Pastor Joseph Osagiede is the new Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. In this interview, he speaks on the party’s readiness for this year’s governorship election in the state, achievements of Governor Godwin Obaseki and his second term bid, crisis within the party and efforts to resolve the impasse. CAJETAN MMUTA reports
You recently assumed office as the new Publicity Secretary of the Edo State chapter of the APC at a time it is embroiled in serious crisis. How prepared are you for the new assignment in the face of the challenges facing your party?
It’s been quite fine and we are managing the situation well. I won’t call it crisis as such; it’s a situation within the party which we are working on. When brothers and sisters live in a house, sometimes there is bound to be disagreement. So, I think it’s a slight misunderstanding along the line, which would soon be resolved.
When you use the word “slight misunderstanding,” a lot of people will take it that you are acknowledging the obvious because for over eight months now, both Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is also the National Chairman of the APC have not been on talking terms…
I am happy that you have even narrowed it to just the national chairman of the party and the governor. If there are two people involved in an issue and the issue concerns millions of people, you find that it is infinitesimal. The issue can be resolved if it involves two persons, except that the positions held by the two persons have great importance. I believe it is going to be resolved, if you don’t see any reason why there should be any difference in opinion or perception for performance or governance between the former governor, who is now the national chairman of the party and the current governor, who is seen as the leader of the party in Edo State.
Talking about resolution of the crisis, 14 members of the party in the state House of Assembly whose seats were declared vacant are still in Abuja and some state actors or stakeholders who ordinarily should have been working with the party are also outside the state. How serious is this resolution you are talking about at the state level?
The issue concerning the 14 legislators is before a competent court of law, so in my capacity as the Publicity Secretary of the party, I cannot speak on that because it will be ultra vires to the action, but if you look beyond that, you ask yourself what is really the issue. They said the proclamation was made, but they were not duly informed. By law, it is not the duty of the governor to inform you about the proclamation that had been made; it is the responsibility of the clerk of the House. And the clerk has said a number of times that he made a formal declaration from the proclamation of the governor. However, the 14 members alleged that they did not hear or that they were not told and that the swearing-in was done at an awkward time even though there is no law in Nigeria that states when the House can be constituted.
Beyond that, you now begin to ask yourself why wouldn’t the national chairman of the party ask them to go back to Benin and call the governor to say: ‘Look, these boys have reported this thing to me, I want you to handle it. Please, I don’t want any crisis in this matter.’ He should have asked them to go back to the House, take their oaths of office, and if they don’t like the speaker, they can impeach him. Why is that difficult for him to do? But because he wants to exercise so much power, he wants to feel larger than his real size; that is why he is harbouring the 14 legislators, paying and encouraging them to stay away from the House.
You don’t create problem out of problem. At that level, you find a solution to the problem, so that it will not escalate. Ask yourself; what is it that the national chairman want to gain from this whole arrangement? Does he want to be governor again? Does he want to remove the current governor; does he want to install another person as governor? Does the constitution provide for one man to remove and install another person as governor? Has anybody gone to ask Oshiomhole about his problem with the current governor of Edo State? What has the governor done? Is he saying that the man is corrupt? No, nobody has said that. Is that the man is not working: No, nobody has said so. I heard people saying he is not dishing out the dividends of stomach infrastructure. Well, that is a different cup of tea. Everybody’s perception of governance cannot be the same.
But it appears that stakeholders of the party in the state have not taken far reaching steps to reconcile the two major actors as well as other aggrieved members…
Who are the stakeholders that you are talking about? You cannot be much holier than the Pope in a church set-up. You cannot call yourself a stakeholder and be larger than the national chairman of the party. You cannot have as much stake in a state as much as the governor, who is a member of a party in his state. So, these are the two major stakeholders and we expect them to resolve their differences amicably.
The much expected election year is here, how prepared is your party in Edo State for the governorship poll, which is few months away?
We are very much on ground; we are very formidable. Despite this crisis, we are still the party to beat and politicians have a way of settling their differences when it comes to election period, and after that, the crisis can start again when it comes to sharing positions. Nobody wants to be out of government and nobody wants to be out of power.
Do you think that Governor Obaseki has done well to earn him second term in office?
In fact, he has done too well to earn a second term. I am not saying this because I have gained anything from him. If you put his achievements on a scale with that of any other governor in Edo State, he has done far better than many governors before him. So, I am convinced that Edo people will return him to power because they are satisfied with the work he is doing.
There is the belief that the misunderstanding that led to the crisis started because of the struggle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole over control of the state House of Assembly and party’s structure. What do you have to say on this?
I think that argument is very pedestal and infantile because the House elections and its control is with the Assembly. You cannot fight over what concerns the House from outside. So, they needed to come in, get sworn-in, no matter how the proclamation was done. If they say the proclamation was not properly done, they can raise objection to that on the floor of the House and if possible impeach the speaker and elect their own ‘speaker’ since they claim to have the majority. Why is it difficult for them to do that? The whole issue is a little bit confusing because if what you said were the real issues, they should have been very easy to be resolved.
Let them come to the House, do whatever they want to do and help to run the state. Why are they now forming another House in Abuja and somebody is housing and empowering them? We regard that as anti-party activity because they meet under the umbrella of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM). To us, that is an unregistered political association and our constitution forbids that being a member of the APC, you should belong to another political association and be fighting APC. That is why the unit, ward and local government from which the national chairman comes from have suspended him.
The constitution of the party is supreme and no one man is bigger than this party. We are very firm the way we approach this matter, we believe that Oshiomhole should think twice about the peace, progress and prosperity of this state because every man in Edo State gave him maximum cooperation to reign and rule for eight years. He fought godfathers and we all hailed him when he was fighting Chief Tony Anenih of blessed memory. We all hailed him when he was insulting and talking rudely to Chief Tom Ikimi in his own town at Igueben; people hailed him when he was using abusive language on the Esama of Benin, the father of the former governor that helped him to become governor. In fact I quote him verbally when he said that ‘if the man doesn’t take time I will deal with him with executive rascality.’
What effort is your party making to bring all these issues to a halt in view of all the legal issues, suspensions and complaints, the critical moment of the party and an electoral year for it?
I like the way you brought in the issue of electoral year. People think that because it is an electoral year, the governor should succumb and begin to run up and down and be begging Oshiomhole. It is not compulsory that he must continue to be governor and the office of the governor is not worth the blood of anybody. The office of the governor is not worth the distortion of peace and tranquility of the state and that is what the governor has always said. But for somebody to now begin to play the role of godfather, no way, we will not tolerate it; we will not allow it.
But, I think the issues will be sorted out with time. We believe the EPM will die a natural death and that Oshiomhole has enough problems over his neck at the national level than to be engrossed with local politics. He should leave Edo State alone. He has a national job, so I believe people will sit him down some day and advise him to leave Governor Obaseki alone.
Are you not also disturbed that the state chapter of APC is inching seriously closer to a sort of what happened in Rivers, Imo and Zamfara in the 2019 general election?
This same national chairman; he caused the problem in Zamfara, Rivers and Imo states and he is still the one causing the problem here. Let him tell us what he want. If he says he doesn’t want Obaseki, he shouldn’t kill us to do that. Must he kill everybody in Edo State because he doesn’t want Obaseki?