Mr Godwin Obaseki emerged the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Edo State ahead of the September 10 governorship election. In this interview with Sunday Vanguard, he relishes his victory and declares his plans for the people of the state if elected governor.
How do you feel emerging the APC governorship candidate?
I feel very thankful to God because if you cast your mind back when these whole campaign started sometime in October, the view held by many people then was that I did not stand a chance, that I will not fly. Those were the things they said to describe my ambition. And to imagine that from that time till now for the person who came into the contest last, to gather that momentum and prevail, I think all I can do is to say thank God, I am so grateful to God. I am humbled by this success. I know what Edo needs to pull through this difficult phase of our national life. My key motivation is that I believe that Nigeria as a whole is going through a major water shed. If you recall the events that led to the civil war and the changes that have occurred in our federation since the end of the war, how we have come to create a unitary system, how that unitary system has been nurtured by oil resources, that whole phase is now coming to an end. That means a total reorganisation of our entire polity.
Bearing that in mind, I just felt that what we need in Edo is someone who has an experience and understanding of the past but he is not an indebted part of that past. So you can see things freshly and differently. And I have looked at all the other players that have indicated interest in the race from the other camp, and I thought that even beyond the credentials of managing the economy, it is just the understanding of the political process.
About the delegates, how did you connect with them?
The negative things said about my ambition in the beginning made me to sit back and reflect on how best to serve the people of this state. If you recall, I went round the 18 Local Governments Areas, meeting the town executives, and it was then I appreciated more that it’s beyond that. That if this is an election of party delegates who are known, then you should go and campaign to them. So I just came up with a strategy where I had to meet every delegate. It was just not sufficient to sit down and say okay I have gone in, I have called a few leaders, I have spoken to them and I expect that they would send the word down. For the responsibility I am seeking to take on, I thought I needed to know a lot more, dig deeper. So I took the delegate election as if it was a full blown election. I went to every ward, the 192 wards, I wanted to understand the structure of the government in every ward so I did not go in and ask what is the leadership structure in this ward, who do you say the political leaders are. At the ward level not just at the local government but ward level. After the consultation with the leaders at the local government level, what I found was quite revealing because no two wards even in the local government were the same. In terms of their governance arrangement, they had a lot of harmony. You go in they’ll say this is our leader, where should we meet? They would say let us meet in this person’s house. They will all assemble there and they would all come there and listen to you. There are situations where you go in to some wards and there would not be agreement so it started shedding light on the politics of each ward and the peculiarities of each ward.
What were those meetings like?
What I find even more interesting which played in my favor (and which is divine) was that in every meeting we went to, the people always turned up. And in going into someone’s house you could not find a warmer and cosier environment where you are able to have physical contact with each person, you took their hands, felt whether they were farmers depending on the feel of their hands. You hugged people you broke kola, you pray, you danced so that interaction created that bond and the more I did it, the more I found that these people you call politicians are ordinary day to day people like me and you. I was interested in their communities and I found that quite striking and in most of them, almost all at the end of the day they told you what their problems are. And then I asked them, ‘ what do you think the solutions are’? In most cases they say the government has to do this or that so I asked them, what of you? What is your own contribution to this process? And then I realized that even at the local levels they also have solutions for the issues. The other thing that was revealing to me also, was levels of development of our state and also in terms of the comparisons because you can see certain trends in certain parts of the states. Edo North for example, you can see a trend in the level of development; in Edo central and in the south, you can also see the trends in terms of the development and levels of formation of infrastructure. So, for me, sitting back, I now realized all these. Coming into that arena that day, it was like homecoming. Everywhere I went, every booth I went, I saw people I had been in touch with. People I had contacted. I recognized a lot of people and they recognized me too. Not knowing that the ballot papers they had printed would contain pictures. I have not seen the ballot papers but they told me they had pictures and therefore since most people had come in contact with me, it was easy to recognize me and thumbprint.
What effort are you making to reconcile with the other contestants?
Godwin Obaseki Godwin Obaseki Immediately after the election I didn’t go to bed. On Sunday evening, the first person I went to was Dr Pius Odubu. I went to his house with some party officials. I went to talk with him and to extend my hand of fellowship and it was warm, cordial. He expressed his mind, his views as to what he felt and he was very open to reconciliation. He made a remark, he said people are calling him but he wanted to assure us that he was not going to leave the party, that he was going to work for the party. He admitted that he felt hurt and there were things that he felt should not have happened but he was prepared to work with the party and me. To seek full reconciliation, the following morning I went to see Engr. Chris Ogienwonyi, with whom I have a cordial and very warm relationship with, and we spoke. He, too, felt hurt. He said he needed to exhaust the process to convince himself that the primaries were conducted properly, that it truly reflected the outcome and decisions of the delegates which I feel he is entitled to. Later that day I went to see Gen. Charles and we spoke, he opened his arms and said look, he is open to me and that he is willing to work with me. Some of the contestants I have called. I have not been able to see Imasuagbon, he sounds very angry with me and I have not been able to see him. I heard he travelled so he’s the only one person I have not been able to see but I guess with time when he calms down, we will have a meeting but otherwise I have spoken to everybody else and that evening Prof. Osunbor, shook my hands and embraced me. Peter Esele called and pledged his support, Benson Agbomere and Tina O. Yesterday we had another meeting with the comrade governor. In fact it was a success. I don’t know if you have seen some of the photographs. We all went on the inspection together and started the campaign. But in terms of reconciliation, we are working hard and I’m very optimistic that we will be able to get full reconciliation. I, as an individual, I am also doing my own part, I expect that at the end of the registration exercise, I am going to have a meeting and we are all going to sit down and see how we can combine forces and be able to put resources together so that we can have a very effective campaign ahead of September 10. I have reached out, I have stretched my hand to them, I am inviting all the contestants to come and help the organisation. I pray and hope that all of them accept, because each one of us had a plan, so you had to plan your manifesto which was to contribute to Edo State. Now they will all contribute what they have for the development of APC and the state.
How do you feel going to face Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP in the contest?
I don’t know if he’s going to be my opponent but I also sent him a note congratulating him on his victory and to welcome him and advice that we conduct ourselves in this elections in a very civil manner. I am going to be the governor of Edo State by the grace of God, therefore I’m going to govern every Edo person.
But how are you going to deal with leaders like Anenih, Igbinedion?
Will you meet them to solicit for their support? I cannot have any animosity towards anyone. But this is a contest and once you are going into a contest, you don’t go to your opponent and say let us talk. I do not expect them (Igbinedion and Anenih)to vote for me, they will have to vote for whoever is emerging from their party. That is not my priority, my priority is to convince the other people, citizens of Edo State why I am the better candidate and the choice. And at the end of the day when I win why not talk, I mean I will embrace everybody.
There is this allegation that you have EFCC case, how true is that?
I don’t have a case with EFCC. I read the story as you know, I am on the board of several companies, this is one of the largest German companies in the world, it’s a German company that owns rigs in Nigeria and I am on their board. They had a partner that died many years ago and unfortunately his estates have not been properly managed. His other businesses have gone bankrupt and the company got a petition from the children in their estate claiming, alleging that the company was owing their father but you will see online that there is a full agreement which the company reached with the estate several years age. If you have been reading the papers the family has been having quarrels and internal issues. So it’s one of those kind of problems, they wrote to EFCC and other bodies. If somebody is owing you money, is there not a civil process to go through? Why should it be an EFCC matter? You are in this country, you know how citizens act but it has nothing to do with me, I do not own the company, I am just a shareholder on the board of the company so I don’t have anything to do with it. I did not take money from anybody.
What about the issue of your deputy, who are you picking as your running mate?
Though I am a party man, I believe it’s a party matter, and the party will look at the political configuration and how to zero in on the candidate. We will work together, I will work very closely with the party.
The opposition party is alleging that the state debt profile is very high, how true is that?
I think the press has a major role; how do you determine the debt of a state? There is a debt management office of the country. Google DMO, it will give you a profile of all the states and what they owe. Edo State owes about N41 billion. Edo earns about N24billion in taxes in a year, so in two years we can pay whatever we have outstanding, so I don’t know where this whole contraption of debts is from. We don’t owe a bank a dime because all the bank debts have been rescheduled and refinanced so all you need to do is go to the DMO website, and look at all the states and what they are owing and you will see what Edo State is owing there. It is not a secret or an issue for contemplation. With two years of current tax revenues we can pay out the debt of Edo state. But some of the debts we have restructured are there – ten, twenty years. The one we borrowed from the market, we will finish paying next year so what have we done wrong financially? Unlike people who borrowed, you can see what we have used the money for, you can see the infrastructure we have built, you can see the schools we have refurbished. We met debts from PDP, we cannot see what the money was used for, even their phantom industries you can’t find them, so we have to be careful that we don’t get people who would misbehave, who have destroyed us and now come singing hosanna today. People who should be in jail, saying they want to come back and govern us. They come, fill up the whole place with lies and we are consuming the lies like they are true.
So what are you bringing to Edo if you become governor?
I am new and I am bringing new things with me. I come from a background of working in institutions. So for me I look back and look at institutions. When I first came into the race, people were laughing at me, saying all I know is computer and that do I think it is computer that is used in winning elections. But what we did was we got the names of delegates, their wards. We mapped that data, we tried to understand how these delegates evolved. During the last congress, these were the leaders who brought about the nomination of these delegates. These are their phone numbers and sometimes, these are their birthdays. So when I’m going there, I now know that rather than just barging in on these people, let me call. The key thing I want to do is to use technological information to run government. We have to run a very smart government because we don’t have the kind of money we used to. The first innovation I want to introduce as the governor is the use of ICT, to move it up much higher so that we can get a lot more efficiency from the little money we have. And the other thing I want to do is to focus mostly on what government should do which is to provide the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive because we will need a lot more private capital to move this economy forward. Look at two investments we have made in the state, those two projects alone are worth two billion dollars. If we can bring in a lot more of such types of investments then the whole issue of jobs would reduce. I will dedicate a lot more of my time to bring private investments into the state. We need to focus on the economy so that we can take advantage of the unique position of Edo State. The other difference I will make is in terms of governance – one reason why Lagos State is doing very well is because of the governance model incorporated, where the governor is not the party leader so the governor has time to govern while the party politicians can manage the party politics. So that is one thing I hope to introduce to Edo State under my leadership. There are key drivers for a state economy; for us agriculture is it. Agriculture is part of us. In stock exchange today we are one of the two largest agricultural sectors. We have two large agricultural institutions in this state. What we now need to do is expand it and modernise it. We already have a basis to start from. We have a tradition of commercial farming in Nigeria, we just have to leverage on that significantly. There will be mass employment during our government. The past PDP administration destroyed the civil service of Edo State, in their stupidity they took out a whole layer of people, who were trained, out of the civil service, believing naively that they were saving money, and forgetting that those people were going into the list of pensioners and they did not pay them what was due to them. If I forgive the PDP administration for what they did to this state, one thing I cannot forgive them at all, is what they did to the civil service of Edo state. The experienced civil servants were taken out, leaving the amateur ones to rise in rank without anyone to train them. That is the surest way to destroy a system, not having succession. So the problem we have now is to get people into the civil service and to rapidly retrain them to cope with the challenges of modern governance. People will not just leave and say we want to go and see culture, most times you have something else taking you to a particular place and then in free time you can go to see the culture, so first you have to build infrastructure. Eight years ago the transportation in Edo State was bad but now you can drive from the beginning of airport road straight to Ugbowo, you can drive around the city. What we now need to do is to increase tourism and make it attractive and also make people driving through Edo State to want to stop, to create the environment for businesses to thrive here so that when people are driving through they will have reason to stop. What we need to do is to create businesses, we need to encourage people to invest in business facilities. When people come for business purposes, later on at night they would now want to go out to see the tourism spots in the state.
The fear some people have is that you may mortgage the state to your friends – like Alhaji Dangote and others?
I have spent most of my last thirty-something years in investment banking, and the only people I deal with are people who have capital, so there is nobody in any big business today that I have not interacted with. Dangote is the most successful of them. The house I am using now was given to me freely for my campaign by Hakeem Bello Osagie. He is the chairman of Etisalat. I worked with him to divest from UBA. I have worked with almost everybody. Finally God has woken us from our slumber. How can a country that is endowed with people like you and I and all the resources we have, spend 30 billion dollars importing goods and services we can produce but because we had oil revenues, we just thought it was a normal. We have been talking about diversification but as time goes on we always stray from the plan. Out of the ashes, the phoenix will rise again. Nigeria will rise again and that is one of the reasons I am running for governorship of Edo State.