By Damiete Braide
Former Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, Bright Omokhodion and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in this interview, speaks on increase in banditry and terrorism in the country and what the Federal Authority should do to tame it, among other sundry national issues.
The circumstance under which you emerged as the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly was controversial. What happened or was it a case of vaulting ambition or desire for the service to your constituency?
The whole essence of politics is to transform dreams to visible realities. Ambition is part of the life of a man; where aspirations for the growth and development of your society is actualised. My background and work experience have prepared me for the challenges of leadership and when the mantle fell on me to lead, it became imperative to fit in naturally. So, when the exigency arose to heal the political injury of marginalization suffered by my Senatoral District, I stepped forward for the purpose of equity and justice. Those who shied away from their obligations to their constituencies, are the betrayers of trust, because their constituency interest which is supposed to be permanent to them in politics was sacrificed for their selfish reasons. My ambition is to serve the interest of my people and deliver development to my constituency.
I have always loved my people and my constituency and whenever the opportunity avails to lift up my constituency, I always did my best. And I am sure the whole of Edo State still claim till date that they had the best of me as the speaker of Edo State House of Assembly during my tenure.
What do you think accounted for your era being characterized by tales of instability?
My era was a glorious insight into the revolution of positive thoughts in Edo State. We heralded growth in the mentality of Edo people who were tired of oppressive politics emanating from the strong arm of the feudal lord. My inception as Speaker brought in unprecedented development to the socio-political lives of the people and eliminated political marginalization which in turn created equity and calm in the system. Systemic changes come with relative advantage for the polity. There was certainly no political instability during my era. Honestly, a change doesn’t necessarily mean instability because it could be a way to even fortify structures of government. My era as a speaker was the most stable one and judging by the claim by the people, it was most beneficial to the state.
You will agree with me that since 1999 to the last election, Edo State had witnessed a lot of political turmoil which according to political pundits was as a result of political god-fatherism. What are your thoughts about it?
The concept of god-fatherism is a relative term. There is no where in the world where there are no mentors and mentees. It is a question of nomenclature. God-fatherism is not necessarily a bad thing except where it is abused. In Edo State, Chief Tony Anenih was accused of being a godfather, but he positively impacted the lives of many politicians who became great statesmen in Nigeria. Adams Oshiomhole came with the slogan to put an end to god-fatherism in the state. He too was a product of god-fatherism. It took a godfather to package him for the office of governor even when he was a blind mouse. There are situations that can be repositioned and put under strict dialectical analysis. The relationship between Obaseki and Oshiomhole degenerated due to a desire to assert authority over indulgence.
There were two political gladiators in the state; Tony Anenih and Adams Oshiomhole who said in 2008 that the era of god-fatherism was gone in the state. With the recent development between him and Governor Obaseki, how do you see the place of god-fatherism in Edo State politics ahead of 2023?
The issue of god-fatherism has been over-ochestrated to the detriment of development of an efficient political system. Oshiomhole and Obaseki now belong to different political parties. They were once friends and strong allies. He was Oshiomhole’s Economic Adviser and he earned enormous confidence in that relationship leading to his choice and endorsement as a worthy successor. For reasons of ego and resistance of interference, they both parted ways.
Their influence on the impending 2023 election can only be felt from their hold over their respective political parties. Obaseki is new to PDP, and he still needs to understand his new found friends whose idiosyncrasies would soon be made manifest when the search for a successor begin. As for Oshiomhole, he has had his time and only needs to cool off his heels in the impending disposition. His influence in the political system cannot be underestimated and his voice cannot be easily undermined.
But talking ahead of 2023, there are two major political parties in Edo State: the APC and PDP. Obaseki left APC under the circumstances of belligerence and went to PDP. It is a straight fight which will turn out to be of historical interest.
During the second republic, late Waziri Ibrahim, founder of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) said that his own brand of politics has no bitterness. Would it be right judging from bitterness and acrimony that had trailed Edo State politics to say that the state has so much politics with bitterness?
Waziri Ibrahim advocated a pacifist approach to politics in an era that was characterised by political rancour and mudslinging. The struggle for limited and scarce resources leads to rancour and bitterness. He knew bitterness was part of the political process. Today, we know the difference in political temperament, then it isn’t much. However, there is a determination to grow the political system and reduce acrimony in the quest for high offices. Edo is a family state and every struggle is viewed from the perspective of unending bond of family among the people. Our strength is in our ability to explore the homongous values of unity that exist in the state.
You have a long history of defections: From PDP to ACN, back to PDP and now to APC. Why?
People with like minds, and similar ideology come together to a political party with a view to effecting changes in the system of governance. That is politics of principles and purpose. When there is a paradign shift towards chaos and anarchy, it takes strategic thinking to redirect the ship of state. When you no longer think in tandem with your co-voyagers, you resort to inevitable options, especially when the constitution doesn’t forbid willful decision to decide where to belong. When I first left PDP, it was to address the challenges of marginalisation arising from the tilt in political equilibrium of Edo State that weighed against my senatorial district. This was corrected when I became Speaker of the House, and relative calm and stability held sway. I returned to PDP with my political faithful under the phantom illusion that things have changed. It became obvious that promises of equity and internal democracy were not in sight. We endured the irascibility of the party’s leadership in the state to a point when it became too obvious that mediocres were at the helm of affairs. The ideological philosophy of the party was traded at the alter of egocentric leaders. There was no option than to throw away the cloak of servitude and walk away to where freedom of values were obtainable. Today, I am in APC and working hard to reposition the party for greater success..
With the purported clipping of Oshiomhole’s wings as the former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), what does that portend in Edo State politics and at the national level?
Oshiomhole was a former governor and also an ex-National Chairman, All Progressives Congress (APC). He had his times in irony and was a very brilliant performer before he ran into rough weather. Not too many people can survive the high tension of organized conspiracies. In no time, APC will come up with a new national executive that will produce a successor. Oshiomhole has so much to contribute to the success of APC in the upcoming elections. He’s a dogged fighter who never backs down in a struggle. If you undermine him, you do so at your peril. He is a very result-oriented politician whose interest the growth of the party is still very fundamental. His popularity may have suffered some reverses but he remains an opinion maker in Edo State, commanding significant followership. So, if you have him on your side, he is of great asset.
But having come this far in his political career, Oshiomhole as a person should start winding down to give room to other people on the train so that his legacies can be maintained and respected.
After the impeachment of late Zakawanu Garuba, who was an Esan lawmaker, you defected from PDP to AC to succeed him. Tell us about it considering that it robbed you and other Esan lawmakers re-election?
Zakawanu Garuba was Etsako and his impeachment was not a factor in the reelection of any Esan legislator, except for those who blindly followed him in his failed bid to seek redress.. Edo Central was then and now a PDP stronghold, largely because of the domineering influence of late Chief Tony Anenih. Since his demise, the story is changing and APC is holding firm there.
I became speaker, justified by the inclinations of the electorate. If people were not convinced about my ability, I wouldn’t succeed in leaving a very dynamic, frugal, result and value oriented House. Until he died, Zakawanu was my friend; there was no love lost. They went to court and they all lost in all matters against me, even on to the Supreme Court, which upheld my election as speaker. I’m not going to discuss it anymore because it has been taken care of by the judicial process. And I settled down to office and did my job.
The house made history when it amended house rules for Justin Okonoboh, first time lawmaker to emerge speaker ….
(Cuts in) Every parliament has its standing rules adopted to guide its proceedings. We have to understand that rules are made for men, not men for rules. The House can amend its own standing rules. Once the rules are amended, any relevant sections that can slow down the process of decision making can be suspended. It is a legitimate parliamentary process.
Looking at the current government under PDP, what are your expectations ahead of the next election, what are your projections?
We are projecting that the state will return to the Progressives in the next election. Edo State right now is under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) . And we know the circumstances under which it became a PDP State. We are aware of it. Obaseki having presented himself for nomination under APC, defected when he was disqualified, and went to the PDP, was accepted, and given the ticket and he won. He is in PDP and he may also be a stranger in the party because he was not there all the time; so he is there learning the ropes and philosophy of how to interact with people in PDP. And he has four years to do that in his second tenure, a period in which he has to understand the philosophy of the party and nature of people he is working with. I’m sure he is doing that very fast because I see them together and they are happy with each other, and be that as it may, there is nobody that wants to become the governor of Edo State especially in PDP that would not want the support of the governor in getting nomination and moving forward.
Talking about processes and procedures, APC has been accused of impositions. Some members alleged that they are in the party to identify with it but that they don’t like its processes and procedures. What are your reactions?
People join organisations for different reasons. Sometimes, such expectations are fully met and they are happy. This might not be the case in some other instances. I cannot say so much about that because there is no perfect organization. Membership anywhere is not by compulsion. Not every thing that happens in an organization makes you happy. When you are in an organization, there could be grouses. What we don’t want is for it to escalate to a level of crisis. So every party must resort to conciliation to pacify the aggrieved.
Since APC took over power at the centre in 2015, there is no doubt that some of the problems former President Goodluck Jonathan were accused of, in terms of insecurity and corruption were still prevalent in Buhari’s government. What is your assessment of his administration’s performance so far?
Insecurity is still a dynamic and demonic torn after Jonathan left as President. Banditry and terrorism have been on a devastating increase, creating enormous ethnic and territorial problems bothering on National unity. Never has Nigeria been subjected to this level of insecurity where wanton violence is unleashed on the citizens. The Federal authority seems to have lost the war against armed banditry. There is need to restrategise and invite friends of the country to help. Terrorism is an international scourge which only multilateral efforts can bring under control. Nigeria must seek help to save the country.