National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was recently on Arise TV news, sister company of THISDAY newspapers, where he addressed trending topical issues, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, the over-three years of the APC administration, the post-APC primary crisis and the recent passing of Chief Tony Anenih, former chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, amongst other issues. Excerpts:
Some foreign commentators are predicting doom for your party and President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, how optimistic are you of victory?
In all honesty, it is strange that it is foreigners, who are crying more than the bereaved. I also heard Nigerians saying pension benefits that have not been paid for twenty years under the PDP are being paid now by this government. I have heard the Head of Service say for the 16 years of PDP, there were promotions that were delayed but that through the intervention of this government, we began to settle these huge arrears and promotions. People talk about the huge amount of money PDP spent on power.
The taller they spent the more darkness Nigeria found itself in. For me, there are people who find joy in quoting foreign sources. I like to talk about Nigerian people and they are our primary constituency. They are the ones that hired Mr. President. I am not accountable to financial intelligence and everybody is aware that some of these papers don’t have the reputation they claim to have, after all, these are the same institutions that wrote lavishly about Nigeria banking system but few weeks later, some of these banks were empty.
I think we have done a couple of things that will form the basis of our campaign. This is the only government that gives bail-out money to state governments to enable them meet their most basic responsibility without bothering whether they are APC, PDP or APGA. I don’t know any government before now that was fair and just, regardless of political affiliation. These are things we should be talking about.
We had governments that spent billions doing groundbreaking ceremony for the second River Niger Bridge, but this government as we speak is not doing groundbreaking; it is actually constructing the second Niger Bridge. These are things we want to talk about. Second, there are a couple of things the federal government is doing in Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of the country. These are things I think we should talk about.
It is not the views of sometimes hired foreign commentator. These people are not superior to the Nigerian journalist. These are things we must discuss, if the opposition does not want to do that, we will do that. In any case, we have moved the government from one that services the elites to one that looks at the forgotten majority of Nigerians, the voiceless. I think very soon, we will begin to talk what this government has done and who has benefited and how the previous government converted private debts to public liabilities and privatised public funds to private pockets.
And of course, we are going to get people who are knowledgeable about micro economy issues to assist Nigerians to understand that there is always a time lag between when certain policies are put in place, when certain mismanagement occur and when the impact of those mismanagement begins to occur in the lives of the people. For me, these are the issues that I want to talk about. We must consciously begin to discuss issues, policy issues, security issues and all of that.
The Apapa gridlock has persisted. It seems the APC is yet to find solution to it three years after?
I think you should just play back your own stories about the Apapa crisis, the whole issues around the ports, you will find that for sixteen years of PDP they grappled with that problem, and what they could not fix in sixteen years they are not going to disappear overnight. But the good thing is that right now, there are conversations and beyond conversations, there are policy issues with regards to what the private sector can do.
I am aware there are agreements that have been signed to encourage the private sector come into the matter. So, every analysis we must go and play back. These are not problems that developed three years ago; they have been there and they won’t disappear overnight. I think that right now something is being done, but it cannot not be like changing from NEPA to generator; it is a bit complex than that.
What will APC do different after 2019?
Like I said, we are already doing a lot of things differently. For the first time, a government is focusing on the poorest of the poor. The government is putting in place social policies that seem to locate the poorest of the poor and not joining in lamenting but taking concrete steps to put in place policies targeted at the poorest. And these things are happening across the country. I just mentioned over the years how much the PDP government spent on power. We have not spent a fraction of that and the challenge we are dealing with today is to revisit, if you ask me, this is my personal opinion.
The crass abuse of the privatization process, the DISCOS that were handed over to incompetent hands based on patronage. And because of the long term agreement that government entered into with these operators, we have had to face huge challenges whereby even where you are able to generate more power, the DISCOS seem not to have the capacity to carry out distribution so that Nigerians can feel the impact of any improvement that have been recorded. And I will expect that going forward we have to revisit some of the things done and manage them not to be seen to revoke what has been done before.
Increasingly, it is clear that they lack the capacity to deliver. Those things we have to review and maybe going back to the fundamentals. I have just told you that we are not lamenting any crisis in transportation. A lot is being done with regards to the railway system. You will remember that before now, the Kaduna-Abuja railway was on the drawing board but today, it is a reality.
In different parts of the country, huge progress is being made in the area of infrastructure. What you can really accuse the government of is that we don’t seem to be communicating effectively all of the things that are going on around the country. And there are quite a bit that are going on. But the people that live in those areas know what is happening in their respective areas.
And to answer your question, I believe that President Buhari will certainly be re-elected on the basis of his personal integrity and the fact that those who are contesting against him, there are couple of things they can’t say about themselves that this President will not only say but other people will say for him. Nigerians are wiser now. It is cheap for people to make promises but again it is also easy for people who have been in power before to pretend that they don’t know what is going on. Some have been ministers and we know the controversies generated when they managed their ministries.
We are going to ask them what they will now do differently in those sectors and their records are very clear in those sectors. You have been in the center as number two man. Nigeria was turned into a completely unitary state. I heard somebody now talking about autonomy of local governments. When I was in the NLC, I joined the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees to campaign for autonomy, to ask the federal government to stop controlling the local government and even withholding money meant for local governments.
So, this government respects the autonomy of local governments. Some of those issues are no longer there. But those coming now that want to be president were part of the administration that almost imposed a very suffocating unitary government on Nigeria. We are moving consciously from those and see how we can re-order the federal system.
But I can tell, of all the presidential candidates on parade, Buhari is number one and I believe he will win, because Nigerians know the difference; they know what brought us to where we are, they know what explains the paradox between a rich nation, whose people are getting poorer and poorer. And they know that one disease that explains it is the character of those, who had been in government. And incidentally those coming are not political virgins, they are people who have their records and we will speak to those records.
Your party is yet to fix the problem in the power sector, what do you think is the problem?
The truth of the matter is that I was in government when the DISCOS were being privatised and I remember my colleague and brother, Dr. Uduaghan of Delta State, we addressed a press conference and we accused the then federal government of unfairness in handing over the Edo, Delta and Ondo Disco to a company that has no knowledge whatsoever in electricity business – a banker who is now the MD of the place and a Pharmacist, who is now the chairman. It is a family business. They have neither the competence nor the financial wherewithal in terms of resources.
It is scandalous that they have had to take money from public treasury – from the CBN through what they called special window to form what obviously ought to be a private enterprise. I used to be a member of the National Council on Privatisation when I was President of the NLC, and I know what the conditions are, what the law provides for: that you must show evidence that you have the technical knowhow, you must also show evidence that you have the financial wherewithal. The whole idea was to inject fresh capital into the sector.
What the previous PDP government did was to hand over these Discos to people who did not have the resources. They went into their banks, do insider trading and take depositors funds when they did not have fresh capital to inject. Rather than attract foreign direct investment into our electricity sector to complement the limited resources we have, we found the system seeking to take depositors funds to buy the Discos and then falling back on CBN to create special window.
And if you look at the amount of money they have collected – tax payers’ money – given to them at concessionary rate, even with all those additional support that they have forgotten, which for me is wrong, because we cannot run private investment with public funds, that is not the promise on privatisation but that is what the government did. But what we can probably discuss which I am going to do when I probably see the minister, is that when a fabric is too weak, there is no amount of patching that will save it. I think we have to go back to the basis.
These Discos don’t have the know-how, they don’t have the wherewithal to do what they need to do; what they need for Nigerians to be bailed out of darkness and it is a major question that we have to address. Of course, if you asked them they are going to cry from morning till night about enabling environment. Nigerians are tired of excuses. Why did you go buy into a project without having the competence? I will challenge you to take the profiles of each of the owners of these Discos and tell me which of them has had the history of being involved in electricity distribution and therefore what qualified them to bid and win those biddings, which led us to where we are today. The truth must be told.
What’s your take on the growing insecurity?
The truth is that new forms of insecurity are manifesting around the world. That will be a more holistic appraisal of the security situation around the world. But I need to remind you that I was a member of the National Council of State as governor of Edo State and then President called us for a meeting and paraded the service chiefs, who admitted that 28 or more local governments were being controlled by Boko Haram. And on account of the level of insecurity, the military chiefs submitted that they were not in a position to guarantee the conduct of a general election.
Based on that, elections were postponed. But today Boko Haram has been severely weakened. The much talked about mystery at the Sambisa Forest has been demystified and the Nigeria Armed Forces have made a bold statement. You will recall that under the previous government, a lot of our young men were sentenced to death for running away from battle and of course, the money voted for them were stolen by the Generals that were supposed to provide leadership. But today, those are history. As we speak, there is no local government in Nigeria that is under the control of militants as it was before. Of course, you still have pockets of strikes here and there but for all of us who are familiar with insurgency, you know that it is not something you wipe out overnight.
Even in Europe and America with all their powers, couple of times they suffer some embarrassment, when terrorists attack. So, there can be no question that under President Buhari’s leadership commendable progress has been made. Certainly, this is not to suggest that we go home and sleep and say all is over. No, we all need to build on the progress that has been made.
Now, the forms of crime that you are talking about, unfortunately you did not list them, but I guess you are talking about the level of kidnapping. Now, kidnapping resurfaced under the PDP, and I was governor of Edo State. I found myself helpless at a point, some Generals were kidnapped in Edo State and the kidnappers were even threatening that they might kidnap me if I make noise. Yes, we still have a share of kidnapping but nothing of the scale that we witnessed under the previous government.
Yes, we have religious extremism and so on, again, short memory, talking about Generals being Heads of State, under General Babangida, there was this Maitatsine riot in Kano and we had this huge crime in Kaduna State, which the former head of state called a civilian coup. So, we had these problems. The problem is that maybe we have poor documentation in terms of history. This is never to justify insecurity anywhere but just to say that it will be incorrect to suggest that no new initiative had been involved or that not much progress had been made.
A lot of progress has been made but every Nigerian is entitled to a secure home; every Nigerian is entitled to go to a secure market; government must continue to be on its toes to deal with all forms of criminality. Around the world, we witness every day, we hear that with all the sophistication, we still find that terrorists managing to attack in America, Europe, Turkey, everywhere around the world, and Nigeria has its own fair share. And because we represent about a quarter of the blacks in Africa in the South of the Sahara, it is not surprising that we also seem to have perhaps our own share of insecurity.
But what you cannot say is to suggest that no progress has been made. I think progress has been made. We are discussing election now. Nobody is going to say we are postponing election on account of insecurity. I think we must encourage government to sustain what it has started. It must provide modern facilities to our Armed Forces, they must be motivated and take advantage of those countries that are willing to collaborate having recognised that terrorism is a global problem; to encourage our men and women in uniform to do what they have to do; to make the country safer and much more secured.
What about the herdsmen crisis?
If you play back again, when governor Suswan was governor of Benue state, there were several incidences of herdsmen attacks. It should not be portrayed as if it is a new trend, it has been there. But that is not to suggest that we should live with it. I believe that there are initiatives being put in place, I believe there is renewed engagements to convince Nigerians that the choice we had is not how to restrain Nigerians free movement. The choice we had was to convince every Nigerian that this was our country. We were not going to issue Resident Permit for people to choose where to live.
But it is possible to convince everyone and put in place a government at all levels to play their part and sensitize Nigerians on the need to live together. And I think there is a good example. Plateau State, before the current Governor, Lalong came into office, every other day there was virtually war in Plateau State, and for three years, there was no single incident until recently when a former governor was put on trial over corrupt practices, and as soon as he got bail, we began to witness an attempt to renew hostilities between the herdsmen and the local farmers.
The governor has done a very sensible thing, convincing both the herdsmen and the local farmers on the need to live together. Now, the point to make is that every Nigerian, including the media have a duty to contribute to the maintenance of peace and security and it is unhelpful when sometimes the media bias is so open that you wonder if Nigeria was in trouble, when they even seek to complicate the issues by importing religious motives into what was obviously a mere criminality. I think everyone has a duty to ensure that we all rise in unison to fight crime and in reporting suspected criminals to the police.
What are your takes on the new Minimum wage?
My views are clear that payment of wages is not an act of kindness for an employer to pay the employee’s wage at the end of the month. There are provisions in our labour act that says that you cannot delay the payment of salaries in excess of 30 days interval, which means salaries ought not to accumulate beyond 30 days. And government decides the size of its employment but when it made the decision to employ it has the obligation to pay. Even the Holy Bible says that the laborer is entitled to its wages.
I think again, this is where President Buhari stands out clearly. He has publicly asked public sector employers: how do you sleep when you have not paid your employers for one year. But he did not stop at lamenting it, he went on to provide the much talked about bailout fund and said please use this money to pay your workers and pay pension arrears. And even the deductions from states that were done under the PDP in the name of settling our foreign debts, they went into state treasury and they over deducted, that was done under the PDP.
But under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, even in despite the huge financial challenges that he faces, decided that in order to assist the states to meet up with their social obligations, to begin to pay what is now referred as Paris Club refund. He has done that two, three installments and each time the governors were told that you must use this money among other things to settle pension arrears and be up to date in the payment of salaries. But I am very proud that this President has rich conscience. He recognises that the Nigerian worker deserves his wages and that is why he has publicly lamented that there are governors who have not paid salaries as and when due. Whether they are PDP or APC, it is immaterial. And in seeking to deal with it, he has also provided support across party divides and I think that is statesmanship at its best.
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As for my views on the minimum wage, I tried to deal with it as a governor. I have told my colleagues then that wage is not a burden in the society. In economics, when people work and get paid purchasing powers is enhanced and because purchasing power is enhanced producers will respond to that by seeking to produce more goods and services. And in the process they will recruit more hands. But when you don’t pay wages, you create a vicious cycle. No payment of wages leads to low purchasing power – non-payment of rents, compounding the problem of those who had invested in real estate, depressing the commercial life of the state and of the country.
I tried to settle this question by increasing minimum wage in Edo State to N25,000 from N18,000. I remember some people calling me to ask: how will you pay it? I am on record of having paid it and as we speak, my successor in office is paying it. I do not agree with those who say Nigeria cannot afford a more realistic minimum wage. My being in government or now chairman of a party cannot change what I believe in.
I know that no nation has enough to meet the greed of leaders but nations have enough to meet basic needs of their people. The real problem in the public sector is money being stolen in the name of salaries. I found it embarrassing when we talk about ghost workers. And I ask the question: who counts ghosts? It is only in Nigeria that ghosts are known. The labourer deserves its wage. The primary purpose of government is the welfare of its people. So, we must pay wages as and when due.
Are you worried that with the post-APC primary crises in Ogun and Imo States, your party might lose?
The truth is that in Ogun State, we will win. The PDP also has its share of crisis in Ogun State. As we speak, we don’t know who the actual governorship candidate in Ogun State is, because the National Secretariat parades another candidate while the other group parades a candidate and running candidate. So, while they are sorting out those issues, we will be sorting out our own issues. Governor Amosun is my friend, people as human beings are entitled to feel disappointed if things don’t work out the way they want. Like any leader, after sometime he will recognise the greater interest of the party.
I know he is a loyal party man. I cannot see him voting with his feet, I think he recognises that as a statesman, who has contributed to the growth and development of Ogun State, he will want to ensure that his party continues to govern the state and play the role of a statesman. I have no fear at all. I believe we will be comparing APC strength, relating it to PDP strength. We are going to take into account the serious internal divisions in PDP also in Ogun State. All of those will play out and APC will remain the stronger party.
And given governor Amosun’s contribution in terms of governance, those will be compared with the PDP administration, when they were in power for the first sixteen years, Nigerians will ask what they are going to bring on board after sixteen years without any meaningful development. Whatever we have as internal issues in APC do not in any way undermine the facts that Amosun has something to show for his governorship of that state, which I am so proud of as chairman of the party and I am sure that he will overcome his anger and I will work with him to see how we can reconcile all our various interests in Ogun.
As for my dear friend, Governor Rochas, he talked about nepotism, you know, as the head of the family, I will not want to behave like some people, who will want to bring a family matter to the market. As the elder, I will keep the family matter within the family house. That is what my level of responsibility imposes on me. I will not join issues with him. But the truth is, while I was in government, there was no other Oshiomhole in government. As a journalist, you can go and find out how many Oshiomholes were in government when I was governor.
Governor Okorocha is a great guy. He is one of those who left APGA to join APC and he contributed his quota to the formation of APC. But we also have to agree that a tree cannot make a forest and we have to encourage those who think otherwise that this is a fact. What we are doing in Imo is to try to reconcile individuals with the great people of Imo State. You know, sometimes, the limitations of some analysts, who are not in the real business of politics, are that we limit our conversations to the big names.
But you know the beauty of democracy is that it is not about big names, it is about big numbers. Now, the big numbers in Imo are with us. And I think Governor Rochas appreciates that fact. As to whether people will defect or not, I am not so sure. But again, even if they did, they would make no history. After all, in the recent past, sitting governors defect for one reason or the other because they wanted to be President, having defected, they found out that there were too many presidential aspirants and had since reconciled themselves with the realities.
They defected from APC believing that they are going to be the presidential candidate of the PDP. They got there and found an over-crowded house. I think some of them have quietly taken governorship ticket, some have taken senatorial ticket and they are living with the new realities and that is how it is. So, people can have expectation but the beauty of democracy is that it is the mass of the Nigerian people that will prevail. It is a game of numbers.
In Imo State, we have the numbers to defeat any other aspirant and I am sure Governor Okorocha, when he overcomes his disappointment with regards to who he would have preferred on a good day to succeed him and he recognises as a democrat that sometimes, it can produce shocking outcome, I think it shows that our democracy is evolving, because we are not running traditional rulership, where we know that the first born will be the next king and everything should be done to make sure he does not die before his father.
But in a democracy, we can plan who succeeds us, we can project but if the people think otherwise, the outcome might just turn out to be a bit embarrassing. My pride is that contrary to what Nigerians have always believed that in Nigerian politics, whatever a big man wants he gets. We have tried to return our party to members of the party. The members of the party can do no wrong. If majority prefers someone, on Election Day, it is those majority that will vote.
By February, March next year, the vote of a governor will be one; the vote of the unemployed person will be one; the vote of the guy in Ariaria market will be one. We are all equal shareholders in the Nigerian project. I believe we will make peace with Rochas. He is a great guy. We all worked together, when I was governor. You cannot pull down a house just because of the person you thought would occupy your bedroom when you vacate it; the other members of the family choose another person to occupy it. I think over time, you’ll recognise that it is a family house; tenants will come and go, but the family house remains.
Do you think Senator Hope Uzodinma can pull off the governorship?
As we speak, Hope Uzodinma is a sitting senator. He comes from one of the largest senatorial zones. He comes from the same senatorial zone as my dear friend and brother, Rochas Okorocha. As a senator, he already commands the trust of probably more than 1/3 of the state, which Orlu senatorial zone represents. He is one of the credible voices in the senate. I am sure the good people of Imo State know him well. He is not a stranger in politics. He is familiar with the political contour of Imo State. I believe comparing him with any other governorship candidates in any other political party in Imo State… obviously our candidate is the most outstanding and I am sure the good people of Imo State will vote for him.
Why did you insist Senate President Bukola Saraki must resign?
I think it is about morality. We just had an election in the US and the Democrats produced more members in the congress. And the moment they did that, the former leadership of the House led by Republicans changed. Now, Saraki belongs to a minority party as it stands today in the senate. The truth about democracy is that it is a game of number. It is unacceptable that minority provides leadership over the majority. However, he mismanaged the process of manipulating tools of reward, using carrot and stick to sustain himself in power at huge cost to the country.
I remain convinced that Saraki must show honour and character by vacating voluntarily, that is what it should be. But whether we have the number or we don’t have the number, time will tell. I remain convinced that Saraki should not insist as a matter of moral obligation that he imposed minority rule. The danger we face is that when you set out this kind of precedent, over time, people will begin to see it as a way of life. I remain convinced that we can’t have minority rule in the National Assembly and we have to do everything possible to assist Saraki to vacate.
I have no apologies for that because democracy is about numbers and not minority rule. And if we celebrate that we adopted the American presidential system, in that system, it is the majority that rules. Once there is election and you have the numbers, it is the party with the majority that provides leadership. We cannot go back to Nigeria and change that logic. Second, the Supreme Court has told us in Amaechi VS INEC&PDP, that it is political parties that win elections and not individuals. If that is so, majority party that Nigerians elected was APC as evidenced with the number that we have in the National Assembly.
So, if Nigerians did and on that basis, Saraki becomes Senate President, when he moved with his eyes open, based on his search for greener pasture, which I am sure he has since been humbled by the Port Harcourt outcome, he has to just vacate and allow majority to rule. But so far, he is manipulating it but I will stubbornly stick to what I feel is the truth. I hope that one day Saraki will reconcile himself with reality. He cannot eat his cake and have it.
How did you receive the news of Chief Anenih’s passing?
I acknowledge that Chief Anenih was a strong political leader, whose influence went beyond Edo State, considering that he come from Edo state, a minority, he was able to stamp his authority, dominate his party and seemed to influence the direction of his party as long as he did. So, for PDP family, I believe it was a huge loss but on my part, we in Edo recognised him as a father, even by mere reason of his age, he was old enough to be my father and I never hesitated to admit to that. But I have always told him when you have many children, they may not all agree with the way Daddy runs the house.
Politically, I was not able to agree with his values and some of the tactics he resorted to. But I had respect for him. The good news is that, as if he knew this was going to happen, about a year ago, I attended an event in Uromi at the Catholic Church, and that was shortly after he returned from his medical trip abroad. On that occasion, he said he had told his wife that he had forgiven all those who offended him in his political life, particularly Adams, even if he does not ask for it. This was in the Catholic Church. We are both Catholics.
When it was my turn to also make a speech, I also said as a father I have also forgiven him as his son. But the good news is that these issues were never personal. We did not quarrel over family land; we did not quarrel over family issues; we quarreled over what was the best way to govern Edo State and what is the most appropriate political culture that we want to bequeath on our children. How do we move away from rigging elections and impositions, how do we allow the people to lead because my own slogan is: “let the people lead”, against the background that we have a democracy which godfatherism was the order of the day.
So, we had differences which were not personal, but I have always respected him as an elder in line with our culture. And the good news, which was why his death pained me and I am not pretending over it, because I had planned to pay him a visit and to do so publicly before he died. I was going to formally inform him about my election, because it will surprise you to know that the very first person to call me after my election as chairman of APC was Chief Tony Anenih now of Blessed Memory. I saw his missed calls and I called him back, he said yes, I called to congratulate you, to wish you well.
He said Adams I believe you will bring about some positive changes in the way APC is managed. People may have forgotten now that APC had its own crisis even before I became the National Chairman. He said I have called my people in Edo, I have told them they should please accord you the respect you deserve as National chairman. They should not see you now as a local player and they should never again make statements that are designed to injure your reputation. He wished me well and said, I ask you to pay attention to your personal security, because you are going to have enemies both within and outside.
I almost shed tears, first because this is coming from a man old enough to be my father; someone that politically I had engaged and through my effort and the collaboration with Edo people under God’s guidance, I was able to defeat his party and perpetually kick PDP out of power in Edo State. I went to the president and said sir, today I have mix feelings, here is Chief Anenih calling me to say nice feelings about me and I actually observed that since then, my very good friend, Dan Orbih has abstained from what he used to do when I was there, which shows that Chief Anenih really spoke to Orbih as he told me.
So, it is a huge loss to all those who knew him, not because we necessarily agreed with his brand of politics, but because he was truly a father. And I want to say that whatever people choose to do, they should master it well. Late Anenih mastered his game. He commandeered control; he dominated the PDP political machine on the strength of his political experience. When I was President of NLC, President Obasanjo called him his leader. I was humbled. As an Edo man, we will all pay him appropriate tribute, when he will be laid to rest and I commiserate with the family and the political class particularly, those of the right.