My testimony in Edo, by Oshiomhole
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole recently celebrated his seventh anniversary as governor of Edo State. His tenure ends next year. In this interview, he spoke on his achievements and other issues as reported by Alemma Ozoriuva-Aliu in Benin City.
The roads we have constructed are a consequence and the most fundamental thing I believe we have accomplished successfully. In the area of what I call laying the solid democratic political sub-structure because memories fade fast. When I was campaigning across the state in 2007, in many parts of the state, people will tell me ‘oga, don’t worry preaching to us, we already know you’, even elderly women and not too old, when they hear I am passing, they will come out and say, ‘them say you wan be governor, we dey here o, we ready to support because we know you, you dey fight for we, you do well for we body o, na you come know say kerosene na problem for we common people, dem say you dey fight, we dey see am for television and they come tell us say you wan be governor, we say this man if e come, then our problem don solve but our vote, dem no dey gree us vote, but we go pray o.’
I think that was the view of the average person even the elites here, people simply believe that the people I refer to as the three ruling houses and I don’t like to mention their names now because it is like saying what is tomorrow; everybody knows the three ruling houses, one in Edo Central, two in Edo South between them with one as the godfather-general who controls the other two and so for me, to move from that environment in which the votes don’t count and if you were to publish what headlines were in Edo in 2003, you will see things like: ‘There is no vacancy in Osadebey Avenue,’ says the godfather and that is final. He knows election will take place but the incumbent will remain and nobody can do anything about it. At that time in Edo state, they were grumbling aloud that the PDP controlled government was not performing and so knowing that the people are grumbling and yearning for replacement, the godfather said sorry, no vacancy and it came to pass.
So by the time I came in 2007, these people had entrenched themselves even more; they now had more resources, they had perfected their alliance, strengthened it with the police, SSS and INEC and so rigging was the name of the game. So for me, moving from a one-party state that was crudely and ruthlessly imposed on the people such that if you don’t have the anointment of the godfathers, then you have no political future to now get to a level where the local government where the godfather comes from is now being governed by a chairman elected on the platform of my party, the godfather that usually says go to court, now he went to court, he challenged that election and they lost. As we speak, a councillor who is elected on the platform of my party governs that godfather.
They became so embarrassed and so ashamed given the arrogance with which they celebrated rigging and you the media in my view, conspired to even elevate rigging to something to be celebrated when you all labelled him as ‘Mr. Fix.’ He wasn’t fixing roads, he wasn’t fixing schools, he was crudely manipulating the electoral process both in the state and outside the state in a way that the winners are always declared the losers and the losers, winners and so that he has capacity to make a rejected candidate accepted one and the accepted one rejected and impose him on the system. Now that we have succeeded in completely unfixing him, demoralise him politically, weaken him beyond recovery such that one of my aides described him as an overcooked political vegetable and the icing was this last general election, the Mr Fix as the BoT chair of a party that arrogantly insisted that it must impose itself on Nigerians for 60 years, their hold on power was terminated courtesy of the people of Nigeria which explains why Buhari is now the president. Now to be part of that small group fighting with bare hands with no one councillor on my party platform, no money, no connection or control on the instrument of rigging, to use the power of mobilisation, of communication, of organisation to uproot them and they are out in the local government level, they are out in the state and now they are out in the federal level, I believe my political mission is complete and like I have told people that are close to me, I have nothing more to prove.
I think that Edo people are owning up to one man one vote and they have also recognised that the quality and the capacity of the governor makes a lot of difference in terms of who gets what because people ask me, Comrade, but they told us that Edo is not viable, how come you are doing all of these and where are you getting the money from? So the people have seen what is possible and therefore they are not fools, you don’t need to think for them, they can evaluate. The other day, we had a colloquium. I decided to stay out of it to allow those who have been working with me to empanel and have a conversation with the people about 2016 because for me, that is the mistake some governors make. You want to have influence in the future by not discussing and you think by looking for a weakling or a yes man, you will have someone who has your vision. Why must it be my vision? It has to be what Edo people want and what are the issues, you have to have a conversation around the issues and that is what we did and all those who were aspiring to govern Edo state were in that hall; they had opportunities as panelists or as members of the audience to make contributions and we deliberately emphasised issues rather than persons and everybody had a chance to speak so people can ask themselves: who seems to understand these issues?
It is okay I want to build roads but how are you going to find the money, who are you going to use? It is not about knowing what the problems are. The key issue is the how and who has the capacity to address it. So that is the way I think the system should go and don’t forget that my own party’s constitution does not allow the governor, no matter who you think you are, it doesn’t allow you to appoint the candidate, you must go through the primaries and so the system will produce someone with policies on ground who will have to do what he has to do. Sometimes the problem is people talk about their fears, I will rather talk about my hopes.
Controversial land use charge
If I have to protect the poor, I must extract resources from the rich. In matured democracies, the real defining issue in political contestation is tax: who pays more, who pays less and what will it be used for? So when we introduced the land use charge, we know that those with property will fight because the more properties they have, the more burden they will carry under the law because it is based on per square metre; it is also based on number of houses and the nature of houses that you have; so it wasn’t something that we were surprised about.
They started this since 2012; they organised all sorts of protests, it is just that people forgot that once the law was passed, they made a huge noise out of it, they sponsored some persons, I remember the students community was compromised; at least many of them, they were meeting us and I asked them, if you look at the students union government elsewhere and in those days in Nigeria, they are typically the ones that will push government to pursue policies that will squeeze resources from the rich in order to provide for the poor but you now have a students’ community that wants free education but they do not want you to tax the property class; that is extremely strange. So we know that they will fight but we are ready for the fight and we also know that they don’t have capacity when you face them and they also know in their hearts of hearts that the position they have taken is not something they can defend in a civilised setting.
These godfathers have houses in London and other parts of the developed world including USA, South Africa and others where they might not spend more than two, three months in a year, they know how much they pay for property tax in London. So if they are paying it in London, why will they now come to Benin, where they occupy 10 times the size of land and they will not want to pay?