Segun James captures the regrets of the former Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole with his annointed successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki, in an interview session on ARISE News
Let’s look at the two gentlemen at the centre stage in Edo politics; Ize-Iyamu the candidate of the APC and Governor Obaseki who is now on the PDP side. In 2016, you supported then candidate Godwin Obaseki and opposed Ize-Iyamu and you had a lot of uncomplimentary things to say about him at that time. Four years down the line, what has changed? What happened in 2016, is it that you just discovered special qualities in Ize-Iyamu that made you change your mind or you think that he has improved that made change your opinion of him?
I think there are two basic things, the first is that in 2016 I had worked with Godwin without asking for his certificate, I had no reason to doubt whatever he told me and I believed him as such. I said he went to primary school, he went to Eghosa Grammar school, he went to University of Ibadan and all of that and he went to another university in the US. I said all of those things and even more.
After we went through the primaries and he emerged, the PDP went to court among other things challenging his certificate. I then asked him what was the problem? He told me that he misplaced his certificate. Subsequently, we read the PDP claims and allegations in court. These are documents that are before the Federal High Court.
PDP asked questions, how could you secure admission to the university of Ibadan with three credits: History, Religious Studies, and Geography, no English and no Maths. Number two, and you claimed to have proceeded from 1973 when you finished from Egosa Grammar school to University of Ibadan. I didn’t argue and I believed, that it is impossible to secure admission to Nigeria’s premier university of Ibadan with three credits with English with Maths.
Number two, he had to swear like every other candidate to an affidavit which was filled before INEC and they attached the certified true copy from INEC. In that affidavit Obaseki claimed that he finished from Eghosa Grammar School in 1973 proceeded to the University of Ibadan and graduated in 1976. However, he has misplaced the original of his certificate and he attached a photocopy, a certified true photocopy. And that photocopy says Obaseki graduated in 1979. So PDP said Obaseki lied on oath. And among other discrepancies in his certificate, all suggesting that Obaseki forged his documents and that he lied on oath. Now, we got a team of lawyers, and our legal team was headed by Wole Olanipekun SAN, and they rescued us by the fact that PDP filed their applications out of time and so because of the matter of pre-election as status bound by the time the PDP filed their cases our legal team took advantage of that provision of the law and the case was struck out, and that was how we escaped.
Now the question for me and for you is, given these facts and given what we suffered in Bayelsa and in the absence of any other document to the contrary, can we in clear conscience field him again? Off course, the answer is no, unless if PDP claims the court is false and that they cannot sustain legal scrutiny. From the briefing I got from those who defended us, it was clear that we only escaped through legal technicalities.
So the case was not dismissed, the case was struck out because it was filed out of time. That is one. Number two, this is where I have issues with some reporters. Everywhere in the world, you don’t need to be a politician to endorse somebody and when you endorse someone in Nigeria, they say you have become a godfather. In endorsing somebody you will have to say why you think this person is better than the other person.
I endorsed Obaseki because we had worked together. We sat down and I said we are not going to do ‘token, token’ projects, we are not going to spend our resources such that we will make impact anywhere.
We are going to, given the limited resources we have, going to have to prioritise and ensure that we design projects that are doable in terms of infrastructure, in terms of education and teachers training and several other things we think are precondition for sustainable growth and development. Number two, we must open up the rural areas. If you play back my tapes, you will remember when I said what rural people need is not our tears of sympathy, emotions wallowing in self-pity. What government must do is to open up the rural areas through what we call standard roads, because to be rural is not to be inferior.
And we constructed standard roads across several local governments in Edo State. I cannot think of any local government that did not benefit from standard roads. Of course we made massive investments in de-flooding Benin City because we got studies that suggest that unless we de-flood the city, create major drainage, reclaim the moat, Benin City will sink.
With more and more rains every year the problem of flooding will only get worse. And on the basis of these studies we established that we have about 21 basins in Benin. And we saw that Benin was an area you can’t go during raining season and we started to invest and reconstruct and de-flood the city and all of that.
And at the end of the day we were able to create what everybody can see, the airport road six lane, the Oba market six lane, Uselu road six lane, we expanded Akpakpava road, created drainage under it, created side walk and we decided as a matter of policy that the problem of Nigeria is that when we travel abroad , we go for shopping, we see good things, we are happy but as we are coming back home all that we bring back home is the shopping bag.
The ideas, the things we see we don’t come back with them. There is nowhere else where roads in a city with huge population are constructed without sidewalks. You do not have a city where at 6pm people are still expecting to go and sleep because there is no street light. And so we decided there are standard things we must do and we will do them so solid that we don’t need to go back and be repairing the roads every five years.
And I am proud that even the roads we constructed 10 years ago are still even; you won’t find any pothole there. These are things we discussed, when he was my adviser and the way I worked then all of these were subject to extensive debate in our state executive council. We agreed to make massive investment in building our public schools. Because what happened over the years is that successive governments divested from public education. In fact I used to say that they privatised it by default, so if you want your child in a beautiful school, he must go to a private primary school or a private secondary school and even a private nursery school. We introduced what became known as the Red Roof Revolution in which I said and this was approved that we are going to ensure that our schools have the same appeal or even better than private schools.
And we will ensure that we have standard desks, abolish the idea of cramming children on benches and we replaced the blackboard with whiteboards so that teachers don’t have to wash their clothes every day. And of course the students too who attend classes with ceramic tiles on the floor, synthetic ceilings, ceiling fans etc. They will have the same level of pride. There were couple of things we tried to change in terms of the way infrastructure is done. During the campaign, I was proud to tell the people that this man has been part of this team, he will build more schools. Because we hadn’t finished the schools and no one government will finish it. In any case, our population is growing so we need to continue to build schools.
You have spoken extensively about the person of Obaseki and you have apologised to the Edo people for endorsing him four years ago. However, four years ago you also denounced the person of Pastor Ize-Iyamu. You said he was not to be trusted with public funds among other things. Now he is the candidate of your party in the forthcoming election, can you guaranty that the money of the Edo people is safe in the hands of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu should he become their governor? And how much of a damage control do you think you need to do for this election?
I believe that the electorate knows a little more, it is not unusual, whether in Nigeria or anywhere in the world for you to say something about a politician and find that in the end some of those things are not exactly correct.
In every campaign around the world, even just now, when you watch CNN you will find where Obama endorsed Joe Biden, not only because he worked with him, he believes that Joe Biden will be a better president compared to the Republican candidate. Now, this is his own evaluation, and I am sure depending on the forum and the amount of time he has and the amount of details he wants to provide he can go on and say that Joe Biden will do and he is capable of doing and what he cannot do.
These are all forecasting, in the end it is either Joe Biden lives up to the expectation of former President Obama or he falls short of those expectations. Asking me to conduct an enquiry to know whether what I said was true or not true is to mistake the essence of political marketing and campaigns. And I am sure when you playback your previous interviews with politicians, whether in Nigeria or abroad it is common to find that political rivals in the morning become political friends in the evening.
And I don’t think you want to hold on as if I swore affidavit. I have spoken to something about somebody swearing to affidavit and telling me that he graduated and telling the court and INEC that he graduated. And it turned out that these are fake. Those are more damaging stories than whatever I said about Pastor Ize-Iyamu and that I ought to have carried out an enquiry.
You also said the Pastor poured acid on somebody in Uniben, that was also damning?
That there was such an incident is not in doubt. What we now know is that it was investigated and the Pastor was exonerated. You don’t want to suggest to me that every allegation that a man or a woman makes including journalists and reverend fathers, that what they say about people always turn out to be true. There was an incident that I referred to, now we have evidence that whereas that incident took place, Pastor Ize-Iyamu was involved in mediating between the guys who were fighting. Those are the facts that have come out. It is not as if it was just manufactured. If you want to emphasise on what I said about Ize-Iyamu, you also have to emphasise on what I said about Godwin because he has turned out to become what I will call a green snake under a green grass. He didn’t believe in what we were doing and he didn’t accept the standard of job we were doing. Earlier you were discussing Azura Power Plant project, you know I was the governor of Edo state when I started Azura Power Plant project, I signed the certificate of occupancy and used our own infrastructure as part of our contribution. We have a share in Azura Power Plant. I am not diverting to it but jut to say that there were many other things we did.
We created an environment where a number of Chinese companies came to locate their companies in Edo State, I didn’t have to go and celebrate a Memorandum of Understanding. What they needed was government providing the enabling environment, providing the infrastructure which I believe we did.
And today those companies are flourishing, they are producing iron rod from scrap, ceramic tiles and several other products. I think the issue for me is that Godwin did not meet the expectation. Now you asked a question and I want to answer it. You said so he hasn’t done anything. They said, he created 150,000 jobs. My dear brother, you know that all these sponsored awards, every government in Nigeria has gotten awards from all the major newspapers only for them to write editorial the following day condemning poverty of leadership. If people claim that Obaseki created 150,000 jobs, did he go on to state in which sectors of the Edo economy these jobs were created?
You are asking me now to do investigation, have they carried out investigative journalism and identified those jobs? And there is one simple way you can identify that. The number of people paying taxes, do we find that we have more employees on Pay As You Earn? On the contrary, a guy who was an executive director on Pay As You Earn said with all the efforts they have made, the number of people paying taxes keep dropping. You have to be employed and earn to pay tax, so even the number of people paying taxes is a pointer to whether or not new jobs are being created. You will agree that every government in the 36 states have collected awards from all manners of people.
You described Governor Obaseki as an MoU governor. That is new to Nigeria’s political lexicon. This is an opportunity to clarify what that means. Beyond that how confident are you that the people of Edo state have accepted your apology and that it will be easy for Pastor Ize-Iyamu to become governor and beat the incumbent governor?
I think this issue of apology has been over emphasised. If you write a referral to an employer telling the employer that this employee I am introducing to you is an honest man, he is hard working, productive, reliable and loyal. And then few years down the road, the employer draws your attention to the fact that this guy is neither competent nor is he loyal, he gives evidence to show that he has mismanaged the equipment put under his care and is churning out inferior product.
Because you did write a referral, you simply tell the employer that you are sorry. I don’t think you want to take it beyond that. My apology to Edo people is to say that in endorsing this man I made the assumption that being part of my administration, that he will sustain the work we started. The day Obaseki was sworn in, he spoke glowingly about the solid foundation that my administration established in Edo state and that he was going to build on it. what was this solid foundation? It was solid infrastructure in both the urban and rural areas and massive investments in education and in healthcare.
If you listen to Obaseki, he talks about Edo as if we were already in a valley when he took over, that nothing happened until he came in. I think you also need to hold him to some of those statements. But more importantly I think Edo people recognise that I am human. I assumed and there was a basis for that assumption because he worked with me. now someone worked with you and he appeared to believe in what you are doing particularly when Edo people owned up to those projects, there was a sense of ownership from the Oba of Benin to the ordinary man on the street in Benin and the elite; from Edo central to Edo north.
There was unanimity about the quality of my stewardship and there was no better evidence of this than the fact that in 2012 in my second term I won in all the 18 local government in Edo state, scoring 76% of the total vote cast.
So that was a huge vote of confidence and I believe that anyone who has worked with me having seen these political dividend arising from my stewardship, he will continue from there.
I never sent anybody to jail. If we did, they were armed robbers, kidnappers or murderers. I didn’t for political reasons send anyone to jail because we have a political disagreement. Number two, I worked hard to empower very young people and I want to say with all humility that is to my credit, I can point to those who were doing virtually nothing who today are home owners in Edo state without stealing public funds. Government has to create enabling environment for citizens to prosper. Now when you see a governor saying how can this man have this hotel? This one has this hotel and that one has this hotel, that one is not a professor, that means you are envious.
Now, you have a governor that goes to court to say that, and this one is very easy Obaseki cannot even win his own local government. That an Edo man, in this particular case a Benin person who was appointed as chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), because he didn’t like his person, he protested to the President that it is not the turn of Edo people to produce the chairman of NDDC which they never had since the inception of the organisation, as well as a commissioner in the organisation.
Those two jobs have been lost. And while the Oba of Benin who everybody in this state respects, did a letter thanking the president for appreciating Edo people and making one of his own sons as chairman, his own governor was doing a petition co-signing with other PDP governors saying that he does not approve of it. And today Edo has lost those positions. There is no way that you are going to talk to these Edo people that this man means well for the average Edo man. These things are not just about forecasting, you have to look at the past. I delivered in 2019. I warned Governor Obaseki about the way he was spending his time fighting people and threatening to crush them. He was saying that he has immunity and therefore he and his deputy are above the law. And so anybody who does anything that irritates him, he will arrest them. Today, in Benin, when it rains for 10 minutes, Benin is completely flooded.