The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in this interview with select journalists, bares his mind on the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, the differences between him and Governor Godwin Obaseki and the crisis rocking the Edo State House of Assembly.Adedayo Akinwale presents the excerpts:
Have you resolved your differences with Governor Obaseki?
This has been an issue I tried to avoid when I watch you talking about Oshiomhole’s faction and Godwin’s faction. The truth is that I don’t have any faction. Everybody in Edo State particularly, those of APC stock, are my people. We founded the party from ACN, to APC.
It hurts when people can’t make a distinction between policy positions and unhealthy debate about options in dealing with specific issues. Let me start with the issue of the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly. I was governor, when PDP had 16 members and ACN then had eight members. But we had to learn how to live with the reality that the parliament was in the hands of opposition.
So, all we needed to do was to cultivate ways and means of playing up what unites us as a people and getting the opposition to recognise that we were all elected even from different political parties, but for a purpose, namely the sustainable development of Edo State and we managed that until the people favored us with majority.
Right now in Edo we are obviously far more fortunate that the 24 members of the House are all APC. So, no matter if there are differences about preferred Speaker, I did not think this was enough for us to breach all the rules, regulations, customs and traditions that are well entrenched as regards the simple straightforward matter of proclaiming a House of Assembly.
When I see Nigerians taking side on it, I just pity people, who can’t make a difference between your personal affection or love for someone and dealing with issues of principles and law.
Do you not think this is for collective good?
Now, I remain convinced that it is not in the interest of our democracy for nine members at 9:30pm, which I understand the Supreme Court in another judgment has described as nocturnal hours, for an elected parliament to seek to secretly inaugurate a House so that a particular person can emerge as a Speaker and in the process you exclude 15 members of the House.
Nine persons cannot elect the Speaker or Deputy Speaker on behalf of 24 members. Two, it is also the tradition and the law that when you are elected by your various constituencies, the day of your inauguration, the proclamation is not a state secret to be shared by those who are favored. The proclamation must be published, stating time and date.
If there is any Nigerian who has followed inauguration in the 36 states and the FCT, particularly the last federal one, it is settled that the fact of proclamation letter must be communicated by the clerk to all the members elect so that they can go there that day with their families and loved ones.
Now to try and do that at 9:30pm, even if it was done by my biological son; God would give me the courage to tell my son that this institution is governed by law. Parliament is an autonomous arm of government, delete it and there will be no democracy.
So I found it strange that because we pointed out what I thought would be obvious to every Nigerian that first, some of the members of the nine out of 24, who are already on the minority, four of them on take, have said they were invited for an informal conversation with the deputy governor, then they were bundled into a waiting vehicle and driven to the House of Assembly.
And they were forced to take oath of office against their wish. One of them was wearing nicker, where he went to buy suya. These are facts, the people have spoken and they are still alive, they are still protesting.
Then somebody says that because I am National chairman of the party, I ought to turn the other way. If it is wrong in Bauchi, for them to do secret inauguration, how can it be accommodated in Edo State and for me, these are the issues. And it is much shameful that in this case, all 24 are APC members.
In your opinion, what is the way forward?
As a former governor, who had the privilege of presiding over Edo state for eight years, I will tell you that there is little or nothing a government can do in the final analysis. I was there at Government House, Benin, not too far away from Anthony Enahoro’s building, where the parliament seats, and I heard that the parliament met and decided to change their leadership.
And there is nothing I could do about is. It is their privilege thing to do. So, I did not really know what the issues are. That is not between the governor and me, and anybody suggesting that it is between the governor and me is just being mischievous. It is about what is right and what is wrong.
Speaker Okiye accused you of planning to impeach the governor with your loyalists and Governor Obaseki, also accused you of orchestrating the crisis from Abuja. Aren’t these allegations weighty?
First of all, Okiye is not the Speaker; he is a member-elect. I watched the governor say those things but the truth of the matter is that he knows better than that. The question I will put to you is that is it within the discretion of state governor to decide who becomes the Speaker?
The only option for him is to lobby and if he lobbies and in end he is unable to get everybody to toe his line, he has to concede that these are not his Commissioners or Special Assistants for which he has absolute monopoly to appoint.
Even at that, if they were commissioners they still have to be screened by the House of Assembly. That is the law. So, if he chooses to put it in the manner that he has unfortunately put it, giving the impression that as the governor he could do everything, is there anything in the constitution that you know that empowers a governor to decide who becomes a Speaker?
But like very other person in a democracy, you get what you are able to negotiate. The operative word is negotiation and persuasion. That is what we did in Abuja. But in spite of all the efforts we invested at the federal level, incidentally as the chairman I was active on that, we conceded in the end, when Senator Ali Ndume said he would not go the way the party wanted.
We could not deny him that right to contest and he went and contested and he got 24 votes. So, that is the way to go. It was not within the power of the President and Commander-in-Chief to use his state instrument to prevent Ndume from contesting, because it is his right so to do. All the President could do which he did was to deploy his influence both through the party and other channels to persuade people to ensure that this time around APC has a national leadership that we believe can work in harmony with the President.
When I was governor, I went through the same process, we persuaded the members. We called all of them. First, we explained to them the need to ensure geo-political balance. Sometime, we suggested who we thought was better equipped to handle legislative matters.
That is how far we coulf go. Sometimes we succeeded, some other times we did not. But the bottomline is that it is the responsibility and absolute prerogative of members of the House to do it.
But what hurts me is, when journalists take a word from me or the governor, even when the journalist knew what the constitution says. So I ask you, which section of the constitution says when the governor had decided on who should be the Speaker? So be it.
Number two, Okiye being the beneficiary of the purported inauguration, said the agenda was to impeach Obaseki, did he tell you what offence Obaseki has committed? Is he known to have committed any impeachable offence? Is it true that somebody who has just been elected and has not even been inaugurated, his first agenda is to disturb the system by seeking to impeach a governor, who is not known to have committed any offence?
But is there really a plan to impeach the governor?
Is impeachment a tea party? It does not make sense. By the way, who is Okiye? Does he know what was invested in the making of the governor? Can he possibly lay claim to loving the governor more than those of us, who went round the state and staked our reputation and invested our energy and persuasive skills to market the governor to the people?
If there is one man that wants Governor Obaseki to succeed so that everything I said on his behalf comes to pass, I think it will be me. I have absolutely nothing to gain if someone I told the people would do well ends up not doing well or I make statement that contradicts my earlier position.
Because all I have that I brought to this job called politics is integrity. And integrity is about being consistent and sometimes being predictable. So, Godwin knows that I have no quarrel whatsoever with him, but I do not think that it is right to inaugurate the House of Assembly at night.
What do you think is responsible for his action?
Exactly the same way the Governor of Bauchi said Oshiomhole was his problem. Let me say that one day, we may have a President, who may decide to order the military to make sure that they secure the National Assembly and allow may be ¼ of members to go in at 12midnight to elect a Senate President and Speaker and thereafter, whoever wishes to be inaugurated can go one by one.
That will be a sad day for democracy. And you know as they say, when a child starts stealing a piece of meat from the mother’s pot, he might grow to become an armed robber.
So if we refuse to defend the letter and the spirit of the constitution, as regards how the legislative arm of government will come into play and we reduce it to individual contestation, it will be unfortunate for democracy, not me at all. I am never going to be governor again. So, the issue is what was right constitutionally and what was wrong?
But the belief was that the issues were resolved when the governor visited you in the village during Salah?
The governor has slept in my house countless times before he became a governor and even after he became a governor. He is my friend; he is my brother. But I am surprised that Nigerians don’t appreciate the fact that even as brothers if I feel strongly that what my younger brother was doing was wrong, I should advise him quietly and when I do, it becomes factional war. That impression is wrong.
Secondly, the governor knows that there is no quarrel between us, because what could have caused quarrel? I consciously made decision from day one to avoid it. I was never going to decide for him who he pays. I was never going to suggest to him who he appoints.
But he alleged that those things were part of the issues and that politicians wanted him to share state funds?
You see, that is where investigative journalism comes in. It is not too much for journalists to go to Edo State and speak to the party leaders and find out what the issues are. But let me tell you the issues that I have discussed with him as a brother. First, is that political leaders in Edo State.
After a year in office, they started complaining that after they had worked hard to elect the governor, only three people are in government: the governor, the deputy governor and the SSG. What is their evidence? They claimed that the governor immediately dissolved all the boards and two and a half years after, he has not reconstituted the boards.
These boards are not to be occupied by Oshiomhole. I am not going to hold any position in Edo State any more. These boards were dissolved and the governor after two and a half years has not reconstituted the boards. These were part of the complaints. The third one was the governor’s decision to create new political leadership.
And I said to him, Mr. Governor, you don’t create a political leadership; leaders emerge. And I said to him these people you refer as old politicians that you said you want to retire, that I met them in the game. They are not my creation, but I had to learn to work with them. Then, he tells me that the people are liars; they abuse people, all sorts of things.
But I said to him that I am the last to say that politicians are angels but what matters to me is how to manage them so that when I need them they would be there for me. There is no doubt that the Edo APC as it is now whenever I needed them they were there for me. There is no better proof than the fact that under opposition federal government, in my second term governorship election, I won in all the 18 Local Government Areas.
In Edo South senatorial zone, which is the largest, we had a Benin man, who was contesting for the governorship, yet Benin people voted for me en mass. I won in all the 77 wards in Edo South. And in Egor LGA I won 96 per cent of the votes in the heart of Benin. I defeated Chief Anenih, may his soul rest in peace, in his Local Government.
I secured about 75 per cent of the total votes cast. So, I said to the governor if after abusing me and insulting me according to him, and the people rewarded me with such massive support, I could do with more abuses. But the truth is anybody who does not want abuses should not seek leadership.
Not just leadership in politics but even leadership in business and I said to him, you just have to learn and manage and understand that politics is like a jungle; it is not like a gold course. In that jungle you have good animals like the antelope, grass cutter that the hunter wants to go for, even rabbit. But the hunter also knows that in that forest you have snakes, pythons and scorpions.
But what defines a successful hunter is his ability to go into that forest, get the grass cutter home without being harmed. Even if in the process you suffer snakebite, within that same forest, there are herbs that you use to treat it and you come back home and get ready for the following day. This is the reality of politics.
But it is beyond anyone myself inclusive, not even the President of Nigeria could say he wanted to retire politicians. I remember when IBB said he wanted new breed, he found himself reversing himself even with all his military powers, when it turned out that there were really no new breeds. So, these were for me healthy conversations I had with him.
Then another one is that we do have genuine disagreement about what to do with the young people who were our foot soldiers. I usually refer to them as our infantry division. These are young men and women who on election day, stepped to protect our votes. To engage those who want to steal our votes. At a time when we were in opposition, when the PDP ruthlessly deployed the Army, deployed the Police and even the DSS to make sure that opposition did not win. Don’t forget that I was rigged out in my first election; thanks to the courageous judiciary, I reclaimed my mandate.
So, I do not think it is right. My idea of leadership is that when people have worked with me and made all those sacrifices and I am elected, I cannot abandon them. I think I have a duty to rehabilitate them and give them a sense of belonging and a sense of ownership of the outcome of the elections. Motor parks will always be motor parks, whether it is in Lagos, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt; they have their code.
The responsibility of government is to engage and manage them in a way that they could do their lawful businesses, because the National Union of Road Transport Workers and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria are registered trade unions in Nigeria.
They have a right to operate. And it is not for a governor to proscribe them. I defended those rights when I was President of the NLC and I cannot accept that particularly when have supported us to win election. That we just carry computer boys to motor parks and purport to be collecting revenue.
Talking about the revenue of the state, what’s the situation report?
Talking about IGR, I met it at N250million a month and I raised it to at a point, N2.1billion a month without disturbing these people. So there are ways to manage things, but the bottomline is that government must understand that its primary is citizens’ empowerment.
Now, how you ensure that in empowering one citizen you do not subvert the interest of other citizens is in the heart of governance. The skill to manage this conflict of interest is the heart of leadership. And these are conversations we had. Now, I did say to the governor, not in a secret meeting – we were about seven person there, I did say to the governor that he has to sustain building schools because the Edo educational system school buildings have been devastated.
And I was proud that in eight years we introduced what is known as the red roof revolution. The beauty of that is that it does not just provide beautiful and attractive schools to pupils and students; we introduced modern furniture, one pupil one desk as opposed to using benches. We replaced the black board with white board.
What is interesting is who did we use to build these schools? We find that to build a school is within the competence of an average local contractor. These Local contractors are 90 or 85 per cent of people of Edo origins. Many of them active politicians, and they are also businessmen.
Politics is not all they do. I remember couple of persons I gave even N3million contract to build VIP toilets in primary schools and secondary schools. He makes a legitimate 25 per cent profit from the contract and if I don’t give it to him, I will give it to someone else.
And you be surprised that from N3million, somebody making about N700,000 profit is happy. I am proud to say that there is no evidence that those I gave the jobs to did not do them.
They did those jobs to the satisfaction of the state government and the communities those schools were located are happy that in a typical rural Edo, you will find that the most beautiful school was the government red roofs in primary and secondary schools.
And the ceramic ties with introduced were made in Benin by Chinese company. The rod we used to construct the pillars were made in Benin from scrap vehicles. So the money circulates. Tipper drivers that carry granites and co are all Edo people.
Now, when you give those jobs to political leaders, who are competent contractors, you are empowering your people and you are empowering the political class.
And they in turn have the resources to sustain. Now if this is sharing money to people, then I disagree. I think that if you did not give those jobs to those people you will still give it to another person and nobody will do a job without making business. When Nigerians asked government to empower them, what they are saying is that give us opportunity to work. They are not saying come and share money to us.
I think legitimate profits arising from jobs properly executed for the people and government of Edo State, which ensured the enrolment in public schools increased by almost one hundred per cent. If I were to go back to that state again, I will do it the same way. After all, I gave contracts to big civil engineering guys, foreign contractors, I did.
All the roads that were constructed before were obviously done by big time contractors, because our local people will not be able to do such jobs. So, this for me is empowerment, if anybody thinks that giving contracts to our local politicians, who are businessmen is sharing money, the problem is not mine.
But how do you assess the government so far?
I felt terribly bad and embarrassed that as governor, I decided that we should not lament the poor state of health facilities in Edo State particularly the Central hospital that was built in 1903. So, we built what I call a five star hospital and I deliberately went out to look for a competent commissioner for Health, a professor of Medicine, UNIBEN, to superintend over the procurement process and ensure that we bring state of the art equipment to that hospital.
We built the hospital with Edo taxpayers’ money. We gave the contract to VERMAD Nigeria limited. VERMED is well known for manufacturing hospital equipment. They operate in many African countries. We placed orders for them to supply equipment, which they did even though at times they gave the contract the exchange rate at 195 per dollar.
By time they finished their processes the naira had been devalued. But thanks to the governor of Central Bank, he assisted to ensure that we had access to forex at the old rate. They got their dollars at N308 to a dollar. Before I left government I paid 75 per cent of the total value. All I expected my successor to do was to pay the balance.
This hospital was locked and I see in the Newspaper every day my political opponents arguing that nothing was in the hospital, but this hospital was commissioned by President Buhari about one week before I left office. From the equipment that was already delivered, the President was impressed. But after I equipped this hospital, it was closed for two years.
I kept speaking to the governor that the best way to answer PDP criticisms was to open the hospital. When it is open for business, people who go there for medicals will bear us witness but you don’t leave the hospital closed. At a point, I felt so embarrassed and I went to Aliko Dangote, who is a mutual friend of the governor and myself and I said I am unable to understand why the governor is unable to open the hospital.
Meanwhile, the equipment is there with warranty and whether you open the hospital or not those warranties are running and if they run out and tomorrow you have a problem, you need another money to buy equipment or to repair the old one. Aliko Dangote, God will bless him.
He told Godwin that if he builds a factory and locks it up for two years, the deeds that will happen is that the grease will dry up, the oil will dry up and you will invest a lot of money to service the machines before they can be operated. Not to talk about sensitive hospital equipment. He now told the governor to go and open the hospital.
And I get bashing every day, because people believe there is nothing inside. And I am no more the governor so I cannot go there to defend myself. I live with this pain even though I did my best to provide that facility to the people of Edo State and indeed Nigerians, who are in Edo and may need medical care.
Did he now open the hospital after Dangote’s intervention?
When the governor refused to open the hospital after I complained to Dangote, I asked the company to do a documentary on all the equipment at the hospital and I placed it on different Television stations, including Channels. When people saw that, then, public opinion changed.
Then rather than open this hospital in obedience to public outcry, they decided to set up an inquiry by the Speaker (Adjoto), who is aggrieved, because he lost the House of Representatives ticket to Peter Akpatason, who is an incumbent lawmaker. So, based on his open bitterness, he was encouraged by the state government to set up this panel to rubbish themselves.
And then they removed all the documents from the Ministry of Health to give the impression as if the construction was a verbal transaction. The then Commissioner for Health and Housing, brought out their own documents, showing the adverts inviting expression of interest and the meeting of the Tenders’ Board, where the shortlisting was done, the biddings for the job and the minutes of meeting, where the tenders were open.
Everything that transacted including a letter from the state Ministry of Health, acknowledging that Vermed has provided the equipment that was paid for. Lastly, Vermed was able to show a letter they wrote to the Ministry of Health, Edo State, asking them to nominate people for training to manage this sophisticated equipment.
At the end of the day, the Commissioner said he forwarded letters asking them to get people for training to the governor but he has not received any reply from him more than one year that was done. Now, the members many of whom lost nomination, who were looking for fault went to the hospital to see for themselves and after that, they wrote a report that the state government has no reason to keep the hospital close.
They asked the state government to open the hospital for public use and pay the outstanding balance to Vermed that supplied the equipment. But the governor decided to manage the hospital through a consultant rather than through the Ministry of Health. I don’t grudge him on that. Those are purely within his discretion.
But what is interesting is that this consultant wrote to the MD of Vermed to say that the cutting-edge hospital equipment installed in the hospital will require continuous collaboration between the consultant and Vermed, because in their words, these are cutting edge technology. That was my dream for Edo people. What I expected the governor to do, which is the benefit of continuity because that was what we promised Edo people, even if I was succeeded by a PDP government I don’t think they would have shut that hospital as long as the governor did.
But what really was the problem between you both?
We have no argument over money. We have no argument over appointment. In fact, in a meeting that we held with four governors, including Governor Bagudu, Fayemi, Niyi Adebayo now Minister and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, I asked the governor: how many Commissioners did I nominate in your cabinet? And he agreed that I nominated only one person out of twenty commissioners.
After that first meeting, the governor decided to remove that one commissioner along with seven others. The governor will not tell you that I dictate to him but the only thing I feel worried about is that some of the projects we started together have been abandoned including the Benin Water storm master plan. Where I left it they did not continue with it and if they don’t continue with it, flood will return to Benin. These are not personal issues. As the national chairman of APC, I want the progress of our governors, so I must be interested in what they do. The governor had agreed at the beginning that since he is not a politician, he would want help. Now, when you start fighting politicians that is not governance.
The governor was also on television to say how could he as governor of Edo State, according to him, say that even if he was considered as the worst governor, that he conducted party primaries and I sat in Abuja and cancelled those primaries. But you all know that the responsibility of conducting primaries rest on the NWC of political parties, it does not rest on a state governor. It was this same issue he said that we had problems in Zamfara, so what he said does not make sense to me.
But has the governor come on common grounds with you now?
Now, that is the issue. The last time we had a meeting with Governor Bagudu, Fayemi and El-Rufai and Niyi Adebayo, we all agreed that the way to go, given the divisions in Edo APC is to have an all-inclusive meeting. We need to meet in a room and resolve our differences and come out for people to know that APC is one. You cannot solve problem without talking.
The governors encouraged him to meet with me so we can arrange the meeting. In fact, the governors offered to accompany us to Edo State to hold meeting with all the groups so that we iron out our differences. Unfortunately, as we speak, the governor has refused to convey that meeting.
We have to work now on how to get such a meeting on, because there is no way to solve such a problem without reaching out to the aggrieved parties. Let me assure you that this governor is not under threat. It is those who are making money from the crisis, those I call merchants of confusion; they are only relevant when there is a fight. They are the ones that will tell the governor they want to impeach you. But the governor should ask himself what has he done to deserve impeachment.
But will you support him for a second term?
Have we gotten there? Let us get there first. As it stands right now, has he told you he is contesting? And has he told you I am opposed to him?
But why is he being told he would be given the Ambode treatment?
Who told him that? What will I gain if Godwin does not run a second term? Is Oshiomhole going to run a second term? If I did what I did, whether he acknowledged it or not, but people know what I did to support him to be, what comfort will I have if he is terminated half way? What is Ambode treatment? But let me tell you, Ambode treatment is not the worst treatment we have seen in the APC. What about M. Abubakar’s treatment in Bauchi?
He won his primaries and as a sitting governor, he lost the election. What about Adamawa State? Because of internal fighting, the sitting governor lost. Though we are hopeful in both cases that the court will give us victory, because we think we won the elections. So, the point to me is that tickets are not the issues in politics.
I think the real issues in Edo State is that any one that loves the governor (Obaseki) should do what we tried to do; what those governors tried to do by reminding him that a divided house cannot stand. And the House remains divided if we do not make conscious efforts to bring everybody together. So, what I am doing is to encourage him and all our leaders to have an all-inclusive meeting of all APC leaders. Lock the door and speak truth to ourselves!
What is simply happening is that, there are people who think that their access to bread and butter will end if there is peace, and so, they encourage the governor wrongly. I have had meetings before where I urged the governor to carry people along. Whether you like it or not, if there is one business where one tree cannot make a forest, it is politics.
Frankly speaking, given all that had happened, do you think you will support him again as you did the first time?
If we have this meeting of all the various tendencies within the APC and remind ourselves of what unites us, rather than what divides us – working together wholeheartedly and everybody is being given a sense of belonging, there is no reason why we cannot continue to defeat PDP and there is no reason why Obaseki cannot win election.
But let me say, even if Obaseki thinks of himself as an angel, and he is a candidate of a party that is fragmented, he will need miracles. And that is why I still say to him, lets embrace peace. Let me also say this, it is absolutely incorrect for the governor to say anybody asked him to share money. If he insists, let him mention the name. But what I have advised him is that reconstitute the boards, let people become board members.
The only way we can win elections is to show presence across the 192 wards in Edo State. I believe there is still enough time for the governor to make up by encouraging in good faith, the peace effort that many of our mutual friends had offered so that we can give everybody a sense of ownership of the government. The beauty of democracy is that when you have elected a government, you will say this is my government.
How would you describe the recent victory of your party at the presidential election petition tribunal?
It is victory for us as a nation; victory for democracy. But we heard the PDP still wants to go to the Supreme Court. We, as a party, are confident that if it is within the Nigerian law for PDP to go even to the world court, we will meet them there. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is not that of PDP or the APC, the Supreme Court is governed by law and is to interpret the evidence before the Court of Appeal.
They are not at liberty to introduce new issues neither can they bring in new witnesses. So, if it is what I heard at the Tribunal, which I believe you also heard, thanks to the media, most Nigerians were detained for eight hours listening to arguments of the judges one after the other.
Even though we thought it was getting longer and longer but we realised that they tried to deal with the issues raised, even the ones you and I as a layman will consider inconsequential, they dealt with each of them, trashed them and arrived at a conclusion.
So, I don’t want to sound arrogant. I hope this whole contestation is about Nigerians, who actually won the election and both parties are committed to building Nigeria and is not about who should be given the key.
Now, this has been resolved and it is time to queue behind the winner and move on. Our winner is the best example that losing election is not tantamount to the end of your political life. He lost three and today he is the president.
But, when I see the arrogance with which they pronounce and bring what I call television lawyers, who pronounced with some managerial finality as if they were judges even without any evidence before them, let me now say authoritatively, we are now ready to meet them.
President Buhari is now ready to meet defeated Atiku Abubakar at the Supreme Court and the APC is ready to meet the PDP at the Supreme Court and Adams Oshiomhole is ready to meet my brother, Secondus at the Supreme Court and he will take second and I will take first, Isha Allah.