Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye lucky, Benin
Despite the crisis in the Edo State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the stakes in the party are getting higher ahead of next year gubernatorial election going by the recent entry into the party of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2016 gubernatorial election in the state. The return of Ize-Iyamu and his political associates, as well as supporters to the APC they left in 2015 has raised fears and hope within the party, as governorship aspirants are apprehensive that his return may jeopardize their chances, while ordinary party folks believe that his popularity will boost the chances of the party.
In this interview, Pastor Ize-Iyamu who declined to confirm or deny having governorship ambition says, “in going into APC, my real desire is to see how I can also add value to the party. What I am able to achieve in the party will be dependent on the value I am able to bring in”.
He gave reasons for leaving the PDP, saying that apart from appeals from well-meaning leaders in APC to him to return, he “was not too impressed with a lot things” in the PDP. Ize-Iyamu responded to comments by the Edo State Chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, who said the party would always win without him. Excerpts.
Recently, you and your supporters across the state pitched tent with the APC, your former party. The issues that made you to leave APC in the first instance have they been resolved that you now decided to return?
Well, you will recall that I was one of those who actually formed the APC not only in Edo State, but even in Nigeria. I played a major role in the merger committee that finally led to the APC coming together as a political party and, of course, one would have expected that I would still have been able to bring all the major political parties together to form a very big political party. But as it is obvious, the reason I left was completely a local issue, politics is local. I had some disagreement at the local level. A lot of my members and friends were aggrieved. We felt that there was a deliberate attempt to undermine us by those who felt threatened by what they perceived would be our ambition in the future. So, people were so aggrieved, we left. To be honest, we left the party with anger and we did not hide it. If you play back some of the statements we made then, you will know that it was misunderstanding that was not able to be resolved that led us to it. But you know time is a healer of wounds. You know the Bible says blessed are the peacemakers and over time too, quite a number of well-meaning people from the other side in the state and at the national level have also been reaching out to us, saying look, Pastor, you and your friends were some of the key people that put the APC together and yes we understand that you were angry then, but it’s been a while, by now you ought to have returned home. We want you and we believe you have a role to play, we will welcome you back and for us, your coming back to our party cannot be seen as if you are decamping to our party and how can you be decamping to a party you formed? It is not a new home for you at all, everybody knows you at the state, at the national, even at the local government level. So, please come back. Then, I was initially apprehensive because when you pray, you say may affliction not rise up again the second time. You want to be sure that all these misunderstandings do not occur again, but the reality is that, as human beings, misunderstanding must happen but I think what is important is to have way to resolve them rather than just walking away. I think we have all learnt our lessons. We are wiser to some extent and I expect that we go back now with a broader perspective. I think the past is more or less behind us and we look forward to the future.
You are leaving PDP and you were a big player there and that has raked up issues in the party. The chairman reacted and said the party constitution has to be reviewed because people of your status come in, use the party and dump it, while those who founded the party will be waiting, that the planned review will ensure that anybody coming new to the party will have to spend some time before getting a ticket to contest. He also said PDP will always win without you. How do you react to that?
Well, it’s okay. Like I said in my resignation letter, some of us with the nature of our upbringing, we cherish relationships and even if there is a strain or a departure, it should not lead to abusing ourselves as if we never co-existed. We made it clear that it will be uncharitable to begin to throw stones in the house that we once inhabited and where we have many friends. There are a lot of decent people out there who are watching and for many of them too, they will not expect some of us to react to everything that is said, but the truth about it is that politics is very dynamic. You know, Dan Orbih is my very good friend, we grew up together and he also know the role I played when he wanted to leave APP to come to the PDP and the question is that how many years did he spend before he became the acting chairman of the PDP? You know the governor of Benue today, the moment he left the APC into PDP, he became their candidate and he became their governor. So, if you can accept some do not also begin to criticize some, that will amount to double standard. Human beings have the right to associate. It is enshrined in the Nigeria constitution. It depends on what are your goals. If our political parties are actually built on ideological divide, it will amount to ideological suicide when you want to leave A to go to B, you know between me and you that it is not really the political parties, it is more of the individuals and what they represent. So, for me, I harbour no bitterness. If the PDP believes, for example, that our leaving will not make any difference, that is okay. We will do elections. The elections will show whether some of us are important or we are not important, but of course, I do not also expect them to say that pastor has left, the party is finished.
Did you leave PDP because you foresee that you will not get the governorship ticket to re-contest?
No, that is not it at all. Governorship is still far and let me tell you this; when I was leaving the APC, those who assumed all I wanted was governorship said pastor, he will never get the ticket in PDP, they will never give it to him, but God works in mysterious ways. I went there and if you noticed, I never thought about governorship, I went there to work. I supported them in the presidential election, they made me the DG, I supported them and they won. Recall that before we came in, a serving senator of PDP then, Senator Uzamere has even referred to the ticket of PDP as worthless. He said it was a Zimbabwean dollar. And so because of that, he decamped from the party to come and joined us and as if to prove his point and when he came in, he won which means that he had read the political environment very well, but when we went to the other side, the ticket they said was worthless, increased in value. The senatorial candidate that we now supported won. So, to some extent, I believe that God has always been with us. Now, PDP, the governorship nomination just like maybe the APC and others will be next year. I have been a candidate there before, so quite earnestly if that was my target, it will not be something that would be too impossible, but when you have done something before, you have to think twice before taking it again. For me, to be a candidate is not a big deal, but the important thing is that will you win if you get that ticket? So, before I left PDP, people have already sprung up who were interested in running for it and everybody noticed that I was not interested and they kept asking me what is happening and I said I am not interested. I was not interested to contest again in PDP. If I was perhaps, some said I was afraid and I will not get the ticket. That was not the issue and in any event, it is not also my birthright, anything can happen. In politics, you do not begin to speak as if there is an entitlement or you are entitled to this particular thing, I got it before and I might get it again, that is not the issue. The issue is that, I was not too impressed with a lot of things and I have already decided to just watch and see. It is that attitude that finally led us to say let us just move on rather than be spectators.
Since you left no doubt, feathers have been ruffled on the other side of APC and the PDP that you left. What is your interest in coming to APC? Do you want to run for governor?
Just as I said, I do not know why anytime people see me somewhere, the first thing they want to think about is governorship. Some have told me, look, do not worry about it, it is a compliment, maybe the people appreciate your capacity, but it also creates problem for one because you are going into a party, you have not even settled down, you have not contributed your quota, and the next thing people are talking of governorship. I have told those who believe in me that please, I didn’t go into this party with the mindset of governorship. Yes, you may want pastor to be a governor, but it is God who promotes. God already knows who will be the next governor of Edo State. So, in going into APC, I want to assure that, my real desire is to see how I can also add value to the party. What I am able to achieve in the party will be dependent on the value I am able to bring in. People have asked me if this is not the wrong time and I asked why is it a wrong time? They said because there are some crises there. I asked them what makes you not also think that God wants to use me to settle it. You do not run away because there is a problem somewhere. Sometimes, problems should even encourage you to get involved because it is in our interest that there should be peace in APC because they control government at the federal and at the state level. If there is serious problem in APC here in Edo, it means that governance in Edo will have its own challenges. Even if I were not a politician, I will still be concerned about the problem. The other day, some of our Christian fathers under the umbrella of CAN attempted to talk to the major parties involved in this crisis, they were not doing it because they want to be political, because they realized that it is not good that the party in government to be engulfed in crisis. I have not seen them calling PDP leaders to find out why there is crisis in APC. It is not because they are partisans, but you see, this one is already in government and because they are already in government, you must take more than a passive interest in their activities. So, my movement to APC is one because, well-meaning people have reached out to us, telling us, please come back. They are not saying come, but they are saying come back because they realized that we were there before and we played a major role. That appeal has been on at the state and at the national level. So, first and foremost, our movement is a positive response to that appeal by these people and they are very pleased that we have heeded their advice. Secondly, we also believe that we can add value to what they are doing. We have very strong tentacles at the grassroots. We believe too that we can help bring the party closer to the people. If in the process we are also able to get government provide for some areas hitherto neglected, it is to the glory of God because that is the real reason one is in politics to be able to use the machinery of state to be able to develop your place.
You alluded to the crisis in APC, you were not just a passive member of APC that you helped to form and before then, you were the national vice chairman, ACN, South-south, you had several key roles before then. Are you pleased with what is happening in APC in Edo?
The issue is that in every political party there are bound to be issues and the more successful you become, the more the levels of intrigues and the more the issues are to spring up. But what is important is not the absence of problems, what is important is having a mechanism in place that is able to deal with these issues and resolve them amicably. For anybody to think that there will not be problem, that cannot be true. Human beings by nature are very aggressive. So, people must differ in their interpretations of issues and events and that itself is a source of conflict, but you must look for a way to handle those issues. What is a problem here now is that the issues have been allowed to drag on for too long. Not that it is surprising, it will always be there, but it should not be allowed to drag on for too long. And rather than apportioning blames, what we should be thinking about now is how do we resolve this thing as soon as possible so that everybody can get on track because for me, the opportunity that is there right now is very unique. I am talking of the opportunity where you have one party being in charge at the federal, state, local government and the wards. And then, the governor and the national chairman of the party, they are from the same state. You see, if they work together, if they are able to collaborate, have the same synergy, you can imagine what they will be able to attract, but if there is a division then it means that this very unique opportunity that we have has been allowed to fizzle away. So, we must do everything possible to bring peace. Yes, there are some people that might be enjoying the situation. Some believe that their survival will be dependent on this matter if it continues, but in the long run, nobody will win. I think that it is in our best interest that the matter is resolved as soon as possible.
Looking at the polity at the national level, that is the point you just alluded to that if this synergy is harnessed, much will benefit the state. But it appears there is division when some people even try to fight against appointments coming to Edo State because it did not come through them whereas it is the same party. What is your view?
It is not good. For me, whatever comes to our state is a win situation and it does not matter. For example, when I was in PDP, I deliberately never criticized the governor and not because he was perfect, but for me, the moment the Supreme Court ruled, he became my governor and his performance in office, solid performance was something that I too and my children will benefit from. So, to do anything that will distract him, was not on my list at all. Under normal circumstances when a man ran against somebody else, you begin to prepare for the next election and you deliberately watch out for things he did not do well and, of course, you will find them and you will use that to attack him, but that was not my attitude. My attitude was that let him perform. The fact that he even performed very well does not mean that you cannot challenge him because no matter how well you do, there are certain things you will not do. So, I can point to the things he did not do and say I can do these ones. I can also concede that you have done well, but I can do better. So in that same vein, it does not matter where people come from. You know, we will hear people will say this particular man at the federal, he favoured one group and so what? Whoever he favours does not matter and as long as they are from this state, invariably the benefit of that position will trickle down to us. So, I think that we should play more mature politics. It is not every time you have this opportunity where you are well connected and that is why I said it is a unique one. We are a minority state. What we think we are enjoying now is not too much, others have been enjoying it because of their positions, their strength. This is just coming now to us and we must do everything to make the best out of it because a time will come when we will have a Pharaoh who does not know Joseph and at that time, we will just be on the queue and then they will tell you look, Edo is just down the line and by the time they get to Edo, all the major things are gone. So, what we should do now is to unite irrespective of parties and see how we can get the best.
Have you at any point said you will not run for the governorship position because the man there now is doing what you ought to have done?
No, no, I have not told anybody. I will not tell anybody that. I have a very cordial relationship with the governor. Like I told you before, even if he does the best he can, there is always room for an improvement and right now, there are some persons who have already signified interest to contest and for me, it is legitimate, they have a right and at the end of the day, we all must talk to the Edo people. So, if you want to contest, you need to explain to the Edo people why you think you will be a better candidate than the one who is there right now. So, that is what democracy is all about. The governor is my friend, I have never criticized him but at the same time too, I have never told anybody that nobody should challenge him. I will never say such a thing. That will be clearly wrong.
What is your relationship with the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole?
It is good. I cannot be coming to APC without talking to him, or without talking to the governor, take it or not, they are leaders and I must reach out to them and if they are hostile to my coming, then it means that from the day one I will be in trouble. Beyond the fact that I am a pastor, we must not allow past misunderstanding to detain our future and paralyze our thoughts. You are forgetting that myself and Comrade, we once had a very robust relationships. That we had a misunderstanding does not mean that that relationship cannot be restored. So, he is my national chairman, I respect him and I also believe he respects me. It’s okay.
Is Tunubu presidency in 2023 one of your reasons in coming to APC?
I am not even aware that our leader, Asiwaju is contesting. You see, a lot of people like us cannot react to speculations. We were all in ACN together, I have immense respect for him, but I cannot begin to talk of what I am not even aware of. Recall that I am about just coming in. I know the president was re-elected basically some months ago and not up to a year and I do not know if they have started campaigning already for 2023 and I also do not know the party thinking about where it will go. So, I need to get informed first if not, I have not even entered the party fully you are already talking of 2023. I am not that kind of person, I need to understand the dynamics of the party, I need to understand the thinking of the party and then we will take it from there, but for now, I think charity begins at home. Let’s see how we can strengthen our home base before we will start thinking of the politics of the federal.
What is your message to Edo people now that you are back to the APC?
Well, Edo people are very resilient, very enterprising even in the midst of nothing they look for how to survive. We need to just encourage them to continue to have faith in the country and even in government and also pray that the future will be better. I tell people that that is the best prayer. No matter how good you think today is, tomorrow can be better and no matter how bad it is today, tomorrow too could be better. So, we believe that tomorrow will be better and I want to encourage Edo people that some of us are very concerned about the situation in the state and in the country and we want to be on the side of those who are determined to make things better. Many people have given up, many have travelled out of the country, many are just resigning themselves, many are armchair critics, many do not say anything again, but we do not want to fall into the category of those who have given up. So, for us, no matter the blackmail, no matter the misunderstanding, we are still determined to contribute our quota.