Oshiomhole’s Govt: The more you look, the less you see –Ize-Iyamu
Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is a household name in Edo politics. Having served as Secretary to Government in Chief Lucky Igbinedion’s administration, he later joined forces with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and others to form the Action Congress (AC) which later became Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The party is one of the legacy political parties that formed the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Following disagreement arising from the party’s ward and Local Government Congresses in 2014, Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer, left the party and returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to pursue his gubernatorial ambition.
In this interview with TONY OSAUZO, Pastor Ize-Iyamu made a critical assessment of the Oshiomhole’s administration.
HOW would you assess the Oshiomhole administration so far?
An area that Edo State was known for is sports. But what has he done? Before he came into power, we were number one in sports. But all that has changed. Where is Bendel Insurance football club? Where is Ogbe Hard Court? Where is swimming, where is basketball, athletics? They have all fizzled out.
Now, the only two things he has been talking about is that oh, we have done red roofs. But the red roofs that he is talking about, most of those projects are joint projects with the federal government. The PDP-led Federal Government provided most of the funds. We have seen Mega schools in Lagos, we have seen Mega schools in Ondo, but we don’t have such schools here. Schools that have science laboratories, schools that have boarding facilities, schools that have sports fields. In Edo state, all we are talking about is red roofs. And of course, when we are talking about schools, we talk of schools with the full compliment of teachers. It will interest you to note that in the rural areas, many of the schools have no teachers. How can schools in urban areas have teachers but those in the rural areas have no teachers and you expect the children to do well? That is not fair. So, in terms of education, for a government that does not care to employ teachers, how do you rate such a government? Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma is the least funded university in the country. If you talk about roads, we appreciate the fact that the governor has constructed some roads. All this government has done is to focus on some roads: Sapele road, Akpakppava road, Ugbowo road, Airport road. In fact, these are federal roads. You are doing federal roads at the detriment of other roads.
We appreciate the fact that he created the dual carriageways at the Airport road. But you yourself know that it would have been much better if the governor had extended the road beyond the Ogba river. That would have been opening up the hinterland, but he stopped by the bridge, he made no attempt to cross the bridge and across the bridge, we have over 200 villages, up to Ekehuan road. If he had done the road, other areas would have been opened. It’s like the bypass road. The bypass is a major construction legacy in our state. The two Chinese companies, one doing iron rods, one doing ceramics, located along the bypass, governor Oshiomhole has taken credit for them even though he did not attract them to the state. Anybody who establish there, knows that that area is the gateway to the north, to the east, to the west. The bypass leads to any of them, you just collect your goods and you move to wherever you’re going. So, it would have been very strategic if Oshiomhole had done the roads beyond the bridge.
And when you do roads, there must be transparency and accountability. How can you build roads and the cost and quantity is not disclosed? When roads are being commissioned, you will say this road is a three-kilometre road and it cost so, so and so amount of money. But this government will commission a project without disclosing what that project is consisted of and the cost.
One thing I knew about the Airport road is that, from the Ring road to where they stopped by the Ogba river is about seven kilometres. So, how much does that distance cost? Some have said it is N15 billion, some said it’s N14 billion, some said it is N12 billion. But taking any of these figures, it’s quite high, but the bypass is a 48-kilometre road. The Benin bypass was forest that was demolished to a fresh road with four bridges and flyovers and yet, it did not cost that much. But we don’t even know how much was spent to do the Airport road in comparison with the Benin bypass, for us to be able to appreciate the project.
If your child that is in charge of the family finances decides to buy you a Jeep on your birthday, you will appreciate the gift. But because it is your family finance does not mean you don’t have to know how much it costs. You ask him, my son, thank you, but how much? If he tells you the Jeep was bought at N100 million, you tell him to return it, how can a Jeep go for N100 million when I know that with N15 million I can buy one. In terms of roads, if you do an audit of the roads in the state, you will find out that maybe they have done less than five percent of the roads in the state, so we cannot really say that they have done extremely well in terms of road construction. But, we concede that they have made an attempt to construct roads. The only problem we have is the cost at which those roads are constructed. So, it would be nice for government to publish the roads they have done, the kilometres and then the cost. By the time we see if the cost is prudent, we will say that these people have done extremely well. But in terms of road, it’s difficult. Have you gone to Edo central? It’s like an abandoned place. If we are talking about roads, we must understand that Edo state consists of 18 local government areas. If you go to Owan, there is no presence of government there, if you go to Akoko-Edo, there’s no presence of government. So when you’re saying that you have done roads, where? It does not make sense to do around 30 roads in your village area and in other parts of the state, they will be lucky to see one that is not even completed, because the funds you are using is not your personal funds.
To appropriate 98 percent of the resources of the state to a particular village, and then the rest of it, you now try to share it out, that is not how to operate a government.
Are you saying you can’t see anything in what the Governor has done?
We are being told that they have done well in terms of health because of the hospital they are constructing. The hospital they are talking about has been in the pipeline since inception. It was supposed to have been commissioned before the second term election, but the thing collapsed. Till today, nobody has been sanctioned. Now, the job has been re-awarded, but nobody knows at what cost. As for me, that is fundamental. You are spending the people’s money. The money you’re spending belongs to Edo people, they have right to know how much you’re spending. I’ve met some people who say until the project is completed you cannot tell. That makes nonsense of it. Before I begin to build a house, somebody must tell me how much it’s going to cost and I put the money aside, I can’t give them a blank cheque and say well, continue. So there has to be a budget for this project, say, we are earmarking N2 billion. But to tell me that you cannot tell me until the thing is completed is nonsense.
Now, apart from that, primary health care centres, those, to me, are vital to health care. The man who is critically ill in Akoko-Edo, needs urgent health care in a healthcare centre. If you want to try to bring him to Benin, with all the bad roads, the posibility of that man giving up before he gets here is quite high. So, common sense demands that you must create primary health care centres in as many communities as possible so that they are the first reference points and when there is emergency, somebody can quickly stabilise them. Somebody was telling me that we can extend life expectancy if we improve our primary health care centres, but you’re talking about a 5-star hospital. Medicine is not about 5-star. It’s facilities and personnel, not about 5-star. I have seen doctors without border, who carry their equipment and move about from one place to the other and they perform operations to save lives. They don’t need a 5-star hospital to save lives. What is important is that they have skill, they have tools and they are able to reach out to those people in need of health care. It will interest you to know that we have just two orthopaedic surgeons in the state. It will interest you to know that we have only one dematologist in the state who is on contract employment. The only school of nursing and midwifery we have was de-accredited for lack of funding. Stella Obasanjo Hospital was put together by Chief Lucky Igbinedion. That hospital has wards that are locked up and not used till today. That hospital has state-of-the-art equipment that have not been used. I heard they say that they could not use them because they are obsolete equipment. But it will interest you to know that the company supplying equipment for the hospital complex Oshiomhole is building, it is the same company that Chief Lucky used to bring equipment to Stella Obasanjo hospital.
So, if you concede that the company Lucky Igbinedion used was reputable to the extent of taking them again to bring you new equipment, why are you not looking at the equipment they brought before? Why are you not worried that so many of the equipment they brought before are not being used? Brand new equipment, they are just there, rotting away, just because they were bought by Lucky Igbinedion. You forget that they were bought with Edo State money. You can see the shallowness of their mind. So, in health care, when we look at it practically, we are really forced to say that they have not done very well.
What you are saying now is that nothing is transparent?
Well, my brother, I want to be educated! If somebody like me, a former secretary to the government, a former chieftain of that party, do not even know the cost of the airport road, know the cost of the hospital, and yet these are projects flaunted on a daily basis by the government, is that government transparent? If you are still part of the government, would you have spoken the way you have just spoken, because some of the projects like the airport road was done while you were in this government? You see, you must understand this: I’ve not condemned the construction of airport road, but government must be transparent. It is shocking that till now, government has not been able to disclose the full cost of that road. That is shocking.
Don’t they have tenders for these projects?
Very good! I will like you as a veteran journalist to go into the archives and tell me how figures came. I know that the original job was given to Servitech. But I understand that for whatever reason, they terminated the contract and the thing was given to another contractor. By the time the original cost was reviewed, they tried to say look, we’ve added some adjourning roads that were neither here nor there. In a standard contract, whether you’re adding adjourning roads here and there, the basic thing is that we know the number of kilometres and the cost. I was listening to the President of the Nigerian Society of Surveyors recently, and he was saying that even though he would not like to give a specific amount that could be used per kilometre for building roads, but that it will certainly be on the high side to say that a road in any part of Nigeria will cost N1 billion per kilometre. If we follow that, building airport road at N7 billion is outrageous and this is not a new road, an old road that was functional. We know the kind of things that make a road exppensive, if the terrain is bad or swampy and you need to do a lot of sand-filling and piling. But that was not there in the airport road. How much is the university being built at Iyamoh? Some days ago, I saw advert in The Nation. But the governor promised two new university, he did complete one and is calling for vacancy, but the one you have created in Ovia North-East and called Tayo Akpata University of Education, not even a block has been put there. The reality is that, it’s a very pathetic situation.
When people think that when we are in the system, we don’t talk, it is a mistake. The only thin is that when you are in the system, it will be unfair to go public when you have access to discuss it privately. It will be like you are playing to the gallery.
Did you ever discuss it with him and what was the outcome of the discussion?
Of course, I did. You see, let me tell you something, I will give you a public example: when the governor was sacking teachers, I talked to him privately so many times. Now, as if God wanted to vindicate me, when we had an interdenominationa service to thank God for his second term election, right there at the stadium, Bishop Imasuen made a similar appeal when he had the opportunity to pray. You know what the governor said? He said I know that Pastor Ize-Iyamu must have told you to say what you have just said. But I thanked God that that opportunity came for people to know that I’ve been talking to him privately about it and he said it. And honestly, I did not even talk to the man. But because the man was seated by me before he went to the microphone for prayer, he assumed I told him to say it. He said I’ve told Ize-Iyamu that I will not agree. The thing is, when you have access to a man, you talk to him, you don’t go out, it will be very wrong. But of course, we are no longer in the same party. I cannot go to his office now to go and advice him. But there are certain things that you cannot just overlook, my people will ask you, why did you keep quiet? So now that you see me speaking, it’s not necessarily because one hates him, but one does not have access again. And let people not think that we are talking bad of him. When he was talking about selling Edo house in Lagos, I advised him. I said even when I was in government, Luck Igbinedion wanted to sell it, we advised him not to sell it and he gave in. Of course because I was in that government, I will not go out to tell the whole world how we opposed Igbinedion, but we advised him and at the end of the day he didn’t sell it. There are certain assets you keep, no matter how tough the situation is. It depends on how you manage your situation, it’s not about selling what you have. He himself knows that. I also want to say that when I was with him, I think the government was more purposeful.
If you are elected governor, what will you do differently?
Well, number one, I have a clear vision of how I think this state should be run and this vision is a product of widespread consultation. I have experience in governance that I’ve gathered all my life, sector by sector. You can’t operate government focusing only on eduction as if you don’t have anything to do with health, people will die. You can’t focus on health and education and you have no time for business, if the economy does not grow, people will die. Government must be handled from a very holistic point of view, not something you decide that you forget about security, armed robbers will hold sway. So you have to be able to use available resources in a manner that these areas are dealt with while still able to focus on certain priority areas, you don’t kill certain areas. It’s like in a family, you say, well, because I go to school, people will not eat anymore. No, they will still eat, you must still pay rent, you must still pay medical bills and you still look for a way to pay your education bills.
The challenge about life is that, there are competing demands that must be met, you can’t ignore them. And what makes a good manager is the ability to gather funds to touch all these areas. This government has failed woefully! They just focused on roads, they just focused on red roofs and ignore other areas.
So, am coming as somebody who understands the system. And don’t forget that I am a man who is accessible. I think one of the problem that the governor has is that he is not accessible. Most of the time, he is not even in the state and when he is in the state, he might not even be in the capital because he is in his village. And when he is in the capital, it is difficult, even for his own commissioners to access him. So, there is a lot of disconnect a lot of the time in formulating polices not to talk about implementation. The relevant information that should come to be able to guide how polices are enacted are not there. So, a lot of things are done hastily without serious consultation, because if you look at the number of persons that this government has dismissed, the permanent secretaries who have been dismissed, so many like that. And all the time, it’s not the civil service commission that effect the dismissal, but the governor. Whereas there is a process that are followed. If these people are not doing their jobs, queries are issued and will be answered and then depending on the answer, you know what to do. But on the face of it, we just hear this man has been terminated, this man has been dismissed like a military governor. Careers have been ruined. The man is more like a sole administrator. So, it’s a complete disconnect.
I believe I have the experience, I believe I am passionate. A lot of people have been elected into office and they have no interest in the state, how many of them have interest in the state? A man wants to rule you but he has no interest in the state, he who does not even believe in your state, how can he rule you? That is one of the problem we have in this government because anything they want to do, they outsource it. It will interest you to know that even caterers who cook eba and pounded yam and fried rice in government house functions, they go to Lagos to hire them because the people in Benin are not good enough to cook. You want to do furniture, you go to Abuja to hire one man do come and do school furniture because all the furniture makers and carpenters in Benin are not good. All the contractors, majority of them are from outside! How do you develop local businesses?
So the situation is pathetic. We need a governor that will live in this state, a governor who lives here, a governor who is accessible, a governor who is humane, a governor that has the fear of God, a governor that can connect to the people on a regular basis, not once in a while. By the grace of God, I believe I will make a difference if I get the chance to rule the state.#TheFutureIsNow
Credit- Sun Newspaper