Defection: Ikimi is Looking for Retirement Benefits – Afegbua

Kassim Afegbua Kassim Afegbua is the Special Adviser, Media, to Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In the wake of the recent...

Kassim Afegbua
Kassim Afegbua is the Special Adviser, Media, to Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In the wake of the recent defection by some prominent members of APC to PDP, such as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, Afegbua noted that politics of stomach infrastructure may very well be the motivating factor behind the exodus. He spoke on other issues bothering on governance in the state in this interview with Adibe Emenyonu

There have been series of defection by members of Edo APC to PDP. The latest being Chief Tom Ikimi. What is your reaction to this trend?
Well, it is true that some persons have left the APC in Edo State. It is also true that APC have also gained from the PDP; those who have left the PDP and other parties to join the APC. So as for Chief Tom Ikimi who is the latest, we do not have problem with that.

How do you mean?
Yes, because as a man of 70 years, he needs some retirement benefits and it is possible that only the PDP can offer the kind of retirement benefit he is looking for in the sense that they can play about with money. They have big contracts to give to people. But in APC, Edo State, we devote our time and energy on performance by using the resource of the state to add value to the well being of the state and also to develop all the towns and villages within the limit of available resources. So we may not have enough to distribute or dispense to individuals who may want some level of patronage by way of lets share the money. That is not in the doctrine of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole style of governance. And so for a Chief Tom Ikimi, who has reached his political apogee so to speak, I think nothing is amiss because his political relevance in Igueben is very minimal just as his political relevance in the country is also inconsequential.

After his escapade of Obasanjo! Obasanjo; Obasanjo! Obasanjo! scenario of 2003, having been booted out of the PDP and having himself undermined and disparaged the party on a number of occasions, it is only in Nigeria that you see people try to swallow their own vomits. And so, for us in APC, we do not have problem with him. We will treat him as elder statesman but not a role model.

Are you saying the APC in the state is not worried? Because of recent events,we learn that the Deputy Chief of Staff, Governor’s Office who is an acolyte of Chief Ikimi has also resigned to join his master. Should this trend continue, don’t you think it will affect the fortunes of the APC in 2015 state assembly and national assembly elections; and 2016 governorship race in Edo State?
It is curious that such a young man, a wonderful promising young man, a great guy will tie his political fortunes to the apron string of an old man who has reached the zenith of his political career. Chief Ikimi has seen it all. To us, when they get to that age of 70, the law of diminishing returns sets in. What they do most of the time is to look for parties that can offer them comparative advantages in terms of retirement benefits because they do not have the capacity and energy to work any longer. They look for cheap money, cheap relevance, cheap networking etc. But for the Deputy Chief of Staff, he is my good friend, wonderful guy. I would not want to believe that he will also resign and follow his political mentor. But if he did, perhaps he may also have other reasons why he has decided to take his own decision. As an adult, he also has the liberty to take such decisions. He may have well felt his political future or his political presence will enjoy more recognition by remaining with Chief Ikimi. In all these, there is no cause for alarm.

But in all these, there is one recurring issue. All those that have decamped from APC to PDP have accused the governor of running a one man show. How true is this?
I don’t believe in such. If I get my rhythm right, I will also be in the same frame of mind with the Comrade Governor to be able to add value, be able to perform and deliver on his electoral promise. Nobody thought Edo State can attain this level of development within a space of five and half years. Particularly talking from the inherited infrastructural decay we saw on ground. Those who may want to accuse Oshiomhole of being dictatorial should also search their own consciences because Chief Tom Ikimi for example, did not derive his decision of decamping from any accusation of the governor. If I get him right, he has issues to grind with the national leadership of the party. He feels that if it is not him, there should be no other person. He also has issues with Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Again, that brings to bear the politics of selfishness that is so pervasive in this part of the world. If it is not you, somebody else must be. It must not always be you at all time. Chief Ikimi at a time was chairman of a political party, National Republican Convention [NRC] and to a large extent; Nigerians know his level of performance, the level to which he was able to conduct himself. So at 70, if he looks to become the chairman of another strong opposition party and he is unable to get it, the expectation should be that he should be able to reach out to people, work with those who God has bestowed the leadership of the party on. You don’t have to insist that your own sentiment and aspiration should be the basis or road map of that political party even if you no longer belong to that party. No individual can build a party. It is not possible. It is all a collective thing. To that extent, the leaders of the party felt they will be much more comfortable with a Chief Oyegun as national chairman than an Ikimi. All this has been adduced by Tinubu. When Chief Ikimi wrote, Tinubu replied him, stating the reasons why in their own wisdom, they felt they were comfortable with Oyegun.

Coming back home to Edo State, Governor Oshiomhole has displayed enough energy and capacity to consult widely before taking any decision. He may not be a perfect man or the ideal typical politician because the typical politician wants things to go their ways all the time. If they are 10, they want things to go in their 10 ways. If they are 20, they want things done in 20 different ways. They will want you to take decisions that will favour each and every individual. That sense of collectivism, communalism that should exist within us as Africans does not hold waters when it comes to such argument. They will rather want things to be seen from the prism of individual politician. Unfortunately, the Comrade Governor is one man who does not have the kind of patience to tolerate such bestiality, inanity. What looks so pedestrian and you see people latching on it as if that should be the basis of moving the state forward. Oshiomhole does not have such patience for situations as this. He is not likely to be on the same page with individuals with such myopic manner of politics of yester years. In this contemporary time, Oshiomhole’s understanding is that give or take; two persons cannot be captains at the same time. One person must be and there is supposed to be that spirit of give and take so that we can collectively galvanise our energy and move the state forward.

If you say dictatorial, that may be in the realm of those who are typical politicians. But if you say consultation, fine because he consults. If you say he is not a man you can easily bend if you do not have superior logic that I will agree because you cannot bend Oshiomhole if you don’t have superior argument or logic. You must be informed and have superior information for you to convince him to take a particular decision against what he has in mind. Working with him, we have on many occasions argued on issues and if he discovers you have superior logic, he capitulates. I think those saying he is dictatorial are just doing so to give him a bad name.

Recently, the Benin elders raised the alarm over alleged plot by PDP in the state to deny people of the senatorial zone the Permanent Voters Card [PVC] with the intention of denying the Benin man the opportunity to contest the 2016 governorship election. How true is this?
Yes I read this in the papers. For a reputable body to raise such alarm, they must have the information at the tip of their fingers. But such plot will not work because by the zonal arrangement in APC, the next governor of the state will come from Edo South. When you say Edo South, you are talking about the seven local government areas and its environs. So we are not bordered about the political shenanigans in the PDP or the political manipulations by their demagogues. They have always ploted graphs to favour the central zone and all that. As far as APC is concerned though I am not their spokesman, but as stakeholder, Edo South will naturally be fielded as candidate of the party in the 2016 governorship election. In any case, there is still a long rope to tow because election of 2015 is by the corner. In February next year, people will be competing for the state and federal assemblies. After that, we will begin to prepare for the 2016 governorship election. So to a large extent, those who are raising the allegation may have their reasons. However, the more PDP is in crisis, the better for APC because for us in APC, we don’t want to be distracted. This is because some of the people leaving us for the PDP sooner than later will taste the bitter pill in the PDP. Today it all sound like Hosanna music, tomorrow, the melody may change to crucify him. So we are resolute to move the state forward.

The Comrade Governor does not want to be distracted by politics of 2016 that was why he placed embargo on issues of 2016 election. That holding all manner of meetings as a precursor to 2016 should stop. This is because he wants to have three good years of maximum concentration on the developmental agenda he has set for himself, then the last year, he will do some level of stock taking and prepare the way for the new man who will take over from him. Only God knows who will take over from Oshiomhole. We may all have our dispositions, but God is the ultimate disposer in whatever intention or action plans we may want to exhibit. To that extent, we are not loosing sleep over the happenings in Edo State. The real voters, we are connected to them because once there is that connection between government and the people, then all these characters by way of mobile politicians who are here today and there tomorrow will pale into insignificance because if you want to test the popularity of a party, you go to the grassroots.

That is where you will know whether you have performed or not. You see, the beauty of APC is the fact that it has a record of performance to refer to. You don’t need to go far. All you need to do is to point a finger and people will see what the party has done in the three senatorial zones of the state. We may not have had the kind of resources to cope with the developmental challenges pointing at us as a state, but we’ve been able to make judicious use of what is available to us both from the Federal Account and Internally Generated Revenue [IGR] to add meaning and value to the commonality of our existence. And so, today those who felt that Edo State will not work are surprised that the state has bounced back. We may not have gotten it all. Six year or eight years of an administration cannot solve all the problems. But we are saying that for God sake, we are leaving Edo State better in far more superlative terms than we met it. For that, the Comrade Governor will have his place fully assured.

Contrary to your assertion, some people are of the opinion that the governor did not do as much as he did in the first tenure; that he is doing more of politics than proper administration of the state. For instance, they cite the abandoned work at the Central Hospital Benin and other numerous projects. How do you react to this?
This is not true. I think we have even done more work this second term than in the first tenure. People don’t understand that the first term was work in progress. Completing those works in progress takes much effort in terms of resources. Capital projects in this tenure must have gulped up to N100 billion if I am not mistaken. Besides, people do not understand that if you commence a particular road project in you first term and you are unable to complete it until your second term, it means you have been able to fulfill your financial obligation to the fullest. It is like the Benin Storm Water Project. In the first tenure, effort was devoted to laying the foundation. But now work has commenced, an indication that due diligence is being followed at the right time. Another example is the Upper Siluko Road, Upper Mission Road, Forestry Road and several others like the 2nd East Circular dual carriage way that has been awarded. Even the completion of the Airport Road was completed in the second tenure because of the street lightening and other beautification as well as the solar-powered traffic light which are all part of that contract. Those who make such allegation are those who believed that Comrade will not finish the projects he commenced in the first term. But now that they are seeing that he is completing these projects, they are naturally finding ways to criticise him.

The Central Hospital that is being talked about, work has resumed their. After that accident, there was a re-assessment by architects and engineers that there is need to reinforce the pillars to prevent a reoccurrence of what happened before. Even the contractor has promised that within six months, the hospital will be delivered to Edo State Government. The same thing goes to Women and Children’s Hospital, Ewohimi which has being built and furnished.

It is not about having structures in place but also bringing the right manpower to manage them. So the Comrade Governor cannot start what he cannot finish. What he has done to a large extent is that all the projects he is not able to finish during the first term, he will complete them in this tenure. There will be no abandoned project. For instance, he has assured me, just as he assured other members of my community that work will soon commence on the Okpella township roads; that the designs were ready. Government does not just work in one swoop. Government is methodical, planned and structured in such a way that when you plan your budget, they are just estimate because what you may get in the final analysis may not meet up with 40 or 50 per cent of what your estimates are. When this happen, it is now your responsibility as a good manager of resources to know how to apportion what you have gotten to meet up with the developmental challenges; and in Edo State we are doing just that. For instance, Preco Oil-Palm Company is being given additional lands for its expansion project. In doing so, they are taking away thousands of our youth off the streets by employing them.

There is a whole lot of blue print lined up by the state government. This year alone, the intention of Government is to generate about 13,000 jobs and we are moving in that direction. This is aside from the Youth Employment Scheme {Edo YES} and the Neighbourhood Watch. The Information Technology Unit is currently being expanded to make sure that everything in the state is automated. Oshiomhole is laying a legacy that anyone who comes after him and try to distort the flow of the stream, will cause a lot of flooding. Oshiomhole needs to be commended in all fronts. As an insider, what he complains most time is that “how I wish Edo State is as rich as our sister states like Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers. Naturally, nobody has challenged the quality of work he has done. What they normally quarrel about is the cost. Take Five Junction as an example. When the governor was constructing the place, nobody gave him hope. But today, that area is like a Mecca of some sort. Where are the roads in Edo State before? They were all narrow and windy. Before, nobody thinks a six lane road was possible in the state, but today, we have seen that it is possible. Oshiomhole may not be perfect. By what we are saying is that he is able to add value to governance, been able to reorder the narrative to the extent that people now have confidence in government.

What is the state of preparedness of the government to sensitise the people on the forthcoming distribution of PVCs in the state?
We have since placed advertorial in the print and electronic media, ran series of jingles to sensitise the people to come out when the time comes. We have also used apparatus of government to ensure that people at the local level are well sensitised and mobilised. We have done so through local government party chairmen and ward leaders. It is a civic responsibility. With that card, you can to interrogate the activities of government. As a voter, you have the right to question government on how monies are expended especially those gotten from taxation. That is why we admonish people to be good tax payers and good voters because the people have to own their government since they are repository of power. This can only be done if you have a voter’s card to exercise your franchise on election day. You may make all noise but if you don’t have the card to either vote leaders you want or vote out those you don’t like, then you don’t have any basis to criticise. So we are quite prepared. Once INEC blows the whistle, the people will come out. This is when we are going to see how INEC will prevent the people from collecting their card since they have registered before, making reference to the position of Benin elders.

There is this outcry about double taxation in the state. For instance, people have complained severally of paying tax to both local government and state governments. What is government doing to address this problem?
Taxation is a civic responsibility. The Pay as You Earn [PAYE] law is not the law of Edo State. It is a federal law that if you domicile in a state, there should be some level of bilateral cooperation. So what we met on ground was some kind of negotiated tax payment. But we have been able to eliminated. In the past, it was negotiated that if you are supposed to pay 15 per cent of your income before, you now pay 7.5 per cent and all that. That was in the past because things have changed. So those are now paying more according to what the income tax law stipulated will naturally cry foul because it is not the convenience of any one the world over. But because it is a law, nobody can run away from it.

Besides, the state government has read the riot act telling local governments to stop imposing taxies and levies on people; that they must do that which is specified within the law or tax regime. So to a very large extent, they are complying. This is because government at a stage was getting embarrassed by the unwholesome attitude of some touts that go on the highways asking for radio licenses and we had to wade in. So since the riot act, we have not had any complaint. Even at that, we have told people within communities to apprehend anyone who still indulge in such unwholesome act.

Not too long ago, students of higher institution in Edo State blocked the Benin-Ore highway protesting the work-to-rull action of their lecturers over non-payment of salaries and allowances. Don’t you think this is bringing bad image to the government?

If there is anything the Comrade Governor does not joke with, it is the salaries f workers in the state. Go round the ministries and other departments of government in the state, there is no worker that receives his/her salary beyond 24thof every month. This is commendable. In Benue State, they are owing teachers for nine months; Kogi State for six months, Bauchi and quite a number of others. That we are even able to pay salaries regularly is an achievement of no mean feat. Again, this government has increased grants/subventions to higher institutions since it came on board. Only last year about N500 million was given to Ambrose Alli University. And I know that the same thing was replicated to other institutions like Colleges of Education, Ekiadolor, Iguenben, College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi; and Institute of Management and Technology, Usen. But again, speaking about the decay that this administration inherited, you know that in as much as the body and soul is willing, resources may not naturally come for you to meet all the challenges. But for anyone to say we have not added value to these institution will be missing the point because government had done so much. Nevertheless, this boils down to issue of management of resources by heads of the respective institutions of higher learning because when you give, the bulk of expenditure is used to settle salaries and wages since they have so many non academic staff than academic staff. For me, there is need to do a complete overhaul of these institutions. Government had in the past tried to take some positive measures towards addressing this but ended up being accused of witch-hunting some persons. In any case I just resumed from my holiday, I will look more into this matter to be able to furnish you with more details now that I am back.

As published in ThisDay Newspaper of 14th September, 2014


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