Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, a former governor of Edo State, started his political career at the grassroots in 1987 when he was appointed mayor of Oredo Municipality. Having made impact on the lives of his people at that level, it wasn’t difficult for him to clinch the governorship ticket of the National Republican Convention – one of the two registered political parties in the aborted Third Republic. Though his opponent and candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was returned by the electoral body as winner of that gubernatorial poll, Igbinedion was declared winner by the election tribunal. But for the Court of Appeal, which upturned that decision, he would have been the first civilian governor of Edo State. He took that unfortunate decision in his strides and went back to his private business, though still keeping close tabs on the politics of Edo. In 1999, he had another date with history when he emerged winner of the governorship election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. And for eight years, he administered the affairs of the state having been re-elected after the first four years. Since he left office in 2007, Igbinedion has been quiet politically. Penultimate Saturday, however, his family, friends and political associates gathered at his Asokoro residence in Abuja to celebrate his 60th birthday. In this interview with Iyobosa Uwugiaren, he speaks on how it feels to be 60, his experience in politics and his activities since he left office. Excerpts
Sixty years is a long journey. How do you feel right now?
I feel great; I thank God for health and I’m very happy. I just feel generally very terrific.
In getting to where you are today, what are those things you want to remember?
I remember the good times and the turbulent times; but all in all, it has been very fulfilling. It has been satisfying. It has been a very happy life for me – all encompassing. I have left no stone unturned in wanting to achieve different goals; I have achieved, both in the public and private sectors, which I have fully being into. I still have many more years ahead of me to actualise more dreams but the past dreams that I have actualised, I am grateful to God for and to those that have been my role models, those I have come across on the path of life. I am very satisfied.
What was the driving force in all these things?
My driving force has always been that there is no room for failure, and failure is not an option. I have always believed in hard work. I believe in my comfort; I believe in my independence both financially, politically and physically. I tend to work hard because I tend to do what gives me joy and not necessarily what I must do; but I look for things that give me joy; that will impact on my own life positively and the lives of other people.
Who really influenced you; who was the mentor that was behind you – in your struggle to be somebody in life?
Well, the major influencer of my life is my dad of course, and my mother, who goes everywhere in prayer before I get there. But my dad has always been my role model. Obviously I have many other role models in the private and public sectors. Growing up, my dad set the rules; ensuring that I got education because at a very early age, he told me, ‘listen, all what you see does not belong to you; it does not belong to your siblings,’ and that it belongs to him and he can do whatever he wanted with it; that the way to success was sound education. He told me that the only thing he owed us was education. I was very happy with that; and that opened my eyes. I have also tried to pass those values and message to my children today: work and don’t wait for handouts, or people telling you that you cannot do it because there is nothing that is not achievable. If you can dream it, you can achieve it and once you set your mind on it, you will definitely achieve it.
Apart from your determination to succeed in life, I am sure your father’s identity as the Ezama of Benin Kingdom, really opened different doors for you?
Oh! Definitely. The solid foundation that he laid with some hard work, humanitarian gesture, and philanthropy activities definitely opened a lot of doors for me, and he has not soiled his name in any way. First and foremost, becoming the Mayor of Benin City, the ride was easy because of his name; becoming the Governor of Edo State, the ride was easy because of his name. So, I owe a lot to him for creating that solid foundation. If I was able to see further, it was because I was standing on a shoulder of a giant. Definitely, he has impacted a lot in my life; he has opened doors; he has created opportunities, and above all, he has not been restrictive in what I intend to do, he has let me to be and to set my own path. Even though I believe in the family businesses and I play my role, I believe it is also normal for me to cast the net wider and capture more territories in terms of business and political associates.
Right from the days as Chairman of Oredo Local Government Council and later the Governor of Edo State, is there anything you did that you think if you had another opportunity you’d do differently?
Well, definitely; we all learn from experience. There is no better teacher than experience. There are many things I did that I’m very proud of. I left legacy in the arena of governance. I don’t have any regret because everything I did, I did with an open mind, I did with all purposefulness. I am one person that sincerely believes in the continuity of government. The situation nowadays where you see people personalising the act of governance, was never my philosophy. I always believed that the little you did should be built upon by successive government rather than being condemned and abandoned. We have a lot of abandonments in government nowadays, and this is not good for our people because the idea of governance is for the people and not to glorify yourself because it is the people’s money you are spending. And so, no matter what any government does, you should find a way to continue. I believe this is the reason why our economy is still stagnant, why our development is still stagnant and why we appear to be walking backwards instead of taking steps forwards. You will find in most of the states, even at the federal government level, when you start castigating those that came before you, not realising that what you are actually doing is stemming the growth and impact on the people that the project is meant for. There are many examples that abound. Industries that were set up got crippled because they were initiated by previous government, they are completely abandoned. This is not personal; they create jobs and economic activities for the people. As for me, I don’t have any regret because I led by example; I led with an open heart; I led with all transparency and I built on past legacies, I did not come to destroy. Ambrose Alli University was formally Edo State University. I came and pumped in money into that place, built hostels, lecture theatres, improved on the roads and water system, and then I named it after Professor Ambrose Alli of blessed memory.
Ogbemudia Stadium used to be called Ogbe Stadium; it was completely run down and full of reptiles; the swimming pool was full of frogs; it was none usable but I came and extended it. I built an indoor sports hall; revamped the swimming pool, did the tracks, did the seating with modern seats and named it after General Samuel Ogbemudia. I did not start building new structures and abandoned existing ones because I believe in continuity and impacting people’s lives. The people that were not being paid before, I paid them including the pensioners. I started doing promotions and employed more people into the teaching service. The policy of self-sustenance was discontinued because I believe that if you are government, government should pay you what is your due.
There are people you apparently helped to bring to power but were said to have betrayed you somewhere along the line. Does that change your perspective on how you now relate with people politically?
That is why I prefer the private sector; in the public sector or politics to be specific, you have a lot of betrayals. People that are hungry and cannot stand the test of time, that don’t have integrity, people that believe politics is there as a means of being vindictive or a weapon of oppression. There are too many dishonest people, they say one thing in the morning, in the afternoon and in the night, they change. And you can even have meetings with them at by 1am and before 6am, they change their positions. I cannot deal with such people. That is why I have decided to shift more into the private sector, where I understand the people, where people are more civil, where people are more trustworthy, and where people say what they mean and do what they say. I am not saying there are no honourable men in politics, there are quite a few honourable men; but majority of them are just clowns. I hate people that cannot just be man enough to their intentions – say the truth, speak the truth and abide by it. In the private sector, I am still impacting in people’s lives, maybe even greater than as a governor because I can now employ people at my own time; and that is what actually gives me joy – when I see people that I employ and are undergoing my tutelage. Now that I am 60, I am setting up a foundation that will be impacting on the lives of ordinary people – as my own way of giving back, even though I believe the greatest way of giving back is creating jobs for people.
In other words, you are done with politics?
Politics, you can never be done with politics. It is just that you play different roles from different angles. Even business is politics and like they say: ‘all politics are localised’. I am not gunning for any elective post and as for being done in that manner, yes. I am done with politics, but definitely not when people come for advice. Will I be voting? Yes. Am I still a member of a party, I am still a member of a party, not actively because I am not seeking for any elective post. If I am going to be seeking for any elective post, there is only one more left for me. I have done the first two that is significant in any election.
Is there anything you miss today—as being a governor of Edo State?
It is difficult to say because there was nothing I was doing as governor that I am not doing now, maybe even more. So, there is nothing I am really missing. Everything I did as governor, I am still able to do them today. Maybe apart from the executive power, but I have executive power over my staff members and my family; and I still impact positively. Governance is to impact positively on the lives of the people, giving them direction and leading by example. So, I am still carrying that responsibility. I am the first son of the Esama of Benin Dynasty, so I also have that responsibility to carry and the obligation to ensure that I continue in that good stead. Being a governor for eight years, I give thanks to God and I am glad I did it. There is no better experience than experiencing the act of being a leader of men; and I am doing what I have to do to ensure that I impact positively on the lives of people.