by Akan Ido
Governor Adams Oshiomhole recently clocked five years as governor of Edo and the landmark occasion was celebrated in style.
Oshiomhole talked about his journey so far as Edo governor, the politics of the state, style of administration, the death of his wife, Clara, and more.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
It’s your 5th anniversary as Governor of Edo State, but your opponents would feel this elaborate celebration was a waste of state resources
We are not like any other government, our selling point is the trust line between the governed and the government and every responsible and honest steward must as a matter of duty and obligation account to his master. I’m the steward of Edo State. I have the privilege to be entrusted with the management of the resources of the state and the state is not made up of few elites but of people in the rural areas and as well those in the Urban area.
In terms of election, the people are more in number than the elites and so on the occasion of my 5th anniversary and my first year in my second term as I have done over the past four years, it has been a tradition to face the people and tell them what has changed since November, 2008 to 2012 and today but more particularly between last year and now so that they follow the progress we are making.
If you call that extravagance, well that was your choice of words but I call it practical accountability and open governance. In the trade union world when you are elected, at a certain period you hold your meeting, you give report of your achievements and where you have challenges, you explain them to the people so I don’t see what was extravagant.
I didn’t see people drinking champagne or eating, rather I saw women under the sun, maybe when we finished few people came to the government house to eat. My complain when I was in the NLC was that politicians make promises at the beginning and in between, they don’t render account but for me, at the heart of democracy is the commitment to report to your employers what you have done with the tools with which you are asked to work and that is what we did today and that is what we have done in the past four years and God’s willing, we would do it over the next few years.
And I want to lay a foundation that a future government would feel obliged year to year to tell the people what they did with their mandate.
You sounded too harsh on the issue of signing death warrants, why?
I am sure you are familiar with the fact that the governor has the last input when a criminal or a suspect is apprehended. It goes through trials, the charges are laid before the court and he is invited to come and defend himself before the prosecutors to establish the guilt, the judge makes up his mind whether the case has been proven or not,where he is convinced he has that judgment and the suspect can appeal up to the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court is convinced that the person is guilty and hands out death penalty and it is the requirement of the constitution that the governor accents to it. If the Supreme Court finds out that 20 people were guilty of murder and they sentence twenty people to death and the governor in line with the constitutional requirement signs the sentences, what is reckless in that?
When a reporter files a story, it goes through the newsroom, the sub-editor, the line editor looks at it, the editor signs the paper, is that a reckless process? I have no apologies like I said at the stadium. If you are convicted as a kidnapper because you killed the victim, I will sign the death warrant because you have no reason to take the life of another man or woman.
You did mention that you copied certain strategies from Lagos State, what was the situation in Edo when you came?
People don’t like to say they copy except when you talk about America and Europe but what I’m saying is that there are a lot of good things that are happening in the Nigerian environment and sometimes, you need to go out to find what works and adopt it.
Lagos has always been there and at a point, things were so bad that Lagos became so impossible that you used odd numbers and even numbers to manage your traffic and senior military officers were deployed to use the horse whip to enforce simple traffic rules.
That was how bad Lagos was. General Obasanjo was reported as saying that Lagos was a jungle, today Lagos is not a perfect place but everybody agrees that good things are happening in Lagos.
Ojuelegba used to be where we recruit our area boys when we want to make Lagos a bit less comfortable for the big people plying the road. The last time I passed Ojuelegba, I couldn’t find area boys. Lagos was known for de-humanizing mass transit called Molue where you enter with clean clothes and come out with tattered rags and we are beginning to see roads that where blocked and opened up with several lanes.
So for me, that shows that things are changing in Lagos but we need to understand what has led to those changes. By 1999 when Tinubu was the governor I had to represent workers before him and he was obliged to convince me why he won’t do the level of wages we wanted him to pay and I realized that from that interaction, Lagos revenue was N600m.
But today, I understand from IGR that Lagos generates some good amount and with that, they have been able to connect some bridges, things have changed in Lagos. Oshodi has been cleaned up. So it was something for me to copy and I said, I shamelessly went to Lagos to proudly copy what works and I came back to Edo to re-engineer our tax system and we raised our own locally generated revenue from about N285m and at a point, we hit N2billion because we didn’t need to depend on Abuja to be able to do everything that we needed to do.
It requires courage, clear thinking and a level of determination to be able to get the people to realize that citizens have obligation to the state to pay taxes so that in turn they can become real stake holders to do the things that we are doing in Edo State. And that if we are going to expand and carry out urban renewal like what they did in Lagos. You do need to sometimes get rid of certain things in order to restore the right of ways and expand the roads and that is what I meant.
There are couple of things we copied from Lagos: land use charge and consumption tax because I’m sure that some of you at one time or the other travel outside Nigeria and even those of you who have not travelled, by just watching debates in other countries, central to every election debate are tax policies and taxes and that defines the character of a government. Look at the intra-city transport system which would have been done many years ago.
It is now happening in Lagos. Imagine if somebody had made up his mind to do thirty years ago what Fashola is doing now, life in Lagos would have been lot more comfortable than it is now. But we recognized that the fact that we failed in the past is no reason why we should fail now. For us to be detained by the past and to become incapable of facing the challenge of making up for lost time, I will say better late than never. I am happy to see what Lagos is doing today.
ASUU strike has persisted despite all efforts to bring about peace
I have a particular difficulty on this matter and this is why I have not commented on it and I don’t think I really want to comment on it because somehow I have helped in mediating between federal government and ASUU in 2009. The very agreement that is in dispute is not really for me to cause trouble for any one.
I was involved in the making of that agreement, all I will say for now is that under the Nigeria Labour laws, agreement are enforceable even in law because both the Trade Union act and Labour acts recognize the stature of collective agreement entered into between an employer and employee and the key issue is that both sides should act in good faith because making any statement for and against either side might not promote the cause of peace.
Why have you not remarried since you lost your wife?
I wish you would have avoided the question because really when I talk about my late wife, people may not understand why? You are in a position to judge whether to agree or disagree. When a man in my own case has the privilege of being elected as a state governor or president, your wife’s status changes automatically to the first lady of the state or the country with all the glamour that goes with it.
To have the kind of wife I had, who was familiar with all the police stations in Kaduna and outside, and sometimes searching for her husband who might have gone to work and detained by Police on account of trade union work, it was her lot to stand by me and she bore all the deprivations of a husband you were never sure where he was going to be at the next minute. At a point, she called me an absentee husband.
In one interview she said ‘I have donated my husband to the Nigerian workers’, so she went through all that pain and the day we were inaugurated is usually the day where women put on their very best, befitting a stature of the first lady of a state. But on that occasion, we discussed how to appear because we didn’t have the opportunity of long planning. I was declared on the 11th as the winner of the election and was to be sworn in on the 12th.
So I said to her, I can’t change my identity now because I have been a worker and have used khaki as a factory worker and President of the NLC, and I don’t want to look different and she agreed. Rather than going to buy lace, she opted to wear the same khaki, except that my own was better sown than hers because the woman who made her own was not used to sowing khaki for women.
So I looked around and imagined that she should have been by my side today to share the joy of my 5th year anniversary. If you come from my background, any woman who agrees to marry a man who is not rich, a man who alternates between police stations and cells and lives in a one or two bedroom apartment, that is your real love. When my wife said I love you, it was from her heart.
I just imagined how she would have felt seeing all these people. The only worry she ever had was who was going to employ our children owing to my agitations with big establishments, because as an organized labour, when we leave the NLC, we fear that our lives would be lonely because it would be a payback time for all those big people I have harassed in the course of my work. So, it would have been joyous for her to see that five years down the road , I have more people around me than I have before.
Her second fear was that she never approved my involvement in politics because she was very proud to be referred to as the wife of Oshiomhole because then she gets all the favour and saw the affection because most Nigerians were happy with my stewardship at the NLC.
She was worried that once I get into politics, I would be ridiculed and all of that would go. She felt I should keep the name. But I told her even before I went into the NLC. NLC was a write off as military apologists, the human rights community distanced themselves from the NLC and I said you can always chose how you want to be remembered; that I’m going into politics to redefine and demystify governance and reconnect with the very ordinary people and politics offers that platform for anyone who believes the ordinary man deserves a better deal.
So for all that and for many other reasons, that is one thing that I regret that she should have been there to also see the other side of life. I have seen it all, in this state now, they are people who will call me the oppressor and you know who they are, the oppressors of yesterday.
If you ask ‘Mr fix it’ who I am, he will tell you I’m oppressing him because I have de-fixed him. It would have been nice for my wife to see life’s full circle; that those guys who feasted on us and cheated, that we have reduced them to political vegetables and placed them on permanent political oxygen.
Why are APC leaders begging PDP members to join them when they described the party as evil?
PDP is not a tribe, that you should do the DNA to find out if there is something in the gene. Nigeria has been more or less a one party state and they are many who are not convinced about the message or promise but they went into PDP, because that is the only game in town. The beauty of a two viable alternative political platform is that it offers the opportunity of people of like minds to come together regardless of where you were before and Edo is a an example. Before I got here, those who are with me now were either in PDP or ANPP and some in their private grumbling over what was happening.
They all used to pay political pilgrimage to Uromi for political blessing not because they were convinced but that was the only way it could be done. Once we opened a platform, those who were genuinely unhappy with what was going on there left to join the ACN, now APC and those who are happy with the godfather remained with him. There have been people in this state who took advert and said if you asked them to paint the face of God, that by the time they finished painting that face, what you will see is the face of the godfather.
And that was blasphemy and that is how far some people went and by praise singing like that, you could become a minister, senator or governor for people who believe that the end justifies the means. I think that in every political party, you would find some good and bad people. I don’t think that there is pretense that every person in APC is an angel or is there a suggestion that everybody in the PDP is a devil.
What’s your take on Anambra election taking place today?
Among all other candidates, Ngige is clearly outstanding because you cannot compare Ngige with a man who worked with a bank that has folded up.
In this country, we see truth but we can’t admit it. If you couldn’t run a private business, how can you be entrusted with a state instrument? It doesn’t make sense and you also cannot compare Ngige with a man who was distributing kerosene with all the controversy around it or was it the guy that wanted to become a medical doctor and
along the line, he got confused?
The media must help to enrich the political process by coming up with facts that you know about every candidate so that you don’t mislead the electorate. I can analyze each of them and tell you why Ngige is the best. One works with a bank and he can’t say he grew the bank to a level; bankers are not the best politicians.
The other one was a NANS President while I was the President of the NLC and he was a villa creation. The villa used him to subvert the National Association of Nigeria Students, he was supposed to be a medical student.
How did he drop out? So of all of them, I can proudly say Ngige is a proud medical doctor and a senator that has earned respect at the floor of the senate.