Mr. Godwin Obaseki, a frontline governorship hopeful in Edo State, was recently in Lagos, where he met with select journalists on his governorship dream. He explained why he was the best man for the job and the reason he could not be unassociated with the Adams Oshiomhole administration. Shola Oyeyipo presents the excerpts
You were part of the team that came in with Governor Adams Oshiomhole in 2008. Why was it that people didn’t get to know you until a few years ago?
Certainly, I am but I thought that I would just come in and help organise things and go back to what I was doing. But as chairman of the Economic Team, I realised that what we had anticipated existed in government did not exist. I had on my instinct invited people to come and help the government to take off but I then realised that we could not be talking about an economic policy or running an economy when there was no engine to drive the economy. So, for me, I realised that it was much deeper, so I had to set up the Economic Team and institutionalise it and ensure that it was properly resourced to now support the Comrade’s effort.
This took quite a lot out of me. As an Economic Team, what are you supposed to do? You expect that civil servants should have done their work, there are policies in place and you come in and advise and make comments on what you think would happen, the options, why those options and choices. But I found out that I got dragged in more into first, helping them to create a base. I asked the question: What is the purpose of government and its objectives? I did this to see how we can begin to build the base on which we can now actually advise the government.
My aim at that point was not to become a political appointee. So, to that extent, I didn’t feel that I had to be in front. I was just there to support and help the Comrade Governor achieve the goals he had set out. And I felt that I would be more effective if I was apolitical. We looked at decisions and issues dispassionately and the truth is that within the first two, three years, I had no interest in politics. I didn’t see myself dealing with the intrigues, subterfuge and others. It was during Governor Oshiomhole’s re-election that I understood and appreciated that one can fix the bureaucracy but it is beyond that because if you don’t also fix the politics, nothing will abide.
Looking at how far you and Governor Oshiomhole have come, can one say that your governorship ambition is a payback?
It is not a payback because the question I had always asked after the governor’s re-election is: now that he is in the second and last term, what happens after him? The thought was always there – who will continue with what we started? But even if it was there, it wasn’t something that I pursued strongly because I didn’t see how I could even do that – the energy and time. If you think about Nigeria’s politics before the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as president, you got to have a thick skin to be able to fight. And, in any case, since I didn’t have that political background and history, it wasn’t something I thought about doing initially.
But after Buhari succeeded despite all odds, I said it is possible. That gave me the perspective of the ability of an outsider to come in and take over power. More importantly, I looked around and said we’ve been here together in the last seven years; I cannot absolve myself of any key policy that was made. And I said to myself, because the future is going to be more challenging than where we are coming from, we run a huge risk of losing the gains of what we have accomplished. What are those things that we have accomplished?
First, we had to restore effects of governance by ensuring a sense of accountability, professionalism in the civil service, planning which helped us to earn the trust of the people and getting money to execute projects. After going through all these, I realised that we have done the easy part because we had a plan and money to build infrastructure and now created that expectation from the people that if government can, then it should continue to do it, but we are going into an era where oil prices have dropped drastically and those expectation are real and can still be accomplished but with a different mindset and management style.
So, looking around, I felt that I can’t just be in politics only, it has to be politics mixed with some capacity to manage resources in difficult times and I think that I am more than qualified. If there is anybody in the race today, who has the experience in terms of managing resources and government, I am that person. I agree that I don’t have 30 years of political experience behind me but I have more than seven years’ experience of monitoring political activities in Edo State. What we need at this point in time is not just someone, who is adept in politics alone. We need someone who has managerial ability. So, I feel that I have that advantage of being able to handle both.
From this perspective, I said if I left with Governor Oshiomhole and things broke, and we went back, they will say it was just a fluke and more importantly, from the risk standpoint, they will not be able to understand what we did and why did what we did. To explain failure, they will turn around and I will be culpable. They will say they borrowed, not understanding that yes, you borrowed but you borrowed to drive economic growth, so that you can increase your tax revenues to now pay your borrowings. It is a cycle, which requires skills in finance and management.
So, from a personal standpoint, I said I am safer running as a governor than just being outside after now because if things broke, they will turn and say they said it, we took all the money. How do you explain how we built the airport road? How do you explain that there is a drainage system on it that cost the state government so much and there is another ecological study that we have done that we have to link all the roads in the Government Reservation Area (GRA) into that drainage system before we build the roads in the GRA. So, it is not a payback but more like continuing with what have started.
Do you stand a chance of picking the APC’s ticket given the array of aspirants in the party?
The truth is that after 16 weeks, I am the person to beat. A lot of political actors have failed to realise that the political environment has changed drastically; that the current economic reality is going to affect our politics more than we understand at the surface. The thinking of most of them is, let’s just grab power, once we are in Government House, everything will fall in place. But I say that it is beyond that. Being in Government House does not make things happen. You have to possess the capability. With technology and improvement in our electoral process, people will now determine, who governs them; people will now matter in the political process. Having political structure alone will not in itself deliver political power.
There is the belief that those who worked for the emergence of Oshiomhole are no longer with his camp. So, who is going to deliver you as governor?
First, Oshiomhole delivered himself. If he had not restored governance and built the infrastructure that he did; if he has not gotten the confidence of the people, nobody would have been able to perform any magic. People voted, and that’s the point I am making. Gone are the days when politicians think that the people don’t matter; when a few political elite gather and say this is how we want it; when you can just carry the ballot boxes and fill in the result sheets.
Today, whoever that is going to deliver you politically is going to make sure that the votes count. Yes, some people worked during the last governorship election, I am not disputing that. I equally played a role in that campaign because I was the chairman of the Finance Committee, but we were able to succeed because of the accomplishment of the Oshiomhole government during his first term.
A lot of political actors just believe that there is a structure and system, so they don’t need to work. I have gone round the 18 local government areas in the state. As I speak, I am going ward to ward. I have done 30 wards in the last two weeks and I am going to go round all the 192 wards. Somebody said something in one of the wards. He said: ‘But they said this man was imposed on the party but he is the only one that we are seeing. We don’t see those who were not imposed.’
What is your reaction to the allegation that there are plans by the governor to foist a list of delegates on the APC leadership, so that you can emerge as the party’s choice?
It is unfortunate the way some people have just decided to sit somewhere and be crying foul on the pages of newspapers. The delegates’ list that was used for the last elections is what is going to be used for the party’s primary. I don’t know how it is going to be possible for anyone to substitute names on that list. It is only in Nigerian politics that you see magic happening. When we met with the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, he said APC has rules on how things are done. When a delegate dies, do you allow that vacancy? There is a process of filling that vacancy.
There are some people, who defected to other parties but the guidelines of the party are very clear on how to fill such vacancies. How can one belong to a party and still have a sub-party within the party? For me, the only structure that I have is the party and I will work through its structure. The delegates are members of the APC and they are the people that we need to market ourselves to on why they should vote for us as the governorship candidate of the party. So, I don’t see how one can sit at a place or go to Abuja and change a delegates’ list, which has 3,023 people on it.
Some of the aspirants are also saying the governor wants to substitute about 900 delegates; that there are some, who are not really dead as well as didn’t defect to other parties?
How is he going to do that? They just sit down and create phantoms. First, they said I am not popular, that the party will lose but I ask: if they are that popular, why are they afraid? I have gone round the local governments and interacted with party chairmen at the ward level, so I will tell you that I don’t see how anyone can change the delegates list. But if they have any evidence of substitution, they should come out with it because 900 out of 3,023 is about 25 per cent. We should realise that politics has gone beyond all these; it is now about ideas.
Governor Oshiomhole came in with a lot of goodwill and performed creditably in his first term, but of late, some people say there is a question mark on his performance in the second term. Don’t you see this as a sort of impediment to your ambition?
There is such a huge gap between reality and phantom. Here is a man, who came in and in seven years has performed creditably well even without me saying it. If you knew Edo State and the amount of physical transformation that has occurred in the state within the period Oshiomhole has been governor, you will marvel. The PDP is saying we borrowed about N600 billion to do all the things that we have done.
I never really understood what they were saying until I thought about it and realised that it is true because if you value in Nigerian parlance, particularly PDP parlance, what we have done is in excess of N600 billion. The quality of work we have done is in excess of N600 billion but our actual spending is about N150 billion. So, when some people now say, questionable, I ask: are you questioning the roads that exist, the schools that have been refurbished? Let’s go to the poll tomorrow and see how many people that will come out and vote again for the Comrade Governor.
There is nothing in my view that is questionable. Think about it, before now, we were an opposition government under the PDP-led federal government. There was no month that officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did not come because of phantom petitions but no member of Edo State Executive Council was ever arraigned, no impropriety till tomorrow. Because we are no longer in that old arrangement, where the people didn’t matter; when they just sit down and write results – all they do now is just to sponsor propaganda and false information. We say, let’s go to the field but they keep shouting.
Under what credibility are you running for the election: yours or that of Oshiomhole?
I don’t see the difference because I have been part of what we built in the last seven years. I cannot distance myself from any major policy of Governor Oshiomhole. I can only extend and improve on what he has done and we did it on the platform of our party – the APC. So, there is no difference as far as I am concerned.
What are the critical needs of Edo people that you would want to address within the first few months of your government if you are elected?
The key issue is jobs. We have trained a lot of our children but there are no jobs. The level of unemployment in Edo State is quite frightening. Education is our major industry, so every parent strives to send his or her child(ren) to school but when these children leave school, there is nothing to do. So, a lot of them want to travel abroad, they trek to Libya and a lot of them die trying to cross over to Europe for better life. Why can’t we create opportunities here? What will it take? Just jobs creation. So, what we will do is to get our technical schools back and tying them to industries, expanding agricultural production and processing. Also, my experience from the private sector will help me to attract businesses that will create jobs.
More importantly, I looked around and said we’ve been here together in the last seven years; I cannot absolve myself of any key policy that was made. And I said to myself, because the future is going to be more challenging than where we are coming from, we run a huge risk of losing the gains of what we have accomplished. What are those things that we have accomplished?