OSAGIE IZE-IYAMU: There’re No ‘Ifs’ and ‘Buts’, Obaseki Has Failed

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OSAGIE IZE-IYAMU

Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress party in the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, is warming up good for the D-Day. With the campaigns in fever pitch, the grassroots politician addresses some of the issues that appear the concerns of the voting majority in an interview with THISDAY on Sunday. Excerpts:

Your agenda has been sloganised as SIMPLE. What does this social contract entails?
As spelled out in my manifesto, the SIMPLE agenda, my reason for seeking public office as Governor, is summarily to launch Edo State on the path of sustainable economic growth and development. This encompasses several aspects: infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, security, and the improvement of municipal services, such as the provision of water and electricity.

The truth, as the data from the complaints of our people have shown, is that the last four years have been really bad for our state. We have seen a government completely distracted by needless wars of self-aggrandizement and a complete lack of administrative control, which resulted in endless internal squabbles between aides, many of whom lost faith in the governor and his style of leadership. All of these depleted state resources, oftentimes through questionable means, and took a great toll on governance.

Not a single teacher was hired in four years despite the fact that schools in our rural communities suffer acute shortage of teachers and other personnel. A government that failed to prioritise the education of our children, particularly at the primary level, the bedrock and foundation of all other levels of learning, has failed in its mandate and betrayed the trust of the people. There are no ifs and buts.

As you must already be aware, the word ‘SIMPLE’ in my manifesto is an acronym for Security and Social Welfare, Infrastructural Development and Urban Renewal, Manpower Development and Training, Public-Private Partnership, Leadership by Example, and Employment creation and social empowerment scheme. I have outlined specific plans and programmes to engender progress in all these critical areas and replace the inertia of the last four years with real growth and development.

How has the campaign been going? What are the signs you’re picking up?
The campaign has turned out far better than I expected. The turnout has been enormous and the support, overwhelming. The hospitality we have received everywhere I take my SIMPLE Agenda has been very heartwarming. From the market women, the youths, the children, the men, the women up to our traditional fathers and lawmakers, some of them elected on the platform of the PDP, and other influential personalities — they have all given me their blessing. Indeed, the people are ready to embrace good governance and kick incompetence, mediocrity and irresponsibility out of Edo State for good.

What will you be doing differently on day one in office if elected?
The security situation in Edo State today is deeply concerning. Violent crimes are on the rise. There is almost an unchecked spate of kidnappings. Our people in rural and urban communities no longer feel safe in their homes. As you know, security and welfare is the primary responsibility of government, because people have to be alive and well to enjoy other policies and programmes of government. A secured environment is also key to commerce and the attraction of investments.
From day one, my administration will commence steps to rebuilding the state’s security infrastructure. We have identified some low hanging fruits that can yield immediate results. For instance, the incumbent government raised security vote to an estimate of over 700million naira monthly, but sadly, hands only 5 million naira to the Police, as support fund for their operations in the state. Evidently, this is a drop too tiny in a mighty ocean.

This is something my administration will immediately scale up significantly. Apart from this, we are also going to explore other areas of sustainable funding for the Police and other security agencies in Edo State to strengthen patrol, surveillance and other crime prevention measures.

Furthermore, we are going to repair the relationship between the state government and the traditional rulers, as well as other community-based leadership, closest to the people. This is not only crucial to the formulation of policies that address the true needs of the people, it also helps for local intelligence gathering, to better secure the state and farmlands in rural communities.

The disdain and neglect the present administration has shown the traditional institution in the state is ill advised. They should be supported and partnered. Some of our traditional rulers have sustained local vigilante groups and the Police have attested to their effectiveness in the investigation and prevention of crime. The government must support all these laudable initiatives with investments. It should be a welcome partnership backed with resources, since it is a worthwhile grassroots effort to assist the government in achieving its most fundamental duty: citizen security.

The PDP has accused you of instigating violence, is this true?
They say a man that is drowning would most likely want to bring others down with him. That is simply how to describe the unfortunate, yet, self-imposed position of the PDP right about now. Every step they have taken with Godwin Obaseki as their candidate has been futile.

For this, when they see us thriving and flourishing with our campaign, they become sated with spite, envy, and cruelty, and as such, they tend to pander to mudslinging, name-calling, propaganda and false allegations, even to the extent of insidiously plotting to shoot their own vehicle and accuse us of doing that. They are flustered and frustrated, but the list is almost getting endless with the PDP deepening its neck in the calabash of violence it crafted.

You can as well take the example of the seven thugs arrested during the Edo Assembly invasion, led by the governor and his deputy. These young men were arraigned, days ago, for illegal possession of firearms; and in the process, they let the cat out of the bag. There are reports of confessions that they were hired by the PDP, even though that is unsurprising, given their mission at the Edo Assembly Complex, where they were nabbed.

There is also the Apana shootings carried out by thugs loyal to the PDP. So, who is really causing violence in Edo? At Igueben, their thugs, for whatever reasons best known to them, opened fire on each other and shot an innocent man in the process. These are all easily verifiable facts. So, there is no question on who is instigating violence in the state.
The PDP is jittery hence these cowardly attacks and resort to violence. They have seen their own defeat. It becomes clearer each day that they simply cannot win the election.

One of the campaign issues against your candidacy is that you might bring back godfatherism into Edo State if elected. Yet, the people are against godfatherism. How does that sit with you?
I have always made it known every now and then, that I stand against godfatherism, and would never condone it. I challenge those who have been accusing me of having a godfather to come out and point out who the godfather is. Godfatherism is inimical to good governance, it is a clog in the wheel of responsible and exemplary leadership, and this would never be present in my government.

Although my years in politics have seen me build strong ties with a number of persons, it is a common fact that I am a man of conviction and would never submit myself to an arrangement in any guise or form of godfatherism.

As a matter of fact, I led the political movement that revolutionised elections in Edo State and established the one man, one vote mantra. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and a number of persons in our state are living witnesses to this fact. Godfatherism is inexistent in the political realm of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. That is an assurance and you can hold me to it.

What do the Edo people stand to gain from your governorship if elected?
A leadership that is sincere, competent, and true to their needs. The challenges we face today are some of the greatest of our lifetime. A significant contributory factor to this fact is the global economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus disease that has hamstrung the global economy. Testy times require sturdy and capable hands at the helm, not an amateur and rudderless leadership, the sort that runs for office without any manifesto or guide, and only rushes to manufacture one at the eve of elections for another term.

As aforementioned, we will rebuild the state security infrastructure, because our people deserve to go about their lawful businesses without fear for their lives. My administration will create real jobs, not phony ones that exist only on paper, through investments in the agriculture sector.

The incumbent spent over two billion naira in Sobe under an initiative called the Agripreneur programme meant to supposedly transform our farmers into billionaires. The result of that investment is out; you can drive to Sobe to see the land and interact with the farmers in that community to hear what they have to say.

In July, Edo farmers staged a massive protest in Abuja, demanding a probe of the N144billion loan for agricpreneur project, because the money was diverted. Agriculture is the highest employer of labour in Nigeria. Yet, in Edo State, the governor has mismanaged the sector, and impoverished our farmers. I am going to reverse all of these.

Access to healthcare remains a problem in many rural communities. This government promised to build a primary health center in all 192 wards of the state. In four years, he only managed to build 20. Edo people living in these communities have to travel several kilometers just to see a doctor.

Some come all the way to the capital city of Benin, where unfortunately, they have to pay through their nose, because the governor, after politicising the Benin Specialist Hospital and kept it under lock and key for no other reason except bitter and petty politics, handed it to some private individuals, who are charging the people steep prices, in a hospital built with public funds.

My administration will change all of these. We will harness the resource potential of the state across all the three senatorial districts, invite and keep investors through positive reforms and infrastructure development, and facilitate the establishment of industries that will put our youths to work and increase the revenue pool of the state.

This campaign has been very divisive. But since unity is a critical element in development, what are your plans to unite the people of Edo State if elected governor?
It is unfortunate that the incumbent governor has been running a divisive campaign premised on lies, blackmail, and name-calling. Unable to win the support of the people, because of his poor performance, he has been trying to ensue chaos and set the people against one another through ethnic and religious rhetoric.

Weeks back, the Otaru of Auchi did me the great honour of bestowing on me the traditional ‘Itsemakhoma’ title of Auchi, which means ‘this is our own’, in recognition of my achievements, love for the people irrespective of where they are from, and track record of performance. It was a great gesture welcomed by all. Surprisingly, however, Governor Obaseki and his propagandists started to spread a baseless and irresponsible report that I was colluding with the ‘Fulanis’ to bring RUGA to Edo State.

This is just one of many instances. And this is because he has neither achievements nor a manifesto to sell. So, he thinks the only way to win is to divide the people along ethnic and religious lines. It is unfortunate but he cannot succeed.
The governor’s shameful divisive tactics aside, the reality is that our people are united in their desire of a leadership that is good, responsible, and inclusive. They want a governor, who will act as the leader of all, not just for a certain group or class. And that is the kind of leadership we are offering.

Recall that as the DG to the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole re-election campaign, we achieved the historic feat of winning in all 18 LGAs of the state. We couldn’t have achieved this if we did not represent the aspirations of all Edo people and prioritised their needs, irrespective of what part of the state they come from, or who they identify with.
I am going to build on this and ensure the qualities of good leadership. That includes transparency, and of course, commitment to set out goals. With this, bounds are closed and the whole state is pacing, in peace and harmony, towards development and achievements.

Oshiomhole once said he did not appoint you into his cabinet despite the fact that you helped him to win the election, because ‘you lie too much’. Now, what has changed? Trust is important in governance, why should the electorate believe that you are trustworthy if your main backer says otherwise?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has made it known that he made those statements in 2016, because he was just seeking means to de-market me at the time to help the candidate of his party. He has since retracted the comments and apologised. There is nothing more to it.

And for the fact that he has declared his support for me, retracting his former statement, presupposes that I have never been found wanting in integrity at any point in time. I have always stood for the truth at all times, and honesty remains an uncompromising policy and value to me. So, the people have nothing to worry about when it comes to my integrity. It has never been found wanting nor has it ever suffered any blemish and it would always remain so.

Allegations that your party planned to rig the election using security agencies, as was the case in Kogi State are rife. Sadly, there has been no serious effort to debunk these claims. Should it be taken as true?
Like I mentioned earlier, the PDP is like a wounded dog, whose folly drives it berserk, looking for who to inflict such injury upon, so they could be equal. This is just one of their many futile propaganda against my campaign to curry the favour of the people and puncture my campaign. But again, just like it is habitual of them, they have failed in this attempt.

A popular party and candidate don’t need any rigging plans or violence. As a matter of fact, we are doing everything to ensure that the election is hitch-free, because we want it to be glaring to the whole world that the expected embarrassing defeat, that the PDP will suffer, is fair and square – they have already been rejected by the people of Edo State.

What about the allegation that you were using thugs and threats of violence to intimidate supporters of your opponent?
Yet another futile propaganda intended to smear my campaign to give them some illicit edge. But how can that work, when the governor, in four full years, woefully failed to prove himself, and gain that legitimate edge, with a superlative performance? Now, a four-year opportunity is gone down the drain with a dreadful failure, and all the governor and his camp can dream up is whipping up the spectre of fear and violence?

My campaign and I have always made it clear that we stand for peace, not violence. I have a publicly available campaign manifesto that we are evangelising in all nooks and crannies of the state. Our hope of victory is solely on the goodwill of our people.

Will you agree to a debate with Governor Godwin Obaseki?
Why not? That would offer me an opportunity to communicate my agenda to the people of Edo State, as someone on the mission to bring back Edo into boom and bloom, unlike the doom and gloom of the Obaseki years. Yes, I heartily welcome a debate.

Can you address the N700 million campaign fund fraud allegation?
The 700million naira was a privately sourced campaign fund for the Goodluck Jonathan presidential campaign in 2015, dispatched to Edo State, for earmarked party activities. As the DG of the Presidential Campaign Committee in Edo State, I went with other PDP leaders to the bank to acknowledge that the fund arrived Edo State.
From there, it was taken to the residence of the leader of the PDP in the State before onward disbursement to party officials in all LGs of the state, for the earmarked activities. Not a single penny of the money went to me. Mr. Tony Aziegbemi, the current PDP Chairman, and Dan Orbih, the DG of Governor Obaseki’s campaign, were also named as parties to the case by the EFCC. They both have attested to these facts.

You have been visiting many parts of the state to campaign, how is your message being received?
The people have truly warmed up to us, especially, my agenda for them. Like I said earlier, everywhere we turn, there is a massive turnout of supporters – one I never even envisaged. But you know what they say: when the people see a good thing, they go for it. Edo State is ready for good governance.

Have you any particular message to your supporters?
They should remain calm, keep staying safe wherever they are especially, with the existential pandemic in the state and the country, by and large. September 19 is fast approaching no doubt, and by the grace of God, it would be here. So, they should bide their time, and when the day comes, observing all protocols and adhering to peace, come out to vote for the APC and ensure that their votes count.

You claimed Edo State government has not recruited teachers in many years. Many have retired and have not been replaced. What would you do in this regard if elected?
We are going to recruit more teachers. It is long overdue. The administration that Obaseki replaced carried out a study, which found that there is an acute shortage and recommended recruitment. The last one was during the Igbinedion administration, which I served in. The ratio of students to teachers in our state is alarming.
As a matter of priority, we are going to bridge this gap and encourage more teachers to accept deployment to rural communities by improving working and living conditions of those areas so that our children can access quality learning, irrespective of where they live.

What is your view of the recent vandalism of the House of Assembly by alleged thugs in the name of renovation?
It was a shameful episode and a low point in the history of our state’s democracy. Invading the hallowed chambers with thugs and preventing elected lawmakers from carrying out their legislative duties is nothing but an act of tyranny that has no place in a constitutional democracy.