Prince Kassim Afegbua, Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State was elevated to the position of Commissioner of Information and Orientation. In this interview with Adibe Emenyonu Afegbua speaks about his new appointment, Oshiomhole’s successor, why Edo people would still prefer APC to PDP and reasons behind the government’s plan to build roads in the rural areas
How do you feel on your elevation from Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to Governor Adams Oshiomhole to the position of Commissioner of Information and Orientation?
It is a natural thing for one to feel happy for being given an additional responsibility to manage information in a government that I have been part and parcel of in the past three and half years now. I thank the Comrade-Governor for deeming it fit to upgrade me from the position of Special Adviser to that of Commissioner for Information and with the additional responsibility of managing the entire media framework in the state both as Special Adviser to him. That is a huge task with the kind of team and persons that we have. We are going to deliver on promise, ensure that we are able to give Edo people the right information using the best approaches and methodologies because this is a government that has worked so hard to alter the narrative of underdevelopment to that of development; alter the sorry state of infrastructure decay to an appreciable level of acceptance. This is a government that has taken the bull by the horns, stepping on the right toes to ensure it delivers on its electoral mandate and as the government is winding down in the next 10 months, it is our responsibility as stakeholders of the collective patrimony of the state to ensure that we exit well and exit strongly.
In the next nine or 10 months, this administration will come to an end. Now that you have just been appointed, what are you bringing to the table to enhance information dissemination in the state?
Well, don’t forget that I have been playing the role of a media manager in the last three years. As a special adviser, I have been engaging the public often time whether on television, newspapers and other medium of information. It is nothing new to me but a way of giving recognition, to have a ministry to manage and other parastatals under the ministry to manage as well. The Nigerian Observer is there, the Edo Broadcasting Service is there, the Government Printing Press. So once we settle down in office, of course naturally, I will take briefs from the Permanent Secretary and other sector heasds and see what incentive we can introduce into the system to ensure we leave the ministry better than I met it. The governor is the one that has been playing a very magical role. Magical in inverted comas because while other states in the country are not able to pay salaries of their workers, Edo State is not just paying but doing so on record time. It even goes a step further to pay pensions and gratuities. That is cheering news. The state government is also embarking on capital projects by way of road construction that if you go through the city of Benin, the state capital, the central axis and north, you will see roads being built, including bridges to link up communities. At the Edo State Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, there are huge infrastructural developments going on there. The Teaching Hospital project has been awarded, lecture theaters, students’ hostels to ensure it takes off in record time. The new Central Hospital being built will be stocked with state of the art equipment so that our idea of medical tourism will be realised. Even as an insider, I know that the state governor is just being magical to get all these projects going at the same time without any hitch. To that extent, it only require his information managers to articulate these achievements in a manner that establishes his legacies even when he has left office. We are not going to rest on our oars. This is going to be a huge task but I can assure you that we will live up to that expectation. I will not disappoint the governor. I am a team player and I don’t believe in doing it all alone. As team player, I will also be taking lessons, information from some of my colleagues and play the managerial role to ensure that we deliver the right message to the Edo people at the right time without leaving them in the dark.
Again, don’t forget this is an election year where tempers will be high. Aspirants will emerge as candidates of the two dominant party, APC and PDP who will engage the Edo electorate. With this we expect a lot of misinformation from the opposition party. So it will be our responsibility to correct as well as be proactive enough to give the right message to the people to make informed choice in the election that will come later this year.
With the number of ongoing projects in the state, there is doubt that the governor may not keep to his promise of completing all of them before he leaves office?
He is going to deliver on that promise because before he commenced, he must have done a critical analysis. A lot was resource flow and how to get money. If you see the paper that were tendered for bidding and all that, there is time frame attached to these projects. Some are 40 weeks, some 24 weeks and some 36 weeks. So it takes a man of action, a man of unquenchable energy like the Comrade-Governor to be able to insist that projects must be delivered on record time. So one can only commend the governor for keeping the Edo dream alive; for pursuing that mantra of taking Edo to the next level, a manner that suggests he has been very prudent in the management of very scarce resources. That is why often time when people complain, talk about issue of tax payment and what have you, we don’t look back because if you want to own government you must be a tax payer. The government is not a Father Christman that derives resources from nowhere. It is what we get from the federation account which is not even enough to carter for salaries and emolument on monthly basis. If we had not improved on our internally generated revenue by way of tax payment and other commitments, we won’t be able to pay salaries talk less of building infrastructure. So we are going to complete all ongoing projects. He has said so and we are pursuing that and taking it off. In fact if you see the volume of contracts that have been awarded, you will be wondering where the money is coming from; but all depends on planning both at the medium-term and long-term level to ensure we are able to meet up with our commitments to contractors for them to remain on site. So each time we make assessment of work done, you see the kind of enthusiasm and praise that are showered on the governor which tells you that the people actually appreciate what he is doing in spite of the fact that there is a global trend of economic recession. You and I know that prices of crude oil have dropped to an abysmal $32 to $35 per barrel and even the benchmark set for budget is $38 per barrel at the national level have been affected. With this, you wonder how states will be able to cope, but in Edo, between 21st and 23rd of every month, we pay salaries irrespective of how meager the resources we get from the federation account. What this presupposes is that the Comrade-Governor understands how to break some people–egg to make omelette for everybody to feed on. Times are hard, no doubt. They say tough times don’t last but only tough people do. And when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. So we know that the going is tough but because we are tough, we are still sailing to ensure that we are able to finish all projects and don’t award fresh ones. That is what we are doing based on the outcome of the retreat that we had in Abuja, November last year.
Very soon electioneering will kick off in the state. As the chief information manager, how do you intend to go about it without being accused of misinforming the people?
There are two things involved which people must get clearly. The government is run by APC. The party has its own structure. That this is Adams Aliu Oshiomhole’s government under APC and so it is our responsibility to showcase in fulfillment of the mandate given to Oshiomhole for eight years and we will be reminding Edo people that having gone this far, with all the beautiful infrastructure we have been able to put in place, despite declining revenues, the people should be able to read between the lines why it will be good for them to continue to sustain APC in government. As we speak, APC has been tested for close to seven and half years by the time the electioneering will commence. And by the time Oshiomhole leaves on November 12 this year, it would have been tested for eight years. If you juxtapose the eight years with the 10 years of PDP in this state, you will see that they are poles apart in terms of development on the part of APC and underdevelopment on the part of PDP. This is not a statement of fallacy but factual and verifiable. Go round the city of Benin, elsewhere in two senatorial districts, you will see tangible benchmarks of development of Oshiomhole, like roads, schools, water and rural electrification. That will be our score card. What we are doing is like eye marking so that the people will see with their eyes and not just earmarking or hearing it. If you say you have done 10 kilometers of road, people should be able to see it.
Barely a week ago, the Niger Delta Minister came visiting the governor and goinging round projects executed or said to have been done by the past administration of Jonathan in Edo State. They mentioned a “Jonathan Estate” in Benin which we had never heard of because there was no connect between the said Jonathan Estate and the people of Edo State as it were then. And by the time we went there, we only saw some houses, partly finished and some left undone. People even told us that they were about commissioning it as a completed project and they revolted. This is the kind of sensibility that Oshiomhole has built into the Edo electorate; ability to question or interrogate government about how their affairs are being managed and how resources are being applied to projects that will have impact on their day-to-day living. Ditto for Benin-Abraka road that was abandoned by the former Federal Government and some other projects said to have been undertaken by the Ministry of Niger Delta. If they hadn’t gone round, we won’t be able to know the kind of decay the PDP under Jonathan had plunged the country into. But thank God that today there is a new government in place with a new mantra which everyone has to key into because everything cannot be done in the same way. Both at the local or state level, the Comrade Governor is conscious of all these that when the electioneering kicks off, we are going to showcase all these: health, schools, roads and other social wellbeing of the people. So, it not going to be easy for any particular opposition party to put us on a hot seat. APC will remain the party to beat in Edo State. What we are praying for is a successor that can fit into the big shoes that the Comrade-Governor will leave behind.