Ize-Iyamu: Edo is Back in the Stone Age

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Personality Interview

 

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State, Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu recently gave an update on his gubernatorial ambition, where he situated some of the issues that are germane to the contest. And in spite of the hurdles before him, the pastor-turned-politician is very optimistic that given a free and fair poll, the September election is his to lose. Olawale Olaleye presents the excerpts:
 
You sounded so optimistic and confident about winning this election, despite the fact that you are contesting against the ruling party both at the state and the federal level. What could have informed such optimism?
I honestly believe that by the grace of God if we have a free election, PDP will win this state. The reason is obvious. The present APC government in Edo has not done well. They have had the opportunity to prove themselves in eight years – for two terms. Today, people are very disillusioned and very dissatisfied. Just some days ago, our pensioners went to protest at the Government House. Even though the governor was in his office, he refused to see them. He refused to grant them access but it is interesting to hear what he said.
The pensioners mentioned that many of them have not received their entitlements and that in the past seven months at least nine pensioners had died because of the frustrations and sufferings they were going through. The pensioners are a critical number in the state. They have families and dependants and I can bet you that with this situation, a majority of the pensioners will not vote for them even if they decide to start paying pensions now, which is not even possible.
To make it even more difficult, he (Oshiomhole) has closed the pension office, which means they cannot process pension papers and send to him. Of course, these are experienced retired civil servants. They understand the game the governor is playing. Judicial service workers have not been paid their entitlements for over a year now. They went on strike, asking that government should obey the court ruling which says they should enjoy financial autonomy.
Even when they called off their strike, the governor declared that their entitlements should not be paid for the period they were on strike and it runs into months. The judicial workers, as at today, are complaining. Students who voted for him believing that he would make education more accessible, not only has he reduced the standards of education, he has increased school fees. So, on what basis are students going to vote for him?
Okada riders, who were at the forefront of the agitation to get him re-elected into government, the moment he came in, he banned them. But worse was the fact that he does not plan for them. There is no attempt to create an alternative for them. The only people he employed throughout his tenure were those youths he took under Edo Youth Empowerment Scheme. The moment the second term election was in the kitty, he sacked them – over 7,000 youths. They are not going to vote for him.
The farmers of the state are not going to vote for him. So, who are the people that will vote for him apart from his party members? Even within his party, look at the way he has conducted himself. A man, who openly accused his deputy of planning to assassinate him, you can imagine the gravity of such an allegation. His deputy was attacked in his own local government, yet not one word of condemnation or sympathy from Oshiomhole.
So, even his party is a divided house. Our confidence is the fact that he has failed woefully and you can see that every campaign he has gone to, rather than show Edo people his scorecard, he has resorted to name-calling; insulting Ize-Iyamu, insulting Chief Tony Anenih and everybody in PDP. But the truth about it is that PDP is no longer in government. So, to continue to talk about the PDP when they were in government many years ago is laughable.
The reason why you were elected was to correct what you felt was wrong with the PDP administration and you have eight years to effect that correction. If after 8 years, you are still complaining, it means that you have no clue. I can understand you are complaining a year or two after, but eight years after you are still blaming PDP, then, it means that you are not the right person for the job.
Edo people sincerely believe that Adams Oshiomhole knows nothing about governance. It was a tragic mistake to have allowed such a person to be the governor of a state. At the best, maybe one of our unions can make him chairman but certainly, not the governor of Edo State. So, I can assure you that we believe we will win. If you take your mind back to the 2015 presidential election, APC was demystified in Edo, which has resulted in PDP having two out of three senators.
We have five out nine members of the House of Representatives. Many people do not know that of the 17 local governments that were announced in that election, PDP won 15 while APC managed to win only two. That result tells a story. I believe that in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, if the election was free and fair, I think PDP will do better than what they did during the presidential election.
 
At what point did the Edo people realise that Oshiomhole was a mistake, having voted for him twice?
To be honest with you, in the first term, a lot of people applauded him. There appeared to be a lot of work in progress. Let me reveal something a lot of people are not aware of. The greatest achievement of Oshiomhole in his first term was the cosmetic renovation of schools. I call it cosmetic because when you renovate schools and there are no chairs or tables, no science laboratories, no teachers’ classrooms, then it is cosmetic.  But even that renovation was a UBE scheme. Eighty-five of the schools that were renovated were primary schools under the UBE scheme.
The UBE scheme was an initiative by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Under that scheme, the then PDP-led federal government contributed 60 per cent of the funds that were used for that renovation. What many people did not realise was that the 40 per cent counterpart funding that Edo State government brought was actually contributed by Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor, a PDP governor before the court removed him as governor. Before Osunbor left office, he had paid the 40 per cent needed to access the 60 per cent.
So, when Oshiomhole came in as governor, he had billions waiting for him because the federal government had just released the money. After that money was spent, what has happened? His second term is almost over, how many schools were being renovated during his second term? The reason is not far-fetched. The counterpart funding was not paid so, the federal government did not release money. His second term has been a disaster. On road construction, when you do one road people will expect that another one is coming, but the roads were deliberately chosen to deceive.
He deliberately chose roads that a casual visitor will want to pass through without going deep into the city. So, if you land at Benin airport and you drive to Government House, and then you drive back to the airport, you might have a very good impression about Benin on the state of roads. But if you take the pains to go outside the city, you will find out that the roads that have been done are less than three per cent. It will shock you to know that the road to the palace is in a deplorable condition.
If not for the rains, I have contacted a construction company to go and fix it because it was a disgrace. We are planning a coronation of the new Oba. Visitors are coming into the state and the road to the palace is impassable. If the road leading to the Oba’s palace is bad, you can imagine other roads. Before he came in as governor, we had pipe-borne water. Ikpoba River Dam was functional. Ojirabi Dam was functional. Today, they are no more.  Even the pipes that were procured with ADP loans for the Benin water expansion, they have mysteriously disappeared. 
We have been told that they were sold but the money is nowhere to be found in government coffers and nobody has raised any eyebrows about it. In the course of rehabilitating the so-called roads, a lot of water pipes were destroyed. For any government now to bring water to Benin, it’s going to cost trillions because all the pipes for water have been destroyed. For the first time, we now have a government that has no plan for pipe borne water. Everybody in Edo now have to rely on self-help; either you can sink a borehole, go to the River or wait for the rain to come.
We are back to the Stone Age in Edo and that is why you can imagine the kinds of diseases that we have because the waters from the boreholes were not tested or treated. So, in the absence of water, light, jobs, what is going to make Edo to be interested in the continuity of this government? The second term has been a disaster and Edo people cannot wait to push him out. In fact, they were hoping that the election which was done four years ago will be in July. They were very disappointed when INEC announced that the election will be in September. So, everyday, Edo people are waiting; they are counting the days. Every Edo worker wants this government to exit and they are praying frantically for that Election Day. 
 
Are you saying in all honestly, and as a pastor, that there is nothing you can credit to him as achievements?
It will be difficult. There are two areas that I felt he has tried. One was the internally generated revenue (IGR) which is key to the sustainability of any state. When he came in, it was about N300million and he announced that it has gone up to N2.5bn. That to me was something to applaud. However, that money has nosedived and the reason is not far-fetched. The government has not been able to put in place any machinery for attracting businesses or to sustain existing ones. The tax policy is arbitrary and punitive. So, Edo people are over-taxed and a lot of the money is going into private pockets.
Lots of revenue collectors have resorted to self-help. Money that ought to go into government coffers is going into private pockets. Sometime ago, a member of the Produce Board resigned his appointment, saying that the Chairman of that board is collecting all the money meant for the state and putting it into his private accounts. Interestingly, the chairman of Produce Board is a nephew of the governor, so he never bothered to investigate such a weighty accusation.
His nephew is still chairman and nothing has been done about that accusation. So, I find it very difficult now to praise him on the IGR because of the fraud going on. At the same time, in terms of percentage, he has not even done any miracle. When we were in government in 1999, the IGR of the state was N26m, maximum was N30m. Before we left, we moved it to N300m. So, what they have done in terms of percentage is not even extraordinary when compared to what we did. But the reality is that the money has nosedived.
What makes it even worse is that they collected $75m in one tranche and they collected the second one for the purpose of growing our IGR. They borrowed money from the World Bank to increase the IGR. After collecting the money, the IGR has gone down. So, something is wrong somewhere. They are going to make us pay for money they collected in growing the IGR, yet the IGR is not growing, instead, it is going down. 
The second area that I felt he should be praised was the attempt to deal with the flooding problem in Benin. I have often said in the past that the problem of Edo is not really that of bad roads. It has always been that of drainages. In the absence of drains, the roads cannot last. So, when he came up with this concept of a Storm water project, and I must tell you honestly, some of us encouraged him that for the first time, Edo will have a comprehensive Master Plan that will tackle the flooding problem.
By the time, that is done, it means that future governments will find it very easy to do roads. Tarring of roads is not difficult once you can deal with primary and secondary drains. So, when he took N30b, nobody complained but at the tail-end of his administration, he announced to Edo people through his Commissioner for Environment that job cannot be completed in 30 years. Of course, he does not have a term of 30 years.
He did not disclose the percentage of work the N30b can do, he only said the project cannot be completed in 30 years instead, he will be doing it in phases. What this means is that after collecting N30b, he was telling us that he won’t be able to do what he has promised us. But what has shocked me for which I can’t give him credit is that apart from the fact that the completion date is no longer known, some people came to me and said the Ogba River, which is down Airport road, where most of the water is channeled usually over-flows its banks anytime it floods, going over the Bridge and even affecting houses.
People around that area are beginning to move out of the area. I was alarmed. So, because I come from this place and passionate about it, I called some engineers and asked why the River is over-flowing. They told me it is due to the water that is being channeled through the Storm Water project into the river. They said what is now obvious to them is that before they started a project of that magnitude, they never did an environmental impact study assessment. According to them, the volume of water coming into the River is too much. They said if they had done that, there are measures they would have taken to ensure that what is happening does not happen.
They also said right now, the project is at 30 per cent, by the time it gets to 50 per cent, the water coming into that place will sack the whole of Iyekoba. The Ogunpa disaster that happened in Ibadan years back will be a child’s play. I think the Oshiomhole administration developed cold feet when they saw the signs that if they continued with that project, it would be a big disaster. As at today, nothing much is happening. How can any sane person applaud such a project? 
 
How do you intend to cope with the financial aspect of your campaign because the governor was recently seen donating N120m to market women: do you have the financial wherewithal to prosecute this battle?
The governor is not fighting me. He is fighting the people of Edo. He is fighting pensioners, civil servants, students even the market women; he is fighting them because foodstuffs from the rural areas have become so expensive. This is not the first time he is giving money to market women days to an election. He gave them N100m before. How many market women benefited from that money? Has he bothered to ask for a detailed breakdown of how that money went?
From my own investigation, even before that money left Government House, commissions were taken at the highest level. So, what came to the market women was a fraction and I am sure the same thing will happen to this N120m. But is it not a sign of insensitivity to be donating N120m at a time pensioners are dying over their legal entitlements and the governor has refused to see them?  The media should ask him if the N120m he is donating is in the budget.
Even if it is security vote, it is being wrongly applied. We must not encourage such abuses. Local government employees are being owed 18 to 20 months and nothing is being done, yet the government is dashing out money at a time we are in dire financial crisis. So, Oshiomhole is not fighting me at all. If he thinks I am his only enemy, on the election day, he will find out that he has many enemies. I don’t regard him as an enemy, I just see him as somebody who has plundered the state and the state must be rescued.  He is fighting Edo people and I don’t see how he can win. 
To be fair to President Buhari, I think he has maintained a level of statesmanship. I cannot see his hand in any election that has been done. The fact that he does not even come for campaigns shows that he wants to make a radical change and give some respect and dignity to the office of the president. I think what the governor is doing is name dropping. He said ‘I will use EFCC to deal with Ize-Iyamu; I will use INEC’. These are the words he uses carelessly. Is EFCC an organ of the state?  But I want to assure the people of Edo it will not happen. Edo people are too enlightened and they are waiting eagerly for September 10. 
 
Are you worried about INEC conducting a free, fair and credible election?
Yes, we are worried about INEC because of the inconclusive nature of all the elections. Whether you believe it or not, elections are very expensive, so to do an election and it is declared inconclusive and you conduct it again and it is declared inconclusive is not the best. I think INEC just have to put its acts together. At least, let Edo election be different from the ones we have seen. Even the Imo senatorial election that was held last Saturday was inconclusive.
If you cannot do a state or senatorial election, how are you going to do a general election for an entire country? So, I think even if these guys are learning, by now they should have learnt. If they need logistics support, they should ask. The media must help us appeal to them to put their acts together. We don’t want a situation whereby on the election day, materials are in abundance in a particular local government and in some other key or targeted local governments, materials are not forthcoming. 
We know that these are things that can be done and they might pretend that it is due to logistics difficulties. It is difficult to explain why materials will get to Edo North before they get to Edo Central. They cannot be voting in Edo North and you said materials have not reached Benin. Something is wrong.
 
Do you foresee violence and how can you avert it in the governorship election?
Let me assure you that PDP in all fairness in Edo State does not have a history of violent conduct. We went through primaries, I am sure that you didn’t hear that somebody was slapped; but in APC, even the deputy-governor with all his security cover was attacked. Security details attached to him were shot. That will give you the inkling to where the violence will come from. We can assure you that we will not be violent and we will encourage our people not to be violent but I can assure you that nobody can intimidate us.
Violence is not one of our agenda but there is no level of violence that will make us allow anybody to rig us out. We will be vigilant and prepared.  I want to call on the security agents to talk to them. All the known thugs, we know where they are. We know those the governor has been holding nocturnal meetings with. Unfortunately for him, everything he does, his people in APC report to us. 
 
Are you not intimidated by the profile of Godwin Obaseki, the APC candidate because of his rich background?
How can you be intimidated by a man you don’t see?  Every time the APC campaigns the only man who is speaking is Adams Oshiomhole while the governorship candidate, Obaseki is pushed to the background. So, if the APC candidate is content with hiding under him, no problem. But when you say rich background, I am surprised. What rich background? Are you talking about his financial or academic background? 
With due respect, even if one wants to be modest, when you want to talk about governance, the best Obaseki can lay claim to is that he was chairman of a non-existent Economic team. I have been Chief of Staff, Secretary to Government. The experience I have he cannot (Obaseki) cannot come near it. The Economic team they talked about, have they ever told you who the members are?  How many times did they meet?  What were the policies they churned out? 
For a state like Edo, with the level of economic mess that the state is in, it is shocking that somebody can stand up and say ‘I was in charge of the Economic team’.  He said he is a technocrat – a technocrat in what sense? A man who was a stockbroker, do you even know how he left the place? It is a common secret that he was forced to resign as Managing Director of Afrinvest before he came here.
Here is a man who has never voted in Edo. A man who prides himself as being a very strong businessman, who wants to govern our state, have you asked him: ‘Sir, where are your businesses in Edo?’  ‘How many people have you employed in Edo? You haven’t done all these things and you said you want to come and take the number one position in Edo. It shows the disdain you have for us.