‘Obaseki holds the key to peace in Edo State’
What would you say is the genesis of the ongoing crisis between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole?
Before former governor Adams Oshiomhole was elected, Edo State was in shambles. There were a lot of problems and we dealt with those problems; we were able to restore good governance after many years of abandonment. After eight years of Oshiomhole’s administration, we felt there was a need to consolidate on the strides, especially in terms of the major projects undertaken. Some of them include the Benin Storm Water project meant to eliminate the peril of flooding and the education reform through which we were rebuilding school infrastructure, providing basic necessities, retraining teachers and ultimately trying to achieve 100 per cent school enrolment every year. We also tried to create an industrial base to mechanise and modernise agriculture, to bring in investors to transform agriculture, so that within 10 years, Edo State would be one of the three richest states in Nigeria.
In pursuit of that consolidation, Oshiomhole brought Governor Godwin Obaseki, who at that time was on the economic team. We supported him and he won the election. Initially, he gave the impression of sticking with what we started. Later on, we started seeing challenges. I recall that during our first caucus meeting after the election, the governor was supposed to preside but he voluntarily vacated his seat and said Oshiomhole should preside. He said he wanted to face governance while Oshiomole continues managing the political environment.
Then, Oshiomole became National Chairman and in the course of the primaries, people were nominated and then we had an election. We did not know whether there were problems between Governor Obaseki and Oshiomhole but later he was to allege that Oshiomhole canceled the primaries (that is the National Assembly primaries) without telling him. I thought that the party at the national level gave the instruction that no state branch should conduct the primaries. You can see what happened in Zamfara State. In Edo State, a similar thing happened and we repeated the primaries, people were nominated, went into the election and we won 24 over 24. In the National Assembly elections, we had challenges; in the area where the governor comes from in Edo South, we did not win the Senate, we did not win the House of Representatives. We lost Oredo and lost Ifobakran, for instance. We did not win in the governor’s constituency both in the National Assembly election and that was rather strange. Even in his polling unit, we did not win.
But it was alleged that the National Chairman excluded governor Obaseki’s candidates…?
Some candidates did primaries and emerged. Would you remove someone who emerged in primaries and replace him with someone else? If he goes to court, he will win. You have seen evidence of this everywhere; anyway I will come to that later. We do not know where the disagreement between the governor and Oshiomhole started. But he suddenly began unleashing terror on and abusing everyone close to the former governor. He started calling us old politicians, saying he was going to retire everybody. He started the process of expulsion, marginalisation, and purification.
My initial reaction was, he is the governor, if he wants to be re-elected, he knows what to do. If you do not want conflict, you must build bridges and reach out to people, even among those who are not supporting you.
On the issue of inaugurating the house, I was at home when I got a call from the person elected to represent my constituency, Barrister Okaka. He told me that thugs were beating them at the hotel, thugs allegedly sent by the governor. He managed to escape.
The APC national chairman supported the current governor to get into office, so why this breakdown of order and brigandage?
I do not see any nexus between the endorsement and this brigandage. At the time Oshiomhole endorsed him, there was no brigandage; the former governor did not use force. Some people who opposed Obaseki’s choice may have been removed from positions and some dropped from cabinet like I was dropped, but he never used force. In fact, he reached some consensus and negotiated, he held a series of peace and reconciliation meetings from traditional leaders to community leaders; he even reached out to those outside the political sphere. Today, I just do not see what is driving this violent process.
Obaseki is trailed everywhere by thugs, violence, rancour, brigandage, and terrorism. These are self-inflicted maladies. He was never psychologically and emotionally ready for political leadership. A man who cannot tolerate opposition or criticism is not fit to lead. He should humble himself and reconcile with critical stakeholders in the society and the party in Edo State or try APGA. He should spare Edo people this scourge.
How would you react to news making the rounds that the fight between the governor and the national chairman is over the issue of the second term?
I have had cause to ask Oshiomhole. This was his response: ‘This is a fight that Godwin does not need and I told him to focus on his work, that at the appropriate time, his work will speak for him because he has not even done his third anniversary.’ He told Obaseki to recall that when he ran for the second term, it was after his third anniversary that campaign started. That was because it was after the third year that he was able to show his report card. And the campaign for elections was mostly done while commissioning projects.
So from what Governor Obaseki has done thus far, is he likely to win a second term?
Well, we have been complaining about certain things. For instance, the storm water project was a major project of our administration. It was a N30 billion flood and erosion control project in Benin City. It was abandoned for two years. You know, if you do not finish certain projects, they get dilapidated. The Central hospital in Benin was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari during his campaign. Now Buhari has finished one term and the hospital has not been re-opened. There is the issue of schools being closed. Many contracts were awarded, which did not continue. Suddenly, things started deteriorating. We had a strategic plan that would take us to 2023; the documents are there. Some of them were even suggested by the governor.
Does it not appear that Oshiomhole wants to tele-guide the governor?
I have not seen evidence of that, because Oshiomole stayed away; he is mostly in Abuja or his hometown.
Prior to becoming governor, did caucus members not see elements of red flags about Governor Obaseki?
There were all kinds of red flags. But as the Chairman of the Economic Team, Comrade believed so much in him and supported him. Comrade did not mind, especially because he saw the governor as an economist who would be able to manage the economy better and improve on what was being left behind.
Do you see APC losing Edo State with all that is going on?
I do not think APC will lose Edo because APC is entrenched in the State. I can see that the governor’s strategy clearly is to weaken the party and then decamp to PDP or any other party.
But if he does that, half of those with him will remain with APC. In fact, 80 per cent of those going with him will remain with APC. I do not see APC losing Edo State.
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