Tony Azegbemi is the Chairman of the Edo State Chapter of the People Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview, Azegbemi speaks about the chances of PDP in the September 19 governorship election in the state and why the party is better structured to win the election with a wide margin. By Nnamdi Ojiego. Experts:
How popular is Governor Godwin Obaseki and your party?
I think the chances of our candidate in the September 19 governorship election, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, without sounding immodest, is high. His support base hovers between 80 and 85 percent among the electorate in Edo State.
I challenge you to take a walk on the streets of Benin and ask 10 people about the governor and if they would be voting for him. Out of that 10 people, at least eight of them will tell you that they are going to vote for Governor Obaseki.
This is not a fluke. That is an independent survey people did not too long ago. This is not a surprise because people are feeling the impact of the government. A few politicians may peddle falsehoods repeatedly, but the people are finding out that those things are not true.
For some of us from the private sector, we do not go to the rooftop and start shouting, but we always get things done quietly and efficiently. That is what the governor has done.
The governor has about 3,000 projects lined up for commissioning. These projects are not phantom projects. In fact, the projects cut across the entire state. Apart from the infrastructure projects, Governor Obaseki’s vision for the state is extraordinary.
He is very clear about what he wants to do for Edo people. I have not met a man with so much passion with a very clear-cut vision of what he wants to do for his people and he is not boastful about it.
What do you make of the governor’s achievements in the education sector. It appears the work does not touch on all sectors, as we have workers of the College of Education, Ekiadolor, protesting recently?
I watched the clip of the protests by lecturers at the College of Education, Ekiadolor, over alleged non-payment of salaries. In fact, they have sent me a message, requesting me to help them draw the government’s attention to their plight.
I had also listened to the views that were canvassed by Edo State Commissioner for Education, who gave explanations on what has transpired. What I know is that the governor will not, for whatever reason, withhold the salaries of workers. I suspect that there was a communication gap between College of Education workers and the government.
The government cannot come out and declare that he is not going to pay those people for whatever reason. That is not his character or style. So, I think that there is a communication gap.
What endeared you to Governor Obaseki?
He is a silent achiever and a humble leader. He is not boastful. Surprisingly, Edo people see through all that; they know who is genuine and who is fake!
He started well and in the first two years, when the so-called godfather wanted to bare his fangs towards the end of the second year in office, he had already laid a foundation. That is why you can see the projects in place today. If he didn’t start earlier, then the distraction would have been a disaster for him.
The godfather has been blackmailing the governor to open the treasury for him to share and feed on government funds, but the governor rebuffed him.
What is your take on the management of the resources of the state?
The governor has been prudent in the management of funds. If he hasn’t been prudent in the management of funds, he wouldn’t have been able to work on 3,000 projects. Obaseki had a plan and the process was well thought out.
What is the most significant thing that has made the governor the outstanding candidate in this election?
Aside from infrastructure projects, the governor’s resolve to fight the godfather is a key selling point. He has ensured that government works for the people and not for a handful of selfish individuals. He knows where he wants Edo to be in the next four years.
Now that PDP has come back to power in Edo and with the governor’s popularity, how do you think you will perform during the election?
We are not mindful of the rigging plans of our political opponent. That is the only thing they have to offer. But they will have to contend with the resolve of Edo people if they attempt such. Accordingly, we have embarked on serious mobilisation for voter turnout.
In past elections, the turnout was between 32-35 percent. But we will drive that up this time around with what PDP is doing. We plan to raise the turnout from 35 to 45 percent. That 10 percent will make the difference and bring into the stream about 200,000 people when that is achieved.
I do not think anybody with his right senses will dare to alter the resolution of those 200,000 people that we are going to mobilise to the streets of Edo State before, during and after the election.
So, I would advise that any person thinking of rigging the September 19 election should have a rethink because that will not happen in Edo. In fact, it is in their own interest to stop thinking about that because if they do, the consequences will be so devastating more than they can imagine.
How do you intend to achieve these plans under the COVID-19 regulation?
COVID-19 is real and it is not something that we should joke about. Clearly, we will not have those kinds of large rallies anymore. That is not going to be possible. Recall that our government in Edo rolled out a gazette in March 2020, banning large political gatherings except with permission in any part of the state. We will adhere to the NCDC protocol.
However, these are other ways we have worked out in getting our messages to the people. Once we start, you will move. We intend to get across to every household in Edo. We will knock on their doors and give them the message of PDP.
What should the electorate in Edo expect from Obaseki in the next four years, if given the mandate?
They should expect more work and less talk. The aura around the governor should permeate every strata of society. Clearly, there will be more work and less talk. On the part of PDP, Obaseki will have a better relationship with the party.
What happened between him and his former political party, All Progressives Congress, APC, will not happen under my watch in PDP. So, we will give him all the support and make sure that he succeeds.
What are the factors that will shape the governorship election?
It is clear that the electorate is prepared to vote. They have made their choice to re-elect Obaseki and the PDP. The external forces will be those who want to subvert the will of the people.
Due to the mobilisation that we want to do, they should not dare to actualise their evil plans here. They will not succeed in Edo. Edo is not any other state. Edo is the heartbeat of the nation. So, you do not joke with your heart.
What are your fears in this election?
We are very good. But the only thing that might be worrisome is that the will of people could be subverted by merchants of evil. Not that it is really worrisome. But it is nonsensical and will not happen in Edo.
We expect that all agencies of government to be neutral. The issue of partisanship in the election will be detrimental to agencies of government. Besides, we have people everywhere too. We are not joking; we are serious.
What is the current membership strength of Edo PDP since you came on board and after the defection of the governor from APC to PDP?
Before the governor came to PDP, we had requested for 20,000 membership cards from the national headquarters of the party. We were on the verge of exhausting those cards when the governor found PDP.
Five days after he defected to PDP, we exhausted those 20,000 membership cards. I had to request for additional 100,000 PDP membership cards. As of the last time I checked, we have less than 10,000 cards left.
So, when I told you that we are going to get over 200,000 people, I was not joking.
Are you sure that the peace agreement your party reached with the three governorship aspirants is still binding?
The three gentlemen (PDP aspirants), who willingly took the decision to step down for Obaseki after looking at the prospects of the party and the interest of Edo people, are great men and patriots.
They will be part of Governor Obaseki re-election campaign. Going forward, they are going to come over here with the governor and campaign across the state.
Even if they do not go with the governor everywhere, you will see them in their units.