Godwin Obaseki, the All progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate for the September 10 gubernatorial election in Edo State,in an interview with CAJETAN MMUTA speaks about his reconciliatory efforts to unite other APC aspirants.
What efforts are you making to reconcile with aggrieved aspirants?
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 speak 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.
The following morning I went to see Engr. Chris Ogienwonyi, whom I have a cordial and very warm relationship with and we spoke. He felt hurt, he felt 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.
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 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. 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.
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 for September 10th.
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.
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.
How are you relating with leaders like Anenih, Igbinedion, will you meet them to solicit 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 themselves or whoever is emerging from their party.
That is not my priority, my priority is to convince people of the public, citizens of Edo on why I am the better candidate. And at the end of the day when 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 also read the story. I am on the board of several companies, this is one of the largest German companies in the world, it’s a company that owns rigs in Nigeria and I am on its 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 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 ago.
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. So if somebody is owing you money, is there no 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 owes about N41 billion. Edo state tax a year is about N24 billion, so in two years we can pay whatever we have outstanding, so I don’t know where this whole c o n – traption 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 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 to 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. The first difference I think I will make, I come from a background of working in institutions. So for me I look back and look at institutions. 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 government 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 thrive the economy.
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 t h a t w e 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 modernize 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 employments in my governance. 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. 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 for 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 government. 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 is make it attractive. To make people driving past Edo state to want to stop; to create the environment for businesses to thrive here so that when people are driving past 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 Edo state.
How about the fear that you may sell the state to your friends?
I have spent most of my last thirty something years in investment banking, and the only people I deal with are people who have capitals, 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 work with him to diverse 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 because we had oil revenues, we just thought it was abnormal.
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, Nigerian will rise up again and that is one of the reasons I am running for governorship of Edo state.