Edo State Governor and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in this interview, speaks on his chances in the poll and why the will of Edo people should not be subverted. FELIX NWANERI reports
There seems to be strong opposition to your second term bid. Are you ready to play the Nigerian brand of politics to ensure that you return to power?
This notion of Nigerian brand of politics is one that is creating different themes. Does it mean that I should have accumulated money meant to work for the people of Edo State? Does it mean that because it is election time, I should begin to brand my own story; who I am and what I am not? I will tell you that Edo State has always been a PDP state because it has always won national elections, while All Progressives Congress (APC) had only won local elections. So, in terms of the political configuration of the state, at best, you can say it was 50/50.
Who is APC? APC is the state and the state governor, and in that fight, Adams Oshiomhole did not have control of the state structure of the party. I had it and I have it. All the local chairmen are with me; all the members of the state House of Assembly are with me except the ones he procured but whom I threw out.
I also have all the councilors. So, in terms of political structure, I believe I have more than 75 per cent of the APC. With 75 per cent of the APC and 50 per cent of the PDP in the new configuration, if that structure cannot win the election, I don’t know what can win. Then coming to the people; yes politicians can make noise during campaigns but the reality is that voter turnout had always been low in Nigeria because for most people, they don’t have a stake except what they are given on election day for them to go and vote. There is very limited connection between the people and the government, so why go and vote or participate in the process. As a result of this, only the politicians participate in the political system.
But what we had done in Edo State in the past four years, which is remarkable, is provision of services to the people and they now have a connection with the government. I have 300,000 children in my school system and we spend about N16,000 on each of them in Edo Best.
The parents who are poor have seen a difference in their children. In this era of COVID-19; they see the teachers calling to give lessons. Are you saying that the parents of this 16,000 school children doesn’t matter? They are getting something and there is a connection between them and the government.
So, will they not participate in the process because I keep reminding them that if I am not there, the benefits will go because they will take the money meant for such programmes? What about the pensioners and the civil servants, who knew what their situation was before now. Do you think they will just keep quiet and allow the state to return to bad old days? In Edo, what I did was to set up Ward Development Committees, where in every of the 192 wards, there are about 15 to 17 men and women who live in their communities constitute themselves into a committee and they meet regularly and I empower them to talk about and bring up issues that affect their respective wards because the local governments are not strong.
So, they let me know what their priorities are. What about my School Based Management Committees in all the communities of Edo State? My view is that if all of these don’t matter in a political system, I don’t know what really matter. But I can assure you that Nigeria will never be the same if anyone tries to use force to rig out the majority because Edo is not in one extreme of the country. The state is in the middle and with the crisis and tension in the country, if anything starts in Edo, only God knows when it will end. So, I hope and pray that people are sensible enough to know that with the level of digital penetration and the effect of COVID-19, we must begin to think and behave properly.
In summary, what I am explaining about the politics of Edo State at the moment is that I am now in PDP and the party is not a pushover. There is a structure and the party has always won elections. Do they want to retain me in government house? I believe so. In the APC, there are those who are there and are with me today. Do they have a vested interest? I believe so. The question then is: Who is the opposition? The opposition is the tiny army of Oshiomhole’s thugs, not any major reputable political player.
Are you capable of challenging that “tiny army of political thugs?”
I will not talk about that, but I will tell you that nobody has the monopoly of violence.
Are you confident that the votes of Edo people will count given other factors that come to play during elections?
There is this factor which they have been banking on; what they call federal might and force. But the fact remains that if we really want our democracy to survive; they should not play with the Edo State governorship election. This is not a general election, it is an off season election, so everybody would be watching. Again, if there is anything we need in Nigeria of today, it is credibility. So, I don’t believe that the people in Abuja are that dumb and crazy not to understand the crisis and danger we will face if they don’t allow the votes of Edo people to count. In any case, my feedback from Abuja is: Why should they do it? It is not that I willingly left APC; Oshiomhole donated Edo to PDP, so they should not come and fight us. They should quarrel and fight the man, who decided to give away the state.
Does it mean that you are ruling out the use of force during the election?
As a governor and statesman, I don’t want to talk about use of force and thuggery to subvert the will of the people, but I am insisting that they should not try it because if they do so, any crisis that starts from Edo, which is in the middle of the country, will have a major effect on the rest of the country.
What are some of those things you have done in last four years, which you believe, will see you back to power because the opposition is saying that you’ve done nothing. This is as they also raised issues about your certificate…
How can they talk about my certificate when the university that issued it has come out to say that it did so? They claim that I have done nothing, but some of you have come to Edo and they will testify that there is something on ground. How can they say that there is nothing on ground when the World Bank and the Teach-ers Union are saying ‘well done, you are transforming education in Nigeria?’ It is the old politic; just tell the lies for a long time and it will become the truth but they have failed to realize that this country is different now; it is about getting more stakeholders on the table.
So, that old politics of telling the lies with the belief that it will turn to truth in the age of technology is stupid. Nigeria is the way it is today because some people don’t understand the changes that have occurred. Before now, people will not bother about the process, but now it matters to them. You cannot continue to choke a whole population and think that things will still be the way they used to be. So, I think that we have to change the narratives otherwise all of us would be consumed. Your major challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu said you promised 200,000 jobs but have not created any.
How would you respond to that? My opponent is Oshiomhole and not Ize-Iyamu because in Edo today, nobody will touch him. But answering your question, I didn’t say that jobs creation will be all about employing people into the civil service. I did say that I will create the enabling environment that will bring in the industries and business that will create the jobs. The plantations alone between Okomu and PRESCO, since I came in have more than doubled their employments.
In fact, this is their harvest season but they can’t find enough people to come and harvest for them. In terms of infrastructure; the number of contractors that have come in, what they are doing and the people they have employed cannot be imagined. So, we can say that over 150,000 have been tracked and the documents are there for anyone to verify.
The clash between PDP and APC supporters during the flag-off of your campaign; is it a sign of what might play out ahead of the September 19 election?
They know that they will not win the election and that is clear to them.