Youths from the three senatorial districts of Edo State besieged the Benin-City residence of the two-time governor of the old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, on Tuesday, calling on him to lead the search for Governor Adams Oshiomholeâ€™s successor in 2016.
The youthsâ€™ visit did not come as a surprise to many who believe that Oshiomholeâ€™s transformation agenda for Edo State must not be tampered with after his exit in 2016. Sunday Vanguard spoke with Ogbemudia after the youthsâ€™ visit during which he bared his mind on some national issues.
While commending President Goodluck Jonathan for setting up the on-going National Conference, the elder statesman, however, said there should not be no-go areas in discussions at the confab in order to find solution to the problems confronting Nigeria. He spoke on how Oshiomholeâ€™s successor should emerge, the security challenge in the North, oil theft, just as he predicted doom for Nigeria in the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil.
How do you assess the on-going National Conference so far?
First of all, we must congratulate the President for having the courage to put together this conference. For decades, many people had been clamouring for a conference; many said they wanted sovereign (conference), others said no. I was opposed to sovereign conference because I did not think we should have two governments at the same time.
Having said that, there is bound to be problem arising from the voting system at the conference, problem arising from how information should be passed on to members and how members can put up their motions. All these are expected but what is important is that the members that have been selected are people that I myself believe are supposed to be there. The exercise will be very successful and I hope that, by the end of the conference, Nigeria will be more united.
But the President gave the condition that there are no-go areas. Are you comfortable with that?
I think that the President has good reasons to say there should be no-go areas and the people themselves are interested in getting information as to why there should be no-go areas. So if there is any information that will help them they should give it to them; otherwise, as far as I am concerned, everything should be discussed. I have no fear that Nigeria will break up because those at the conference have no alternative to Nigeria. I have no fear because there is no where you will go that will be better than Nigeria.
Some states in the North are still burning due to the activities of Boko Haram, Do you think that our military is getting its strategies right?
The issue of security coming to the conference cannot help because it is the President and the security architecture that can sit down and decide what option to take because what we are facing is really not a serious terrorism, it is urban guerilla and the people running its affairs are somewhere around the country. The people shooting the gun, I believe, going by my training and understanding, belong to the military wing of the main body.
In that main body, you have those who are in charge of political issues, you have those who are in charge of rumour mongering, you have those who are handling matters of sabotage, they have publicity unit; so many units they are well organized. It is because the military wing is killing people, that is why we are paying so much attention to it. I think we should pay more attention to their publicity and propaganda which are also serious issues.
Many people think the allegations and counter allegations between the Presidency and northern governors over the issue of Boko Haram are worrisome?
I think the governors there can help the security to overcome the excesses of these people. They are the chief security officers of their states; therefore they have a duty to ensure the safety of their people. These are matters that there should be outside publicity; if I have serious suggestions, I will channel them properly, not on the pages of newspaper, it will not work.
I think we have passed that stage; there was a time they talked about the zoning system of the PDP. The argument went on and we agreed that President Jonathan should contest the election. So we have passed that stage. What is important now is for the North to negotiate with Jonathan on what they are going to get during his tenure so that they will not lose out completely.
But do you sincerely believe Jonathan deserves second term?
Well he is doing the best he can and the best that Nigerians are making him to achieve. The issue of governance is not the issue of one person, he is not a sole administrator. If they want him to do more than he is doing, then they must assist him. I once discussed with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that it is the duty of the opposition to assist the government by giving them what is called constructive criticism so that government can learn from it and he gave me an example of what they had done in that regard. So the country is moving in the right direction.
Oil theft / dwindling allocation
Oil theft is not an issue of today, stealing of oil has been there since the day oil was found. One young man came to me some years back and said he was in charge of the records of the litres being pumped into ships and he found, in one particular case, that they pumped more than a man paid for and he reported the matter to his superiors but they removed him from that unit.
Perhaps there should be a stringent law to check oil thieves?
The laws are there but it is enforcement that is the problem. Somebody has to enforce the law; the law cannot enforce itself. But I believe that we should continue to train our law enforcement agents so that they can be straight forward.
What is your take on the defection of National Assembly members from one party to the other?
The movement of individuals from one party to the other is an essential part of democracy. But if they donâ€™t want it that way, they must write it down in the Constitution that anybody who moves from one party to the other loses his position. Then people will have to think seriously before they move but at the moment, there is nothing like that. That is why they are moving for economic reasons.
But the court ruled that they should vacate their seats.
The lawmakers who defected must have read the temperature before they left and they know the consequences of abandoning their own party. The court of law interprets the law and if they are not satisfied with the judgment of the court, they will have to go to the next stage until they get to the Supreme Court. I think the court is right, so it is left for the lawmakers to know what to do.
There is the fear that the APC might defeat the PDP in the 2015 presidential election. Do you have that fear?
As far as I know, the PDP is the only organized party in this country; the others, although they might be together today, when it comes to sharing positions, crisis will set in and you will see them running about. But we will wait and see; as far as I know, everything that PDP needs to return to power has been put in place. They have registered their people, they are telling their people what to do. So any viable opposition should counter it and produce a superior program.
What is your party, the PDP, doing to take over government in Edo State?
That is a policy matter. As far as I am concerned, myself and my group are working hard to ensure that Jonathan returns to power, that is all I am concerned with at the moment.
But your group, the Enunuedo, has been agitating for a Benin governor after Oshiomhole.
That is a Benin agenda which I support. Everything is being done to make sure that a Benin man with sufficient integrity and ability takes over from Oshiomhole. But many of us are beginning to modify that attitude that what the Benin people want is somebody who can develop the area, rather than a Benin man who may not be able to. So it is development that the Benin people want, they donâ€™t care where the governor comes from as long as the person can deliver the goods.
What efforts are you making to get a credible candidate?
Every day we take a critical look at each of the aspirants and draw our conclusions based on the information we have about them. So at the appropriate time the one that will be will emerge at the congress and we will support him based on his credentials, character and ability. There are lots of people with intimidating credentials but when it comes to doing the work they are disasters. We are already working on that, my group has pencilled down some names and we are talking and working quietly.
We are going round to get information; at the end of the day, we will decide who to support. My dream for Edo is for the developmental strides of Oshiomhole to continue. My dream for Edo is to see that whoever is going to be there at Osadebey Avenue has the capacity to take the state as his constituency and then fulfil his campaign promises, otherwise he will find it difficult next time around.
Did you entertain any doubt that Oshiomhole may not perform when he came as governor?
I have known Oshiomhole for a very long time. And as Minister of Labour, I worked very closely with him. And I have always convinced myself that he has all that is needed to galvanize people, to lead them and provide for them. And when he came, I felt that, well, let us see what he can do, and he has done wonderfully well, he has acquitted himself creditably well. God brought him at the right time for the people of Edo.
How were you able to achieve so much as military governor?
God was my leader, He led me throughout. At the same time, He made me believe that while in office, I must leave sufficient evidence of my tenure for historians to appreciate, so that many years later, the verdict of history will be favourable. And I am glad it is happening today.
How was your allocation then like?
For four years programme then, the Midwest was allocated N700million. We did not have much, the highest I ever got was N300million a year. But, as God will do it, I had a very strong team which wanted to see development and they joined me to ensure that development really took place with the little money that was available.
How were you able to build UNIBEN?
UNIBEN came as a child of circumstance. The civil war was raging and the atmosphere was full with a signal that the war will come. Then one night, Ojukwu announced that all none Igbo living in the Eastern Region should leave as he could no longer guarantee their safety. And majority of Midwesterners left the area and came to Benin. So the streets were filled with students who were in their final year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and that caused us a lot of embarrassment.
Many of them we sent overseas, others we had to find something for them. So we started by setting up an institution known as the Midwest Institution of Technology which later became University of Benin. They were a lot of opposition from people that the Midwest ought not to have a university and that Adeyemi College of Education was there for us.
Unfortunately when our people went there, they did not admit all the people we sent; so getting our own university became very important and we had to build our own university. And the Commonwealth University Association, the Economic Commission for Africa helped us tremendously and that was how we built the university.
After Ojukwu gave that order, did you try to reach him, maybe on phone, to know why he took that action?
There was no way I could reach him. I tried by telephone no way, but when the boys arrived and they told me what they went through, there was no need for me to bother Ojukwu. We made sure that our people were comfortable, that they got what they wanted and they went into the labour market for the development of Nigeria.
People enjoyed bursary and scholarship during your time but those things no longer exist. Why? And Bendel State was number one in sports during your time but those things suddenly disappeared.
In my time, why bursary was necessary was that they were many children in the streets. So we either gave them bursary or scholarship to carry on their education. And for sports, there were reasons for the introduction of sports. The first was that there was a break in communication between the so-called true Midwesterners and Ibo speaking Midwesterners.
There was a suspicion that the Ibo speaking Midwesterners were supporting Ojukwu and that when the secessionist troops entered the Midwest, they facilitated the entry. So what do we do? We couldnâ€™t continue to rule and operate between divided people. So government had to make effort to build a united state from a divided people.
Secondly, the youth, as we all know are the leaders of tomorrow; so what do we do to bring them together because they were already afraid to go beyond Agbor to come to Benin? So we had to introduce sports and when they were playing football they forgot where they came from and everybody was cheering them. And gradually, it dawned on everybody that we were all one.
At the same time, in order to remove the suspicion, I set up a rebel activities tribunal. So any body who had something against anybody went there to say it. By the time the tribunal ended its sitting, it became obvious that there was no Midwesterner guilty of betrayal.
Reviving sports in Nigeria, government has to decide whether it requires sports for the purpose of exercises or recreation or you want to use sports to make more money and influence other countries. Once government takes that decision it will know what to do.
If it is for recreation, we donâ€™t need more investments like we have today, but if it is for the purpose of getting more money through sports, organizing the people, unifying them, making them feel like one then we need massive investments in sports. And to invest, you need a people who understand what is happening and what they want to achieve to be in charge not anybody who has run hundred meters because you donâ€™t need to run to know how to organize sports.
Sports managers in Nigeria must insist on training and every aspect of sports should be given equal attention. For example, football today is our major sports but they should give sprint the same attention they give to football; the same to with swimming, basketball. With all these together, the country will be respected abroad on sports. One gold in the Olympics will give you more publicity that you can ever write in any newspaper.
Do you think Nigeria will do well in Brazil?
I donâ€™t think will do well. First of all, our people donâ€™t have the expertise, the techniques. Before a footballer will do well, he must be good and effective but what we have on the ground today, in my view, cannot win the World Cup. I donâ€™t want to wish them bad luck but what I am trying to say is that they have not trained enough. They can beat the minor teams but beyond that it will be difficult.
But if they get to the quarter finals I will be very happy, but I am only telling you my fears. The coach is good, but I donâ€™t think Keshi has the free hand to do his selection or enough money to invest in training. I know Keshi very well and some of the boys playing now are not getting younger; so they are deteriorating.
So they need 17-year-old boys to train against the next Wold Cup and they should train daily. So our training need to be doubled and we need stamina; some of them donâ€™t have stamina anymore. For example, they put some girls under 17 to play World Cup, if you see them playing, you will be ashamed to be a Nigerian. So we must change our style.