Had Jonathan won the March 28 presidential election, he would have been among one of the South- South leaders to be victimized. He knows and confesses it. According to him, he gave everything to make sure his party’s (All Progressives Congress, APC) presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, win the election.
His reason was not only about personal safety. It was also based on Buhari’s competence and merit rather than ethnicity and primordial sentiments. In this exclusive interview, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Governor of Edo State, who expressed happiness on Buhari’s polls victory said with the development, he and Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Ameachi, escaped “death” by the whiskers.
Well, I will say mixed feelings. On one hand, I think in terms of the overall assessment, it would be fair to say there was substantial improvement when you compare 2015 to 2011. And 2011 was also a lot better than the elections conducted by Professor Iwu. So,one can speak of steady improvement. But I think there were avoidable lapses which INEC cannot justify. One of them is the failure of the card reader. If you were going to use the card reader nationwide, you ought to convince yourself that the card would work everywhere or at least up to 95%.
At worst, you allow for margin of error of 10%. But when your margin of error is almost 50-60%, that is clearly unacceptable and what it meant is that whereas in some areas the card reader was used, in some other areas it was not. Number two, it seems to me there was internal sabotage within INEC system particularly those responsible for their ICT. I have always made this point that the weakest department in INEC is the ICT. That is where all the frauds are perpetrated. Whether you are talking of multiple registration or names being suddenly deleted from the voters register or you talk of mutilation of the voters register where names in one ward appear in another ward; all of these have come from INEC ICT department.
And I believe they are not errors of the head. They are programmed that way. In my last conversation with INEC during my election in 2012, I made a point that there were deliberate attempts by some elements including the head of the ICT in INEC to manipulate the voters register and, unfortunately, the man has remained there. And all the headaches of INEC, I believe, talking of ICT, they should be the ones responsible for card reading. All those are modern gadgets.
For example, how can you explain to me that the card reader worked in most parts of the South-West and the North; but they simply refused to work in the South-East and most parts of the South-South? They were programmed to fail by those who wanted to use manual so that they can turn in the magical figures that we saw in Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross Rivers and even Delta. And, to me, that is a shame.
But worrisome, to me, is the culture of impunity in INEC where senior people apparently conspired to make things fail and they just keep their job as if Nigeria owes them a job.
If people are hopelessly incompetent as to mess up such a huge effort in spite of the huge tax payers money spent to procure these facilities, somebody should be packing home or somebody should be chatting with the police. I mean INEC is supposed to prosecute election offenders. And, to me, the person who is responsible for not activating the cards on time, who did not properly explain that you need to remove the SIM card or whatever it is that explains the failure, those people have no job to be kept at INEC. And until we begin to apply the rules, this culture of impunity will not take us anywhere. So, huge resources were employed but very little benefits.
Look at all the noise generated on the issue of the card reader, it would appear that, at the end of the day, those who wanted to use it, used it. Those who didn’t want to use it simply claimed that it failed and I am not aware that anybody has been queried. And I insist that INEC must look inward and deal with those responsible for this sabotage within the INEC system.
You belong to the APC and finally that party is on board, with the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari as president-elect. As a leader of the party, how do you feel about the victory at the polls?
I think there are several lessons from it. First, this is victory for Nigeria. It is not about APC or PDP. It is the first time in our history that very ordinary people, equipped only with the PVCs, were able to unseat a president.
That, to me, is profound. It confirms that our democracy is on and for those who thought that this PVC is just ordinary plastic, they have seen that it is more potent than the military sub-machine. That it led to the APC becoming the governing party is not the big issue.
The big issue is that the ordinary people voted out a sitting president whose performance they believed was unacceptable. That is something to be celebrated. The second is that one has to appreciate the President GoodluckJonathan for conceding defeat in the manner that he did, thereby laying a good example which has been copied by few other governors. I have heard one or two other governors also conceding defeat, having taking a cue from the president. So obviously this is very positive.
But for those of us in APC, it has shown that people think that the only way to be politically relevant is to be in the ruling party. I have been in the opposition in Edo from ground zero. We joined APC and at that time it was AC, only in Lagos and Edo was the second state. And from those two states, we got three, we got four and as Governor Fashola would say, ‘we just kept on counting’. And with the merger, we have now become the national governing party, as our leader and the president-elect said we should now say as opposed to a ruling party. So to be part of these forces of change from ground zero, to become a ruling party with all the risks, particularly for those of us in the South-South because somehow President Jonathan believed that this election should be about tribalism. It should be about where you come from. But some of us insisted that it is not about where you come from. It is about your level of competence and your capacity to deliver.
And after four years, you must run not on sentiments but on your verifiable records. And that is how democracies develop. If my brother cannot do it, and my uncle cannot do it, and it is someone from another territory who can do it, why not? After all, when you look at the behaviour of a Nigerian, our people migrate from Nigeria even to Ghana now. I have seen a Nigerian business man who chose to locate his business in Ghana even though his market is Nigeria. Why? It is because the cost of production and the overall environment is much better in Ghana than here in Nigeria according to his estimation. So notwithstanding his patriotism, the fact that he is a full blown Nigerian, it makes economic sense for him to do his business in Ghana and market his products in Nigeria.
So, the modern world has very little space for ethnic politics. In any case, who are we celebrating Obama whose father is a full blown Kenya being elected by white Americans to preside over the world’s greatest economy thereby making him the world’s most powerful president. And we celebrate him and then we come back home to say because Jonathan is South-South, even though he has failed us in many ways including the under development of the South-South, that based on the issue of blood and region, we should vote for him.
So that means that for me, for Rotimi (Amaechi, Rivers governor) and in particular the two of us from the South-South, if President Jonathan has survived, obviously he would have deployed and misuse his powers. And you can see how crude the military was deployed to Edo to intimidate people. So, to be able to survive that, I do not have the words to describe how I feel. To put it mildly, I am very excited that my party was victorious.
The result of the presidential election in Edo wasn’t as fantastic as the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections. What would you say went wrong?
Well, I wouldn’t talk about anything going wrong. In a genuine democracy, different issues will influence the voters except where elections are rigged.
But let me first and foremost clarify this. The official results by INEC show that the president-elect won 280, 000 votes while President Jonathan won 286,000 votes. Which means President Jonathan won by about 80,000 votes more than Gen. Buhari. Now, that was an outstanding achievement for Gen. Buhari when you take into account that just four years ago, President Jonathan won 95% of the votes.
Now that has crashed to 55%. Now look at this, the total number of voided votes in the presidential election was about 150,000. Of the 150,000, about 140,000 were APC votes because you could see that the thumbprint crossed the little line to the next party. So, it is clear. You will find that that party didn’t field any candidate. So obviously the voter didn’t want to vote for a candidate that does not exist. But because the army and the police had succeeded in chasing away our agents in many areas, before we could respond to that, they have already compromised some of the presiding officers, who were youth corpers, in many cases.
They even fielded PDP activists as presiding officers. And wherever they were able to get away with that, the voided vote were clearly in our favour. Now, we have looked at that and saw that about 140,000 votes of Gen Buhari were voided through this sort of conspiracy. So if you add these votes to our 180, 000, you would find out that Buhari actually defeated President Jonathan in Edo. That, to me, is outstanding.
And when you realise the reckless way religion was used and you know that Edo is about 90% Christians, it was an outstanding achievement. And for you to appreciate the significance of this, you have to compare this result with the rest of the South-South and the South-East. In those other states, the president-elect didn’t even get as much as 10% but in Edo, he got about 45% and when you add the wrongly voided votes, he defeated President Jonathan in the state.
I am very proud of the outcome because it shows that Edo, unlike the rest of the South-South and the South-East, has risen beyond primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion. In the state House of Assembly election, I think we have finally buried the godfathers. And, to me, my mission in politics, I would like to say, is complete. It doesn’t matter if I leave politics today or I leave the office, I would feel fulfilled because, when I stepped out in 2007, most people said to me that Edo was the home of the most feared godfathers.
I was told it was impossible to unseat them. But I did say then that from my own trade union training, it was clear that the oppressor will continue to oppress you and he will seem to be able to get away with it only to the extent that those oppressed refused to organize and they continue to agonize. When they stopped agonizing and they chose to organize against the oppressor, the oppressor could be defeated. This was my message in Edo that these godfathers were not invincible, they could be defeated and they will be defeated.
And we used out trade union skills to mobilize the people because we could talk with the people, mingle with the people and interact with the people. These guys you call the godfather talk down on the people. The only tool available to them is money. Not money that they earn through industry but money they had accumulated being around the corridors of power. So they just threw the money at the people and every other thing seemed to fall in line. We questioned that order. We had to educate the people why they could take that money and not feel guilty to vote against those who under developed them over the years.
It was reported that you had issues with the security operatives during the elections, that they invaded your community. How did that happen?
It is clear that the military high command gave out unlawful orders. Some of the military commanders behaved as if they were officials of the PDP, an army officer removing his name tag. That was very shameful. I asked the soldier, are you about to do something dirty such that, at the end of the day when we are trying to identify who did, it would be an unknown soldier? That was the most dangerous and desperate thing that this government did, misusing the armed forces in a way that would have led to serious national security crisis, because if the armed forces are polarized and become a political tool in the hand of a commander-in-chief, then, we are in danger. In Edo, I had to remind the commander that, in this democracy, the commander-in-chief is not to be elected by brigade commanders or by general officers commanding. The commander in chief is to be elected by very ordinary people using their PVC and not AK47, so they must not interfere with the process.
And when you use the military the way they did to intimidate people like us, going to do show of force by harassing people, asking people to frog jump, some soldiers used horse whip to flog people who were on the queue, trying to manipulate collation centres, that is criminal. I thought that we can play politics with everything but we must never play politics with our security agencies. A soldier, an officer removing his name tag and I asked why he had to remove name tag in my village, he said they were asked not to wear name tag. Who gave such an order?
Now there was a restriction order and, even as the governor of Edo, I stayed in my village. I didn’t even move to the polling booth with armed personnel in line with the Electoral Act. But there was this higly placed who had escorts of military and police moving from one local government to another, sharing money in broad day light, I was ashamed of my brother. He is my brother, but I was ashamed of him because it is not worth it because, as you can see, after all of that effort, the government has changed. People should learn, what would be would be. Two days to the elections or so, they deployed soldiers to my house in the village and put them right in front of my house. And that is not all they did. They were everywhere harassing the villages and so on.
They also sent a drone to fly over my house in the village just to intimidate me. But, unfortunately for them, I conquered fear at the age of 17. If you harass me now, I am at my best because I learnt early in life. And I told my brigade commander, when we were under full blown military rule, we organized protests and challenged the military government, full blown military government with the power of Decree 2, we fought not to talk of in democracy.
We all need to be careful because like I tell our people in uniform, the reason the soldier has power is not because he has gun but because he has license under the law to bear that weapon. When the rule of law collapses and everybody resorts to fire arms, you will be shocked that there are bloody civilians who can fire the weapon more than those in uniform. I think it is important going forward that no future president should ever be tempted to try to misuse the armed forces to protect his political office, it is extremely dangerous.
And like I told those people, the world has changed very radically such that if a president is so strong as to overwhelm the judicial system in his country and people kill on his order or kill on his behalf, if you escape justice at home, you cannot escape ICC. And I believe that as we have seen in some parts of Africa where sitting presidents are going to ICC to answer criminal charges. But in the end, I thank God that the president found courage and defied those hawks around him that would say ‘don’t hand overs. I think that final courage to accept and concede defeat and congratulate the winner, in many ways, has earned him a lot of mileage even in my heart in spite of this clear attempt to misuse the armed forces.
The elections have been won and lost. What agenda, I mean the critical areas, do you want the president-elect to get into as soon as he is sworn in on May 29?
When I met the president-elect after he was formally declared the winner, I said to him ‘congratulations because this was victory that cannot be said to have come easy when you realise that this was the fourth attempt’.
For a former military head of state to subject himself to the rigours of electioneering, some political mischief, some betrayal, falsehood, campaign of hate and calumny and yet forged ahead and, in the end, won convincingly, I think for many younger people, there is a lot to learn.
That you don’t give up simply because that you failed your first test does not mean you can still not make it. And having congratulated him for a richly deserved victory, I also commiserate with him because Gen. Buhari’s strongest support base is the army of the forgotten majority, the unemployed, the under remunerated and the mass of the people. They rightly would expect that now that the man that we celebrate has won election, they expect that this may rightly translate to prosperity for everyone.
And they have a right to feel so having been dehumanized over the years under the military but much more so since 1999. And having stood by the man consistently over the years, they have the right to feel that having now won, the good days are here. Yet we know in fact that PDP battered this economy beyond what people would appreciate because what the Minister of Finance has been doing is playing with statistics in a very dangerous way as to give the false impression that the situation is not as bad as it is.
I am sure in the very near future, all the figures and all the numbers will be out: how much this government has borrowed, the structure of that expenditure and what they used the borrowed money to do. People would be shocked that PDP government borrowed money not to do projects, they borrowed to travel.
They borrowed for frivolities and when the overall debt profile both the domestic and foreign debts is published and the time scale is attached to it and the amount of money that has been spent from the CBN that I am not sure they can account for, people would appreciate how bad the economic situation is. And I think the first challenge of Gen. Buhari is to halt the drift and as you can see the business community has already reposed confidence in the person of the general in the way the Naira has already appreciated. The is a fact that people believe the worst days are over. We are now going to have a president that cares; a president that will ensure that the era of impunity is gone; a president that will block all the loopholes and stop the stealing of either of our excess crude or just borrowing money for people to privatize.
But I will expect the president to tell Nigerians the hard truth about the state of the economy and of our national finances. He has to work hard first to halt the drift. He has to work hard to stop the bleeding. If the right instruments are in place, you will soon begin to witness some improvement in the economy growth. But growth that is not just for the statisticians, growth that would be expressed in the quality of life of the people. That means the policy instruments must be designed in such a way as to lead to a job led growth not jobless growth. If it is not job led, then the fruit of growth will not translate to the prosperity for the majority, particularly the masses. They are the ones responsible for Buhari election. It is not those who watch CNN and BCC, it is the ordinary person. And the entry point of that ordinary person is jobs, good paying jobs. I think the second one is to examine what I call symbolic projects that this government seems to celebrate.
Symbolic projects? What are the projects?
SURE-P for example. What is SURE-P? You take state funds, you give to a politician for example in Edo and then you identify some loyalists, you put them on N10,000 and you pay them when you are happy with them. If you decamp, they delete you. They now call it Jonathan Alert, which is not how you want to create jobs. And that is trivializing serious issues and it shocks me that the Minister of Finance is part of this grand deceit. What is SURE-P? You just create pet names. I mean we have to go to the heart of the matter.
First, we must aggressively find solution to the problem of power supply. I would expect the president to revisit the sharing of national assets particularly power. This DISCO that was given to people who know next to nothing so that today across the country, Nigerians are in the dark; if you do not address that, you cannot create a productive economy on the basis of generators and so you need to deal with power.
Once you’ve dealt with power, then you begin to put the right incentives in place to revive and re-attract those industries that were here before that have since voted with their feet. I have in mind the textile industry. Given our population and our per capital consumption of fabrics, the textile industry can easily generate about five million jobs. There is no reason we cannot. When one man wears about 10 meters of Babanriga, whether in the North or in the West, with that level of consumption, you have appropriate incentives, the textile industry can produce so much and employ so many hands. These are permanent well paying jobs, this is the industry that I come from.
You want to ask yourself, if we have these numbers of vehicles on the road, why should we be importing tyres? We don’t need to reinvent the wheels. Why did Michelin relocate? Why did Dunlop relocate? Michelin had a plant in Edo where they produced rubber. Now the rubber is processed and exported without adding value to them to produce tyres that are sent back to us. We have a huge market, what do you do to bring them back? Central to anything you are going to do is power.
You must reorganize your Customs so that your tariff policies are enforced. You must interrogate and select Minister of Finance and Minister of Trade, who will not be granting the kind of waivers that Minister Okonjo-Iweala and the Minister of Trade have been doing where billions of Naira are lost to very dubious waivers that they have granted at the expense of the health of our economy. There are a couple of things you need to do, but my point is that we mustn’t indulge in what I call symbolism when we will deal with serious issues of production so that you shift the country away from what it doesn’t produce to one that consumes what it produces, from import-led to export led. These are possible. These are things that others have done and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
And with our huge domestic market and a very young energetic population, there is no reason Nigeria cannot be a producing nation. It remains scandalous that PDP, for 16years, could not directly build a new refinery or service the existing, remaining refineries. And it would be nice to expose to the public how many billions of Naira that NNPC and the Minster of Petroleum Resources have spent in the name of maintaining these refineries. How can Nigeria continue to import kerosene and defraud the tax payers? Those are things Buhari must check immediately. Just blocking those loopholes, there will be enough to deal with some of the basic needs of the ordinary Nigerian.
Corruption is so endemic in Nigeria, they say. And many people see Buhari as the face of anti-corruption. Do you want him to delve into probing past administrations?
Some minutes ago, I was chatting with one of our party leaders. I think the scale of corruption in this our environment does not require probing. What do you want to probe? A former CBN Governor showed you numbers and, to my embarrassment, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy was arguing that it was not 40billion but only 10.8billion and then the next thing we heard was that the government was going to carry out a forensic audit.
And I am like, as the Minister of the Economy, did you need this kind of revelation. So the auditing of NNPC is not a natural way of life? Did we need a scandal for us to audit the books? And when the books were audited, we heard numbers that ‘oh, it is not 10billion, it is only 2billion, and some royalties were not paid by NPDC’ and that kind of stuff. And I saw the electronic media celebrating NNPC saying that by their standard this was no fraud. You don’t need to probe these things, they are already there. We need to see the management letter from the audit company, let everybody know that the real hard facts are stated in the letter.
What happened to the excess crude, you don’t need to probe. Just look at the numbers. I heard the minister saying the thing was distributed to state governors. ‘Alright, Madam Minister, show us how much you distributed to which government and when, relating to the total accruals to the excess crude account? Is it true that you took money from the excess crude account to fund subsidies that were never appropriated by parliament? Is that a lawful act? If you did, how much?
If you didn’t, how did you fund the subsidies? What was appropriated for fuel subsidy relative to what was actually released for fuel subsidy?’So when you say it is state governors, how much does the Federal Government take from every dollar on excess crude that was distributed? So just need to show the numbers and the CBN and the various AGIS can show how much we have received from excess crude since over the past four years relative to what is accruing there.
And whether or not it was lawful to take money from excess crude to fund the so-called subsidy and then the much talked about subsidy on kerosene. Who gets it? Is it really true that there was intention to sell kerosene at N50 or it was just a shield for people. If so, how much has been so diverted? You need probe to discover this. So, like I told somebody, you don’t need to probe Maitama to know if there are buildings. You can just see it. But I think Buhari summarized it in his campaign that if Nigeria doesn’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Having said that I trust that he knows what to do.