We want government of national unity now – Ogbemudia

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•Niger Delta leaders must lead in bringing peace to region
•We are still assessing Ize-Iyamu and Obaseki
•Preparation for the Olympics was embarrassing
•Oshiomhole has done well

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

B rig. Gen. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, has been celebrated for his glorious record in statecraft through various stages in public office including the governorship of the Old Midwestern Region and Bendel State. He was also at one chairman of the National Sports Commission and minister of labour during which time he sufficiently managed one boisterous labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who subsequently transited from activism towards the governance of a piece of territory where Ogbemudia once called the shots.

With the comrade governor now set for his exit after two remarkable terms of shaping the pace and pattern of governance in Edo State, Dr. Ogbemudia, who is presently the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Abuja, in an interview spoke on issues pertaining to the election. He also spoke on fresh developments in the Niger Delta region, the economic situation in the country among other issues. Excerpts:

Where do you stand in the contest to produce a successor to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as governor of Edo State?

General OgbemudiaGeneral Ogbemudia
General Ogbemudia

My position is that whoever is going to enjoy the mandate of the people is expected to surpass the performance of Comrade Oshiomhole. Edo State has come a long way; Comrade Oshiomhole will not be the first or last governor to hand over at the end of his eventful tenure.

Right from the days of the Western Region when Chief Dennis Osadebey was in charge through Midwest States, Bendel and now Edo and Delta, each governor came with his agenda and performed his best; it is a different matter if the best was not good enough for the people.

The people have on the average, the intelligence to evaluate the performance of each governor and give their verdict. Edo State has had four civilian governors in office. The outgoing governor has acquitted himself creditably and will be remembered by the people of Edo State. As for me, I will remember him for his dynamism, his extraordinary energy, his ability to keep his audience spell-bound and also development. His type is rare.

My assessment, therefore, is that he is leaving behind a legacy that the verdict of history will eulogize him.

Would you now say the outgoing governor has met the yearnings and aspirations of Edo people?

At least 51% of the entire population believes he is a good man and has achieved tremendous success.

It is widely alleged that Comrade Oshiomhole greatly gratified you, hence your support for his government and subsequent departure from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?

I object vehemently to the use of the word “gratified you.” As a head of government of Edo State, he has a duty to look after me as he is doing to others, and as an elder, as a retired general, perhaps as a former governor. He did not buy me, his performance and his support for me when I was the Minister of Labour is being reciprocated.

But sir, is it correct that he gave you vehicles?

Yes, not to buy me, the State House of Assembly passed a law granting ex-governors and their deputies’ two cars every five years and that is precisely what Comrade Oshiomhole gave to me. In addition, when I celebrated my 83rd birthday during which His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State honoured me with a visit and he was also a Guest Speaker, my governor, Comrade Oshiomhole who was the Chief Host, gave me a car as a present. Are you saying that I am only worth cars?

But during that celebration, Governor Oshiomhole also made uncomplimentary remarks about your continued presence in a political party; how did you feel about that?

Comrade Oshiomhole has the extraordinary capacity to voice his opinion in the public. But I would have preferred if he had said it to me privately and many people expressed displeasure, implying that it was disrespectful and inappropriate. Notwithstanding, I did not hold it against him.

Now sir, ahead of the election for his successor, where are you leaning?

Thank you, please recall that sometime ago, I withdrew my membership of PDP from the party. I had been a member of its Board of Trustees; I have not joined any party but overtime my friends and I who have identical ideas and thinking of a better Edo State met and formed a non-political pressure group called the Edo Mass Movement (EMM).

We have met several times, and we have proclaimed to the hearing of the public that the EMM will support any candidate that meets our criteria of good governance, and if none of the candidates meet our criteria, we will pick our own and a party. Recently, the leaders met and interacted with APC candidate, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and PDP candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Earlier on, the governor of Anambra State, His Excellency, Obiano had accompanied Mr. Osaro Onaiwu, APGA candidate to my residence and luckily on that day, a number of leaders were also present. In all, we saw three.

Godwin Obaseki spoke to us for an hour, and he touched every aspect of governance, he was brilliant, his presentation and construction were faultless and at the end of the speech, he had a standing ovation. On his part, Pastor Ize-Iyamu mesmerized the audience, and they applauded every sentence he made, he was applauded by the audience.

Both of them having concluded their meeting with us and left us to deliberate on which of them, APC, PDP, APGA we should support, but before they left, everyone was given a paper to indicate his or her choice. The papers are being evaluated, and the conclusion will be announced in due course. Edo State has come of age and can boast of not less than 20% of its population fit to govern the state.

So, sir who do you support among the various candidates?

My voting card will establish that on September 10.

What of you personally?

No public statement for now.

Sir, your voice is important on the matter, because it will go a long way in influencing peoples’ decisions.

Thank you immensely for the compliment, in a democratic dispensation, the majority carries the vote, and I will s upport the majority of the EMM members’ decision

Well sir, your group, EMM has been in search of a worthy successor of Comrade Oshiomhole. Has it found one yet?

We are on the last lap

After which, you will announce who the preferred candidate is?

God bless you. Yes.

What is your personal advice to the people of Edo State?

Thank you once again and listen to your tape, my answer to your questions so far are clear and unambiguous.

Recently your good friend, Chief E. K. Clark organized a meeting of Niger Delta leaders, what do you think of that meeting?

I deeply regretted my inability to attend; I wholeheartedly support the aim of the leaders to bring peace to the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. First, the people of Niger Delta should do their homework and remember that we have lived together, and no one state or few states can upset the apple cart.

No insurrection can flourish in a hostile territory. I do not want the Niger Delta leaders and their people to be the first suspect, and so they should act now. I am prepared to play a constructive role in this matter with other citizens, even those outside the Niger Delta.

Do you believe that we can solve the problem, sir?

Yes and no. Yes, if all hands are on deck. No, if there is disunity.

Do you support military action in that area?

The military was set up to assist the civil authority in the maintenance of law and order and defend the territorial integrity of the nation; that was why when Ojukwu declared Biafra, Gen. Gowon who was Head of State of Nigeria declared the police action, that was the first port of call. Part of what the leaders are doing now is to avoid military action that will further reduce the population. I do not support military action on innocent people.

Sir, the people of Nigeria, are feeling the pain of hunger all over, inflation is skyrocketing, salaries are being owed and so on, how do you rate the Buhari government?

Buhari as a Military Head of State was an excellent performer because he had in his hands both executive and legislative powers assisted by the civil service that was not too far below its peak. Today, he is obliged to respect the constraints of democracy. Our solution, therefore, is that all hands must be on deck and in that regard a government of national unity is called for so we can all face the problems as Nigerians without partisan distraction.

Two areas you have so much love are in the news, Agriculture and Sports. What are your views?

My views have always been that government in order to meet their objective which are the needs of the people should diversify the economy. Agriculture which was the main stay of our economy sustained our economy before the discovery of oil in commercial quantities. We need vast acres or hectares of land for mechanized farming alongside other inputs like pesticides, fertilizers, and highly trained extension workers, strong marketing policies including agro-allied industries to use the raw materials.

On sports, I have never been so sad as I have been watching this year’s Olympics which ended recently. Our preparation and performance were an embarrassment, and the matter needs to be investigated to prevent recurrence of this woeful outing.

I wish to reiterate my stand that we have to decide whether sports is for recreation (in which case all the present facilities are enough), on the other hand, if we want sports for competition or to form a sub-sector of our economy and to galvanize the people into a formidable sports loving nation, Nigeria must invest in policy, human resources, and materials. This implies a fundamental overhaul of our current thinking and situation.

What about the present problem of the herdsmen?

I grew up to meet cattle being led from their destination in the far North to the South, and there was no problem. The herdsmen are Nigerians, but the situation has changed, and there is need for the modernization of our animal husbandry across the country. There is, therefore, need for the Council of State to review the situation in line with best practices all over the world.

A final word from you sir?

I repeat that the problems facing the country cannot be solved by trading blames or trying to score political points. Nigerians are more interested in solutions that have a bearing on their welfare than any posturing. A government of national unity is called for, that’s my position.

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