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19 April 2015

Modern world has no space for ethnic politics – Gov. Oshiomhole

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. 
  The elections have come and gone. What is your general impression about them?
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.

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