The scenario is akin to two siblings at war. Four years ago, they locked horns in a titanic battle. One was humbled, the other vanquished. But having alternated batons, they have taken their political rivalry to the next level preparatory to the September 19 epic battle for Osadebe House in Benin City, Edo State. In interaction captured by KUNLE ODEREMI and SEGUN KASALI, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki speaks on the renewed political rivalry.
In this part of the world, having a good candidate and programme is not a guarantee for victory. Besides, the Edo people in the Diaspora will not vote during the election. Don’t you think you need to play the Nigerian politics than the politics itself?
What happens is this-Nigerian kind of politics is one that is created. You know there are different motives for different things. It is election time now and I begin to brag my own truth or story about politics, about who I am and who I am not. Today, in Edo, this is what is on ground – Edo is dearly a PDP state. It has always been. The PDP has won every national election and the APC only won local elections. So, in terms of the political configuration of the state, at best you can say it was 50-50. Who is APC? I am the state governor. And in that side, (Adams) Oshiomhole does not have control of the APC structure. But, I have it. All the local chairmen, members of the house and all the councillors. So, in terms of the political structure, I believe I have at least 75 per cent of it. So, it is now 75 per cent of APC and 50 per cent of PDP in the new configuration. So, if that can’t be, I don’t know what can be then. Then, come to the people, yes as politicians, we make our noises but at the end of the day, voter turnout is very low in Nigeria because for most people, ‘what is my own I don’t have any business with it and I don’t have a stake except what you give me for me to go and vote because after that I won’t see you. There is very limited connection between the people and the government. So, why go and vote? Why participating? Only politicians participate in the political system’.
What we have done in Edo in the last four years is remarkable. It is by providing services to people. You now begin to feel a connection with government. I have 300,000 children in my school system. I spend an average of about N16,000 on each of them on Edo Best. The parents, who are poor, are seeing a difference in their children. The teachers are now calling, giving their pupils training. So, the parents of the 300,000 children don’t matter? They see a connection with the government and they are getting something now. So, would they just allow it walk away? Would they now not participate? I tell them that If I am not there, those children will not get these services anymore because they will take the money. What about the pensioners? What about the civil servants who knew what their situation was before now? You think they will just keep quiet and allow? Look, in Edo today, I have what is called Ward Development Committees, where in every ward, there are 17 or more than men and women who live there and consider themselves as a committee.
You have maybe a priest, a native doctor, a teacher, a retired teacher, a retired nurse and so many others. People just live in the community, meet regularly and I have asked them to talk about and bring up issues because the local governments are not strong. So, they do let me know what their priorities are. And I have them across the state. And the amount of digital penetration is amazing. What about my school-based management committees? So, you have those committees that are very very active and alive. My own view though in all of these is that if all don’t matter in the political system and these guys have enough instrument of arms to come and rig out the majority, then it is unfortunate for the system. But, I can assure you that Nigeria will never be the same because Edo is not in one extreme. And with the crisis and tension in the country, anything that sparks in Edo, only God knows the effect.
So, I hope and pray that people are sensible enough to know that with the level of digital penetration; with the effect of COVID-19, we must now begin to think and think properly. I am now in PDP. It is not like heydays. There is a structure at the moment. Do they want to retain me in government house? I believe so. Do the people who are in APC want me to still be there? I believe so. So, who are these opposition? The opposition is that tiny army of Oshiomole’s boys, not major political players of repute.
Do you think you are capable of challenging taming politics of violence because those boys you just talked about have a role to play on that Election Day?
We will not talk about that. Nobody has monopoly of violence. You know you don’t want to go that way. With Edo coming into PDP, the South-South is full completely. Even if I don’t have the capacity for thuggery, I have enough neighbours and brothers.
We know about the usage of federal might and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to win elections. So, the question is will the votes count?
Well, that is what we are saying today that if we want this democracy to survive, don’t play games with Edo’s election because the moments are different. This is not a general election. It is a sole day election. So, everybody will be watching and looking. And if we need anything in Nigeria today, we need a smack of credibility. So, I don’t believe people in Abuja are that dumb and crazy not to understand the danger and the crisis we will face if they don’t allow the votes count and they want to militarize the election. And in any case, the feedback is why should they do it? It is not like I willingly left APC, right? APC donated Edo to PDP. Oshiomole donated Edo to PDP. So, would they now come and fight and quarrel with us? No. They should rather fight with the man who decided to give away seven states.
You saw what they did in Imo and that of the Kogi. How prepared are you?
What I am saying is that as a governor of a state, it is not my style to begin to talk about violence and all of that. But, I want to say that they should be sensible not to try it because unlike other states Edo is in the middle of the country and any crisis in Edo today will have a major effect on other states in the country. And we are ready for it. Our style is not to propagate about it but they want to.
Before you left the APC, you visited President MuhammaduBuhari. What were your interactions with him?
I think for me everybody was shock and even the president don’t know they would do that. The President did not believe Oshiomole would do that. The President is not a man that talks much but expects everybody to be reasonable. Every time I have interaction with him, he says people should do their work. So, I am not sure he believes that they would have got to that extent. I am not surprised, therefore, that after I left those reactions followed.
Your opponents have been saying that you have nothing on ground, including your certificate. We would like you to react to that?
I think it is about the press really because someone who comes out in Nigeria and tells a very obvious lie and you are listening and say okay. I mean, how can you even talk about my certificate when the university that issued it has come out itself to say that this person graduated this year and the person is saying he has issues with my certificate? So, what do you want me to do? He said I have done nothing and that there is nothing on ground. A few of you have come and you have seen what is on ground. But, they are saying nothing is on ground. All the teacher’s union are saying well done for transforming education in Nigeria. But, they are saying we have done nothing. You see it is the old politics- just tell the lie tell the lie. But, this country is different now. It is about us getting stakeholders on the table. This democracy is now 21 years. A child that was born in 1995 is how old today? So, that old politics of just go and tell a lie and continue to repeat the lie in the age of technology is uncalled for.
I am sure a lot know the underlying changes that have occurred in Nigeria. People are not stupid and foolish. They may not say anything because they say let me manage my life and so, it doesn’t matter. Now, it matters because of COVID-19. If you look at that young man or young woman who used to run after vehicles to sell to chinchin, today, he is not anymore. And you think the person will just sit down? It can’t happen. We should be very careful about this country. See the incident of I cannot breathe in America despite its development. They are chocking the whole population. Now, it matters we should very active. So, I am not saying take my words for it but look at the evidence. And if I didn’t do the things we did to remove the choke on the place, people would not have come back and invest there. And it is those investments that are creating the opportunity that are creating the job. We have four Chinese companies. In fact, when we came in, they were two. Now, they are four and two more are coming. Everything in this room today can be manufactured in Edo. We have glass, ceramic tiles, doors, sanitary fittings because we have electricity-we are an electricity hub.
What is your relationship with Senator Bola Tinubu of the APC?
He is our father. We owe so much to him. I believe when you have a father that has done so well and helped propagate a new system, you should really pull back and sit back and see what he has created naturally. So, my relationship with him is not different from what it had been severally.
But, your slogan ‘Edo no be Lagos?’
The reason why the slogan “Edo no be Lagos” was when Oshiomole’s boys started the nonsense in Abuja, they said they were going to give me the Ambode’s. So, that is why they said it happened with (former Governor Akinwunmi) Ambode in Lagos, but not in Edo.
Your opponent said you don’t have a programme and he said his own is SIMPLE. What is your reaction to that?
Like I said, sometimes the political space is interesting because someone can just opened his mouth and say nonsense and he is convincing himself that he is saying something. Okay greatly you said you have a programme. When you were in government, what did you achieve? So, you need to say I will do, right? That is his simple agenda. He doesn’t know that government is difficult because he called his programme SIMPLE. But, I am saying I have done. This is the way I see government, right? We worked on a six-point programme. First, building and rebuilding institutions; strengthening governance because without the institutions, without the civil service, without the bureaucracy no matter how beautiful your programmes are they will be no basis to implement them. So, strengthening institutions, including the Judiciary. Training and re-training your civil servants. The other plan is social development-the people. Focusing on education and health of the people. So, it is not about coming out to say I will do this but it is about what have you done.
You can see what we have done in education. We went to the core of the problem -basic education, retrained teachers, give and trained them how to use technology. So, today, our children are learning. Parents are moving their children from private school back into public school because I can tell you when a teacher is in school or not. I have a portal and every teacher must log in when they get into school every day. Those teachers must complete their lesson notes. If they don’t, I can tell that and I can see it. They must take attendance of every child that comes to school. So, we know which child has drop off school. It is a system that is working. So, it is not “I will do”. You have 12,000 teachers who have been going through this. You have 300,000 kids who are in the system. So, you can go and check it. The same thing we have done in healthcare- build the primary healthcare centre, focus at the base, introduce technology, when these women go in there take their records, try understand their health conditions at the beginning not when the thing is serious you will now begin to go and treat the chronic conditions. Make sure your community health workers, community nurses are trained to attend to people and get that information upfront. So, we also focus on the vulnerable particularly the older people and making sure pensions are paid. Caring about our people before we ow start talking about infrastructure.
Today, go and ask Main One, Benin City is the most connected city. There is 400km of fibre around Benin City. No other city has it in this country. We did it in less than a year. People are using it. Talk about roads. What is the quarrel with Oshiomole? I cannot build a kilometre of road for a million dollars. Why should I do that? What is there to build in a road? Is it not the graders? Is not the cement? What is there? So, I said no I won’t do that. I used the same contractors, I halved my cost. So, instead of one road, I build two now for the same amount. I mean in most cities how many roads are more than a kilometre? I don’t construct road but I construct communities. So, in terms of infrastructure, we have done much more. What about electricity? We worked and built our zonal power plant. We partnered with a Chinese company (CCECC). We are talking less and building more and that is what they are not used to in Nigerian politics. You build one toilet, you say it is VIP toilet. The amount you use for commissioning will be more than the cost of the toilet. We don’t do that. What about our environment? In the last four years, they cut off most of the trees and nobody cared. Edo that is rainforest is now looking like savannah. Now, working with the Federal Government, we just started with 25 million trees having protected areas. What about agriculture? We collected the money from the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) and of you know what we have done with that? We have resuscitated most of the farms-Agbede, Auchiwarake farms and so many others. Go there today and you will see they are all working. We are in partnership with the CBN. I have taken 100,000 hectares and we have now finished the survey. In fact, Central Bank has now approved five companies as we see today. Most of them are planting there including Flour Mills. Dufil, people who make noodles, they are all there.
What are the key issues confronting Edo?
The consequences of a very poor education and school system over the years are producing young boys who don’t even bother or went through the school were rarely educated. So, when they come out, they become enforcers for the political actors and suddenly some of them became very wealthy and it started affecting the revenues of the state. Take my own local government for instance Urhedo is like the Eti-Osa of Lagos. As at the time I came in, the total IGR for Urhedo monthly was not up to N10 million and that is a metropolis that has a million and a half people. Whereas one of these political leaders (Oshiomhole’s Political leaders and few of them) had note counting machines at homes. When one of the persons celebrated his first billion, his bank came to give him a promotional vehicle. So, these non-state actors had actually captured the state and started to dictate the political trajectory. I could not even attend my ward political meetings because those boys could start fighting and throw you people out if they are not happy with the leadership. So, they were in Oshiomhole’s mind the key political actors. So, i started removing them because it stiffened the economy of the state. You could imagine that some market women could not ply a particular road because they had given up the road as thugs. They come and extort charges from them sometimes twice a day and the money was not going to the state. So, they had a thriving thuggery business or industry with state cover and now stiffening the economy. For me, all revenues were dwindling and we had to ensure that we make the state thrive by creating an enabling environment in an environment for order. So, I started disarming them, removing their boys, and trying to bring those ones who wanted to work into regular work. But, what is N20, 000 a month to some of them who were used to making such quick money in a week? They would rather be on the streets, harassing people. So, that was one of the core issues that led them to now Oshiomhole becing the national chairman of the party. They moved to Abuja and made him feel he didn’t have political relevance in Edo again because I had begun to dismantle his political structure. That was where the whole thing started. And I said look this is not the agreement.
When we came in 2006, we met this kind of structure and we agreed that we were going to dismantle them. But, you got some illogic started feeling that these are people who can help you maintain your political structure and have your political control. So, for me, no regrets because removing those guys from the streets begin to create some sense of order or enabling environment and the rest is history. For those of you who come to Benin, you will tell the difference. Because of the large diaspora we have, they are now coming back, they are now on. They are building homes for better, unfettered, undisturbed and the state begin to thrive again. And that is why you see that reaction, particularly from the Edo Diaspora, are like what is going on at home? I don’t know if that is good enough to say these are the key issues