Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with journalists, the former labour leader opens up on the real issues between him and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and the way out of the challenges in the state chapter of the party.
Have you resolved your differences with Governor Obaseki?
This has been an issue I tried to avoid when I watched you talking about Oshiomhole’s faction and Godwin’s faction. The truth is that I don’t have any faction. Everybody in Edo State, particularly those of APC stock, are my people. We founded the party from ACN to APC. It hurts when people can’t make a distinction between policy positions and unhealthy debate about options in dealing with specific issues. Let me start with the issue of the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly. I was governor when PDP had 16 members, and ACN then, had eight members, but we had to learn how to live with the reality that the parliament is in the hands of the opposition, so all we needed to do was to cultivate ways and means of playing up what united us as a people and getting the opposition to recognise that we were all elected; even from different political parties, but for a purpose; the sustainable development of Edo State. And we managed that until the people favoured us with majority.
Right now in Edo, we are obviously far more fortunate that all the 24 members of the house are all APC. So, no matter if there are differences about a preferred speaker, I don’t think this was enough for us to breach all the rules, regulations, customs and traditions that are well entrenched as regards to the simple straight forward matter of proclaiming a House of Assembly. When I see Nigerians taking sides on it, I just pity people who can’t make a difference between your personal affection or love for someone and dealing with issues of principles and law.
Now, I remain convinced that it is not in the interest of our democracy for nine members at 09:30pm, which I understand the Supreme Court in another judgment has described as nocturnal hours, for an elected parliament to seek to secretly inaugurate a house so that a particular person can emerge as speaker, and in the process, you exclude 15 members of the house. Nine persons cannot elect the speaker or deputy speaker on behalf of 24 members.
Number two, it is also the tradition and the law that when you are elected by your various constituencies, the day of your inauguration, the proclamation is not a state secret to be shared by those who are favoured. The proclamation must be published; stating time and date. If there is any Nigerian who has followed inauguration in the 36 states and the FCT, particularly the last federal one, it is settled that the fact of proclamation letter must be communicated by the clerk to all the members-elect so that they can go there that day with their families and loved ones. Now, to try and do that at 09:30pm, even if it was done by my biological son, God will give me the courage to tell my son that this institution is governed by law. Parliament is an autonomous arm of government, delete it and there will be no democracy.
So I found it strange that because we pointed out what I thought would be obvious to every Nigerian, that first, some of the members of the nine out of 24 who are already in the minority, four of them on take, have said they were invited for an informal conversation with the deputy governor, then they were bundled into a waiting vehicle and driven to the House of Assembly. And they were forced to take oath of office against their wish. One of them was wearing shorts where he went to buy suya. These are facts, the people have spoken and they are still alive, they are still protesting. Then somebody says that because I am the national chairman of the party, I ought to turn the other way. If it is wrong in Bauchi, for them to do secret inauguration, how can it be accommodated in Edo State? For me, these are the issues. And it is much shameful that in this case, all 24 are APC members.
As a former governor who had the privilege of presiding over Edo State for eight years, I will tell you that there is little or nothing a government can do in the final analysis. I was there at the Government House, Benin, not too far away from Anthony Enahoro’s building where the parliament seats, and I heard that the parliament met and decided to change its leadership. And there is nothing I can do about it; it is their privilege thing to do. So, I did not really know what the issues were. So, that is not between me and the governor, anybody suggesting that it is between me and the governor is just being mischievous. It is about what is right and what is wrong.
But we thought the issues were resolved when the governor visited you in the village during Sallah?
The governor has slept in my house countless times before he became governor, and even after he became a governor. He is my friend, he is my brother. But I am surprised that Nigerians don’t appreciate the fact that even as brothers, if I feel strongly that what my younger brother is doing is wrong, I should advise him quietly, and when I do, it becomes factional war, that impression is wrong.
Secondly, the governor knows that there is no quarrel between us, because what could have caused us to quarrel, I consciously made decision from day one to avoid it. Namely, I was never going to decide for him who he pays and I was never going to suggest to him who he appoints.
But is the governor on common grounds with you now?
That is the issue; the last time we had a meeting with Governors Bagudu, Fayemi, El-Rufai and Niyi Adebayo, we all agreed that, given the division in Edo APC now, the way to go is to have an all-inclusive meeting. We need to meet in a room and resolve our differences and come out for people to know that APC is one; you cannot solve problem without talking. The governors encouraged him to meet with me so we can arrange the meeting.
In fact, the governors offered to accompany us to Edo State to hold meeting with all the groups so that we iron out our differences. Unfortunately, as we speak, the governor has refused to convene that meeting. We have to work now on how to get such a meeting on because there is no way to solve such a problem without reaching out to the aggrieved parties.
Let me assure you that this governor is not under threat, it is those who are making money from the crisis, those I call merchants of confusion, they are only relevant when there is a fight. They are the ones that will tell the governor they want to impeach you. But the governor should ask himself what he has done to deserve impeachment.
But will you support him for a second term?
Have we gotten there? Let us get there first. As it stands right now, has he told you, he is contesting? And has he told you I am opposed to him?
He is allegedly being told he is going to be given the Ambode treatment?
Who told him that? What will I gain if Godwin does not run a second term, is Oshiomhole going to run a second term? If I did what I did, whether he acknowledged it or not, but people know what I did to support him to be, what comfort will I have if he is terminated half way? What is Ambode treatment? But let me tell you, Ambode treatment is not the worst treatment we have seen in the APC. What about M. Abubakar’s treatment in Bauchi. He won his primary, as a sitting governor, he lost the election. What about Adamawa State? Because of internal fighting the sitting governor lost. Although we are hopeful in both cases that the court will give us victory because we think we won the elections.
So, the point to me is that tickets are not the issue in politics. I think the real issue in Edo State is what anyone that loves the governor (Obaseki) should do what we tried to do, what those governors tried to do by reminding him that a divided house cannot stand. And the house remains divided if we do not make conscious effort to bring everybody together.
So, what I am doing is to encourage him and all our leaders to have an all-inclusive meeting of all APC leaders. Lock the door, speak truth to ourselves. What is simply happening is that there are people who think that their access to bread and butter will end if there is peace and so they encourage the governor wrongly. I have had meetings before where I urged the governor to carry people along. Whether you like it or not, if there is one business where one tree cannot make a forest, it is politics.
But do you think you will support him again as you did the first time?
If we have this meeting of all the various tendencies within the APC and remind ourselves of what unites us, rather than what divides us working together wholeheartedly, everybody being given a sense of belonging, there is no reason why we cannot continue to defeat PDP and there is no reason why Obaseki cannot win election. But let me say, even if Obaseki thinks of himself as an angel, and he is a candidate of a party that is fragmented, he will need a miracle. And that is why I still say to him, let’s embrace peace. But let me say this, it is absolutely incorrect for the governor to say anybody asked him to share money. If he insists, let him mention the name. But what I have advised him is that he should reconstitute the boards, let people become board members. The only way we can win elections is to show presence across the 192 wards in Edo State. I believe there is still enough time for the governor to make up by encouraging, in good faith, the peace effort that many of our mutual friends have offered so that we can give everybody a sense of ownership of the government. The beauty of democracy is that when you have elected a government, you will say that is my government.