Mr Henry Idahagbon, a lawyer and a prominent leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo state, is the immediate past Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Edo State.
The top ranking APC leader was among those that fought to ensure that Mr Godwin Obaseki succeeded Mr Adams Oshiomhole as the state governor, but today, that romance has gone with the winds following struggle for the 2020 gubernatorial race.
In this interview, he spoke on why party leaders across the three senatorial zones are opposed to Obaseki’s second term ambition. Excerpts…
2020 governorship election is fast approaching in Edo, and APC seems to have a divided house over Obaseki’s second term bid. What is your take?
Leaders of APC made a fundamental mistake in 2015 when they brought a political neophyte, somebody who has never been in government, somebody who has never done anything tangible or worthwhile as governor. We made a mistake of electing somebody who had been rejected by his people, the most aloof governor we have ever had in Edo State. And I say this with all sense of responsibility and I have evidence to buttress every point I have made. You will recall that as a prelude to the 2016 elections, his cousin was actually the first person to alert the state that Godwin Enogheghase Obaseki is a funny human being. He told us about Obaseki’s personal and private life, which I don’t want to delve into, but because of our loyalty to our leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, we didn’t listen to him; we waved him off as the rantings of a disgruntled brother, but we now know better now.
What are the things you have noticed?
He has succeeded in alienating the party; he has succeeded in marginalising other members of the party under the bogus claim that he doesn’t have the resources to satisfy the private greed of party members. No party member wants the governor to give them money or dash them money. I ask the question: for the eight years that he was Chairman of the Economic Team under Oshiomhole, was he dashed money? Comrade is somebody that if he spends a thousand, he wants to get N2,000 value from every thousand that he spent. But party members are entitled to patronages from government having worked assiduously to enthrone the government. Those who are contractors can be patronised in the area of the contract they specialised in, I am not a contractor, I have never done any contract and I don’t want no contract, but I should have access to my governor, a governor that I worked day and night for, a man who did not even know how we made him governor.
Did you just say he didn’t know how you made him governor?
There are so many things we did to make him governor that Obaseki didn’t know. So he should stop blackmailing the leadership of the party, because I will consider it cheap political blackmail to say that he does not have the financial resources to satisfy the greed of APC members, and because of that he has locked everybody out of government. It is cheap political blackmail.
What are you going to do now?
As 2020 approaches, some of us have decided to bell the cat, we have decided to face the challenges headlong because Obaseki believes that he is smart, and that all Edo people are dullards, that we don’t have intelligent people. That is why he brings in boys from Lagos, from Delta and then from his second state, Rivers. You know his second state is Rivers. Those are the people he brings to come and do all the jobs.
Do you have anything concrete to stop him in 2020?
All those funny seminars and workshops cost the tax payers of Edo State millions of naira. Obaseki is the only governor that spent N300million to write a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Edo State Government and Chinese company in respect of the Gele –Gele Sea port. And when some of the junior staff discovered errors in the MOU, another N100 million was spent in correcting errors in the MOU. So overall, he spent N400 million drafting an MOU and that is a man that is talking about greed of other people, a man who collects N6bn per annual, which is N500m every month as security vote. There is no day we don’t record one incident of murder, one incident of rape, one incident of kidnapping and sundry other crimes.
We stakeholders in APC have realised that without our urgent intervention, the ship of the party in the state was heading for a very disastrous end. This was exemplified during the general elections; the Presidential and National Assembly polls, where the party lost woefully in Edo South and Edo Central. In fact, it is on record that Obaseki is the first sitting governor anywhere in Nigeria to lose his polling unit. He lost his ward, local government and his senatorial district even when the party had a very popular candidate in Mr Patrick Obahiagbon.
That is a score card of failure, he has failed politically, and administratively he has failed and we are determined that in 2020, we will have a replacement for Obaseki, because the voice of the people is the voice of God. Before now, they use to call him ‘wake and see’ now it is ‘see and cry’ because on the 23rd of February, Edo State people came out and pushed the ‘Wake and See’ aside and voted their conscience.
If you speak to folks close to Obaseki, they will tell you that President Muhammadu Buhari is not popular and that because of religious reasons, that was why we lost the state, but that is not true; Mr Buhari enjoys nationwide popularity across the length and breadth of the country including Edo State. People voted against the party that day because of the greed, because of the stone-heartedness, because of the self-centeredness of the Obaseki administration.
Don’t you think that this crisis will give the opposition party an edge?
It will not, we know what we are doing, ours is a revival group, ours is a rescue mission, we are here to rescue the party from the clutches of a clueless man, he is clueless politically, he has no clue about how to run a political party, even about how to run a government he has no clue. So we are here to rescue the party from the hands of a clueless governor, especially in political matters. We know the extent to which we would fight, this is actually an in-house fight. As bad as he is, he is still our brother, he is a product of our party. So we know the extent to which we will fight that will not give away the state to the opposition party.
How do you hope to do that?
I believe we would resolve it during the primaries where he will be roundly defeated. He didn’t know how the last primary was organised and he won, those who were in charge of organising that primary that led to his victory, all of them are up in arms against him. During the next primaries he would lose very woefully and then we will bring a governor that will be popular, that will be acceptable, that will carry the people along, and will deliver solid dividend of democracy to our people, not a governor that will appropriate NDDC projects, appropriate SEEFOR project and claim to be state projects, even after amassing a whooping N100bn debt for the state.
A recent statistics from Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) will interest many Edo people; it shows that 25 percent of employable youths in Edo State are unemployed, another 20 per cent are underemployed that is 25.1 per cent, so in all you have about 45.1 per cent of unemployed Edo youths in Edo. Any wonder then it is cult war almost on a daily basis in Edo State; of course the governor is unperturbed, but happy in the safety of his palatial mansion. National Bureau of Statistics proceeded to tell us that after borrowing N100 billion, previous governments left a debt of N45 billion for Edo. Total indebtedness of Edo State today is N145 billion and that made Edo State the second most indebted state in Nigeria.
The first of course is Lagos, but Lagos can be indebted up to a trillion because Lagos has the capacity to pay through Internally Generated Revenue. But when you convert the debt to income ratio in Edo, it is 176 per cent, which means this state is doomed, children yet unborn will continue to pay the debts that Obaseki is accumulating for the state. What has he got to show? Every month he must fly to Indonesia and Singapore with his aides.
Oshiomhole seems to be fighting so many political wars, in Kogi, in Edo, in Bayelsa. Don’t you think he is chewing more that he can actually swallow?
Oshiomhole is not fighting any war, Oshiomhole is National Chairman of the party APC, and the responsibility to manage and superintendent over the affairs of the party rests squarely on his shoulders, and he has a responsibility to deliver the state to the party. Firstly some of the statement credited to him in Kogi, he has denied that he ever made such statement. Don’t forget that Oshiomhole is a media delight any day any time, and unscrupulous elements capitalised on the social media to ascribe statement people never made to them. So he has come out to say he never made any statement about Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. But be that as it may, if working hard to ensure the party wins in Bayelsa and Kogi State means Oshiomhole is fighting hard, so be it, but I can assure that the man is not fighting hard, the man knows what he is doing, and he has rejuvenated the party. But for his involvement in the party, I am sure the party would have gone into extinction. You saw a resurgence of the Peoples Democratic Party, under the leadership of the presidential candidacy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, you saw even the gap between President Buhari’s vote and Atiku’s. If we had any person as the National Chairman of the APC, that gap would not have been there, the party would have lost and we would have been singing a different tune today. So APC should be grateful to the coming on board of Oshiomhole, we know he is a workaholic. Many of the people complaining about him are unable to work at his own pace. Oshiomhole doesn’t have any sense of time when he is working, 2am, midnight is still working time. So it is not correct that he is fighting so many battles, if he is fighting any battle at all, they are battles that must be fought, battles that we cannot run away from, but in the overall interest of the party nationwide.
Do you think Edo people will allow the Ambode treatment?
Let me tell you this, since the day Oshiomhole moved out of government, he has never interfered in the running of the government in Edo State. I say this with all sense of responsibility and because I have personal knowledge of it. There are some occasions and I have been there where people will approach him to speak to the governor on issues, the man will tell them; ‘look I’m no longer the governor, we have a new governor, we should allow him to govern’. Some of us didn’t like that approach, and we believe that the approach led this governor to become so arrogant and took the people and the party and the state like a conquered territory. So it is not true that Oshiomhole had been interfering, Oshiomhole had always believed that issues about governance should be for the governor, but Oshiomhole is the leader of the party. He was leader when he was governor, because he didn’t have in the party then a former governor but now we have a former governor, you cannot compare a governor with just two and half years in office with a veteran governor of eight years. When he was campaigning he told us that he was going to retire us. Do you retire politicians?
Once you are a politician you are always a politician, of course your degree of involvement varies. Now tell me; what is the offence of the politicians? Is it because they supported him? He knew nothing before he came in, we manufactured his APC card because he did not even have a party card. It was manufactured for him. He told us he was not interested in politics, he sold us a red herring, he wanted that office, but gave us the impression that he was not interested in it. And because of our loyalty to our leader, we fell head long into it, he got to the government house and locked out politicians, he said politicians were not welcomed. Government House is for politicians, because politicians catalyzed the process that produces an occupant of the government house. Imagine a governor requesting his commissioners to pass files through somebody who does not even have designation, may be his P.A. In fact one of his commissioners said he told them that he would make them poorer. I met another person who told me that they have over 50 special advisers t to the governor, about 20 of them are from the East, Lagos, Delta and Rivers and those ones have official cars, they have portfolio, they have offices.
The ones appointed from Edo who are politicians don’t have official cars, they don’t have designation and don’t have offices. Obaseki’s disregards the Benin people. Again I’m sure you know that two key members of Obaseki’s group have defected to PDP, These persons worked day and night to make Godwin Obaseki governor, today they are members of the PDP. So that is why I said we voted for a man we did not know. But I assure you that in 2020 we would determine who becomes governor. The battle is on, there is no retreat no surrender. We will tell him that we are politicians and that we have been in this business before him. If the current romance with the PDP big wigs will save him, we would be very happy. In fact we would seek the services of the best Benin musician to celebrate his exit from government house.