Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Tom Ikimi, in a recent interview with journalists spoke about the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State and the factors that could change some of the dynamics of the exercise. Shola Oyeyipo presents the excerpts:
Why is this gubernatorial election in Edo State the fiercest in recent time?
My dream of a Nigerian nation as one that is politically guided by a structure founded on two balanced political parties, which provide viable alternative choices for our people has been partially fulfilled by the existence of the PDP and the APC. I am proud to have played very prominent and historical roles in both parties. It was a very exciting experience for me to be the first elected National Chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC) from 1990 to 1992, during that very successful experiment of a two-party system in our country.
Although I was national chairman and Edo State my home State, I did not pay any particular attention to the governorship elections in the state both in the party primaries as well as in the election itself. I considered the whole country to be my constituency and I was eventually very proud of our achievement when, in the overall outcome of the general election, the NRC won 16 governorships out of the total of 30 states in the country at the time.
Throughout the period of my tenure, I maintained a very healthy and cordial relationship with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, my counterpart in the rival Social Democratic Party (SDP). I travelled the length and breadth of Nigeria freely, happily and unmolested. Unfortunately, that innovative system came to an abrupt end.
With the return of democratic dispensation in 1999, the PDP won custody of the governorship of Edo State. That lasted eight years, followed by another brief period of just over a year. My membership of the PDP at the time was short-lived from 2002 to sometime in 2005. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the way an ideologically fundamental core was being insinuated into the party’s operations, as though the PDP were the sole party of Nigeria. A democracy must permit an alternative party. My political quest became an earnest search for an alternative to the PDP in our infant democracy.
I was therefore one of the two persons fundamentally responsible for the creation of the Action Congress (AC), which in 2007 admitted Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as a member and eventually, the party’s governorship candidate. Everything happened virtually at the very last minute, preceding the governorship election of that year. My colleagues and I fought a titanic battle to secure victory for the Action Congress and install Adams Oshiomhole Governor. Our team in that struggle was a formidable political family. We are still very much together today. One of the stars of the team is Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who blatantly betrayed the group in virtually all ramifications, proceeded not only to ravage and exploit our State; he busied himself sowing the seeds of disharmony among the hitherto peaceful peoples of homogeneous Edo State. It is bewildering that a man, who proclaimed himself a crusader against the so-called godfathers has turned out to be the ultimate godfather, unable to reconcile himself with the reality of end of tenure is seeking a third term governorship by installing a weak surrogate.
Yes, the stakes are high. All of us, who set out with Adams Oshiomhole in 2007 are on one side with the good people from the three senatorial districts of our state, earnestly seeking a peaceful change. We have all overwhelmingly endorsed the candidature of Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu, a consummate politician, a religious man, lawyer, farmer and successful business man.
What in your opinion are the critical issues in this election?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has been in politics for about eight years altogether, which covers the whole period of his governorship. I have been in full time national politics at the highest levels, non-stop for about 28 years now. There is a vast difference between the two of us. I helped to put the Comrade where he is today and it is because I would not destroy what God helped me to build that my colleagues and I disregarded the actions of the governor during his first four-year tenure and supported him fully to win a second term.
I was privileged to be the leader of the party in the state throughout the period. I convened and chaired all the leadership meetings. Comrade Oshiomhole was admitted into the Action Congress party at a ceremony in my house. He attended all leadership meetings held in my house throughout the period of his election campaign and the early years of his governorship. There was no option as the governor’s office was not available to him at the time.
He did not have a house of his own in Benin City either. When eventually he gained legal access to official quarters and settled down as governor, he exploited every manoeuver to locate all meetings in the Government House, including the running of the party as a department of Government House. I detested this attitude as I am a well-known apostle of party supremacy and will not accept the hijack of the party by the executive.
It is true that I have been a leader of both the PDP and the APC. In 2012, we successfully installed Governor Adams Oshiomhole for a second term. I’ve heard the boastful claims by Oshiomhole that he won the election because of his immense popularity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Director-General of his campaign was none other than the indefatigable Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu, who invested his rare gift of political campaign management tirelessly in the project.
But that’s Adams Oshiomhole for you. Surely, he must recall a visit to President Jonathan by himself, Pastor Osagie Iyamu and my humble self, preceding his second term election, and the successful outcome of that meeting. It is to me most embarrassing when these days, I hear the constant vilifications of the former President by Oshiomhole.
Following his assumption of office on his second term and noting that he desperately wanted to run the state party as part of the governor’s office, I decided to distant myself from state affairs and devote my energies to the establishment of a true alternative party. That was when I virtually departed from the state and embarked upon working for a multi-party merger that culminated in the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Adams and some of his colleagues parading themselves today as leaders of APC never believed the merger project would work. But as soon as the project became a reality, the master betrayer approached two top leaders of the former ACN in the South-west and pleaded with them to establish a blockade on me in the new party. For other selfish reasons, those two endorsed the plot.
I’m sure the Comrade would recall our heated confrontation at an APC national Exco meeting in Abuja, in the presence of other governors and leaders, at which I vehemently opposed proposals by him, seeking the seizure of the state party structures by governors. This rather principled position of mine may not have gone down well with some others of his colleagues. This played out down the line. When I notified the APC of my departure from the party, many colleagues of goodwill in the party pleaded with me to reconsider my decision but I could not come to terms with the betrayal.
A critical issue in this election is to prevent a de facto, third term governorship by Adams Oshiomhole, through the back door. The outgoing governor has been extremely hostile to the Central senatorial district, where I come from. He has boasted that he does not require the Esan vote.
We want a state in which all the three senatorial zones operate in harmony and have a sense of belonging. It is well-known that Comrade Oshiomhole has done nothing new in the state during his second four years. The period has been spent soliciting for massive loans which he has been spending quietly with Godwin Obaseki at his elbow. Edo State is heavily in debt and our people are impoverished. The truth and reality will be revealed when Oshiomhole and his cohorts leave office, so that true change takes place.
Some pundits have speculated that you want to end your active political career on a high note by ensuring total victory for your party in this governorship election, after which you will bow out a satisfied politician and successful architect. Is there any truth in this?
A victory by the PDP and the installation of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the next governor of Edo State will be the best thing to happen at this time for Edo State, the South-south geo-political zone and indeed the whole country. Edo State will breathe a gale force relief of fresh air and embrace a new lease of life. The Edo people need to regain their position of excellence in so many spheres once again.
Among the lot of governorship candidates, only Pastor Ize-Iyamu has an agenda of reasoned policies. Virtually all the notable political leaders and respected national elder statesmen of Edo State are in the PDP. They are all in full support of our candidate. The victory will be a high note success for all of them in their political careers. This election by the grace of God, will not be the end of my political career, instead the victory will ensure the end of the reckless ambitions of the outgoing governor dreaming dreams to establish himself as the “Jagaban” of Edo State.
With the entry of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and with the support of all our leaders, we look forward to the restoration of Edo State in Sports once again. We shall have modern sporting facilities, rescued from the run-down 40-year-old Sam Ogbemudia Stadium now frequently hijacked by the outgoing governor, not for sporting activities but reduced to a venue for occasional political jamborees by his party, cheered on by rented crowds.
The victory will be a high note success for our traditional institutions across the state, particularly the highly revered ancient and historic Benin Kingdom. The victory will boost tourism under the programme of a sophisticated administration that values Edo arts and culture that have fascinated and enraptured foreign awareness of the ancient history of the great Benin Kingdom. They have identified Benin City and other parts of Edo State as preferred tourist destinations.
I predict that the PDP victory will usher in a governor, who is set to hit the ground running and who will open up avenues for lucrative jobs for our teeming youths, pioneer an agrarian revolution in the state, provide shelter for our people through a simple but effective housing plan, ensure adequate medical facilities, reach every nook and cranny and establish a guarantee that qualitative education will not be merely characterised by red coloured aluminum roofs on a handful of selected wobbly structures. I thank God for preserving my life with His blessings of good health and physical strength. I do not intend to end my contributions of serving the nation and particularly Edo State, the birth place of my ancestors. I am in fact energised by the warmth of reception accorded me at various locations during this campaign.
You have been quoted as saying the results of the election in Edo State will shock Oshiomhole and his APC. Why are you so sure about this?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, I believe is quite aware of how he got into power in 2007/8 and how he got re-elected for a second term in 2012. I have made some remarks on this issue earlier. It is ironical that none of us that worked so hard to establish the party and who got him to power is still with him. It is also an irony that I have to discuss Adams Oshiomhole, who has converted himself to be the issue in an election that is actually about Godwin Obaseki, the presumed candidate hovering somewhere in his shadow.
Be that as it may, it is important to note that it was Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu, who as one of the strong pillars of the Action Congress (AC) party at its inception, acquired and paid for the party office on Airport Road. This may be new information to our dear Comrade, who was not a member of the party at the time. The signboard in front of the property has since changed from AC – Action Congress to ACN – Action Congress of Nigeria and today to APC. We have heard campaign comments on this election made by Adams Oshiomhole, which are all mostly a variety insults to the Elder Statesmen of our party as well as the previous PDP governor of Edo State.
The outgoing governor should have had the decency to admit that it was indeed Governor Lucky Igbinedion, who recommended him to us and who also contributed substantial finance to the Comrade’s first election campaign. Adams Oshiomhole, the boastful billionaire today had nothing to contribute to his own campaign then. I hope Oshiomhole recalls the trans-Atlantic Ocean cruise he enjoyed for the first time with Chief Lucky Igbinedion, where these matters were discussed and agreed?
When I was leading the AC, ACN and APC in Edo State, Governor Adams Oshiomhole referred to me constantly as “My leader”, but I took note of the constant derogatory remarks he made with reference to Chief Tony Anenih and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. I was not a fool as I noted his various actions – how he undermined my local government area and negatively interfered in my senatorial district, that it was only a matter of time before it was my turn to be so insulted. I wasn’t therefore surprised when he mounted the rostrum recently at Sam Ogbemudia Stadium and also at Igueben, my home town and proceeded to insult me.
He had forgotten the two-page letter he wrote to me on my 70th birthday, eulogising, praising me. That document and a similar previous one will go into my memoirs. The citizens of my LGA love and respect me. I’m proud of the role I played in the creation of Igueben Local Government. I mention this because it was on the same day that my LGA was created that I participated in splitting Etsako into Etsako West, Etsako East and Etsako Central. That exercise ensured that the late Admiral Mike Akhigbe got his own LGA – Etsako Central – with headquarters at Fugar.
Adams Oshiomhole has no idea of how Etsako West, his LGA, was created. His “Ajasko” dancing on the soap box from place to place and insulting elders has not gone down well with the general public, who are determined to pay him back on election day.
The PDP is still the dominant party in Nigeria and in Edo State in particular. Key members of the APC in Edo State are all from the PDP. For instance, the APC State Chairman, Anselm Ojezua was Lucky Igbinedion’s Commissioner for many years; the Secretary to the State Government, Prof Julius Ihonbvere was special adviser to President Obasanjo and contested several times for the PDP governorship ticket of Edo State; Hon Patrick Obahiagbon – the Chief of Staff etc.
APC’s campaign that the failures of the PDP in Edo State account for their failures in eight years of government is ludicrous. Comrade Oshiomhole stated recently in a Channels TV programme that he could not fulfill his campaign promises in the most recent four years of his second term because of the drop in oil price. What a farce! He has been in office since 2012 while the collapse of oil price is only recent.
He was one of those, who would not let former Minister of Finance, Okonjo Iweala rest – always agitating for the release of national savings in the Sovereign Wealth Fund to satisfy the squander, extravagance and plunder of dubious spending costs. An example of the recklessness with State funds is Oshiomhole’s new university sited in his village. The Comrade is said to have an interest in it. This obviously is not one of his campaign promises!
Your Senatorial zone, Edo Central, allegedly suffered serious neglect by the present government in the distribution of infrastructure and other development projects in the state. Has this influenced your current hardline posturing against Oshiomhole and the APC?
Let me tell you my vision of Edo land. I see it as a homogenous family in which we all should share and share alike. In 2007, I enthusiastically supported the zoning of the governorship seat to Edo North. Our reasoning was that Edo North had not been given a chance to govern the State. Even after the election, when Professor Osariemen Osunbor from Esan land, my senatorial district of Edo Central was declared the winner, I fought tooth and nail; shoulder to shoulder along with other colleagues through the court process to have Adams Oshiomhole declared the rightful winner, notwithstanding his origins in Edo North.
This reasoning is in keeping with the lofty ideals of the founding fathers of Edo State, who wanted an ethnically homogeneous state in which the three legs of Edo North, Edo Central and Edo South enjoy equal opportunities in the State. We were most unlucky that in selecting and backing the outgoing governor, we chose a man who did not share our passion of homogeneity. Even so in penalising Edo Central, Comrade Oshiomhole set a new standard all of his own. The State which had always operated peacefully with the three top political positions of Governor, Deputy Governor and Speaker rotated among the three Senatorial zones ended up through a series of manipulations, with Governor in the North and Deputy Governor and Speaker to the South.
Adams Oshiomhole soon revealed his true character of arch clannishness with an attitude that Edo Central being the so-called least populated could be sacrificed. This process served his selfish and vindictive interest to hurt the elder statesman, Chief Anenih of Uromi and to weaken my influence not only in Igueben but also in the whole of Esan land.
A recent survey revealed that of the top 50 official positions in Edo State, none was held by an Esan indigene. His disdain for Esan land is so intense that he has moved to annihilate the Ambrose Ali University. The University has recently suffered de-accreditation of several courses by the NUC for lack of adequate facilities and personnel. Even in his senatorial district, he preferentially favours his local government at the expense of the other five. Right now, he has selected his mutual village boy as deputy governorship candidate.
All four board membership positions recently secured for Edo State are allocated to indigenes of his local government. The Esan people in the five local governments of Esan land are not happy that they and their territory have suffered such neglect. It was shameful to watch the outgoing governor on TV in my local government of Igueben claiming that he had built roads in the LGA. Everyone was astounded as everyone there knew that not even one hundred yards of road work had been done there. He spent most of the time vomiting insults on my name. All Esan sons and daughters, who love and cherish their heritage are all invited to return home and protect their father land at the forthcoming elections!
What would you say are the essential political advantages of your governorship candidate, Mr. Ize Iyamu over that of APC, Godwin Obaseki. You must have some fears about your candidate. What are these?
The PDP candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is a consummate politician, who has endeared himself to a vast majority of the politicians in the state, and that is across both political parties. He is a qualified lawyer, who has acquired good working experience in government as a former chief of staff and Secretary to the State Government. Osagie Iyamu’s late father was a respected high chief of unblemished record in Oba’s palace – the Esogban of Benin.
Their family house, still standing, is an historic relic being the first storey building – Egedegenokaro in Benin City. Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who was the Director-General of Adams Oshiomhole’s second term campaign organisation is fully groomed, knows all the ropes and has submitted faultless documentation to INEC. Ize-Iyamu has personally led his own campaign to all the nooks and crannies of the State and has interacted with all our people – big or small.
In sharp contrast, Godwin Obaseki is virtually unknown politically in Edo State or anywhere else in Nigeria for that matter. He came to attention after Oshiomhole was sworn in and has since operated as the governor’s business partner and bag carrier. Godwin Obaseki is touted as a technocrat and head of a so-called Economic advisory team that has no known other members.
Godwin Obaseki’s private company – AFRINVEST was used to raise a jumbo loan for storm water drainage project in Benin City. The project was abandoned while Obaseki made away with approximately N1billion commission if not more. Some question whether he possesses the qualifications in Economics required for the lofty public office assignment awarded him by his business partner. Indeed, controversies surrounding his qualifications are the subject of a case before the courts. He certainly did not have the basic qualification to be admitted to the University of Ibadan. A successful prosecution of this matter would disqualify him from the governorship contest.
Godwin Obaseki is the grandson of Agho Obaseki, who is not remembered with great affection for his collaboration and treason with the British occupation that culminated in the fall of Benin Empire in 1897. The APC candidate has been mistakenly ferried back and forth like a trophy candidate by Comrade Oshiomhole, who is quite patently short on knowledge of Benin history.
On the other hand, perhaps, the Comrade knows something, for apart from parading his business partner, Oshiomhole does most of the talking at rallies, which is why people see Obaseki’s campaign as an ill-disguised struggle for a continuation of the policies of the outgoing governor.
The political composition and alliances between the gladiators in Edo State appear quite fluid and very mobile. At one time, it was Ogbemudia/Anenih/Igbinedion Vs Ikimi/Oshiomhole/Others. Today it is Ikimi/Igbinedion/Anenih Vs Oyegun/Oshiomhole/Ogbemudia. The question is whether the political landscape in Edo State is determined by the agreements and disagreements between the personalities, who constitute the leadership of the parties?
Over the past two and a half decades or so, I have related with the political leaders of our state within the framework of different circumstances and interests. These interests are sometimes influenced by leaders’ relationships in the wider national context. I have, therefore, had the privilege to work closely with most of our leaders under a variety of circumstances and at different times.
For instance, I worked very closely with Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion in my days as National Chairman of the National Republican Convention. At that time, Chief Tony Anenih was in the Social Democratic Party, which eventually fielded Chief Odigie-Oyegun as the governorship candidate. I am aware that Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia is quietly retired now and not a member of the APC. He leads a group called EMM – Edo Mass Movement – a vast majority of the members are die hard supporters of Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has not got the benefit of long term relationships with any of these leaders. At any rate, I would say that from what I came to know of him, the Comrade does not possess either the temperament or the social skills to offer the loyalty to win the confidence of such experienced leaders. Such is his character. He would instead prefer to erase them from thought, word or deed in a coup d’etat of sorts and install himself as sole leader.
When I was a member of AC, ACN and APC, I was leader in Edo State. A primary issue then was to form a party that would stop the PDP becoming the sole party in Nigeria. The circumstances that connived to make Chief Odigie-Oyegun national chairman of APC are very interesting. Although there were other contributory factors from outside the state, the essence closer home was that Adams Oshiomhole did not want Oyegun or me as national chairman.
This is not a subject for detailed expose at this time. Suffice it to say for now that the greedy eyes of the Edo State governor were fixed on the vice-presidential slot for himself. Consequently, if Oyegun or I became national chairman, his quest would be weakened. All the same, we were informed that he invested a whopping half a billion naira for the lobbying, prior to the Lagos APC presidential primaries. The money simply evaporated. On the fateful night of the APC Convention in Abuja, the governor took off by private plane to the United States. All that was then!
Today, the Edo political leaderships’ priority is overwhelmingly in favour of establishing harmony between the peoples of the three senatorial districts of our state.
After this governorship election, should your candidate emerge victorious, what promises can we hold you and the PDP to?
The State will be in very safe political hands in which the politicians will play their role, the executive and legislature will play their roles side by side. Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu has campaigned round the state and everywhere he went, he presented a document containing his agenda titled: The SIMPLE agenda.
S -Security and Social Welfare
I – Infrastructural Development
M- Manpower Development and Training
P – Public Private Partnership
L – Leadership by Example
E – Employment and Empowerment
I trust that as an astute, God-fearing politician, our candidate will keep faith with his pledges. During the Channels TV sponsored governorship debate, which Pastor Ize-Iyamu won hands down, he made a pledge that he would restore Edo’s lost glory in sports.
What are you and other leaders of your party doing to ensure free, fair, violent free and acceptable elections, given allegations and counter allegations of rigging?
A free, fair and peaceful election can only be guaranteed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies, comprising the Police, the Military, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Para-Military forces. INEC which had met several times with the security forces conveyed to all stakeholders that all was set to go for the elections. The PDP is in the opposition and cannot influence the deployment of these forces.
Elections today are predictable by the use of scientific parameters and the several rounds of opinion polls so far have predicted victory to Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu by very wide margin. This fear of defeat prompted Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to initiate the move for the postponement of the elections from the original set date of 10th September to a new date of 28th September. It is said that the postponement was necessary because of security threats. This sudden change of date was very strange and uncalled for, given the earlier assurances by the Police force that they would deploy 25000 policemen to Edo State for the elections.
The PDP is set for a free, fair and peaceful election and we plead with President Muhamadu Buhari to maintain his stance of neutrality, ignore all pressure from Adams Oshiomhole and direct the security forces to be neutral and professional. The Edo State APC is now controlled by notorious militants now enriched by their role as reckless tax collectors harassing ordinary citizens on the streets everywhere.
Any perpetuation of violence during the election shall rest with the APC leadership. Etsako West Local Government where Deputy Governor Dr. Pius Odubu and his entourage were attacked by pro-Oshiomhole gunmen recently should be heavily policed.
Your party appears to be drifting at the national level. It is common knowledge that Senator Alli Modu Sherrif, one of the major protagonists in the dispute at the national level is your friend and political ally for nearly three decades now. How do you envisage that this crisis will be resolved early enough to have a united front for the 2019 national elections?
The PDP secured national power in 1999 right at the beginning of this political dispensation and held power continuously for 16 years. The loss of the presidential election in 2015 put the party into the opposition for the first time. Managing a party in opposition is much different from managing one in power. The process needed now is to cleanse the party leadership and democratically install one that is strong, dependable and capable of rebuilding the party.
The country is certainly now in dire need of a well-structured, stable opposition party. The PDP has viable structures nationwide but the process that brought in Ali Modu Sherrif as National Chairman was faulty. I was prepared to go along with him as National Chairman if it was for a specified brief period.
I am afraid I do not consider the actions of Ali Modu Sherrif since the first Port Harcourt Convention as the actions of someone, who has the deeper interest of the party at heart. How, for instance, could he adopt someone who participated and lost the governorship primaries in Edo state as candidate. All the critical structures of the party support the Caretaker Committee and I believe the matter will very soon be appropriately resolved.
The APC candidate has been mistakenly ferried back and forth like a trophy candidate by Comrade Oshiomhole, who is quite patently short on knowledge of Benin history…On the other hand, perhaps, the Comrade knows something, for apart from parading his business partner, Oshiomhole does most of the talking at rallies, which is why people see Obaseki’s campaign as an ill-disguised struggle for a continuation of the policies of the outgoing Governor