PRINCE KASSIM AFEGBUA is the Special Adviser to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole on Media Affairs and ex-image maker for former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd).
In this off-the-cuff interview with GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE in Benin City, he explained the rationale behind the state government’s recent ban on commercial motorcycles ‘Okada’, ongoing construction of the Airport Road in the state, succession planning for 2016 and more. Excerpt
There appears to be a slowdown in governmental activities in the state compared to the zeal of the Governor during his first tenure in office. What is your take on this?
We journalists have a way of throwing up questions and insinuations just to create the news. You see, the Comrade Governor has not slowed down.
If you listened to him about two or three weeks ago, he told his audience that he is going to complete the projects he commenced in the first year of his administration – that is, those that are not completed. And there is another phase of projects taking off. Look at Benin City. You know that there is no shopping mall, no international conference centre. What you have here are conference rooms of hotels.
There are no housing estates owned by government and what have you apart from individual efforts. Now, he has created a Ministry of Rural and Urban Housing to ensure that we create new satellite towns so that the average Edo person would have a good and affordable home. With a little savings over the period of 10 or 15 years, he will be able to acquire such houses.
We will create new towns so that Benin City itself can be decongested, bring out the beauty of the ancient city of Benin, enrich its cultural heritage and also make infrastructure that have been put in place durable. Edo State is not getting the kind of money that states like Lagos, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa and others get. I am telling you that if you come to this state in two or three years, you wouldn’t know it.
But even at that, the man is not resting on his oars; he has repeatedly said he will ensure that when he is leaving office, nothing would be left uncompleted. A lot of the projects are over 90 percent completed, some are ongoing.
With the Internally Generated Revenue of the government dwindling as against when the administration took off, some say taxation remains the only avenue to generate funds and this is not being exploited?
Again, it boils down to political will, courage, boldness and a strong commitment to deliver on promises by the Comrade Governor. Even on the tax issue, when we started to implement the PAYE which is a Federal Law, opposition parties in this state took arms against us.
They were saying ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ Meanwhile, they forgot that the law was made by a Federal Government controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). We just said, comply with the tax payment because it was the practice before pre-independence, at independence and post-independence. But now we have tax evaders rather than taxpayers.
We tried to ensure compliance irrespective of status in the society. But some families and persons tried to take arms against us as if it was a personal vendetta. Far from it. We will continue to implement that tax law without fear or favour, without equivocation to the extent that every Edo person of taxable age with taxable income will be taxed.
The Comrade Governor wants to be held accountable, and that is why he is very prudent, magnanimous and pro-people so that when he leaves office, his legacies will speak for him. We are going to implement the tax law, and we have commenced the process of implementing the Property Law. Even though there are litigation processes, there are ways we are going to approach it so that we will not be seen to be prejudicial to the litigation going on.
The sack of the former Commissioner for Higher, Technical and Secondary Education, Ekpenisi Omonriotomwan, was said by the opposition parties to be the fall-out of an alleged frittering away of money meant for SUBEB. What is the true position?
The explanation of the Governor on the issue is the final position. If there was money stolen or money vanished, it will not be under the leadership of the Comrade Governor or an ACN government; it was only possible during the PDP days that money will just develop wings and vanish or fly through the window. So, money cannot miss and if it is missing just as the Governor said, we will find it.
The Governor should be commended for having the courage to sack a Commissioner that he appointed barely two months.
That is to tell you the man has nothing to hide. If he had not sacked the Commissioner, the same people raising alarm in the PDP would say the Governor is a beneficiary of whatever money that is stolen, missing or whatever. If things are not done properly, we believe it is our responsibility to do them properly because we place so much emphasis on public education, on government intervention in education, that is why we don’t want anything to slow down in that direction.
And so, whatever is happening including the arson on the building in the Ministry of Education, we are looking into that. Investigations are ongoing and once those investigations are concluded, we will have a better view of what actually transpired and take appropriate measures to forestall a future occurrence.
Can you react to the allegation that the construction of the Airport Road, Benin may have gulped over N11billion, yet it has not been completed?
It is very ridiculous when we hear comments like this from the PDP chieftains about the Airport Road contract. When they talk about the contract, they see it as one stretch of road covering certain kilometers. The Airport Road on its own is about eight kilometres’ stretch.
The walkways and drains are about 20 kilometres’ stretch, there are streets lights along the road, there are 26 road networks connecting the Airport Road…, there is a primary underground drain of 1.8 diameters to 1.8 kilometres’ length, there is a secondary underground drain of 1.2 metres by 1.2 metres rectangle – 83 meters long, there are six kilometres of drainage on appreciated roads that are joining the Airport Road….
All these are components of that road. So when they talk about the road, they don’t take into cognisance the fact that all the streets adjoining the road are receiving adequate attention. You can go and take your count, all the roads are here: Esogaban, Ezote, Reservation, Boundary, Akenzua, Ihama, Oni Street, Airport entrance, Adesuwa, Giwa-Amu, Igiebor, Benoni Hospital Junction and so many of them.
These roads are part of the contract. I don’t know the exact figure for the contract, but it is not in the region that they are mentioning. At any rate, road construction is not the re-asphalting of roads like they are doing on Ugbowo Road. No, road construction gulps money based on the quality you want for it.
What is your reaction to the issue of who succeeds the governor in 2016?
The politics of succession is another ball game altogether, but we would not want to be distracted by thinking about 2016 when we do not know tomorrow.
Anything can happen. Today it is ACN and tomorrow it may be APC. So, the dynamics of political evolution and the interplay of political forces in the state and the nation at large will also take its toll on Edo State. But we are committed to the delivery of those promises we made to the people.
The mandate that the Comrade Governor is enjoying now has to be fully transformed and translated to meaningful dividends of democracy for the people so that on performance, whoever emerges the party’s flagbearer in the state in the final analysis will also be appreciated by the people as a continuation of the Comrade Governor’s intervention in the politics and governance of the state.
The recent ban on motorcycle operators from plying local governments in the Benin metropolis has continued to receive mixed reactions. What is your reaction?
I think that government takes decisions based on the factors and issues on ground. And don’t forget that government also has enormous avenues to collate information, particularly security information at the disposal of government from time to time and it tries to analyse before arriving at any decision. The issue of the ban on Okada was a painful decision taken by government.
But for a man like Oshiomhole who has courage and boldness, we would not have gotten that kind of courage to take such a decision. And our reasons are not farfetched. One, the Comrade Governor shares a lot of sentiments for Okada riders; he loves them so much that he feels his coming to power in Edo State was predominantly because of the support he received from them.
He reflected on the kind of support that they gave to him when he was pursuing his case in the law court. But when you juxtapose that with the kind of security challenges we are facing in the state – not essentially by our own Okada riders, but by those who infiltrate the system from other states – it becomes a problem of trying to sift the wheat from the chaff.
So, in order for us to carry out a holistic policy pronouncement, we just had to place a blanket ban on Okada riders in Benin. Painful, but it is better to take a painful decision than not to take a decision that would thereafter take its toll on the generality of the people.
It is not our business to tell the public the kind of information we have at our disposal, but it is our responsibility to protect the average Edo person so they can sleep well in their homes.
Since the ban, there has been a very noticeable calm in Benin City. The beauty of the city is coming to bear and we are not stopping there, we are going a step further to see how we can use cooperative societies to create palliative measures.
Apart from increasing the number of the ‘Comrade Buses’, we are also looking for how Okada riders can form cooperative societies where taxies and cabs can be purchased for them at certain percentages or discounted rates and they will be paying instalmentally.
But some feel the ban came too late. Why did it take so long for the government to take the decision?
Again, it was because the Comrade Governor shares in the aspiration of the average Edo person, their struggles, their everyday living.
The central thrust of Oshiomhole’s second term agenda or even his agenda in government is to improve on the well-being of the people by ensuring that those basic amenities that help life go on are provided.
That is, water, electricity, good roads, healthcare delivery system, qualitative education, shelter and what have you. You see, if he had taken the decision before now, the same persons who are alarmists would still complain. However, when you are taking a social decision, a decision that will affect you and me and the generality of interests or the aggregate interests of the people, you need to take the bull by the horns.
The Comrade Governor is not going to pander to public sentiments and hysteria in the governance of the state. This decision was the right decision and that is why even the opposition appears handicapped.
Would you say the ban has brought about urban-rural migration – thus speeding up the economic development of rural areas?
Thank you for thinking along with us. You see, since we banned Okada, along Auchi and Agbor roads a lot of Okada riders have been travelling far north, others going to villages. This will in itself add economic value to the rural areas. Again, people must realise that a lot of the Okada riders we have in Benin did not actually originate from Benin City.
They were from all over the country and some were moving up north. We took video footage of them and it is on record. It is not that we do not recognise the average Edo person who is an Okada rider. But we say that he can do better. There are Okada riders that own vehicles, and they can use the vehicles to earn money. So we want to look at the economic values of this ban rather than the politics of it that people are trying to play based on sentiments.
Thank you for thinking in this direction because it also means there is a connection between us and the people.