From Tony Osauzo, Benin
Former Political Adviser to ex-Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Mr. Charles Idahosa has predicted that the North may still produce the next President of the country because the region is united and has the population to turn the table, as against the South that cannot speak with one voice.
Speaking to journalists in Benin City ahead of his 68th birthday anniversary, Idahosa X-rayed the political situation of the country among other issues.
How will you assess the current situation of the country?
I think Nigerians are not very fair to this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. As far as I am concerned, Buhari is not the best but there are a lot of things that have happened since he came. They are judging him on insecurity; I am on the board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and I know how much he has put into that sector; the Nigerian railway has improved, he has tried in other infrastructural areas like roads, bridges and others but insecurity is just covering all the good things he is doing.
You have to also understand that this COVID-19 affected the whole world’s economy, not only Nigeria. Nobody can achieve 100 percent in running a country but I think he is doing well. Nigeria is a very difficult country to manage and I hope by the grace of God he finds a lasting solution to the problem of insecurity. I was watching him in Imo State, he sounded confident. Yes there is corruption everywhere; the country is going through a very hard time, there is no doubt about that but that insecurity is blighting all that he has done; the man means well but the buck ends on his table.
Look at the South-East, they say they are fighting for their people but they are crippling the economy of that place. This sit- at-home order, it is not IPOB that the people are supporting, they are just afraid of destruction of their properties or getting killed in the cross fire. Nnamdi Kanu who claims he is the leader of IPOB was not born during the civil war, so he doesn’t know what is called war. I saw war, you cannot see any person of my age group calling for war.
Igboho started his own in the South-West; they are not serious. I said recently in an interview that the North will produce the next president; they will come from the two major political parties in the sense that you say you want to rule Nigeria and you are destroying the country and you say you want to secede; the North has the population and they are watching; it is only in the North they are not agitating for the splitting of Nigeria. IPOB says they want to split Nigeria while you are saying give the presidency to us; does that make any sense?
The South-West say they want to go, they want Oduduwa Republic and you expect to be given the presidency when it is obvious they are more politically sophisticated than us and we have refused to accept that? We are not politically united; a man from Benue State can speak Hausa fluently with a man from Sokoto because their leader, late Sardauna of Sokoto made sure of that; so there is a political North; Gen Ibrahim Babangida is not Hausa/Fulani, Lt Gen Theophilus Danjuma is not Hausa/Fulani and so many others but they are Northerners and they speak one language. But there is no political South, we are not one.
When they created the Midwest in 1963, there was one Akpata who became a Senator. He was Chief Conservator of forest in Western Region, he didn’t want to come to Benin because of the fear of the unknown, he said he is Yoruba but Akintola said no, in Yoruba, his name is spelt Apata and not Akpata and they sent him away. I was born as Western Region person but I can’t speak a bit of Yoruba. The Igbo man cannot communicate with a man from Edo State or the Niger Delta but the whole North is one language. We are just deceiving ourselves here because we think we are sharper.
Look at what is happening between Uche Secondus and Governor Wike, is that not what happened between Governor Obaseki and Oshiomhole?
What is your opinion on the VAT controversy?
As far as I am concerned, restructuring has started and I am very happy about that. Let us go and test the constitution in the court. How can you raise N15 billion and they give you N4 billion? Meanwhile, those practicing Sharia say no alcohol and a major part of this VAT is from alcohol. Let each state take what it can generate, that is what late Obafemi Awolowo did. The only problem I have with Awolowo that is still very painful to me because he was the greatest thing that happened to us in this country is that he did not pull us out of the Nigerian federation. When he discovered that the North was not ready to go at his pace, he could have pulled us out of the federation.
You can imagine that we had the first television station in Africa, we had the tallest building in Africa, we had an Olympic Stadium all to Awolowo as Premier of the Western Region; we were better than South Africa and others; Malaysia was coming here to borrow money, he should have pulled us out to become the Republic of Western Nigeria; we would still have been bigger than over 30 countries in Africa. We would have been like Singapore.
What is your opinion on the crisis in the PDP and 2023?
The crisis in the PDP has been very unfortunate. I have been monitoring and you can see that Wike holds the ace; he is in charge and I can’t see Secondus surviving it. As we are going into 2023, there will be division and APC is just waiting to tap but unfortunately the APC does not know what they are doing as well because one court will tomorrow nullify all that they have done so we are really at a crossroads. I left the APC when Oshiomhole started giving us problems but here we are in PDP, there is a lot of crisis. All of us that left APC with Obaseki to PDP, we don’t know where we are; PDP won’t allow us in, they said they have finished their congresses and it is for four years, we said let us negotiate like they did in Sokoto and Borno States, they said they are not interested and next year is pre-election year, we are not delegates so we can’t be part of the processes and APC just completed their own. You see all these my leaders with me here, they come to me and ask where are we: why can’t we go back to where we came from but before they could make up their minds, that place is closed. Right now, there is a committee trying to negotiate; that is the hope we have in the PDP.
Why were all these not negotiated before you people moved to the PDP?
The time was so short; you know the time Obaseki was disqualified, we had to leave and look for a new party; the time was so short that we did not cross the ts and dot the Is. All we just wanted at the time was the ticket so we went there without a proper negotiation like the cases of Ortom and Tambuwal. We were in a hurry; all we just wanted was to get the ticket first and we will negotiate those later.
The governor is almost one year old and there is no cabinet.
It worries me but the law does not say when the governor must form a cabinet. I think the law gives the governors and the president the room at their own time. We are not happy, I must make that very clear to you. This month is making it a year but you see Obaseki cannot be like Lucky Igbinedion; Lucky Igbinedion cannot be like Adams Oshiomhole; each governor comes with his own style but the governor will give you reasons. As I am talking to you, there is another committee set up by the party but the governor has just finished moving round the 18 local government areas but my thinking is that maybe he is taking advantage of that to save more funds because he is more concerned about having funds to turn Edo State to an Eldorado and as far as I am concerned, only one person cannot do that. He has a very big dream. A lot of our people are not happy but the truth of the matter is that there is no law that any person can use to hold him.
The problem we have in this state and this country is that we have very weak leadership; people don’t tell the truth. A man comes to you on a Monday. Please help me. I want to be a governor then when he becomes one, suddenly the leadership will now become enslaved to him because of personal gains.
During the early days of Obaseki, I could see signs that he would be very difficult to manage and I called all the leaders who are now stranded in EPM of APC, I don’t want to embarrass them by mentioning their names, we sat here in my house; I called three from Edo North, three from Edo South and three from Edo Central and I said look the way things are going, we are politicians and this man is not a core politician like us; we need to put our heads together so that we can advise him; some of them got up to say they wanted to go and ease themselves, they went to adjust their phones to record me and recorded me beautifully. Immediately they left, they went to the Government House to report that I wanted to fight the governor and naturally he reacted and we started having issues but it became too much; I called the person and asked why did you do this… all of them are now finished politically.
After a while, myself and the governor made up and we continued; my wants are very limited; if you wait for political patronage, you will be a slave. I have always tried to make my own little money: I am a farmer, I have had my cattle ranch for over twenty years; I have had my poultry for over twenty years, I sell chicken. Most of our leaders don’t programme their lives; for instance, I have only three kids, all mothers and fathers taking care of themselves and their families so when you are a politician and at the age of 75, you are still impregnating women, why won’t you lie in order to survive. If you are not contented, they take advantage of you.
Overnight, a governor will just come and give an instruction and everybody will be running around; I said no this is not how it should be because on election day, you will only be in your ward as a governor; you don’t know how the other results you got came.
Remember, all the vocal people that fought Obaseki are from Uhunmwode, brilliant young boys that I brought up; Dr Washington Osifo, Dr Samson Osagie, the first female speaker in the South-South, they were on the other side but politics is about planning and strategy; they were the ones who deceived Oshiomhole that they are the foot soldiers doing the work and that I am just their leader and Oshiomhole fell for it. I just went to their respective villages and raised new boys and made them leaders and I told them I don’t want them to lose their wards alone, they must lose their voting units and they all lost their units. But at the end of the day, these people worked and they are not getting paid back, that is where the stress is because the stress is on me; they don’t have access to the governor but the leaders will not join you. There are so many things I would like to say but I don’t want to say it through the media.
When I see him I will talk to him but he has developed a system now of not seeing me.
People say I fought for Obaseki, I fought Oshiomhole as close as we were and I said no, I did not fight for Obaseki, I fought for the Benin nation, I fought to protect the integrity of the Benin man. This is not the first time, I did it during Anenih’s time when he was the one dictating to Benin with over 60 percent of the population what to do; that was how Oshiomhole got into me. When he became governor, all the people that brought him absconded and they were now looking for their appointments but to be fair to Oshiomhole, he came back to me on his own after he became governor. He came to ask that I should be his political adviser because he said he had discovered that politics is very complicated; I gave him conditions which he met.
Why did you fall out with Oshiomhole?
I was the chairman of the committee on one man, one vote, Taiwo Akerele who later became Chief of Staff to Obaseki was my Secretary and we launched it at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium only for him to turn around to become the godfather himself and I said no. So, it wasn’t about him, Obaseki was only fortunate to be the governor at that time, so he was the symbol of the struggle. There is no way I would have allowed Anenih to finish his own and another person will come because the Benin are just there watching but I don’t blame Obaseki so much because the leadership is weak, very weak. Look at what is happening in Rivers State, you will just call ward leaders and say suspend Secondus and then ratify. I have never forwarded any of my children for any political office. That is why my people always stand by me despite all efforts to humiliate me.
There is no governor that has not fought me because once you tell people the truth, they don’t like it. For instance, I will tell the governor your public rating is coming down, he will say no, that is not what I hear but I am telling him the truth. If other leaders will join me, what you now hear is that he has come again so I have decided to just keep quiet. We are not happy but we are just praying that things get better because it is his government. If he succeeds, they will hail, they will not come and hail me, if things go wrong, he is the one that will still be blamed.
Oshiomhole let me down. That is why if I see him today, I won’t talk to him. He knew how I supported him. He was very close to me; he is a very nice person in the sense that he is one man that bows to superior arguments. When he came to government, we were not in control of the state house of assembly, they carried Oshiomhole with the state budget to Abuja; a sitting governor, that was how the fight against Chief Tony Anenih started. When he got to Abuja, they took him to Anenih’s house with late Zakawanu Garuba and Edo State budget and Anenih was cancelling budgets with his red biro and mandated the house to go and pass the budget. Oshiomhole called me from the airport and showed me the markings by Anenih and there I told him we have to fight and I told him we must take over the house because as long as they are in control of the house, we will continue to carry budgets to Abuja.
I told him let’s start the fight by firing the four commissioners he gave you but Oshiomhole was reluctant, I told him if he doesn’t want to do it, I will do it. It was a heated argument in his office but as I was leaving, I called the Press Secretary to give me his crew and I addressed the press because I know Anenih very well so I criticized him seriously in the press conference and immediately the conference was aired, I knew he would not like it and immediately it was aired, he called the four commissioners and instructed them to go and resign from the government.
It was Oshiomhole who also instructed me to reverse the choice of Chief Tom Ikimi as the pioneer chairman of the APC and replace him with Chief John Oyegun and that was how I also started to hit Oyegun for him to become the National Chairman of the APC; he knew all these roles I played and I also told him I am not far from him when he became the National Chairman.
I cautioned him in the presence of a commissioner that he was shielding Obaseki and I warned him that when Obaseki is through with the leaders, he will come for him and ruin him.
The last one which I have never mentioned is that I wanted to go to England for my medical check-up; it was very difficult for me, Oshiomhole was no longer governor, when he was governor, that would be a piece of cake. I called him to tell him that I am in Abuja because I can’t go to London but that I know that there must be a good Doctor in Abuja that can do the same thing. Unfortunately, the Doctor told me that since my history is with the doctor in the UK, he advises that I still go to him, he said that is strange but I told him I only informed him and I am on my way back to Benin; I didn’t ask him for any assistance because he was no longer governor. Do you know when the crisis started, Henry Idahagbon used it against me? Something I discussed with Oshiomhole on the phone, Idahagbon while attacking me added that I was fighting Oshiomhole because I was faking an illness and I came to Abuja to come and beg Oshiomhole for money and because Oshiomhole did not give me, that is why I was attacking Oshiomhole.
So what I discussed with him on the phone, he gathered his boys and was telling them, so there I decided I will teach him a lesson, that was very mean. Though I have forgiven him, I have not forgotten.
Are you comfortable with Governor Obaseki on his performance in terms of infrastructure?
I am very comfortable with him, he is doing very well and like I said, he has a very big dream, he wants to do so many things but the resources are not there. But I am happy with what he is doing, though I am not happy that we are not enjoying it in my local government area, I want him to extend it to our local government area.
What is your reaction to the rumour that Edo South will not allow the governorship seat go to Edo Central in 2024?
That is a lie. Can only Edo South bring a governor? We need votes from other parts of the state. The issue is that we need to sit down and talk. Edo South has the population and anywhere we swing, will pull weight but my joy is that I don’t play tribal politics; I talk about the individuals. What makes Edo beautiful is that there is no ethnic group in the state that cannot trace their origin from Benin. 2024 will be determined by the strategic position of the two political parties. Let me ask you this, if APC decides to field Osagie Ize-Iyamu again in 2024 who is from Edo South, what do you want PDP to do? The two parties must be able to agree so that the governorship will go to a particular region. These are the things we should be talking about. If APC picks Edo South, would you expect PDP to do otherwise? If they do, they will lose because there will be tribal sentiment. It is for the leaders in the two parties to agree that we are one and what we need is fairness and justice.
Professor Ambrose Alli who was from a minority became governor of Bendel State because the Benin voted for him massively against an Urobho candidate from a majority ethnic group. The Benin man to be governor, he needs Edo Central, he needs Edo North, so it is the leaders in the two political parties that will agree but it is something that will be perfected before 2024.
Do you foresee Obaseki going back to APC?
No, that will not happen. I have been begging him that we should go back to where we came from but he said no, he is not interested because I am not comfortable with the way we are being treated. I told him we only escorted you here and now you have got it, you are already a two term governor, can we now go back to where we are coming from, he said no and that he never made any promise that after he wins he will come back to the APC. The President didn’t want Obaseki to leave APC but Oshiomhole pushed his luck too far. Oshiomhole said he wanted direct primaries but the state exco said it wanted indirect primaries and the President told him at a point that whether direct or indirect, return Obaseki but Oshiomhole went back to the drawing board and made sure Obaseki did not participate in the primaries and disqualified him.
Is there a possibility of reconciling with the Oshiomhole group?
It will be very difficult but could be possible if Oshiomhole makes the move. He should initiate it because he was very ruthless in dealing with Obaseki. Obaseki supported him a lot, I knew how they were related. Obaseki once told a friend of ours that instead of him quarreling with Oshiomhole, he is ready to do away with all of us. That was how close they were. Obaseki was his father and best man when he married his current wife. I pray there is reconciliation because this is a state Oshiomhole invested in and he was very popular but he just threw it away. He allowed inconsequential persons to mislead him. But Obaseki is very bitter, I am not comfortable in PDP. I left there in 2004, so anytime I raise this issue with Obaseki he always tells me that is not an option.
How do you feel at 68?
I don’t feel any difference, at 68. By the grace of God I still feel as if I am 50, it is just that there are certain things you want to do that you cannot do again; the body is not as strong but outside, we are happy, we thank God. I am very grateful to God that in my 68 years I have never been hospitalized, I have never slept in the hospital, I have never been rushed to the hospital, I hear of people saying last night I was sick and I was rushed to the hospital, it has never happened to me so I am grateful to God. The body is strong, the children are doing well.
Politics has been disastrous in the sense that it is a game that is littered with ungrateful people ; you fight battles, you defend people, you fight for people and at the end, they pay you back with ingratitude so that is politics.