Barrister Osagie Ize-Iyamu is a part-time pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Benin-City, Edo State. An astute politician, he was born into the upper middle-class family of late Chief Robert Osayande Ize-Iyamu, the highly respected Benin Chief, the former Esogban of Benin Kingdom. He planted a seed of his political activism long during his university days in University of Benin as a vibrant member of the Student Union Congress. After his sojourn into private legal practice and business, he was appointed Chief of Staff, by former Governor Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, of Edo State. He was later elevated to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG). He was also the National Vice Chairman, South-South Zone and Board of Trustees member of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). As a result of disagreement, he crossed over to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was the Director-General of the Goodluck Jonathan Campaign Organisation in Edo State. He spoke with journalists on many national issues recently. Excepts.
WHAT is your assessment of the unfolding political events in Nigeria, especially since your party, the PDP, lost power at the centre in the last general election? Well, some people believe it is too early to make comment; but like the popular saying: time waits for no one. President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in on May 29 this year, and if you check it, it means the administration has spent six months in office. For a party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), that was preaching ”change” before the general election, one would have thought by now they will be up and running. And many people were disappointed and surprised that 100 days came, passed and the president was still not able to even appoint his ministers. And when you now look at the ministerial nominees, you ask yourself: What was the big deal in keeping Nigerians waiting in an attempt to get the so-called people without questionable character as ministers. If the ministers were new faces, one would have said that the president or the party wanted to have enough time to look around including outside the country, to look for credible and capable hands to form his government. But what we are seeing today is a recycling of old hands. If we concede that the past was bad why is Buhari recycling the past? What are they going to provide for the future? Honestly, it is an anti-climax and people are disappointed. Quite honestly, it is all noise; no serious things have been done by this administration in the last six months or so. Members of Boko Haram that we were all hoping would be crushed in a matter of two months as promised by Buhari, have started to extend their evil activities to the nation’s capital, Abuja. We thought that had been dealt with by the past administration; we are surprised that with all those arrested in connection with Boko Haram’s terrorism activities, and with international cooperation, the government has been able to gather enough information to expose all those behind Boko Haram’s activities. By now, we thought those sponsoring Boko Haram would have been exposed. Buhari has not kept his promises; even the fight against corruption appears to have been compromised when you look at the list of ministerial nominees. Nigerians are wondering if they just wasted their votes for the APC. If we are to judge the government by what it has done in the past six months, it is a story of many disappointments.
What do you think is responsible for the inability of Buhari to perform, according to your assessment, in the last six months?
There is no doubt that the leadership of the party is a collection of strange bedfellows; what brought the membership of the party together was not an ideology; it was the quest for power by any means necessary; they wanted to win power at all cost. Their idea was to gang up and see how they can wrestle power from the PDP, especially former President Goodluck Jonathan. That to me, was the inspiration behind the APC’s agenda. And the moment Buhari won, the inspiration just died. Their problem now is how to share the proceeds of their so-called victory. It is clear now that all the APC was interested in was just winning the elections, so much so that they have started to disown their electoral promises. Some of them have even gone ahead to say that those promises were made by the party and not President Buhari. But Buhari came to power through the APC. Buhari’s name was not on the ballot paper during the election; it was the APC that was in the ballot paper. So, they cannot now beginning to disown the promises of the party on behalf of Buhari; they cannot say the party’s programmes are not that of President Buhari. For now, Nigerians are not sure of what the president promised them. But you and I know that there were promises of millions of jobs that will be created; there were promises of social welfare programmes, and nobody is talking about them anymore. The economy is suffering because the government of Buhari has no economic direction. Even the foreign trips that the president makes are not properly defined; pure wasteful events. The current situation is quite worrisome, but having voted for the APC for a period of four years, one can only hope that the remaining three and a half years will be a lot more inspiring. But if we continue like this, God help Nigeria.
You were a founding members of the APC; you know too well the characters behind the party. Do you see the party fulfilling its promises to the people?
President Buhari needs to rise to the challenges; because a lot of the people who made the APC merger to succeed have all left the party. Whether anybody likes it or not, Chief Tom Ikimi was the chairman of the merger committee; he presided over all the meetings that were held and they were held in his house, whether in Abuja or Benin-City. And he was able to manage the process until we were able to agree on a name, symbol, flag and even the constitution of the party. The manifesto of the party was done through that process. People like Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and others have all gone. Those who are there now did not really play any serious role in the merger of the APC, though they were leaders in their own right and gave their blessings to the process. Right now, you can see a lot of confusion in the APC. The National Working Committee of the party has not able to assert itself, and we saw that demonstrated — when the leadership of the National Assembly was about to be constituted; they could not even call a meeting; they had to rely on an appeal to the president to call the meeting. In an ideal situation, the president should have been allowed to face more pressing issues of governance. And in any case, if there is a separation of power, it is not the responsibility of the president, the head of executive arm of power, to dictate to members of the legislative arm of government, who should lead them. But, because the party was unable to call such a meeting, they had to resort to the president to call a meeting. Of course, before they could convince themselves to call such a meeting, it was already too late. That apart, the party ought to have a board of trustees, they have it in their party’s constitution. But they don’t have because of the different tendencies among the power blocs within the APC. You have a party that ought to be a national party, yet, there is no clear leadership. Yes, I have heard an appellation like the National Leader; but if you look at the constitution of the party, it only recognises the national chairman as the leader of the party. But as we speak, the national chairman is embattled; he has not been able to constitute the board of trustees members. It appears that apart from the issue of governance, the president would have to help his party. Immediately they won the elections, one would have expected them to call a meeting and set an agenda for the party — in terms of governance. But after the general election, they celebrated throughout and forgot about the reason they were elected. Now six months later, the party is still confused.
Let’s come to your party, the PDP. The leadership of your party recently admitted that they made some mistakes, which led to their defeat in the last general election. What are they doing right now to reposition the party?
Well, several meetings are being held; the party in its wisdom had set up Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led committee to investigate what went wrong before and during the last general election and make far-reaching recommendations on the way to go in the future. And they did a comprehensive works and they have submitted their report to the National Working Committee of our party. Between you and I, the defeat of PDP painful as it might have been, is good for democracy; it is a wake-up call. It brings more competitiveness into the political arrangements. If elections are so easy to predict, the political environment and the players become nonchalant. That is where impunity comes into play. If a ruling party of the President can lose elections, it means our country is in the right track. We are therefore appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to take a cue from former President Goodluck Jonathan, who obviously did not interfere with the running of the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If he had done so, the election results that produced Buhari would have been different. Professor Attahiru Jega, the former INEC Chairman, has retired now. And he has never one day accused Jonathan of interfering with his duties. It is our hope that Buhari and members of APC, who had complained in the past about how election results were manipulated, will see it as a fundamental duty that during their own time, the process becomes more credible. We should not see corruption only in terms of stealing public funds; even those who steal in private sectors are also guilty of corruption. When you also corrupt a process — a man wins an election and you write a different results, that is also a corrupt practice. If you want to sanitise our system, we must take corruption away from our electoral system and ensure we have elections that are truly credible. We must allow the people’s votes to really count; let’s monitor spending during elections period; the idea of inducing voters on the Election Day should not be tolerated. On the side of the PDP, we are engaging the process democratically. I get amused these days when I hear that the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. Olisa Metuh, is unduly harsh on the APC and President Buhari. That is not true; we have accorded the President the respect his office deserves contrary to the ways and manner the APC treated former President Jonathan there was no name they did not call him when he was in office.
In Edo State the governorship election will take place next year. How prepared is your party?
The PDP has been able to rebrand itself in Edo State. There is no doubt that PDP is now a very popular party in the state. Contrary to most expectation, the former President Jonathan won in Edo State during the last general election and nobody can question the credibility of the result; it was highly contested and the PDP had 58 percent of the votes; we won two senatorial seats out of three; we won five seats in the House of Representatives out of nine. The one we did not do well was that of the House of Assembly, and it was a fall-out of the presidential election. We have been able to expose the lapses of the APC in the state and they have not been able to dispute our facts. We went as far as publishing signed cheques of reckless expenditures in Edo State. And until today we have not seen any constructive reply to our exposure — apart from name calling. And it is laughable when the APC-led government in the state keep on referring to what happened in 1999, about 10 to 15 years ago. Why were they elected into government? They were elected because they promised to change what happened in the past. I thought the APC will stand on what they have been able to achieve. But they are going back to the past and talking about why they were not able to change things. They told the people of Edo State seven years ago that it was goodbye to poverty, but the poverty in the state is even worse now. They told us the state would not see flood again, but seven years later just a year remaining, we are worse for it. Meanwhile, the state government has received huge funds that no government in this state has ever gotten. If you put the resources together at the last count, about two months ago, the state in the last seven years had received more than N916 billion without adding the internal generated revenues (IGR). Now, compare that with eight years of Lucky Igbinedion administration, which got a total sum of N197 billion. And if you add IGR to N916 billion they had received in less than seven years, it is over a trillion naira. And no one has even received that in this state. One would have expected that with that huge amount of money, we will see landmark projects in the state. Come November next year, are we going to see huge debts being left behind? Or can we say that the government left ”X” amount of money in the state’s treasury? Honestly, we have not seen the changes they promised us in spite of the huge amount of money the APC government in the state had received. The reality now is that we are not better off. In the election — next year’s, our people are going to be asking a lot of questions. Those who are saying we should vote for continuity will be disappointed. Continuity of what? Of corruption? Continuity of touts all over the place? Continuity of multiple and unnecessary taxations? What continuity will they be talking about?
The PDP had zoned the state governorship ticket to Edo South. What should be the party’s yardsticks in determining the choice of the party’s candidate?
The zoning has helped in reducing the number of aspirants. That is quite commendable on the part of the party’s leadership. We want somebody that will be acceptable to everybody; a candidate that can perform better than this present government. Somebody who will be able to use judiciously, the available resources of the state; somebody who will see the whole state as his constituency, not somebody who will develop one part of the state than the other. We need somebody who will harness all the resources of the state for the betterment of our people. We have focused so much on the money coming from Abuja and unnecessary taxations; we need to develop our agricultural produces; create industries and the enabling environment for our people to develop themselves. The PDP wants to produce a candidate who understands what government is all about, somebody who understands the system, somebody who will place emphasis on due process who will ensure that projects are implemented at reasonable costs, transparently and who will be accountable to the people at all time. The PDP will be looking for a candidate that will carry the party along in the governance of the state, because the success of the governor is the success of the party.
Are you likely to be a contestant in next year’s election?
By the grace of Almighty God I intend to contest; it is something that has been in the realm of speculation. I have kept quiet before now because I believe there is time for everything. The reality today in Edo State is that the state is in need of good leadership; the state is in need of true change; the present government in the state has ran out of ideas; they are confused and we cannot continue like this. There is urgent need to rescue our state. And I believe God has positioned me; I have always been here; I have lived in the state all my life; I have passion for the state. I know where the shoe pinches. I have also been exposed to governance. I have never held an elective office. There are things you would have loved to do but you cannot do them because you are not in charge; there is difference between an appointee and the chief executive. I have been a party leader and there is a difference between assisting in electing people and be the elected person. And I have looked at all these things — I believe with all my experiences, I am in a position to go to elective office to bring about the needed meaningful change we all desire in Edo State.
What is your message to the people of Edo State as we approach the election period?
We all should be prayerful; we should not been disillusioned. Ask people in the state and you will be surprised how our youths are still planning to travel abroad by any route because they perceive that there is no hope. But I want to assure them that there is hope. We don’t need to leave our state. By 2016, we will usher in a government that will be able to make jobs available to our people not casual jobs, but jobs that will challenge their intellect; jobs that will make them productive.
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