Chief Lucky Igbinedion is a two-time former governor of Edo State. In this interview with some journalists, he disclosed that he left office in 2007 without owing any bank or workers salary even as he expressed regret at the state current debt profile. He also speaks on the postponement Edo governorship election, his performance as governor as well as the attack of his government by the incumbent Governor Adams Oshiomhole. BANJI ALUKO brings excerpts.
What do you make of the postponement of the Edo State governorship election originally scheduled for September 10 to September 28?
I take them by their words. They have promised a free, fair and credible election and I don’t’ have any reason to doubt them. I believe they will be ready for the poll just as they were before the postponement.
There have been comments that you have not been campaigning for your party’s candidate, Paator Osagie Ize-Iyamu
I wonder why people would be reading meanings to my silence. I think I am a very dignified person in the sense that I have served the state as a local government chairman and as a two-term governor and our own candidate is mature enough. He does not need to be baby-seated. He doesn’t need a feeding bottle. As far as I am concerned, our party is well grounded and our party chairman is very versatile and capable. He has been doing very well. He has my full backing. He has my endorsement and support.
Are you still in PDP?
I have never left the PDP. That is one thing for sure. I have remained a staunch member of the PDP since inception. We were the founding members and I have never denied being a PDP member. It is true that I have not been active the way people expect me to be because I believe that, after serving the state, it is better to take the back seat and I am not a political jobber. I have other things to do. I have my business to run. I have my family life to live as well. I believe that once you have served the public, there will come a time when you will have to take the back seat and allow new hands to come on board.
You don’t need to be at the centrestage all the time. You don’t start pampering people as if they are not mature. When I was governor, I was not even 50. I was just 42. It was when I finished my two term that I turned fifty. The person, who is running under the PDP, is over 50 already. He is not a small person. He is not a baby and does not need me to carry him on my back or does he need me to start talking? He doesn’t need a babysitter. He is mature. He is well grounded and I don’t entertain any fear.
Are you giving support to the party?
I am doing that. Rest assured that I am doing that. I don’t need to make a noise about it. I am playing my role as a PDP chieftain and as a two-term governor of the state. You know that experience counts. From time to time, I volunteer my wealth of experience. I speak with the party chairman and other party members. It is not about making noise. Just because I am not in the public glare does not mean I am not in full support of our party, neither I am not making the statutory contributions or obligations expected of me. I just decided not to be in active politics because as I told you earlier on, I am not a political jobber.
Your administration was accused of laying off workers prematurely. How correct is that?
In any work environment, when you get to the retirement age, you retire. When we came on board, we discovered that our wage bill was over-bloated and for one reason or the other we had to do some restructuring. But we also employed many teachers. Like any organisation, companies retire and employ. The Federal Government retires and employs, so it is a continuous exercise But we were not owing anybody. Backlog of salaries that were up to 18 months from the self-sustenance policy were paid; pensioners were paid up to date. I paid up to date.
Today, the state is owing over $200 million and I do not know how many billions of naira inclusive. When I left office in 2007, I was not owing any bank, not even an overdraft, no salary arrears and no pension arrears, even though they are lying left and right now. These facts are well documented. I believe in human capital development and I did that satisfactorily. But what is the situation today? I earnestly feel sorry for the next PDP government coming in because they are going to meet an empty treasury, a big hole. I just pray that by God’s grace he has the wisdom and ingenuity to return the state to sound footing because the debt they have put the state is alarming, very frightening.
Your comment that the next governor of the state will come from your political family seemed to have generated so much reaction, especially from Governor Adams Oshiomhole.
I don’t have the same background with the incumbent governor. We came from different background. I have my ways of approaching various issues. I don’t believe in calling people names. I have never criticised his government and that is not my style. I have given him enough room to run his government, but it is now time for the people of Edo State to really look inwards and search their souls and ask under which administration have they lived a more comfortable, prosperous, people-oriented and secured life. I leave the people to make that judgement. He (Oshiomhole) believes in listening to himself. I believe in watching and listening to other people rather than making unnecessary vile and rude statements about other people.
I was not brought up that way. I was brought up under a very strict disciplinary family lifestyle. Both my father and mother brought me up well. I was not raised in the culture of abusing people, even people of equal status. The seat of a governor is so highly revered that you must watch what you say because people are listening to what you say and associate what you say with that seat of authority. So, when you are talking, you have to be very diplomatic and you have to be very dignified in your words and carriage. It is not a position or seat where you just talk because you feel like talking. Like they always say, if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, let silence be maintained. Wiithout mincing words, the condemnation of the Igbinedion administration seems to be the greatest focus of the present government.
So, you are of the opinion that the governor talks too much?
He replies to everything. You don’t reply to every comment made, otherwise you will be seen to be talking too much. He over-talks and overreacts and that is what everybody has known him for. He exaggerates the truth and overblows his own trumpet. He should let the people decide; let the people create that opinion, but he is trying to force it into the people’s throat and people are saying enough is enough. I once told him to look back at his inaugural photographs, the first time he was sworn in, and find out how many people that were in those pictures are still with him now. If he finds that most of them are still there, then, he is doing well. But if he does not find those people who were there in 2008, then he has failed woefully.
You mean the governor does not conduct himself in a manner befitting his office?
Definitely. When people started discovering your characteristics, your mannerism, these go a long way in determining someone’s character. Of course what comes out of the mouth is like an egg, once it is broken, you cannot put it together again. You might think, oh, I can go behind and apologise just like he told a woman to go and die. How can he tell a widow that was struggling to make ends meet to go and die? The worst part is that the people he is now abusing are the people that he knelt down for before and praised them. (They were like) this is a good man and this is a fantastic person, this man helped me, but today, he has abused all of them. When one talks too much, he talks nonsense.
What were some of your achievements as governor?
Oh, several, and that is why when I listen to some people ask what did the PDP achieve in the past 10 years, I just laugh because it is either the people that are talking conveniently forget the facts of where we were before 1999 when we took over. It could also be that they are just deliberately propagating falsehood. This was a state that was purely known as a civil service state. This is a state that we brought about industrialisation and revived the education sector. This is a state we turned into a centre of sporting activities. This is a state where we inherited a wicked self-sustenance policy handed down to agencies and parastatals and we moved away from it. This is a state that workers and pensioners were being paid as at when due. This is state I left in 2007 without owing a single debt, whether local or foreign. This was a state that people were happy to wake up and go to work.
When I came, there were no banks sin the state except Union Bank and First Bank. With the enabling environment that I created and the security level that I created, various companies started coming in, Because of the wickedness of some people and the the propaganda they decided to employ, they say no, PDP has not done anything. I challenge them that the PDP government did far better than many administrations before us and better than this administration by far in terms of kobo to kobo, project to project.
There was nowhere in any of the charges that they said Lucky Igbinedion embezzled money; there was nowhere in the charges that Lucky Igbinedion mismanaged the resources of the state. A lot of people just talk because of lack of knowledge or sheer wickedness. PDP did fantastically well. The foundation they are talking about today, we laid the foundation since 1999. Everything was done. Today, there is nothing like Sports in Edo State. The Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, I turned it around and renamed it Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium. It used to be called Ogbe Stadium. The Ogbe Hard Court, I revived it. Bendel Insurance was well known and indomitable. Edo hosted and won the National Sports Festival under my administration. As a deliberate effort to engage our youth, I set up various industries in the three senatorial districts. Go there today, all those things have been bastardised. Government should be a continuum, but when you don’t continue but think you can come and rubbish what your predecessors had done, it doesn’t work that way.
How do you feel knowing that the PDP candidate Pastor Ize-Iyamu left your party for the then ACN and now APC and back to PDP?
Like I said, he is above 50 and everybody has the right to associate with any political party and you know that our politics is very fluid. Our politics is not really based on ideologies as of today. People dump one party for the other for different reasons, but for whatever decision someone takes there must be a reason.
Are you in support of his candidacy?
Hundred per cent, I am hundred per cent in support of Pastor Ize-Iyamu who is the candidate of my Party, the PDP.