In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Edo State and governorship aspirant, in the September 19 election, Charles Airhiavbere speaks on why six governorship aspirants have agreed to bury their individual ambitions to produce a consensus candidate to challenge incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki for the party’s governorship ticket. Airhiavbere, a retired army General, said they would pick a consensus candidate who can win election for the party and will not run away with government like Obaseki who “climbed to the top and took the ladder so that nobody can even get hold of the ladder. You want to struggle for the ladder, he sends his thugs after you”.
You seem to be quiet concerning your governorship ambition. In recent times, we’ve seen some other aspirants being very visible providing succour to the less privileged highly impacted by the lockdown brought about by the coronavirus disease and you appear to be missing in action. What is happening?
I am not missing in action o. The tooth that chooses the food that goes into the stomach is covered by the lips. We have agreed when we came up with the decision that Obaseki would be replaced by May last year that we should all bury all our personal interests then face a common enemy in Obaseki. And the reason is that if we all proliferate the political space just like we did in 2015, 2016, there will be problem. So, we decided that we would come up with a consensus candidate; we share rally issues, we will provide security against the governor who is ready to maim any APC member that holds any gathering. So, if anybody says I am quiet when I am the one providing security, that person is not being fair to me.
But you are not providing succour for people in this time of need.
If I don’t provide security for people how can they provide succour? So, whatever they are doing is being done on behalf of all of us. When I provide security and they do rallies in my house, I am providing it for everybody. Sometimes, it’s good for us to look at the general wellbeing of an organization, not individuals. If people are coming out for individual recognition, it will be negative to our collective decision. Let them go and hold rallies in other person’s house if Obaseki will not go after them. We held a rally in Auchi, they burnt down the place; I was there. If people say I am quiet, they are not fair to me. Probably it’s the imaginations of some mischief makers. I was the first person to indicate and put Obaseki on notice that I would contest against him; it’s on record. I have been on this project since 2011 when I left the military.
Why people say you are missing in action is because they are seeing Engineer Chris Ogiemwonyi, Pastor Ize-Iyamu and the former deputy governor, Pius Odubu had been distributing palliatives – food, sanitisers and other items and carrying out sensitization, and the question had been where is General Airhiavbere?
It’s like they say the person that is drumming for the bird that is dancing on the surface of the land is underground. I am the one playing the band for all of them. It’s a collective decision and we’ll use that to produce a consensus candidate.
Talking about consensus, the question people are asking is who amongst you would make the sacrifice?
The way it is now, every one of us is ready to sacrifice our ambition for who we believe would win the election for APC in the coming election. That person is one of us. Let me say it clearly, we are all individually ready to sacrifice our ambition for whomever amongst us to carry the flag of the party; who will not run away with the government as Obaseki did. The one who would respect the leaders of the party, will deliver dividends of democracy, not just MoU government; who will recognize the people from Edo State not bringing people from Lagos, Delta and Bayelsa States to ruin our economy. Edo State has a very high level of human capital development. How many of them are being used for contracts?
The stadium, we have so many indigenous engineers in Edo State but we are told they came in from different parts of the country. So, where are we going to? Let us be fair, let us not say too much for the opposition party to hear; that’s why we are quiet. If we run down our governor, we are running him down before other opposition parties. PDP is in the woodwork; they are waiting.
How do you see what is happening in the government? The chief of staff to the governor has resigned and he is being hounded by the DSS and the police.
But you are aware that our governor is a dictator; he’s a semi-military dictator. There is nothing about him that is democratic. Even the way he came about was not democratic. Those of us who campaigned, who even went for primary with him, are his enemies. So, the chief of staff was playing with the tail of a rattle snake. What it clearly shows is that the former chief of staff didn’t know his boss. A man that can bring down a five-storey hotel without having alternative government plan for the land; whether we like it or not that hotel was paying Edo people salaries. It was paying tax to government. He’s a very vindictive person. A governor that we all produced; when people say it was only Oshiomhole that produced him I say no. Oshiomhole has only one vote. We all delivered Obaseki; even those of us that stepped down for him. So you can’t blame only one person for it; we are all culpable and that is the governor we have had for three and a half years now. It’s not a surprise. Taiwo Akerele should have known that he would go after him and if he’s not careful, he will go to jail for what he knows nothing about. Yes.
If Obaseki is behaving like a semi-military man, you are a retired army General. If you happen to be the consensus candidate, are you sure you would not be another dictator too?
Well, to a very large extent, I have never believed in military rule because I believe that the best military rule is worse than the worst democratically elected government. That is why five days after retirement I joined politics to seek democratic election to serve my people and to help deliver the dividends of democracy. Don’t forget, if you look at my history, I have always aligned with the party at the centre so that the people can have a direct link to Federal development, Federal appointments, and not be left out in opposition. I am still along that line; I have not deviated from that political belief and I would not be a dictator. And even the people who have known me in my military career know that I am a developer and I believe in the welfare of the people that I serve.
Are you not concerned that the COVID-19 can affect the September 19 governorship election?
The constitution has provided for such and I’m sure if we follow the constitutional guidelines, we’ll have no problem.
Then talking about the COVID-19, are you satisfied with the way the pandemic is being managed in Edo State?
Compare him with other governors, compare him with the governor of Lagos State who is younger than him; compare him with the governor of Rivers, Akwa Ibom or Cross River State and assess Obaseki. It is very, very unfair; if COVID-19 did not happen in an election year, there wouldn’t have been any succour for our people. He went into oblivion; it’s unfair. His handling of the state during this period is not expected of a man who calls himself a technocrat who is supposed to have an outreach to the industrialists and to the richest group of Nigerians who should have come to help us. But who will leave his donation in his hands? Who will trust him with his donations?
You believe that this is the reason well-to-do Edo indigenes are not responding to his call for assistance?
I think he said he has spent over N1 billion. He should show us the warehouse where those goods were delivered to. We have seen the warehouse in Rivers State, we have seen stadia turned into isolation centres; we have seen hospitals, we have seen so many things. Before this time, Edo State had isolation centres in Irrua Specialist Hospital and other places. What advantages are we taking of it? I want to see the good people of my state enjoying the dividends of democracy without sweating for it; it’s their right.
Would you have preferred a total lockdown of the state to reduce the COVID-19 figures?
Definitely; when you have a total lockdown, you must also have the corresponding palliatives to make the people survive. And that is why the constitution provides for that. It’s not just to say I am governor when you don’t have solution to the problems of your people. I would have preferred a total lockdown; that is what we are experiencing in Abuja. All functional businesses are locked down and the government is providing palliatives.
But he is saying he doesn’t have that kind of money to provide palliatives for the people in case of a total lockdown.
Why will the government not have that kind of money? Why? Governance is a continuum. You are now telling me you are the head of a household; your wife is going to give birth in another nine months, you don’t have money to discharge her from the hospital? You are governor, meaning you didn’t set aside money for emergencies? Or you are a banker; you don’t set aside money for operational exigencies or name it? These are administrative exigencies; nobody planned for COVID-19.
I feel sorry for Edo people, especially this period. The people of Edo State should feel governance. When you see a flourishing household, you will know. If Edo people are enjoying Governor Obaseki today, the people will say it; you will see it, you will feel it. That’s the truth. I just decided to grant this phone interview because I feel pained. Yes, I am one of the fore-runners for the governorship election to take over from Obaseki. But I also want to be a member of a unified government, not like Obaseki did that he ran away with the government. He climbed to the top and even took the ladder so nobody can even get hold of the ladder. You want to struggle for the ladder, he sends his thugs after you.