How Oshiomhole’s Style Helped Saraki

Despite being confined to political wilderness on account of an interview he granted TELL in 2016 critical of the then Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, now national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Godwin Erhahon, former state publicity secretary of the party remains unbowed. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Erhahon who says President Muhammadu Buhari would win the election overwhelmingly, however feared that because of the feud between Oshiomhole and some governors, the APC might lose some seats in the national assembly and some governorship positions. He also spoke on the political battles of Bukola Saraki, Senate president and Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, among others. Seemingly abandoned to his fate by the president whose Congress for Progress Change, CPC, he was the poster boy in Edo State, Erhahon insisted that he would not quit the APC. Excerpts:

Since your removal as the Edo State APC publicity secretary on account of the critical interview you granted this magazine warning against replacing Oyegun with Oshiomhole as national chairman, you have been aloof and seemingly in the cold, and one begins to wonder where you now belong. Are you still in the party?

You know that as a man of high principle and ideology, I don’t defect from parties. My political leaning is tied to my faith and trust in Buhari. So, it’s only if Buhari had left that I would have gone with him. It doesn’t matter whether or not I have benefitted from his government; whether he has remembered or forgotten me. But somehow, I just believe in him from the beginning; and so, where he goes, I go until he quits politics.

A lot of people go into politics for what they can get. One cannot but also wonder what type of politician you are, being so badly treated – victimised, persecuted, punished – and yet not even recognised or rewarded by the same president you are sticking with in terms appointment or any form of patronage. You were the face of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC in Edo State when the party was not popular at all and yet you have been so sidelined in the reward system.

Well, some of those traits you mentioned are also not far from what we as journalists are used to. We are used to swallowing fire in order that the rest of the society can drink water and that is what I was also trying to do in politics. Yes, I have been denied virtually everything that I am entitled to except the air I breathe because of my own position politically; it really doesn’t bother me. But looking back, I also look at those who believe they are benefitting from the system; they are still not better off than I am. God has blessed me in a way that is beyond human denial and so, I remain grateful to the almighty God. Besides, I didn’t even enter politics to become one of the richest persons in town; my interest was at least to be able to influence good governance and then development and attract projects to my area. Unfortunately, those areas have been denied because my ward is the most cheated, the most exploited community in this country.

Godwin Erhahon
Godwin Erhahon,

In this country; not in Edo State?

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In Nigeria, oh yes. Ugu ward in Orhionmwon ward nine from which I hail is the premier and leading oil-producing community in Edo State as well as the sole gas-producing community in this state. In 2007 during the regime of Professor Osunbor when the youths of our area shut down the Oben gas plant, security chiefs came to Benin and did everything possible to intervene. And what they told us then was that if that Oben gas plant was shut down for more than a week, that there was likely to be complete darkness in Aso Rock because the gas that powers most part of Abuja is derived from Oben and also goes to some of these West African countries. And yet, the area from where the gas is derived, there is no electricity; till today, we are in darkness. There are no good roads and what you see there is poverty. And when they are going to talk about the development of oil-producing areas, the political elites conspire against such a community that is most entitled to patronages. So, we are used to it and we believe that nothing lasts for ever.

The general elections are just around the corner and your party is so confident it would win. Are you not being myopic or over-confident given the crises that have engulfed the party in almost all the states of the federation arising from controversial primary elections?

The crisis that is rocking APC cannot in any way rob APC half of what it was robbed of in 2015. In 2015, there was nothing that was not said about Buhari. As a leader of CPC from the beginning, opponents tried to give the impression that Buhari was completely evil, was a war monger and so on. There was no name that they didn’t call Buhari then. And so, I can assure you that even Buhari will defeat Atiku [Abubakar, candidate of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP] landslide in his Adamawa State. You can come back to remind me of this from February 20th. Even despite all that we are talking about in the South-south, the rigging machinery that the PDP instituted across the country then, particularly in the South-south and South-east, they are no more there. And so, in the South-east where APC scored virtually less than 10 percent the other time, there is nothing that will stop us from getting over 30 percent if we don’t win majority there. In the South-south, it’s going to be the same thing. My only fear is for Edo State.

Why?

Well, because of certain things that I see happening. In the state, I also believe that places like Delta and others may even give Buhari a higher percentage than Edo State.

What have you seen in Edo that makes you come to that conclusion?

In the whole of the system, there has been no sincere effort at reconciling aggrieved persons. The level of victimization, the level of acrimony since 2016 has only been entrenched. But as you are aware, you and I passed through this thing in 2016. You know that when you live in an environment where speaking the truth is a taboo, it is risky to speak the truth. But at this age, having crossed 60, I am already a senior citizen. If I don’t dare to speak the truth now, when will I ever? All my life, even when I was much younger, you and I were colleagues, you knew what I suffered; but I can assure you that unless genuine and very sincere efforts are made to smoothen the rough edges within the party structure, the surprises that we are going to have in Edo State would be very, very terrible because unfortunately, while you saw, for example, national assembly members from the opposition party struggling, commissioning projects here and there, some of ours wasted their resources on internal bickering; struggling for power and trying to take over leadership, run down people within the party, and all that.

For example, I have a challenge. You are aware that to undo me then, amongst themselves, they cooked up a story that I voted for PDP in the 2016 governorship election which never happened. Up till now, nobody had the courage to ask me. I’m sure then you saw when people from my community came out crying and pronouncing some serious curses. That was what you saw from my immediate unit. What happened in several other units around my area was worse. But those things surely will backfire. How do I go to my people and tell them to vote for those who lied against me? Those my people who wept that time, if I go back there now to campaign saying vote for my party; they are going to ask me how we resolved the issue of the lies they told against us. It’s a serious matter on my neck. But Buhari remains my candidate; I would do my best for him. I used mine as example because my position made mine to be very pronounced. There are so many others who are so sidelined, who are so victimised and who are still very, very aggrieved, disillusioned. And the system doesn’t appear to bother about them. And so, this time around, unless we really come down; I have been a peacemaker all my life and I am ready to help where I find it possible to help.

But following the primaries, people started calling for his resignation, protests here and there and he’s been at daggers drawn with some governors. Do you feel vindicated that yes, I told you so?

For me, I have told you that because I know I spoke from very genuine and sincere intention, I have no regret. I told you then, even when you came back to interview me, and when other media also interviewed me. It’s left for the public to tell me now whether they have seen me being vindicated or they still believed that what I said was wrong. It’s not for me now to claim vindication. I believe that that is left for the public to decide.

There are three governors who are particularly aggrieved – Imo, Zamfara and Ogun states. Do you think they are justified in what they are asking for in their protests against the chairman?

I don’t have the details of how it came about but that of Okorocha is the funniest of them all. I believe that Okorocha was asking for too much and he was taking both the party and the people of the state for granted. So, if I were in a position to decide, I would have done exactly what the national executive has done concerning Imo State. I will surely have done that. As for the other two, I don’t have the details to be able to make a very informed opinion because recall that at that time, I was bereaved, and I was really out of circulation. But that of Okorocha, that one was too notorious for even somebody who was even in a coma in the hospital not to notice. But whatever it is between him and these governors, I believe that there is need for harmony. There is need for proper reconciliation, otherwise, when you handle political crisis with a kind of primitive bravado, there is no way that it will not backfire.

At a time, Okorocha asked the president to call him to order. Do you see the president you know as being comfortable with his utterances?

No; even the president is somebody who is very, very shrewd with his words, and very, very mindful of what he says. And so, by the time he hears somebody shouting, somebody abusing another person, there is no way that he would be comfortable. But both know how they blend. But our own prayer is that this one should not lead to a total disgrace to the party. That is why I am saying that whether we like Comrade Oshiomhole’s leadership style or not, as stakeholders in the party, we need to do everything possible to ensure that we succeed. It’s after the election that we will sit down and begin to look back and say how did we find ourselves where we are.

It’s like the party is over-confident. We’ve heard the chairman say to a sitting governor that he has no electoral value and without him, the party would win elections in his state. Is it politically correct to be this boastful knowing politics is a game of numbers?

For sure, nobody would, in a very sane mind, advice such. But what I’m assuring you is that most of those governors are not annoyed with the president. And because the election of the president is coming first, I assure you that the president is likely to have the party working for him as a team, and then hopefully, his victory may have some band-wagon effect on the party. But in areas where some of these things cannot be amended, it’s give-and-take. His kind of approach is likely to cost us some seats whether in the National Assembly or even the governorship. But like I said, I am still very optimistic that at all levels, we shall still be in the majority. But it would have been better if we synergise; if we are more properly coordinated and working as a team.

The obsession of the national chairman to remove Bukola as Senate President following his defection to the PDP has become his worst nightmare because as at today, he has not been able to achieve that. How do you see this development?

Was that even tactful? If you plan to remove somebody, you take them by surprise. When you tell a man that you are coming to attack him, it’s only if the man is incapacitated that he would not defend himself. So, those are things that work in favour of the opposition; those were tactics that worked against the system. It’s not a normal undertaking that would have a schedule to say okay, by next week, I am going to remove you when you know that the man can defend himself, particularly in a very corrupt system. Even those who are on your side can be compromised overnight. And he’s likely to be there till the end of this eighth assembly, although I don’t envy Saraki’s style of politics. In APP then, I happened to have met the father once in the year 2000. I know how hard-working and how committed the father was. So, his own way is very, very awkward to me. He’s at a crossroads now. If he’s able to cross this 2019 election and come back to the senate, well, he may be lucky. But if he’s not, I can assure you that all these other pyramids that he has turned upside down will collapse on his head.

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