Oshiomhole: State of Nigerian Economy – We Need National Conversation

• The Edo man has regained confidence, there is no question now that the state is capable of developing

In this interview, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State spoke about the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, his quarrel with his predecessor, former Governor Lucky Igbinedion and his strategy to ensure that he hands over Osadebey Avenue to an All Progressives Congress (APC) governor in 2016

-By Simon Ebegbulem

We have not heard anything yet on the committee set up by the Federal Government to look into the books of the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party, PDP led administration and you are the leader of that committee. What is the situation?

Like we told Nigerians earlier, we have appointed PPMG to carry out a professional forensic audit and we have to allow them to finish the audit and the number of parastatals involved such as the NNPC, NPA. They are many. So, we have to allow professionals to carry out the audit. It is beyond what you can do on part time basis.

That has been accepted by the National Economic Council and when they finish their work the report will be published and government will take action on the basis of the report. The report, I can assure you, will not be like the previous one. Under President Buhari you will not investigate anything and allow the report to gather dust on the shelf.

But Nigerians are still suffering fuel scarcity, epileptic power supply, which we thought will be over under an APC led administration. What is your party doing about these problems?

The President just inaugurated the National Executive Council made up of men and women of enormous strength and capacity. After our governors meeting, we said there may be need for a national conversation on the state of the economy. But the truth is that some of these things you are beginning to see are the medium to the long term manifestations of the abuses of yesterday.

Just like any public policy, there is always a time lag between when you take an action and when the result of that action begins to manifest. So the massive looting that took place in the recent past has created a huge hole in the national treasury with a huge debt profile and that has affected the finances of the state. I don’t think anyone will be fair to think that under a few months of this government all the misdeeds of the PDP over a period of 16 years will be wiped out. I am sure that the Federal Government is addressing the problems one after the other.

Business of governance

We have ministers, many of them are not strangers to public service, they are people of proven track record. That is why I diasgree with some some commentators saying we already know these names. The business of governance is not for apprenticeship and when a country has been run down like the way the Nigerian economy was run down, you are not going to bring untested materials to come and do apprenticeship at the Federal level, that is not the place you try knew hands. The situation requires tested hands and that is what the President has assembled. Very many of them have track record of performance in public office, so they are not strangers to governance and they have shown passion for the country. I believe that we have a team that inspires confidence and I am very confident that they have what it takes to drive the changes that APC promised.

The opposition PDP has accused the APC led government of targeting only the opposition in its war against corruption, what is your take on that?

Don’t forget when PDP was in power they were always stories about selective application but my argument is simple, if you monopolise power for 16 years and you were in charge and the Nigerian project was mismanaged and compromised, is it not those who were in charge that you will go after? You want to go after those who were not in-charge? The PDP had monopoly of governance for 16 years so they have to be responsible for the mismanagement of the economy and the massive looting that characterized the period. But you know Nigerians, once they are in trouble they whip up sentiments. If they don’t say it is ethnic they will say it is selective war against corruption.

For me, I don’t think it is selective. It is when they can prove that an innocent person has been charged that this can make sense. I had said this when I was in the NLC even the period Nuhu Ribadu was EFCC chairman, I said, is it really worth debating, ‘if some armed robbers are shouting in court that my Lord we are not the only armed robbers, why didn’t they arraign other armed robbers?’ But I said the fact that there are other armed robbers does not mean that those arraigned should be excused.

People are saying for seven years you never said anything about your predecessor, former Governor Lucky Igbinedion, until now, what went wrong?

I think there are some truth in that because in the past the PDP had accused me, why are you not mentioning the name of the former governor and his father who presided over the state for eight years? And I said I don’t know about the former governor or the father of the former governor but I know about the political party that governed this state, which is the PDP.

Political environment

But I think what happened was that as the political environment got more liberalized with the change that has taken place at the national level, there is political re-alignment of forces and those who could not cope with the logic and politics of change have relocated to PDP and they were the people who also perpetrated evil in PDP. Now you find them taking advantage of the social media to try to change history and  throw the mess they forced on the state at my direction. For example, one of  their perpetual governorship aspirants, said the industries they set up because he was the SSG then, that I ran the industries down, yet they know that not only did they use these things as conduit pipes to syphon money, they also know that from day one those industries never worked and they were not programmed to work.

The worst is that they sold them off at prices below cost. Now ITV which is owned by the Igbinedion family, dedicates substantial air time to recycling this false information and they kept  repeating them. I said okay now that the ITV is the main vehicle for falsifying this information, all I needed to do is to ask the Commissioners to go and publish the facts. Namely, where were these industries established, which governor  sold them? It will show that it was the Igbinedion government that sold them. It will show that they sold them below the cost. So, if you did that how could you turn round to accuse me? It is like you commit murder and when I am passing by you say I was the one that killed the person.

For me, it was time to tell Edo people the truth. Everybody who lived in this state knows my endless battle with the PDP, you know how they killed my Principal Private Secretary Olaitan and the way the investigation was compromised.

Sometimes,I ask myself , who are you reporting to? And you know the fraud that was going on in Abuja, so there was no point reporting them to their criminal brothers. I said I will rather concentrate on what will bring comfort to the people of Edo state than on the misdeed of my predecessors.

However, that does not mean that  I will allow you to continue to recycle false information and misleading the public. They went on last time to say I beat up a Rev.Father thank God that the Catholic Church issued a statement that there was no such incident whatsoever. That is how far they went. They have gone on to say I have estates here and there, they even said within six months of my wife’s death I impregnated a girl.

Questionable circumstances

People who stole from the Edo state people are the ones throwing mud at me, I decided to call off the bluff and it will be of no use for me to end my tenure without speaking on those issues. Like the issue of $31 million, it was an operation they succeeded in taking that money out of Afribank through questionable circumstances.

Nobody gave me hand over note on that, it was through our internal audit effort that that withdrawal was discovered and we have been tracing it since them. I even hired some Senior Advocates of Nigeria to  check the Corporate Affairs Commission and see what legal windows exist for us to recover that money.

For me, I always stand on the side of Edo people because it is the greatest honour for someone of my back ground to be entrusted with the collective well being of the people of this state. So, I will not compromise public interest and I will not bow before anybody, I will respect  but not fear. Where people see fear I see challenges and challenges are to be overcome.

Up tillNovember 12, 2016, Edo state must be governed under the rule of law, nobody must say he is above the law. During his campaigns, President Buhari he said he was going to end impunity and as a proud member of APC and a believer in the mantra of change, it is the end of impunity and therefore the end of exemption. So, Mr Exemption has to accept that he can no longer continue, this is the end. And I have no apologies whatsoever.

The question in town is how will these developmental projects in the state be sustained after Oshiomhole, what efforts are you making to ensure that your legacies are not destroyed?

I don’t think it is a realistic thing for anyone to expect that an out gone governor can ensure that his successor sustains anything. That is not realistic. It is the responsibility of Edo people to ensure that the next governor takes the development of Edo to the highest level that he does better than my tenure. That is the responsibility of the Edo electorate, it not the responsibility of a predecessor to ensure that the successor performs, it is the people and that is the beauty of democracy.

I have always argued that democracy does not end at voting and counting and declaring results, it also entails an activist citizenry that engages the stewards that have been entrusted with the management of the affairs of state to hold them accountable and ensure that they don’t derail. Only Edo people can do that.

Enough materials

The only role I can play is to ensure that from now tillNovember 12, 2016, I remain faithful to the cause of Edo people and within my party like any other party member, I will play my part in seeking to have a say in the choice of APC candidate. And the good news is that the party has enough materials, very responsible and competent hands that are passionate about the development of this state. So we don’t lack materials in house in terms of intellect, capacity, we probably have much more than we need because we need one person.

I am very confident that the person that will emerge will be one that has passion for the state, the managerial competence to drive and ensure that the state witness more growth and development than during my time. What we have done over the years is trying to rediscover this state and giving our people confidence that Edo is viable.

Tasks before my successor: Today,  the Edo man has regained confidence, there is no question now that the state is capable of developing and that we can do something about the problem of infrastructure, flooding, restoring integrity to public schools, restoring integrity to public health care system. The challenge of the next governor  is to work on some feeder roads, we have done some of them but not all. The next governor will not need to work on Airport Road or Akpakpava road but he can connect all the adjoining streets. If the road we have done overt the past seven years, if the PDP did half of them in 10 years we would have added those ones to the ones we have done.

The problem we are having in Edo  today  is that PDP cannot show you one clean road with street light and drainage that they did that is still there. The only thing you can see are the ones Ogbemudia did. If the PDP had laid some foundations we would have gone far  today. We started from minu-minus to zero.

But the next governor is going to build on plus plus plus. The key answer to you question is that the people must be vigilant to ensure that the next governor remains focused.

And I am confident that the next governor will come from APC because the PDP has neither the messenger nor can they have a credible message.

Credible message

I know that we are living in a world of so called born again but like I said during the 7th anniversary, when a woman is found guilty of serial adultery in the community and 10 years later she says I have repented, I am now a Pastor, I shall commit no more adultery, can you entrust your wife to such a person? I know Edo people will answer that question in a resounding manner. No body can return Edo to Egypt and PDP cannot be the answer. And my joy is that the next election will be the easiest we shall ever have.

Of course we are not taking Edo people for granted but I said it because our main opponents have no credentials, and we will remind them of their history. Edo people have not forgotten what happened before seven years ago and the PDP have no control of the instrument of rigging they have always ruthlessly deployed. So for the first time they will be learning the language of canvassing for votes or winning votes. They will no longer be holding midnight meetings with Commissioner of Police, or INEC officials. I am looking forward to the election and I believe the wheel of progress cannot be put on the reverse any more. Edo has moved on and we have the duty to protect the gains we have made.

-[VANGUARD]