As Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole bows out next month, in this interview at the state House he reels out his achievements as the number one citizen of his state. He also spoke about his successor, Godwin Obaseki and other issues.
Why did you meet the president?
My meeting with Mr President was a privileged one, interpersonal, just to update him on what we are doing. It was a routine thing to give him report on progress, events, development, what we have accomplished. We are also inviting him to the state to come and see what we are doing not just in Benin City but in the three senatorial districts so that he can come and commission them. There are outstanding projects that I believe deserve presidential commissioning.
After eight years, how do you feel as you are about bowing out and what will you want to be remembered for?
Let me start by answering the last one. I want to be remembered as a factory worker who worked and laboured as a daily paid worker in the most subordinated position in the textile mills, rising to become the leader of the textile union and eventually spending eight years as the president of the largest mass driven, mass funded non-governmental organisation which the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) represents. And moving from there back home to confront the most vicious, the most feared political godfathers that completely monopolised the politics of Edo State such that everybody refers to godfathers as a given and election rigging as a way of life.
And it was against that background that I came on the platform of a new political party, posing that part of my mission was to purge the state of godfathers, which is the pre-condition for liberal democracy to thrive, and to create a new political environment that is sufficiently liberal such that the people, not the godfathers determine who becomes what in the politics of our state, as a precondition for dealing with developmental issues such as infrastructure, whether social or physical.
Edo State became a laughing stock in the committee of states. All that you could hear about our state was that armed robbers had taken over, even examinations were cancelled because our parents were using miracle centres for examination. Everything reported about Edo State was negative and I committed myself to addressing all of that.
And there were people including the media. I remember this meeting I had with a number of editors over breakfast at Sheraton hotel in Lagos to inform them of my intention to contest the governorship of Edo State. They were unanimous that it would be a mission impossible and they took time to lecture me about the power of godfathers, that Edo had an unfair concentration of the most potent, the most vicious, the most aggressive of these godfathers. They had money, influence, connection in the army, police and in every aspect of life. And they didn’t think that with my background, equipped only with my mouth and a level of courage, without money that it would be possible for me to engage those forces. But I also told them that from history, and I am a product of the struggle against everything that is wrong with society, every unblessed power that dominates, harasses, intimidates, exploits, subjugates society, it will flourish only to the extent that the victims of that order accept not to question or that they are intimidated to submit to it and wallow in self-pity believing that only God gives.
I said that from my experience in the trade union, from the day I wrote the letter of employment in which I promised to obey all rules and regulations, including the ones I never knew what they were about and not a party to, I rose to fight that order and create a new order in which rules were to be negotiated, which we call collective agreement. I realized that every unjust order can be overthrown when victims of that order have resolved to fight, challenge and to organize rather than agonize. And that the godfathers can be defeated and they would be defeated.
If you look at the billboards erected during my campaigns, they were not just speaking about infrastructure or whatever there are that government would do if we won, but that we can defeat rigging, dismantle rigging and dismantle the godfathers.
Now eight years on the job looking back, I believe I have nothing more to prove. I have defeated the godfathers, all of them even in this last election, in my election in 2012 also, we defeated them. The one that is celebrated everywhere in the country as Mr. Fix it, we have fixed him, I defeated him in his ward, in his local government. The other one was a former foreign minister who boasted that he created his local government. We don’t dispute that he created it but we disputed that he is the owner and we defeated him in the last election and in the last house of assembly election. The other one that has a powerful TV station which he uses to tell lies every day, through the power of organisation and communication, was defeated even in the last election. It is clear that they are all down and by the special grace of God, I’m the only one standing.
So in terms of the target I set for myself politically, mainly to demystify the godfathers and banish them from our polity, we believe that has been achieved. As I speak, all of them are down and I am standing. Nothing can be better than that.
The second thing in terms of what has changed as a result of this is that, the resources that would have been used to service them (the godfathers) have been channeled creatively to deal with those critical infrastructure which have made a difference in the quality of life of Edo people. I mean if you go to Benin City today, there is no question that even our critics ride on our roads with comfort. If you go to Edo central, you will find that we have constructed roads linking all the local government areas, we have rebuilt our schools such that from 32nd position in WAEC and NECO in the past, we came second last year. And recall my engagement and interrogation with teachers? That has translated to results. As a result of that, we can now say that Edo State has truly free basic education. When a state says it has basic education and the children are not in school or are learning under the tree that is not education. Today, our schools our much more appealing to our students than the average private school. And in all the competitions they have participated in, including the Channels competition, children from Edo public schools, not private, won. Our children won mathematics competition including the one organised in the USA. This shows how much has changed not just in terms of quantity but quality.
I was just telling the president that one of the projects he is coming to commission is a five- star hospital. It is one in which I had a challenge between rebuilding an old government house that was built during the Midwest region that was occupied by the first premier, Osadebe which is why we call it Osadebe Avenue and making it the state of the art government house and building a five-star state of the art hospital for the use of the average Edo person.
For those of you who have visited Benin City, there was no single drainage, no sidewalk, no single street light but now if you go to Benin, night life has returned. In fact, the last circular issued by the PDP government before I took over was that we should stay home at 6pm, if you go out after 6pm it is your fault. All that has changed.And there is no better proof of the confidence that the people have reposed on us than the fact that not only did I win my re-election but during the last election, we still humiliated the godfathers and we won. You will agree in modern history that only few of us have exhausted our eight-year tenure, fought democratic election and prevailed.
So for me, I have nothing more to proof, I am happy I have fulfilled my objectives and I have also shown to workers like you that if I can be a governor, you can. And also, that it is not true that agitators who interrogate those in power, civil society activists that they are loud when they are not in the system but give them power, they do otherwise. But I think my case has proven that you if you can do the talk, you can walk the talk.
What will be your response to allegations that you rigged the last elections despite the fact that you benefitted from a free and fair election in 2012?
Who are those complaining, the PDP? In your honest evaluation of Nigeria’s political history, after 1999 election that was conducted by the military, which political party has been known to wallow in rigging, perfecting the architecture of rigging in Nigeria? It is the PDP. Who did the court find guilty of rigging me out in election? It is the PDP. You recall that even when I won in the 18 local government areas, they went to court to say that I didn’t attend a primary school. And I said praise the Lord that I didn’t attend primary school but I can speak without reading, those who went to school cannot even speak.
You know my pain when I look at the way the media, permit me to use the word, recklessly parrot the views of armed robbers, because then you create a problem in the minds of readers. So if armed robbers rush to your station to say there is robbery going on, they will mislead you to carry your camera out so they can rob successfully around you without your knowing it.
When elections are rigged you can see. When PDP rigged election in the south, you will find that even periwinkles came out to vote when they recorded 99 per cent of voters’ turn out. Where ancestors come out to vote and return to the grave.
You mentioned that PDP said we rigged. If you must report, you must hear all. In an election in which everyone said the turnout was low, they even said our national chairman lost his unit. If we were rigging the election, so we won’t even rig for our national chairman to win his unit? Does that make sense to you? A party that is set out to write results couldn’t write the result of the polling unit of its national chairman? It doesn’t make sense.
The truth is PDP simply doesn’t have what it takes, they don’t have the skills to mobilise, they don’t know how to talk because before I came in they were used to shouting on the people and writing results. Now, what make politics is who commands the ears of ordinary persons and what credibility they bring to bear. Now, just list any of them and say what they have done. Chief Tony Anenih, with all due respect to him, for all the time he was minister of works and leader of the PDP, he didn’t built any primary school, he didn’t build any road to his village. When I won, I said the way to uproot him is to do for his people what he himself refused to do. I constructed standard roads, roads that are as good as federal roads to his village. I sunk boreholes there with a world class drilling machine. The water he had in his hotel that he didn’t give to people in his village, I did which is why I won election in his village and he lost.
What about Chief Ikimi? He created the local government as a foreign affairs minister, which is all he boasts with. The process of creating a local government is development. In that village, I have connected all the roads leading to Igueben and today Igueben is a centre. I have modern schools there, I have provided water which they never had. The same thing goes for Igbinedion. What were they going to campaign with? Who among them could say my people because of what I have done for you, do this for me.
Everywhere I went to campaign, we had two faces. The first was for the governor coming, declaring that this is what I am going to do. While I told the people, do you know why you must trust him? He is part of this family. We have done xyz here, when you want to vote, this is our record, when they come to you, ask them for their records after all, they were here for 10 years and I have only done eight. The PDP candidate, unfortunately for them, could not disclaim his party because he was the secretary to the state government where 98 per cent of Edo people believe that that government failed. Even his father admitted that his son failed, his only argument was that if a child fails, he is entitled to repeat. And then they rigged it and he got a resit but as a child who was destined to fail, he failed again.
So how could you think in a decent society people like that would have won? So with all due respect there was nothing like rigging. Lastly, what I think the media should have amplified is that compared to elections in Wike’s Rivers, Dickson’s Bayelsa State, then move to Akwa Ibom State where my good friend is presiding, there is not one of those elections that they were not counting dead bodies. The only argument was who killed them. You guys covered these things, the fact is with all the tensions in Edo elections, in line with our policy of one man, one vote, with all their evil machinations, as we speak none of the parties have alleged that their officers were beaten up, no one was hospitalised not to talk of anybody dying. This is something worth celebrating. And you think it is just a coincidence that it is the only state governed by a comrade that the governorship election can be conducted without lives being lost? That ballot not bullet did the job? We won and we won freely. They are in court and we will meet them in court.
What will be your response to those who will laugh off the fact that you claimed to have defeated godfathers but you have also brought in somebody whom you are godfather to. What confidence do you have that he will not betray you tomorrow?
That is very important if you say he will disappoint me. I am not the state, I am only one out of about four million Edo people. So it his obligation and his loyalty should be to the people of Edo State. The oath of office he is going to subscribe to says that he will defend the constitution of Nigeria, he will do everything to uplift the quality of life of Edo people. Nothing in his oath office will include ‘I shall not betray my predecessor’ because I have no interest to be betrayed.
For me, I have presided over Nigeria Labour Congress for eight years and I had a successor, there was no story of me having conflict with my predecessor. Because conflict only arises when you refuse to accept that when your tenure is over, it is over.
As for the campaign,and this is the problem, the media picks the negatives from the mouth of those who are the least competent. That I campaigned for him, I was this I was that. That is the way it should be. Look at what is going on in the US, is Obama not vigorously campaigning for Clinton? Is Obama’s wife, the First Lady of US not as vigorous perhaps much more than Bill Clinton in campaigning for her husband’s successor? When I deployed my skills, it troubled them. But these are skills I acquired from short floor which they will never acquire. I am a product of the struggle as a result of my many years of being exploited while fighting the oppressors, I deployed those skills and I defeated them. At a point they said I should allow the man to talk, and I asked, who is complaining? Did the electorate complain?”
Eight years down the lane any regrets?
Going forward, I’m just being honest with you, from the age of 17, I have never had the benefit of one month holiday. Because I joined this trade union thing out of harassment, since then, as they say, ‘a child who says his mother shall not sleep, the child must also remain awake.’ Trying to speak truth to power whether in a private firm and later at the federal level, I had to also get myself engaged in a street fight across the country.
I went to Edo as a governor, but as a governor fighting the godfathers every day every minute, so I have never really rested. So right now, I’m over 60, I think it is time I rested and became a good husband because I am newly married and I need to spend some quality time with my wife. Because a lot of Nigerian men do not understand that the real victims of men being in political office is their wives, they just become absentee husbands. Even though they are not physically absent, they are mentally absent and to be a good husband, you need to have both present.
I hope that now that I will be handing over to a very competent hand, more competent than myself. I have every reason now to enjoy the rest of my life and spend time with my wife, my kids and tell stories. I will try to write my own memoirs and I enjoin all you Christians and Muslims to pray for me because I am an example of the infinite powers of God, a true miracle to make a factory worker the governor of the most troubled state and to succeed after eight years.
I have no regrets. There are a couple of things, that if I have to do them over again, I would do them exactly the same way. With a bit of hindsight, there are a couple of things one would have wished was done differently but overall that, God has been merciful. I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect but I was determined that I wasn’t going to be a failure. If you were to mark my scripts, I don’t know how much marks you would give me but you won’t fail me.
How do you feel being the first civilian and first Edo State indigenous governor to hand over the staff of office to the Oba of Benin?
To tell you the truth, I’m humbled. For us in Edo State, every Edo son and daughter sees the Oba Benin as the paramount traditional ruler. In my case, I had a very privileged relationship with the late Oba. I’m perhaps the only person based on what I have heard and what I know that my on first courtesy visit to the Oba as the NLC president, the Oba of Benin gave me money and other gifts. By convention, it is the person that comes to pay homage that brings gifts to the royal majesty. So I have had that privileged relationship with the Oba. As a governor, he was always there for me. You will recall during my visit in 2012, how the PDP came visiting and somebody was left staring at an empty throne.
The new king is somebody I had the opportunity of relating with as an ambassador and even before he was an ambassador. He is a great man of a sound mind. He has also experienced the rigours of life which was why during the coronation, his majesty had to trek a long distance spanning several kilometres on foot. So that in that process and this is the tradition, he will experience that same hardship the people go through so that as a king, when a poor man comes before him, he knows where he is coming from, he knows the meaning of frustration and pain even as he superintends as the paramount traditional ruler of our great state.
Culled from LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER