Chief Henry Idahagbon is a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) and chairman of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), a political pressure group in Edo State. He spoke to LEO SOBECHI on why Governor Godwin Obaseki does not merit re-election, stressing that the governor is a failure.
•Obaseki will go down as the worst governor ever in Edo
Bego and governance, which ranks higher in the stiff battle between APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the lead up to Edo State governorship election?
It is governance, because of the disappointment Edo people witnessed in the hands of Governor Godwin Obaseki. Leaders of APC in the state worked hard to ensure the election went to Obaseki four years ago; he made a lot of promises. We expected a lot from him. But all we have received from him these past four years is a bowl of disappointment. He has performed more in the area of promises, and memorandum of understanding than in physical infrastructural development.
To crown it all, he is a man that lacks emotional intelligence. If you recall that at the end of Governor (Akinwunmi) Ambode’s tenure in Lagos State, the Secretary to the State Government then (Mr. Tunji Bello) wrote a beautiful letter, which reads as a lesson in political treatise. The central kernel of it was that Ambode lacked emotional intelligence. If that secretary to the state government thought that Ambode lacked emotional intelligence, then you should come to Obaseki.
Obaseki is completely bereft of emotional intelligence. He is an unsmiling man. He is not happy internally, so he will not be happy with others. And that has rubbed off on governance in the state. I have challenged Governor Obaseki and his supporters in the past four years to tell us how many roads they have done in metropolitan Benin City, which has three local government councils – Oredo, Eghor and Ikpoba Okha.
I can name only three roads with the fourth one abandoned. And I challenge them to give us their names. So, a governor that could only construct three roads in the metropolitan Benin City in four years, in spite of all the statutory allocations, in spite of the Paris Club refund and in spite of billions of naira in loans he took, both internally and externally, is a monumental failure. All the promises he made during his campaign he has not fulfilled one of them.
For example, he promised to create 200,000 jobs. I remember I took it up with him then on the modus operandi. He told me, ‘Don’t worry Henry, we know how to do it; my training is on how to create jobs.’ Of course, on the 200,000 jobs he promised, to be honest with you, I am not sure he has created 2,000 jobs, apart from the visible urban police, those traffic enforcers, which he inherited from Oshiomhole and reformed.
Go to primary and secondary schools in Edo State: there are some schools with just one teacher. There are schools with other teachers, but with only one science teacher. How can a state, how can a nation, a people grow without teachers in the elementary schools? How do we prepare our children to go into the university as good students?
Okay, that’s in the area of employment. Now come to industrialization; you will recall (you are a journalist, you can confirm) that he invited Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to what is known as Benin industrial City somewhere at Okoko. The Vice President performed the groundbreaking ceremony. I challenge you to go there today; it has been overtaken by weeds and has become a den of armed robbers and kidnappers.
Then he promised Gelegele Seaport. I live on the road that leads to Gelegele Seaport, which is Ekewan road. He started the dualisation of Ekewan road. I challenge you: if you go there today, the project has been abandoned. There is no seaport in Gelegele. Meanwhile, billions of Edo State resources have been committed on paper to the Gelegele Seaport project.
He promised agricultural revolution. This is the governor that took N12 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); it didn’t get to Edo state. Farmers are complaining. If it didn’t get to the farmers, he spent N1 billion in a maize farm in Owa Local Government Area. The farm did not yield N10,000 worth of maize. He promised to build one health centre in each of the 18 local government areas in Edo state. He also promised to build one sports facility, one mini stadium in each of the 18 local government areas. I challenge you: go to the18 local government areas whether you can find one.
What he has done in the field of sports is that he renovated Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, which was first renovated by Igbinedion.
Sport was not one of the strong points of Adams Oshiomhole’s government. So he didn’t do much in the field of sports. He renovated the stadium and we are happy but at what cost? What you hear from the man is that N6 billion was spent on renovation, another N6 billion spent on preparation for the aborted National Sports Festival. That is a whopping N12billion gone.
Obaseki will go down in history as the worst governor we have ever had in Edo State. So what is playing out in the election is not ego, but the issue of poor governance. A man from whom we expected so much and from whom we have gotten so little. Looking back from his little steps, we are not surprised at all. I think Obaseki has been given the responsibility far above his intellectual capacity. And that is why failure and poor governance are staring us in the face in Edo State.
But some in Edo PDP believe that Oshiomhole and other APC political jobbers distracted Obaseki in the past four years. How do you respond to that?
I am proud to say that I am one of the two conveners of Edo Peoples Movement, which was formed in May 2019 with two cardinal objectives. The first was to redirect, to rejuvenate the past and restore it to its winning ways after we lost woefully during the general election, lost in the local government, and lost in the state. So we lost everywhere. So we said we wanted to resuscitate the party in this state.
The second objective was to source for a second alternative to Obaseki. This is not about distraction. This is not about political jobbers. This is about political class, whether in the PDP or APC. Unknown to Obaseki, both PDP politicians and APC politicians, we are all friends; we are brothers, and we talk. And what they told us was that they offered him their platform. He bought their platform. But whether or not he will win, they are not interested. And they have heard what he did to the political class in APC. And they know that the worse fate awaits them, because there’s no opportunity for a third term. It was not a case of political jobbers and distractions. It is about a governor who was not prepared for governance.
In fact, this will go down in history as the biggest mistake Adams Oshiomhole ever made in his life. He brought a man who was not prepared for governance; he brought a man who was not ready for government. He brought a man that had never done anything substantial other than work in some failed banks, carrying briefcase from one office in Lagos to another in the guise of selling stocks, and made him governor. And because he got the governorship on a platter of gold, he didn’t know how important that office is.
So, it’s not about political jobbery he has abused us with, including my humble self that the reason we are angry with him is because he was not sharing money. He was in government for eight years under Oshiomhole and I have asked him publicly, and let me ask him again, how much was shared to him when he was in government for eight years? It is not about sharing money to politicians. Why will we work hard to make a governor and then he makes himself unavailable to the political class?
He cocooned himself in Government House. The very first week he got there, he said that Government House is not a banking hall and that politicians cannot come to Government House unless he has appointment with them. When you phone him, he will not pick your call. When you send him a text, he will say he was very busy. He refused to see many of us and, in fact, even boasted that he has retired us. How do you retire people that were not employed by you?
If you ask Obaseki to name 18 local government areas today in Edo State and their headquarters, he doesn’t know them. This man cannot speak our language. He cannot speak Pidgin English. He is not an orator like Comrade (Oshiomhole). If you listen to his campaign; I challenge you to watch a video from his campaign.
He went to Okpella; Comrade had tarred the road halfway and the people deliberately took him through the worse roads in their town to the campaign venue. In fact, some of the vehicles on his convoy broke down on the way. When he got there, he said, ‘You know, the reason I have not done this road is because of godfather.’
What kind of godfather is he talking about? Oshiomhole never asked him to give him any job. Many of us are angry with Oshiomhole, because when this guy started four years ago, we went to complain, and Oshiomhole said, ‘I am not interested, you should let him govern.’ And that was how he progressed to becoming what he became after four years. And he came for Oshiomhole. When we told Oshiomhole that the man is coming for you, he did not believe. He started coming for us one after another. As I talk to you, I am a survivor.
So we are happy that September 19 has finally come; Obaseki will be punished with PDP. He will go down with the highest margin ever in Edo State’s political history. I have been following the campaign in the 18 LGAs and the 192 wards and I see the enthusiasm of our people. They can’t wait for September 19 to come to punish him.
In his enthusiastic marketing of Obaseki four years ago, Adams Oshiomhole said Obaseki did all the good works under Edo Development Committee without asking for a kobo. How do you marry that with all you now allege?
That is not true. You know Oshiomhole is a man that speaks in hyperbole. I was a member of that committee for six years. It was not true that Obaseki did not ask for any kobo. Obaseki was paid more than a deputy governor. I can tell you for free that Obaseki’s salary, as the chairman of the development committee was N30 million. I was Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General; my salary was just N400,000, and my imprest was N500,000, but his was N30 million for six yeas continuously out of the eight years. He got N30 million. For the last two years, when the economy started to shrink (I was a member of the budget committee); so we decided to cut it to N24 million and Obaseki took umbrage for the reduction of his imprest from N30 to N24 million. He declared the commissioner for Finance, Larry Oghedo, an enemy for daring to reduce it even though we had the imprimatur of the governor then to do the reduction.
Oshiomhole, like I said, is man that likes to speak in hyperbole. If he is marketing you, he will go to any extent to market you. And if he wants to de-market you, he will go to any extent to de-market you. He knows that this guy was not known. For your information, I was the first politician in Edo State that Oshiomhole confided in that the person he wanted to succeed him was Obaseki.
On the day we did Bayelsa governorship primary between Timipre Sylva and Timi Alaibe was the day he told me that it was Obaseki. He said the economy of the county was going down and he wanted an economist to govern the state, since he didn’t want the economy of the state to suffer. He thought obaseki was an economist. Oshiomhole didn’t know a lot of things about the guy. Today, it’s still a mystery how he got into the University of Ibadan with three credits and no credit in mathematics.
Nobody has ever sighted Obaseki’s ‘A’ level results. And what did he study in University of Ibadan: Classics! With due respect to others, who may have studied Classics, you and I know that in 1973 to 1976, Classics was not a preferred course of study. I will be honest with you; we know the preferred courses of study in the Arts and Social Sciences and in the Sciences.
So, I know Obaseki would perform woefully and I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Obaseki will not only lose, the margin will be humiliating. The only reason you see crowd with him is because of the established members of PDP; that is why you see some crowd. If he had gone into an obscure party, he will get less than one per cent of the votes. And he knows; that was why he paid over N15 billion to get PDP ticket. We made mistakes in 2016 and we are ready to correct those mistakes in 2020.
One observation visitors to Benin City make is that the governor has doused the issue of touts, curbed insecurity and successfully battled godfathers. Do you not think these are positive deliverables by the Obaseki administration?
On the issue of touts, yes; he has done well. He retired all the touts and drove them away from our streets, drove them away from our roads and we applaud him for that. I am an objective person. We applaud him for that but, as he has retired them, what alternatives did he have for them as members of the state? Let us not say he has done well in the area of security, because two members of his cabinet were kidnapped; none was kidnapped when Oshiomhole was governor. So what security is that when his commissioners are being kidnapped?
A justice of the Court of Appeal in Benin City was kidnapped at Ramat Park in broad daylight. Another was kidnapped around the Benin By-pass and his police orderly shot and killed as well. There are also uncountable incidents of heinous crimes, robberies and kidnaping in Edo State. So nobody should tell me he has done well in the area of security. He collects N700 million every month as security vote and gives the police commissioner and the Department of State Services (DSS) N2 million each. Some of the big touts were his major campaigners.
Are the policemen going to use their teeth to fight crime? Where are the logistics for the police to fight insecurity? This is a man who procured second hand vehicles and donated them to the police; they were not band new. I have been involved in government in this country and government, as a matter of fact, does not buy used vehicles.
He bought 18 2003 model of Toyota Sienna two years ago and distributed them to the police. All of them broke down; you can confirm that from the police authority. None of them is on the road. What the police are used to are Hilux vans. So, he has nothing to show on the issue of security.
On the issue of godfathers, it was his attempts to play catch up, because he knew that it was a sensitive topic for Edo people. Oshiomhole fought godfathers in Edo State. So, he wants to equate himself with Oshiomhole, and say that he is also fighting godfathers. There are attributes of godfathers. There were things that the godfathers were doing to Oshiomhole. Tony Anenih told
Oshiomhole that budgets would be discussed and agreed before he presented it to the House of Assembly. In fact, you can go to Google and find out; he told Oshiomhole to specifically remove some projects. Oshiomhole said, ‘no, I am the governor.’ And that was the beginning of the problem between him and Anenih. In the beginning, they were friends and Anenih nominated three commissioners. Those commissioners had to resign when the battle started.
Let Obaseki tell us if Oshiomhole ever requested for the budget in the past four years. Let him tell us how many commissioners Oshiomhole nominated in his cabinet. Let him tell us the contracts he has given to Oshiomhole or even the money he has given to Oshiomhole. Let him tell us in what manner Oshiomhole has played godfather to him. He just goes back to an old issue, which our people abhor.
Yes, he eradicated touts, but he brought them back through the back door and gave them uniforms; they are called public works whatever. They wear black as the police; they are there harassing people. They are there. I can remember some riots at the market due the activities of these uniformed people. He removed the rowdy ones that we were used to; I give him credit for that.