Ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, the battle for the soul of the state is raging.
The battle, in the main, is between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Oshiomhole is supporting the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, while Obaseki is seeking reelection on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, Obaseki opens up on the feud between him and his predecessor and his chances at the polls. Excerpts:.
Can you tell us why the people of Edo should re-elect you?
When I came into office, I had a social contract with my people and the underlying principle of that contract is to work for them and protect their interests. To put their interest, yearnings and aspirations first underpinned the focus of my administration.
For the past three years and nine months, I have, by the grace of Almighty God and the support of my people, done my best to uphold their interest. Consequently, I believe that my people have rallied in large numbers to support me, giving me the assurance that they would troop out en-masse to re-elect me on September 19.
When and why did you fall out with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole?
When I became governor, we had an understanding on how we were going to run the state. We had agreed to put an end to the use of non-state actors in revenue collection. These persons had been harassing women in markets. We had young men who didn’t respect the Enigies and Onogies; they took over land assets and sold a plot to three to five people. They went about with guns and constituted a nuisance. Some people also came and promised young people jobs abroad, only for the young people to make journeys to Europe through Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. The whole place was crisis-ridden. Nobody wanted to come down to Edo to invest. I said we couldn’t continue this way. We needed to change the status quo. I barred thugs (agberos) from the roads and markets and ensured that they stopped harassing market women and other persons in Edo. But some of the (APC) leaders said they would have none of that because, according to them, they helped me into office. They didn’t help me. The people voted for me and God helped me.
As for sharing of the state’s money, I insisted that we must use the money for the people and change their lives with it. Crude oil prices were and are still low. There was a lot to do. Debts had piled up. There was work on ground to be done and if we used the available funds to entertain politicians, there would be nothing left to work for the people.
I said no to them. I came to serve God and my people. Whatever is available to us, we would manage it to work for the people. And today, many of our people are happy. Pensioners get their pay at the end of every month. They don’t protest anymore.
As of the time I assumed office, they were always at Ring Road adorned in black attire, crying that they had not been paid. These are old people with families. I asked, how would we be sharing money in government while we haven’t addressed this sort of challenge? I came to work pro bono for government for seven years. Oshiomhole said this. I don’t see him as my godfather. He helped me just as I helped him even before he became governor. I called people, raised money and helped him to become governor.
That relationship is not godfather-godson relationship. When I said I wanted to run for office, he reciprocated and helped me. We moved together to campaign. I staked my money and got friends to fund my election. He didn’t pick me up from the roadside, gave me clothing and put me in Government House.
That was not the case. From what he did from the point he became the National Chairman of the APC, he didn’t seem as the same person I worked with before. It also goes to show that he had been hiding these tendencies from us before. When we analyzed his actions, it dawned on us that this was what he meant when he was fighting godfathers. He called the late Tony Anenih a godfather and said a lot about him. We agreed with him. At the point he became the National Chairman, he became worse than a godfather; he became a political bully. Nobody could talk where he was.
You personally supervised the vandalisation of the state House of Assembly complex in the name of wanting to renovate it, which left a sour taste in the mouths of many. Why did you do that?
First and foremost, you need to recognize the principle of separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. So, it is wrong to give the impression that it is the executive that takes the decision for the legislature. Long before these individuals, whose seats have been declared vacant, made the lawless move of trying to stage a coup, lawmakers had long moved their sitting to the old Legislative Chamber as a result of the need to carry out maintenance on the Anthony Enahoro Complex.
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It was perhaps because the complex was inactive due to the fact that maintenance was slowly beginning that these individuals tried to carry out the desecration of democracy. That would probably be reason the legislators accelerated the process of renovating the place to prevent such illegal activities. In essence, the action of these lawless individuals might have motivated the leadership of the House to accelerate the renovation work at the complex. In any case, it must be stated that even this decision to speed up work at the complex was not made by me but by the House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Francis Okiye.
Your proclamation at night and the subsequent inauguration of nine members of the Assembly out of 24 members set off the crisis in the state. Why was it necessary to secretly exclude others?
You may need some enlightenment on what a proclamation actually is. A proclamation is a document issued by the governor that provides the legal basis for the inaugural sitting of a legislative house. So the talk of proclamation at night really does not arise. The facts are that a proclamation was issued by me and the House sat and elected its principal officers and all other members-elect were subsequently invited by their colleagues to be sworn-in.
They stayed away from office on the instruction of their godfather who relocated them to Abuja. They refused to come to represent their constituents who voted them to provide legislative representation. Again, I may need to restate here that you need to understand the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.
Though I issued the proclamation according to the provisions of our Constitution, the decision to hold the inaugural sitting was independently taken by the House of Assembly. It may also be worthy of mention here that the proclamation I issued has been validated by a court judgment in Suit no. PHC/PH/CS/159/19: Hon. Yekini O. Idiaye and Anor vs the Clerk of the National Assembly and 5 Ors, where the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt gave a final judgment on the 12th of September, 2019 and held that the Edo State House of Assembly was properly inaugurated on the 17th day of June, 2019 and that the House is sitting and carrying out its functions.
Let us talk about the refinery project you embarked on. What stage is the project now? What is delaying the completion?
We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a private sector investor on the Edo Refinery and Petrochemical project. The project is over 70 percent complete. We contributed N700m as project support fund to accelerate its realization. The pace of work has been phenomenal. We are excited that this noble milestone has been achieved by the government in such a short period of time.
The Presidency recently sent emissaries to Edo to inspect the project and get a first-hand assessment of the level of work done and they were impressed with what they saw and the extent of local content contribution to the realization of the project.
The project is designed in such a way that it houses a fabrication yard which would be a training ground for youths in Edo and create local capacity for refinery building and installation. The MoU with the Chinese consortium working on the project also includes a clause for the building of a Department of Petroleum Engineering in the state-owned university, Ambrose Alli University to deepen the local content drive of my administration in the oil and gas industry.
One of the allegations against you is that you didn’t complete some of the projects started by your predecessor in office. Is this true? If yes, why?
This is absolutely false. Most of the projects of the previous administration are the outcome of my work as Chairman, Economic Team in the previous administration, and we continued many of them. In some cases where some of these projects were not being properly executed, some structural adjustments were made to correct them and ensure sustainability.
You are also accused of abandoning the Gelegele Port which is said to have become a kidnapping den…
They were also saying this about the Edo Modular Refinery, the 55MW Ossiomo Independent Power Plant, until they were wowed by the evidence on ground. These persons do not know how large projects come about. They think big projects grow out of the ground; there are lots of things to be done to get the project going. A lot of things go on in to the life cycle of a project. For the Benin River Port, which you call the Gelegele Port, the project is very much on course.
The necessary infrastructure needed for the project such as the preliminary studies and the development of artery roads are ongoing. Ekewan Road, which is the main artery road to the Benin River Port, is being dualized to accommodate the anticipated heavy vehicular traffic. Other regulatory approvals are also being sought, with tremendous progress being made on them. We are sure that when the project comes on stream the opposition is also going to rise in protest that the project belongs to someone else as is being said now about the Edo Modular Refinery and the Ossiomo IPP.
Others said that you rule with an iron fist. You are intolerant of other people’s views…
We believe that the people should be allowed to be the judge of the character of the person they employed. I serve over four million Edo people. I care more about how they feel and not by the judgment of a few people who are saying this because we have refused to open the people’s treasury to them. The people know that we are serving them. We are humane and have a human face. We have liberated them from thugs, oppressive extortionists and others who used to prey on the people. It is these few people, these oppressors, who we have freed our people from that are complaining.
Your opponents said that while you are good at signing Memorandum of Understanding, your government does not always turn these MoUs into concrete projects. Is this so?
There are numerous projects which we have delivered in the last three years and nine months with our MoUs, which is the initial step which any serious government uses to engage private investors and development partners for project development. Some of the projects we have executed through MoUs include the state’s broadband network infrastructure project, for which an MoU was signed with MainOne, Nigeria’s leading cable company, for the laying of 400km fibre-optic cables to drive internet connectivity. This would, among other things, boost the state’s technology ecosystem. We also have the MoU between Mixta Africa and the Edo Development and Property Agency (EDPA) on behalf of the state government, for the development of the 1,451-unit Emotan Garden Estate project, which sits on a 70-hectare land in Upper Sokponba axis of Benin City.
The first phase of the estate is 100 percent complete and home owners have moved into their properties. Work is progressing on the second phase.
Aside this, there is the much-celebrated MoU with Ossiomo Independent Power Plant for the 55MW CCTEC-Ossiomo Power Project, to provide electricity to public facilities such as the State Secretariat, Government House, Ogbemudia Stadium, hospitals and many more public facilities. The project is ready for commissioning.
There is a major MoU with a Chinese consortium for the Edo Refinery and Petrochemical Project, for which a 6000bpd Modular Refinery plant is on the verge of completion. The project is to be expanded to a 30,000bpd plant. The project is expected to meet 20 percent of Nigeria’s diesel demands and make Nigeria self-sufficient in Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) also known as black oil, used in industries.
Then we have the MoU signed between EDPA and EDLP Nigeria Limited for the development of discount malls across the state. The first of such malls is operational at the Sokponba Road axis of the state. More are to be built in Ugbowo, Ugbiyoko and Ekpoma in the state. Fresh produce from local farmers are mopped up by these malls and sold at the malls. All these are concrete and verifiable. You can come to Benin and see these for yourself. There are other MoU projects that are still in the works such as the Benin Enterprise Park.
The Anchor Investor is ready to move into site, but for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which slowed the pace of work. There is also the Benin River Port, where a lot of work is ongoing to prepare the necessary infrastructure to give rise to the project, as we await regulatory nod to proceed.
The artery road is being dualized and a lot more is happening in the background. Marine Police base is ready and eight gunboats have been purchased and donated to the Police. Ekehuan Road, the main artery to the port site is being dualized, to ease movement. We do MoUs because we understand the language of public-private partnerships and that has made all the difference in the way we deliver our legacy projects and advance the task of industrializing the state.
There is also the allegation that your government is stoking violence ahead of the election while accusing the opposition of being behind the violence. What is your reaction to that?
This is absolutely false. Like I always say, you don’t have to take my word for it. If you send men for an independent and unbiased survey, you will find that we have 80 percent of the voters and the people committed to my re-election. We also have a groundswell of support from Edo people in the Diaspora both within Nigeria and outside the country.
Therefore, it is in my best interest that the process is peaceful and calm, so all these people can go out, exercise their franchise and re-elect me. On the contrary, it is the APC who know for a fact that they don’t control up to 20 percent of the electorate in the state and are heading for certain defeat that is stoking violence, causing chaos, attacking innocent citizens, residents and members of the PDP.
They are also planning other underhand, illegal, criminal and undemocratic tactics to derail the process. We are, however, convinced that the President is committed to peaceful polls in Edo. INEC has, so far, rebuffed pressures from the APC in the state and the police have indicated their commitment to be impartial. With all of these, we are certain of a peaceful election. We urge the public to disregard all the fear mongering and come out on Election Day to perform their civic responsibility.
Why did you not continue with the projects left behind by your predecessor. Projects like the Storm Water project and the Edo Specialist Hospital. You were a central part of that administration and even negotiated the funds from World Bank. Why?
The projects are ongoing. It is completely false that we abandoned them. Though some of the projects had some structural defects, we have amended these and continued work on them. For instance, the Edo Specialist Hospital is functional today and, as I speak, it is treating patients. The Storm Water Project is ongoing as well. All these claims are repeated lies by the opposition which has no substantive criticism against this administration.
You floated an Industrial Park and the Benin River Sea Port. How far have you gone with these projects?
Like I said before, at the Benin River Port, a lot of work is ongoing to prepare the necessary infrastructure associated with the project. The artery road, Ekehuan Road, is being dualized to ease movement to the port. A Marine Police Base is ready and eight gunboats have been purchased and donated to the Police. These are ancillary projects attached to the Port project. For the Benin Enterprise Park, the Anchor investor is ready to move into site, but for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which led to the disruption of international flights and a shutdown of the global economy. Once the international airways open, we would surely see more activities at the site because the project is actually very active and ongoing. It is sad that the opposition lacks ideas on how to deliver big projects like this. All these are new to them, so they are a bit confused and don’t know what to make of it. A whole lot of work goes into delivering these high-impact projects and we are very much on course in delivering them.
You worked with Oshiomhole for eight years. Why are you trying so hard now to extricate yourself from his government and portray it as a failed administration?
Yes, I worked with Oshiomhole for eight years and I did so pro bono, in service to Edo people. It is consequent upon these that I have taken steps to emplace reforms in various aspects of our society to ensure that the mistakes of that administration are not continued or repeated. For these, we have no apologies to anyone. These are done for the benefit of our people as we are committed to their welfare.
Some of your commissioners, Chief of Staff and other top officials have left your government in curious circumstances. Many people have used this to fault your style of leadership. Can you react to this?
This is politics and different people seek different alliances. There is nothing strange about that. In all, the number of people who resigned from the government is not up to five percent of the total number of appointees. For me, it is not significant.
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