An APC stalwart in Edo State, a legal practitioner and media guru, Barr. Osa Director, in an interview with Olanireti Olusegun gave a SWOT analysis of all major factors and characters in the polity of Edo State. He emphasised on the sacrosanct victory of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and how the APC standard bearer started the battle against godfatherism in the state. And his take on the Buhari/APC led federal government.
Q. Can you give us a brief insight into your political sojourn so far in Edo State?
A. Well, it depends on if you are talking of recent political history, or you want me to take you back in time? Because I tried to run for Senate in 2011, Edo South Senatorial District under the Action Congress of Nigeria when a man I describe as Comarade Oshiomole because he is not a comrade, he is a comarade, Adams Oshiomole was governor, and of course there was no primaries and he messed up the whole thing and most of us got our nose blooded, you know by his mishandling of the whole process.
For me, I’m not a routine politician. As a matter of fact, I will get a court order to restrain anyone from calling me a politician. I’m just an interventionist. So I came back to my law practice and media relations practice. So that’s what I’ve been doing until recently that the governorship election of Edo state will be taking place on September 19, 2020. I will say that the coming election places me in a very awkward political position, in this sense that I’m opposed to godfatherism, I’m opposed to imposition. I’m opposed to people playing God, you know, so I was not enamored of the way and manner Adams Oshiomole treated Godwin Obaseki as the governor of the state because most of these people, all of them are known to us or are known to me. You know Adams Oshiomole, when he was a governor, he could not take one-tenth of all the nonsense he was dishing out to Obaseki, that is the truth, you know, so because of that I have sympathy for Obaseki, and then I also have people I respect very well, I won’t want to mention their names, who also have sympathy for Obaseki and who spoke to me. However, at the end of the day, a decision must be taken and that decision must reflect your principles and values in life. It must reflect some level of consistency. It must reflect your deep understanding of the politics of your state and who is ready to take it to the next level. Having done that assessment, I had no choice than to identify with my friend and brother and my strong political ally, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. I’ve known him for almost 40 years, way back to the University of Benin, when we were both in the famous Abuja hall. That’s ward 4, you know, and I’ve come to respect him and what he stands for politically.
Q. Okay, may we have any idea of your relationship with Obaseki because from what you’ve said so far, you said you have sympathy for him, that means you came from somewhere together?
A. No no no, you’ll be surprised, the truth is that I have never met Godwin Obaseki my Governor one-on-one, because like I told you I’m just an interventionist after the 2011 election, in 2016 too, as a member of the All Progressives Congress, I openly supported a campaign for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who was running under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, and also because of Mr. Adams Oshiomole, you know, the way he also conducted the primaries, you know, so I have never met Godwin but I just felt like I said, a man must be driven by certain values and principles in life and that I would not take the nonsense that Oshiomole was dishing out to him and since he was not ready to take it, he needed to be supported to put Oshiomole in check.
Q. Sir, but at a point you supported Obaseki openly…
A. No, I had empathy for Obaseki, the way he was treated.
Q. Okay, but in 2016, you noted that you openly supported Ize-Iyamu.
Q. Don’t you think you could be taken up for anti-party activities?
A. But Oshiomole knew he could not do that because the biggest anti-party activist is Adams Oshiomole and he does whatever pleases him or is in sync with his interests. The man is self-absorbed, you know, everything is about him and his interest so he could not have taken me for an anti-party, in any case if he had suspended me, it was not going to last forever, and his governorship was not going to last forever. He is no longer on the scene now. So I could jolly well and go back after his pronouncement.
Q. Let’s fast forward to now, in the next few days. There will be an election in Edo state, where will you place your bets?
A. Well, let me do a SWOT analysis on the two candidates. Governor Obaseki prior to 2016 was an unknown quantity politically, although he was Economic Adviser to Governor Oshiomole, but that was not an executive position, but after he became governor, the fact that he resisted the advances and domineering nature of Oshiomole endeared him to me and I will say that he has also done well in some areas. If you are a critical assessor, these areas that he is said to have done well are things that are taken for granted in a normal democratic setting like regular payment of teachers’ salaries and pensioners, but because people like Oshiomole never did, it is a big deal and we have to acknowledge that. To that extent, we know, he found favour among the downtrodden low level workers, pensioners and teachers, you know, so that’s his biggest strength, but he has very poor human relations and man-to-man or inter-personal management capacity, he is poor, if not non-existent. And of course, you can also see that he does not have the gift of the gab, you know.
As for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, since 1999, he has been the issue in Edo politics. He has been a constant reference point and like one of us said openly that from 1999 till date either you have been elected or you have been appointed into a political position in Edo state, 70 to 80% of such persons have been premature of Osagie Ize-Iyamu. And when I ran for elections, I don’t want to talk about my assessment of him before then and interactions as a student union activist, you know, when I ran for election in 2011, I can say it without any equivocation that Osagie Ize-Iyamu came across as a very honest principled and blunt politician, he is blunt but firm, he tells you as it is, he was about the only politician who consistently and doggedly stood by me and fought my cause that the state needs people of my character, of my exposure, of my influence and of my pedigree, for God’s sake. I’m not an idiot, I cannot forget such, and everything he told me from day one came to pass. Unlike Oshiomole, who was lying through his teeth and making promises that he could not and was not even interested in fulfilling, offering one position to 20 persons. If you go to Ize-Iyamu and say you want to run for a particular position, he will tell you straight up and say my friend, why do you think you’re qualified for this position, please you are not, and he will tell you why you are not in his own estimation, and he will tell you, please you can still go ahead and contest for the party primaries, but I’m only telling you my personal assessment of you, he is that blunt.
For me, if you know my pedigree, I should be in love with outspoken people, I love people who are outspoken, like I always tell everyone, if you have anything against me, including my staff, just tell me, don’t be insultive so that I know where I stand with you and Osagie Ize-Iyamu is that kind of politician and those kinds of politicians are rare and he is a dogged fighter. And he is very very cerebral, unlike Adams too who has a complex and is scared of intellectuals and independent minded people, Osagie attracts intellectual people because he believes that no matter your intellectual capacity, you will also have something to learn from him, just like he also has something to learn from. And he shared one of the positive traits of Tinubu, the ability and capacity to identify talent and nurture greatness in others. Osagie Ize-Iyamu is not afraid of making somebody great. He won’t be scared out. Oh this guy could be greater than me, in short, it would be his pride, so for that, the man is a grassroot politician, if you wake up Osagie ize-Iyamu and tell him to name five persons in the 192 wards of Edo State, he would name 20 and these are his acolytes, people he has worked with and I think that was where Governor Obaseki had a problem. He wasn’t really positioned, perhaps, he was not ready to learn. I love his approach to saying I don’t want to share money, I don’t believe in sharing money for politicians or any other persons for that matter, let the money remain for development but also patronize politicians who are contractors or who have something to offer, you understand, since all these things are not going to be done by spirits, they are going to be done by human beings, for the fact that a man is a politician, he has some expertise in certain areas does not mean you should not patronize him, so those are things to people, these are the qualities that Osagie Ize-Iyamu possessed in abundance. Like I said in my interview to SUN in 2016 when they were running for election, and in terms of political sagacity and acumen, if Osagie Ize-Iyamu is in Tokyo, Godwin Obaseki will still be in Lagos trying to board a flight, that’s how wide the difference is.
Q. The support of this same Oshiomole, with the “questionable character”, people opine is one of the factors that is counting for Ize-Iyamu today…
A. Yes, you see, that is one brilliant thing that Governor Obaseki has done, he has been able to construct the narrative in that direction, you know, but let’s be fair to ourselves, Oshiomole is not on a ballot, and if we want to discuss political history, let’s start from the beginning not halfway. Did this same Oshiomole in 2016 not impose Godwin Obaseki on the party and the people of Edo State, so what is strange now? And this same man is coming out to say I am sorry kneeling down publicly, a governor who spent 8 years says I am sorry, I misled you people. This is something that is graceful for a man to admit the wrong he did and try to walk to correct it and I can tell you that Ize-Iyamu is known to everyone including Oshiomole, that is why he is fighting seriously into a shock to correct the mistake of 2016.
Ize-Iyamu won that election, I was in Benin throughout, they had to postpone the governorship election on the eve of the ordinarily scheduled date because all the indices pointed to the fact that Ize-Iyamu was coasting to victory in the land slide and at the end of the day, Ize-Iyamu still won that election but like we said I’m a lawyer too, when Supreme Court says no, there is no appeal and Ize-Iyamu decided to appeal to God. On September 19, 2020, the people of Edo State are going to witness the judgement of God. The crown that was stolen from Ize-Iyamu is going to be returned to him.
Q. APC has been in government for 12 years, now they are still clamouring for the same power. You as a party stalwart, a chieftain, an authority in Edo politics, what do you think APC is going to be doing differently and particularly now that Ize-Iyamu is coming in?
A. You see, when you’re talking party politics, you must take into consideration the historicity and peculiarity of your environment. In Nigeria today, there are no differences between all the political parties, there are only differences in personality. They just use parties as a vehicle to get to power and if that personality is strong, visionary, committed, he can kill party politics just like you had in Lagos under Babatunde Fashola and even Ambode today that Lagos is a model because you have somebody who had a capacity and I know that that is what is going to happen in Edo state, if you, the people of Edo state decide to vote for Osagie Ize-Iyamu, forget about the party.
I will tell you point blank that nationally, the government of President Buhari is a failure, you can not hide away from that, it is a failure. I mean, that I am an APC man does not mean I shouldn’t say the truth. The government has failed but there are still some of the state governments that are doing well, and I believe in the capacity we experience, the intellectual tolerance and exposure of Ize-Iyamu to be able to drive Edo state to the next level. People say Godwin Obaseki has done well, yes, that’s agreed, but like I always tell people, nothing is so good that it cannot be better. Ize-Iyamu will do better.
Q. A bit to the other side now, earlier you identified the strengths of Obaseki and his flaws, but do you completely agree with Adams Oshiomole when he noted that Obaseki is a disaster?
A. That’s not true, there are some areas Oshiomole himself is a disaster, you know, no man is perfect, just like he also succeeded in the areas of planting soil, setting infrastructure in Edo state, so in the same vein, you cannot call Obaseki a total disaster, there are areas he has done well. Another thing I forgot to mention that endeared Obaseki to me was the policy of curtailing the influence of agberos and outlaws in Edo state. How can agberos and outlaws be collecting taxes around in a state and those were the people that Oshiomole empowered. He militarized the politics of Edo State. I mean, people were scared of their lives, in that area Oshiomole was a disaster.
Q. But as a legal practitioner, if you look at how Obaseki managed the crisis in the House of Assembly, what will you say about him?
A. That was part of the biggest problem he had, you know in the sense that, you see, there’s a difference between law and morality but both are supposed to complement each other. Legally, what he did, there was nothing wrong with it. The Constitution did not state the time frame that the governor can issue a proclamation, so if he likes, let him issue it 12 midnight, you know, but morally is that right? Did you contact all the other members? And like the 17 members have been saying that most of them were even prevented physically from going to the venue, so I think that was a wrong step.
Q. So the 17 members who have constituted themselves and believe that they are the assembly now, as a lawyer do you think they are on the side of the law, do they have the law on their side?
A. I am told that there is a subsisting judgement on that, that has declared their seats vacant and the 17 lawmakers have appealed against that judgment. As a lawyer, as a journalist, as a stakeholder in Edo and a law abiding citizen, I would appeal to them and everyone that they should allow the wheel of Justice run its full course. Let us wait for the outcome of the appeal. Nobody should resort to self-help.
Q. Now, political harlotery is something that politicians are usually accused of, today, they are here, tomorrow they are there, sometimes you were in the APC and another time you were with the PDP supporting Ize-Iyamu, does that fit what you did?
A. Quite frankly, I thought you were going to commend me for my consistency, because since I was born, I’ve always carried the party card of one political party, ACN which became APC, like I explained that in Nigeria today. There are really no differences except we are deceiving ourselves, between all the political parties, you know, it is not the party we grew up and met our fathers and grandfathers like Awolowo playing, if you say you are UPN, people know where you stand, if you say you are NPN, people know where you stand, but today you are APC in the afternoon, in the night you are PDP, but for me, I’ve been consistent all my life. ACN which became APC. Now, what happened 2016, was a personal rebellion against the domineering character of Adams because I am one of those who maintain that I cannot subjugate my political destiny into the hands of a mere factory hand. So for that, I said I cannot play ‘CC’ to Oshiomole and I know the capacity of Ize-Iyamu.
So even as a member, I didn’t resign my membership of the APC, I supported Ize-Iyamu and like you earlier questioned, why did they not suspend me at the party activity, perhaps they know the kind of person I am and they respected my views and I wasn’t the only person, we had a lot of people who did it. I don’t want to mention their names because I didn’t take their permission. You know, people are even still going to do it. Was Obaseki not a member of APC? Overnight, he is the flagbearer of PDP, that’s the nature of politics in Nigeria, which is very very unfortunate. But I single myself out as having been consistent. You should commend me, in 2016, I supported Ize-Iyamu and it is one of the reasons I am still saying no, I have not seen any change in this man, so I still stand to identify with those values and qualities that I see in him because for me, it is personality that drive governance presently not the parties. So because I believe in his personality and his capacity, I have to support Ize-Iyamu, I’ve been consistent my brother, you should give me some accolades.
Q. So, let’s talk about the elections, because the election is just staring at us in the face, but there have been remuneration on both sides about violence and all that, now, looking at the complexity of what we have here, are we going to have a free and fair election, where the vote of the masses will count?
A. It is my prayer that we do and I am sure we will in the sense that the sophistication of the average Edo voter has improved and then you also look at the fact that in this period of COVID-19, there is going to be better position in the sense that you know, social distancing and what have you, so I assure you that it will be better organized. I’m not sure they are going to tolerate a situation where all kinds of party thugs troop in the collation center and the rest, so with that I believe we are going to have a free and fair election. It is my prayer and it is my insistence that we should have a free and fair election because I know that in a free and fair election, forget about the propaganda you have seen, Ize-Iyamu is going to clinch the governorship title.
Q. A few days ago, the Oba of Benin, called a parley to broker truce and after then, just yesterday, Shaibu still went ahead throwing stones at Oshiomole. Do you think Oshiomole, Shuaibu, Obaseki will sheath their swords?
A. Yeah, that is a flash point that nobody can underestimate but I must tell you one thing that is probably not in public domain or even if it is in public domain, it is unspoken, Oshiomole and Shaibu know themselves deeply, there is an extent they will fight, even if you don’t separate them, two of them will separate themselves, they can’t fight beyond a certain point, you will always hear Shuaibu saying Oshiomole is his father, even information I get is from Oshiomole’s home, the same way, Shuaibu’s father is Oshiomole’s father, so don’t be carried away. This is where I advise Edo youth, they should not allow anyone to use them for election violence. We are all friends and brothers, at the end of the day, this people will sit down and crack jokes over their using you, the youths to go and rig election while their children are abroad or in comfy offices in Lagos and Abuja, so it is my advice that the youths should not allow themselves to be used no matter what they will pay them. If anyone calls you for election violence, tell them to bring their children. If they don’t have children, they should bring their brothers and sisters to lead or they should even lead.
After-all, when we were in the struggle, we always see Gani Fawehimin in the forefront going for protest because he does not tell you my boys go and do it, no, he is a general that leads, if Shaibu says he wants violence, then his people should tell him that please, lead us, if Oshiomole says he wants violence, his people should tell him that please, lead us, if they are able to do that, I can tell you Shaibu and Oshiomole will not fight.
Q. There has been complain about infrastructural development in Edo State up till now, if your ally emerges as the governor of the state, what will he do differently?
A. I think it will be better, if you ask Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu this question, however I want to just say that there is something unique he has done in Edo politics or even Nigeria. People just come and say vote for me, I want to contest, vote for you for what? Because you are handsome, because you are tall, because Ize-Iyamu is a huge guy, we call him tallest, you know, but he went and produced a document called the SIMPLE agenda. That simply is an acronym, you know, so it is a 6 point agenda, you know and said this is what I want to do, hold me by it and it is now the duty of Edo electorates who I believe will receive a lot of civic and political education along the line to hold Ize-Iyamu accountable.
Q. But almost all candidates do that…
A. No, no like for instance, with due respect to my Governor, Obaseki, he never had one. It was when Ize-Iyamu kept challenging that he put one document together called MEGA which in fairness to him, I have not been able to have a copy to read, and Oshiomole didn’t do that anyway, how many people do that? Have you seen any document from Babajide Sanwo-Olu? They don’t do that, so Ize-Iyamu has done something unique and I believe that every 6 months, they should hold Ize-Iyamu accountable if he’s going off line because he’s human. Say, no my brother, stay in lane and I’m using this opportunity to advise the elders in Edo to have an Edo’s elders advisory council made up of professionals, achievers not those who will be looking for Ghana must go bag, you know who will be meeting every quarter to assess the governor and then tell him, you have done well here, you need to improve here. You haven’t done anything here, you need to start something because it is also our responsibility, it is not left for us to say yeah, a governor didn’t perform, are you not paying tax? Why can’t you ask for what your tax is being used for? So we should also hold our leaders accountable. So it is the duty of Edo people to hold Ize-Iyamu accountable based on his SIMPLE agenda.
Q. The larger percentage of the electorate are downtrodden and from what you’ve said so far, those people seem to have sympathy for Obaseki, how will that work for Ize-Iyamu?
Q. No, you cannot say that. You see I thank God this interview is being held before the election, so that when Ize-Iyamu clears the 18 local government people will not come and be raising fire and brimstone and raising air-splitting allegations. The truth is I have done my analysis of Obaseki supporters, 80% of them are what I will refer to as audio voters, social media voters you know, they are very outspoken on social media and from that 80%, about 40-50% of them are basically in diaspora. They don’t have PVC and they are not in Nigeria, so they are not going to vote, they have all the resources to be making the noise, they have all the time, all the free Wi-Fi, to be making all the noise on social media and you think Edo state is an Eldorado and everybody is one way for Obaseki, no. And then, the remaining 30-40% are also what I call internal diaspora. They are not based in Edo state, they are in Lagos, Portharcourt, Abuja. I’m telling you this from experience. Most of my cousins in the US, not all, are supporting Obaseki and they’re not coming to vote, but when some of them are shown facts of what is on the ground not PowerPoint presentation, they will change their mind and then you also discover that like the ones who are in Lagos, Abuja and the rest, they did not register, but I told you, one of the qualities of Ize-Iyamu is that he is a grass root politician and a dogged mobiliser.
Take an example of me, I’m based in Lagos, but I registered in Benin. I’ve been to Benin several times and these few days to the election now, I’m based in Benin. I will vote, I have in-laws, brothers, sisters and they have children who are adults, I’m also a role model, by the special grace of God to my family, when I talk, they listen, I’ll be able to convince some people but those people are out there in US or abroad shouting, not able to influence any person or mobilize any person to go to the polling station to vote. Like that day, none of my brothers or sisters or their children who are of voting age will be at home. A lot of voters who voted for Ize-Iyamu in 2016, were angry that he was cheated and they are still with him. They are just waiting for an opportunity to say payback. You see, the only minus in this whole thing is Adams Oshiomole.
Q.That is where I’m going sir, I would want to know how Ize-Iyamu was able to secure Oshiomole’s support and secondly if peradventure he emerges as the governor of the state, don’t you think there will be fire on the mountain because you can’t change the man in Oshiomole, from what you have said so far. You can collect what a man holds in his hands but what a man holds to his heart, you can’t take from him. How will he be able to manage such victory, if there will be any at all?
A. The first part of your question, that is a plus, that tells you about the tenacity of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu that he is a man you can’t ignore in Edo politics, Oshiomole had to literarily eat his vomit and admit that this guy is sound, this guy has capacity, this guy has crowd, this guy has influence, this guy loves Edo State and this guy is trying to change the face of Edo State.
That’s why he went to him and saw in him that this is the man. So that is a very big plus and that is why I tell people who always want to insist on the past. But the issue is why are you telling half truths? Agreed in using your own words, he damaged him in the past, but in the present, he has repaired him, he has coated him with gold, why are you not saying that? My first degree is in biochemistry, we have a balanced equation when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water. If the equation is not balanced, you won’t get water, H²O, you won’t get it. So, let Edo people not be subsumed in that narrow-minded self-serving narrative of Oshiomole. What other glory and grace of God can a man ask for when somebody who said you are not a pastor is coming out to say sorry, you are a pastor ordained by the Redeemed Church of God, somebody who said, oh you read law but you didn’t go to law school and he was presented with the call to bar Certificate dated October 23rd 1986 or 1987 that he presented to the APC clearing committee, Oshiomole said oh, he is sorry, what else? So let Edo people also look at it from that positive angle that look this man is apologizing now that I lied, I was wrong and he has gone back to this man and said look you are the man to take the state to the next level.
Talking about the second aspect of your question. You see, Ize-Iyamu has said it, and that’s also a credit to his character, when Oshiomole was taking my brother and my governor, Obaseki round, people were saying that we were cartoons and going to be feeding bottle governor. Obaseki throughout the campaign never rebutted, Ize-Iyamu in an interview with Arise TV, Channels TV, BBC Pidgin answered this question point blank. I would not be a godson to anyone, he said they should go and ask Adams Oshiomole, Adams will not tell you that he’s the godfather of Ize-Iyamu, he is not, he can’t be and will never be. Ize-Iyamu I know, he has said it, God is his godfather, especially when you see that the man is also a pastor. You see when people say that Oshiomole will be Ize-Iyamu’s godfather, it sounds insulting to some of us who know the political history of these men and the origin and how Oshiomole became a governor. I told you that since 1999 when this fourth republic came, Ize-Iyamu has been a constant denominator, a constant figure, a reference point in Edo politics, he has been the issue, 1999-2003, he was Chief of Staff, 2003-2007, he was SSG. 2007 when Oshiomole wanted to run, he went to Ize-Iyamu to plead that I heard you wanted to run sir, please, I’m interested in running, Ize-Iyamu said no, I’m a fair minded person, I’m from Edo south, my governor Igbinedion just did eight years from Edo South, you’re from Edo North, so I will support you. He gave him the structure, which was called “Grace Movement” with the motto: ‘No man is God’. Ize-Iyamu started the fight against godfatherism in Edo state, when he formed the Grace Movement with the motto: ‘No man is God’, to tackle the late chief Anenih of blessed memory. Oshiomole only continued the fight that Ize-Iyamu started, so how can a man who fought godfatherism come and be a victim of godfathers, this is not possible. It’s not tenable, it will not happen, it will never happen and it cannot happen, and I tell you as far as some of us are alive, if that happens, even if na juju oshiomole use, let me be blunt, we go clear that juju and juju no dey hold pastor.
Q. We are going to take you on your words concerning that statement.
On the final note, you have fought many battles, you are a survivour, from the military era, you were a pro-democracy activist, you were at the forefront and you went through all these things and this is where you are today. Is this the Nigeria you fought for?
A. Certainly no, certainly no, it is quite lamentable, dejecting, frustrating, embarrassing, disappointing to the extent that a lot of people ask me these questions every day and even those far older than me, even the sets of my father, you know when young men, I was not married then, when you were ready to give up your life, you know and all that, no sir, it is not, I am disappointed. That was what I told you just now, I won’t mince my words, the government of Buhari is a failure, quote me anywhere, Lai Mohammed is a big brother, but he should stop lying to Nigerians, even though I know he’s doing his job. You know, but how can you be coming up with hate speech and all this rubbish. Lai Mohammed and some of us were all closing NADECO route to go and meet in UK with the likes of Afikuyomi, Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was in UK then, Kayode Fayemi who started Radio Kudirat, Ike Okonta, myself, people like Oyegun were all abroad, Akinrinola, there’s none of them that I never interviewed, so when I saw the stress we all went through and what is happening today, it is very disappointing, but you just have a choice, just one choice, either you give up or you continue, I’ve chosen to continue to do my best, I’m not perfect, but I’ve chosen just to do my best and that is why it’s not every appointment that we are offered that we take, that is the truth but I just believe that, like I was always telling people during Abacha’s era, one of the things that sustained me was that I knew something was going to snap because he can’t rule a society that way, by the grace of God Nigerians will be delivered, that’s the truth.
Q. It’s been nice talking to you sir.
A. Thank you very much.