Prince Kassim Afegbua was the Honourable Commissioner of Information and Orientation during Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure. He witnessed all the internal intrigues that gave birth to the Obaseki Governorship in 2016 and has therefore condemned the present political impasse that has enveloped the state in recent times. Afegbua, who is now a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI in Benin City, cautioned the parties to the political crisis. Excerpts:
You have maintained some silence for some time now despite the fact that your state of Edo has remained in political turmoil, why the silence?
Well, there are times in your life when you choose to watch events from the rear before you take a position, especially an informed position that will not make you appear stupid in the eyes of the public or the undiscerning minds. Yes, it is true that I was an insider in the political economy of Edo state that gave birth to the present government under Governor Godwin Obaseki. I have elected to be quiet for a long time because I thought all entreaties that were being put forward will yield the desired result. I made personal effort to the two main actors because they are my friends, but the outcome has not yielded the desired result.
For me, Governor Obaseki has a greater responsibility to reach out to people because he is the one that would be seeking a reelection, and not Comrade Oshiomhole. By virtue of the present position of Oshiomhole, he still functions as the leader and boss of the Governor if you take into account the very important elevated position of the National Chairman of the APC. But those who are profiting from this political impasse would rather wish for a continuation of the political crisis for its pecuniary benefits to them. So, when I spoke to both persons, the National Chairman was willing to sit for dialogue, but the Governor felt he was not going to sit down on any reconciliatory meeting to examine the issues. At some point, Dangote, Fayemi and El-Rufai also intervened, but it ended up in naught.
What do you think in your opinion could be the rationale for this political battle. Is it about re-election, independence or a combination of the two?
You see, there is too much pride and ego in this business of political impasse coruscating the political landscape of Edo state. If you cast your mind back to the campaigns in 2016, you will almost think it was Comrade Oshiomhole that was seeking a third term. In the political economy of Edo state, Godwin Obaseki, as an economic adviser to Comrade Oshiomhole, was largely unknown across the state. Selling him to the electorates was a tall order. Coupled with this was the fact that he had never voted in Edo state. His family, the Obasekis are prominent in the state especially Gaius Obaseki, the former NNPC GMD, and another Oyuiki Obaseki, now late, then there is another DonPedro Obaseki, who enjoys some public space popularity. The current Governor, not being a politician and being one of the Edos in diaspora, was largely unknown.
So, because of his closeness to Oshiomhole through Aliko Dangote and other mutual friends, Oshiomhole fell for his friends to make Obaseki succeed him. How to make that happen became another herculean task, bearing in mind the very strong and popular candidate of the PDP, Pastor Osagie Ize- Iyamu.
Oshiomhole deployed all his arsenal into the fray, offended his Deputy, worked against all other aspirants, spear-headed the campaign and ensured that every political appointee delivers his polling unit and by extension his ward to guarantee an Obaseki victory. The candidate on his part had not acquired the nuances of political speech making, so he rarely spoke for three minutes during campaigns. He was stage shy and hadn’t acquired enough footnotes to deliver his message. Patrick Obahiagbon who was Oshiomhole’s Chief of Staff also deployed his oratory to the fullest to be able to withstand the competition posed by the opposition PDP…
(cuts in)…So, what then happened?
I think the point of crisis has to do with the 2019 election primaries of the APC which the state chapter conducted and was cancelled by the National Office of the APC. By virtue of the APC constitution and also PDP, state chapters of parties are not allowed to conduct primaries for the positions being contested except Local Government Election. The Governor didn’t welcome the cancellation. He was therefore livid with anger when he saw the delegation of the national office coming down to Benin City for another primaries. If that was not done, just like Zamfara state, APC would have lost all the contested positions to the opposition PDP in Edo state. Added to this was the complaint by the Governor that Comrade Oshiomhole appoints Edo sons and daughters without consulting him. But from what I could decipher, it appears there are people who are profiting from the impasse and would rather wish the situation persists in order for them to make some cool money in the process. At the point of the primaries, the Governor appeared to have taken a decision to seek independence and be alone.
But there those members of the APC who feel the Governor abandoned them when he became Governor and thus decided to form what is now known as Edo Peoples’ Movement (EPM), How do you react to that?
Yes, before I joined PDP in August of 2018, I witnessed the internal undercurrents of the APC at the inception till August 2018. The complaints started almost immediately when Governor Obaseki was sworn-in. The people he gave appointment to were not in the reckoning of those who worked assiduously for his election. It does appear he wanted to cut a picture of his own man while doing away with those who burnt the proverbial midnight oil to secure his victory. Those people were expectedly angry and felt used by Comrade Oshiomhole who prevailed on them to market Godwin Obaseki.
On EPM, I can tell you emphatically that Oshiomhole was not aware of the formation until about a time when the EPM activities became visible. I hold the considered view that those who worked for the emergence of any candidate and Governor, ought to be given their due recognition in whatever measure. Governor Obaseki’s decision to abandon those who worked night and day to install him at a time that it was almost impossible, was an exhibition of bad politics. The reward of politics is here on earth and it can come in different form and shape. It’s like throwing away the dish after the meal.
Don’t you think the Governor cannot appoint everybody into his cabinet knowing full well the positions are limited?
I agree with you to an extent. But there is a way to pet a crying child to gain his attention. Outright dismissal of the contributions of those persons as inconsequential was a show of raw ingratitude. The rigours and pains in politics are such that people at times lose their lives from accidents during campaigns, some have their vehicles broken down, some suffer inconveniences of sleeping on bare floors or benches when they are caught up in campaigns. Others stay for long hours without food and water all because of their belief in a project. Then suddenly when the victory comes, all you say as your thank you was to build Berlin walls around yourself ? No! Nobody does that and expect to sleep well. It is like bringing home ant-ridden faggot, you must be ready for the visit of lizards.
Politics is interesting to the extent that you make it an all-inclusive and participatory game. Every individual is important in the political process. There are electorates who make things happen and there are those groups who are like conveyor belts to the electorates. Everyone has gotten a role to play and you cannot achieve your political aspiration if you do not factor them into your reckoning. Saying thank you to people who have been useful to you is a virtue that cannot be ignored at any point in time in life. The object of your thank you has to be fair-minded enough that will give some level of satisfaction to those involved. But to discard your benefactors and foot soldiers who worked tirelessly for your aspiration is a mark of crass ingratitude.
But some people argue that Oshiomhole is the cause of the political crisis in the state, that his interference is the reason why the polity is heating up, how do you react to that?
Please get my drift very clearly. I am not Oshiomhole’s image maker or spokesman. He has his aides who can respond to issues on his behalf but I am only giving you a perspective from the point of view of what transpired in 2016 when the Obaseki project was consummated. I have had cause to ask people, if Oshiomhole who laboured so hard, dispensed so much energy and toiled all day and night, to make Obaseki a governor, does he not have the morality to interfere in what goes on in his home state, who then should have such morality? People just talk from selfish binoculars because of the perks from the Governor’s table. The other day, I was listening to one turncoat politician, called Charles Idahosa, who is largely jobless but for the Railway Board he was given recently, running all manner of negative commentaries about Oshiomhole. I just laughed. This same Comrade had to reconcile him with Obaseki in late 2017 when he publicly complained of being abandoned by the Governor. Now that he has been rehabilitated sort of, you can see his sudden 360 degree about turn. You can see the tactlessness. You can see the emptiness. You can imagine the dubiety of persons, the pretentiousness and deceit that pervades the inner sanctuary of politics. I won’t be surprised if tomorrow you see him turn against Obaseki if the tide swings in the opposite direction. He is one of those characters who move in the direction of his stomach. It is unfortunate to have stomach infrastructure politicians everywhere.
People also talked about Governor Obaseki being very supportive at some point when Comrade Oshiomhole was seeking for election. They talked about how he raised money and all that. Don’t you think, presenting him in 2016 was like payback time?
No matter how small anybody’s contribution is, I am not in the habit of dismissing help or assistance in whatever form. To that extent, he was able to utilise the fund raising ceremonies to raise some fund, even though at the end of the day, what was realised in both Lagos and Abuja events was not up to what was used to organise the events ab initio.
The Abuja fund raising at Transcorp Hilton Hotel was a total flop, loud but no money. Oshiomhole’s personal contacts saved the situation. If you ask those people who claim to provide funds for Oshiomhole’s election to mention how much, you will be shocked. The real donors do not make noise. The truth of the matter was that, when Oshiomhole saw that it was increasingly becoming difficult to sell Obaseki’s candidacy, he had to deploy the tactics of saying Obaseki has been the brain behind his own success. He was ready to clone Obaseki in his own image for people to see another Oshiomhole in Obaseki.
All those people that Obaseki calls thugs and touts today were all foot soldiers during the period. Godwin Obaseki worshipped them, visited their homes to solicit for their support, and in return they too helped in mobilisation and canvassing for votes. No sooner he won than he immediately abandoned them. Who does that? No matter what, you need to promote politics of inclusion rather than exclusion. There is every role for the good, the bad and the ugly in the political game.
Telling people to go to hell because you are now the Governor and running your own small colony of friends is a mark of deliberate ingratitude. I say this with all due sense of responsibility. I don’t know how to be economical with the truth. I owe it a responsibility to speak truth to power no matter how bitter than to massage your ego to curry favour. I do not shy away from telling Oshiomhole and Obaseki the blunt truth at any point in time. It is what I owe any of my friends.
What message do you have for the political actors in the state in view of the current realities?
My advice is simple. People should sheath their sword in the larger interest of the state. The Governor has the higher responsibility to do so because he is the one looking for re-election as Governor and not Oshiomhole.
I also expect the opposition PDP where I rightly belong to harvest the gains of this fight so that it would serve as a lesson to them in future. We have lost a major player in the PDP family in Pastor Osagie Ize- Iyamu, but we can get over that if we are able to galvanise our members and present a cohesive force in the build up to the 2020 gubernatorial election. The time to start doing that is now. APC must be punished for taking Edo people for a ride.