EDO2020: I’m In The Race For Governorship For The Good Of My People, Regardless Of Governor Obaseki’s Hostility — Pastor Ize-Iyamu
Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who was recently referred to by Barrister Kenneth Imusuagbon as a dynamo and political machine in a recent chat has eminently positioned himself to rattle Governor Godwin Obaseki out of power in the November 19th governorship election in Edo State. In this interview Ize-Iyamu expresses optimism at reinventing the wheels of statecraft amidst the present state of hopelessness.
Q: Just recently about two months ago or thereabout you left your party under which you contested the last election and joined your former party the APC. A lot of persons will see you as a rolling stone that gathers no moss, why are you not stable in one political party?
A: Well it is not a question of instability. It is a question of being consistent with your goals and objectives. I have never hidden the fact that I am in politics to access government for the benefit of my people. And so if you find yourself in a political party that is not interested in winning election or that does not take seriously the issue of winning, of course a tree does not make a forest, you alone can not do it. It will mean that you will have to have a rethink. When I left APC to join the PDP, of course we were angry with the way certain things were going on. The congresses then (party congresses) were been manipulated against many of our associates and we were not happy about it and we felt that there was a conspiracy of sort against us and it was better to move elsewhere. It was not because we felt that the APC manifestoe or vision was not compatible with our own dreams and since we left, a lot of people have been talking to us to return back and we have done so much to see how we could revamp the PDP but we just realized that we were in the midst of strange bird fellows. Most of the people there did not share in our own dreams and visions so we meant and discussed it. We came to a conclusion that it will be a lot better if we returned back to the APC. No matter what you will say, the APC are quite purposeful especially in terms of being in government, they take it seriously. We believe that whatever impact we want to make in the political arena can only be achieved when we get to government. Criticizing government permanently will not bring the development we need in our areas, so that is why I said our movement is just consistent with our core objectives of trying to ensure that we blend our people in government and ensure that the dividends of democracy do not elude them.
Q: it has been rumored that part of the reason you joined the APC is to have the ticket for this year’s election. How true is the rumor?
A: Well, you must know that as human beings we have ambitions but again, they say man proposes, God disposes. Any man who is wise will look at all the options available to him. In coming back to the APC, we came with an open mind. Open mind number one, you can’t run away from the fact that there is already a governor who is from the APC and who of course will desire a second term. So we came in knowing that there could be a consensus in this direction, it was possible. No matter the difference that was brewing, it was possible that reconciliation could come and the governor could get a consensus affirmation. If that happened, we were not going to take a walk and leave the party. So that option was available to us. We knew that it was there and we told ourselves if that happens it simply means that we would ensure that we push for areas to be considered in the developmental plans of the governor as a condition for supporting and making his election easy, that was one. Another option was that the party in its wisdom could choose a new person. And again, if that happened, were we going to walk away? No! We said the import thing is that we are in a party that would be in government and we would use our presence there to ensure that we are able to push for development for our people and our constituents, and that again was an option. And there was a third option that said look Pastor you were in this party before, you are one of the founders of this party. It is also possible that some of those who have been urging you to return back and all your old friends there might say look pastor why don’t you run for governorship. I said if that is also possible, why not? It will give us the opportunity to implement our SIMPLE AGENDA which we believe is all encompassing and something that is a veritable roadmap for the development of our state. So those options were there. It is not as if one went with one mindset, it would have been foolish to just say you are going there only for governorship. Assuming it doesn’t work and you know with the level of enlightenment in our state, no matter the promises, there are still a lot of setbacks, so you can’t go with just one mindset that oh you have to get governorship. So we actually came with that mindset of anything could happen but the important things is let’s go there in strength, number and lets add value but we meant a very hostile governor who despite our previous relationship and offers to work to make the party stronger was not receptive. So automatically, his attitude to us and to most party leaders has even reduced the option of him becoming the candidate. And then, there are other aspirants and to the glory of God, the leadership of the party said pastor you have been one of us, nobody is going to discriminate against you because you left and came back and many of us still appreciate you and even when you campaign in the other side, we were very impressed by the way you carried your campaign and the support you gathered and the manifesto which you presented and we urge you to also join and let us see how it goes. Recently I had the priviledge of playing host to APC leaders, quite a number of them from the 18 local government areas and at that meeting I was urged to contest for the governorship and a motion was moved by no less a person than a former speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. David Iyoha who is from Edo Central Senatorial District and it was seconded by Hon. Washington Osifo who is one of the members-elect in the House of Assembly from Uhunmwode and a former commissioner in the state under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Hajia Mariam, and also a former commissioner in this present government from Edo North and everybody stood up and said pastor you must contest. It was a very humbling experience and with that kind of reassuring confidence in me, it is difficult to say I wouldn’t contest and so far so good I seriously believe that that option is viable and is something that I should pursue for the good of our people. I am working towards it.
Q: can you react to the allegation that you are now a general without an army that the foothood which you enjoyed in the past as the founding member of the APC family and Grace Group to now has evaporated since you left the party.
A: Oh no. In fact, the National Chairman Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole who is from our state and a former two times governor of this state mentioned it when I came back that not only have I returned back with everybody that left with me but I have even brought more which means as far as the APC is concerned, my exit and return is like a good investment that has brought multiple dividends to the party. If I had gone with all those who left with me in the 192 wards and I was not able to come back with them, then you will say well it appears your movement has eroded your political base. But to the glory of God, everyone that left with me has returned back. Even those who were never in the APC, those who have traditionally always been in the PDP have also come with me. I came back with retired generals, retired commissioners of police, top professioners, people who have held very high political offices. So, it is a formidable team that I have brought and I am delighted that they all came with me and I must say too that I am not surprised because everything that I have done, I have always done on the basics of collective and consensus discussion. It is not a question of pastor saying I want to move. So, when you have that kind of mindset, when you want to do something, you throw it to the group to take a decision, it is easier. I will say that we are strong as we were before, in fact stronger in terms of support because all over the state, the reception we get when we go out is overwhelming because the people know that we mean well and politics is people driven, is not about self but people driven. We believe in our people, we live with them, we suffer with them, we dream with them and we want to be the one that will provide solutions to the problem that bedeviled the state.
A: Talking about the SIMPLE AGENDA the one that I have seen a copy of in the past, do you intend to add to that now that the dynamics of politics, security and other crises have evolved beyond what you imagined as at that you time up your manifesto because right now Edo State is in tumoil in terms of insecurity all around the country as well.
A: There’s no doubt that things have changed. Insecurity and violence like we have now is greater than what was prevailing then. To be fair to Adams Oshiomhole’s government when he was governor, there was a lot of political tolerance. Opponents were not being dealt with in the very brutal manners that you see now. When you play back, the only time bomb exploded was during my election and when you look at that incident and what is playing out now, it is very easy to now pin-point where that bomb that exploded in my wife’s clinic came from. It is clear because even the Comrade National Chairman has himself admitted that when he was in government, he warned some people about their excessive resort to violence that that was not the way to go. Apparently, they didn’t listen to him and they are still not listening to him now. In fact, he has become a target of their violence and it is only that when he was in government he was more or less in charge and he didn’t give them the kind of encouragement and funding they now have where it has become very rampant. Even on the political security side, there are some more emphasis on security side because people were not scared to come to our state. You get to the airport, you will see Marijuana smoking thugs without shirts, chanting war song and for first time visitors in the state, you can imagine the apprehension and the many negative opinion that they will have of our state and these are been state sponsored. So that is an issue and of course too we believe in statistics, we believe in records. We have to look at what have accrued to the state in the past three and a half years. We have to look at the focus and the emphasis of this government. For example the government placed so much premiuim on signing of MOUs, what has it translated to? Where are the industries and how can industries be established in the absence of peace. So these are issues and definitely we will have to review and in the next couple of days or maximum weeks, we will bring out the reviewed version of the SIMPLE AGENDA but basically, the vision is still the same and the concept is still the same. The agenda is still SIMPLE.
Q: still on this security matter, few days ago nearly 20 people had been killed by cult clashes and this plague that has resulted to lose of life, is it part of your SIMPLE AGENDA to eradicate cults related deads if you’re elected governor?
A: Definantely. The governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state and because of that, he is entitled to what is classified as security vote. In the immediate past, the security vote was 500 million which a state like ours with a very moderate resources is huge. Now I understand that even that 500 million has been jacked up, first to 600 million and recently 750 million. That to me is even excessive and frigthning because it presupposes that the security challenges in Edo State has more or less excalated to the extent that 500 million is no longer enough to do the job and government now has to put almost a billion because 750 million every month, money that should have been chanelled to road, health, education, agriculture and to so many other challenges weighing us down. Unfortunately, the question is, out of these very huge amount, how much gets to the security agencies? As the governor increased the security vote, has he also increased the vote to Police, the DSS, the army formations, the Civil Defence? The answer now that I am getting is not only has the money not be increased, but even the meager stipends they get from government does not even come regularly. Yes, we know that there was an attempt to set up a security outfit but the few vehicles that they have can not even been seen outside benin. You wouldn’t see them in Owan, you wouldn’t see them the entire Edo Central Senatorial District. So security in the state can not be confined only to Edo South and only to benin city because even in Edo South you wouldn’t find those vehicles in orhionmwon, you wouldn’t see it uhunmwode, you wouldn’t see it in Ovia North East and Ovia South West. So you see then in Benin and even when you see them, a lot of the times, you see them packed in the governor’s residence, parked in the SSG’s residence, parked in front of the deputy governor’s residence. So it appears to me that this security outfit is intended to be more of protection to the governor, deputy governor and the secretary to government and not for all of us because even Benin city can not boast that these vehicles are there. We are not aware of how many they are and how they were deployed. Then a situation where the government is now the chief patron of cult group and why did I say so? The miscreants that are in the airport, the miscreants that are on the road chanting war songs and doing the damage, we know where they are coming from. We know who is encouraging them and we know who pays them. In fact to confirm what I am saying, all you need to do is just to drive pass the APC office in airport road and a lot of times you will see these people moving in their hundreds and moving out. When they are going to the airport, that is the take off point and when they are returning for payment, their destination. So if government is now the one paying these groups, how will there not be an excalation of violence? And of course we are all aware that arms are being procured for these people. So if you procured arms for them for the purpose of dealing with perceived political opponents, do you collect these arms back when their mission is done? The answer is no. So these arms are in their hands. Recently we heard about somebody who was arrested around country home and was found with AK47 rifle, a berretta pistol, with four automatic pump action and over five hundred rounds of amunation but you know, we know the pressure that was put on the police to release him and eventually he was taken to the court under a very watery charge and he was released on bail the same day. So, there is so much freedom for these people to operate in and around the airport. The airport is a federal establishment and it is not a place where any Tom, Dick and Harry can just go and begin to make foment trouble. Those who are suppose to be going there are those who either are working or those who are traveling. But a situation where people smoking cannabis walking in there and nobody is arrested tells a story. In fact, the last time the national chairman Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was coming to Edo and he heard that thugs has been mobilized to go and stop him at the airport, it is in the news that he called the commissioner of police who advised him not to come that the place is not safe. So, the national chairman could not even come to the state because the place is not safe. Eventually he came here really there were thugs all over the airport and nobody was arrested. Is it that they were so powerful that the police could not arrest them? They were not arrested and when the national chairman finally went home, two trucks went to block his street and the inscription on those trucks clearly confirmed who owned those trucks. Edo State Government owned those trucks. They blocked the road. We are yet to hear from the state government that those trucks were stolen and that they didn’t put them there. So, because they did not make the statement, it is clear that those vehicles were sent to block major roads. The owners of properties there were prevented from entering their houses, those who wanted to visit, in fact some people have businesses on that road. They could not access their business and this is a government that wants to attract businesses to the state. They blocked that road not because construction work was going on, but because they needed to let national chairman know that they could deal with him even in his own state. And who did they use, thugs. So one cannot be surprised when you see government funding and encouraging these groups for them to have rivalry because they want to show that they are stronger so that they can get more patronage. So, the clash you see now is as a result of the prominence that government has given these group and the weapons they are using of course either directly or indirectly. Indirectly because sometimes you give to them, directly because you are now giving them so much money because they can afford to buy what they want to buy. So, the government must take a harsh situation to this kind of thing. We have had state government before and it has never been this bad. The only reason anyone can give is because government has become a patron. Government has now become a sponsor, government is now funding and encouraging and that is why you see what is happening. There’s no doubt that when we come into government, all these things will stop.
Q: it has been argued in many quarters that the prime target of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s brutality is to prevent you from running for governorship. So why are you a threat to them? Why do they see you as a threat that you came into the party?
A: well that is a nice question especially for those who say that Pastor Ize-Iyamu is not relevant. I am sure you saw the drama that played out when I was coming back to the party. The state government practically abandoned every other thing to fight my coming into the party. Different government officials from the deputy governor, commissioner of information and the special adviser on media to the governor were all on air to say that I can not come into APC without their permission. I wonder where they saw it in the APC constitution that somebody who wants to join the party has to go and see those in government first to take their permission. It was strange to me. They wrote letters warning schools not to allow their premises to be used. All of a sudden, they arranged all kind of violence demonstration across the state and even went to the point of saying that if I use my house to received myself that my cerficate of occupancy would be revoked. It’s quite unfortunate. Let me aslo say that I don’t think that I am the only target. I think that the state government is at war with APC leaders in Edo State because if you say that I am the prime target, how do you explain the bomb blast in Lawrence okah’s house that could have destroyed his house and killed his entire family? How do you explain the bomb blast at Chief Inegbineki’s house that could have killed those people who were there? How do you explain the shooting at Henry Idiahagbon’s office that could have killed the lawyers and any body that was there? How do you explain the violence in Auchi that led to destructions of podium, chairs and canopies being burnt, cars been destroyed? How do you explain what the national chairman just experienced just this weekend in Benin City when after a failed attempt to stop him from landing in Benin City, they blocked the road leading to his house with two vehicles and actually pushed one of the vehicles to the transformer and burnt it hoping that maybe it will make contact with the transformer and cause an explosion. So, it is clear that Ize-Iyamu is not the target, in fact I must say that … cut in, .. I am talking about prime target in terms of the contestants.
A: well I just think that the governor is fighting with all those within the party who he perceives as against his second term bid. Of course, I contested against him before and I am sure he is not too comfortable of me now being in the same party with him but he must understand that the constitution guarantees us the freedom of association. I have the right to come back to the party I founded. I must say with all modesty that when we were putting together the APC, he was not there at all. In fact, his predecessor who brought him into political limelight and who gave him all the support to become governor he didn’t even know how the man became elected, not the first time, not the second time because he didn’t even vote. He voted for the first time only when he was constesting. He is worried about me no doubt even when I have tried to reach out to him. You recall that when the supreme court gave their judgement on gumbernatorial election in 2016, I congratulated him and I have never criticized him. I have accorded him all the respect. Every time I see him, I stop to greet him but all that changed the moment I came back to the APC even though I informed him privately and I assured him that I wasn’t coming to be part of the problem or join any faction but he has more or less pushed me because if you join a party and one side said they don’t want you, you have no choice but to embrace the one who want to embrace you. So he has pushed me to one direction but I am at peace because I realized that the direction I am in is where the overwhelming majority are even tough they are being oppressed and being harassed by those they elected into government but like I have always said, everything has an expiration date. We are confident that very soon it will be over
Q: How do you intend to harmonize your fractured political party, that one. Second, how do you intend to revamp the education, right now the state is on its belly. How do you intend to revamp the education, the urban renewal project and then job creation that was promised that people seem not to have at the moment if you’re elected?
A: well, the truth is that I know almost all the political players in this state because I have been in this game for a while and most of those in the APC today, I played a role in bringing them in and I have been talking to these people and what I found interesting is that most of them are not happy with what those in government are doing and if the truth be told, you will know that all these harassment, all these violence is one sided and if you interlock all these attack, you will find out that it is those in government and their supporters who keep attacking. The other side has maintained an amazing restraint which any peace loving person must applaud. It is not because they are weak but I think because they have a leadership that has appealed that they must not retaliate or not be provoked and because of that we have seen a level of sanity. So, one side is just fighting and fighting and the other side is not fighting back that is why you cannot say now that the whole state is at war because the attack is from one angle and I have come to realize that those who are neck deep in this matter you can count them on your finger tip. So, the situation is not as bad as people want to think and that is why I have told people that this problem will expire after nomination. Many people are waiting, the moment it become clear that this person is the candidate of the party, you will be surprised that there would be mass movement towards that person. The few that will remain will be those who have played very terrible roles who believes that they might not be forgiven. Even those ones eventually will realize that most human beings have the capacity and the grace to forgive, they will come. I don’t see the matter being as protracted as people think. For somebody as the governor, I am sure he will realize that violence will not work because if he gets the ticket, everybody must rally around him but he must get it by persuasion, by dialogue because if he does that, how many people will work for him? How many people will vote for him? And let nobody think that APC cannot be beaten, any party can be beaten once you distance yourself from the people. The governor too must understand that he too might lose during the primary and if he loses what is he going to do? Continue fighting the party that brought him to prominence? No! I am sure even his colleagues will tell him look, whether anybody likes it or not, history will record it that you were once a governor of Edo State and you must appreciate that and honour the office and work for whoever gets it and of course you must know that nothing stops a governor from coming back. You remember Fayose lost, came back and got it. Fayemi lost, came back and got it and Kwankwaso lost, came back and got it. So it is not impossible for you to lose a second term and get it. For me, I don’t see too much problem. I think the matter will be amicably resolved. Then on the programs you mentioned; job creation, the educational sectors. These issues are contained in the SIMPLE AGENDA. I think the governor started well. In fact there are many people who told me then pastor it appears the governor has read your SIMPLE AGENDA and he is trying to takes some things from there and I said why not. The important thing is developing our state. But the passed two years I must me honest has been a disaster for him because he has now more or less focused entirely on the issue of the “second term is not negotiable”, “I must get it by force” and so everybody has forgotten about governance. Nobody is talking about urban renewal anymore, nobody is talking about job creation, nobody is talking about contract execution. Government has more or less come to a halt. All you see everyday now is meeting with thugs and people on how to stop Oshiomhole from entering Benin City and ensuring that people don’t hold meetings. All we need to do is to be focused. If you are focused on the things that you have promised and yes you can make things happen. We are not going to allow ourselves to be distracted from governmance. The party of course plays a major role in getting you to office, you must look for a way to accomondate and manage them. You cannot disengage them because you are in government. That will not work because it wiil cause a great friction and the friction is what has brought the hostility and stand off we are witnessing right now. So you must manage your party and it is only then you can be able to focus on the core objectives of your election which is perfoming well.
Q: aren’t you concerned that most recently the government in power has been trying to weep up the sentiment about the 700 million naira court case against you. Is it meant to weaken your support base or to deter you from contesting the coming election.
A: (cuts in) I know that they have been trying to focus media attention on it. In fact, many social media platform, you will find out that it is Crusoe Osagie the special adviser who is the one forwarding information about the court case which is very unprofessional and again it shows that they have nobody with them. There are things you leave for the boys to do. When somebody like the special adviser to the governor is now busy forwarding to different social media platform that pastor Osagie ize-iyamu’s court case is coming, that exposes the involvement of government and it shows that they are panic. But quite honestly, I am not dettered, I am not worried because that case started from 2015 and that case didn’t stop me from contesting the election and the issues are quite clear. Nobody has accused me of stealing any money. The money in question did not come to me personally, it did not come to my account. The only thing is that the party wanted some of us to ascertain that the money came, which we did. All those who signed and collected the money are known and are not hiding the fact. Recently we noticed that, same case was dismissed in Yobe. Election money, people signed for it and EFCC took them to court and by the time the EFCC has closed their case, a no case submission was raised. Number one, the money in question did not come from government coffers, did not show that the money was raised from government coffers. I can tell you for free that the money that was sent to Edo was not money from Dasuki gate, it was not money from NNPC or from Daziani. It is clear because those who lodged that money in the bank are from the private sector operatives and we have been able to see their statements which they volunteered that they made contributions. So the money that even was there were not government funds, neither did it come from illegal sources. That itself destroys the ingredient of money laundry because to be talking about money laundry, it means that the funds in question came from an illegal source, maybe drug, maybe government, but that is not it. Number two, was there any personal benefit? Did you get this money for yourself? And in that case they said it is clear that the money in question, these young men including a former minister did not take a kobo from it, so there was no personal enrichment. No personal benefit. And it is the same thing because nobody can say that out of the 700 million, pastor ize-iyamu took naira from it. All the people signed and their statements are with the EFCC. Let me be honest with you, let me be straight, I didn’t even touch it because the money was taken from the bank by the bank officials to the leaders house ( the late Chief Tony Anenih) and the leader himself said yes, it was brought to my house and I added money to it and we shared it to the 18 local government party officials. He made that written statement to the EFCC before he died, but if they decide to say that they still must take us to court, that is their prerogative. Nobody can question that right but luckily too, we have a right to defend ourselves which we are doing. This is not a case that the state government think they can prosecute the way the like. There’s nothing to it. No matter the media hype they want to make out of it, the truth is the truth. So, I am not worried about it at all, we remain focused.
Q: now you are straddled between two political leaders since you exited the PDP. What has your relationship been now that you are in APC headed by the former governor of Edo State Adams Oshiomhole who seems not to have a rosy relationship with Chief Lucky Igbinedion, your former boss.
A: Chief Lucky Igbinedion is an old family friend. He was actually born in my father’s house. That will tell you the relationship. We have been friend for a long time and I played a major role in his government. But my politics is my politics just like his own politics is his own politics. When I was in the APC, he didn’t come to APC, he remained in the PDP. That was his choice just as mine was my choice and when I came to PDP, he was in PDP but not really active and again that is his choice. Now that I am back to the APC, there’s nothing to it at all. What I am trying to tell you is that the fact that we are friend doesn’t mean that our politics must always go in the same direction. He has a right to do what he wants to do and I also have the right to do what I want to do. The fact that we were together one time in the past doesn’t mean that we will always be together. That is the dynamics of it. Within me and you I must tell you that I am politically independent. I value friendship, I don’t stab friends at the back and I am not a disloyal person but my politics is people oriented and when it comes to people, I don’t allow my personal friendship to becloud my duty to my people. The calling and the demand of the people comes first before my personal relationships and the overwhelmingly, my people want me to be in APC right now. For Comrade, we were good friend. We worked together. I couldn’t have been national vice chairman without his input. He gave me all the support to become the national vice chairman and to be honest he recommened me to be in the caucus of the ACN. Most of the achievement I also made in the ACN and APC was made with his support. We disagreed but that is natural and normal. What is important is being able to disagree and agree later. But to fight to the extent of destruction, I don’t think that is something that anybody will be proud of. Of course during the campaign, we know Comrade to be passionate about issues. When he heard I was on the other side, he did everything to demonize me and to stop me, I understand and hold no grudge. I also did everything I could to write him off. But two of us are matured to know that what we were doing was just sake of political exigencies not really because deep inside there was any hatred. That is why you will notice that when I left the APC, when he invited me for the marriage of his wife after the unfortunate demise of his first wife, I was there. People were surprised and people even came to me to say they were surprised to see me and I said how can you be surprised. Will I truly be a pastor if I carry so much of grudge and so much hatred? So, to me that was not and to the glory of god, we are close today and I am happy about it. Obaseki you are talking about came to my wife’s birthday. We embraced and I was happy to receive him and if not because of the hostile attitude that he has displayed in the recent past, today you would have seen us winening and dinning together because we are now in the same party.
Q: talking about the hostility, how safe is your family and your businesses now that bomb is flying in the air against party members supposedly from the state government?
A: you see I tell people that nothing is permanent. When I was called in December 13th that if I continued with the reception as I was planning in my house, that the government will have no choice than to revoke the certificate of occupancy and seize my house, I said well it is okay, but they will be setting a dangerous precedence because when you do things, you must understand that the future beckons. If any person destroy my today or destroy my business because they are temporarily in office, that is their business but the future is there. I don’t worry myself about that because every situation has it time span. People too must think about life outside government. That is why when you are in government, you have to be very careful about the things you do. You can’t go out because you are afraid, you can’t sleep because you are afraid. I have been in government and there is no where I don’t go because I feel safe, I am not afraid and there is no function I don’t attend. So I am not worried even though I realize that the present government is setting a record for itself in the area of political intolerance and even vindictiveness but I am not worried. I will not be the first politician that is victimized for holding up to his political belief. So if that is the sacrifies I have to pay, so be it.
Erasmus: Nice speaking to you.
POI: thank you!