Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on the forthcoming governorship election in the state, chances of his principal, Governor Godwin Obaseki who is seeking reelection under the platform of the All Progressives Congress and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
The Edo state governorship election has been scheduled for September 19 and the primaries will hold in June. How prepared is your principal, Governor Godwin Obaseki?
We have not left any stone unturned in preparation for the primaries. The governor of Edo state, His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki is one hundred percent ready. We are certain that we are getting the APC ticket and we are also confident that Governor Obaseki is going to fly the flag of the APC during the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Edo state. Considering the approval rating that the governor currently enjoys in the state, we are also very optimistic that Governor Obaseki will be re-elected on September 19 when the governorship election will take place and he will be sworn-in on the 12th of November 2020 for a second term.
There is this belief that getting the APC’s ticket will be a herculean task for him as the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole has already penciled down one of his loyalists to clinch the ticket. What do you say to that?
That is what people loyal to the national chairman have been saying. They are saying they want to see how the governor will win the primary with Oshiomhole as national chairman. They are also saying even if Obaseki wins, they will go and change the results and send the name of their preferred candidate to INEC. But I think any loyal member of APC should have learnt a thing or two from what has happened in some states across the country. They must have learnt that impunity does not go unpunished. Under Oshiomhole as national chairman, they perpetrated impunity in Zamfara state and the party was severely punished for it. The same also happened in Rivers and we were not even allowed to participate in the governorship election. Recently, we all saw what happened in Bayelsa state; not only was the primaries badly managed, the candidates presented to INEC by the national leadership of the party were defective but because of personal interests and the knack for impunity, they went ahead and fielded them. We won the election but a day to the inauguration; we lost at the courts again. So, if you look at what has happened to the APC in the past year or two, you will see that the real owners of the APC who are the actual leaders of the party will need to see to the fact that impunity becomes a thing of the past. So, to that extent, we don’t believe that Adams Oshiomhole whether he is still in position as national chairman during the primaries will have the power to tinker with the outcome of the results or cause further problems for the party. We know that once things are done in an orderly manner and in accordance with the rules and due diligence, the governor will emerge the winner of the primaries by a very wide margin. We have no worries at all. The structures of the party in the state are firmly under the control of the governor and that has guaranteed us the APC ticket going into the elections in September.
The media has also reported about a gang- up against the governor’s re-election by four aspirants. Are you worried about that development?
There is no threat from these people at all. Yes, there is a gang-up but it is a gang-up of very weak candidates. The only one that could have been considered a very formidable candidate among them was Osagie Ize-Iyamu who is from the PDP. But the reality is that he has been rejected from where he was before; so he decided to seek refuge in APC. He tried to join the APC illegally and that gave him serious problems. Above all, one major albatross against him is that he is currently standing trial for corruption; N750m fraud charge was preferred against him by the EFCC and this is similar to the trial of Olisa Metuh, former PDP spokesman. They were both accused of collecting money from the former National Security Adviser to prosecute elections. Just imagine if Metuh is the candidate of a political party in an election, with the jail term he got, what would have happened to his candidacy? We believe that based on the corruption allegation hanging on his neck, Ize- Iyamu is out of the race. He has to first clear his name before the EFCC before thinking of aspiring to be governor. Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying he doesn’t have a right to contest but fielding him as a candidate with such a weighty allegation against him by the EFCC may land the APC in trouble just like it happened in Bayelsa.
The other three aspirants joining Ize-Iyamu in ganging up against the governor are extremely weak candidates. Pius Odubu is not a grassroots politician. If you can recall, he was deputy governor to Oshiomhole for eight years, yet nobody knew his name. Chris Ogiemwonyi is also not a force to reckon with in the politics of Edo today. The last among them, General Charles Airhiavbere is also encumbered with corruption allegations. In fact, if you check the records, Oshiomhole accused him of stealing money from the Army during the campaigns. So, these are extremely weak candidates. They cannot compete against the governor. The party, both at the state and national levels know that the fastest route to the APC winning the 2020 governorship election in Edo state is Godwin Obaseki. So, why should we change the winning formula?
There is also the talk of the ‘Ambode treatment’ for the governor. How will you respond to that?
The question you should ask them is ‘who is going to bell the cat? Who will give the governor the Ambode treatment? Is it the embattled national chairman or his foot soldiers in the EPM? In the case of former governor Akinwunmi Ambode,it is clear what happened. He did not have a firm grip on anything in Lagos state. He has no firm grip of the political structures in the state; he has no firm grip of the House of Assembly and also, he has no firm grip of his cabinet. During the governorship primaries, his Deputy Governor and the SSG voted against him. Here in Edo, you all know that Comrade Phillip Shaibu, the deputy governor is firmly and solidly behind his principal, the governor. Not only that the SSG, Chief of Staff and the state chairman of the party, Barrister Anselm Ojezua are solidly behind the governor. In Lagos, all the party elders were against Ambode but here in Edo, notable leaders, like the irrepressible and highly charismatic Charles Idahosa, a former Commissioner for Information in this state are rooting for Obaseki. During a recent interview, Obaseki said APC should be prepared to kiss Edo goodbye if they deny Obaseki the ticket. The former national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is also firmly in support of the governor. So, there is no similarity between what happened in Lagos and what is happening in Edo state. Obaseki, like I said before is firmly and effectively in control of both the party structure and the government in Edo state. In the primaries, he is going to win seamlessly and fly the party’s flag in the governorship election in September.
You recently issued a statement that Oshiomhole and the EPM are planning to organise massive protest aimed at causing unrest. What plans are you putting in place to prevent a breakdown of law and order?
The first step we took as a responsible government is to first alert the public and make them know the evil plans of these people. They have been doing all sorts of things aimed at causing unrest in the state. They started by organising rallies which became violent and was subsequently banned by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). After that one failed, they started detonating explosives and bombs in their own houses and giving people false impression that they were under siege. After that one also failed, they are now planning to organise demonstrations across the state. So, they are just evolving from one aggressive and irresponsible behavior to another. So, their latest plan now is to use campaign of calumny and orchestrated protests to make it seem as if the state is ungovernable. We want to assure Edo people and Nigerians that the government is aware of all that they are doing. We are one step ahead of them every time they take a decision to cause problem in the state. Whenever they come up with any idea to breach public peace, we go ahead of them to ensure that their plans don’t come to fruition. We are also going to ensure that they won’t succeed in their latest plans to disrupt the peace of the state. We have alerted the Presidency, the security agencies, the leaders of our party both in the state and national level as well as the indigenes of the state that this is what they are planning but we are a step ahead of them to ensure that it doesn’t pull through.
I just want to call on all Edo people to be calm and continue to support the governor like they have always done. We are very happy with the people of Edo state essentially because they are highly sophisticated people who can see through lies and tricks from some individuals who just want to work for their own selfish interests. They see and appreciate what the governor is doing. As at today, this governor has nothing less than 80 percent approval ratings among the people of Edo state. That is why we are so confident that we are going to win the election by a very resounding margin and it is going to be a landslide victory for the APC and for Governor Godwin Obaseki.
_Oshiomhole’s camp recently accused the governor of sponsoring an attack against him at the airport when he visited Benin few days
ago. What is your response to that?
If you follow that story very well, you will realise that even a former president, Goodluck Jonathan paid a visit almost at the same time when Oshiomhole came into the state to disrupt the peace of the state. Jonathan put a call across to the governor to notify him that he is coming to his territory. After completing his assignment in Edo, he paid the governor a courtesy visit just to show respect to that office. Why can’t Oshiomhole humble himself and do same or is he bigger than a former president?
He said he can’t notify the governor because he will use the information to monitor his movement and kill him. How will you respond to that?
The governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state. If anything happens to Oshiomhole within Edo state, the first person that will be called to question is the governor. So, it is in the governor’s best interest to ensure that Oshiomhole is safe in Edo state. We know Oshiomhole’s behavior very well. He is someone who causes problems and has a knack for violence. That was why we want to know when he is around so as to ensure that he is properly secured and protected, so that nothing happens to him. In all fairness, because of security of lives and properties and the ordinary people who are going about their normal businesses, Oshiomhole must endeavour to alert the state government and the security operatives within the state that he is coming to town whenever he is coming so that there is safety and security during the period that he is going to be around.
The governor has received endorsements from notable PDP chieftains both within and outside the state and it has been rumoured that it is part of his defection plan to the PDP. Is the governor on his way out of APC?
The endorsement traverses party lines. In Edo state, Obaseki has performed creditably well. He has transformed the state and his behaviour as a person is very welcoming and civilised. He has proven to be a governor for all, without discriminating against those who voted for him or not. There is almost no person who knows Obaseki that will not like him and want him to continue the good works he is doing. Those endorsements he is getting from chieftains of the PDP even outside the state has nothing to do with plans by the governor to defect. He has made it quite clear that he is not leaving the APC for anywhere. He has said it repeatedly that he owns the structure in the APC. The APC is the ruling party at the national level so, why should we leave such a party especially when we are in full control of the structure in the state and go to another party to contest. That to me makes no sense. We appreciate all these PDP chieftains who have decided to look beyond party sentiments to take a stand for somebody who is making life better for the people and saying ‘ This man has justified the mandate given to him by the people of Edo and we want him to continue’.
What are your expectations from the Reconciliation Committee now headed by Chief Bisi Akande?
First and foremost, we have very high regards for the person of Chief Bisi Akande. We believe that his pedigree and experience both in politics and governance is highly valuable to the task given to him to reconcile aggrieved members of the party. He is one of those Nigerians who have raised himself above pecuniary influences, partiality, illegality and lawlessness. To that extent, we believe that he is going to firmly steer the course of that responsibility and propose something that is workable. We also believe that other members of the committee are credible and we trust their integrity and sense of good judgment. We believe that they will look into the eyes of powerful people and tell the truth and they will come up with a solution that is workable for the party and the country.
Lastly, a chieftain of the party loyal to Oshiomhole, Tony Kabaka has claimed that his property was demolished because he refused to join the governor’s camp. How will you react to that?
Demolition of illegally sited properties within the state started at least one and half years ago. His own is just one of the many houses that were demolished. These demolitions have happened in different parts of the city. Just because he is politically connected with some people does not imply that he should be treated like a sacred cow. His house was demolished because it is in violation building rules in the state. What he needs to do is prove anything to the contrary. So, we want to restate that the removal of the illegal property belonging to one Tony Kabaka was not done out of malice. It was done in line with the activities of the Ministry of Physical Planning which is going about removing properties that are blocking waterways, drainages and so on. You can recall the flood challenge we have in Edo state. So, that is the reason why that property was removed. Anybody can raise any other allegation but the truth is what it is. The property was removed like all other properties that violated the building laws in the state.