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There is more to Oshiomhole, Obaseki Problem than we Know - Harrison Omagbon - TELL Magazine

There is more to Oshiomhole, Obaseki Problem than we Know – Harrison Omagbon

…Says Nemesis catching up with Oshiomhole

You left the PDP for the ruling APC in Edo State, and you are now back into the PDP. Why the back and forth movement?

First, I must say that life itself is dynamic; and in the sojourn of life, you have to look for where you think it will be better suited for you. And I left PDP to APC, Action Congress of Nigeria then as it were, because of the situation I found myself in the PDP as at that time, and such similar situation was playing out when ACN metamorphosed into APC at the later days of the last administration. So, like the saying goes in Benin until a woman marries two husbands, she wouldn’t know the better one; that is why we had to go back.

What was your experience in the APC, one, as a party, then, with the governor?

Well, while in APC, I had a very cosy relationship with the then governor, Adams Oshiomhole. In fact, we parleyed a lot and we were good friends. To some extent, he was very supportive of my family, and such support was very encouraging for us to put in our very best. But the best we tried to put in did not seem to be appreciated by the larger members of the party. Recall that while we were in APC, my wife was the chairman of Ovia North-East local government council and I was the chairman of the Edo State Sports Council. And as chairman of Edo State Sports Council, to show my appreciation to the governor, I put in everything such that I had to make sure that Edo State was well represented in the sports department because then, we had this slogan of ‘build the youth, build the nation’; and in like manner, “build the sports, build the youths”. Those in the finance department in government can attest to it the amount of money that the state funded the sports sector with. But not to expose the deficiency in government not funding the sports sector well, most times, I had to use my own money to sponsor our athletes to national competitions.

Yes, there were complaints that the government was not really investing in sports.

Well, that could be said to be true because I had to be using my personal money. We were doing this to support the government because of my personal relationship with the governor then. And that was also what my wife transferred to her office as chairman of Ovia North-east local government council. Recall in their tenure, there was this Federal Government programme of Sure-P whereby they were paying local governments between seven, eight, nine million naira as the case may be. Most local government chairmen knew what they did with their money, but my wife in her own tenure, preserved the money for 10 months. At the end of 10 months, she used the money to establish Ovia North-east Line to promote the government. And then she gave Ovia North-east Line effective management; in one year. She started with 10 buses; after a year, she added nine buses of higher quality. Go and verify the state Ovia North-east Line is today.

At the risk of everything, she was able to build an ultra-modern secretariat, first of its kind, not only in this state but in the country. The Federal Government appreciated her usage of the Sure-P money that they even had to give her an ambulance speed boat which she launched in Gelegele for the local government. Some chairmen would have diverted that somehow. But rather than the leadership of APC, or the government then as it were, to appreciate these developmental strides, what they did was try to rubbish these achievements and make it look like nothing had been done. Then people were recruited from the local government to chastise my wife. And such people were now compensated with government offices, top government positions. Yes, I don’t want to mention names. As we speak, nobody is mentioning these achievements which are unprecedented. We are all in government to work to put in our best. And when you put in your best, people should appreciate it. But when you are not appreciated, we had no option but to say there is nothing for us here; let’s go. That is why we left; that’s the bitter truth.

But the story out there then was that you left because of Obaseki.

Harrison Omagbon Photo
Harrison Omagbon

To be candid with you, I’ve read in several newspapers that it was because of Obaseki. I want to be categorical and clear on that; Obaseki did not make my wife and I leave APC. It was the policy of the party, the attitude of some people, very influential in the realms of power in the party and government, that made us to leave; not Obaseki.

Now, the APC is in serious crisis. When you were there, did you see this crisis coming?

I never did. As a matter of fact, I never thought that this kind of problem will arise. I thought that with the way Obaseki emerged, my thinking was that it would be a thing of family affair, okay. The way Obaseki, Shaibu, and Ogie, the way they emerged, I thought it was going to be a family affair. But the way things are now, I think there could be more to it than the rest of us could know. It would not be fair to any of the parties for us to start speculating on what the real problem could be. I want to think that there is more to this problem than the eye can see.

The speculation is rife that Obaseki is coming to the PDP. As an insider, could this be true?

I don’t think so. Why would he come to PDP? He has his party. That is not for me to answer; it’s for you to ask him whether he wants to come to the PDP or not. But as a PDP member, I don’t think I’ve heard it being said anywhere that Obaseki is coming to PDP.

Obaseki said people are fighting him because he refused to share money. Were you people asking him for money?

Listen, if you can, please quote me to him; nobody ever asked Obaseki for money. And nobody in his right sense will ask a governor to say give me money; from where now? But that does not mean that people were not asking for patronage. I am a businessman; I am a contractor and there are so many other politicians who are contractors. So, if those people in the same party with him that are supporting him who are contractors, it’s an obligation on his side to also patronize them. Whether we like it or not, the truth must be said. And what many people are quarreling for is that rather than patronizing these people, you are bringing people from outside the state to be executing projects here. That amounts to capital flight; that is the bitter truth because at the end of the day, those people will take that money from here and invest in wherever they are coming from.

Whereas if you gave it to a local contractor, the money is here; if the man is going to build an additional house, he’s going to employ local labour here, and the local labour is going to buy his food from the local markets here. Then you would be boosting the economy of the state.  But when you give jobs to somebody in Lagos or Warri, the man takes the money away from here. So, that is what people quarrel about. To me, I also believe, and I don’t mind to be quoted, that you can only see from the level of your height. Obaseki is still a young politician, so the rule of the game, he’s not well-acquainted with it yet. There are things that are not supposed to be said. As a leader, as a head of government, there are things you swallow; you don’t say things the way they just come to you. I think it was a very wrong disposition on his part to have said that kind of a thing.

Some people are also miffed that he is now accusing Oshiomhole of godfatherism whereas he himself was a product of same.

That is nemesis catching up with Oshiomhole. The truth of the matter is that Oshiomhole himself said ‘say no to godfatherism’. And then, he is now playing a super godfather. If the god-sons are now turning back, it’s nemesis. After all, people supported him to be governor before too; he knows how he treated them. Like I said, the source of their quarrel, only they themselves know, not us; because this thing can be beyond what ordinary eye can see.  Because if you really look at it, you can’t pin-point one thing to say this is the source of the quarrel.    

Edo State governorship election is this year. How prepared is the PDP?

Of course, we are doing the best we can to make sure the best candidate emerges. Ultimately, it would be left for people to decide who they want as their governor. But as a PDP man, I obviously would wish my party wins the election. There are some things that Buhari himself is doing now which I think is appreciable; like the amendment to the electoral law, they are talking about. If they are able to sign that into law, then the real issue of one man one vote will be a reality. If this is so, Edo State, take it or leave it, is a PDP state and it had been demonstrated in previous elections. In Jonathan versus Buhari, PDP won this state. In Atiku Abubakar versus Buhari, PDP won this state. Forget about that House of Assembly election; after the election of Buhari, they said they mago mago it and gave it to Buhari, so people now said they were no longer interested. But if there is going to be election on one man, one vote, you will see that the PDP will win the election because Edo State is a PDP state.

Are you implying that Atiku won that election?

It was obvious; it was obvious. It was very, very obvious. It’s like you are telling me PDP lost in Kano. You know what they said happened in Kano.

But the Supreme Court ruled in Buhari’s favour.

You know, the Supreme Court is the highest organ of the judiciary in the country. There is no other appellate court. So, they decided that the case was worthless and they threw it away. So, who am I to come and say that the people who have power over life and death are wrong?

How do you feel that PDP lost Bayelsa? 

Well, I told you before that life is dynamic. I’m sure APC did their own homework considering the guy they brought in as their candidate who I’m sure had been a PDP person all along, and he had been one of the strong pillars of PDP also who now at the last minute crossed over to the APC. And again, those people who went there, people I asked, said the election was almost free and fair; that the guy genuinely won. Such are the dynamics of life. Nobody said because Jonathan was president before therefore, his state must always be PDP; no.

One had expected the PDP to reap from the crisis plaguing the APC in the state but rather, it is the PDP that is losing its members to the embattled party with the defection of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and some other leaders to the APC. What is your take on this?

You see, there are different categories of people in the party. There is the category of people who want to contest elections; there is the category of people who are party workers and would want to make money. When somebody wants to contest election, they call these workers; they are the ones who go and start mobilizing the people, and there are some people who are also there who don’t know what they want. Their concern for that day is the day’s meal. So, the person that wants to contest has his own ambition. It does not mean that person and everybody with him believe in what they are doing there. They are doing it because of the hunger in the land. And this one that they are saying people left PDP; how many people actually left PDP? How many people of significant note? That is the question you should ask. It is not about seeing a crowd; it is not about seeing one big man; it’s all about how many people of significant note?

What is your take on the new policy by the Federal Government to be paying directly to accounts of local government councils their monthly allocation from the Federation account instead of the former joint accounts with state governments?

If he’s able to do that, it will be a welcome development. As a matter of fact, I think governors across the country are abusing the provisions of the constitution by allowing them oversight functions on local governments. You see, governors should appreciate the fact that there are three tiers of government – Federal, State, and Local governments. And to function in these three tiers, it had to be by-election. It is a matter of constitutional provision. During the Ambrose Alli and Shagari governments that time, there was a Supreme Court ruling that Nigeria had 20 autonomous governments. In the same vein, the 774 local governments are supposed to have their own autonomy to run their affairs as against the way the local governments are being managed today. In the constitution, the local governments are supposed to participate in funding the UBE – only by participation – through infrastructural development. But what we are having now is that local governments are the ones paying teachers’ salaries – in full – and the state government deducts at source. And Adams Oshomhole would always call local government chairmen thieves. What are they stealing? No council was responsible for the employment of one single teacher; it is the state that employs these teachers and yet when it comes to payment of salaries, they withdraw at source.

So, if the Federal Government is now paying this money directly to local governments and local governments now feel that let us really be paying teachers, local governments can now know the strength of teachers that they have. Take Ovia North-east as a case study; my wife, in the process of wanting to verify the number of teachers they had because the whole allocation was virtually used to pay teachers, visited some schools. She got to one school at Ekhosodin. In one class – primary three – in one classroom, they had Three A, Three B, Three C, Three-D, Three E – all in one class with five different teachers! Then my wife, with her experience because she was commissioner for education, came and chatted with the children. She said children, are you happy? If you are, clap your hands; they did. Who wants to go to heaven? All of them said I, I, I. Do children lie? They said no. If you lie where do you go to? They said hell. Who is your teacher? They said Aunty Corper. So, a youth corper was the one doing all the teaching; the others are just there on paper as teachers; maybe they are in the market doing their business.

So, if the Federal Government is now paying money directly to local governments, and the Federal Government adopts the policy of local governments taking full responsibility for the payment of teachers, each local government will now know the number of teachers it is paying and decide what it can absorb. There were some schools my wife went to, only one pupil in a whole class. So, if Buhari is able to implement this, it’s a very welcome development and it will help to a very large extent to develop governance at the grassroots.

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