In this interview, with one of the Edo State’s All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship aspirants in this week’s primary election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, explains why he hopes to be elected the party’s standard bearer in this year’s election, The Nation reports
WHAT is the state of your mind as the APC primary approaches on Monday?
I am relaxed and confident. My Campaign Organisation has worked hard to engage and convince party members across the entire state to support my bid to represent the party in the governorship election in September and we have made tremendous progress.
Fortunately, for us, we have a lot of party leaders and members across the 192 wards, who have not only endorsed my candidacy but have also contributed to our effort through various means because they believe in me and know I can deliver on what I say. That has instilled a good level of confidence as we approach the election. I am in high spirits and hopeful of a victorious outcome.
Having emerged as the consensus candidate of the party before now, do you foresee any opposition on the day of the exercise?
The Screening Committee gave the nod to three aspirants – Dr. Pius Odubu, Mr. Osaro Obazee, and myself – to contest in the primary election. Naturally, because only one candidate can emerge at the end of the day, we are all making our case to members of the party, though we share the same goal of ensuring that our party, the APC, wins in September.
Luckily, Mr. Osaro Obazee has stepped down and declared support for me ahead of the primary election. I am grateful to him because his endorsement, added to the many others we have received recently, are great boosts and will definitely make a difference.
Ultimately, challenge or not, right now in the APC, we are united and focused.
The journey to this point for Edo APC was not without contentious issues. How are you going to manage all the tendencies after emerging as the official candidate?
These contentions are not unusual during election campaigns and processes. Nevertheless, there is a feeling of peculiarity with that of Edo State at this time due largely to desperation of the incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki, who was determined to impose himself on the party in ways that were undemocratic before his exit.
You saw how he attempted all kinds of tactics, including restricting membership of the party only to those who shared his view, making his personal wishes the law, and devoting resources into brewing confusion and chaos across all levels of the party’s leadership just to have his way.
However, as you know, he has now left the party, following his rightful disqualification. Many party members heaved a sigh of relief when he left and currently, we are closing ranks and unifying the party for the election. Should my party elect me at the primaries on June 22; all the issues you speak of will be resolved in no time.
Your entrance into the race raised the stakes. In fact, some still say the disqualification of Governor Godwin Obaseki was to pave an easy way for you. How do you react to that?
The disqualification of Governor Godwin Obaseki had nothing to do with my entrance or aspiration to represent the party in the election. He was disqualified because the Screening Committee of the APC, led by Professor Jonathan Ayuba, could not reconcile the inconsistencies in his academic credentials. Even he did not appear able to. We were all witnesses to how a similar situation cost the party dearly in Bayelsa State, and as they say, once bitten, twice shy.
The leadership of the party learned from the situation and insisted on a painstaking, objective screening of aspirants without any form of bias or prejudice. We reasonably were not willing to take risks, not least because of a man who was neck-deep in anti-party activities, is unpopular in the state, and nearly jeopardized the status of the party with his incompetence and intolerance.
I had, and still have, no problems going up against Godwin Obaseki. On the contrary, he has been the one running away from a fair contest. Everyone saw what happened in December 2019 when the Edo State chapter of the APC organised a rally to welcome me back ceremoniously. You saw how Governor Obaseki abused the powers of his office, passed emergency laws banning rallies and other legal gatherings, and deployed both security agents and thugs to deny our members and followers access to the event. He tried to block my return because he was afraid.
Yet, if a person claims to have performed well, and is loved by all, as he believes, why does it scare him so much that another man is joining the party or aspiring to contest for the same office?
Whether in the APC or any other platform, as long as the contest will be determined by Edo people, I am confident of victory against him. If you drive around the state today and feel the pulse of the people, you will understand why I am that confident. The verdict is out on Obaseki’s term as governor and in summary, the people are tired of his problematic leadership, which has focused only on personal battles and needless confrontations.
What would be your key priorities after emergence?
Our SIMPLE agenda starts with Security and Social Welfare and that will be one of the key priorities of my administration if I emerge. We need to do better in securing the lives of our people. The situation in Edo State today is unfortunate. Security has deteriorated to the point where serving Commissioners, sometimes with escorts, are being kidnapped. For a long time people have complained about security and all they get is aloof silence. They do not deserve that.
Despite increasing his monthly security votes, Governor Godwin Obaseki has made no investment in the security of the state, and even worse, his rhetoric and sponsorship of non-state actors have brought about avoidable violence in several instances.
Security is key to improving the economy and growing a state’s IGR because without it, no state can attract investments or create the conditions for safe economic transactions. Therefore, we are very keen on improving security, setting a new narrative and attracting investments, creating the right conditions for public-private partnerships that will put our youths to work, not simply promise to import people through deals that we do not fully know about. Our youths need work so they can enjoy their lives, not vague workshops they are not allowed to attend.
The incumbent governor is likely to contest under another platform. In fact, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is touted as his likely destination. Should that be the case, chances are that incumbency factor will play a major role at the polls. Are you bothered?
Governor Godwin Obaseki is free to pursue his ambition elsewhere. I am not bothered at all. As an incumbent, he is expected to run on his record – and that is where he is going to fail because he has no record to run with. His central promise of 200,000 jobs has turned out a complete joke and a con.
Governor Obaseki has been so consumed with his strange desire to transform the entire state into his personal fiefdom that he has not been able to get anything done. He has been trying to deflect from his failures by mischaracterizing the situation but we will force him to run on his records.
Nevertheless, what we are insisting on, as a people and party, is that we must have a free and fair contest. This Governor has blurred the line between the personal and official and he has shown, repeatedly, that he has no problem with abusing the powers of his office to have his way against the will of the majority. This is where we will be requiring the support of the press and civil society groups to ensure that all stakeholders maintain fairness and act in accordance with the law.
You have contested before on a different platform with an agenda. Are you selling the same plan to the electorate again?
The SIMPLE agenda remains the core, guiding document of our campaign because it is a product of years of research and public service, which reflects my vision for the state and how we can bring about greater good and development. However, it has been further reviewed to accommodate the changes we are witnessing today in the economy and other sectors.
I have a team of seasoned policy advisors who I engage regularly and our engagements, as well as my interactions with the people, often inform updates of the SIMPLE agenda. It is not a rigid document at all. I live here in Edo State. I have done so all my life, with exceptions of occasional travels for professional and political engagements. Therefore, I am constantly in touch with the people.
Are you comfortable being seen an “Oshiomhole man” in some quarters?
I have a relationship with him that dates back to the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, so it is understandable if some people think that, as a result, we may have a special relationship that gives me an edge. However, the truth is that Adams Oshiomhole is a man of process and systems. In addition, like me, the other aspirants have worked with him in the past. In light of these past relationships, many people can be called his men. Dr. Pius Odubu was his Deputy for eight years when he served as Governor and they maintain a cordial relationship to the best of my knowledge.
So far in the Edo Governorship race, Oshiomhole, working through the National Working Committee of the party, has been led by the APC constitution and the ultimate goal of ensuring that the party emerges victorious after the election. That is his main objective to the best of my understanding.
Edo is apparently on the edge. There is tension everywhere because of the way the governor has been treated. In fact, some people think Edo is already boiling ahead of the election. Do you entertain any fear?
When you say, “because of the way the governor has been treated”, you inadvertently make him out to be a victim in this when that is not truly the case. Don’t forget that we are speaking of a governor who infringed on the rights and freedoms of his predecessor, a two-term former governor, and the National Chairman of the party he wanted to contest on its platform, by banning him from stepping foot in the state and went ahead to hire thugs to block and harass him at the airport.
Earlier this year, we recorded a spate of bombings in Edo State, notably in the residences of Lawrence Okah, the State Secretary of our party, and Barrister Henry Idahagbon, the immediate past Attorney-General of Edo State. What these two persons have in common is that they have openly declared their opposition to the second-term agenda of Governor Obaseki. Disturbingly, the Edo State Government neither condemned the bomb attacks nor call for an investigation aimed at arresting the perpetrators. One would be forgiven to think the governor is okay with violence meted out on those he considers his opponents, and that is unfortunate. To imagine again that he transferred that sort of behaviour to the legislature and the local governments.
Personally, I nurture no fear because our side of the divide has been disciplined, peaceful, and very organised. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Governor Obaseki and his people who are always in the press threatening fire and brimstone.
Don’t you think the exit of the governor and other APC political office holders, including local government chairmen could impact negatively?
Interestingly, only a handful of people are exiting the party with the governor. The majority of party members and leaders in Edo State are happy to see his back because he has been a major barrier to achieving peace and unity. He was going about suspending people, even local council officials, for not supporting him or adopting his combative stance. All of these people are excited he is out.
His voluntary exit has given room for talks and fence-mending in a conducive atmosphere. Therefore, I do not think it is going to have any negative impact at all. On the contrary, it has helped the party to sharpen its focus, put its house together, and rally loyal and committed members ahead of the election.