By TONY ONYIMA and ONUOHA UKEH
Amid the controversy over his approval of death sentence passed on two condemned people, Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has explained why he gave the nod that the capital punishment should be applied. In an interview, ahead of his inauguration for a second term on Monday, November 12, the governor said that anybody who kills another person does not deserve to live. He believes that capital punishment would serve as deterrent to people who may want to kill. Oshiomhole also spoke on other things, including his re-election, the controversy over his educational certificates and his plans for Edo State, among others. Excerpts:
By Monday, you will start a new chapter. Could you tell us what to expect in this last lap of your government?
The central message in the course of our electioneering was that we would take Edo State to the next level. We spent the first four years to halt the drift. Everybody agreed that the state had suffered not just infrastructural decay but also in every facet of life. We spent the first four years halting the drift, stabilising and laying foundation for sustainable growth. The challenge of the second term is to consolidate on the gains of the first term and take the development project to the next level. We will sustain and complete all the projects that we started in the first term, in the area of infrastructure, including roads, erosion, flood control, environmental issues, water supply, rural and urban electrification. We have to procure transformers to improve electricity supply in the cities. We will ensure sustained investment in the healthcare sector by way of building model hospitals and completing and building new health centres across the local government areas. We will sustain construction of rural access road network and all of those things we have done in the first year.
Of course, we will do more in area of education, which we consider as perhaps, the most critical. The future of this country depends on the quality of our human capital and education is the foundation for that. We are going to sustain our school renewal programme to restore integrity to the public school. We have witnessed a very positive response by the people. People are moving away now from private schools back to public schools. I think that is healthy, because somehow we have privatised education by default in the past by simply not investing in public school. Everybody had to take his child to public school. Now we are reversing that trend. We will consolidate on that. We will do a lot more of policy reforms, for example, talking about schools. We will build new schools, very modern and attractive schools and we do need to spend some time to look at the management of these schools, not only in terms of structures that we put in place, but also focussing more on the human factor. We will take more interest in the role of the teachers and management issues in our educational system as well as all the issues that have to do with policies, among others. We will do all these, in the overall, we will not just be talking in terms of how many more schools we have built, but also what has changed, as a result of that. We would know, at that time, if we are getting higher returns, in terms of percentage of our pupils that are doing well in WAEC and NECO examination.
There will be basic benchmark to measure what has changed positively. Already, we have started looking at the attitude of teachers: whether they show up on time, when they are there, what do they do and so on. We will take those issues to the next level. The same thing is true of the health sector. We are building hospitals, but are the doctors there? If the doctors are not there, is it because you have not employed enough? If so, how many doctors do you need? If you have employed doctors, are they working? Are they spending more time in their private clinics? What do you do to restore discipline and ensure that the taxpayers get value for their money? The same goes for the civil service. We have to rebuild it. To sustain the development process, civil service must play its traditional role as the official hub of government, ensuring they are able to reconcile what politicians say and do to the long-term challenges that confront the state. In fact, in some other countries, the politicians make promises, particular dealing with external, but when it comes to the execution, civil service makes sure that it conforms to rules, regulations and procedures, etc. Basically, we will have to consolidate on the progress made in the first term.
Looking back at the last four years, it’s possible there are things you didn’t get right. Could you mention one or two of them?
The reality is that in every facet of life whatever you do, you can’t but learn on the job, no matter the circumstances. I won’t talk about things I did wrongly; but my assumptions about certain situations were not exactly correct. For example, I grossly underestimated the challenges of repositioning the education sector. I was clear we must give it all the priority, but the kind of money or resources we require to do it was grossly underestimated. The same thing with roads. We didn’t realise it will cost so much; we have to do what we have to do. Well, in the budgetary process, we were able to eliminate some waste; but we found that we still have some substantial waste the way in which government budgeting is handled. If I looked at how we managed the first year budget, compared to the subsequent years, we would find some amount of improvement. I also believe that in terms of political appointment, we have to again get more critical at this time because of the numbers. We will ensure that we strike the right balance, so that we conserve resource away from individuals, to maintain the system. There must be a couple of things, as they say, with the benefit of hindsight, I would not deal with exactly the same way.
In the last election, you won in all the wards, unlike before. How are you going to satisfy all the contending forces, given the fact that you won in all the wards?
Yes, there was tension during the election because the godfathers, even as they were aware that they stood no chance of winning, were desperate. I had the support of the people and yet our opponents weren’t even hiding their desperation. They boasted of their plans to rig the election and they said they would chase me out of Government House. We knew they didn’t have the strength to do that if they submit to the logic of free and fair election, one man, one vote. They declared that with the support they were expecting from Abuja, they believed they would recapture Edo. What support can you get from Abuja? Abuja people are not registered to vote in Edo. So, in what way will that support come? It is not by pointing at any project that Abuja is doing in Edo. It was just to remind us that they would use federal instrument to impose their will on the people of Edo State; that was the source of the tension.
We knew they planned to rig the elections. They boasted that they would write the results. They planned to doctor the voter register and all kinds of things. We had to mobilise the people and put them on the alert. We had to have a fall back position, to engage them. They boasted about their control of the judiciary. They boasted of control of the army, the police, SSS and all that. We knew that once they declare a fake result, there would be nothing we can do. We had to let them know that they won’t do that and live. There is a point in the life of a man that you don’t have to be afraid of death. It’s only a coward that dies several times before his death, as they say. I think those were the issues. We needed to send clear signals that we were would not allow them to rig us out the way they did in 2007. They even boasted that Abiola won election and was never sworn in, which was meant to threaten my person and they did try to threaten my life. They took measures but God overruled them; but some people died in the process. So, those were the reasons for the tension, but if you go into the specifics, you won’t find anything that you can point at, as something that we did as government to contribute to the tension. We can count so many things they did against us and against my person. I guess that was the reason for the tension.
The second issue is how to satisfy everybody. The fact of our victory across the 18 local government areas and the wards was the response of the people to what we have done across the 18 local government areas. I told my colleagues, in council, that it doesn’t matter to me who work with me or work against me during my first term and that people had the right not to trust someone they didn’t know. Also, other people were more perceptive and thought I was worthy of their trust, while those who didn’t think so were not to be penalised for that reason. My first term is to convince them that they were wrong and there is only one way to do that: To work everywhere for everyone. And so we decided, for example, that in building schools, there must be a school in every ward, so that when I go to that ward I can point to it and tell them that we built this school here, we have built a health centre here, we have sunk a borehole here, we have restored electricity to this community, even when they didn’t vote for us. We will then tell then that when they do vote for us we can only do more. So, the response you saw was a reward for what they could see. That was why, during the campaign, we came out with a slogan, ‘Eye Mark,’ as opposed to ‘Earmark.’ We found out that our political opponents were used to making promises; we have earmarked X for this road, we have earmarked Y for this road, we have earmarked X for this hospital; but they never did. We, under three and half years, were able to say, we have built this road, see it; we are building this hospital; see it. We extended rural electricity, the light is on. The borehole we have giving you is working. They told you there was no water here; that it was not possible to get water here; now water is flowing, not in one or two but in three locations, pointing at what we have done.
So, if we work for people who didn’t vote for us, now that they voted for us, we are indebted and we must discharge our debt obligation by working in every local government. Beginning with this year’s budget, we are already looking at how we can sustain those developments in every local government; continue with the school renewal. We will ensure that there is even spread of development. If we complete schools, it would be everywhere. We will sustain the principle of even development. There’s no vengeance; that’s my watchword. You may wonder why we won elections in places PDP leaders come from; those who are powerful in Abuja. It was simple. We have constructed roads to their villages and people can see that the man they didn’t vote for had built a road and they can see that the man they have been voting for never built that road. They can see beautiful schools that we have constructed for their children and they can see the state of the school before I came into government, left in tatters by the man they have been voting for. So, the electorate are more enlightened than we assumed. Our opponents spent a huge amount of money. People took the money, as we told them and voted according to their conscience. I think this message sank very well.
Right now, I do not have the discretion not to work everywhere. I must, as a matter of duty and obligation, work everywhere and we are determined to do that. We won’t be able to solve all the problems in four years, but we would work everywhere and demonstrate that we are tending to solving the problem everywhere, even if we are not able to complete the process.
In the midst of the tension during the election, was there any time you had apprehension? Also, you just made a joke about burying the godfather, how did you achieve that feat?
What I discovered in Nigerian political terrain is that the big names you hear do not connect with the people. In an ideal politics, you are a strong man only to the extent that you wield influence. And I’m talking of wielding influence in the communities, that when you talk somebody will say because you are the one who is saying this, I will behave differently because of what you have done for them. When I say done for them, not in terms of stealing N1billion and coming to give them N50,000 during Christmas; that is not it. Owing to what we have done, people are remembering that they said Edo was too poor and, therefore, wondering where we are getting the money we are using to do these things. The money has always been there, but what the few has stolen will not be available for the majority to develop. We defeated them because it was performance versus empty promises, failed promises. In 10 years, they didn’t do anything. Why should people trust them now? If in three years we have done something, why shouldn’t people trust that in another four years, we will do more? It is a very practical thing.
I remember a common example I used to give them when I go to the villages. If a woman marries a man for 10 years and that man cannot impregnate her in 10 years and she went to a herbalist and nothing happened. If she leaves the man and marries another man, whose name is ACN, and within nine months there was a baby, in the form of roads, schools and water, do you think the woman will go back to the first man? The point I am making is this: the tragedy of the Nigerian politics is that we have big names who are big only because they have stolen so much money, not big in terms of having touched the people in a way they cannot ordinarily imagine. They are not big in terms of the quality of life that they have made possible, by the way in which they have managed public funds. With these people, every community can narrate, effortlessly, how they have been deceived, how they purport to sink borehole and they took money and the borehole was never done, how a road that appears in budget for 10 years was never constructed, how their school children moved from one section of their classroom to escape the rain and they cannot see these schools transform with tile floor, aluminium windows, beautiful doors, good ceiling fans and toilets that work as well as teachers with happy offices.
My own thesis is that the so-called godfathers have been there to the extent that there is no credible challenger. When I talk of credible, I talk in terms of people who have the history of touching the ordinary man, because in this game of politics, it is the numbers that count. It is the very ordinary man that would determine who is a powerful man in politics. But we have been having people who, over the years, have been perpetrating cheating and electoral fraud. They have come to be feared as a result of their capacity to manipulate the process, not earning the respect of the people. We must purge the political system of the guys who have been feeding fat on our commonwealth, pretending to be what they are not. The strength of a politician is his capacity to talk and people listen. The political class has lost the moral authority to preach peace and that is why we have no one to run to.
Well, I must admit that there was apprehension during the election. These people had boasted that they would ensure that materials were not delivered to the most populous parts of the state, where I had strong support. It happened here in Benin City. They also boasted that they were going to doctor the voter register. You remember we raised an alarm that they had done a deal to tamper with the voter register. On Election Day, unfortunately, in some areas where they believe I would have more votes, they did doctor the register, such that some of my people who wanted to vote for me couldn’t vote. We have places where they brought the wrong voter register, but the people insisted before they withdrew it and brought the original one. At the polling centre of one of my opponents, they brought a voter register without photographs, so that if you come and claim you are someone, they will just tick and allow you to vote. The people said no, that the INEC register contains photographs. That’s where the army did a fantastic job. They provided security to ensure that the INEC, in the end, had to withdraw the fake one and brought the real one. Again thanks to the vigilance of our people, the army and the SSS to ensure that the original voter register was used.
You also know that I accused INEC of trying to rig the elections because within Benin, where you have INEC headquarters, they could not move materials from the office to a number of polling centres until 12 noon. I had to accuse INEC of trying to manipulate the system. People wouldn’t know what we had to do for INEC to bring out these materials, in Benin. It took up to 12 noon before materials got to polling booths, a distance of less than half a kilometre. But our people were determined that they will not go home, because if they followed their rules and closed the accreditation at 12 at noon, nobody would have been accredited, which means election would not have taken place. The lesson to learn is that if you have an irresponsible referee, but a determined club side, you still can win your match. Even if the referee unfairly gives your people red card, even with sick people playing against 11, with sufficient determination, you can win, particularly, when the other one is totally incompetent. So, there was apprehension and that was the context in which I made that statement
Still on the post-mortem of the election, there were two issues that came up during the election. One is the allegation that you are building a mansion in your village and the second one is about your certificate. Could you address the issues?
In my part of the country, if you do not have a house in your village, you are like someone who doesn’t know where he comes from. I have had a house in my village since 1990. I started constructing the house in 1987 and everybody knows that house. Now I am doing a four bedroom house and they went to take the photograph to say it was en estate of 165 bedrooms because they don’t know how to lie small. And they put the value at N10.6 billion. As I said during the debate, only my opponent, a quantity surveyors, could have arrived at such ridiculous figures. I did asset declaration when I was sworn in and I didn’t pretend that I never had property. I disclosed the location of those property. I had built a house before I became governor. I wasn’t working free of charge at the NLC. I was paid. I was president. By 1975, I already had a 504. The other issue is about certificate. Only yesterday I was talking to my lawyers. The only thing that I found humiliating is the fact that they said I forged a Modern Three Leaving Certificate, not school certificate. If I chose to forge a certificate, I did not forge Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, UNIBEN or even AAU that I can call the VC who is my appointee and say arrange something. So, it’s a Modern Three Leaving Certificate that I will forge? What prestige does it confer on me. It doesn’t make any sense. It has even been phased out. It is just crazy.
I attended Ruskin College, Oxford. If you Goggle Ruskin College, you will find that it is there, as we speak. It does not require a trip to London to establish that fact. I not only attended, I was the best foreign student. I won the best foreign student award, as a result of my academic performance. If you are so lazy that you can’t go outside to check this, my opponent, Retired Major General Airhiavbere, claimed that he went to NIPSS and I know it is true. He went to NIPS in 2008 and he is very proud that he was in NIPSS, but I went to NIPSS about 21 years before him. I was the youngest participant ever in NIPSS in 1987 and my grade is there. I made B+ with all my rascality. The participants at that time included SSS people, military intelligence people and this was under a military regime. Overall, I got a B+. This was 1987. My challenger, who is alleging that I didn’t go to school went to NIPSS in 2008. I am his senior by many years. Among my classmates at NIPSS are people like the former SGF, Ufot Ekaette, Brigadier Tunde Ogbeha, a former senator currently on the NDDC board, Nuhu Aliyu, again a two-time senator from Niger State, who was a DIG of Police. I could go on and on. And they respected my contributions because when you are radical and you proffer radical argument against the received wisdom of the establishment, the general attitude is that people tend to dismiss you. For them to acknowledge that I got a B+ shows how much I put in.
So, what does it require, under the constitution to be eligible to contest election? It’s not school certificate but secondary school attempt. And when you go into the full definition, you find that even a primary school certificate, plus 10 years work experience are enough requirements to contest for the office of the president of Nigeria. This is not my opinion; you can take the constitution and read and find out how it defines qualification. When they were suggesting to amend that section during the last constitution amendment some people were opposed to the idea of amending it. Would you argue that I’m not literate, that I have not worked for 10 years? These people have no history. They are pathological liars. To lie is their first name, their middle name and their surname. I have abstained from commenting extensively on this issue because I wasn’t sure it will not be subjudice for me to talk about it, but they have continued to sponsor some hired writers to talk about it. If I didn’t go to school, and I can correct retired Airhiavbere about the difference between tiers of government and arms of government, then I’m a genius. I didn’t go to primary school and yet as far as I know, I have done better than him in every material particular intellectually. I can engage any professor in any matter. If I didn’t go to school and I know as much as I believe I do, may be I’m a genius.
Just to make the point, these guys are just lying and the good news is that these institutions are there. You can go to NIPSS on your own and find out if I was there and whether I had a B+ or not. You can go to Ruskin College at Oxford; ask Professor Otobo. He was doing his Ph.D in Oxford while I was there. These people are alive, assuming there was an issue. At some other level, they argued in their court papers that there was no nexus between Adams Aliu and Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole and there is a difference between Aliu as in ALIU and ALIYU. What is the difference? How a Yoruba man pronounces Oshiomhole is not how Edo man pronounces it. Does it really make any difference? The truth is, I was born in my village, around Auchi area where you have my father a Muslim, my mother a Muslim. ALIU, that is the way our people spell Aliu. Even right now, in my official document here, I saw that the printer, an Edo person, printed Aliu. In the North, they are going to write that same name as ALIYU. I lived all my adult life in the North and so I started spelling my name exactly the way it is spelt in the North because that is how everybody else spells it and I added Oshiomhole because that is my local name, as opposed to Adams Aliu, which are English and Muslim names. Not that I changed name, I just added Oshiomhole to settle the issue of where I come from. If you say that Aliu is not I, that is to say, I didn’t attend the primary school. I didn’t attend the model school; you go to Oxford to find out if Adams Aliu, as in ALIYU Oshiomhole attended the school. If yes, is that superior to the requirement of our constitution? So, this is to say I was a genius. I didn’t go to school, but I was able to read and write to a point that I convinced the school authorities in Oxford that I was eligible to be admitted and that they gave me the benefit of the doubt and admitted me and I performed so well that I was the best overseas student.
There is also this talk that you had a deal with President Goodluck Jonathan, which made him not to listen to members of his party, the PDP, but instead mobilised security forces to ensure that it was a free and fair election. He was said to have done this as payback for your role during the fuel subsidy crisis. How true is that?
I will ask you whether it would have been lawful for Mr. President to misuse the security agencies to rig out and to manipulate an election? If it is his birthright to misuse the security to rig election, then it will require a deal to get him not to do so. If you also believe that President Jonathan is a habitual abuser of power and he is not a fit and proper person to be entrusted as commander-in-chief to use the armed forces to conduct a free and fair election and to provide security, both for opponents and members of his party, then you can say you need a deal for him not to do so. I don’t know Jonathan to be a dubious president. He had said that his election is not worth the blood of anybody and it is on record that under Jonathan’s leadership, as president of Nigeria, the opposition, at least in the South West, won more states. So, was there a deal in those areas? The opposition won in Nassarawa. His party was defeated. Was there a deal? It doesn’t make sense. It’s only those who believe that the president ought to have abused his power and he needs a deal for him not to do so would say that. I think the president has subscribed to an oath, which says that he will obey the Nigerian constitution and uphold the rights of the people. He also swore that he will not, by reasons of his personal interest, do XYZ and I think in Edo election, he fulfilled that, just like I believed he did in Ondo State. I have not heard even from those who criticised the election that the army was used to hijack ballot papers or to detain opponents or whatever. It shows that the commander-in-chief commanded well and there was no abuse of military powers or abuse of state security powers. I won my election.
What should the people of Edo expect in next year’s budget? Secondly, by 2016 when you will be leaving office, where will Edo State be?
Already things are changing in Edo and there are a couple of ways to measure this. Someone told me yesterday that the cost of a parcel of land in Edo has appreciated astronomically. Rent has appreciated because there is a renewed hope and a number of industries are relocating now to Edo. Very soon, Dangote will be flagging off a fertiliser plant that will be the largest on the continent, to take care of both local and export demand. A number of persons have entered into a deal with the Federal Government to build independent power plants using their own funds entirely. We have got other PPP arrangements, with other individuals who come to put their money to build industrial parks. People don’t put money in a place where they do not have confidence. We have got foreigners who are now into agriculture. We are about to make new agreements that would lead to the injection of almost a billion dollars in agricultural investments, in rice production and cassava, among others. This is foreign direct investment. All of these, I believe, are clear statement on the level of confidence that people now have, as a result of the quality of governance.
In addition, if you look at the comments by the World Bank, after going through our books and looking at what we have on ground, you know what I mean. They have also made a point about the way we have managed our resources, such that they are willing to give us almost $200million to support our budget, having seen our track record of performance. Of course, Edo people have regained greater confidence, self-pride and self-esteem. In the next four years, we believe, we would have consolidated on this and get to a point where we can talk about irreversible progress. So, it is not just a flash. We would consolidate on what we have done. We have put up a control mechanism and long term management maintenance culture, so that Edo will reclaim its leadership role in Nigeria polity and economy. We have always led. Edo was the only state, along with Delta, that was created democratically. People went to vote for the creation of Midwest Region from the old Western Region. No other part of Nigeria has gone through that. It shows the level of enlightenment, the level of determination, courage and even clarity when people can speak in unison on issues they are convinced; so we are a very proud people. Edo people are wonderful.
Do you have any plan for the Benin bypass corridor? Some people say you want to relocate Government House to the bypass. What’s the position?
We are constructing an additional four lanes on the road that leads out of Benin. With that traffic congestion is no longer an issue. With it you don’t need to bypass Benin. You go through Benin. It is work in progress. We will not relocate Government House. I do not have any intention to build a new Government House. It is not my priority at all. As you can see, we have a very modest building, very old. It was used by the premier of Midwest Region, successively three governors and I’m here. When I look at the cost of building a Government House, I think I rather have befitting general hospitals. I rather have befitting health centres across the state, befitting university, teaching hospital, and things like that. It is not in my plan to have a befitting Government House. I know this is functional enough. Perhaps, we can build one or two guest houses, so that if the president is visiting, he can have a place to stay. Right now we do not have a presidential lodge. We will do that, but something modest.
The bypass has a vast land. We have a PPP arrangement with a company that wants to do housing project there and we have encouraged them to do so, using their resources entirely. We are also going to build a New Benin City, a complete new layout. We will not build the houses. One of the promises I made and didn’t deliver was the building of houses. With the benefit of hindsight, I have had to ask myself the question: how many houses can I build? If I build 1, 000 units or even 10,000 housing units, who gets what, in the population of almost four million? You will end up sharing the thing to a few elite. It is clear to me that the way to go is not for government to build the houses, but we do a new layout, provide sites and service with complete tarred roads, water supply, power supply, sanitation, schools and all of the things you need in a new environment and then encourage our people to execute it. I think that is the way to go.
We are also committed to, as part of our strategy of ensuring even development, that we develop each of the local government headquarters. Now, in this year’s budget, we are making provisions for rural roads. So, a local government headquarters depending on their size, would have dual-carriage ways, street lights, all those modern amenities. In Auchi, for example, there is a dual-carriage way connecting Auchi and other towns. We have streetlights. Young ones are able to socialise and there is what I call night economic life, where people are buying and selling. That, for me, is very healthy. Now we also have streetlight at Ekpoma, a university town. I believe the students should not be encouraged to go and sleep at 6pm; they have to read late; they should be able to walk home, even late at night. We want to extend those other things to each of the local government headquarters, so that people can be encouraged to remain in their area without trooping to Benin City. If that happens, we have taken development to where the people are rather than them coming to Benin to meet development. God helping us, Edo won’t be the same again. Everybody living in different parts will feel the impact of governance, regardless of where you live in this area.
A few states have banned okada. Do you have any plans to do same?
I think it’s, for me, a class issue and I belong to the working class, so I cannot ban Okada. First, I believe that okada is a response to certain deficit in our intra-urban transportation system. From the 60s to the 70s to the 80s, we never had okada. If you ask a lady to take a ride on a motorbike it was like a taboo. Now it has became fashionable to have a woman and two children on top of a bike. It is not a culture choice. It is as a result of deficit in our intra-city transportation system.