Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State. The former Secretary to the Edo State Government speaks with BANJI ALUKO on the leadership crisis affecting the PDP, his invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), his agenda for Edo State, among other issues.
NOW that you have emerged the candidate of your party, what is the next line of action?
We are trying to put a campaign team together. What we had before was a vehicle to get to the stage we are now. It will be wrong to continue with that same structure. Now, I’m no longer Osagie Ize-Iyamu, an aspirant trying to get the ticket of the PDP, but the candidate of the PDP. I must now sit with the leadership of the party to work out the campaign arrangements, the itinerary and the campaign structure. So, what we are doing now is more of consultation and trying to put up a structure. You also know too well that we have to do some reconciliation with those who are aggrieved. Some people supported other aspirants, but having won, one must stretch his hands and reach out to them. They are all PDP members and we must try to bring everybody together.
Talking about reconciliation, how far have you gone in that direction?
We are reaching out and our opponents are also reaching out. We are optimistic that we will come out of the whole exercise stronger than we were before. One thing is that you can’t win everybody, but we will do our best to reach out to aggrieved people. We know that some people, for some reasons, might decide that they are not comfortable and that they want to leave. There is nothing one can do about that. The good thing is that in the other party, there are so many, who also want to come and identity with us. From the 18 local government areas, we have people who want to join us.
Are you not bothered about the leadership crisis currently affecting your party, the PDP?
A lot of our members are worried but quite frankly, I’m not. I believe it will sort itself out. I know that there is a lot of engagement ongoing at various levels and at the end of the day; the matter will be sorted out. To worry about it amounts to distraction. I have chosen to focus on the issues here rather than issues I have no control over. I’m happy that the primaries we had was witnessed by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and they have also expressed satisfaction in the transparency of the process.
One of the issues raised by the APC candidate was that the PDP government that you were part of killed the civil service in Edo State. To what level is the claim correct?
Maybe he was misquoted or he didn’t know the situation. On the other hand, the Edo State civil service has never had it this bad. The service is totally depleted and is in dire need of new hands. It is very difficult to find anyone who has been recruited in the past eight years. That means that everybody in the civil service came in long before now. Many people have died and many have retired, while punitive dismissals have been carried out without regard to extant rules. In many places, a lot of directors have been summarily dismissed without even taking their cases to the Civil Service Commission.
I know that before we left, we injected fresh blood into the system. Young professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and town planners were employed. Today, how many physics or other science teachers do we have in public schools? Less than 20. How many general surgeons? Two. How many dermatologists? One, on a contract employment. When you look at the statistics, it is shocking. It is only one quantity surveyor, who is an external person, that does all the bills of quantity in this state. The same man will quantify, supervise and okay payment. Is that not corruption? If you calculate how much he has received in the past seven years, it will run into billions. It would have been easier if government had employed if only 10 quantity surveyors.
That statement by the APC candidate clearly reveals ignorance. If you ask the civil servants, they will tell you that this is the worst government they have ever had. It is a common secret.
How prepared are you to face the APC, bearing in mind that the leadership of the Edo APC said the PDP was dead in Edo?
How can a party that has two out of the three senators in a state be dead? Out of the nine House of Representatives members in this state, the PDP has five. That was an election that was conducted a little over a year ago. Even the governor of the state, which party is representing him in the state House of Assembly? PDP.
So what will you be bringing into government?
We are coming to government with a clear-cut agenda. We have a clear idea of how we will start and where we are going. We are not coming to government by trying to determine our destination. We have spelt out our ideas in a very simple manner. The economy of the state will be revitalised in such a way that we will not rely solely on what comes from Abuja. We intend to reinvent our public service because it has been destroyed in the past seven to eight years. The morale is currently at the lowest ebb and many core departments don’t even have the personnel. A lot of things are being given to external consultants. The level of corruption in the system is staggering. Money that should have been in government’s coffers is in private pockets. Projects are not being advertised and there is no due process in job awards. When you finally get figures of how much jobs were done, they are scandalous. Government cannot disclose even during inauguration stages how much was spent on projects.
We have a comprehensive plan that covers every sector and every part of our state because we believe in even development. We don’t develop a place at the detriment of another. Development can go on simultaneously and we believe that Edo State has enough resources to go beyond where we are now. In every area, whether it is health, economy, agriculture, sports or tourism, we have a detailed plan of what we intend to do. Sincerely, I believe the present government has been very wicked to Edo people and youths. How can you explain the fact that this government has not employed teachers in the past seven and half years despite the obvious vacancies in the schools? Apart from the urban schools, you need to go to the rural areas to see the pathetic situation. In many of these rural schools, they have one principal and one teacher. The public service including the civil service is suffering acute shortage of manpower. Most of the legal cases of the government are not being done by the Ministry of Justice, but people outside. What of industries? When I was in government, Bendel Breweries was giving the state millions every month as contribution to the state’s IGR. What about agriculture? Government’s attention to agriculture has been zero. Sports? Edo used to be number one in sports. How come we can no longer compete?
How do you rate the achievements of the state government in the health sector and provision of infrastructure?
We must go beyond cosmetic approach to governance. Edo State is not desperate for a five-star hospital. What Edo needs is a functional healthcare system. You will agree with me that healthcare is something that should be at the beck and call of our people. A man in in Akoko-Edo, who is critically ill, might not be able to make the journey to the so-called five-star hospital in Benin considering the bad road. What he needs is a functional healthcare centre in Igarra. If he has to to go for a specialist care, they would have stabilised his condition. Our primary healthcare centres, how many of them are functional? How many doctors and nurses have been employed by government and where are they posted? Can you talk about healthcare when the only school of nursing and midwifery in the state has lost its accreditation in the last five years due to lack of facilities? A school that is supposed to produce certified nurses and midwives can no longer do so because government refused to provide the fund they needed. What healthcare do you have when you don’t have nurses, midwives and doctors?
Stella Obasanjo Hospital is a first class hospital. There are new equipment there that have not been used because the present government did not bother to put them into use and get the personnel to use them. Sometimes they say the reason they cannot use them is because their supply is doubtful.
It is strange that all a Comrade Governor is interested in building is a university and hospital for the rich. People have not complained that they lack university to send their children. I doubt if any of these people will even go to this hospital in Benin. Those who really need this hospital are poor folks, who might not be able to afford the cost of the suite. What they want is a general ward, where they can be looked after. So, these are just grandiose projects that the governor cooks up to impress people and win voters.
Many state governors appear to have hijacked the responsibilities of the local government chairmen. Will you free councils if you become governor?
Definitely. The difference between Pastor Ize-Iyamu and many of these people is that I am not afraid to highlight what I intend to do. We intend to ensure strict supervision of council resources and expenditure. We shall, however, encourage financial autonomy for the local government areas and create Local Councils Development Areas (LCDAs) so as to fast track development in these areas. We will also give freedom to local government areas in order to function in accordance with their mandates and protect council chairmen from executive intimidation and constant harassment and unwarranted removal. Council chairmen are elected just like governors, but it is unfortunate that they now live in fear. Their tenures could be brought to a sudden end with an announcement by the governor. How can you remove a man who was elected by his people just because you are governor? You removed the chairman of Orhionmwon, who was elected by his people. You removed chairman of Oredo, even Etsako Central when you are from Etsako West. That amounted to lawlessness and abuse of power.
These councils have been castrated and cannot function anymore. State government and supervisors of local governments should publish what the councils are bringing as IGR. Do you know that just as you share VAT, the councils are entitled to 10 per cent of the IGR of the state government, have they ever been given? They have actually aided the financial mess of these councils to the extent that they cannot pay salaries or complete projects.
There are talks that if elected into office, your government will probe the current government. Do you actually have such plans?
When you use the word probe, it is like you have concluded that they are guilty. I am a lawyer by profession. Of course, there must be handover and the handover note will be thoroughly investigated. Sometimes, the word, probe, is given a negative connotation. I’m happy you didn’t use the word, “prosecute.” Certainly, Edo money belongs to Edo people. If you find out that some of the money went into wrong hands, you take steps within the law to ensure that the money comes back. Our intention is, however, not to witch-hunt anybody. I’m not coming with a mindset to punish or pursue anybody. Certainly, we will look at what is in place.
The governor said you will be the easiest candidate to defeat in the election. How easy will it be defeating you?
If that was what he said, then he should go to sleep. If he believes it will be easy defeating me, then he should be celebrating. How can a governor, who said it would be easy to defeat me say that I would be moving from one EFCC cell to another when they are busy campaigning? He is afraid and in that statement, he has actually expressed his fear. If EFCC will not help him, what is he going to do? Like I said, the governor should allow his candidate to speak. Edo people are not going to vote for an aspirant who cannot speak; they want a man who can speak for himself. He (Oshiomhole) should know now that this is not a third term agenda, unless he wants to tell us that he is the one contesting. As long as he is pushing one Godwin Obaseki, he should allow him to express himself. The reality is that all their actions have show that they have completely lost.
Nothing has been heard about your invitation by the EFCC lately. Is the matter over or when are you going back there?
EFCC’s invitation is in the public domain. I thank God that the EFCC did not invite me because of any crime I committed. I was the coordinator for the former president in Edo. Money was sent to Edo and in conjunction with two others, we were told to witness the arrival of the money and to ensure that the money was given to those it was meant for. The money was meant for the election and it is a common knowledge that election anywhere in the world is capital intensive. There was a budget and every local government area had an amount specified for them. The money was collected and signed for. Those who signed and collected money also went to their local government areas to disburse them. That was what I explained to the EFCC. As far as we were concerned, the president (Goodluck Jonathan) had an elaborate fund raising that was televised live. I didn’t go there but I saw it on TV. One naturally expects that it was the proceeds of the fund raising that was brought to us.
It is instructive to know that I personally did not take kobo out of the money. Because of my position, I saw myself as someone that should be contributing, not taking out of money that was brought. So people like us, despite what came, we were adding to it. Perhaps if I had taken some, the issue of pastor must come and make some refunds will come in. I can assure you that the EFCC thing is not a problem. I have always said the EFCC is a public institution and I must say, to the best of my knowledge, that they have conducted themselves in a very professional manner.