Not everyone in APC is an angel, not everybody in PDP is a devil – Oshiomhole

Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole recently marked the fifth anniversary of his administration. During a media parley, the former Labour leader spoke on his vision for the state, the challenge of the office and what keeps him going. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there.

Congratulations on your 5th anniversary as the Governor of Edo State, your opponents would think the celebration was a waste of state resources.
We are not like any other government, our selling point is the trust line between the governed and the government and every responsible and honest steward must, as a matter of duty and obligation, account to his master. I am the steward of Edo State. I have the privilege to be entrusted with the management of the resources of the state and the state is not made up of a few elite but also of people in the rural areas and as well those in the Urban areas. In terms of election, the people are more in number than the elite and so on the occasion of the 5th
anniversary and my first year in my second term as I have done over the past four years, it has become a tradition to face the people and tell them what has changed since November, 2008 and today but more particularly between last year and now so that they follow up the progress we are making. If you call that extravagance, well that would your choice of words
but I call it practical accountability, open governance. In the trade union world when you are elected at a certain period you hold your meeting, you give report of your achievement and where you have challenges you explain it to the people. So I don’t see what was extravagant; I didn’t see people drinking champagne or eating three course meals, rather I saw women under the sun and when we finished, a few people came to the Government House for lunch.
My complaint when I was in the NLC was that politicians make promises at the beginning and in between they don’t render account, for me, at the heart of democracy is the commitment to report to your employers what you have done with the tools with which you are asked to work and that is what we did today and that what we have done in the past four years and God willing, we would do it over the next few years. And I want to lay a foundation that a future government would feel obliged year to year to tell the people what they did with their mandate.

Signing of death warrant
I am sure you are familiar with the fact that the governor has the last input when a criminal or a suspect is apprehended. It goes through trials, the charges are laid before the court and he is invited to come and defend himself before the prosecutors to establish the guilt, the judge made up his mind whether the case has been proven or not where he is convinced he has that judgment and the suspect can appeal up to the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court is convinced that the person is guilty and hands out the death penalty and it is the requirement of the constitution that the governor accent to it. If the Supreme Court finds out that 20 people were guilty of murder and they sentence twenty people to death and the governor in line with the constitutional requirement signs the sentences what is reckless in that?
When a reporter files a story, it goes through newsroom, the sub-editor, line editor looks at it, the editor sign up the paper, is that a reckless process?

Your Excellency when you were addressing the crowd you spoke about copying certain processes from Lagos State especially in the area of financial re-engineering. We want you to tell us the peculiar situation of Edo State?
You see what I make is that people don’t like to say they copy except when you talk about America and Europe but what I’m saying is that there are a lot of good things that are happening in the Nigerian environment and sometimes, you don’t need to go out to find what works and adopt it. Lagos has always been there and at a point, things were so bad that Lagos became so impossible that you use odd numbers and even numbers to manage your traffic and military officers were deployed to use the horsewhip to enforce simple traffic rules. That was how
bad Lagos was. General Obasanjo was reported as saying that Lagos was an urban jungle. Today, Lagos is not a perfect place but everybody agrees that good things are happening in Lagos. Ojuelegba used to be where we recruited our area boys when we wanted to make Lagos a bit less uncomfortable for the big people plying the road. The last I passed Ojuelegba, I
couldn’t find area boys. Lagos was known for de-humanising mass transit called molue where you enter with clean cloths and come out with tattered rags and we are beginning to see roads that where blocked and opened up with several lanes, so for me, that shows that things are changing in Lagos but we need to understand what has led to those changes?
By 1999 when Tinubu was the governor I had to represent workers before him and he was obliged to convince me why he won’t do the level of wages we wanted him to pay and I realised that from that interaction that Lagos revenue was N600m and when you add that to what they get from the federation account, it was difficult to pay salaries. But today, I understand from IGR Lagos generates some good amount and with that they have been able to connect some bridges, things have changed in Lagos.
Oshodi has been cleaned up, it was something for me that I could copy and I can say I went to Lagos to proudly copy what works and I came back to Edo to re-engineer our tax system and we raised our own locally generated revenue from about N285 million and at a point we hit N2 billion because we didn’t need to depend on Abuja to be able to do everything that we needed to do. It requires courage, clear thinking and a level of determination to be able to get the people to realise that citizens have obligation to the state to pay taxes so that in turn
they can become real stakeholders to do the things that we are doing in Edo State. If we are going to expand and carry out urban renewal like what they did in Lagos you do need to sometimes get rid of certain things in other to restore the right of way and expand the roads. There are a couple of things we copied from Lagos, land use charge, consumption tax because I’m sure that some of you at one time or the other have travelled outside Nigeria and even those of you who have not travelled just watching debates in other countries, central
to every election debate is tax policies, and tax defines the character of a government. The left wing government would want more taxes so that they can take from the rich in other to provide a robust social safety net for the poor. Right wing party believes everybody for himself and God for all of us. They can build private roads and send their children to private
schools and fly private aircraft but for the government that is pro-people you can fly your jet but you must pay.  Look at the intra-city tram which would have been done many years ago is now happening in Lagos. Imagine if somebody had made up his mind to do thirty year ago what Fashola is doing now, life in Lagos would have been lot more comfortable than it is now but we recognised that the fact we failed in the past is no reason why we should fail now.

We want to know how much the state has borrowed in to carry out all these infrastructural development in the state.
I don’t know about borrowing, I think the only money was in N25 billion bonds which we perfected in 2011 and every month we are paying about N550 million to service that bond. Of the N25 billion, we have already paid back over N14 billion, which means the net we have will be under N10 billion.

Looking at the large crowd that followed you all through the campaign days and even now, would you say you have met the yearnings and aspirations of the Edo people?
Somebody told me that the relationship between a master and cook is judged by what happened to the plate. If you ask a cook if his master is very happy with him maybe most of them would say yes because if their master is not happy they would have been sacked. But sometimes the best way to measure is to look at the plate and see what the master left in the plate. If the plate is still full, the master may have been diplomatic in not firing the cook but obviously he did not like the food but if the plate is clean it means ‘Oga’ enjoyed the food.
At the beginning of every application for a job, even in the press you stand before your editor to say I will make a good reporter because I read mass communications and he interrogates you to know if you are fit but at the end it is all rhetoric but he has to decide whether to give you the benefit of the doubt and he then offers you what is referred to as probational appointment and typically it would be for one three months or six months after which if you satisfied the employer you are retained. So our masters, which are Edo people had to decide
by their votes that I have satisfied and performed so excellently that in the 18 local government that constitute Edo State, we won. There is no precedent in this state, even the godfathers, ‘Mr fix it’ I won’t say I fixed it because we don’t fix. I unfixed him in his booth, village, local government and senatorial district. My main opponent in the PDP, Major-General
Charles Airhiavbere, I defeated him in his polling booth and ward in Edo South where he comes from. They placed adverts in the newspapers asking the Binis to vote for one of their own, playing the ethnic card expressly, describing me as a stranger because the Binis account for the majority of the votes in Edo State.
They invoke a proverb that whatever a stranger does, he will go with it and even children were asking their parents that if am going will I leave with Akpakava Road, all the beautiful schools and construction going on the state? So it didn’t make sense to anybody and that is why am angry about Nigerians who are detained by ethnic sentiment. I’m not one of them
because my own life experience has shown me that there is a level of performance such that ethnic sentiments will dissolve, giving way to more objective evaluation of our stewardship. So I would say that I have more support today than I had in 2007 and when I walk the streets they have even changed my name, when I see elderly people  older than my mum calling
me ‘Oshio baba’, I never thought of that name. I have a daughter who does not bears my surname but my first name, (Adams) because she thought that my surname was too difficult to pronounce and sometimes too difficult to spell. But the good people of Edo State are proud to call my name because of what we have done. Whereas at the beginning there were those who argued that those who are eloquent in criticising government, (social critics) are never good on the job. They made reference to Frederick Chiluba of Zambia who was particularly
unsuccessful I but made reference to Lula of Brazil who turned the fortunes of Brazil around, so they were good argument for and against my candidature. If Edo was to be compared to Brazil, I will say we have changed the fortunes of Edo State exactly the way Lula redefined the place of Brazil in the world economy.

On the shortfall of revenue to states and how you have coped because some governors have openly complained bitterly about it?
Well, I honestly think that it is a shame that we should be talking of oil theft because the volume that is stolen cannot be stolen in jerry cans or drums but in vessels and I refuse to believe that the Nigerian Navy can be incompetent that it cannot police our waterways or the combined force of the Navy and the Air Force cannot even drop a knock out on top of a rogue ship.
I have argued this in official quarters and I believe that this is a national embarrassment to talk about the volume of theft of our crude. It is not one of those acts of God, this is just failure of man and I had one of those opportunity to meet security agency and I said sovereignty of a nation is defined in terms of the capacity of the nation state to use the combined power of its armed forces to defend its territorial boundaries including the waterways and that we confess to the level of theft, Nigeria is the only country that is going through that. We have
demystified the state by conceding that small thieves are stronger than the combined force of the Nigerian armed forces. I do not believe that we can tell the world that we can’t control our inland waterways. When a woman is cooking for her husband or the family it is typical that they do the first tasting and they put some in their hand and probably they add a little salt and in the process they could mistakenly take the gizzard in the name of tasting. The gizzard is usually reserved for the head of the house because as you age you may lose your teeth because the gizzard is boneless, so the elders search for it, so at that point there would be local enquiry by the elders in the community but basically I don’t believe that we should accept
that we should lose between 400 and 700,000 barrels of oil per day, it is scandalous and it is not sustainable. I am even more worried that the amount of environmental damage that is doing long after the oil must have dried up we may never have the resources to fix the consequences of the environmental degradation arising from the illegal refineries but also those
foreigners with their Nigerian collaborators that bring their ship here to cart away oil as if Nigeria is a banana Republic, I wonder what they say when they get home. I think it is a national embarrassment.

What is your take on the national conference and what you feel is the way out for Nigerians to move forward?
Well, I have no new views, the one I have canvassed before and from pages of your newspapers and electronic media we even have a full broadcast of what I said but I also recognised that there are many Nigerians who believe that we should keep talking but I say we should get on with the job. I don’t begrudge those who believe that talking can solve it, but no one should begrudge me if I say we should start working.

On the continued closure of Nigerian universities?
I have a particular difficulty on this matter and this is why I have not commented on it and I don’t think I really want to comment on it because somehow I helped in mediating between the federal government and ASUU in 2009 the very agreement that is in dispute. All I will say for now is that under the Nigerian labour laws, agreements are enforceable because both
the Trade Union Act and Labour Act recognise the status of collective agreement entered into between an employer and employee and the key issue is that both sides should act in good faith because making any statement for and against either side might not promote the cause of peace.

You had earlier said your only regret was the fact that your wife was not there to celebrate with you and what struck me was that you may probably be thinking of marrying another wife. How soon are we expecting that?
I wish you would have avoided the question because really when I talk about my late wife, people may not understand why. You are in a position to judge whether to agree or disagree. When a man in my own case has the privilege of being elected as a state governor or president, my wife’s status changes automatically to that of first lady of the state or the country, with all the glamour that goes with it. To have the kind of wife I had, who was familiar with all the police stations in Kaduna and outside, and sometimes searching for her husband who might
have gone to work and detained by police on account of Trade Union work, it was her lot to stand by me and she bore all the deprivations of a husband you were never sure where he was going to be in the next few minutes. At a point, she called me an absentee husband. In one interview she said I have donated my husband to the Nigerian workers, so she went through all that pain and the day we were inaugurated, which usually is a day when women put on their very best befitting the status of the first lady of a state. 

On that occasion, my wife and I
discussed and I said to her, I can’t change my identity now because I have been a worker and have used khaki as a factory worker and President of the NLC, and I don’t want to look different and she agreed rather that than going to buy lace, she opted to wear the same khaki, except that mine was better sown than her own because her tailor was not used to sowing khaki for women. So I looked around and imagined that she should have been by my side today to share the joy of the 5th year anniversary. If you come from my background, any
woman who agrees to marry a man who is not rich, a man who alternate between police station and cells and lives in a one or two bedroom apartment that is your real love and when she says I love you, it was from her heart. I just imagine how she could have felt seeing all these people, the only worry she have ever had was that who was going to employ our children owing to my agitations. She feared that after leaving the NLC, our lives would be lonely because it would be a payback time for all those big people I harassed in the course of my work. So
it would have been joyous for her to see that five years down the road, I have more people around me than I had before. Her second fear was that she never approved my involvement in politics because she was very proud to be referred to as the wife of Oshiomhole because she saw the affection because most Nigerians were happy with my stewardship at the NLC. She was worried that once I got into politics I would be ridiculed and all of that would go.
She felt I should keep the name but I told her even before I went into the NLC, NLC was a write-off as military apologists and the human rights community distanced themselves from the NLC and I said you can always choose how you want to be remembered that am going into politics to redefine and demystified governance and reconnect with very ordinary people and politics offers that platform for anyone who believes the ordinary man deserves a better deal. So for all that and for many other reasons, that is one thing that I regret that she should
have been there to also see the other side of life. I have seen it all, in this state now, there are people who will call me the oppressor and you know who they are, the oppressors of yesterday, if you ask ‘Mr fit it’ who I am, he will tell you I’m oppressing him because I have de-fixed him. It would have been nice for my wife to see life’s full circle that those guys who
feasted on us and cheated the state that we have reduced them to political vegetables and placed them  on permanent political oxygen. The leaders of APC came to Benin to show solidarity, when the party was formed, we believe that it would bring change to the PDP government but the way they are going we are wondering if PDP was a party of killers like Audu Ogbe would put it.

Why is APC looking for PDP members to follow them?
PDP is not a tribe, that you should do the DNA to find out if there is something in the gene. Nigeria has been more or less a one-party state and there are many who are not convinced about the message or promise but they went into PDP, because that is the only game in town. The beauty of a two viable alternative political platforms is that it offers the opportunity for people of like minds to come together regardless of where you were before and Edo is an example. Before I got here, those who are with me now were either in PDP or ANPP and some in
their private bedroom grumbled over what was happening. They all used to pay political pilgrimage to Uromi for political blessing not because they were convinced but that was the only way it could be done. Once we open a platform those who were genuinely unhappy with what was going on there left to join the ACN now APC and those who are happy with the godfather remained with him. They have been people in this state who took advert and they said if you asked them to paint the face of God that by the time they finished painting that face, what you
will see is the face of godfather and that was blasphemy and that is how far some people went and by praise singing like that you could become a minister, senator and governor for people who believe that the end justifies the means. I think that in every political party you would find some good and bad people, I don’t think that there is pretence that every person in APC is an angel nor is there a suggestion that everybody in the PDP is a devil.

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