he alleged that those things are just part of the issues and that politicians wanted him to share the money of the state
It is not too much for journalists to go to Edo state and speak to the party leaders and find out what are the issues. But let me tell you the issues which I have discussed with him as a brother. First is that political leaders in Edo state started complaining that after they have worked hard to elect the governor, only three people are in government after two years in office; the governor, the deputy governor and the SSG.
The governor immediately dissolved all the boards and two and a half years after he has not reconstituted the boards. These were part of the complaints. The third one was the governor’s decision to create new political leadership. And I said to him, Mr Governor you don’t create a political leadership, leaders emerge.
I said to him these people you refer as old politicians that you said you want to retire, I met them in the game, they are not my creation and I had to learn to work with them. Then, he told me that the people were liars, they abused people, all sorts of things. But I said to him that I am the last to say that politicians are angels but what matters to me is how to manage them so that when I need them they will be there for me. The Edo APC, whenever I needed them, they were there for me.
There was no better proof than the fact that under opposition Federal government, in my second term governorship election, I won in all the 18 Local Government Areas. In Edo South senatorial zone which is the largest, we had a Benin man who was contesting for the governorship, yet Benin people voted for me.
I won in all the 77 wards in Edo South. And in Egor LGA I won 96 per cent of the votes in the heart of Benin. I defeated Chief Anenih, may his soul rest in peace, in his Local Government. I secured about 75 per cent of the total votes cast. So I said to the governor if after abusing me and insulting me, according to him, and the people rewarded me with such massive support, I could do with more abuses. But the truth is anybody who does not want abuses should not seek leadership.
Not just leadership in politics but even leadership in business and I said to him, you just have to learn and manage and understand that politics is like a jungle, it is not like a golf course. In that jungle you have good animals like the antelopes, grass cutter that the hunter wants to go for, even rabbit. But the hunter also knows that in that forest you have snakes, pythons and scorpions. But what defines a successful hunter is his ability to go into that forest, get the grass cutter home without being harmed.
But even if in the process you suffer snake bite, within that same forest there are herbs that you use to treat it and you come back home and get ready for the following day. This is the reality of politics. But it is beyond any one, myself inclusive, and even the President of Nigeria to say he wants to retire politicians. I remember when IBB said he wanted new breed, he had to reverse himself even with all his military powers, when it turned out that there were really no new breeds. So these were the healthy conversations I had with him.
Then another genuine disagreement we had was about what to do with the young people who were our foot soldiers. I usually refer to them as our infantry division. These are young men and women who on election day protected our votes and engaged those who wanted to steal our votes.
There was a time when we were in the opposition, when the PDP ruthlessly deployed the Army, deployed the Police and even the DSS to make sure that we did not win. Don’t forget that I was rigged out in my first election but thanks to the courageous judiciary I reclaimed my mandate. My idea of leadership is that when people have worked with me, made all those sacrifices and I was elected, I should not abandon them.
I think I have a duty to rehabilitate them and give them a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership of the outcome of the elections.
Motor parks will always be motor parks whether it is in Lagos, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, they have their code. The responsibility of government is to engage them and manage them in a way that they can do their lawful business because the Road Transport Workers Union and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, are registered trade unions in Nigeria, they have a right to operate.
And it is not for a governor to proscribe them. I defended those rights when I was President of the NLC and I cannot accept that, particularly when they have supported us to win election. It is not right to just carry computer boys to motor parks and claim to be collecting revenue.
And talking about IGR, I met it at N250m monthly and I raised it at a point to N2.1billion a month without disturbing these people. So, there are ways to manage things, but the bottom line is that government must understand that the primary purpose of government is citizens’ empowerment. Now, how you ensure that in empowering one citizen you do not subvert the interest of other citizens is in the heart of governance.
The skill to manage this conflict of interest is the heart of leadership. And these are the conversations we had. Now, I did say to the governor, not in a secret meeting, we were about seven persons there, that he has to sustain the schools because the school buildings had been devastated and I was proud that in eight years we introduced what was known as the red roof revolution. The beauty of that was that it did not just provide beautiful and attractive schools to pupils and students, we introduced modern furniture, one pupil one desk as opposed to using benches.
We replaced the black board with white board. Now what is interesting is who did we use to build these schools? We found that to build a school was within the competence of an average local contractor. These local contractors were 90 or 85 per cent of people of Edo origin.
Many of them were active politicians, and they were also business men. I remember someone I gave even N3m contract to build VIP toilets in primary schools and secondary schools. He made a legitimate 25 per cent profit from the contract and you will be surprised that from N3m somebody making about N700,000 profit was happy. And I am proud to say that there was no evidence that those I gave the jobs to do did not do them. They did those jobs to the satisfaction of the state government and the communities those schools are located were happy that in a typical rural Edo you would find that the most beautiful schools were the government red roofs in primary and secondary schools. And the ceramic tiles we introduced were made in Benin by the Chinese company.
The rod we used to construct the pillars were made in Benin from scratch vehicles. So the money circulated. Tipper drivers that carried granites were all Edo people. Now, when you give those jobs to political leaders who are competent contractors, you are empowering your people and you are empowering the political class. And they in turn have the resources to sustain it. Now, if this is sharing money to people, then I disagree.
I think that if you did not give those jobs to those people you would still give it to another person and nobody will do a job without making profit. When Nigerians ask government to empower them, what they are saying is that give us opportunity to work.
They are not saying come and share money to us. I think legitimate profit done arising from jobs properly executed for the people and government of Edo state ensured that the enrolment in public schools increased by almost one hundred per cent and if I were to go back to that state again, I will do it the same way.
After all, I gave contracts to big civil engineering companies and foreign contractors. All the roads were done by big time contractors because our local people would not be able to do such jobs. So this for me is empowerment, if anybody thinks that giving contracts to our local politicians who are businessmen is sharing money, the problem is his not mine.
Also, I feel bad about the abandoned Central hospital. I felt terribly bad and embarrassed that as governor, I decided that we should not lament the poor state of health facilities in Edo state particularly the Central hospital that was built in 1903.
So we built what I call a 5-star hospital and I deliberately went out to look for a competent Commissioner for Health, a professor of Medicine from UNIBEN to superintend over the procurement process and we ensured that we brought state of the art equipment to that hospital. We built the hospital with Edo tax payers money. We gave the contract to Vermed Nigeria limited, VERMED is well known for manufacturing hospital equipment. They operate in many African countries.
We placed orders for them to supply equipment which they did even though at the time they were given the contract the exchange rate was 195 per dollar. By the time they finished their processes the naira had been devalued. But thanks to the governor of Central Bank, he assisted to ensure that we had access to forex at the old rate and they got their dollars at N308 to a dollar.
Before I left government I paid 75 per cent of the total value. All I expected my successor to do was to pay the balance. But this hospital was locked up and I read in the newspapers every day my political opponents arguing that there was nothing in the hospital.
And this hospital was commissioned by President Buhari about one week before I left office. From the equipment that were already delivered, the President was impressed. But after I equipped this hospital it was closed for two years. I kept speaking to the governor, the best way to answer PDP criticisms was to open the hospital. When it is open for business, people who go there for medical treatment will bear us witness.
At a point I felt so embarrassed and I went to Aliko Dangote who is a mutual friend of the governor and myself and I said, I am unable to understand why the governor can not open the hospital. Meanwhile the equipment is there with warranty and whether you open the hospital or not those warranties are running and if they run out and tomorrow you have a problem, you need another money to buy equipment or to repair the old one.
Aliko Dangote, God will bless him. He told Godwin that if you build a factory and lock it up for two years, what will happen is that the grease will dry up, the oil will dry up and you will invest a lot of money to service the machines before they can be operated. Not to talk about sensitive hospital equipment. He then asked the governor to go and open the hospital. And I get bashed every day because people believe there is nothing inside the hospital. But I am no more the governor, so I cannot go there to defend myself. I live with this pain even though I did my best to provide that facility to the people of Edo state and indeed Nigerians who are in Edo and may need medical care.
When the governor refused to open the hospital after I complained to Dangote, I asked the company to do a documentary on all the equipment at the hospital and I placed it on different Television stations including Channels.
When the people saw that, then the public opinion changed. But rather than open this hospital in obedience to public outcry, they decided to set up an inquiry. The inquiry was set up by the Speaker (Adjoto) who was aggrieved because he lost the House of Reps ticket to Peter Akpatason an incumbent lawmaker. So based on his open bitterness, he was encouraged by the state government to set up this panel to rubbish themselves.
And then they removed all the documents from the Ministry of Health to give the impression that the construction was a verbal transaction. But the then Commissioner for Health and Housing, brought out their own documents, showing the adverts inviting expression of interest, minutes of the meeting of the Tenders Board where the shortlisting was done, the biddings for the job and the minutes of the meeting where the tenders were open. Everything that happened including a letter from the state Ministry of Health acknowledging that Vermed had provided the equipment that were paid for. Lastly, Vermed was able to show a letter they wrote to the Ministry of Health, Edo state asking them to nominate people for training to manage this sophisticated equipment.
At the end of the day the Commissioner said he forwarded letters asking them to get people for training to the governor but he had not received any reply from him more than one year after the letter was written. Now, the members many of whom lost nomination, who were looking for fault went to the hospital to see for themselves and after that, they wrote a report that the state government had no reason to keep the hospital closed. And they asked the state government to open the hospital for public use and pay the outstanding balance to Vermed that supplied the equipment. But the governor decided to manage the hospital through a consultant rather than through the Ministry of Health. I don’t grudge him on that, those are purely within his discretion.
But what is interesting is that this consultant wrote to the MD of Vermed to say that the cutting-edge hospital equipment installed in the hospital will require continuous collaboration between the consultant and Vermed because in their word these are cutting edge technology. That was my dream for Edo people. What I expected the governor to do was the benefit of continuity because that was what we promised Edo people. Even if I was succeeded by a PDP government I don’t think they would have shut that hospital as long as the governor did.
We have no argument over money, we have no argument over appointment. In fact at a meeting that we held with four governors including Governors Bagudu, Fayemi, Niyi Adebayo now Minister and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, I asked the governor how many commissioners did I nominate into his cabinet.
He agreed that I nominated only one person out of twenty commissioners and after that first meeting the governor decided to remove that one commissioner alongside seven others. The governor will not tell you that I dictate to him but the only thing I feel worried about is that some of the projects we started together have been abandoned including the Benin Water storm master plan.
Where I left it, they did not continue with it and if they don’t continue with it, flood will return to Benin. These are not personal issues. As National chairman of APC I want the progress of our governors so I must be interested about what they do. The governor had agreed at the beginning that since he is not a politician he will want help. Now when you start fighting politicians that is not governance.
The governor was also on television to say that how can he, as governor of Edo state, even if, according to him, he was considered as the worst governor, conduct party primaries and I sat in Abuja and cancelled those primaries. But you all know that the responsibility of conducting primaries rest on the NWC of political parties, it does not rest on a state governor. It was this same issue he said that we had problems in Zamfara, so what he said does not make sense to me.
Has the governor come on common ground with you now?
Now that is the issue. The last time we had a meeting with Governors Bagudu, Fayemi and El-Rufai and Niyi Adebayo, we all agreed that the way to go, given the divisions in Edo APC now, is to have an all-inclusive meeting. We need to meet in a room and resolve our differences and come out for people to know that APC is one, you cannot solve problem without talking. The governors encouraged him to meet with me so we can arrange the meeting, in fact the governors offered to accompany us to Edo state to hold meeting with all the groups so that we could iron out our differences.
Unfortunately, as we speak, the governor has refused to convene that meeting. We have to work now on how to get such a meeting on because there is no way to solve such a problem without reaching out to the aggrieved parties. Let me assure you that this governor is not under threat, the problem is with those who are making money from the crisis, those I call merchants of confusion, who are only relevant when there is a fight. They are the ones that will tell the governor they want to impeach you. But the governor should ask himself what he has done to deserve impeachment.
Will you support him for a second term?
Have we gotten there? Let us get there first. As it stands right now, has he told you he is contesting? And has he told you I am opposed to him?
He was told he would be given the Ambode treatment?
Who told him that? What will I gain if Godwin does not run a second term? Is Oshiomhole going to run a second term? If I did what I did, whether he acknowledged it or not, but people know what I did to support him to be governor, what comfort will I have if he is terminated half way? What is Ambode treatment?
But let me tell you, Ambode treatment is not the worst treatment we have seen in the APC. What about Abubakar’s treatment in Bauchi. He won his primaries, as a sitting governor he lost the election. What about Adamawa state, because of internal fighting the sitting governor lost. Though we are hopeful in both cases that the court will give us victory because we believe we won the elections.
So the point to me is that tickets are not the issues in politics. I think the real issue in Edo state is that any one that loves the governor (Obaseki) should do what we tried to do, what those governors tried to do by reminding him that a divided house cannot stand. And the House remains divided if we do not make conscious efforts to bring everybody together. So what I am doing is to encourage him and all our leaders to have an all-inclusive meeting of all APC leaders. Let us lock the door and speak the truth to ourselves. What is simply happening is that there are people who think that their access to bread and butter will end if there is peace and so they encourage the governor wrongly. I have had meetings before where I urged the governor to carry people along. Whether you like it or not if there is one business where one tree cannot make a forest, it is politics.
But do you think you will support him again as you did the first time?
If we have this meeting of all the various tendencies within the APC and remind ourselves of what unites us, rather than what divide us, working together wholeheartedly, everybody being given a sense of belonging, there is no reason we cannot continue to defeat PDP and there is no reason Obaseki cannot win election. But let me say, even if Obaseki thinks of himself as an angel, and he is a candidate of a party that is fragmented, he will need miracles to win. And that is why I still say to him, let’s embrace peace.
But let me say this, it is absolutely incorrect for the governor to say any body asked him to share money. If he insists let him mention the name. But I have advised him to reconstitute the boards, let people become board members.
The only way we can win elections is to show presence across the 192 wards in Edo state. I believe there is still enough time for the governor to make up by encouraging in good faith the peace effort that many of our mutual friends have offered so that we can give everybody a sense of belonging in the government. The beauty of democracy is that when you have elected a government you will say that is my government.