Professor Oserheimen Osunbor was governor of Edo State for about one and a half years before the mandate was nullified by the Court of Appeal. Before then, he had served for eight years as Senator representing Edo Central Senatorial district on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. He recently defected to the APC and is aspiring to return to Denis Osadebey Avenue come 2016. Just recently in this interview with EBOJELE AKHERE PATRICK, in his country home, Iruekpen Esan West local government area, he spoke on a number of issues affecting the polity. Excerpts:
Since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, the issue has always been fight against corruption. Don’t you think this might slow down governance?
Well, governance is multidimensional, and you can agree with me that you cannot narrow down to one item; I just think that this government has narrowed it down to just one item which is the fight against corruption. The priority areas, the fight against corruption; the fight against insurgency and power sector and petroleum. Those sectors that impact very strongly, on the everyday existence of Nigerians, the economy as a whole which includes power, petroleum, those are the priority of government and once government can get these things right, it will be a beneficial spillover effect on other sectors of government. Why the issue of corruption appears to be of primary importance or utmost importance is that, if you don’t tackle the issue of corruption, then again, it will restrict government efforts in addressing other areas.
You cannot get out of the economy difficulties if the issue of corruption continues to drag us back. You cannot adequately mobilize our military to defeat insurgency if there is corruption within the system. As we now know, over the past several years, a lot of money being budgeted for procurement of arms for military was not utilized for that purpose; that is why we have a situation where the terrorists were better armed than our soldiers. So, that is one example that you need to remove corruption if we are to succeed in other areas. We just mentioned three areas in economy and security.
The same thing is true in all other sectors; whether it is the educational sector, health or agricultural sector, we will not achieve success in any of these aspect unless we address the issues of corruption and I do hope that all the three arms of government will buy into Mr. President’s anti-corruption crusade because he alone cannot do it. The judiciary is a very crucial arm that will make command in Mr. President anti-corruption crusade, because it is not a military regime. You cannot just plank people into jail. People can only go to jail after due process, when they only go to courts and unless the court buy into these anti-corruption crusade, you will soon find out that the whole thing will lose control.
Recently, Buhari administration gave bailout funds to enable states pay workers’ salaries. What is your take on this?
I think it was a good move; the Nigerians generally hailed the exercise because, that relief came at a time many Governors had just come into office and immediately, they were confronted with problem of works that have not been paid for several months. Such was assuming crisis dimension and the newly sworn-in Governors were in very dire strait. So, what the president did in being able to arrange some form of financial bailout, I think it has gone a long way to douse the tension that we were experiencing at the time. You will agree with me that the concerns of Nigerians, the lamentations of workers, those things that were particularly agitating have been ameliorated. So, I think it was a good development; the only hope is that, the state governments will utilize the funds for the purpose for which they were meant.
It was essentially for owed workers. Government must learn to put the people first, particularly the workers, because if the workers are not happy, no matter how well intentioned the government may be, they will not be able to deliver on promises made to the people. I believe that was what motivated Mr. President to devise very genuine means in helping the state to come out of the crisis.
On insurgency, do you think the December deadline given by Mr. President to completely wipe out Boko Haram is achievable?
I don’t know what he knows; I have always said that the President was once a General and always a General. He has faced action in many parts of the country, including zones where this issue of terrorism is rampant; prevalent so he should know what he is talking about, but, from my own point of view, I think the issue of deadline, giving exact date for certain things to happen may be good psychologically for the people.
But, if you are not able to meet that deadline, then, it will backfire; so, I want to very willingly be careful in saying that by a particular date something must happen; because governance is a concregated process, if that turns out to be true, glory be to God. We will all be happy in Nigeria, but I want people to be conscious that if everything is not 100 per cent solved by that day, they shouldn’t lose hope, because, governance is a continuous process; there will always be problems because, there is no country in the world that is free of crime.
There is no country that is free today from these kinds of eruption of violence from time to time. It’s unfortunate, but, as the world becomes more civilized, quote and unquote and sophisticated, you find that criminal elements also show their own ground in the entire process. So, even though we wish that there is tranquility, peace and happiness for everybody.
Unfortunately, like the nature of other society, you cannot achieve that completely. There will be from time to time problems, but what matters most is the ability and determination of government at any point in time to nip in the bud any such criminalities that rear their heads from time to time. That is what obtains everywhere in the world; whether you are talking of Britain, America, Japan, China.
When you left PDP suddenly, a lot of your supporters were shocked that you could abandon the party that gave you the break in politics. Why did you leave PDP for APC?
I have answered this question several times before, but if I can satisfy your curiosity now, first of all, the vast majority of my supporters were happy that I had left PDP at long last. Many of my closest supporters and friends were saying that this was long overdue; even the Comrade Governor, as far back as 2011. December, specifically in Vanguard Newspaper of Monday 4 December, 2011 said, I quote Osunbor is a good man but he is in the midst of evil people.” Many of my friends have been saying, what are you doing in the midst of these evil people? So, most of my friends were relieved that at long last, I had to leave PDP. I just think we should confine PDP to the position that it has found itself of complete irrelevance in the politics of Edo State and even beyond.
If you say PDP gave me a break in politics, let me remind you as I have said before; that my father was a member of the Midwest Region National House of Assembly; my father won election in 1963 under the platform of NCNC and he was a member of Dennis Osadebe government. He was the Junior Minister for Works and Transport. I came from a legacy that has a pedigree. I have a pedigree of my parents being in politics. I think that a lot of what I have achieved in politics also have to do with my family upbringing and the good seed that my father planted. First, as a principal of Teacher Training College, I guess, many of the leading politicians in Edo State were my father’s students in Teacher Training College.
When I went to the constitutional conference in 1994, 1995, it wasn’t PDP. So, when people over exaggerate the contributions of PDP to my achievements in life, I think they need to know some basic truth. Of course, PDP provided the platform through which I went to the Senate, I don’t deny it, PDP gave me the platform to become a governor for a period of just one and a half year. I don’t deny it, but the injustices that PDP also gave to me by PDP leaders, is also unimaginable, but what they did to me is part of what is hunting PDP today. If you know the realities of what happened in 2008, they started it with Edo.
It was spreading and spreading and as I said, before the National Chairman at that time, Chief Vincent Ogbuletor told me that I must concede doing the bidding of one man or else, I should remember that PDP had 28 states and PDP is not bound in ruling every state. I didn’t understand this threat he was issuing to me at that time that unless you do the bidding of one man, you will be removed from office. How many states does PDP have now, is it still 28? So, we thank God.
How will you rate the performance of Buhari in the short period of five months……
(Cuts in) like you said, it is a short period; but one thing which is unmistakeable is that he has shown leadership. When you see him, you say this is president of Nigeria, he speaks with authority, inspires leadership; he is charismatic. These are some of the attributes you want to see, and he is demonstrating them in a very good measure.
He needs a team to be able to succeed. He cannot do it alone, which is why it is gratifying that he has now forwarded the list of ministers for screening and I do hope that they will be strictly screened in other to give Mr. President his team to deliver what he has promised Nigerians. On the issue of screening, let me also remind you that the ministers must be screened; the return must be made to the president not later than 30days after submission so that Senate cannot afford to drag his foot, unless they decide to reject a nominee.
But they cannot afford to drag their feet beyond 30days otherwise; by virtue of the constitution those nominees are fit for the position.