Says Obaseki’s major obstacle to free, fair election
Governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Edo State, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, in this exclusive interview with Sunday Vanguard, discusses the ratification of his candidacy by the party’s National Executive Committee, NEC, saying President Muhammadu Buhari’s stance made his emergence possible. Ize-Iyamu, who dismisses fears that Edo APC is heading to the polls as a divided house, says all tendencies have moved beyond pre-primary election controversies. The governorship hopeful also reveals what he considers his major fear ahead of the election.
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Now that you have emerged as candidate of the APC despite the intrigues that preceded the exercise, what should be expected from you in the days ahead?
I will join other party members to continue with the work of unifying and strengthening our party, the All Progressives Congress, ahead of the election. That should not take too long because we already have a great standing – a fact demonstrated by the strong message sent out by our party members on June 22, 2020, during the primary election. We have put to bed all the issues that caused dissension and the intrigues are all done with. Now, we will continue consolidating the party with greater zeal, and we will ensure that the SIMPLE agenda is brought to all Edo citizens so they can join our mission to turn a new page in the state’s history and refocus governance on important issues of growth and development. I am not here to make exciting promises that I cannot keep. You should expect from me a man that will keep his word, not just to suit the campaign, but to ensure democratic and inclusive system of governance.
What plans do you have for the section of the party in Edo State that did not support your aspiration, especially those who supported Governor Godwin Obaseki’s bid for APC ticket?
I am a democratic man, and as such, I do not think that it is a crime or even an offense for people to think differently. We have already reached out to everyone including those who supported Governor Obaseki before his exit from the party following his rightful disqualification. The party has moved past the primary stage and a candidate has emerged. We all know it is time to close ranks, move on from internal contests, and unite to ensure that our party emerges victorious at the polls in September.
I am running a very inclusive campaign without bias or discrimination for anyone. It does not matter what you thought or said before, we welcome and actively reach out to anyone willing to support us. In the final analysis, we are all APC members and we all have the same progressive interests. Those that were not loyal to the party, I believe, have followed the governor to PDP and I will not victimise those that are in the party. As I previously stated, in a democracy, you must respect people’s freedom of opinion and understand that the way to change their minds or sway their opinion is through persuasion and when they change their minds, you must welcome them warmly. That is the only way to grow and achieve success. Force does not change people’s minds; proactive gestures and logic do.
The APC National Executive Committee, NEC, has ratified your candidacy, putting to rest fears that the primaries may not be okayed following the recognition of Gaidom by the Presidency. What does that mean to you?
It is an important validation of the decision made by thousands of our party members across the 192 wards of Edo State on June 22. As you rightly said, it laid to rest all doubts regarding the legitimacy of my candidacy and I am grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari, the progressive governors, and other leaders of our party for the crucial assent.
What it means is that we can now ignore distractions and focus full-time on reclaiming our state from tax collectors who obviously do not mean well for the collective growth and development of Edo people. What it means is that my candidacy is valid. I have obeyed the law and the party’s law has recognised that I am the people’s natural choice. It means I now have a huge responsibility to reciprocate and fulfill the trust reposed in me by party members. That should do the party and myself proud, and serve the people a world of good, which they deserve.
It is believed that a section of the party is still loyal to Obaseki even after you have emerged as candidate. Don’t you think such a situation could hamper your chances at the poll?
I think that is a wrong belief. As far as I know, and from the congratulatory visits, messages, and donations I have received, the entire Edo APC is united in their support of my candidacy and has begun to actively work, sometimes independently and with personally-sourced resources, to ensure that I win the election.
When Governor Godwin Obaseki left for the PDP, the party was relieved he did so because of his combative stance, disregard for members and leaders of the party, and the impunity with which he broke the law on several issues. Today, we have made significant progress in uniting everyone. There is now a general acknowledgment of party supremacy even in the pursuit of personal interests.
I think this question should be directed at Governor Obaseki. I am a founding member of APC and I am familiar with everyone here at the state and national levels. He went over to the PDP where he is essentially an unknown man and a stranger. His candidacy has already left trails of internal grumbling and disaffection given how he bullied and intimidated other aspirants and the Edo State Chapter of the party into accepting his candidacy as a matter of compulsion. Do you think those members, even if they cannot voice their discontent, will passionately work for his emergence?
The emergence of Obaseki as PDP candidate means that both of you are the candidates to beat in the race…
I agree that we are both the leading candidates considering that we are running on the platform of the country’s two major parties. Nevertheless, I must establish my clear lead and advantage, beginning with the way I emerged. No one was coerced or beaten into submission in the APC, and we did not assemble delegates in a place to offer inducements and to tell them which way to vote. The people queued up at their wards, with respect to all health and safety guidelines, which is more than we can say for the indirect method that assembled people unsafely at a venue and gave me their mandate. That in itself is an indication of my acceptance across the state. Only a truly popular candidate would subject himself to such a test. Obaseki had four years and he squandered it in the pursuit of the wrong things. He may have found a way to impose himself on the PDP but that will not be the case in September when Edo people go to the polls. I believe he has nothing to show, except vague statements of achievements, which he may not be able to support under scrutiny.
Ahead of the poll, what do you consider your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest obstacle to the conduct of a peaceful, free and fair election is the disposition of Governor Obaseki and his tax collectors. Our party lived up to its values in the primaries we conducted. We got widespread commendations over the peaceful and responsible conduct of our members who patiently stood in line, complied with safety and health guidelines throughout the duration of the exercise.
The reverse is the case in the camp of Governor Godwin Obaseki. Their desperation has reached a worrying point. State officials are being sacked and bullied into silence over their political expressions and choice; all state agencies, in violation of their constitutional non-partisan stance, are being used as campaign tools; and reports of the reckless actions and comments of the governor and his supporters are now a daily occurrence. It is apparent that the governor has refused to recognize the constitutional fact that state institutions exist to serve the state not the political ambition of the head of government. It is sad and it is robbery against the people of the state, who pay taxes to be better served.
I am going to repeat my appeal to all security agencies; Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the civil society, media and other relevant agencies; to insist on the rule of law in Edo State so that we can have a truly free and fair contest. There should be no hiding place for the governor and he should not be allowed to deny the people a chance to freely deliver their verdict of his four years of maladministration.
Your major opponent has severally claimed he is running on his record. What are you running on?
I hope he was challenged on the said record he claimed to be running on. Because the only record he has in Edo State is that of resounding failure and disappointment. His major campaign promise of 200,000 jobs has turned out a spectacular failure. Today, in Edo State, the youths are becoming restive and that has worsened our social problems. He has not just failed to give jobs, but he has demolished people’s sources of livelihood. He made promises we thought he was capable of fulfilling, but he was clearly at his wits end in governance.
On my part, I will be running on my achievements both as a public servant and as a private citizen. When I served in government, I led public service reforms that improved the welfare of civil servants in Edo State and boosted its productivity. There are many witnesses to this to date. Some have retired and those still in active service, who, of course, have identified with my bid are the ones the governor is intimidating and trying to bully into service.
As Secretary to State Government, SSG, I was the middleman between the government and the various agencies charged with the implementation of policies in line with the administrative goal and agenda. Many of those who worked with me then all attest to my leadership capacity and remarkable ability to keep my eyes on the ball even amid distractions of any kind. For me, it has always been about the people. That is why even after I left the public service, as a private citizen, I have used my broad and personal resources to provide investments for the people at the grassroots so that they can undertake businesses and other endeavours that will empower and lift them above the poverty line.
I have also invested significantly in agriculture and through that empowered many people in rural communities, many of whom have been able to change social class and improve their standard of living.
I also have a mentoring forum where, together with seasoned professionals sourced from different parts of the globe, we groom young people between ages 14 and 35 for nation-building and help them develop strong leadership, political, and business skills that are relevant today.
All of these have brought me closer to the people and convinced them of the sincerity of my intentions. They are part of the easily verifiable records that I will be running on.
Governors Obaseki and Rotimi Akeredolu visited the leader of APC, President Buhari when they purchased their forms. Do you have such a plan now that you are now the party’s official candidate?
Yes. President Muhammadu Buhari is the leader of our party. I am going to visit him to thank him for his fatherly disposition during the primaries and even afterward. He is a true democrat. His insistence on the rule of law and processes allowed us to stage a contest devoid of bias or favouritism. I am also grateful for his support in the NEC decision to ratify the Edo APC primary election and endorsement of my candidacy.