Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a pastor-politician and governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the September 10, governorship election in Edo State is a hard fighter, resilient and resolute in the pursuit of his ambition. Ize-Iyamu’s major albatross in his quest to occupy Denis Osadebey Avenue, the seat of government in Edo State come November 12, 2016, is his relationship with the second civilian governor of the state, Lucky Igbinedion whose eight-year tenure had become a metaphor for political ineptitude, corruption, and underdevelopment of the state.
As the out-going governor, Adams Oshiomole traverses the state to campaign for Godwin Obaseki, his anointed would-be successor and flag bearer of his party, the All Progressives congress APC, Ize-Iyamu is sure to be the target of a vitriolic verbal assault and name-calling. The former chief of staff to Igbinedion and later secretary to the state government had been called ‘a fake pastor’, ‘a thief’ and ‘a cultist’, who allegedly bathed a fellow student with acid when he was a Law student at the University of Benin and therefore not deserving of the votes of the electorate. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Ize-Iyamu, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG reacts to the allegations against him by the governor, declaring that ‘’he is not in a position to judge me. At the appropriate time, God will judge me. Of course, I am under the authority in a very serious church. If they thought I was fake, I am sure I would not have risen to the position I am in today’’. Accusing Oshiomole of massive corruption, the PDP torch bearer challenged the governor to show evidence of what he allegedly stole during his eight years in the Igbinedion government.
You have been in the field selling yourself to the electorate. What has been the response?
The response has been overwhelming. Our people have been very enthusiastic, very receptive; the goodwill and the welcome we have received everywhere we’ve gone to have been amazing. But the common story is that our people are lamenting the past seven to eight years and what they keep demanding from us is that we must assure them that they would not have a repeat of what they’ve gone through in the past over seven and a half years. Their expectations were very high; they had a lot of hope that a lot of things would change for the better but they were terribly disappointed and they are hoping and believing that we would make the necessary change to ensure that things get better. Quite honestly, they are very disappointed and are determined to vote against the party in government right now.
When you talk about people being disappointed with this administration; it’s just the same way they were disappointed with the
administration which you were part of. Do you think the people have really forgotten and forgiven the former governor and the PDP for years of perceived waste and ineptitude?
But you see the period you are talking about is nine years ago and the reason why this government came in was because of their dissatisfaction with what happened then and the hope that the new government would usher in changes. So, the truth about it is that the party on trial right now is no longer the PDP; it’s the APC. And the kind of money they have received in the past almost eight years was more than enough to transform the state. Rather, there has been so much corruption, inflated contracts, ostentatious living and obscene life style by those in government. So, it’s not the PDP that is on trial. The PDP came in when there was nothing on the ground; that is the honest truth, and the PDP did not lament. They did not blame their non-performance or little performance on the military that ruled us before then. They accepted the challenges and they went ahead. But the reality is that successive governments are expected to improve on what they meet and the issue now is are we better off? The answer is No. There are critical sectors where nothing was done at all. And in some sectors where something was done, they were done in a very cosmetic and pedestrian manner. So, the disappointment is serious.
For example, if you look at education, you talk about the red roof. What is red roof when there are no teachers? What is red roof when there are no science laboratories? What is red roof when there are no boarding facilities? What is red roof when there are no sporting facilities? So, when you talk about education, the content is far more than the colour of a roof. And of course, there is also the talk about building a five-star hospital. That song has been there from your first term. Where are the primary health care centres? Where are the health care centres in the different local government areas, even wards or communities? How many doctors do you have? Do you even have a disease control centre? What is your policy towards the elderly, children below the age of five? Is there even a health policy in place? The only state school of nursing and midwifery has been disaccredited for lack of funding. So, this is why I said even the areas where the government says their priorities are, the story coming out of there is poor; not to talk about areas like agriculture, industries, housing, sports and tourism where nothing was done at all. So, it’s been a very poor performance.
We’ve heard so many allegations and counter-allegations of corruption. Even the governor had threatened that he would forward certain files on corrupt practices by the Igbinedion administration to Abuja for prosecution. Are you confident that you will come out clean?
Of course yes. I encourage the governor if he has anything on me to please carry them to the EFCC, or the ICPC for investigation. I have told people that I have nothing to hide at all. I have been in government as chief of staff and secretary to government and I know that throughout the period I was there, I didn’t do contracts, I didn’t award contracts; I had no financial authority. So, even the talk about embezzling money does not arise; the job I had to do was strictly administrative. I had no opportunity to even delve into finances.
But for the governor, maybe you are not aware; but I am aware of the fact that because he enjoys immunity, nobody has invited him. But his officials, from his commissioner of finance to his accountant-general, to permanent secretary, government house, I know that they have gone to the EFCC close to 70 times, which is alarming. Between the EFCC and ICPC, they have gone more than 70 times on very serious allegations of misappropriation, embezzlement of public funds. Whatever they question them about, the buck actually stops at the governor’s table; so, it’s a question of time. So, whether the governor will face EFCC or not face EFCC is something that will happen after he has left office.
You are from Orhionmwon local government area and from what happened when the APC visited the area, it is as if all the people resolved to vote en masse for Obaseki. Is this not a big blow to your ambition?
Unless you didn’t watch when we went there; they went to Abudu – just one of the places we went. The same day we went to Abudu, we went to three other places. I’m sure the rally we held in my own ward, surpasses any rally they have put together, including even their state rally. So, if you had seen it on TV, you know the difference. I also would encourage you to watch clips of our rallies and theirs. They do live coverage of their campaigns; we can’t do that. I challenge their governorship candidate to disclose where the money is coming from. But of course the way the governor is carrying on, it is clear that everything is being paid for by the state government and you can imagine what the cost is; every day, carrying live coverage and using different channels. We can’t afford to spend that kind of money. But the few times we have shown our rallies on live coverage, you would have seen it on TV. You could see the enthusiasm of the crowd. I look at their crowd when they do rallies; you just find that they are people who are nonchalant; people who came there on an assignment, people who came to do a job and looking forward to when they would leave. It is a paid crowd. I can assure you that the people of the state, the people of Orhionmwon, they are solidly behind us and on the day of the election, the result will show.
The campaigns have been anything but decorous and not a few people are worried, including people in very high places. Political observers attribute this to desperation on both sides. How do you react to this?
But you see; you need to call a spade a spade. The clips of our campaigns are in the public domain. You need to listen to the governor campaigning and you need to listen to us. His language is unbecoming of a chief executive. Even if he was the candidate, his language would still be an embarrassment. So, the one who has attempted to turn the campaign into gutter language and mud-slinging is, of course, the governor, Adams Oshiomole, to the extent that even the TV stations that he paid had to put a disclaimer, dissociating themselves from what is coming out of his mouth; that everything being said was not from them because their lawyers must have advised them that this is malicious, it’s defamatory.
I don’t think you would see any of our events where the TV stations would be so worried about our language that they would issue a disclaimer. He is not even contesting. And if he even wants to put his stooge, he should do it with some level of decency and decorum. But the reason why we are tolerating him is that what he is even doing is backfiring. Edo people are embarrassed and ashamed that a man who is supposed to be governor can descend to the level he has descended to. And what they have told us is don’t descend to that level. No matter what he does to provoke you, focus on the issues. That is why you see me at our rallies, I carry a copy of my SIMPLE Agenda and I try to speak on it. So we are trying to focus more on what we want to do for the people rather than what Oshiomole said.
The governor had been feasting on the interview you granted the AIT and Independent Television, Benin in which you spoke about the acid saga during your days as an undergraduate at the University of Benin. Don’t you regret granting that interview?
No, you see, the truth about it is that my life is an open book. I went to school; he cannot show evidence that he went to school. He said I didn’t go to the Law School; that shows you his ignorance. Not only was I called to the Bar, till date, I still pay my practicing fee as a lawyer. I was called to Bar in 1987. So, if I poured acid as he alleged, I would not be a graduate today. As a young man, there are many things that happened, not necessarily things you are guilty of. But a man too should not be ashamed of his past. So, I have had opportunities to speak about my past.
Are you saying you never poured acid on somebody as alleged by the governor?
How can I pour acid on somebody? If you listened to the interview, there was never a time such a thing was said. It was his allegation. Is it not the same governor who said I didn’t go to the Law School? If a governor can begin to lie like that; a man who lied about his own age; he lied about his certificate, he lied about his religion, is that the kind of man you are going to sit down and join issues with? He didn’t go to school. I never poured acid on anybody.
Then what exactly happened?
The reality was that we went to a room and in the course of talking, others came. A substance was poured on somebody without our knowledge. By the time the person cried out and said acid, acid, I was the person that called security. I was the person who took the guy to the health centre. I couldn’t have been doing those things if I did that. The man knew I didn’t do it; he could recognize the person by face but he didn’t know the name. That was what happened. At no time did the University of Benin; go and check the records, say that I poured acid on somebody. And the victim is alive; let them go and ask him. The reality is that he knows that I was not the one. In the same way that the university now decided that okay, since this man does not know who did it, everybody that was in that room then was expelled, including the man himself. But they later realized that it didn’t make sense and they called all of us back. I graduated from the University of Benin and even went to Law School.
How do you feel being called a fake pastor and a thief by the governor?
(Laughs) I don’t even think he is a Christian; if he’s a Christian that is not the language he should use. I am very proud of my Christianity. I remember as if it was yesterday what led me to Christ. I have nothing to pretend about. I have given my life to God as far back as 1995, long before I could even dream of seeking to be governor of Edo State. Politics was not what brought me to Christ. I have been an ordained pastor now for many years. If Oshiomole thinks that pastor is a title I decided to take, then he’s mistaken. I don’t own a church; I am a pastor of the Redeemed Church of God. I minister to congregations; I preach almost every Sunday. So, what he means by fake, I don’t understand that. Nobody has accused me of extorting money from anybody, nobody has accused me of faking miracles; I preach the word of God. To the glory of God, I cannot count the thousands of people I have led to Christ. So, he is not in a position to judge me. At the appropriate time, God will judge me. Of course, I am under the authority in a very serious church. If they thought I was fake, I am sure I would not have risen to the position I am in today. I have been a pastor at the regional headquarters of the church.
Oshiomole is not in a position to even make a comment on my Christianity. But he knows that I didn’t join them to do what they were doing when I was still with them. When Olaitan, his principal secretary died, ask him who he called to come and minister. Ask him why he called a fake pastor to come and minister. When he lost his wife, the very first day in Benin, ask him who they called to come and pray if it was not Pastor Ize-Iyamu. So, for him to descend to the level where he casts aspersions; well, that is his stock-in-trade. And when he says Ize-Iyamu is a thief, I wish he could bring the evidence. He has access to all government records. The house that he has built in Iyahmo, can he subject it to public inspection? I have never attempted to stop anybody from coming to my house. Can he invite press men to take a walk round his resort in Iyahmo and allow them to ask questions on where he got the money to put up such an empire? He did it to such an extent of putting a swimming pool upstairs. He has a lion that he feeds with goats every day. The ostentatious display of wealth is beyond his salary as a governor. There are some companies he has even acquired that we are now aware of. But he should know that as chief executive of Edo State, it’s supposed to be a full-time job. This means that from when he became governor till now, he’s not expected to have any new company.I know that when he was coming in, he had nothing; so where did this newfound wealth come from? And he has always told us that he came from a very poor background. So, let him explain. You are calling somebody a thief and yet with all the access you have to records, you have not been able to point to one single thing that he has stolen.
He alleged that you took a piece of land belonging to the Oba of Benin. He said even the Eheneden was aware of it and he had to intervene on your behalf.
Did I take Oba’s land? Is he the one to allege that I took Oba’s land? Let’s assume that I have land which the Oba said was his own and the matter was amicably resolved; what is the issue there? The land is where I have my farm. He signed the certificates of occupancy for those lands. I try not to join issues with him. But it may interest you to note that where he has his resort in Iyahmo, he is fighting a serious battle with the community because he has taken over their land. After the huge expanse he got before, he has gone ahead to claim even their inheritance. Whether he wants to make it a Disney world, we don’t know; that he has now gone into a serious land acquisition. But we have it in the public domain that the governor forcefully took a land belonging to Prince Ekpen Erediauwa, who is a direct son of the Oba. That same land Oshiomole forcefully took at Okoro-Otun in the GRA, another edifice is being built there. We are also told that he is constructing swimming pools upstairs like the one he has at Iyahmo. It will interest Edo people to know who is building that edifice. Where is the money coming from? That land belongs to the federal government and the federal government allocated it to Ekpen Erediauwa which the young man has the papers. The governor has forcefully seized the place. All we heard was that they said the land belonged to the state. But the building there, nobody has told us what state project is being built there. In fact, we know that what is springing up there is a private residential building. They work there day and night and you can’t enter there because there are armed personnel – police and soldiers – there continuously. Who put them there at a time so many roads are empty of security presence? If he’s talking about somebody taking Oba’s land, he’s talking about himself.
One of your campaign issues is about taxation and people are wondering if people would no longer pay taxes when you become governor. Can you address this, please?
No, no, no. if you look at my SIMPLE agenda, we have made it clear that no government can operate without tax. Tax is a veritable source of revenue generation. But what we quarrel with is multiple and a discriminatory taxation – when you just look at faces and decided to impose taxes on them; there are no clear-cut criteria. If you must have an effective tax regime, there must be objective, well-defined criteria. And taxes are not punishments; taxes are not meant to drive away businesses. In other climes, you can even use tax as incentives to attract investments. But in Edo, what we have found is a tax regime that has been so oppressive and arbitrary that so many people have left. Different people from local governments, coming from different departments to give you paper, to different ministries in the state coming, and then the board of internal revenue. So, at the end of the day, in a given month, what you have to pay to these authorities is even more than the entire income you’ve got. What that means is that you should close your business.
We are also going to hold discussions with people. We are more interested in businesses coming to our state than using taxes to drive them because if they are no longer there, the government is the one losing. The people he employed are no longer employed and no longer pay tax. The houses he was renting are now vacant; those they were buying food from no longer get the patronage. For me, I would rather sit down with businesses to discuss what will make them stay and employ more of our people. So, for us, the tax is good but it must be done in a manner that is reasonable and that will even bring more benefits to our state. There is no doubt that we need money but I believe that this government is not being creative at all. It’s either money from Abuja, deductions from local governments, loans, and taxes. What have they done to diversify?
What would you do differently in the area of revenue collection given your allegation that the bulk of the money being collected by the government goes into the private pocket?
Correct, correct. And that is why we have to streamline the entire process. To be honest, if the regime they put in place, the money was coming into government coffers, from IGR alone, Edo State will be getting over N3.5 billion. But is that so? Over half of the money is going into private pockets because of the level of greed. So, we need to plug the loopholes. We need to have people who will collect government money and pay it into government coffers. As much as possible, we even need to discourage cash transactions; we need to enforce payments to banks which they have always tried to frustrate. The less of cash we deal with, the more money we will get into government coffers.
Then number two, because the taxation policy is driven by vendetta, they are targeting certain persons at the detriment of so many others. So, we need to stop all that; we need to take taxation out of politics. Even if somebody is my father, if he should pay tax, he should pay. And if this man is my political opponent, it should not mean that we should tax him more than necessary. And we need to open up new areas. It’s just that we live in a state where we don’t keep records. If they keep records, the so-called Chairman of economic team who is contesting, ought to have the records. You ask how many businesses have come into this state in the past eight years; can we know them, their locations and what they do, and how many people they are employing? But I can give you a long list of companies that have left this state in the past seven and a half years due to insecurity, kidnapping, harassment over their landed property; to even build is a problem. They are more at the mercy of area boys; no protection. Getting C of O (certificate of occupancy) is a problem; the cost is unnecessarily high and the delay is such that by the time the thing actually comes, the transaction has closed. So, I know the number that has left; it’s amazing, frightening. I can actually do a full page advert on companies that have left Edo to other states as a result of their unfavourable economic policies.
Apart from agriculture, do you know that even in sports, the government can make money? When we were in government, Edo Line was giving the government millions every month; Edo Courier was giving the government millions every month. Bendel Brewery was giving the state millions every month; these were also part of the revenue of the state. Which companies are giving Edo money today? So, you now have a state that has no economic foundation. All they are just relying on is a tax, tax, tax. And if they are honest with themselves, has the tax not depreciated? It was bound to. In the absence of growth in businesses, the taxes must depreciate. Meanwhile, this is a government that collected millions from the World Bank to increase IGR of the state. They collected monies now in two tranches of $75 million (USD) each; they have collected $150 million (USD) but has the IGR grown? No! From the time they took it till now, it has nosedived. How much do they now collect as IGR? They should announce it. It should be part of their achievements they should be talking about.
And you took that loan and you told us that you should be applauded for being able to attract a World Bank loan at a very little interest rate. That loan was taken in dollars; that loan is to be paid back in dollars. In just some few months, the repayment has gone over one hundred percent. The loan they took when naira to a dollar was a hundred and something dollars, now, it is almost 400 which Edo State government is supposed to pay. So, if when they were taking it in naira terms, that money was four billion, now it is already eight points something billion and the government in future is supposed to pay that money. Where will it come from? And these are the economic policies they are applauding. When people run away from foreign loans it is because they know the volatile nature of our own currency. And the question is what has been done with it?
Two things they promised – oh, we want to use the money to grow businesses. Two, we want to use it to increase the IGR. Where are the new businesses? In their search for businesses, they said oh, we have been able to attract Chinese businesses. This factory at the bye-pass; they were not even aware that they were there. Those people came not because of anybody in this government. When they saw the strategic nature of the bye-pass, which is a PDP legacy, done when Chief (Tony) Anenih was the minister of works and Igbinedion was governor, they said this is ideal. The governor has only visited them once and he stopped at the gate; he did not even go inside to see what they were doing. Even the Dangote Cement factory that they laid a foundation for with fanfare; what is the position there right now? Have they laid a single block since that day? Also, the Azura plant that they have been talking about, which they have been trumpeting, ask them; the highest shareholder in Azura, what is his name? Can it be one Philip Ihenacho who was the former chairman of Afriinvest? Is this the same Afriinvest that Godwin Obaseki just left? Is there no conflict of interest that the only thing of significance in your state appears to be owned by somebody who is closely associated with somebody in your government? Everything they are doing is riddled with fraud. And the reason why Oshiomole is so panicky about Ize-Iyamu is because he knows that I see through many of the things he has done. I tried to caution him when I was in government, to learn; he ought to have learnt from his predecessors. But can anybody today actually say he is better? They used to say that Lucky Igbinedion travelled a lot; compared to Oshiomole, he didn’t travel. This is one governor that you cannot say had stayed one week in Benin, the state capital throughout his eight years. The countless trips abroad, can he tell Edo people how much it comes to? I don’t even need to add them up to know that it runs into billions. Even when he is abroad, he takes estacode for security abroad. I never heard that when a governor is abroad, he has to pay people to protect him. It will be interesting to know the police he pays in America to protect him because he collects $8,000 for security in America. All those things are there. What have Edo people gained from all these trips?
September 10, the d-day is just around the corner. There is the power of incumbency in the state and federal might on the side of your opponent. Does this not scare you?
No. Ehh, to be very fair to the president, he has exhibited statesmanship. He has focused on governance since he was sworn in and the impression he has given to some of us is that he is the president of Nigeria, not the president of APC. I think that he has demonstrated neutrality in the elections that had been conducted. With all they said about Rivers, federal might could have taken Rivers from the PDP; federal might could have taken Bayelsa and these are oil-rich states – richer in oil than Edo. Even if there were some abuses, it’s clear that they did not have his blessing. If they had had his blessing, they would have been more widespread, or even more brazen. So, on the basis of what had happened in these states, we are confident that Edo would not be an exception. Yes, we are aware of the desperate moves being made by the governor to corrupt the exercise. We also know too that they are deploying billions of Edo resources to be used to buy voters. But I can assure you that all these plans will fail. So, I am very optimistic that this is an election that the PDP will win overwhelmingly.
Follow Us on Social Media