A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Edo State and former Minority Whip of the House of Representatives, Samson Osagie, shares with TUNDE AJAJA his thoughts on the crisis between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, and the 2024 governorship election in the state, among other issues
What is your assessment of the Godwin Obaseki-led government in Edo State since he’s been in power for about seven years?
Whatever my views may be, they may say it’s because I’m a member of the opposition in the state, but as an indigene of Edo State, for me, it has been more of motion and no movement. A lot of things are hyped and not much tangible evidence can be seen. However, I appreciate the fact that the Edo State Government appears to be saying they are doing a lot of reforms in the education sector. How much impact that will make is yet to be seen. There is the Ossiomo electricity project that is above the reach of the common man, which they say is supplying government quarters. Basically on major infrastructure like roads, erosion control and educational infrastructure, I don’t think the government has done much to the admiration of the people. The expectations of Edolites of this government have not actually been met. On a scale of one to 10, I’m not sure they can score up to five yet. It’s been more of talks, promises, showmanship than real democratic governance. In the area of compliance with the rule of law and the constitution, this government failed woefully.
In what areas are you talking about?
It was during its first term – for the larger part – that this government had no functional House of Assembly. The current government decimated that Assembly. That would continue to remain a sore point in the history of the administration; an administration that stopped elected representatives of the people from participating in governance through lawmaking. He denied them that opportunity for four years, and I think that was a dent on the democratic credentials of this government. It’s something not worth emulating at all. It is not also uncommon to hear that this government has been the most intolerant of opposition’s views. So, I do not think this government has met the threshold of the expectations that Edo people have of it.
The governor and his predecessor, Senator Adams Oshiomhole, have severally lamented the bad state of federal roads in the state, even though your party has been in power at the centre for the past eight years or thereabouts, why have the roads suffered such neglect?
I cannot answer that question; I’m not the minister of works and I don’t work for the government at the moment, even though I’m a member of the party. However, there have been collaborations between states and the Federal Government with respect to road infrastructure. This current government has simply refused to do any intervention. Former governor Oshiomhole did some intervention on federal roads during his tenure, and when he left, this current government got the reimbursement of billions of naira from the Federal Government. So, Oshiomhole didn’t abandon the roads, but this government is only up to excuses.
In recent times, your state has been in the news for negative reasons, given the rift between the governor and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, what are your thoughts on that drama?
You may call it drama, I will call it karma. As far as I’m concerned, what is happening between the first two citizens of Edo State is not unexpected. I expect they would come to this level of launching a war against one another, because they were men driven by selfish ambition, arrogance and an unbridled power mongering. I knew from day one that their team would not have it smooth.
Why did you say that?
Look at what they did to the former governor (Oshiomhole); if they could do all that to their predecessor, why are you expecting that things will be well with them? They must fight each other because they were both driven by ambition and unbridled power mongering. When people occupy public offices and they take power to a level that makes them disloyal and lack humility, they are bound to run into this type of crisis. So, it’s karma at play, because there is no scintilla of evidence to show that these people appreciate what the power the Edo people gave them is meant for. You call it drama, but I call it karma.
There were unconfirmed reports that the deputy governor wanted to defect to your party and Oshiomhole said APC is not for internally displaced politicians, do you also think if Shaibu indeed wants to join the APC to use the platform to realise his ambition, he’s not welcome?
I am not the spokesman for Comrade Oshiomhole; he is the leader of the party in Edo State. If he made that comment it was within a context. But in Nigeria, I know politicians move from one party to the other, so, if Comrade Oshiomhole made that statement, it must be within a given context, which he understood. Maybe tomorrow, Philip can find his way into the APC, there is always freedom of entry and exit in political parties. But I believe that given what these men have done to the former governor, it’s not unlikely that that could be his initial reaction.
The Commissioner for Information when Oshiomhole was governor, Kassim Afegbua, said some time ago that even if Oshiomhole decides to welcome Shaibu into the APC, his supporters would not welcome him because of what he did to the former governor. Do you feel the same way?
It’s not unlikely. These two people are driven by inordinate ambition and power mongering, and given the way they started their administration by launching attacks against the political party that brought them up, it was just a matter of time for them to disagree and begin the type of ridiculous fight we are seeing now. For me, it’s not a surprise. I predicted it. I knew it was going to happen, and it was only going to be a matter of time.
Their rift has been tied to the 2024 election, in which case the deputy governor went to court to stop a supposed impeachment that the Assembly and the governor denied knowledge of? Do you think the deputy governor acted too early or there could be more to it than many people know?
Honestly, their matter is not what I really want to speak about because it’s not worth dissipating energy on. In the history of governance in Edo State, this is the first time a deputy governor is suing a governor to prevent his removal and the first time a deputy governor in the state is being relocated from his office. It shows the level of intolerance of the dramatis personae at the helm of affairs in Edo State. So, I can’t judge him whether he acted badly or wrongly, I am not his legal adviser, so I don’t know what he saw. He has a lawyer. But the point is that ultimately all these go to show that it is not the interest of Edo people that matters most to both men but their personal interest and continuous hold on power. That was a recipe for crisis. If they care about the people, they will not go to the extent of creating unnecessary tension in the land, an action that is capable of distracting any reasonable government. Meanwhile, we are not talking about how to develop Edo State; we are talking about how both men want to retain power. The governor is showing that he’s the governor; the deputy is showing that he’s the deputy governor. It’s just a power tussle between people who have chosen to take the sensibilities of Edo people for a ride. So, I do not have any sympathy for them at all.
Some persons have expressed surprise that elders and statesmen in the state have yet to intervene, what do you make of that?
You may not know who is intervening because it’s not everybody that would come to the open. I may not be able to say whether or not they are intervening, so we don’t need to bring them in, because they may be intervening without making it public.
Some people have even asked whether it’s right for someone who has been deputy governor for eight years to still want to be governor when there are other competent persons in the state, what do you make of that argument?
The question to ask is that, is there any law prohibiting a deputy governor from aspiring to be a governor? The answer is no. Are there deputy governors that have become governors? The answer is yes. Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, who is now the National Chairman of the APC, was a deputy to Engr Rabiu Kwankwaso but he later became the governor of Kano State. The current governor of Sokoto State (Ahmad Aliyu) was a deputy to former Governor Aminu Tambuwal. So, it is not a crime against the law. There is no moral or legal inhibition against any person who has been deputy governor from aspiring to be a governor. If anything, a sitting deputy governor is closer to becoming a governor than anybody else. So, it is within his rights to aspire to be governor. But whether the political permutations in the state or within the political party would permit him is a different kettle of fish entirely.
The next governorship election is 2024 and actors within the PDP seem to be getting set, what’s happening in your party, or is it true that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, your party’s candidate in the last election, is on standby?
You cannot expect that our party, the APC, that won the presidency in the last election will stand aloof. But let me even tell you that come 2024, the APC will win the Edo State governorship election. That is as sure as death, and you can take my word to the bank. There is nothing for this administration to show that its party deserves to come back. So, the APC will win the 2024 governorship election. The only thing I cannot tell you at the moment is who the candidate will be. As at the last count, there were over 30 persons on the platform of the APC that want to be governor of Edo State. It is within their individual rights to so do. At the appropriate time, primary will be conducted, and the candidate that emerges will become the next governor of Edo State. That is very certain, and the APC will not leave any stone unturned to democratically win that election.
Are you among the 30 aspirants?
I’m still consulting. You don’t jump into contests just like that. However, I will participate either as a contestant or an active participant in the process. I must definitely show interest in who is going to govern me at the end of the day. But in any case, if I have my way, I will run for the governorship, but at the moment, I have not declared my interest. I am still consulting.
What about the difficulty in defeating the governing party?
It’s not difficult. It is only if there were no established precedents that you would see it that way. The Governor of Zamfara State (Bello Matawalle) lost his re-election and he was an incumbent. There were governors that could not win their senatorial bids, talk of what happened in Enugu, Abia and Benue states. Former President Goodluck Jonathan lost as an incumbent to Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. So, it’s very doable. In any case, the current governor is not running again. At best, he will anoint a candidate and I’m not sure Edo people are ready for his anointed candidate because we can’t go through the kind of turmoil and bad governance that we are going through in his hands right now, so whoever he anoints already carries the baggage of the current administration.
Oshiomhole and Obaseki have not been able to resolve their dispute, do you think resolution is a foreclosed issue?
They are no longer in the same party, so there is nothing to resolve.
As a former member of the House of Representatives, an issue that keeps recurring is whether Nigeria needs a bicameral legislature, given the cost of running the National Assembly, what do you make of that argument?
The challenge we have in our country is not the National Assembly. I speak, not because I was a member of that institution, but it is the reality. The country is so diverse and heterogeneous that you cannot let some areas be under-represented. We are talking of proportional representation for people at the grass roots to feel the impact of government. What every legislator does for their respective constituencies contributes greatly to the economic well-being of the citizens. You can pretend about it, but it is the reality. Now, if you compare the cost of running the National Assembly with the amount of money misappropriated by some government officials, you would see the difference. The National Assembly does not even take close to one-fiftieth of the money some civil servants misappropriate. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation was said to have mismanaged about N109bn. Are they elected representatives of the people or politicians? So, when you put what politicians get side by side with the sleaze that takes place in the civil service or the bureaucracy, you will shake your head. We should begin to X-ray the system as a whole and not to isolate the politicians because they are the ones that are in contact with the people. The challenge with our governance system is the bureaucracy and we must look at it that way. You cannot have a unicameral legislature for Nigeria. We are too diverse and heterogeneous. To do so would be to prevent certain parts of the country from being represented, and that wouldn’t be democratic.
At the state level, what do you make of the failure of Houses of Assembly to hold governors accountable, rather they submit themselves to governors, how did things become so bad in that arm of government?
It is part of our democratic fault lines that elected representatives at the state level find themselves at the mercy of the governors they were supposed to work with. Recall that times there were when the National Assembly gave autonomy to state Assemblies, but many times they rejected it until recently. So, it is the overarching influence of the governors that have led to the state of the Houses of Assembly, preventing them from being able to perform their responsibilities, because governors are not willing to obey the law or lead by example. Most of them want to lead according to their whims. That is why you are having all these challenges. Nothing more! So, we must continue to do all things possible to strengthen state Assemblies in order for them to be able to carry out their responsibilities. Between 1999 and 2007, state Assemblies were much more assertive of their powers under the constitution than we currently have. Governors over time continue to exercise their powers as if they are emperors and they use their powers to intimidate lawmakers into submission. So, it is the governors that are the problem and are not allowing the state governors to perform their duties because they want to run the government in accordance with their whims, rather than in accordance with established laws and regulations.