Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo, a renowned billionaire businessman and philanthropist from Benin, has remained an issue in the politics of Edo State since the battle for the governorship peaked ahead of the September 19 election. Although he had been forced out to address some of the issues hovering around him a couple of times, he however held a holds-no-barred interview recently, where he clarified some of the concerns about the governorship election. Excerpts:
How did you part ways with Governor Obaseki?
I want to thank you for honouring my invitation. I am a very press shy person. I hardly grant interviews but I find it very important and relevant at this time for me to also talk. I have written but I think I should talk. Thank you for the question about Edo. Facts are facts and a lie will remain a lie. You will get real facts today.
First, I consider myself an elder statesman of this country, I also consider myself a relevant stakeholder in my state. Just as important as that market woman, who is also a stakeholder that sells tomatoes and pepper so I have always wished my state and I still do.
At the beginning, when Governor Godwin Obaseki approached me in 2016, that he wanted to run for the governorship of Edo State, he came in the company of a friend, Noggie Meggison, to my house in Ikoyi (Lagos) and that day, I unveiled to him the relationship between me and his late father, who happened to be like a father to me. In fact, he nurtured me in my youth. I told him the relationship between his father and me; that as a child, I was his father’s friend and that I had no choice but to support his ambition. After that, he kept coming to my house with Rasaq Belo-Osagie.
When he came, he respected me and we respected each other. We ate together and the relationship was very cordial and I was happy that at least, somebody from the private sector like myself had come into the governorship race in Edo State apart from the relationship I had with the father, which was very dear to me.
When it came to the time to support financially, he came to me in Abuja with the same Rasaq and I did my little bit to support him and thank God it is the same candidate today that is also his opponent again.
What then happened?
He was elected as the Governor in 2016 and I was very elated and as we continued, the political class that helped him get were all coming to me including Rasaq Belo-Osagie that brought him to me. I want to start mentioning names now so that there can be reference. They were complaining about how he was treating them and how he didn’t want to see them anymore after being elected and I kept calming them down.
I even quarreled with Rasaq, when I said, “Rasaq, leave this man alone”, and I kept talking to the political class and said, listen, I know investment bankers, you can’t squeeze anything out of their hands. They said he was not implementing the plans and projects that they had agreed
He said he was gathering money to improve our state. I said so be it. He said he was developing our state and I said so be it. So, I said let him be but I kept going back to him to say my brother, please, manage these people.
I told him, you have found yourself in the political turf, so please manage them, because I believe there are so many attributes of leadership; the ability to manage people, perseverance and patience are very important.
I told him that, when you have even more than ten workers in your establishment, you will have different kinds of people and the ability to manage them to achieve your desired goals is what is important, because as I was fighting the political class, I was advising him on how to manage them because for me, the state was my major concern; development of my state is top priority all the time.
That was why when I was going to China to meet some investors, I mentioned it to him and he was willing to come, I was excited that he was willing to come. I bought his ticket and that of his aides.
We went to China and we met my investors and we spent good time together. I did that and paid all the bills not, because I have too much money but what I wanted to show to my brother was look, I am not coming for government purse. I wanted to show him that I wanted to help genuinely and I seriously meant well for him, but to my surprise, the things that started unfolding after, I couldn’t believe it. I began to wonder what I had done.
For instance, when the President was coming to Benin for the Army Day, I reached out to the Presidency, the President had seen my products, the President had eaten products from my farm, the President loves the products, so I wanted to use that opportunity of his coming to Benin to invite the President to commission my farm and I also thought that was an opportunity for Godwin, the Governor to also showcase the farm as one of his achievements.
I was therefore shocked to hear from the grapevine that he never wanted the President to come to my farm. I went again to confirm if the President was going to come to my farm and I did. Then I got a phone call from Godwin and he said, ‘I learnt the President was coming to your farm, he will come but he was not going to come out of the car.’
I was wondering, how will the President come to my farm for the commissioning of my farm and not come out of the car? Whatever I am saying here today, God Almighty knows that I am saying the truth. He gave me that call and I laughed, only for the event to be cancelled, because there was an incident in Maiduguri and the President had to go to Maiduguri. I began to think, what was going on here.
Most of these things started last year. It is very true that a few people had approached me that I should come and run against him. But for me, let me be honest, I will be the last person to quarrel with any government that is performing or any government at all, because at the very beginning, when Godwin told me his plans for Edo State – if Godwin presents to you his plans for Edo State on PowerPoint, you will kiss his feet.
It is like in the Bible, when the devil said take all this and bow before me and Jesus said get thee behind me Satan. And as we progressed, all those packages that he presented, none was done
I learnt most of them were all on paper and they continue to be on paper and consultancy services attached to most of them. Of course, as we speak, most of those projects are not on ground and I can’t be deceived. Some can be deceived but I cannot.
A situation, where you have 600 children packed in a room selling propaganda on social media, of projects that are not there? It is appalling. That is why most of our brothers in the Diaspora are sold on his agenda, but they do not know that most of those projects are just not on ground. You can’t continue selling propaganda, because when you tell lies continuously, it becomes truth in some peoples’ ear.
You sell propaganda, you impoverish them and then when it is election time, you now throw corns at them and tell them to see white and call it black. I will not allow that in a society I grew up in. I don’t live permanently in Benin but I have always retraced my steps to my home, because there is a saying that a child that doesn’t remember where he comes from is lost. I am completely in touch with my environment back home. I know that is where I am from and whatever I can do to relate with my people, I always do.
Like I said, a lot of people approached me to run for Governor of Edo State and most of the people that did, will tell you I said I wasn’t interested, because I have set a trajectory for my life and over the past 32 years, I have been involved in business and before that, I was a very good professional pilot. And at 63, my mates that ran for governorship did that in 1999 and I was not ready to start learning new things.
That is one of the reasons I tried to help Godwin, because in his old age, he could not learn new things, and that is why he fell a victim. He found himself in politics, which was not his turf, it was not his forte and he would have sought God’s wisdom to be able to manage the position he had found himself. That was why I was talking to him and trying to mediate in the matter, because I never wanted him to fight anybody, not to talk about fighting me.
When he started fighting the political class, I told him, when he came to my house, I said GO, please if you keep fighting these guys, they have a boss, who is Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and very soon, you and Adams will quarrel. He said God forbid instead of him and Adams to quarrel he will resign from being governor.
I said okay and not long, Adams became Chairman of APC and the people on ground whom he was fighting now found solace in Abuja and they came to seek help from him. I was watching and comrade started helping some of them through his position. And the quarrel started. He became angry with Comrade and complained why Comrade was helping people that were fighting him in the state.
Then it came to their primaries and the full-blown quarrel erupted. I went to him and tried settling them. I went once, then the second time, I said GO my brother, your position today is Governor and Comrade is Chairman of APC, I don’t think there is anything both of you will sit in front of the President and ask for our state that we would not get.
I said please, this quarrel should never happen. I said let’s nip it in the bud for the sake of everybody. I was in his house for three hours. I knelt down, begging. I said for the sake of the state I don’t want this animosity to continue, whatever it takes, please close it out.
That night, I left and that same night, when I got home, I got a call from common friend in Lagos, who told me that Godwin said you should stay out of this matter, otherwise, you might be a collateral damage. I said, collateral damage? Me? I said should I ask him? He said ask him. The next morning I called him, I said Ogierebor that is what I call him, I said Ogierebor, this is what this guy told me, he said yes; it is fight to finish o. You better stay away so that you will not be caught up in the middle. I said Thank you! But I said I won’t relent. I reached out to elders, who were more powerful than myself.
Was that the day after you saw him?
Yes, and because of that, the dispute was never resolved till today. Now, let’s talk about myself. There was a particular Sunday that THISDAY published a story on its front page and I know that newspaper front pages are very serious.
The headline was NPA Cancels SAA and they put a bogus figure that we were earning; that we were operating illegally and that the person behind this company, OMSL, my name was mentioned and they twisted it that I was interested in the governorship.
That particular write up was a big embarrassment to me, and co-incidentally, Jim Ovia was hosting Emefiele at the Civic Centre that day on his reappointment as CBN Governor. I was there at the venue and some friends were questioning me if I was interested but I was responding to them that I was not.
As I was leaving, thank God, Godwin was coming in. We were outside. He pointed at me and embarrassed me in front of everyone, shouting “incoming Governor”. I held him, that is the photograph you guys see of both of us and cuddled him and I said: Are you one of them?
I took him back inside the venue and in order to disabuse the minds of those who had interrogated me earlier, I went behind his seat and grabbed him and they took our photograph. That photograph is what people see and I left. As that incident grew, SAA saga grew. Everywhere I went, they told me this is political, your problem is political, and somebody actually told me he was behind it.
But I did not believe it and one evening, I went to his house and we were outside among some common friends. I told him, I said GO, they told me that you are the one behind my saga at NPA. He said no no. I am not the one. He carried his phone and dialed someone very important whom I also respect. He told the person, why is Hadiza harassing my brother now, the guy replied (he was on speaker), Godwin you said that man is the man troubling you in Edo State.
Hadiza is fighting your battle for you, are you not the one who sent her or have you changed your mind? He quickly switched off the phone. I said Godwin, I have caught you, you are the one who caused this and you are going to repair it for me.
The common friends that were there included Anselm Ojezua, Barr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, former NBA President, my friend Peter Okundaye was there, Chief Oseni Elamah was there and a few others. You can call any of this people. I don’t lie. He now told me and said on Tuesday, we will see in Abuja. I never saw him
After that, I was called in NNPC. I was called that there was an enquiry and the Adhoc Committee on Pipeline Security and Oil theft wanted me make a presentation. The night before that presentation, I went to my brother, I said I will be making a presentation to the Sub-Committee and you are the Chairman. He said no problem, you have nothing to fear just come, make your presentation and that will be it.
The next day, the oil majors were there, Shell was there, NNPC management was there, Aiteo was there, different people were there. The industry was complete. I went with Chief Ayiri Emami. I went with him so he could talk about how we have been managing the Community since our operations covered his community. He does not work for me, but he was there. That day to the admiration of everyone that was there, I presented flawlessly. The only question was from my brother, he said, how are you paid, what is your contract like?
Who asked that question?
The Governor, he was the Chairman. I said Your Excellency NNPC has my full dossier; they have the payment terms and legal has my contract. There is huge network of pipelines in this country and I was only handling four – Escravos to Warri, Bonny to Port Harcourt – just four. There are many, you have the transnational lines, where losses are being recorded. But of all the lines, the ones my company was taking care of were performing above expectations and there were no losses, because my contract is performance related.
I work for NNPC. I don’t work for Amnesty Office. NNPC is a structured organisation where contracts are properly drawn. NNPC is like a relay, your performance will impact on the next person; the next person’s performance will impact on the next etc before the oil finally gets sold. My four lines that I was taking care of were the best. I pride myself at being the best at what I do.
When the report came out, my brother wrote the report like I was the one handling all the whole pipelines in Nigeria, despite all I was doing, giving the impression that we were responsible for the losses. It was only my name he put there. I was not upset, because I am a businessman and the principle of every businessman or human being is, there are three things you must not fight “God, Government, Gun”.
I’m very conscious of those three things and that was why I was patient. I am still not fighting Godwin, I am continuously defending myself, and that passed. Then write-ups started coming out. They started attacking me. I finally wrote: “CAPTAIN HOSA SPEAKS, LEAVE ME OUT OF POLITICS”, it was well published and circulated.
My brother called me like an Emperor, and said, Capt, this is what I have been expecting from you and I said Your Excellency, I have told you I was not contesting. He said very good, as though he was my class room teacher.
My son that works in his government, I call him my son, Osaze Uzamere, also called me and said daddy thank you for coming out. I have been defending you and telling them you are not doing this thing. Igbinidu, the Head of his Tax, several others, called me, thanking me for coming out. I said wow! I did not know the matter was this serious.
I then called him and said you too write, CAPTAIN HOSA IS MY BROTHER, HE IS NOT A POLITICIAN, LEAVE HIM ALONE and that will put a stop to everything. He told me he has so many support base at home and abroad and he doesn’t know those who were attacking me and gave excuses.
I felt he had attacked my business and didn’t succeed. Coming from the private sector, he knows the only thing he could do was to damage my integrity and damage my compliance by writing all these things.
I am not a politician. For a politician, if you throw stones at him, he may not reply but as a businessman, when people throw stones at you, a day will come in your compliance where they will ask you, when you were accused of this, how did you respond? So, as they kept attacking me, I kept responding. I said this man wants to destroy my business, not physically but through compliance. That was why at a point I threw everything into the papers.
You saw me in the papers every day, showing people exactly who I am. I started exposing myself. I have done business for over three decades only a few knew me. Friends called me and said, Captain, what is going on, you are in the news every day. I had to tell them that I was defending myself. My brother exposed me.
When the attack got too much, I wrote an open letter. One of the boys that wrote a libellous article against me, I filed a complaint and he was arrested and was to be charged to court but his lawyer came to me. He came to apologise. I have so many children, my biological and many others that I look after. I am a role model; I mentor these children.
So I was not ready to destroy this young child, who should have been positively engaged but was set up in a room to be abusing his fathers. When I finished speaking to him, the guy broke down and was crying. He said he never knew this is the kind of person I am.
The guy was even abandoned. Nobody came for his bail even though he was SA to the Governor. He still calls me a father to date. I have never for one day called him to ask him about what is happening in his camp. I have helped him and that is it. It was obvious that the attack was coming from government circles.
What I believe is that my brother, Godwin actually thought I was going to run against him so he set up a war room against Captain Hosa and when he knew I wasn’t running, he still needed to deploy it. So, I wrote an open letter to the President and the Edo people and I catalogued all my actions to everyone, and everything I said there before my God is the truth I wanted people to ask him what I’ve done to deserve this?
At least even the tomato seller or the beggar on the street has a right to choose, who he wants to be and who, he wants to support in politics. Up to this moment, the same man that came to me in 2016 begging me for support hasn’t come to me to tell me that he was interested in a second term, no discussion.
And I kept telling him that instead of him to read the letter and come to terms with the situation and find a way of brokering peace, he is fighting me. I am a man of peace. You will not believe this, on the same day of my letter, another libel was fired, that I was gathering people, buying guns that I wanted to come and disrupt the election, it was written by Crusoe Osagie.
This was sent out on the government letterhead. There is no way my business partners will take that lightly. I instructed my lawyers immediately. We are in court and the whole thing escalated. Also, when it became obvious to friends, my people that this guy was after me, his government started crumbling and people started resigning.
And that was what I wanted him to avoid. I called him and said all these statement you are writing and referring to me as billionaire, billionaire, I don’t have money. What I have is goodwill, which is more than money. I never placed emphasis on money. I was brought up from a very humble background. My father was an educationalist and my mother, a Teacher. We were not rich but my father gave us good values and he was a man of truth.
I still consider Godwin my brother but I don’t consider him a leader, because he doesn’t have the attributes of a good leader. Edo State is a collective responsibility. It is a place where we all must support. I have no other place to call my foundation apart from that place. It is more important to me than any other place.
He lacks the leadership qualities and also lacks the temperament and patience to govern people. He is deceitful.
It’s only unfortunate that Osagie Ize-Iyanmu who contested against him in 2016 is out there and I am supporting him by default and of course, I want a better Edo State and that’s all I can say. I don’t have any money to fight Obaseki and I am not fighting him. I will never fight government but I will defend myself against any aggression; against what I eat, my daily food, defend my character and anything that will destroy me.
Do you see anything stopping the PDP, because they seemed confident?
Well, we’ve had elections in Edo State; this is not the first time and I can tell you that it has not been this bad, because the whole country is shaking as a result of one state. We have had many elections in Edo State. My being dragged into this whole thing like I have said earlier is no fault of mine. It is rather unfortunate that the Governor in his mind, because he thought he was going to run against me, began to plot against me, and I became an imaginary candidate.
Comrade Oshiomhole, who initially brought him as Governor, by default is also an imaginary candidate. So, you on the streets you are hearing Godwin/Captain Hosa, Godwin/Oshiomhole, but the real candidate is Osagie Ize-Iyamu. He has given himself three candidates to contest against. One being real the other two imaginary!
Let me tell you something, Mahatma Gandhi was not a rich man yet he changed the fortunes of India. Martin Luther King was never a rich man but he changed the fate of black people in America. Usman Dan Fodio was never a rich man, Ahmadu Bello died without a house, Tafawa Balewa same, even up to our President right now, Muhammadu Buhari, when he became President of this country, he had nothing but people believed in him and voted him into power for a change.
So, what I expect from our people is that they should look and see within their environment what has happened in the last four years, see how our state has been managed, see the personality of the governor that has ruled them, see the violence, the quarrels and the fight in our state, let every man search their conscience. It is not about money; it about what you can see around you.
If my people believe that this election is about money, then, let their conscience be sold but me, Capt. Hosa, I have played my part because if they are happy with what they see and they want to continue in that suffering, so be it. But I will know that I have played my part and I will definitely excuse myself from my dear state for the next four years, because that’s what they’ve chosen. I will stay away
But I believe that this election is not about money but the truth. And our people believe in the truth. I believe if the election is based on truth and it is held today, I believe APC will win with landslide. But if you want to talk about propaganda, money, violence, forcing his will on the people, then, you can mention the incumbent. I don’t have to buy the conscience of the people. I’m sure evil can never surpass good.
A Governor that could not manage 24 House of Assembly members from his own party; they were not in opposition, all APC. Some of us worked to make that possible for him so he could have a smooth ride but he squandered the chance He started fighting them from day one. How can you start talking of conviction for a crime you did not commit? He was screaming about being impeached. What did he do that he was afraid of impeachment?
What is at stake for you, is it interest or ego?
I am a very humble person. There is no strand of ego in me. There is nothing I cannot sacrifice for the betterment of my state. In this election, it is the future of our children that is at stake, the liberation of our state from someone, who thinks he is an emperor in this modern day is at stake.
If that state was running well, if everything he said he was going to do he did, if the people in his Constituency are happy? If he spits on my face I will just wipe it off with a towel and move on. I will take it in my stride and say it is for the sake of our state.
But you cannot, having performed poorly, having not done the right thing – dealing with people and you expect to spit on my face and join me among the oppressed, I will defend myself. Nothing else is at stake but the betterment of our state
Have you met Osagie Ize-Iyamu?
Do you believe in his agenda?
Are you bankrolling him?
Well, that’s a good question. Ize-Iyamu has met with me; he has also shown me the vision he has for the State. He calls it the Simple Agenda. He also has the vision of farming and he is a farmer. He is very passionate about the agenda.
I believe the only thing that has not been exploited to the benefit of Nigeria and our children is farming. We have arable land everywhere. Farming will take a lot of our children from the streets. And it is one of the agenda he is passionate about. Godwin also spoke to me about Farming in 2016 but where is the farm?
I’ve sat down with Pastor and he believes in farming, because through farming, the people will be empowered and our youths will be engaged. He has the same vision as I have about farming
Talking about supporting him, you should know that Pastor is a Pastor and the last time he was in government, he was SSG and for a man like that to be facing a monster of the state government, some of us will have to come out to support him if we believe with me.
I will support Ize-Iyamu with my hard earned sweat not stolen money and people that know me know that when I believe in something, I can spend my last kobo to achieve it. He is lucky to have someone like me. When God wants to work, he will bring all together to work for your good.
You might want to ask another question, you are supporting him with your man now how do you intend to recoup your money? People have asked me this question and what have I told them is “Red Cross”, what do I mean? Charity.
If today, I am supporting Osagie Ize -Iyamu to liberate my state, and tomorrow I am now expecting something from a state that they have riddled with debt? Our children have been mortgaged and you said I should not talk. Let me tell you, I have worked all my life, I am 63 years old and if I do not have money kept away that I can use in the day of danger, then I have failed. Osagie is a beneficiary.
If I dare go to him after he wins to say Old boy, how about the money that I spent, that will be the beginning of our fight. So I am very conscious. Let me tell you, at this age, what do I want?
God has been so good to me. I’ve been blessed beyond my expectation. My blessings are unmerited. In my 63 years, God has made me realise most of my ambition.
My ambition now is to be able to go back to my people with whatever God has blessed me with, share it with them, if possible, partner the government to create employment through agriculture. So, my ambition is to go back home where I can once more relish in that roasted yam and palm oil that my grandmother brought me up with in my childhood and in the evening, I tie my wrapper, go to my palace to make my King laugh. That is my ambition. Nothing else.
For me, money is an instrument and it will always be an instrument and at 63, I’m nearer to where I’m going than where I’m coming from. At the airport sometimes I run into my colleagues the ones we trained together in Zaria and when I get home, I kneel down and say God, I thank you.
What do I want God to do again that he has not done, unless I am a greedy fool? That is why I will not be afraid to say the truth. I am a grandfather of four grandchildren. That is why I will never do anything that will make people laugh at them or bring shame to my children. So, if you say I’m bankrolling Pastor Ize-Iyamu, so be it. But one thing though, I can never compete with state resources. I am supporting him with my hard-earned sweat.
You believed Obaseki in 2016, why should now believe Ize-Iyamu?
In 2016, even though I had a relationship with Godwin’s father, Godwin was a stranger to me, total strange. Though we used to see in Lagos, we were not close. I knew his younger brother, Gilbert, his father brought Gilbert to work for me. I knew his other siblings. Eki, who is his senior sister is married to Uncle Nuel Ojei, who is my godfather, godfather is a good thing (smiles).
I never knew him but I believed him, that’s where the difference is. I’ve known Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu for over 30 years. I know his character before; I know his character, when he became a born-again Christian. Let me tell you something, Osagie is a testimony of how God can actually turnaround somebody.
Since I’ve known Osagie as a Christian, I’ve always seen a very genuine man, a man of God and we need good people to come into our politics whether they have money or not. Osagie owns a farm, that’s the only business he has, he has a farm where he also trains farmers. I’ve been there. I’ve seen him farm and I believe he has the same dream and aspirations as myself for the state.
There is a cloud of fear in Edo State, because of the fear of violence. Can you vouch for your candidate?
Well, let me first tell you that I’m a man of peace and it has been demonstrated many times by me. Today, the relative calm that you see in the Niger-Delta, I contributed to it in a great way. I’ve been able to employ so many restless youths in our pipeline protection business. Today, they are gainfully employed under my establishment. They can tell you today what they earn monthly. So, I’ve been able to turn them from their negativity to positivity.
As I speak to you, I have close to 3,000 youths in the Niger-Delta that I’m partnering, so, many of them have been calling me that they are rubbishing me in Edo election that they want to go and fight my cause. But I said they should stop, because I can’t see myself having spent time and energy to train these my children positively, I will now say I want to use them for election, God forbid.
I hate violence, so this issue of violence, I think is not from APC; it is the other camp you should talk to, not Ize-Iyamu. Personally, I have sponsored programmes running on TV and Radio telling people to stay away from violence.
I am praying for a free, fair and violence-free election in Edo state, where everyone will be able to exercise their rights. That’s what I’m praying for and that’s what the Oba explained to the leading candidates and political leaders