2015: Jonathan must resist PDP hawks –Oshiomhole

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Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole recently hosted journalists in his office in Benin City where he spoke on the achievements of his administration and dispelled rumour of his presidential ambition. He also shed light on the crisis in the state’s House of Assembly. Our Correspondent was there.

You are in the last quarter of your administration, what should the people of Edo State expect in the remaining two years?

There are a couple of projects that are ongoing and we will do everything to ensure that these projects are completed. We have the Benin City Storm Water Master Plan, a project that has been designed to deflood Benin. We’ve made substantial progress, almost 60 to 65 per cent, and I am very hopeful that we will complete it. By the time we complete it, the flooding problem would have been substantially addressed. It won’t solve it completely because there are other basins that we have to do, so I hope the next government will take up that burden. If we had not embarked on the project, the people would have been under water this rainy season.

We are also working on the Central Hospital and we are hopeful that we are going to complete it. We’ve been assured by the contractor handling the project that the emergency unit would be ready by January next year. My hope is that we will install the latest state of the art medical equipment. We want to have a signature hospital with modern technology and experts. We have Nigerians abroad who are ready to come home to work here.

The hospital that we are building has special units and it is designed to meet current technology in the healthcare sector. I am very proud of it and hopeful that we will complete it. If we complete that, then we would have good roads, good drainage system, world-class hospital, beautiful primary and secondary schools. We wouldn’t have solved all the problems, but I believe that we would have laid a very solid foundation, which the future government can build on.

Some of your colleagues are complaining of shortfall in revenue from the Federal Government. Is this not going to affect the projects, which you intend completing before leaving office?

It calls for serious worry, not just for the states, but even for the Federal Government because it is not paying salaries as and when due. I just read that National Assembly workers are protesting non-payment of salaries. These are federal employees, and no doubt some state governments do also owe salaries running into two to three months. By the time the issue of subsidy was dealt with in one way or the other and the consequent exposure of the fraud that some persons perpetuated in collaboration with some officials of government agencies in the name of subsidy, the character of the problem has changed from subsidy to oil theft.

Government’s talk about oil theft appears to have coincided with the end of subsidy scam. There are still issues with the amount that is allegedly paid as subsidy, but crude oil theft has become a national embarrassment. The last time we looked at it in the Crude Oil Committee made up of governors, officials of the Petroleum Ministry, NNPC and the JTF, we saw that sometimes we lose as much as 700,000 barrels per day. This is sometimes sustained for a period of two weeks. At times, we are told that not all are lost to oil thieves but sometimes to vandals. But those who vandalise pipelines don’t do it for fun. It is either they are doing it to steal crude oil or refined product, so all of these still fall within categories of oil theft. And you ask yourself the question: What has changed in Nigeria’s territorial waters that we didn’t hear about this volume of oil theft during previous governments? Though there was illegal bunkering then, it wasn’t much to affect what accrued to the federation account.

We have never received 100 per cent of our share of the federation account even when oil was performing at $108 per barrel and the benchmark was $79 and later $78. So, we are supposed to have huge savings of about 40 per cent, and which means that the Excess Crude Account by now should be approaching $20 billion. As far as I hear, there is nothing in the account; not because we have shared any money, but sometimes we are told that they have used the money to fund Sure-P or subsidy whether petrol or kerosene. But as far as I know, the law is clear. You are not supposed to fund Sure-P with the Excess Crude Account; it is supposed to be meant for savings from the additional money that we are paying consequent of the marginal increases in the prices of petroleum products the last time.

Excess Crude ought to be funds that have not been spent and can be spent only on the authority of the stakeholders of the account, which are the states and the Federal Government because for every dollar that accrues, the Federal Government gets 52.8 per cent of it, while all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) share 26 per cent. So, the Federal Government spends double of what all the 36 states and the FCT get. When you divide 26 by 37 because the FCT is treated as a state for the purpose of revenue allocation, what accrues to Edo State is .0001 per cent. So, if we have built roads, schools and hospitals, paid salaries and provided water in Edo; that is what we spend. So, Edo people want to see more of federal presence in the state than the presence of the state government. For every one kilometre of road we have done, the federal government ought to have done two, because it is holding 52 per cent of the revenue accruing to Nigeria on trust, while the 36 state governors and the FCT administration share 26 per cent.

For me, there is bound to be shock because when you have a bumper harvest and your children are starving; only God can save you when you suffer famine or draught. But, I have said to some people that because they say necessity is the mother of invention, who knows when the situation is such that there is no oil for thieves to take and you exhaust your instrument of Central Bank financing through bonds and others, you do not have to be an economist to know that if the price of oil drops, there would be crisis everywhere. Obviously, everything the Federal Government spends on capital expenditure is borrowed, and that is why the debt profile is very high at the moment.

So, I see the CBN resorting to the so-called ways and means; that’s an economic jargon, but what it means is that they will print more bank notes, paper money to meet the naira illusion because the hard currency is not there. This means massive devaluation of the nation’s currency and that will trigger hyperinflation. When the cost of living escalates, workers are going to demand for higher wages to compensate for falling purchasing power. Some attempt to deal with this contingency will lead to upward review of personnel cost and you would have effectively found yourself in a terrible vicious circle, and I am worried about that.

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Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) recently alleged that the shoddy distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards is a precursor to the plot by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to rig the 2015 elections. What do you think can be done to avert this and the crisis that may trail the polls if they are rigged?

Under the NPN (National Party of Nigeria) in the Second Republic, the culture of rigging was entrenched and its leaders became boisterous and arrogant. They became so arrogant that they misled themselves into believing that ‘any state can fall’ to the then NPN. They tried this trick in the then Ondo State, where the late Akin Omoboriowo was proclaimed the winner of an election that he had lost. He had FEDECO (Federal Electoral Commission) proclaim him as the winner, but Ondo people said he was never known to the electorate. You know that Omoboriowo had a mandate but he has to honourably surrender because he never won it.

I think Nigerians are sufficiently committed to democracy, so anybody who is working on a strategy of rigging would be a poor student of history. In any event, I think the current president (Goodluck Jonathan) has been very fortunate. He has been a deputy governor, governor, vice president, acting president and president to complete late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s tenure and elected on his own by votes cast across Nigeria. Any Nigerian who has been honoured with these positions has no reason to be desperate. So, I expect him, like I do myself, to look at where I am coming from and where God has put me and ask myself the question: What do I want now? Whether I govern for 10 years or two years, I was a governor or he was a president. What people want to be remembered for is not for how long the governed but for what they did while in government.

In fact, people are respected for bowing to the wishes of their people than to be damned for holding on to power against the wishes of their people. We don’t need to go out of the country to find a very interesting and inspiring example. General Abdulsalami Abubakar is one. He took over following the sudden death of a head of state, General Abacha, who came to office and allowed himself to be deceived by praise singers, who said that he was the only person the cap fits. Try and play back the advertorials on ‘Who the cap fits.’ All the five political parties then found no one within their folds to endorse apart from General Abacha.

This issue of collecting signatories is also not new. One Daniel Kanu organised the infamous two million-man-march. Julius Berger constructed a big platform with a public address system in Abuja that when they blew it, Nigerians, wherever they were heard it. Every hungry political elite went into that game and it is on record that one of the most outstanding men who had the courage to dismiss that make-belief was the late Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige. He described the five parties then as five leprous fingers of the same hand, and therefore, no descent Nigerian should touch any of them.

To return to the issue of President Jonathan, I believe that he is uniquely placed and Nigerians have done him the honour of holding the highest office in the land; the first time by accident but the second time through the conscious votes of the people. Whether he wins or loses the next election, what will define his place in history is how the elections were conducted. Today, President Robert Mugabe is in power in Zimbabwe without honour, whether at home or abroad. Like I said earlier, General Abubakar demonstrated how a leader can obey the peoples’ will. Some people said he should stay a bit longer, but he refused and went ahead to organise elections and left under one year. Though some people later tried to rubbish him at the Oputa Panel, but there is no village in Nigeria that he goes that he is not respected. Nobody cares what else he did; an African voluntarily relinquishing power.

He was able to achieve a transition that was impossible in more than five years. In fact, a lot of people didn’t believe him, and that was why most progressives did not take part in the 1999 elections. Whatever anyone would say, the diversity of Nigeria was reflected in that election, as the three parties that took part in it won some states. Is General Abubakar not at peace with himself? He is referred to whenever issues of elections come up whether in Africa or Europe. His selling point is that he organised free and credible elections and allowed power to go.

So, the place of a leader in the history of any nation is not how long he held on to power. If the president has good advisers, he must resist the hawks in PDP, who would be urging him to use the armed forces to rig the 2015 election because it is his place in history that is at stake. If he governs for the next 20 years in the way of Mugabe and lose the goodwill of Nigerians, what would be his place? If on the other hand, he leaves if Nigerians want him to leave and hand over power to whoever Nigerians want, his place in history will still be golden. He has to choose how he wants to be remembered. He has no compelling reason to rig the next elections and I pray that God will guide him to play the statesman and not a petty politician. Nigerians and the world are watching.

How long are you going to sit back as governor and continue to tolerate the crisis in Edo State House of Assembly, especially the disregard for court orders by some of the legislators?

It is not for me to tolerate because I am a believer in the Rule of Law for several reasons. First, if it is the survival of fittest, physically, I am not the most endowed and I cannot be the governor of this state, where you have the big people. That I am here is courtesy of the Rule of Law. Secondly, when I was rigged out, God favoured me with courageous judges, who had the courage to interpret the law and the character to resist corrupt practices. I was declared winner both at the tribunal and Appeal Court. So, I am a beneficiary of the Rule of Law. Regardless of my frustrations at times with legal procedures, I have to learn to respect the principle of separation of powers.

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So, what we have to do is what we are doing at the moment; that is to draw the attention of the courts to the contempt by some members of the Assembly. There are people whose intention is to cause disaffection in Edo State. The PDP saw the last elections in the state; for the first time in our history since the Mid-West was created, I am on record, courtesy of God and the goodwill of Edo people, as the first governor to win an election in all the 18 local government areas in the state. It has never happened before. In Edo South, where I come from, I won in all the 77 wards. In Edo North, I won in all the 64 wards. In Edo Central, I won in about 95 per cent of the wards. It has never happened in our history. That is why they refer to my election as 18/18. So, I think the PDP feels that I have exposed them by the amount of work that I have done.

Edo people can extrapolate and imagine what the lost in the 10 years of the PDP in the state. If the PDP had done half of what I had done in six years, I would have started from where they stopped. We started from zero minus to return to zero zero. That was why the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, said that unless the PDP pays reparation to anyone who knew what Edo was under the party and what it is now, the PDP can never smell victory in this state again. He has also challenged the PDP to nominate those members of the House of Assembly, who are legislative merchants in 2015 and see what Benin people do with traitors. The PDP can plan all the evils, but as Christian, I will say devil is a liar. They can plan whatever they like, but I am telling you that we will neutralise them and Edo will not fall.

Some people are trying to lure you into the 2015 presidential race though you have come out to say that you are not contesting. If your party calls you to be the running mate to whoever picks its ticket, will you consider it?

Let me tell you this straight; I don’t believe in this tradition of some Nigerians, who when they want something, will say that they have been called upon by their people or they are answering the call of their people. Where did their people meet to call them? When a leader assumes office, not because he is convinced about it, but because ‘people are pressurising him to declare,’ that leader never makes it, and that may explain some of the leadership crisis we have in this country.

When I wanted to contest for governorship, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi described me as a lion, which has chosen to reduce himself to a Lilliputian by contesting for a governorship when he can contest for the presidency. But, I went to him and said: ‘Sir, yes, I am clear about the problems of Nigeria. After all, I have interacted with power. Vertically and horizontally, I understand the challenges and I believe that I have what it takes, but the truth of the matter is that my history in NLC did not began in NLC. I started as a steward in a textile factory. Then, I became the Organising Secretary of the textile union and rose to the position of General Secretary of the union many years later and then Deputy President of the NLC before becoming the President.’

So, for me and looking at the practical realities on ground, popularity is one thing, but converting that popularity to political asset requires some work and time, and critical to that work is time and money. Gani told me that people would contribute for my campaign; but, I said that we would even need time to raise the fund. I also told him that I was not going to make a difference if I joined a ruling party that I had fought when I was in the NLC, and that the only party, which could offer me its presidential ticket, is the Labour Party, which the NLC formed. But, we had just formed it and we had not yet created structures. I left the NLC on February 25, 2007 and elections were to take place in April, two months later, there was no miracle we could do.

I am a realist, so I apply myself in full when I want to do anything. I contested for the governorship because I was convinced about it, not for what people wanted me to do. It was about what I believed I could do. So, for the Presidency of Nigeria; after taking into account all the geo-political sentiments, I am convinced that the time is not auspicious for me to step out and bid for the position. Once I had arrived at this decision, and not that I don’t have what it takes, I decided that under my signature, I must put a stop to the speculation about running for the presidency. On the issue of Vice Presidency, you and I know that no one contests for the position of Vice President. My current Deputy did not contest for the position of Deputy Governor. I ‘handpicked’ him about 48 hours to the close of nomination. Joe Biden did not contest for the Vice Presidency of the United States and there is no matured democracy were people contest for Vice Presidency.

On your question on if my party picks me as a running mate; I will say that the question is not viable at this point. For now, I think the task for the APC, and it is not a small task, is to find that presidential candidate who will represent the change that Nigerians are yearning for, and who represents the symbol of the party. If I have any contribution to make right now, it is to contribute to the process that will ensure that the candidate who will emerge is someone who commands the affection and support of Nigerians. Once we have that, nothing else matters.

 

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