BY ISAAC OLAMIKAN
In this exclusive interview the leader of Edo People’s Movement, EPM, Henry Idahagbon, insist that the choice of Godwin Obaseki as the All Progressives Congress, APC, flag bearer in 2016 was a mistake and would be corrected in 2020.
Prior to the gubernatorial polls of 2016 you had a friendly relationship with Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was then the head of the Edo State Economic Team. In the run up to the All Progressives Congress, APC, gubernatorial primaries you were engaged in a cold war with some of your party leaders in your locality, Egor Local Government Area, on account of your endorsement of Godwin Obaseki for the governorship position of the party. So, where did it all go wrong that both of you are now at loggerheads?
I was not just friendly with him I have the singular honour of being the first politician the governor then, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole confided in on his choice of Godwin Obaseki as a successor. The meeting took place on the day that the APC gubernatorial primaries in Bayelsa State was conducted in Yenagoa, the state capital. I had the opportunity of travelling with the then governor to Bayelsa State for the then primaries election. You will recall the very dramatic incident that occurred.
We were almost kidnapped, we were rescued by the Brigade Commander. We were taken to Igbogene airstrip from where we took a chopper back to Benin. When we got to Benin the Comrade Governor took me to the inner recesses of the government mansion in Government House and asked me to analyse all the then gubernatorial aspirants. And when I was done with my analysis he also gave me his own analysis. At the end of the day the consensus was that Godwin Obaseki was the most appropriate person to succeed him as governor. This meeting started around 7pm and we rounded up 1am the next day.
Two of you alone?
Yes, two of us alone. We were just two. When we were done I sought his permission to call Obaseki and inform him. He granted his permission. I called him. He was already sleeping but he picked the call. From his voice you will know that I woke him up from sleep. I told him that I am with the Comrade Governor. This is our discussion and I was prepared to meet him the next day so that we can work out a template.
I have been Director General of several gubernatorial campaigns. I was Director General of Senator Odion Ugbesia’s campaign in this state. I was Director General of Comrade Oshiomhole’s second term campaign. I was Director General of Lucky Imasuen campaign. So, I have walked on that path before. He was very happy.
Naturally every man would be happy. But he pleaded that he would rather come to meet me at home because I am his leader than me coming to his house. But I insisted and I went to his house the next morning.
That was the exact language he used? That you are his leader?
Yes. Infact, he used to call me bros. He said that I am his leader. I said no because I know that in terms of age he was senior to me. So, I was ready to defer to him because of the age. I went to his house the next morning. John Osakue, who later became the Director General of his campaign met me there.
That’s where I laid down all my template for the campaigns and that’s where the campaign started. It was myself, Osakue and Reverend Michael Egharevba that accompanied him on the first round of his tours to the entire 18 local government areas. Osakue will introduce Reverend Egharevba who will be the first to speak. Egharevba will introduce me and give me the microphone. I will be the second to speak and then I will introduce Obaseki and give him the microphone. I was an integral part of his becoming a gubernatorial candidate of the APC.
And like you said, when I brought him to Egor for the first time virtually all the political leaders in Egor – Gentleman Ameghor, the present party chairman, Olaye, the present Commissioner for Information, Paul Ohonbamu and many others were not on his side. They were not. All of them. But I sat them down and gave them the genesis of my involvement because of the Comrade. The current member elect of the house of assembly who was also a member of the house then, Crosby Eribo, said no that they will never support Obaseki. It is on record. They even granted interview published by a national newspaper. That’s how he brought this guy from profound obscurity to both national and international limelight as governor. But even before he spent two weeks as governor he gave us the signals that he was going to retire all political leaders in the state. He was going to create his own new structure. He called us all sorts of names – thieves, liars, cheats, greedy – without any justification whatsoever.
I have been part of several gubernatorial campaigns. I know of leaders collecting N50million, N100million, just one leader, to support the candidacy of a person. I am not aware of any leader in APC that collected N5million from Godwin Obaseki. Everybody worked for him not because of him but because of the enormous goodwill which Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had. Nobody collected any money from him. I have even said at another occasion it is the norm in our country when you have a delegates election where delegates have to vote for the emergence of a candidate you give them money; you put them in hotels. Yes, of course Obaseki put all delegates in hotels. That’s true. He promised the delegates N300,000 each. Before the election he paid N150,000 promising that he would pay the balance N150,000 after the election. After he was elected he refused to pay the balance N150,000. We had to insist, plead and cajole before he eventually now paid additional N50,000. Which many of the delegates didn’t get. His aides who were to distribute the money, apparently because he had won they they would just go to a local government, ten people would show up, they will give the ten people and they will write in their book that everybody has been paid. Until now the N100,000 was never paid.
This man does not have the justification, whether moral or otherwise, to call politicians thieves, to call them liars because he gave no money to nobody and nobody expected any money from him. All we expected was a continuation of the good work Oshiomhole did in terms of human and infrastructural development.
What was the human development? Camaraderie, good rapport with your governor. Obaseki used to join us every afternoon to eat lunch with Comrade Oshiomhole. He used to join us every evening to eat dinner with Comrade Oshiomhole in his house in the midst of so many politicians. I want to ask him today how many politicians join him to eat lunch and dinner in his house since he became governor? From what we hear those who join him to eat dinner and lunch are politicians from Lagos, from Rivers etc.
There is a very popular friend of his, his name is Dr. Henry Nzekwu. He is my name sake. I took Obaseki and Henry Nzekwu to meet Senator Daisy Danjuma in Lagos. Obaseki didn’t know Senator Danjuma. I flew from Benin to Lagos. Both of them (Obaseki and Nzekwu) flew from Abuja. My flight touch down in Lagos first. I waited for them. They came and a landcruiser came to pick them. I joined them and we went to see Senator Daisy Danjuma. Senator Daisy Danjuma is alive, Nzekwu is alive. When we were done with that meeting Obaseki lodged me at Golden Gate Hotel in Ikoyi and the next morning he came with the landcruiser to meet me at Golden Gate and we drove in the land cruiser to Benin together. All these happened just three years ago.
When you and Comrade Oshiomhole agreed that Godwin Obaseki was the best choice to succeed Oshiomhole what did you see in him then that made you to endorse him which you are not seeing in him any longer and thus you don’t want him to seek a second tenure?
There are reasons for that decision I am afraid I will not be able to make public for now. May be in the future, if God gives us good health and we grow old may be we might be able to discuss some of those reasons. We saw a cool, quite and urbane gentleman, soft-spoken. In his own way likeable. A reluctant politician. He was never interested (in politics). He got his APC card barely six months or a year before the elections. Any time you tell him(about politics) his response was “no, no, no. I am not interested. Politicians with their wahala.” He was very dismissive of politicians and politics.
Unfortunately, looking back in retrospect we didn’t read him rightly. We read him so very wrongly. He was a man that was obsessed with power. He earnestly wanted to be governor but he sold a red herring to us. He gave us the impression that he was not interested. We didn’t see the other side of him. We were told. We were warned. Somebody like Pedro Obaseki, who unfortunately is now is spokesman, told me privately and publicly that this guy was a difficult human being that was impossible of being managed. He said so many things which I will not say now. There were couple of other people.
I will give you an example. Two or three days before the primaries a text message was sent round to many politicians in this state and many of them will remember this. We believed then that it was the handiwork of his opponents in the gubernatorial race. Where they said that everywhere he had worked or those who had helped him he ended up fighting them. They gave an example of a king in Bayelsa State, Ebitimi Banigo(boss of the defunct Allstate’s Trust Bank). They said that it was that guy who gave him his first job in the bank. The guy sponsored him to school abroad. That today he is not on speaking terms with him.
They gave the example of Gaius Obaseki who was Group Managing Director(GMD) of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. That one made him NNPC pensions manager. A lot of things happened which I will not say here. But at the end of the day as we speak today he is not on speaking terms with that one. Infact when he aspired to become governor his family called a meeting to try and reconcile him and Gaius that one resisted. Gaius is in this Benin. He didn’t vote for him during the election. People told us about his cold relationship even with his brothers and sisters. But we never believed. We thought all these were conceptions, smear campaigns. But now we know better. That has led me to the conclusion that we voted for a man we didn’t know. We voted for a man rejected by his kith and kin even by his own family. We voted for a man whose heart is darker than his skin pigmentation. The Obaseki of today is a mean, calculating and wicked person that can go to any length.
Are you saying that Obaseki deceived you?
Yes, he has always had that nature in him. The Obaseki that we are seeing now is the Obaseki that has always been. You go to his family background – his relationship with his father, mother and siblings. He has always been the person but he sent us on a wild goose chase by being nice to Comrade (Oshiomhole), by being nice to everybody, by giving the impression that he was not interested in the governorship. Infact, the first day that Comrade told him “let us do what Tinubu and Fashola did in Lagos” he said no, that he was not interested. But he wanted it.
So, this is the real Obaseki but he succeeded in deceiving us. That is why it is not always difficult to win election the first time. It is winning the second term that is difficult. Because the first time we don’t know you. Oshiomhole was able to deodorize him. “Oh, head of economic team.”
There was no economic team. I was a key member of that government. I was number three in the hierarchy. There was no economic team. We just had an economic man. Every other member of that economic team he drove them away. Good example is Bright Omokhodion. He is alive. A former Commissioner for Finance, former speaker of the state house of assembly. He came to the ACN(Action Congress of Nigeria). He was made the Vice Chairman of the economic team. After about a year no meeting of the team everything was Obaseki. The man resigned and returned to the PDP.
Oshiomhole ascribed to Godwin Obaseki all the good works that he (Oshiomhole) did by claiming that Obaseki was the engine room. Obaseki was no engine room.
But why did Oshiomhole ascribed what he did to Obaseki?
He did that to deodorize that is to sell Obaseki to the public because he had made up his mind that Obaseki should be his successor. In the process of doing that knowing that he was politically naive. He was a neophite in politics. He knew that a lot of people were resisting him. We have formidable politicians who were challenging him. We have Pius Odubu who is a grassroot politician in charge of Edo South. Odubu can speak perfect and flawless Benin. Odubu can sing. Odubu can dance. Uptil today Obaseki cannot make a sentence in Benin language. He cannot hold a conversation in Benin language. When he was campaigning when I call him in the morning or he calls me in the morning Obaseki will greet me laveze. I was the one that kept correcting him that “you cannot greet me laveze because you are senior to me. It is me who can greet you laveze.”
He is 95 percent a Lagosian. He is not Benin. If he goes to Uhunmwode today he will tell them he is from Uhunmwode. If he goes to Oredo he will say he is from Oredo. If he goes to Abudu in Orhionmwon he will say he is from Abudu. Where is he from in Benin kingdom? We don’t know.
Let me also remind you because you are a journalist. On December 22nd, 2015, I organised for the Edo NUJ to host him. It was one of my templates of exposing him to the Edo public. NUJ organised an end of year party funded by us and he was called to be the principal speaker at that event which held at the NUJ premises. When we got there that day I was made the chairman of the occasion. I remember that day he drank a bottle of Heineken beer in the presence of everybody. He made a controversial statement that day concerning his grandfather and Benin kingdom which caught fire in the papers in subsequent days but which we had to look for a way to suppress. So, the Obaseki that we now see is the Obaseki that has always been.
Just before you came here (for the interview) I received credible information. Very credible. That himself and his deputy they have arranged for kidnappers to kidnap Tony Kabaka and myself and that after they must have collected ransome from our families they should ensure that we are killed. Thirty minutes ago. By tomorrow I will deposit a petition to the Commissioner of Police(CP) and the Director of SSS. I am not afraid to die. My father is here, my mother is alive. I still have my parents. I am not afraid to die. Many people in this world have died for what they believe in.
I believe that Obaseki poses an existential threat to the political class in Edo State not just APC members even PDP and any other party as long as you are a politician because he doesn’t like us. We have come to realise that Obaseki is not happy inside. He is a sad man and because he is a sad man he cannot make others happy. Infact, he is unhappy when he sees other people happy. I am not afraid. I am convinced and it is that conviction that we made a mistake in Obaseki that led me and other progressive leaders in APC to form the Edo People’s Movement, EPM, which is the platform currently fighting Obaseki.
We have just two cardinal objectives. To strengthen the party to regain its winning ways because during the last general elections we lost woefully. Obaseki has gone down in history as the only governor to lose his unit, ward, local government, house of representatives seat and senatorial district. The three metropolitan local governments in Edo State – Egor, Oredo and Ikpoba Okha were lost. The second objective is shopping for a credible alternative for Obaseki come next year.
If it is because of these views that he chooses to send kidnappers after me it is my wish and prayer, I don’t wish to die now, that God almighty will intervene and they will not have me to kidnap. But if they succeed it will be on record. Let the whole world know that should anything untoward happen to me or to Tony Kabaka that it is his handiwork. Our blood will be upon his head and at the appropriate time God almighty will demand from him because he didn’t create our lives. He was not there when I was created when Tony Kabaka was created and he should not be responsible for our death.