By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye

Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who in the past had aspired to govern Edo State but failed on two different occasions has said that he will still contest the state’s governorship election on September 21, 2024.

He was reacting to rumours of his disqualification from the All progressives Congress primaries next month. Reports emerged that Ize-Iyamu was among the 23 aspirants purportedly screened out of contesting the party’s primary elections by Professor Julius Ihonvbere led committee in Abuja but he maintains that no screening committee disqualified him from contesting.

In this interview on Arise News Television’s Morning Show, on Thursday, monitored in Abuja, he discussed his ambition among other issues.

I recall that in 2019, we had exactly the same kind of conversation and you are back in the race.  But you need to clarify for us that this is not a wild goose chase because six persons were selected, two from each senatorial district. But you are defying the party. And it was yesterday (Wednesday) you took the expression of interest and nomination form, does that not  amount to defying the party and just putting your money where something may not come out because the party may say you have not been shortlisted. Can you clarify that you are actually in the race?

I’m sure you know that I’m a serious minded person and certainly, I will not contest an election where I’ve been disqualified. There is no truth to the rumours making the rounds that some of us were disqualified. We’ve not reached that stage. And I’m surprised that the rumour persists despite the fact that the National Working Committee of our party which is the highest organ, and even our state chapter has laid the matter to rest. Screening can only happen when people have gone to purchase forms, they have filled them and they have returned them, then the National Working Committee and no other person will constitute the screening committee to look at those who have submitted forms. Before now, we have not collected the forms, so we are  not even aspirants properly so called. At best, you would call us as aspiring aspirants. But the moment you pay for the form like I did yesterday (Wednesday), I can now actually answer the name of an aspirant because I have paid the expression of interest form, I have paid for the nomination form and the party has given me the requisite forms to fill.

So now I’m an aspirant. And it’s only an aspirant that can be screened and even when you screen, there is still a room for an appeal committee to look at any person who may be aggrieved by reason of the screening. All these have not been done, screening will be done in February. So nobody can begin to screen people out when they have not even collected the form to show that they are genuine aspirant. So we have not reached that stage. What happened that people are making so much fuss about was just a committee set up to interface, not screen, interface with the aspirants and make a recommendation not a decision, make a recommendation. And of course, you know, they met with us and you know even before they made the recommendation, it was already in the public space, and many of us say look, the integrity of the report has already been compromised. And we heard so many things but I don’t want to wash our dirty linen in public. What is important is that the National Working Committee that you speak have spoken and they have said anybody that wants to go and collect form, please go and collect and that would close on the 29th of this month.

So nobody’s barred. Nobody can be screened out. When it is time to set up a screening committee, the National has said they will do so according to their timetable, which is in February, and then we’ll submit ourselves to them. And if they disqualify anybody, we also have the right to appeal. Let me also say here too, that the issue of disqualification is a serious matter is not what you do arbitrarily, on the basis of your discretion. There are constitutional provisions which the party adheres to that will work out somebody being disqualified because if you disqualify somebody unjustly, he has the right to go to court. So the party is conscious of it. And APC is a well organized party.

So we have not reached the level where you are talking about disqualification. What is important now is those who say they are interested, it’s not enough to just say it, show your seriousness, go and pay for the form which I have done, and a couple of persons have done. And as at the last count, I’m sure all seven of us have paid for the form. So that seven plus anyone that will also pay before the 29, will now be the legitimate genuine aspirants. Everybody was saying they were aspirants before, were just talking. You know what makes you an aspirant is that you have collected an expression of interest form; you have paid for the nomination form until you become an aspirant. That process is on so, it is premature for anybody to talk about disqualification. If the party in its wisdom desire to disqualify me, I’m a loyal party man, You know the moment they disqualify me, I’m out of the race but I can tell you that we have not reached there at all.

Thank you so much for clarifying that, even though the leader of the APC in your state, Senator Adams Oshiomhole, had said that he was backing that committee. How do you then gauge your chances in terms of the support of those who will be at the primaries to select, to perhaps vote the flag bearer of the APC in the state? Secondly, as mentioned earlier, it’s your third time seeking office. What would you do differently? Now that Governor Godwin Obaseki has the incumbency factor, he might be leveraging that, he also will be supporting, of course, the PDP flagger whoever emerges. What will be your strategy different from what you’ve done in the past, especially now that we will still have to battle the acceptance and the support from your own party. And then cross the hurdle of a cross party selection election?

Well, the reason why in my party, it appears that we have a crowded field, is one, the general belief that the governor has not done well and our people need change. So because of that, everybody wants to offer himself for that position. And then number two, every area of the state also feels marginalized, they feel that has happened and so their  people have beaconed to them to say look, it looks as if, until we have a governor, nothing will happen in terms of development. So let’s also sponsor our own. So, there’s a big cry all over the place for their sons  to become governor. So that is why the field is so crowded. But the process is simple.

In the APC, we have three modes of doing primaries, one could be consensus, everybody agreeing to support somebody. The second one could be direct primaries, all registered members going to vote in their wards for their preferred candidate. And the third one is indirect where we have to elect delegates who would gather together in Benin, the state Capital  and vote for their choice. But  the stakeholders of the party met with the national leadership, and we voluntarily agreed that we would prefer the direct primaries, which means all the members will vote. So, we’re talking about members voting in 192 wards of the state.

I’m confident that I would get the ticket because in terms of name recognition, in terms of antecedents, in terms of trust, and in terms of who our people are yearning for right now, I think to a large extent, that that will stand me out. I have gone round the 18 local governments of the states. And I can tell you that the reception I received in each local government, no other aspirant has been able to match that. So the issue is, I know my strengths. I didn’t just come out because I was so desperate. In fact, I took my time but from all over the state, people kept talking to me to say, look, you know, you don’t give up. We all want you. Every time we see this government, we all realize that you ought to be there. You know, based on the persistent call, I had to come out. So, I’m very convinced that in the 192 wards, there is no way I will not have the upper hand. I’m convinced that I will win and by the grace of God, I will win.

Now to the last leg of the question about what I will do differently. Well, the twice I have contested and funny enough, the first time it was in the PDP and I’m sure you all know what played out. I won’t go into that. The second one again, it was in APC. So the reality is that the two strongest parties in the state at one time or the other, have given me the platform that will tell you the kind of person that they think I am. Twice the two biggest parties have said, Pastor be our  flag bearer. I’m not somebody that anybody can shove aside. I’m somebody that is deeply rooted in the minds of our people. They know me, they trust me. They see me as a homeboy, they see me as somebody that has a clear cut agenda in order to solve the problems or the states. So the non performance of the present governor gives me an edge. If the governor had done so well and he was also bringing somebody that is also very well known, you will say that well, considering how well he has performed and who is bringing, it’s going to be difficult to challenge him but you also know too that the PDP, I’m sorry to say it’s a divided house. You know, he is fighting with his Deputy, he is fighting with the legacy party. You know, and he is trying to introduce somebody that you don’t know to be the flag bearer of the party. So quite honestly, I believe that you know, this third time, I will win and win overwhelmingly.

Again, Edo people after going through all these, especially in the the last eight years, are yearning for somebody that they know; they don’t want to experiment again with who leads them. They are more than convinced that the past eight years have been a mistake. And the only way to correct it is get somebody that they know, they trust. Somebody who has put forward an agenda of what he wants to do. Not somebody who just speaks or there’s nothing to show about what he wants to do. So the issue of trust is very important. The issue of who  they know is very important and I fit all that requirement, and I can tell you that the support base has even gone stronger over the years. So I’m confident that we win.

Who is this person that the governor wants to bring that people do not know? Can you tell us what you mean by people do not know him, they don’t know his antecedents? Secondly, this is the third time you’re going for it. But this time is different. The first time you fought your way to PDP, you got a ticket. The second time you had a backing of Adams Oshiomhole. Now, things are not so smooth amongst you people. Are you still loyal to Adams Oshiomhole, is there still rift or rancour?  How do you think you can surmount it this time when you are already seeing the signs that ticket might not go your way? And lastly, if in case the ticket does not go your way, will you still run on a lesser party platform?

Well, let me start with the last, certainly I am in the APC, and I get the ticket, I don’t get the ticket, I’ll remain in the APC. I will support whoever gets it. Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, distinguished senator and our leader is a good friend of mine.

We’ve come a long way and is a man with a strong character just like myself, and anybody who knows our relationship will know that, we disagree often to agree. So the reality is that any disagreement between us cannot be seen as a rift. For example, I mentioned yesterday that his son is getting married on Saturday in Abuja, I’m in Benin right now. I’m going there on Saturday to attend. So, he’s not my enemy; he is my friend and those who are saying he’s not supporting me are saying what I may not even know because our primary is going to be on February 17. I know that what Comrade desires the most is that APC will win the state and is watching developments.

So there’s a disagreement between you two?

There’s no serious disagreement, we can disagree sometimes on how things should be done but there’s no fundamental disagreement. Comrade cannot call me and say please come to my house and I will say I will not go. There’s no disagreement between us at all. You know, even if, let me tell you the truth. You said just now that he supported me last time but you also recalled too that, my first time in 2016 he didn’t support me, so life is dynamic. What makes you think now that as we go down the finishing line for the primaries, he will not support me? What I need to do is to talk to him, to lobby him and to impress on him that our chances of winning lies with me. But in any event, he himself also will tell you that he alone cannot decide who will be our candidate. We are doing direct primaries in 192 wards in 18 local government areas and the total membership of the people that are going to vote there are  over 200,000. So the reality is that, his support is important because he has people he can also talk to but this matter goes beyond one man and for me today I refuse to believe that comrade is against me, he is a leader as much as possible. I know that he will keep his personal preference to himself. You know, but if he decides to support me, fine if he tell us about somebody else, this is right. But the important thing is that whoever the party finally brings out all of us will support the person.

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So, who is this so called person you said the governor is bringing from outside?

Well, you know, I’m not in PDP and at my age, I must be a bit careful not to speculate too much. So I cannot categorically say but we hear all kinds of things. I even think you are in a better position as being in the press to tell me look at…you know, so I’m a bit hesitant to begin to speculate, but time will tell who PDP wants to bring but I’m not worried about that. I’m concerned about what is happening in APC. By the time we come up with our own, we will also see who they want to bring and then we can begin to talk about ourselves.

This point about somebody from outside is not really a very strong argument, after all, Professor Ambrose Alli was teaching I think, at the University of Ibadan when he came to be governor…?

No, sir. It was in the university of Benin. Oh, yes, he was a professor of limpid anatomy in the University of Benin. He used to stay in Aka-wan road. I know his history better than you my brother, he was somebody that was very well known, very well liked.

But he taught at the university of Ibadan?

Yes. But that was at the very beginning but he moved to university of Benin and was there for many years and very well liked, you know, by Edo people.

But Comrade Oshiomhole  came from Kaduna where he was leader of  the textile union. He was a Kaduna man?

Oshiomhole had name recognition. Oshiomhole was all over the place. Don’t forget he was the president of NLC and he was seen as somebody that was fighting for the masses. So that name recognition was what endeared him to Edo people. He had name recognition.

Governor Obaseki was an investment banker in Lagos and he emerged as governor?

Obaseki if you recall, with due respect to him was an imposition that Comrade till today is regretting. Comrade practically forced him on the APC at that time. And his election I’m sure you remember that, a day to the election they had to postpone it, they canceled it. I was at home getting set to move to my village when I saw a news break that the Edo election has been postponed. Why? They said there’s no reason, materials were already released by the central bank. All those were desperate measures to ensure that he won. So, Obaseki is not a good example of somebody who came from Lagos and won but I’m telling you that on the streets today, in every town and city of Benin, they are saying that they have the right to say that whoever they want to support as governor, must be somebody who has lived among them. Somebody that they know, somebody that they trust, that is their opinion, if you think is otherwise then you can educate me. But I’m telling you that in all my feedback, our people are saying, never again, will they support somebody that they don’t know. They want to support somebody who have lived among them. Somebody they can trust, somebody that’s accountable, somebody that will respect them, not somebody that comes from outside the state and wants to govern them. That is the general impression.

But these people that people say came from outside the state, day, nobody has questioned the fact that they are bona fide Edo citizens who also have a stake including people who may be living abroad, in diaspora?

Nobody can stop anybody from contesting. But let me also tell you this, there are people who live in the diaspora, who have invested a lot in the development of our state, they live in the diaspora; they own houses in our state. They have houses in Benin, they have businesses in Benin. So, a man who wants to govern you in your state, must show, beyond being an indigene or citizen of Edo state, that he has invested in Edo State. That is a minimum requirement but in any event, we have not even reached that level. We don’t even know who will be the candidate of the PDP. So it’s actually premature to begin to speculate and talk about you know, who will be the candidate.

You are from Edo South. The people of Edo South have had opportunities to be governor in Edo State. Why do you think that someone from Edo South should be the person now, particularly as Edo Central people, specifically, the Esan people are saying that is their turn this time? Not Edo North, not Edo South. What do you say to that?

I think that is a very valid question that you have asked. And for me, I believe that any person from any part of the state, they have a right to be governor. But let me just tell you the facts. There is no senatorial district to be honest, that has not produced governor one time or the other. You might be saying you’ve not had it long enough. But we cannot compare our place to a place like Benue for example, where a particular group for the past 47 years have dominated who is governor; that’s not the situation in Edo.  In Edo, Edo South people like you rightly said have been governor, Edo North people have been governor, Edo Central people have been governor. That is clear.

But I can also tell you that in all of this, let’s not generalize, not just talking about senatorial district; when you break it down, you will find that there are certain persons really who have never had the opportunity to be governor. For example, Owan people, they are part of Edo State. They have two local government areas, but because they are submerged in Edo North, you might say Edo North has had governor you know. But Oshiomhole that was governor is from Etsako, that has three the local government areas, two local government areas belong to the Owans, brilliant people, very hard working, they’ve never had governor. Akoko Edo, is also there, one of the oldest local government areas that has never been split in this country, and yet they’ve never had governor.

Now in Edo South where I come from, we have seven local government areas. And when people say Edo South has had governor, they just forget that we have seven local government areas. Oredo Edo, that is the capital, that is where Obaseki comes from. That’s where Lucky Igbenedion came from, and is where Ogbemudia was most of the time. I come from Orhionmwon, it is the rural area of Edo South. We have never had governor, we have never had a senator. We have never had a speaker. We have never had a chairman of a party. We have no lights. We have no water. We have no hospital. We have no institution of higher learning. None of them. And yet, Orhionmwon where I come from has the largest landmass in the state, has the highest gas deposits in the entire country. We have never had any of these.

The Esan area with due respect to them, they have had five ministers of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria back to back. They have had numerous speakers of the assembly. They have had chairmen of parties. They’ve had governor. Of course they are entitled to a Senator but we because we are in Edo South, we have never had the opportunity to even produce a senator. We have never had, you know a minister. We have never had a governor. Do you really believe if you are talking about fairness, a local government like that where I come from should be excluded? Let’s be fair, you are a fair man, you look at it. My people are also Edo people. Don’t you think they have a right to say we cannot continue like this? There are no lights.

There’s nowhere in Esan land where you don’t have light, there’s no light in my place. I have taken two transformers there and yet there is no light because we cannot connect. We don’t have the resources to be able to put it together. I come from a place like that. Do you think it is fair? For me to come to a place like that and you tell me oh Edo South, which Edo South are you talking about?

Edo South for crying out loud has over 58 percent of the population. You have Edo South, you have Oredo and other places, these are urban areas of Edo South. So when you say Edo South, you just generalize, you mop us among them, and just think that oh is not fair. Do you know where I come from? Where I come from, we are suffering.

Let me tell you this, I am not against it. If my party tomorrow decides to zone and say they are zoning it to a particular place, that’s the party’s prerogative. Whoever they want to bring I will support the person but as long as it is free for all, my people also want me to be the governor and I will be an Edo governor and not an Orhionmwon governor, not an Edo South governor.