Ahead of his 68th birthday on September 21, 2021, Charles Ekhoeutownen Idahosa, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Edo State and former political adviser to immediate past governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, hosted a media parley at his Airport Road residence where he bared his mind on burning national issues. Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, was there. In the no-holds-barred encounter, it was vintage Idahosa as he lamented how leaders and members of the All Progressive Congress, APC who gleefully defected with the governor, Godwin Obaseki to the Peoples Democratic Party, are now “stranded”. Idahosa sees the tango between the state governors and the federal government over collection of value-added tax, VAT as the beginning of the much-agitated restructuring of the country. Describing the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo as “the greatest thing” that happened to Nigeria, he however regretted that he lost the opportunity to have taken the defunct Western Region out of Nigeria to form a “Republic of Western Nigeria” at a time there would have been no resistance. “We would have been like Singapore; Awolowo would have taken us up there”. Excerpts.
How do you see the row between the federal government, and state governors over the collection of value-added tax, VAT?
Restructuring has started. I am very, very happy. All this big, big English we were speaking since then, for the first time, Wike has done something that impressed me. Let’s go and test the constitution in the court. How can you raise N15 billion, they give you four. Meanwhile, the Sharia people say no alcohol and this VAT is from alcohol mainly; it makes sense. You can’t fault it. And there is no way the court can overturn it. The restructuring that we have been talking about has started.
Let each state take…That’s what Awolowo did. The only problem I have with Awolowo that is still very painful to me till today; Awolowo was the greatest thing that happened to this country. He did not pull us out on time. When he discovered that the North were not ready to go at his pace…You can imagine; any time I remember that we had the first television station in Africa; we had the tallest building in Africa, the best Olympic stadium – Awolowo at that time, we were better than South Africa and all of them. Malaysia was coming here to borrow money; he should have pulled us out at that time to become Republic of Western Nigeria. We would still have been bigger than over 30 countries in Africa. He didn’t go; and he knew that the Ibos would never vote for him; he knew the northerners would never vote for him. We would have been like Singapore; Awolowo would have taken us up there.
Since Awolowo, there has not been a leader in this country with vision; so, we lost it at that time. Now, they won’t let us go because they are now wiser. The 1975 coup, that counter-coup, was a revenge coup against the coup carried out in January. But the British High Commissioner told them you people are very stupid. You have finished them. Don’t go anywhere; sit on their head. The 1975 coup was for the north to go. So, that is my only pain. If we had left at that time, we would still have been bigger than Ghana, Ivory Coast, and all that. Awolowo didn’t take us out; and at that time there would have been no resistance.
On the crisis rocking the PDP and implication for the fortune of the party
It’s very unfortunate; I’ve been monitoring it. Secondus (Uche Secondus, national chairman of the party) has been completely eclipsed. I think what he’s waiting for is court judgment. You can see that Wike holds the ace; he’s in charge and I can’t see him surviving it. But it’s going to affect the party in the sense that as we are going towards 2023, there would be division and the APC is just waiting to be tapping. But unfortunately, even the APC doesn’t even know where they are going as well. So we are really at a crossroad.
I left the APC when Oshiomhole started giving us problem. Here we are in PDP. So, there is a lot of crisis. All of us that left APC with Obaseki to the PDP, we don’t know where we are. PDP won’t allow us. They say they have finished their congresses and it’s for four years; we say let’s negotiate like they did in other places, they said they are not interested. So, we really don’t know where we are. And next year is jolly-jolly year when presidential candidate and national assembly will emerge; we are not delegates, so we can’t chop since we are not delegates and they are going for convention. Our names are not there. And APC too just concluded their own.
You see all these my leaders here, (pointing at his loyalists) they come to me every morning to say where are we? Why can’t we just go back to where we came from? But before they could make up their minds, that place is closed. So, we are just watching.
Right now, there is a committee trying to negotiate. But I believe that is the only thing the PDP in Edo State can hold – the structure of the party. You can see a year after, no cabinet, nothing.
Were there no terms of negotiation when APC was going to PDP?
You see, the time was so short. You know the time Obaseki was disqualified we had to get a new party. The time was so short we did not cross the Ts and dot the Is. All we just wanted at that time was the ticket; we can settle every other thing later. So, we went in without doing a proper thing. Like when (Governor Aminu) Tambuwal (of Sokoto State) left, he knew the percentage; Benue State Governor Samuel ) Ortom 60:40, Tambuwal 70:30. Because it’s the governor bringing us back to power, we didn’t have time for all that, and we were in a hurry; desperate because we were holding meetings late in the night. Let us go and take AA; let us go and take GNPP. I said no, they don’t have structures; we’ll be facing old APC and PDP; we will lose o. And we could not think of not doing second term because we did not want Oshiomhole to succeed. So, at the end of the day, we did not really do proper negotiation; all we just wanted, let’s get the ticket first, we would negotiate. That’s why we are having all these problems.
Almost one year into his second term, the governor has not constituted his cabinet. Does it worry you?
It worries me. But you see, the law does not say when the governor must form a cabinet…I think the law gave the governors and the president the room at their own time. So, we are not happy; I must make that one very clear to you. This month is making it a year (when the governor was elected). But you see, Obaseki cannot be like Lucky Igbinedion; Lucky Igbinedion cannot be like Adams Oshiomhole. Each governor comes with his own style. But that does not mean that we are not worried. But the governor will give you reasons. Ehn, you see, I want to carry everybody along; as I am talking to you, there is another committee set up by the party that has just finished moving round the 18 local governments.
But my own thinking is completely very different. I think he’s taking advantage of that to save enough funds because he is more concerned about having funds to turn Edo State to an Eldorado. And as far as I am concerned, only one person cannot achieve that. He has a very big dream. But he’s not going to be here forever.
On the issue of not forming a cabinet, a lot of our people are not happy. But the truth of the matter is that there is no law that anybody can hold him.
The problem we have in this state and in this country is leadership. We have very, very weak and hungry leadership. People don’t say the truth; people don’t tell the governor the truth. A man comes to you on Monday, please help me, I want to become governor, help me, help me. He will be kneeling down, bringing kola nuts and everything. Then on Wednesday, he becomes governor. The same man that was begging you on Monday, suddenly, the leadership will now become enslaved to him because of personal gains they can get and they now make you feel larger than life. The problem we have is leadership. So, in the process, the governor looked at them, who are all these ones? Let them be pretending? There is none of them that can tell him the truth. ..So, we are not happy, but we are just praying that things get better because it is his government. If he succeeds, we will hail him. If things go wrong, he’s the one they will attack.
What is your relationship with Oshiomhole. If you see Oshiomhole today, what will you tell him?
I won’t greet him; I won’t talk to him. That’s the truth. Why, because he let me down. He knew how I supported him. Let me tell you people the truth. Oshiomhole was very close to me. Oshiomhole was a very nice person; why I say nice person in the sense that he’s one man that bows to superior argument…
So why I said I would not talk to him. He knew the role I played. Then at his inauguration, I was in Abuja. When I was leaving, I tried to see as my ex-governor; then I sent him a text. I am a phone call away from you. I said anytime you need my advice or assistance because you know that I am the only one who will tell you what time it is. I knew sycophants would surround him. So, I couldn’t believe my eyes that this man cannot now remember to call me…because many of the mistakes he made, I would have been able to advise him. I didn’t need a job. I kept calling him; don’t do this thing o. He won’t listen.
Then he came to Benin once. He called me; I went to him. In the presence of the commissioner of finance, John Inegbedion. Luckily for me, he was sitting alone with Inegbedion. He was already national chairman. So, I said look o, you are misbehaving o. I said you know your weakness. When you were in Edo State, you had the technocrats around you. Now you are in Abuja, all those hungry people from different parts of Nigeria they gave national assignment; you know he’s very free with money. You are giving them money; you are just doing anything. The working committee has become your rubber stamp. You will get into trouble.
And then, Obaseki is treating leaders anyhow in Benin, you are pretending not to see it. Now, let me tell you something. Obaseki will deal with you last; in the presence of Inegbedion. I said after dealing with all the leaders, he would gather you and ruin you. He just dey look me. Inegbedion was seated. I called Inegbedion at a leaders’ meeting. I said what did I tell Oshiomhole in your presence? I said he would finish you later because you don’t know what you are doing. You are the lone star and you are very happy; okay, you will see what will happen. So, with that one, I’m so angry with him.
And then the last one which I’ve never mentioned; I wanted to go to England for my medical check-up. It was very, very difficult for me. Oshiomhole was no longer governor; when Oshiomhole was governor, that’s a piece of cake… Obaseki was not…So, I called him (Oshiomhole); I said I’m in Abuja. I can’t go to England now because the money is big. I know there must be a good doctor in Abuja that can do the same thing, so, that’s why I am in Abuja. But unfortunately, the doctor is telling me that since my history is with the doctor in the UK, he doesn’t want to complicate things, that it is better I still go there. Ah, he said that is strange. So, why can’t they? I said I don’t know but I am already at the airport and I just wanted to let you know that I was in town, I’m going back to Benin. The thing ended there.
I didn’t ask him for any assistance because he was no longer governor. Do you know… when this whole problem started brewing, Idahagbon (Henry Idahagbon, former attorney-general and commissioner for justice under Oshiomhole), something I discussed with Oshiomhole on the phone, Idahagbon while attacking me because of my support for Obaseki, added the discussion between me and Oshiomhole; “Charles Idahosa is fighting Oshiomhole because he was faking an illness and he came to Abuja to come and beg Oshiomhole for money. Because Oshiomhole did not give him, that is why he’s attacking Oshiomhole; that was it.” Because I need to open it up. That was it. I said okay, what I discussed with you on the phone, so you gathered your boys…I said okay, I will teach this man a lesson. I would fight him…how can you do that? It was very, very mean. I now knew that he has no class, he has nothing and I will fight him and I will not forgive him because you don’t do that.
Even in spite of your Christian background you won’t forgive him?
I’ve forgiven him but I haven’t forgotten.
Are you comfortable that Governor Obaseki had been silent on the passage of anti-open grazing bill?
I am not comfortable with it in the sense that since the other states – it was at the Asaba declaration that they all agreed, and I think some of the houses of assembly have passed it. I think the governor is very, very busy with this his e-registration thing; you know he’s the chairman of e-registration for PDP and anything he does, he likes to do it with all his energy and perfection. He wants a situation where the PDP can boastfully say we are more than APC so that would prepare the ground for them to say we would win the election. I think that’s what is taking his time because he was very vocal on the open grazing ban. I’m worried that up till now, the house of assembly has not even received the bill so that they can do what they want to do. But like I said, it’s his government; we are watching him. The day of report card will come.
With many PDP governors defecting to the APC, do you see Obaseki defecting to APC also?
No, he will not defect. I’ve been begging that we go to where we are coming from; he said he’s not interested. That one I can categorically say because I wasn’t comfortable the way we are being treated and I told him that look, we only escorted you here so that you are not disgraced. Now that you are here, can we now go back to where we came from? You are already a two-term governor. He said no, no, no. I don’t think he will go back.
For over four years now, some elected members of the House of Assembly have not been able to represent their constituencies. Is there any room for possible reconciliation between the Oshiomhole faction and that of the governor ?
Reconciliation will be very, very difficult and it is Oshiomhole that should make the move. If Oshiomhole should make the move; he should initiate it because he was very, very ruthless in dealing with Obaseki which was very, very wrong. Obaseki respected him a lot; he was ready to do anything for him. But he was very, very brutal. He was ruthless; he didn’t think again when he was going after him. I pray there is reconciliation because this is really a state that Oshiomhole invested in and he was very, very popular, but he just threw it away for no reason. He can’t believe it; he allowed inconsequential people to mislead him. You can’t fight government no matter who you are. Oshiomhole didn’t know where to stop, but I know Obaseki is very, very bitter because anytime I raise it because I am not comfortable in PDP; I left that place in 2004. All these leaders that came from APC, they are just stranded. But at the end of the day, what can we do? But he’s not very impressed. If you just tell him, he would say no, no, no, that’s not an option.