The All Progressives Congress’ candidate in the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, tells ALEXANDER OKERE, about the party’s recently concluded primary and his plans for the state
Some say that the highest bidder won the primary election. How would you react to that?
I don’t think the highest bidder won. Somebody brought half a billion naira the night before (the primary election) and that was why they were very angry. I was not the highest bidder; people brought much more money.
What is your reaction to reports that your electioneering campaign is being funded by Alhaji Aliko Dangote?
I have over my vast years of being in investment banking and the stock market dealt with people who have capital. Thus, there is nobody or big business in Nigeria today that I have not had to interact with. It is just that Dangote is the most successful of them. The house I am using now was given to me free for my campaign by Hakeem Bello-Osagie. He is the Chairman of Etisalat. I worked with him in investing in Etisalat. I have worked with him to divest from the United Bank for Africa. I worked with Tony Elumelu to acquire an interest in UBA. I have worked with Mike Adenuga to set up Devcom Merchant Bank. I have worked with everybody because that is the business I am in. Is there anything wrong with that?
Have you started considering who will be your running mate?
No, I am a party man. I believe it is a party matter and, as a party, we will look at the political configurations and the various issues. I will work very closely with the party in selecting a deputy.
How prepared are you to face the flag bearer of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Osagie Ize-Iyamu?
I understand that there is another one (PDP primary election) that is likely to hold. But I have welcomed him by sending him a note to congratulate him on his victory and advised that we should conduct ourselves, in this election, in a very civil manner.
What is your reaction to a report that you have a case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?
I don’t have a case with the EFCC. I read the story. I am on the boards of several companies. This (report) is about a German company that owns rigs in Nigeria and I sat on their board. They had a partner who died many years ago and his estate has not been properly managed. His other businesses are bankrupt and the company saw a petition from the children claiming that the company was owing their father. You would see online the full agreement which the company reached with the estate several years ago, where all that was due to that estate was paid from the debt of the man.
The family has been having quarrels and all sorts of internal issues. It is one of those scams; they wrote to the EFCC, the committee on public prosecution. If someone owes you, is there not a civil process to go through? Why should it be an EFCC matter? But it has nothing to do with me. I didn’t manage the company; I am just a shareholder and on the board of the company. I didn’t take money from anybody.
What is your view on the debt profile of Edo State?
Edo State owes about N41bn, as at the last count. Edo State’s taxes a year are about N24bn. Thus in two years, we can pay whatever we have outstanding. I do not know where the contraption of debt comes from. We don’t owe a bank a dime because all or debts have been rescheduled and refinanced. All you need to do is go to the Debt Management Office’s website and look at what all the states owe. You will see what Edo owes there. It is not a secret. I am saying that the total debt we have as a state, in terms of cash, could be paid if we decided to just pay two years of current revenues. Is that a bad thing? But most of the debts we have restructured are for 10 and 20 years. We will finish paying the bond we took from the market next year. What have we done wrong financially? You can see what we have used the debt for. You can see the infrastructure we have built; you can see the schools we have refurbished. We met debts from the PDP (but) we cannot see or put our hands on what the money was used for.
With the nationwide call for economic diversification, what is your plan for the agricultural sector?
There are going to be three key drivers of our economy. The first is going to be agriculture. For us, agriculture is part of us. If you go on the stock exchange today, the two largest agricultural companies are in Edo State. We have two world class agric research institutes in the state. We already have a tradition of agriculture. What we now need to do is expand and modernise it. We already have a basis to start from. We have a culture of commercial farming in Edo State; it is to leverage on that and expand it significantly.
With the current rate of unemployment in the state, do you intend to increase the state’s workforce?
There has to be employment. What has happened is that the past administration destroyed the civil service of Edo State. They, in their naivety and trying to save money, retrenched high quality civil servants. In their stupidity, they took out the whole layer of people who were trained out of the civil service, believing that they were saving money and forgetting that those people would go into pension and they didn’t pay them their pension arrears. That had a significant effect. If I forgive the PDP administration for the amount of money they stole, I cannot forgive them for the destruction of the civil service of Edo State because we had one of the most mature and competent civil service, having moved from the West in 1962. What these people did was to take out what was left; they didn’t hire, thus you then had a gap. Those junior officers didn’t have people to train them.
What is your view on the call to restructure the Nigerian economy?
My position is that, finally, God has woken us from our slumber. How can a country, that is so endowed with all the resources we have, spend $30bn importing goods and services it can produce? Because we had oil revenue, we just thought it was normal. In those days, we had great craftsmen. But now, people Google to import from Pakistan, when we have as much fine wood here. It got so bad. People fall sick and go to Europe and India for medical check-up. In education, it has got to a stage where people send their children abroad; we are spending almost $2bn educating our children abroad. How much do we pay our Nigerian teachers? Is it up to N300bn? What happened to us was that we were just in a slumber. We just bought things because we had cheap oil revenue. But we woke up one morning and did not have the dollars to import again. Can we not produce all the chicken and fish we need in Nigeria? Why do we need to spend $500m a year importing fish and chicken? By importing fish and chicken? Look at the amount of jobs we have exported. We have been talking about diversification all these years but we have never been serious about it. No sooner had we introduced politics into the need to diversify than oil prices got stronger, you get more dollars and then you forget it and we just continued with the way we had always lived. That has been our problem; now we have woken up and we don’t have it. We have to decide what we want to do with the little we have and how you want to pay for it. But I believe that, out of the ashes, the phoenix will rise again; that Nigeria will become a very significant country and attain its full potential, as a result of the crisis we are in, and that is why I opted to run for governor. We need to begin to have states as sub-national units that can be reconstructed to be economically viable and politically stable, so that other states can begin to see that it is possible to run a state without waiting for Abuja to give them revenues. Lagos has proven it and by the grace of God, at the end of my tenure, we will do it in Edo State.