As campaign for the Edo state governorship election itches closer to the September D-Day, former governor of the state, Senator Oserheimen Osunbor, has revealed why efforts to reconcile the duo of ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his successor, Godwin Obaseki, failed.
Osunbor, in this interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, said he considered it a point of duty to reach out to Oshiomhole, and Obaseki, to settle the differences between them since they are his successors in office, more importantly that they belong to the same political party. Osunbor however said sadly, the reconciliation never came to be as the trust between them broke down irredeemably.
He recalled that both men were best of friends for many years to the point that Obaseki became the best man to Oshiomhole during his wedding in May, 2015. According to Osunbor, “Speaking with each of them separately, it became clear to me rather sadly, that the trust between them had broken down irredeemably. I cannot go into the details publicly as this would be inappropriate. That is better done by them and not by me. They are more than capable to speak for themselves.”
The former governor also opened up on the nagging issue of godfatherism, which is at the centre of the Edo governorship election, the earlier division in the APC, the 2023 presidency, and security situation in the country, amongst others.
As a respected leader in Nigerian politics, how would you assess the coming governorship election in Edo, your home State?
A governorship election is always a high stakes election, next only to a presidential election. This has reflected in the intensity of the campaigns, with all the attention, tension and apprehension generated, as well as interest by observers. My prayer is for a peaceful election devoid of any untoward incidence, violence or bloodshed. Whoever wins the election will govern on behalf of the living, not the dead. A governorship election is not worth the blood or life of any fellow human being. I have watched many drama slots on television and the social media sponsored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) advising the youths and their sponsors to shun violence and discouraging those who may be tempted to lend themselves to perpetrate violence. It is my sincere hope, given all these admonitions, that our worst fears will not materialise and that the election will be peaceful so that INEC will not have cause to declare yet another election inconclusive. Edo state should not be counted among states that witness the embarrassing phenomenon of inconclusive elections caused by violence.
My party, the All Progressives Congress, is doing well as evidenced by the very successful national campaign rally in Benin last weekend. I look forward to a happy outcome.
In a statement you issued in June, you expressed worries over the division in the All Progressives Congress in Edo State. Are you now pleased with how it all panned out, Comrade Oshiomhole losing the National Chairman seat and Governor Obaseki pushed out of APC?
No member or leader of APC is or would be pleased with what happened especially as it was quite avoidable. It inflicted serious damage on the party with casualties as you described it. President Muhammadu Buhari is to be commended for stepping in to halt the slide of APC, after all other efforts failed. He caused a meeting of NEC to be convened, leading to the dissolution of the bitterly divided National Working Committee, empanelling in its place, the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee. Though regrettable, this was the best option in the circumstances. The Caretaker Committee ensured that the primary election in Ondo and the process leading to it were not acrimonious. The process ended well for them and the party has remained intact and free from acrimony. All the aspirants who lost out at the primaries have been reconciled and have joined forces with the governor, as they look set to triumph at the governorship election in October. I am expecting that the report of the Senator Ken Nnamani-led reconciliation committee on Edo will be beneficial to the party as we approach the election on 19 September. We should not spare any efforts to pacify and assuage aggrieved party members and it is never too late until election day.
The revered Oba of Benin recently issued a statement stating that Benin people will reject godfatherism in Edo politics. Do you fear this may be the issue in contention in the September election?
Godfatherism has done a lot of damage in the politics of Edo State. It comes with imposition of candidates and a complete negation of the rights of the people to decide who rules them. It is the very antithesis of democracy because to godfathers, the people do not matter. All that matters to them is feeding their greed and personal interests rather than the public good. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole fought godfatherism and with the support of the people, defeated it and banished it from the political landscape in Edo State. He has publicly proclaimed this feat as his greatest achievement as governor of Edo State and I agree 100 percent with him. His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, as you rightly stated, has come out openly to declare that he takes side with the people by rejecting godfatherism. As far as I am concerned, this is a settled issue. There are hints of it being alleged by some political parties in their campaigns, but I do not envisage that this will be a contentious issue in the election for reasons already advanced. It is important to add that His Royal Majesty has said that he will remain neutral, which is what is expected of traditional rulers and institutions. This is commendable. As a royal father, all the aspirants are regarded as his children so to speak, among whom he should show no favouritism. He has also preached against bloodshed. It is the duty of all to respect these admonitions and comply in the overall interest of Edo State.
You made efforts to settle the fight between Comrade Oshiomhole and Governor Obaseki. What in your interactions with them would you say is the problem between them?
As a former governor of Edo State, I considered it a point of duty to reach out to and settle the differences between my successors in office, especially given the fact that we belong to the same political party. Mind you, these two gentlemen had been the best of friends for many years to the extent that Godwin Obaseki was the best man at Oshiomhole’s wedding in May 2015. Speaking with each of them separately, it became clear to me rather sadly, that the trust between them had broken down irredeemably. I cannot go into the details publicly as this would be inappropriate. That is better done by them and not by me. They are more than capable to speak for themselves.
A former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam recently said that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will zone the presidency to the North in 2023. Do you think it is justifiable in view of the power rotation understanding between the North and the South?
First of all, I am not a member of PDP and do not wish to meddle in their internal matter as to who they pick as their presidential candidate and from which zone. I expect that at the right time, the political parties will take many factors into consideration, including the understanding on rotation. The bottom line is winning the election and every political party seeks to win elections because no matter how noble or esoteric its policies and programmes may be, they will amount to little or nothing unless the party wins elections. There is a lot of sentiment around rotation, which cannot be lightly dismissed. This has to be factored in.
Different zones in the country are jostling for the 2023 presidency; South East, North East, North Central and South West. Which of them do you think deserves it?
I hold the view that every section of this country deserves to hold the position of president. No one should feel excluded or shut out perpetually on account of his place of origin or circumstances of birth. There is strong agitation from the South East that it is the only zone in the country that has not produced an executive head of government in Nigeria. However, it is for the various political parties to pick their candidates, using direct primaries or delegates at a national convention. No aspirant from any section of the country has ever been prevented from indicating interest and participating in the primaries and I believe the 2023 presidential election will not be different. Let all those who are interested start working. Presidency is never given out on a platter of gold, but will require lobbying, consultations, negotiations and pleading by the aspirants across other zones so that others will know what is there for them. Ultimately, it is God who gives power and in His own appointed time, He will give it to whom he pleases.
How do you think the Edo election can hold without bloodshed?
For good reason, the police manning polling stations are usually unarmed. Consequently, they are helpless to confront armed thugs when they invade polling stations. They either watch helplessly or run away from the scene. Security agencies need to be proactive and prevent violence using their intelligence network. Armed police stationed far from the polling units should be sufficiently motorised for quick response to distress calls. The candidates and party leaders of the various parties participating in the election have a huge responsibility to dissuade their supporters from resorting to violence and bloodshed. Again, INEC should sustain their voter education using mainstream and social media to warn against resort to violence and bloodshed.
What do you make of the security situation in the country today?
The level of insecurity in Nigeria today is very unsettling and disturbing. It is bad enough that we have been contending with Boko Haram, kidnappers, bandits and clashes between herdsmen and farmers, among others. Recent reports that ISIS/ISWAP has infiltrated Nigeria and funds groups in order to fuel unrest has introduced a frightening dimension as the crises will escalate if the reports are true. Mr President has been engaging the National Security Council, the State Governors and heads of security and intelligence agencies with increased frequency in an endeavour to find a lasting solution to the security challenges which have persisted and remain unabated despite the best efforts of our military and the police. The National Assembly too has had a series of engagements with the security agencies in an effort to fashion out a lasting solution. The President has reassured the nation of his commitment and renewed efforts, including procuring modern weapons from Jordan, China and the US soon to be delivered. The world is getting increasingly unsafe, quite unfortunately. Both the executive and legislature must join hands and share ideas to restore safety and security for all in Nigeria. Where change of personnel or strategy is required, government must not hesitate in taking necessary action.
How best do you think government can handle the different agitations across the country as a result of the ills and odds in the country?
In a democracy, government must be open at all times, listen to people and engage them and this includes agitators. Protests and agitations are integral parts of freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. Government is obliged to listen to dissent so long as it is not subversive. It must be seen to be responsive and give hope to the people even if their grievances cannot be redressed immediately. Having said that, it is regrettable that many Nigerians do nothing beyond engaging in blame game and looking for a scapegoat. They dwell more on who is responsible for a failure rather than what is responsible for the failure. By asking not only who was wrong, but what went wrong, we can find a solution to prevent a recurrence. This is what progressive societies do and we need to do more of this in this country through collective efforts. Government alone cannot do everything. Those who seek to change the world must be ready to change themselves. We must promote the values of truth, justice, fair play, hard work and discipline. Any society that lacks these virtues will know no lasting peace and progress.
There are fears that the APC may not retain the presidency at the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. Those in this school of thought also believe that the party may break into factions in 2023. Do you share these views?
It is true that these apprehensions are being expressed especially in the light of setbacks suffered by the party in the 2019 general elections, but they are mostly orchestrated by the opposition. Much of the victories recorded by the party in 2015 and 2019 are attributable to the charisma and personal attributes of integrity and honesty of Mr. President. Even his worst critics will attest to the fact that the Muhammadu Buhari brand is a vote winner when he is on the ballot. There is every reason to fear therefore that in 2023 when he will not be running, that this advantage may be weakened or lost. The President himself has been very mindful of this and wishes to see the party survive after his tenure and to get it back to winning ways. The setting up of the Caretaker and Convention Committee is the first step in this direction. Much will be expected therefore from the committee in its task to reorganise and reposition the party so that it will survive and thrive as Nigeria’s ruling party in 2023 and beyond. We can and will succeed by the grace of God.