What I’ll do differently as Edo governor –Onolememen

Former minister of works and ex-chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mike Onolememen, in this interview spoke on why he has joined the Edo gubernatorial race; why he dumped his former party, PDP he was a founding member since 1998 until his resignation this year among other issues.

Why are you joining the Edo gubernatorial race?

Well, it is no longer news or hear say that I’m interested in the gubernatorial election in Edo State, come the next season. Well,  like somebody asked me recently, why did you just take the decision? The truth is the past four gubernatorial contests in Edo State, I’ve always been interested in it and about three times, I was prevailed upon by the leadership to let it go to other persons. Well, sometimes, grudgingly we just accept but I believe this is the right time. Because as it were, you can see we are all of the same age bracket. So, we don’t have any limitation.

So for me, really, truly, it is my intention and it’s something I have thought about for the past 15 years. So that will tell you that is four cycle of election. In fact, my brother here Charles, we were in Lagos together when this dream was first thought about. Having said that, I also believe that this is the best time, you know, in a sense for this project to crystallize because whether you like it or not, we have come of age.

Having said that, my driving force for this project is the fact that governance in Nigeria have not really been stellar because we’re going from frying pan to the fire and all that every now and then. By now, one would have expected that in terms of governance, Nigeria would have been much better than what it is. And as somebody who has been in government who knows the purpose of government, I believe that with my experience in the government that I have served either as executive director of Petroleum Trust Fund, or under President Obasanjo when I was Minister of State for Defence, where I had a lot of activities within and outside the Nigerian boundaries in quest for Nigeria’s sovereignty. If you look at the space, you’ll discover that so many people are populating in the space without any iota of experience in governance. Governance is a very serious matter. It is not a place for every person. However, you cannot limit participation in governance. I believe that despite all that, if  we are to excel in what we do in governance, people with requisite experience should be sought out, unfortunately, in our country, that is not done more often than not. I have looked around the country and the present dispensation, and I know that given the opportunity, I will be able to do things differently.

So that is why I threw my hat  into the ring in order to be able to be nominated and in order to win the ballot when the time comes, and do the right things that Nigerians will be proud about. 

The issue of zoning is very topical in this election in Edo State. Can you share your thoughts on what role the issue of which zone the governorship in 2024 should go will play in the election?

Well, from what I can say, zoning is cardinal in this forthcoming election we are talking about because when it started in Edo State, the majority of the stakeholders were asked to come to a round table, and let’s agree on the formula, so that the process is not rowdy. And at that time, it was agreed that the most populous senatorial district would take the first shot. And that was when Lucky Igbinedion became the governor of Edo State, and of course, leadership having taken that position, we all queued behind them and worked for the candidate and the candidate won. That is Edo South.

At the end of Igbinedion’s tenure, you will recall that there was a little bit of antagonism that even the Edo South wanted to come back to it. But, they were prevailed upon not to do such a thing, that it is not just that they have the population but that we all came from a common source and we are brothers and we should relate to each other that way. After much preaching, it now came to Edo Central with Governor Oserheimen Osunbor although his tenure was truncated by the court. Then, it went to Edo North and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole came on board and he ran with it for two terms.

Having said that, we have accepted the process of zoning and counter zoning like we have experienced.

Well, going by this zoning, it has fallen upon the Edo Central senatorial district where I come from. And we truly believe that looking back and seeing what it has been, it is only fair that Edo Central is given the opportunity to fly the flag of the party in the coming gubernatorial contest. And I also share that belief. Having looked at the possibilities, I came to the conclusion that it is a venture I really want to partake in.

A follow up to the issue of zoning. You’ve said that it is only fair for Edo Central to have it. How are you working towards that? Edo central has always been a PDP district until this present senator who defeated Clifford Odus. Looking at the array of people coming out from Edo central, have you all sat down as people from Central to see how you can trim the number to maybe one or two? Are you working towards this?

Let me say that, you know, we have not been quiet on this. There have been a lot of consultations in this direction. We believe that at the appropriate time, we’ll come to that point where we’ll be able to showcase one particular candidate for the office.

Beyond the experience you talked about, Nigerian politics also evolves around god-fatherism which is what is playing out in Rivers. There are instances in the past that the people without even  commensurate public experience became governors. We had Ambode in Lagos and now Fubura in Rivers etc. And in Edo politics, godfatherism always plays out and you have some of these godfathers there.  Can we say you belong to a particular group?

The party is one party and we all belong to the same umbrella if you permit me to use that word. Within the party, we see ourselves as one.  We may have come from different senatorial districts in the state. But the interactions we have had is such that there is no acrimony between those of us from one particular senatorial district and the others. There may be differences and in a political context, there are always differences but we are managing the process in such a way for us to understand each other and see the need for us to do away with acrimony. At the end of the day, whatever the outcome, we will all agree on the outcome.

You must have perceived that it’s going to be zoned to Edo Central and that is why you indicated interest…(cuts in)?

I have just said that for the past four contests, I have all been interested in it but I’ve never been lucky up to this point but I believe this is my time, this is the right time. Because there are some of our leaders, those who have been governors in the past, some of them will tell you the role I have played in the ascendancy to the office of governor of Edo State.

How far have you gone in reaching out, secondly, what do you want to offer that is different from what previous governors offered?

There are quite a lot of things to offer. Some of them similar, some of them different. That is something that is a work in progress right now. And for us, it’s like the secret of a trade. We don’t go to the townhall and start reeling them out because when the time comes to really showcase those areas, you will be shocked that some people have also gone that way because of access to classified issues. So because of that, you hardly see politicians talking about that in a gathering like this, but suffice to say that everyone comes with his own idea about governance. And at the end of the day, it is how it resonates with the people that would tell those who would take the day hopefully. And beyond that, there are other indications, like we always say in our country, that that in itself will not be enough to give you the ticket. So as politicians, we are working with as many people as possible from different senatorial districts in order to get their buy-in into our project. And we’re doing that right now.

You said in the past, you were prevailed upon to stand down for other aspirants. Should the same thing play out this time, would you be willing to concede for one more time?

It depends on the situation. If there’s merit in it well, I don’t know I don’t have any such situation right now. In times past when we had that, we were always told that we should wait for our turn. And we believe that our turn is now. In 2007, I was number one while Osunbor was number three. But I had to step down for Osunbor who eventually won and was in office for 18 months until Oshiomhole came in.

You appear gentle and from what has been coming out of Edo State, the political terrain is quite tough. How will your politics be different from what we’re seeing right now in Edo?

Everyone always has the opportunity to play the game differently. For me, first and foremost, I’ll put the people first so as to get their buy-in. Secondly, I will make a difference particularly in the areas we’re lacking in the state. These are cardinal for me, these are cardinal points that one has to you know, focus on in the way that it has never been done. Then more importantly, I will be focusing on human development and infrastructure development. Because if you see the country as it is today, you’ll agree with me that we still have a lot of work to do in this country. Because after all, the purpose of government is the pursuance of happiness for the greater majority of the people and the only way you can bring that about is if you are heavy on infrastructure development, if you are heavy in human development; these are the two areas where the people will benefit. And more often than not, people relate with these things. I’m focusing on them because I know it is the right thing to do. There are other things in government, that we still have to do but these ones are cardinal as far as I’m concerned. Because once the people benefit and they are able to eke good living, then there’ll be peace. What people want really is not too much. They want to be able to put food on the table of their families. They want to be able to take their children to school. They want to be able to enjoy the good life, they want at the end of whatever they’re doing to have gainful employment, and these are areas where I’m focusing on. During the campaign, I’m going to reign it in on everyone and I believe that it will resonate with the people. Like I emphasis recently, I am providing leadership which is lacking today in Edo.   Out of seven years of the current governor, five years have been spent fighting battles. I will not do that.

You are a founding member of the PDP and all your political life, you have spent it in the PDP but here you are, gunning for the ticket of the APC. Can you let us into why and what advantage you think that confers on your ambition? Then secondly, can you assess Edo state government? What do you think is wrong that you’re coming to fix that the present governance in Edo is lacking?

Well, it is true that I have been a member of the PDP up to this year 2023. Something happened that I just couldn’t relate with. Right from the beginning of the year, I set out to run for the Edo Central senatorial position and that particular primary I won in a very stylish way. I got 90 percent of the votes, then the remaining 10 percent about five of them shared it. But at the time I thought it was all over, the governor of the state had come in and he was supporting somebody who did not even partake in that primary to take over the office.

Initially, we thought it was a joke. So, we went to court. We went to High Court from High Court we went to Appeal Court and from Court of Appeal we went to the Supreme Court. Funnily enough, they gave them judgment. For me, that was a breaking point. And I did not accept to go further from that point because it was one too many. That was what happened. And in any case, APC and PDP, all of us were in PDP before in Edo State. I’m telling you the truth. So many of them are people we have done things together politically. So when we are together, we don’t discriminate against each other; because we always are one. So, because of that, and it is the same characters you are also dealing with, you are playing with, so you don’t feel as if you’re a newcomer. We are all comers as it were. That is that. Then beyond that, we will have no problem talking to each other. We can combat each other; we can go to each other’s constituency and talk to the people; they know that our people are very smart. Edo people are smart people, and they know where their bread is buttered. I have made serious consultations in the three senatorial districts, and I’m satisfied with those consultations. It is the satisfaction that I got from that exercise that is what is pushing me out now.

Still on consultation. you’re new in APC even though PDP, APC, all of you, you’re not different. Have you met with Oshiomhole because his boys are also showing interest from Edo north. So how much of consultation have you done? What are the things you will do that will make you move away from MOU government? Secondly, are you really known at home?

First and foremost, I’m well known in all the local governments. Number two, by training, I act more than I talk, my actions speak for me. So I’m not the traditional politician who just talk and talk and no action. I’m full of action that’s the way I was trained. I’m an architect, and a project manager that’s my background. And God has given me the opportunity to display these skills, either in agencies of the Federal Government, or outside the country representing Nigeria and all that or in the military to glory of His name. In all the opportunities I got, I’ve made good of them. And this will not be different. I’m somebody who’s very passionate and the people are always at the heart of my actions. People who know me, they will tell you that.

Well it is our responsibility to do what we have to do. We’ll do whatever we’re able to do to the best of our knowledge, I will leave the rest to God Almighty.

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