Edo Central Deserves to Succeed Obaseki-Ex Works Minister Onolemenme.
Mike Onolemenme is the immediate past Minister of Works in the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration he speaks to Emmanuel Iriogbe on why an Esan man deserves to be the next governor of Edo state after the tenure of Governor Godwin Obaseki. He also spoke on other burning national issues.
Congratulations sir on the success of your party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, in the just concluded Edo state Governorship election. How was this feat achieved?
Thank you very much. We achieved victory by cooperating with each other and collaborating with like minds in Edo who believe that Edo state should do better than we have had in the past 12 years. As God will have it, the last crisis that happened in Edo between the former National party of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Governor Godwin Obaseki to some of us we saw it as an unjust treatment that was meted to the governor and we had no problem in aligning with him to defeat the reactionary forces and that was what played out. Also, we had a common purpose to ensure that ‘godfatherism’ was brought to its knees in Edo state, we sensitized our people, the voters and true to type they proved that they were true sons and daughters of Edo state because Edo people do not like oppression, they are free-minded people and love freedom. The battle cry was a cry for freedom for our people and everybody saw it that way, so it was easy for them to connect with what we were saying. For those of us that have been in the system for two decades now we saw it as an opportunity to reclaim our state and that was precisely what happened. We thank God for the victory.
What are your expectations from the governor?
There is a huge expectation from the governor. The governor in his first term proved to the people of the state that he knew what governance was all about, that is in terms of achievements, Obaseki actually did a lot in his first term, whether you like it or not, governance is about the people, the portion of happiness for the greater populace of the people. How do you achieve that; it is through people oriented programmes that you do, and for Governor Obaseki, he focused on key areas like education, infrastructure, employment and all these areas resonated with the people. I believe in his second term he should be able to deepen the dividends of democracy in these areas, he has started very well. As for us as a party, the PDP we owe him a duty to support him to succeed in all these areas. For us the task is an onerous one for the next four years but I can assure you that we are going to cooperate with Governor Obaseki to ensure that he performs exceedingly well in those areas.
Talking about the voting pattern in the last election, people expected nothing less than 90% votes for the PDP in Edo central, but at the end of the day they gave him 70% while Edo south gave more than 80%. People are also of the view that Edo central will produce the next governor after Obaseki in 2024. How do you think the people in that zone will be able to actualise what has come to be known as the Esan Agenda?
Well for me, I want to salute the people of Edo Central for voting massively for Obaseki because the quantum of money APC deplored to Edo Central for that election was unprecedented. We witnessed it in the various polling units, they shared as much as Ten Thousand Naira per voter in polling units, but nevertheless, our people showed their resilience, showed their love for PDP and Governor Obaseki and over 70% of them went ahead to vote for Obaseki despite the inducement. We should really appreciate them because for their principled stand, the humongous amount of money should have swayed the votes for the APC, the fact that it didn’t, we are very proud of our people because we know how tempting that was. I have no regret, we did what we needed to do and by the grace of God, today, Obaseki is the governor-elect and come November 12 this year, he is going to be sworn in for a second term. From that time on, the clock will start ticking and I am very confident that his second term will be much better than his first term. We believe that at the end of the four years Edo Central will be given the ticket to fly the flag of the PDP to govern the state because whether you like it or not, the state stands on a tripod, the tripod is Edo South, Central and North. As God will have it the South has been in the saddle for twelve years and they are going to do another four years which will make it sixteen years. Edo North has been on the saddle for eight years. Sadly, enough, in the eyes of the law, Edo central have never been on the saddle, though Professor Osunbor won in 2007, but he was there for a year and few months before the Supreme Court gave the victory to Adams Oshiomhole, so for us Osunbor’s first tenure which should have lasted for four years was truncated, I think all lovers of democracy and justice will queue up behind the Esan people so that an Esan man will emerge as a successor to His excellency Governor Godwin Obaseki come 2024
Are the Esan people in uniformity in thought on this Esan Agenda?
I will speak for the politicians, and for my political party PDP, we are committed to that agenda because it is very clear and don’t forget that zoning is a cardinal policy in the PDP and because of that the party will do justice to that provision in its constitution to ensure that Edo Central is given the opportunity to fly the flag of the party in four-years’ time.
Talking about Esan Agenda come 2024, there are certain names that play up. You are first on that list and there are others like the Senator representing the Senatorial District in the Upper chambers, Clifford Ordia, some others like Gideon Ikhine, Kenneth Imasuagbon and others. Are you going to contest, if so what are your plans to actualise it?
Well for me, I will say it is too early in the day to start permutation on what will be in 2024, if we are to do that, we will be playing God and is not right in my opinion. Even the governor, His Excellency Godwin Obaseki and his deputy Comrade Philip Shuaibu have just won their election, in fact we are preparing for their swearing-in ceremony which will hold by the grace of God on 12th November 2020. We should have the decency to at least wait and let the new regime take root before we start aspiring, for me it is not the right thing to do at this point in time. What should concern us at this point in time is how we can support Governor Obaseki and his deputy to succeed exceedingly well in the onerous task of governing Edo state in the next four years, for me that is the priority to collaborate with them to ensure that Edo people enjoy the dividends of good governance. Then when we get to the bridge we will cross it, when the time comes, the bell begins to tow then we can begin to discuss whether one is interested or not. You can clearly see that many of us have been interested all the while but we also realise that perhaps it was not yet time at that time. The time was not ripe then but now that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m certain that when the time comes, some of us will be interested in the coveted seat of governor of Edo state.
The rave at the moment in the nation is our youths taking to the street with the harsh tag ‘EndSarsNow’ and other issues been raised by these youths. Do you see this as a revolution in the offing?
I won’t call it a revolution but rather call it an expression of feeling on the part of certain Nigerians on the goings on in the country, and in all democratic societies across the world, it is apt for people to organise themselves and come out and protest against policies that they are not comfortable with or conduct of government officials they loath or conduct of law enforcement officials to be specific in terms of harassments. Whether we like it or not the police or military in a country were put in place to protect life and property of citizens not to jeopardise their lives. So if citizens are complaining about loss of liberty or about insecurity even from those who are supposed to provide security for them, then it means something is wrong with the system and I trust the high echelon of the police and indeed the government do the needful and the necessary reforms are carried out to ensure that our police and military are people friendly.
Do you ascribe to the scrapping of the Nigeria police as happened in Georgia?
We need law enforcement in our country but what is important is that they should be well trained, equipped adequately to be able to carry out their responsibilities. They should be made to be cautious to citizens because they are being paid and funded from money by the tax payers. From footages I’ve seen on TV, you can see that citizens are not happy with these law enforcement agencies, to me that is the core for this demonstration. I think it is time the federal government takes this issue seriously and bring about the reformation of the Nigeria police, all para-military and military operatives in our country. For the youths, I can understand from the dimension they are coming from. They see the older generation of Nigerians as people that have been very ungrateful to the motherland, they’ve enjoyed every other thing in this country and there is nothing good in the horizon that the youths are seeing will be bequeathed to them. They see monumental borrowing by the government of the day and are scared of how the monies are going to be paid. Some of these monies are not been deplored on capital projects or on investment that will yield returns in the near future so that these investments can pay up the loans but some of these monies are being used for recurrent expenditures. These youths have very well educated ones amongst them, they see a connection between the on-going borrowings and a very uninteresting future that will be saddled with debt repayment. Government should strike a balance, it should take the agitations of the youths seriously, open up the space. I would also want to recommend that they bring a lot of them into government, so that they begin to see what is going on and you will see that they will see that it is not everything they will protest about.
As a former Minister of works, many people are of the opinion that you did your best. What has gone down that makes our roads to be in such deplorable conditions to day?
It is a pity that the road development of the Federal Government as it is today is nothing that is satisfying. Let me be modest, even in our time when I was Minister of Works, I inherited over 168 projects and the usual policy is that when you inherit projects, the first few years in office, you are focusing on those projects to drive them to completion. Within my first two years as minister of works I completed about 62 projects which I inherited from the two previous administrations. My boss then, President Jonathan said I was forbidden from starting any new project for the next two years and we stuck to it, so we were able to manage the on-going projects we inherited and I brought about 62 of them to completion. By the third year new projects were being allowed at the Federal Executive Council and what we did, we looked at the entire country and took a decision that the major three, North-South arterial roads were going to be dualised. That was what gave birth to the Abuja-Lokoja-Okene-Benin-City dualisation project, which were in four sections. We started it with a lot of zeal and we were confident that if we have a second term and by 2018 they will all be commissioned, unfortunately, we didn’t have the second term and the projects stopped at some point. Unfortunately, after we left office instead of the new government to continue with those projects, they abandoned the projects and instead started new ones, that is what is at the root of collapsed high ways in different parts of Nigeria today; lack of continuity of projects on the part of government. I want to appeal to the federal government, there are certain projects that are very key to the smooth running of the economy of this country. As an instance, the crisis in Kogi state, the road alignment, the route A2 which is the road from Abuja to Lokoja is part of the road and from Lokoja down to Edo state is terrible. Lokoja is a gateway state, so no government should joke with such connector highway, that is why people are suffering today. I want to appeal to both the federal government and National Assembly that they should focus on all federal roads especially the trunk A roads. The dual carriage roads in Kogi state should be fixed immediately if the country wants to enjoy the benefit of good economy. Roads to the economy are like what the blood arteries are to the body of the human being. National road networks carry commerce from one part of the country to the other. You can’t drive from Abuja to Benin or from Benin to Warri. Warri is not just a commercial city but also an oil producing and a port city for that matter and you are telling me that the road to it cannot be maintained. When we were in office the Federal Road Maintainace Agency, FERMA, at a time we decided to dualise the Lokoja-Benin road FERMA was made to maintain the existing stretch of that road and that was why there was no breakdown but when we left office, the on-going project was abandoned, FERMA disappeared from the southern states. I travel a lot by road, I’ve not seen them in any of the southern states I’ve traversed in the past 5 years. I don’t even know if FERMA is still in existence, if they are, they should let the world know where they are working. Today the bridge over the River Niger in Lokoja is now one-way. The alignment there is blocked and this has been for months. That should elicit emergency on that road. These are some of the things that are making people to attain this boiling temperature. We cannot fold our hands and watch citizens suffer the way they are suffering now on Nigeria roads.
There is the rumour that Former Jonathan is being mentioned as a likely successor to President Buhari, seeing that the North sees him as the most sellable candidate from the south. Do you think the man will fall for this bait?
Well, I’ve heard the rumour before now and we are all waiting to see how it will happen. President Jonathan was my Boss, a very good man and has the interest of Nigeria/Nigerians at heart there is no doubt about that. Well I’m not a Northerner so I’m not privy to details of that plan, we will just wait and see at the end of the day, it is the people who will determine who becomes their president. No doubt that Jonathan is a very qualified person to run for the presidency. With the benefit of hindsight now, people now look at his tenure as one of the glorious moments for Nigeria. Everybody enjoyed freedom when government was accountable and people knew at the end of the day where we were going and where we were. However, it is the politicians that will kick-start the discussion like you’ve said but at the end of the day it is the voters that will elect a president for the country.
If he decides to run, will you support him?
Ans: Absolutely, absolutely.
Thank you Sir.