Business mogul and major stakeholders in Edo State, Flight Captain Hosa Okunbo, in this interview, speaks on his affinity to the Obaseki dynasty, genesis of the cold war between him and incumbent governor Godwin Obaseki, support for another candidate for the September 19 election. KUNLE ODEREMI brings some excerpts.
ON his relationship with Governor Godwin Obaseki and how their quarrel started.
At the beginning when Governor Godwin Obaseki approached me in 2016 that he wanted to run for the governorship of Edo State, he came in the company of a friend, Noggie Meggison, to my house in Ikoyi (Lagos). And that day I accepted him because of the relationship between his late father and I. His late father was like a father to me, in fact he nurtured me in my youth. I told him the relationship between his father and I, that as a child, I was his father’s friend and that I had no choice but to support his ambition. After that, he kept coming to my house with Rasaq Bello-Osagie. When he came, he respected me and we respected each other, we ate together and the relationship was very cordial. I was happy that at least somebody from the private sector like myself had come into the governorship race in Edo State, apart from the relationship I had with the father which was very dear to me. When it came to the time to support financially, he came to me in Abuja with the same Rasaq and I did my little bit to support him and thank God it is the same candidate today that is also his opponent again.
Now, what happened after that?
He was elected as the governor in 2016 and I was very elated and as we continued, the political class that elected him was all coming to me including Rasaq Bello-Osagie that brought him to me. I want to start mentioning names now so that there can be reference. They were complaining about how he was treating them and how he didn’t want to see them any more after being elected. I kept calming them down. I even quarreled with Rasaq. I said, ‘Rasaq, leave this man alone’ and I kept talking to the political class and said, ‘listen, I know bankers; I know investment bankers; you can’t squeeze anything out of their hands. He said he was gathering money to improve our state.’ He said he’s developing our state and I said so be it; let him be! I kept going back to him to say, ‘my brother, please manage these people. You have found yourself in the political turf, so please manage them’’ because I believe there are so many attributes of leadership: ability to manage people, perseverance and patience. I told him that when you have more than 10 workers in your establishment, you will have different kinds of people and the ability to manage them to achieve your desired goals is what is important.
As I was fighting the political class, I was advising him on how to manage them because for me, the state was my concern, development of my state is a top priority. That was why when I was going to China to meet some investors, I mentioned it to him and he was willing to come. I was excited that he was willing to come. I bought his ticket and those of his aides. We went to China and met my investors and we spent a good time together.
I did that and paid all the bills not because I had too much money but what I wanted to show to my brother was, ‘look, I am not coming for government purse. I wanted to show him that I wanted to help genuinely and I seriously meant well for him. To my surprise, I could not believe the things that started unfolding after. I was always wondering what I had done. For instance, when the President (Muhammadu Buhari) was coming to Benin for the Army Day, I reached out to the Presidency. The President has seen my products; the President had eaten products from my farm; the President loves the products, so I wanted to use that opportunity of his coming to Benin to invite the President to commission my farm. I also thought that was an opportunity for Godwin, the governor to also showcase the farm as one of his achievements, only for me to hear from the grapevine that he never wanted the President to come to my farm. I needed to confirm if the President was going to come to my farm and I did. Then, I got a phone call from Godwin. He said, ‘I learnt the President is coming to your farm; he will come but he is not going to come out of the car.’ I was wondering how the President would come for the commissioning of my farm and not come out of the car. Whatever I am saying here today, God Almighty knows that I am saying the truth. He gave me that call and I laughed only for the event to be cancelled because there was an incident in Maiduguri and the President had to go to Maiduguri. I started to think what was going on here.
Most of these things started last year.
It is very true that a few people had approached me that I should run against him. Let me be honest, I will be the last person to quarrel with any government that is performing or any government at all. At the very beginning, when Godwin told me his plans for Edo State, if Godwin presents to you his plans for Edo State on Power-point, you will kiss his feet. It is like in the Bible when the devil said take all this and bow before me and Jesus said, ‘get thee behind me Satan.’
Nothing on ground
And as we progressed, all those packages that he presented, none was done. I learnt most of them were all on paper and they continue to be on paper and consultancy services attached to most of them. Of course, as we speak, most of those projects are not on ground and I can’t be deceived. Some can be deceived but I cannot; a situation, where you have 600 children packed in a room selling propaganda on social media of projects that are not there is appalling. That is why most of our brothers in the Diaspora are sold on his agenda; they do not know that most of those projects are just not on ground. You can’t continue selling propaganda because when you tell lies continuously it becomes truth in some peoples’ ears. You sell propaganda; you impoverished them (the people) and then when it is election time, you now throw corns at them and tell them to see white and call it black. I will not allow that in a society I grew up in. I don’t live permanently in Benin but I have always retraced my steps to my home because there is a saying that a child that doesn’t remember where he comes from is lost. I am completely in touch with my environment back home. I know that is where I am from and whatever I can do to relate with my people, I always do.
Like I said, a lot of people approached me to run for governor of Edo State and most of the people that did, I told them I wasn’t interested because I have set a trajectory for my life. Over the past 32 years, I have been involved in business and before that, I was a very good professional pilot. And at 63, my mates that ran for governorship did that in 1999 and I am not ready to start learning new things. And that is one of the reasons I tried to help Godwin because in his old age, he could not learn new things. That is why he fell a victim. He found himself in politics, which was not his turf; it was not his forte and he would have sought for God’s wisdom to be able to manage the position he had found himself. That was why I was talking to him and trying to mediate in the matter because I never wanted him to fight anybody, not to talk about fighting me. When he started fighting the political class, I told him when he came to my house, ‘Go; please if you keep fighting these guys, they have a boss who is Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and very soon, you and Adams will quarrel.’ He said: ‘God forbid; instead of him and Adams quarrelling, he would resign from being governor. I said: ‘okay, and not long after, Adams became the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the people on ground whom he was fighting now found solace in Abuja and they came to seek help from him. I was watching and Comrade (Oshiomhole) started helping some of them through his position. And the quarrel started. He became angry with Comrade Oshimhole and complained that he was helping people that were fighting him in the state. Then, it came to their primaries and the full-blown quarrel started. I went to him and tried settling the quarrel. I went once and the second time I said, ‘O, my brother; your position today is governor and Comrade Oshiomhole is the chairman of the APC, I don’t think there is anything both of you will sit in front of the President and ask for our state that we would not get. Please, this quarrel should never happen.’ I said, ‘let’s nip it in the bud for the sake of everybody. I was in his house for three hours. I knelt down, begging him. I said for the sake of the state, I don’t want this animosity to continue, whatever it takes, please close it out.
That same night when I got home, I got a call from a common friend in Lagos, who told me that Godwin said you should stay out of this matter, otherwise you might be a collateral damage. I said, ‘collateral damage? Me?’ I said, ‘should I ask him?’ He said, ‘ask him.’ The next morning I called him. I said Ogierebor, which is what I call him, this is what this guy told me. He said: ‘Yes, it is fight to the finish oh! You better stay away so that you will not be caught up in the middle. I said: ‘Thank you.’ But I added that I won’t relent. I reached out to elders, who were more powerful than myself, that we should not have a state where there are no elders.
Don’t fight God, government, gun
I was not upset because I am a businessman and the principle of every businessman or human being are three things: you must not fight God, Government, and Gun. I’m very conscious of those three things and that was why I was patient. I am still not fighting Godwin. I am continuously defending myself, and that passed. Then, write-ups started coming out; they started attacking me. I finally wrote Captain Hosa Speaks, Leave Me Alone, Out of Politics. It was well-published and circulated. My brother called me like an emperor, and said, ‘Captain, this is what I have been expecting from you.’ And I said, ‘Your Excellency, I have told you I was not contesting.’ He said: ‘Very good,’ like he was my classroom teacher. My son that works in his government, Osaze Uzamere, also called me and said: ‘Daddy, thank you for coming out; I have been defending you and telling them you are not doing this thing.’ Igbinidu, the Head of his Tax, and several others called me, thanking me for coming out. I said: ‘Wow, I did not know the matter was this serious! I then I called him, and said you too write, Captain Hosa is my brother, he is not a politician, leave him alone and that will put a stop to everything. He told me he has so many support base at home and abroad and he doesn’t know those who were attacking me and gave excuses.
I felt he had attacked my business and didn’t succeed. Coming from the private sector, he knows the only thing he can do was to damage my integrity, compliance and competence by writing all these things. I am not a politician. If you throw stones at a politician, he may not reply but as a businessman, when people throw stones at you, a day will come when they will ask you: ‘when you were accused of this, how did you respond?’
So, as they kept attacking me, I kept responding. I said this man wants to destroy my business, not physically but through compliance. That’s why at a point, I threw everything into the papers. You saw me in the papers every day, showing people exactly who I am. I started exposing myself. I have done business for over three decades only a few knew me. Friends called me and said ‘Captain, what is going on; you are in the news every day? I had to tell them that I was defending myself. My brother exposed me. When the attack got too much. I wrote an open letter. One of the boys that wrote a libelous article against me, I filed a complaint and he was arrested and was to be charged to court but his lawyer came to me to apologise. I have many children, biological and many others that I look after. I am a role model. I mentor these children. I was not ready to destroy this young child, who should have been positively engaged but was set up in a room to be abusing his fathers. When I finished speaking to him the guy broke down in tears. He said he never knew this is the kind of person I am. The guy was even abandoned. Nobody came for his bail even though he was a Special Assistant SA to the governor. I took care of him. He still calls me father today. What I believe is that my brother, Godwin, actually thought I was going to run against him, so he set up a war room against Captain Hosa and when he knew I wasn’t running, he still needed to deploy it. So, I wrote an open letter to the President and the Edo people and I catalogued all my actions to everyone. And everything I said there, before my God, is the truth I wanted people to ask him what I’ve done to deserve this.
At least even the tomato seller or the beggar on the street has a right to choose who he wants to be and who he wants to support in politics. Up to this moment, the same man that came to me in 2016, begging me for support, hasn’t come to me to tell me that he was interested in a second term; no discussion. And I kept telling him that instead of him to read the letter and come to terms with the situation and find a way of brokering peace, on the same day, another libel was fired that I was gathering people, buying guns that I wanted to come and disrupt the election, and this was sent out on the Government letterhead. There is no way my business partners will take that lightly. I instructed my lawyers to take action immediately. We are in court and the whole thing escalated. Also, when it became obvious to my friends and my people that this guy was after me, his government started crumbling and people started resigning. That was what I wanted him to avoid. I called him and said all these statements you are writing and referring to me as billionaire, I don’t have money; what I have is goodwill which is more than money. I never place emphasis on money. I was brought up from a very humble background, my father was an educationalist and my mother a teacher. We were not rich but my father gave us good values and he was a man of truth. As a young man, I watched my father settle disputes in our home. They used to say if you wanted to hear the truth, go to Okunbor’s house. And rich men’s children were brought to our house for correction. My father treated all of us as one. He was a man of truth and in that truth, the light in me has come out. So, my values have never been money-oriented. In that same vein, throughout my life, though I never went to school in Benin, I have always related back to my roots. And in my own little way, I have blessed my people with whatever God has blessed me with. I sent words to him; we have built very strong goodwill in this environment, you were in Lagos; the money you are talking about, I don’t have because I can never compete with any government when you talk of resources. But we have goodwill.
Where are we now?
I still consider Godwin my brother but I don’t consider him a leader because he doesn’t have the attributes of a good leader. Edo State is a collective responsibility; it is a place we all must support. I have no other place to call my foundation apart from that place. It is more important to me than any other place. It’s only unfortunate that Pastor OsagieIze-Iyamu, who also contested against him in 2016 is out there and I am supporting him by default and of course, I want a better Edo State and that’s all I can say. I don’t have any money to fight him and I am not fighting him. I will never fight government but I will defend myself against any aggression, against what I eat, my daily food, my character, and anything that will destroy me.
Despite all you have said as a stakeholder, do you see anything stopping the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from winning the coming election because they seem so confident, and are you not worried about the violence?
We have had elections Edo State and I can tell you that it has not been this bad because the whole country is shaking because of one state. We have had many elections in Edo. My being dragged into this whole thing, like I said earlier, is no fault of mine. It is rather unfortunate that the governor, because he thought he was going to run against me, began to plot and I became an imaginary candidate. Comrade Oshiomole, who initially brought him as governor by default, is also an imaginary candidate. So, you on the street are hearing Godwin/Captain Hosa; Godwin/Oshiomhole, but the real candidate is Pastor OsagieIze-Iyamu. He has given himself three candidates to contest against. One being real and the other two imaginary.
When Governor Obaseki wanted to contest in 2016, you said you met and sat down to listen to his plans. Have you sat with Ize-Iyamu?
Do you believe in his agenda?
Are you bankrolling him?
Well, that’s a good question. Ize-Iyamu has met with me. He has also shown me the vision he has for the state. He calls it the SIMPLE Agenda. He also has the vision of farming and he is a farmer’ He is very passionate about the agenda. I believe the only thing that has not been exploited to the benefit of Nigeria and our children is farming. We have arable land everywhere; farming will take a lot of our children off the streets and it is one of the agenda he is passionate about. Godwin also spoke to me about farming in 2016 but, where is the farm? I’ve sat down with Pastor Ize-Iyamu and he believes in farming because through farming, the people will be empowered and our youths will be engaged. He has the same vision as I have about farming.
Talking about supporting him, you should know that Ize-Iyamu is a pastor and the last time he was in government, he was the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and for a man like that to be facing a monster of the state government, some of us will have to come out to support him if we believe him. I will support Ize-Iyamu with my hard-earned money and people know that when I believe in something, I can spend my last kobo to achieve it. He is lucky to have someone like me. When God wants to work, he will bring all together to work for your good. You might want to ask another question: you are supporting him with your money; how do you intend to recoup it? People have asked me this question and what I told them is “Red Cross.” What do I mean? Charity. If today, I am supporting OsagieIze -Iyamu to liberate my state, tomorrow how can I expect something from a state that they have riddled with debt? Our children have been mortgaged and you said I should not talk. Let me tell you, I have worked all my life. I am 63-years old and if I do not have money kept away that I can use in the day of danger, then I have failed. OsagieIze is a beneficiary. If I dare go to him after he wins to say: ‘Old boy, how about the money that I spent? That will be the beginning of our fight. So, I am very conscious.
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