Hon West Ehioge-Idahosa is the only Edo politician who has served a third term in the House of Representatives. He served between 1999-2011 for Ovia Federal Constituency of the state. The lawyer joined his bosom friend, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, to dump the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the PDP last year. But events that occurred during the just concluded senatorial primaries of the PDP in the state, where he contested for the Edo South ticket of the PDP, have enveloped him in grief.
His 31-year-old nephew, Pere, was murdered by suspected assassins 48 hours before the senatorial primaries. Pere was returning from the bank where he went to withdraw money to enable his uncle prepare for the primary election when agents of death not only shot him but also butchered his body with axe. The attackers also killed the police orderly with him carting away the money with him.
In this interview, West-Idahosa laments his ordeal and also hints that his days in the PDP may be numbered. He accuses critics of Governor Adams Oshiomhole of being economical with the truth, just as he declares that the governor has done well for Edo people.
He predicts a tight race in the forthcoming presidential election, noting however that the alleged high level of corruption in government and Boko Haram insurgency will militate against President Jonathan’s second term ambition, while Gen.Muhammadu Buhari’s uprightness and boldness may give him victory.
What happened in the senatorial primary which you lost and also lost your nephew?
You know that I am a natural progressive whether in the PDP or wherever I operate. So in coming to run for the Senate in the PDP, I was convinced that, at that time, I had a good opportunity to win that ticket. And the leadership of that party gave me the impression that there will be a level-playing field. So we set up our famous organization, The New Deal, and began to work. And it did appear that the leadership was no longer comfortable with the ascendancy that we were gaining. But the surprising thing is that no one called me to say they had predetermined candidates.
So we were amazed that a few days before the end of November, they began to send words round that they had an anointed candidate and that no one should vote for me. I was surprised because at this time I had spent enough money obtaining the nomination form, I had been spending money moving around, appointing coordinators and mobilizing people all over the place. By the beginning of December 2014, it was obvious to every one that I was the candidate to beat. On December 3, 2014, my nephew who was also my Director of Finance and Chief Strategist, was asked to provide some funds for the campaign as part of our final preparation for the primary.
He never returned from the bank as we all now know; about a hundred meters from my house, he was attacked by, in quote, armed robbers. He was killed in a very cruel manner together with the police escort that was with him. Many stories have been told in the public but I believe the police are working on it. As you do know, that robbery or probably assassination as many people believe coming three four days to the primary indeed damaged our psyche and seriously affected our mental preparedness to finish this race.
Our camp, particularly my family, was in sorrow and tears. So we were surprised that at the primary on December 7, we still managed to secure about 103 votes. In order words, our camp lost the primary with about 24 votes despite the predicament we suffered and the gang up in the party. What it means is that we strongly believe that were it not for the predicament we suffered, the gang up may not have been able to stop us.
When you gang up against veterans like us we, will smash the gang up. It is that we were hit below the belt by the possible assassination of my boy and the race lost momentum and the vigour to finish. We are down but we are not out, we leave the rest to God and we hope that as long as we are alive, we will continue to serve our country in whatever capacity we are called up on to do so.
Killing my nephew
When the post-mortem result came out, we found that he did not even die from bullet shot, he died from battle axes, jack knife and the rest of them: A very unusual way for armed robbers to operate. To that extent, we began to suspect if this was just robbery or assassination. Don’t also forget that after his death on December 6, my convoy was attacked along Plymouth Road, Benin City. But for the alertness of the armed men in my company, who knows what would have happened.
Then on December 7, at about 2am, they went to my Abuja office and damaged the entrance to my office smashing the glass windows and the glass door. We don’t know what is going on but we are confident that the police will take this as a challenge and help us resolve these issues. And we ask the Nigerian people to support our call for justice. We are worried that 2015, we should not really be where we are in terms of the security situation in the country, when somebody can leave his house at 10am and may never return for ever.
When I was in the APC briefly as a progressive, one of the reasons I left the PDP at the time was that I complained that there was always this interference in the electoral process. I got tired of the domination of a clique, of a group of people. But the approached me reassuring me that they had been reformed, that there was a new PDP. For instance they said the Edo South had gotten autonomy.
After much persuasion, I said, I was going to give it a thought. I was thinking that the joker that made me to leave the place was when my good friend Pastor Ize-Iyamu was short changed, as he claimed, in Orhiomwon Local Government Area, he probably did not get the structures he needed. Even though now I know better.
For me in Ovia South West where I come from, everything went well, I really had no grievances at that time. But you know in politics , there will always be alliances and being a child hood friend of Ize-Iyamu at that time I solidarized with him since PDP was also giving assurances that I was going to move with him to the PDP. Then we went to PDP but not only did I lose my most precious nephew, my dependable ally, we lost a primary that the process was flawed and, of course, we won sorry and tears.
It is a bitter experience for us, it is part of life but we can only hope that the 2015 elections will be a sign post for the real change in this country so that people can be sure that their lives are worth God’s creation. You want to leave your house at 10am as my brother my nephew left, and never returned forever just because government failed to do its job. Since this incident we have still not really been able to make head way. But I am committed to justice to my nephew who was brutally murdered, we hope that justice will be done.
Any plans to dump the PDP
Politics is dynamic. I am never afraid to state that in Nigeria’s pseudo, democracy, nothing is static, but there is no question that a man who lost his nephew and who suspects that his nephew was killed in the process of a primary election will be quite difficult to persuade to remain in the same platform, quite difficult. I am aware that a number of PDP stalwarts have come to make a case here, but thankfully they have not been able to answer some of the questions I normally ask them.
I am also aware that a number of APC stalwarts are talking to me, I am only waiting for my Campaign Organization, The New Deal, to make the decision soon. I understand that The New Deal will be having a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday to brainstorm. And as a leader who respects the wishes of my followership, I will patiently wait for that decision. If you ask my opinion as West Idahosa I will say ‘leave the arena and go back to practice’. But man is a political animal, you must also be seen as not only supporting yourself but also supporting your supporters.
Chances of Edo PDP/APC in 2015 elections
Well there is no question whether the governor has performed even though you want to deny the governor of some credit because he is in the APC while I am in the PDP, but conscience will not allow you to completely deny him the credit. When you fly into Benin for example, and take an aerial look of Benin, you will see what it used to be and what it is today.
When you go out of Benin and go to the local governments and you see what has been done there, you cannot in your quiet moment appreciate him. I have been tempted to deny him some credit myself especially when I got angry and left the APC for the PDP. Each time I see primary schools in the rural areas, each time I see his machines working on infrastructures, I always tell my self notwithstanding the difference in platform, this man is doing well.
No man is God, no man is perfect, many will accuse him of taking some erratic decision, but for a comrade, a mobilizer, somebody who gave all his life from the Aluta back ground, you must allow some excesses to be excused on his part. But in terms of focus on government, I will say that infrastructurally, he has done well. Again in terms of cutting areas of waste, he has also done well. Again whether you hate him or not in terms of improving on our internally generated revenue, he has also done very well.
He has blocked the leakages and up graded the intake because we know what we were getting before, we know where we are now. And we hope that if somebody else were to continue in his stead and do exactly these things and even improve on them, in another eight years, you will not say the state has not made progress.
You spent 12 years in the House of Representatives and worked closely with President Olusegun Obasanjo. How would you compare the National Assembly/Presidency relationship and what you see today?
In those days, we had the luck of having a couple of people in our midst who were serious about the job we were elected to do. And don’t forget that we served under a very strong president like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who had several plans laid on the table of the parliament, so we always had what to do. We disagreed on a number of issues but most times we agreed on nationalistic issues and, if you ask me, I will say that parliament was generally more focused at that time and I am hoping that the 2015elections will be key in helping to select eminently qualified persons with suitable experience to operate as legislators.
I think on the whole we had a good time, we made far reaching policies. For example, this NNPC Mega Station policy was conceived by the House Committee on Petroleum Resources chaired by me at that time. The Gelegele Port was a project we were able to put as an item in the budget from the Ministry of the Niger Delta.
So we had the vision, we wanted to do something but we could not do every thing at the same time. I think those steps taken at that time can be consolidated by the new crop of legislators seeking to come into the arena in 2015. And the electorate needs to hold that in microscope and view them carefully so that you don’t elect occupationists who just sit on the chair without utilizing these chairs.
There was a time we drew up impeachable offences against Obasanjo. I was in that committee at that time. We said we were going to impeach Obasanjo because we thought he was overbearing and he had no respect for the rule of law. But I think that was largely in his first tenure, but looking back, one will say he was just exhibiting his military image at that time.
Subsequently, he became more cooperative and began to be truly democratic. I know that at that time Obasanjo began to lobby legislators to get his bills passed and to get his policies approved. I have no doubt in my mind that if there was one president that fought corruption in this country, it was Olusegun Obasanjo. Let me give you an example, it was difficult to find a member of parliament between 1999 and 2007 negotiating with a Minister or head of parastatal for any reason to get some level of benefit in order for him to get his budget passed.
There was this feeling that the EFCC was all over the place. There was this feeling that you may even and up in jail; remember former Senate President Wabara was arraigned in court, several committee chairmen were arraigned in court. The impression we had was that no man was above the law. I remember, there was a day Nuhu Ribadu called me to say he was coming to see me in my Gwarinpa House, I could not sleep. I began to think about my role in the House. I had to x-tray my salaries and allowances.
Luckily for me, I was not a principal officer, I had no approving power. I could not think of what I could have done. When Ribadu finally came, he had only come to ask me if I had a puppy because at that time I was breeding dog. I am trying to tell you the kind of thing that we went through. And that is why sleaze at that time was very low. But after that, I later find out that law makers will openly negotiate with Ministers. Obasanjo may have his own weaknesses but you cannot undermine his very strong side as president.
Since he left office Baba has continued to make strong statement, some of them may be supported by personal information known to him, some may be based on the environmental system going on today. However, I think that what is significant for the country at this time is to elect a strong leader because what we are lacking is strong leadership and that was why I gave you example of the Obasanjo administration. There was a time in this country that Baba had to do what was strong, when they started killing his policemen, he took a strong step in Odi, he was criticised.
But I can recall that through out his tenure that never happened again. When they messed up in Zak Ibiam, he took a strong step and every one criticised him, but again under him the government did not accommodate this kind of shenanigans where a group of people will take over some portion of the country, hoist their flag and kill our soldiers.
So I think we need a strong leader and I think it must be the key issue in the 2015 elections. Nigerians must look at the calibre of those aspiring to lead them. They must look at their pedigree, their history and make the right choice for the country. Don’t vote for yourself, vote for Nigeria. Let us vote to keep Nigeria together and vote to make our country respected in the comity of nations.
I think it is going to be a tough contest because if you look at the balance of electoral power, you will see that the voting profile of 2011 is looking likely to be significantly altered. I am aware that the president won the South-West with a difference of about 2.5million. Then I also know that he won the South-South with a margin of about 4.4million. And then he won the South-East with a margin of about 4.5million, that was probably where he got the difference of about over 12million from the same challenger, Gen.Buhari.
But if you look at the way things are going now in 2015, it is clear now that the president may not be able to get that margin in the South-West. In Lagos State alone, he got over one million difference, I think that was due to a clear understanding between the old ACN and the PDP because, at that time, they knew they had no chance at all and it was not likely that their candidate Nuhu Ribadu may have been able to do significantly well in the North.
I think political exigency and expediency may have led to some horse trading; whether we like it or not, that happened and that cooperation was evident. Even in Edo State, where, for example, the president polled over 500,000 votes, he scored about 87.9 per cent of the votes cast in the state. But if you look at the scenario on ground today, we don’t see that kind of cooperation, it is going to be a fight to the finish. So that is why I say the calculations have been significantly altered.
If you look at the South-East for example, like Imo where the president got his highest votes, he secured 1.4million there to Buhari’s 9,000 or 10,000, you will see that that state is being controlled by the APC now and by a very rugged governor. So even if he wins that state but with a very small margin, that again will be a loss of ground for him. Now if you compare the situation in the northern states then as compared to what it is today, it is tighter for the president.
That time the president had serious northern supporters who were coming out to openly canvass for him, but now we are not seeing many of such person coming out to chest out. And from what we are seeing, even more northern states are in the opposition like Sokoto and Kano. When you have a governorship candidate like Tambuwal, it means the margin of loss for the president in Sokoto will be much. My prediction is that it is going to be a tight contest, the odds are likely against the president.
How will you sincerely rate President Jonathan’s performance in six years. Do you think he deserves to even run for second term?
Well whether you like him or hate him, there are areas which the president may have made some marks. For example, infrastructurally, we have seen some progress in the aviation sector, for the first time we are seeing the government trying to do something new in that sector. But not so in the manufacturing industry which is the key to the economy. So when I hear talks about large economies with impoverished people, I always laugh because large economies always have a corresponding impact on the people to earn a living.
It is now not in the court of Jonathan of Buhari to tell Nigerians what they want, it is in the court of Nigerians to mould the future that they deserve. It is now left for them to x-tray the nation’s woes. But one minus for the president is that there has been so much allegation of corruption and depletion of the foreign reserve. This is not come thing that is encouraging.
The second minus is that they has been so much incompetence around him. The third minus for the President is that he has not had enough courage to make the right changes appropriately. For Buhari, one plus for him is that he is regarded to have enough courage to make significant policy changes and he is regarded to having enough courage to implement the laws of this country. But two fears, many wonder whether if he has completely been able to democratize himself. Can he cope with the manipulations, horse trading in a democratic set up?