Senator Matthew Urhoghide, representing Edo South (Benin) in the Senate is the director-general of the campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Edo State, Osagie Ize-Iyamu. In this interview by Banji Aluko, he speaks on the chances of the PDP in the September 10 election, the administration of Governor Adams Oshiomhole, the alleged cancellation of constituency projects by the Federal Government and some other issues.
How would you describe the governorship candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
The race for the Edo State governorship seat is a clear one between competence and incompetence. Nobody can deny the fact that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is the best among the governorship candidates in Edo State. He has got knowledge and experience. He is intelligent. He belongs to two worlds – the physical world and the spiritual world. He has knowledge across the spectrums because of the positions he has held. He is also a party man. In Edo State today, the PDP is the only party that has leadership; no one man or woman owns the PDP. One cannot say that of the APC. This is the reason the PDP is in a better position to give the Edo people effective governance. I am not saying this because I am in the PDP.
The PDP is in a hurry to tell Edo people that if the first outing they had between 1999 and 2007 and by extension 2008 was considered not good enough, the opportunity the Edo people will give them on September 10 will be properly utilised. One fact that cannot be denied is that [Governor Adams] Oshiomhole wants an extension of his administration through Godwin Obaseki. Obaseki is an innocent man who is only being railroaded into this contest. He is an unwilling horse. I am sure Obaseki does not even know the names of the 18 local government areas in Edo State and the 192 wards. I am not even sure he knows the party leaders.
How would you rate the performance of the incumbent governor in some critical sectors?
As a senator who has spent only a little over one year in office, I have given out more than 120 scholarships to students in universities and secondary schools. I have used my own allowances to do this. Oshiomhole has not used the resources of the people even with his outrageous tax policies to the benefit of the people. What has he done about infrastructure in rural communities? Edo State will be in serious trouble if Oshiomhole’s government continues.
What do you think are the chances of the PDP in the forthcoming election?
Edo people have no option but to vote for the PDP. The party is in a hurry to prove its mettle. It is in a hurry to prove that if you (Edo people) were not satisfied with what we did before, we are going to beat your expectations. I want to say that I am not grandstanding. I have looked at these people (APC) and I am certain the PDP government will be better for the Edo people. We will excel. The PDP has two out of the three senators and five out of the nine House of Representatives members in the state. As I speak to you, there is no complementary role between those of us in the National Assembly in Edo State and the state government because of the ineptitude of the governor. There is no synergy even between him and members of his own party that are in the National Assembly.
You were quite vociferous in your condemnation of the planned removal of constituency fund on the floor of the Senate. What is the position of government on the matter and why were you that vocal on the matter?
The president, in the 2016 budget proposal, suggested social intervention projects. We said okay, we would share it to our constituencies while they (executive) would execute the projects. How much is the project? In the whole of the Edo South, you have about N200 million. Every member of the House of Representatives has about N110 million. N200 million distributed in 77 wards can only provide some basic things, a classroom here, a maternity here, a market there and so on. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation later said that constituency project was not important and that it could not be funded. How much is N60 billion in a budget of N6 trillion? Only N60 billion was allocated to the geopolitical zones, meaning N10 billion to the six states in the South-South zone.
What we, three senators and nine House of Representatives members, are going to use in the whole of Edo State is N1.6 billion. I have suggested that we use the money to build classrooms in Ihueniro, where pupils travel distances to get to schools, build markets in Urhokosa and maternity in Ehor, where women now travel to Irrua to deliver babies. What he (SGF) said was anti-people and I needed to tell him. We brought him to come and defend the position of the Federal Government. The capital budget in this year’s budget is over N1.5 trillion. How much is N60 billion out of N1.6 trillion? What the SGF said was a reflection of the relationship between the executive and the legislative arm of government. When he came to explain, I asked him if it was not as a result of the no love lost between the Presidency and the Senate over the election of Bukola Saraki as Senate President that the Presidency wanted to cancel constituency fund. We have, however, received assurance from concerned parties, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Budget and National Planning. We have summoned them and they have given assurances that it will not be removed.
Are you saying it will not be removed at the end of the day?
It can never be removed because not executing constituency project is a violation of the Appropriation Act, which is an impeachable offence. The president stands to get the full consequences if he does not execute constituency projects. One can prioritise but why is it that it is this one that is less than 0.3 percent [of the budget] that will not get priority? The president cannot say no to constituency project. He has no right to say no. The issue of constituency project is clear and we are vehement about it. We are sure they will implement it. It is a stopgap thing and an interventionist effort.
What is the way out of the crisis in the National Assembly?
The war in the National Assembly is not that of PDP and APC, it is APC and APC. They have shown incompetence. We have seen a lot of infractions in the style of the administration of the president we have in the country today, even though he is a former head of state.
The executive/legislative faceoff, where is it taking the country?
There is no faceoff as long as the executive is willing to leave the legislative arm of government alone. For the very first time, we have seen that the legislative arm of government wants to be independent. Lawmakers want to come out of the stranglehold of the executive. The executive, since the advent of the Fourth Republic, has always decided the leadership of the National Assembly. Did Tambuwal in the seventh National Assembly not revolt against his party, the PDP, and carry on for four years? At that time, it suited them. When Saraki led 17 senators out of the PDP in the Senate to join them, it suited them.
When we then decided that the same Saraki is the person we preferred to lead us, they said no. The executive must understand that Nigeria’s democracy is defined by the existence of the legislative arm of government otherwise our democracy will not be different from military dictatorship. For the legislative arm of government to free itself, we must go through this tortuous journey. The journey has begun and it must arrive at a logical conclusion. The principal officers could be chosen by the parties but the choice of the presiding officers is an exclusive preserve of the lawmakers. Saraki can only be removed if 76 of us agree to remove him. The Presidency or the executive arm of government does not have the right or the competence to come near any of us to solicit support to remove Saraki. The people in the APC who are thinking of removing Saraki should think of doing other things that can be of service to Nigerians.