Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
The raging crisis in the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is continuing unabated, with the two sides to the quarrel insisting on their positions.
While the Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), a group opposed to Governor Godwin Obaseki’s second term bid insists on its two-point agenda of shopping for another candidate to replace the governor to enable it rebuild the APC in the state, those who are in support of Obaseki’s second term contend that it is a done deal for him to return.
In separate interviews, the antagonists represented by Hon. Gideon Obhakhan, a former Commissioner for Education in the state and the proponents represented by Hon. Henry Okhuarobo, the Chief Whip of the Edo State House of Assembly, gave their reasons for their positions on the crisis.
In Edo State today, APC is in crisis. You have Edo Peoples Movement on one side and then Obaseki on the other side. What is happening in your party?
Like you said, there is this notion that Edo State APC is in crisis and classifying it as crisis, it will be a fair comment to make. What is happening is that Edo Peoples Movement has come out to say we want to restructure the party because since Governor Obaseki took over power, APC in Edo State is dying gradually. So, the target of Edo Peoples Movement is very simple. First one is to restructure the party and strengthen it up to its winning ways and secondly to shop for a replacement for Governor Godwin Obaseki come 2020 because we do not want to allow him to take a second term because if we do, it will be a sure way to destroying APC in Edo State.
People say he is performing so wonderfully well and that they are surprised that some members of the party are saying that they do not need him for a second term. What is your reasons for not wanting him if he is doing so well?
When you say somebody is doing so well, it is a relative term. It depends on who is assessing him. Yes, there are some claims about him fixing roads even though there is this argument about the fact that he is claiming to be fixing roads that have been done by NDDC, some are being sponsored by World Bank through SEEFOR projects and there are few, maybe one or two that he has done. I do not want to dwell on the fact that he is working or not. As a governor, he has two major responsibilities. One of them is to do governance, the other one is to sustain the party that is in the area of building the party. He has done one relatively okay just as you just said because as a party member, I do not want to say for the few things he has done I will not give him credit for that, but as a party member, we need to sustain the party to be able to retain Osadebe Avenue, Government House. We do not want opposition to take over. So, somebody who is taking the exalted office of the governor should do two things. One is governance, two, is sustaining the party, but he has done very poorly in sustaining the party because he is selfish and he is very greedy. He believes that it is all about him, but the party is not about him. If you take your mind back to 2015 you will agree with me that when he wanted to be the governor of Edo State, he was an unknown quantity with due respect. He was an unknown quantity in Edo State, but Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the governor then, was able to sell him to the public because we had a structure that was being financed and maintained by the governor. So, if you bring somebody who is an unknown quantity and you were able to deliver him, what it means is that you have a good structure to deliver on elections. What he has done now is focus on working, but not sustaining the party. As party members we do not want to submit to a cheap blackmail because he keeps saying that people wanted him to share the money that was why the Edo Peoples Movement was formed and he keeps selling that to the public. We are not going to shy away. For me, I always tell them, if sustaining the party or making sure that the party is strong enough to win future elections is what he means by sharing the money, so he needs come and share the money because what he is doing now is bringing some boys from Lagos who they alleged he is using to siphon Edo State money to come and work, but look at projects that are being done in Benin there is no one that cannot be done by the Edo State citizens. So, all what we are saying is that sustain the party and work. The truth is, he has been given credit that he has done some work, but we in the inner system know that a lot of them were done by NDDC, some of them were done by SEEFOR but for the sake of the party, we give him the credit, but he has done less than 50 per cent of what we expected him to do.
Then it, therefore, means empowerment is one of your grouses because from what you have said now, he is outsourcing people to come and do what people ordinarily in the party and within Edo State should do, outsiders are coming into the state to do whereas those of you in the party who made him to be the governor have not been attended to. Is that one of your grouses?
Okay, I can say yes to that, but I will qualify it. When you reduce it to the level of empowerment, to some people, empowerment could mean give us money, share the money, but I need to clarify it because sometimes I have had conversation with people, I have told them to tell Governor Obaseki to name and shame those who have told him to share the money. With all due respect, I have been in the corporate world. I was in the multinational company called MTN for over 13 years. I resigned as general manager in 2014 in MTN. Today, I have a second address and I am into my own business, telecom services and oil and gas. So, I do not need Obaseki to give me money to survive. And I give an example just to buttress what you are talking about. Benin Technical College, the architect who is designing that Benin Technical College shares the same office with me in Lagos. To be precise, Amodu Ojukutu Street. I occupy fourth floor, he occupies third floor, but he is making money from Edo State and taking it to Lagos to go and pay tax in Lagos. Are we saying that there are no architects in Benin to do the job? What we are saying is that people have laboured to build the party in Edo State and what he needs to do is look for those competecies within Edo State and empower them. Give them these jobs because they can do exactly what these boys are doing. Recently, you will see on the Internet, there is a boy called TJ who somebody said is the richest youth in Edo State, that is Obaseki’s PA from Delta State. He just bought a house for his girlfriend in Lekki Phase I for N120 million. So, what we are talking about is that if you say you do not want to share the money, let’s see that integrity. Today, we are aware that every month, Obaseki takes home N500 million as security vote. We know that they do not account for it and we know that the only performing budget when you say budget performance, the performing budget in Edo State today is the security vote because it is 100 per cent every month. So, let him tell us what he has done with just only one month of his security vote and let us see if he can tell us. So, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. What we are saying is that, he should build the party, he should sustain the party and he should empower the citizens of the state rather than giving it to his cronies, siphoning Edo State money through his cronies in the name of giving jobs to the people of Edo and Delta states.
Now, let us look at this issue, all those that have been speaking for the governor are laying the blames on the doorstep of the national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, that he is the man behind the problems of the party in the state. What is your response?
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is the leader of the party in Edo State. He is not only the leader of the party in Edo State, but the national chairman of the party. I do not just see any meeting that we had as Edo Peoples Movement that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has attended, but you know the guilty are always afraid. They look for somebody to heap the blames on. Let me even ask you a question, they say Oshiomhole wants to be a godfather, Oshiomhole wants to decide on what happens in Edo State. Is he not qualified to be the godfather in Edo State? Is he not qualified to decide what happens in Edo State?
They are saying Oshiomhole fought against godfatherism and that he is trying to assume one?
Somebody asked him (Oshiomhole) the question and it is everywhere in the news and he said where is the evidence? I am coming to that and he asked, where is the evidence? I am even saying, taking it further, Oshiomhole has built the party in Edo State and are we saying he is not qualified to have a say? But even over and above that, he has stayed within his job discription as national chairman of the party. Are we saying if there is crisis in Edo State he should not ask what is going on? Recently, they went and inaugurated nine out of the 24 members of the state assembly, should the national chairman keep quiet? These are the questions we are asking, but just to answer your question, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has never assumed the position of a godfather, he is the leader of the party. A lot of us defer to him for advice on next steps, but he has never come out to say he is part of Edo People’s Movement. This issue of Edo People’s Movement came out of some of us who are fed up with the antics of Governor Obaseki because he is a political neophyte who does not know how to take care of the party. It is not a case of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole versus Godwin Obaseki. This is a case of Edo Peoples Movement versus Godwin Obaseki. If he wants to take the escape route of roping the national chairman into it he is just looking for an escape route which he will not get. All we are saying is that he should do his one term, and take his flight ticket and go back to Lagos because he will not get a second term ticket. Not as far as Edo Peoples Movement exists and are committed and resolute about unseating him. Godwin Obaseki can never come back as governor of Edo State.
The issue now the other people are raising, specifically, Oshiomhole’s political adviser for eight years, Charles Idahosa, he claims that (Oshiomhole’s) refusal to speak up on these issues and call you people to order means that he is the one behind you. How would you react to that?
Okay, in trying to survive and get out of his political logjam, Godwin Obaseki has decided to do two things. One, to employ those that we called cyberrats to continue to comment on anything and everything on social media. Two, to buy people who have pre-sufficiently advertised themselves as purchasable commodities. And Charles Idahosa, with all due respect, has sufficiently advertised himself as a purchasable commodity and he has been purchased by the governor who is gasping for breath to survive.
When you say purchase, can you substantiate that?
In other to substantiate it, I can give you a story which is on the Internet. You are aware that Charles Idahosa at some point, resigned from the political activities because he was frustrated by this same thing we are complaining about the current governor, Godwin Obaseki. He said he was no longer going to partake in any political activity until he hears from our national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Adams Oshiomhole called him to his house and he decided to start participating again, but at some point he fell sick and it was in the news as well. He said he called Comrade Oshiomhole he did not pick his call and somehow because Obaseki was looking for patronage somebody told him that Charles Idahosa was sick and he needed financial assistant to travel abroad to treat his ailment. Godwin Obaseki went there, capitalized on his ailment, sponsored him abroad to take treatment and by the time he came back he started singing a different tune. So, as far as I am concerned, that means he has purchased his loyalty. And historically, if you go to Uhunmwode today, Idahosa is just existing in name, but not substance. So for me, I can sit with Charles and tell him that he is purchasable. Tomorrow if you need him for anything, you purchase him. When you hear people like that, I do not reckon with them because those who have value, those who know where Edo State should be, should be determined to take Edo State there and when they talk, we listen to them, not people like Idahosa. I do not listen to him because as far as I am concerned, he is in the noise.
Your state party chairman, Aselm Ojezua, once said your group is illegal and that there is nothing like EPM in APC in Edo State. How would you react to that?
On social media I have actually responded to that. Unfortunately we are stocked with a chairman who plays to the gallery. With all due respect to him, he is a barrister, he has come a long way in politics, but I think this time, he has got it wrong because in APC today there are different pressure groups, some are for Governor Obaseki, some are against Obaseki. Edo People’s Movement stands out as one prominent one against Godwin Obaseki. I will like to ask the state chairman, Aselm Ojezua if he has heard of a group, Obaseki-Shaibu Solidarity Movement within APC? I want to ask him if he has personally welcomed them or not? So, if Aselm is welcoming Obaseki-Shaibu Solidarity Movement and encouraging chairmen to welcome the same group why are they not also giving the same room for voice of dissent because a man cannot be 100 per cent perfect. If there is a group called Obaseki- Shaibu Solidarity Movement that is allowed to express their wish that Godwin Obaseki should come back the second time, he should also allow a group called Edo People’s Movement who is saying no, we do not want Obaseki to come back.
These issues, are they not resolvable?
They are resolvable. If you read my article that was published in some of the national newspapers recently titled, “If I were Governor Godwin Obaseki”, I made a recommendation to him. The recommendation for him is to call all party members including the 19 members-elect of the house of assembly that he has refused to inaugurate and apologize to them and tell them he is only going to do one term and go away. And if he wants to do a second term, then APC can never be settled in Edo State because it is not possible for him to come back for second term. I will tell you why. When Obaseki became governor of Edo State in 2015 he came up with laudable guidelines for the party. Key among these guidelines was that he is not going to allow any person take appointment if the person did not win his ward, number one, if the person did not win his unit, number two, even for a position as low as that of a councillor. Governor Obaseki said you have to win your unit to be able to contest for those positions. For appointments and this he told a lot of people, that for political appointments, for SAs, for SSAs, for commissioners, you have to win your ward for you to be able to take up those appointments. So, as we are now, in the last presidential election, Godwin Obaseki lost his ward, local government area, federal constituency, senatorial district and the state. So, the question we as Edo People’s Movement are asking is, what is the moral justification for Governor Obaseki to say he wants to contest? What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.
You sound so convinced that your group will be able to deny him the ticket for a second term of office. Do you have the wherewithal to weather the storm?
Of course, if you look at today in Edo State, take every local government and look at the people who are strongly behind Edo People’s Movement, they are the people that put him there. He knows. In fact, I do not believe that Governor Obaseki will contest under APC as a party. I am 100 per cent convinced that he will go to either any of the opposition parties because I think he is, I believe except he wants to dissappoint me. I believe that he is smart enough to know that there is nothing he can do under the sun to get the ticket on APC platform. I am 100 per cent sure.
What if that happens?
And if Obaseki gets the ticket under the APC platform, I will go and relearn politics.
What if he gets it under opposition party?
And if he gets it in an opposition party, that will be a disaster for him because Edo people will now understand what Edo Peoples Movement has been saying that this man is greedy, that he can dump his party, he can dump everybody for his selfish ambition and we will use that to campaign against him and he will lose woefully.
Are you sure, because one of the feelers we get is that if he leaves the party and joins any of the opposition parties, the people of Edo State will vote for him because he is doing so well?
When you say Edo people we are all Edo people. We are the people who shape opinions in Edo State. The reason I do not want to talk about the real issues now is because he is still carrying the name of APC. Even though I know by blood he is now PDP because he has been romancing the top leaders of PDP like Chief Tom Ikimi, Chief Igbinedion, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Bob Izua Adun and the rest of them. He is PDP in blood and APC in name. So, we are keeping some of those things. The day he goes to PDP we will expose him. But let me ask a question and I want him to answer and if you people can interview him, I want him to answer the question. How come out of 24 members in the house of assembly he only has six? He has to at gun point, under duress, force three people with one on short, to go and inaugurate them at 9:30pm.
When you say at gun point and under duress, can you prove that?
The people came out openly and it is recorded. It is on the Internet where they said they were forced for inauguration. In fact, one of them who came out and I can share the video with you said he did not know where the suit that they hung on him came from. So, it is clear. So, if you are popular and you have boasted that you are more popular than the party how come you have six out of the 24 members of the house of assembly?
What if other members of the house decide to join the other nine members because some of them have been threatened with recall and all that? What will you do?
You see, when you talk about inauguration, I will have to come back to my original point. If you have a foundation that is weak it does not matter how many storeys you put on it, it will eventually crumble. So, what we have in Edo State makes no sense because you cannot put something on nothing. So the numbers you are counting can remain in the virtual space untill it comes to reality. I will not be able to answer your question because the numbers you are counting is being counted on top of nothing because as it is today we have a space that has not been occupied in our hallowed chamber. Until it is occupied we cannot be counting numbers that are added because anything added comes to zero because it is nothing, it is empty, waiting for a proclamation letter that is agreed to be right according to the details of the national working committee of the party, according to the details of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, according to the details of the Senate President. All these people that I have mentioned have told the governor to go and do the right thing. So, adding numbers to the wrong numbers will continue to be wrong. People have a right to complain or to exercise their rights. So what happens next is what matters. So, we will wait, 2020 we will see.
Do you have the money because he is the sitting governor. Take for instance, primaries will have to be conducted?
Let me tell you something now that people who are in Edo Peoples Movement, they are not people that we will use money to sustain. They are people who are committed and resolved that this nonsense must stop. They are people who believe that the governor has not done well for the party and he is just all about himself. We have them in thousands. The reason you have started to see this crowd is because we are taking it one at a time. If you were in the last meeting we had, we actually wanted about 10 persons per local government which should have given us able a 192 persons, but in that meeting, we were struggling with space. We were about 300. They paid their transport to the venue and back to their respective homes. Some of them came from as far as Akoko-Edo and nobody gave them money. This has gone beyond money. If you look at it today most people who contested to be house of assembly members how much did they really have? Could they have been bought by this same governor? How come he could not buy the people who are now the 19 people who are against him? So, it is about the reality on ground.