Pius Odubu is the Edo State deputy governor. He speaks with The Interview about the need to ensure a level-playing field for governorship aspirants in the state, his relationship with his principal, Adams Oshiomhole and the failed attempt on his life…
Accept our condolences on the death of the Oba of Benin. As a Bini man, what did the Oba mean to you and how would you define his legacy?
The Oba of Benin never dies; what you see is only transition to another realm. Given the colossal stature of Oba Erediauwa, you are talking of an avatar whose legacy is imperishable. He was the repository of our cultural values. For us in Benin and indeed the entire Edo State, his ideas live on: the idea of peace; the idea of brotherliness; the idea of forgiveness; the idea of communal cooperation; the idea of solidarity; the idea of mutual respect; the idea of justice. In fact, it will take days, if not weeks, to list the various dimensions of the legacy of the great Oba Eradiauwa. In describing him, I’ll like to borrow the words of President Barak Obama in describing Nelson Mandela as a giant of history at his burial in South Africa. As far as I am concerned, Oba Eradiauwa could now be described as a giant of history, too. I am sure you are aware that the Oba who just transited was a seasoned technocrat, having attended Kings College in Lagos and also proceeded to the United Kingdom and obtained a degree in law, came and worked in the federal civil service and rose to the position of a super permanent secretary when the civil service was really at its best. In his determination to give back to the state of birth, he came back home thereafter. He also served as a commissioner in the old Bendel State. Eventually in 1979, he was crowned the Oba of Benin. On that great stool, he discharged his responsibilities creditably. It is on record that development and peace reigned supreme during his time in the Kingdom. Oba of Benin was indeed one Oba that was very accommodating such that even when there was crisis all over Nigeria, here in Benin peace reigned. He taught us the virtue of accommodation - to be accommodating of our visitors and strangers and all those who come and live in Benin. If you go out to carry out your own investigation, you will find that here in Benin Kingdom, you’ll see non-natives owning properties in choice areas in Government Reservation Area (GRA), Mission and Akpakpava roads. It is a culture Oba Erediauwa encouraged. He taught us to be our visitors' keeper. That does not happen in several other kingdoms in Nigeria. It is to his credit that this happens here. As a Bini man and by the special grace of God, the deputy governor, I have benefited immensely from his counselling and fountain of wisdom. He took me as his son. I owe it to him whatever successes I have recorded as the deputy governor. He took interest in me, starting from my days at the National Assembly. When I was still a federal lawmaker, he invited me to come to the palace. I didn’t know why? I was scared stiff initially because of the awe with which we view the Oba. On the appointed day, he received me in the special area they called Ugozolua. I was put in the middle, surrounded by palace chiefs and he told them to pray for me. I didn’t know why then. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think I know now because our Oba had what they call the third eye. People like him could see far beyond what the normal mortal can see. I think he saw then that I will occupy the position I am today. His time with us was very rewarding to the Binis and Edo State as a whole.
You are a formidable aspirant for the APC governorship ticket in the coming primaries. Some observers say godfatherism will be a factor in the contest. Do you believe?
I hope not, because here in Edo State you would recall that the mantra of "one man, one vote" was pioneered here in Edo State by my boss and brother, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Through that advocacy, the Comrade Governor was able to mobilise the people of Edo to resist and banish godfatherism which had been the bane of our development as a people and as a state. The Edo people are now fully conscientised, courtesy of the silent revolution the Comrade Governor started. The Oshiomhole I know practises what he preaches. I know that the primaries will be free, fair and transparent. I don’t see any godfathers lurking around the corner in Edo State APC. I am sure you are referring to the rumour doing the rounds that the Comrade Governor has an anointed candidate. I have heard that too. But the Oshiomhole that I know will not do anything that will tarnish his hard-earned reputation. He will not do anything that will negate the very principle he has fought for all through the years. You see in our constitution, there is freedom of choice and association. There is no problem in anybody having a preferred person for any office or situation. But in exercise of that your right, you must ensure that you do not infringe on the right of the other person. Once that is done, there won’t be any problem.
The September 10 election promises to be keen between APC and PDP. What do you think are the factors that would swing the votes?
There would certainly be an election between APC, PDP and other political parties. I believe those saying that it would be keenly contested are taking the matters too far because here in Edo State, the sterling performance of the Comrade Governor is such that Edo State is now regarded as an APC state. Everywhere you go, you see the handiwork of Oshiomhole in physical infrastructure, human capacity development, health, creating of job opportunities for Edo youths. He has done all that to the extent that one can say that most people in Edo are APC sympathizers. However, I know that there will be credible personalities standing on the platforms of other parties on September 10, but given the level of performance by the present administration in which I am privileged to be a member, I believe that APC will have the upper hand.
The other day, a group of aspirants for the APC, including your good self, placed an advertorial in a newspaper condemning attempts to substitute names on the delegates’ list. What are your fears and what is the position today?
I think, in APC, we believe that there must be internal democracy. We believe that the primaries must not only be free and fair but the processes leading to it must also be transparent. When we observed that, immediately after the visit of the national executive members from our national secretariat and assurances by them that there will be a free and fair primaries and that delegates’ list would not be tampered with, curiously, few days later, text messages were sent to APC ward chairmen to bring names to substitute those who in their own imagination have left the party or were dead. This, we believe, was not done in good faith. If there was going to be such a decision, there should be a meeting of all stakeholders where the issue will be addressed and agreed upon, where everybody will be in the know - not something to be done clandestinely. That was why we raised the alarm. It was not meant to indict anybody but to ensure that there is internal democracy in all that we do.
What is your assessment of the role of the party national chairman, Chief OdigieOyegun, who incidentally is from Edo State, in all of this?
Chief John Kenneth OdigieOyegun is one person that is very seasoned. You will recall also that he rose to the position of a super permanent secretary in the federal civil service and later the first executive governor of Edo State. So, he is sufficiently equipped to handle any position nationally. To his credit, as the chairman of the party, he led the team that, for the first time in our nation history, upstaged a sitting rpesident. Working with our national leaders like our charismatic President MuhammaduBuhari and the sagacious Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Oyegun has proven to be a record-breaker, a man of justice, a team-player and a consensus builder. Since he came on board, we have won practically all the elections we have taken part in except the ones that were obviously rigged. From what I have heard and seen of him, he believes in collective responsibility. So far, to the best of my knowledge, Chief Oyegun has created an atmosphere that gives us the confidence that APC will wax from strength to strength. That also extends to Edo APC. I believe it gives us greater confidence that Oyegun, being an Edo man, the values of transparency and justice for which APC has become known as a political brand will again be put on display as far as the governorship primaries are concerned in Edo State. I urge him not to rest on his oars. We are very proud of him.
You narrowly escaped being killed by gunmen last Saturday (April 30). What really happened?
Killing is not my portion. Death is not my portion for now. Well, what really happened was that we went on a meet-the-delegates interaction in continuation of our tour of the various local governments. On that particular day, Auchi was one of the local governments we visited. We congregated at the party’s secretariat. The delegates were very enthusiastic, full of excitement on seeing us. I was inside the hall with the delegates and the next thing we heard was commotion outside. Some strange elements infiltrated the gathering and were trying to bring down the canopies outside and I inquired from the chairman if there were any problems and he said no, that we could continue. So, we sang the National Anthem and said the opening prayers. As the chairman was addressing the delegates we started hearing gunshots. So, it was at that point that I held the microphone and told them that this could not go on and we made to leave. It was like Armageddon. The gunshots continued. I believe I was the target, but I thank God for his divine shield. My security detail did a yeoman's job in shielding me out of the place and we had to take refuge somewhere in Auchi. It was while taking stock that I discovered that eight persons had been shot and had to be rushed to the hospital at Auchi. We went there and saw the wounded, and the doctor advised that, given the severity of the wounds, we should evacuate them to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH, for better treatment. But let me say that I have no cause to suspect that anyone could be after my life. But for anyone to now say there were no casualties or that we hired people to come and shoot at ourselves, we leave them to their conscience. You might get away with it here on earth but certainly not from God, because we all have our shadows and that shadows are our biggest witness. Whatever we do here on earth, the shadow will transmit same to God above. God Almighty will ensure that all those who committed that dastardly act, who fired bullets with the objective of killing or maiming, will be apprehended and brought to book. But I pray that God touches their heart because nothing in this world is worth killing for.
Who could have been after your life?
I don’t know. Like I said earlier, I do not suspect anybody and I don’t know if I have done anybody anything to warrant my being targeted like a criminal or animal in the bush. I know my life is in the hand of God and I know I am protected by Him.
There are reports that pressures were mounted on you to step down from the governorship race.
It is absolutely false. Nobody, I repeat, nobody has told me to step down for any body and that is the truth. There will be rumours here and there. People will be saying all manner of things. Not the party, not Mr. Governor, nobody has told me that. I am in this race to its logical conclusion. By the grace of God, I believe there will be free and fair primaries. Whoever wins, we will embrace that person.
You were generally seen as a loyal deputy governor in the past seven years. At what point did you fall out with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole?
I have not fallen out with him. I have always been loyal and will always be loyal. You see, politics is here and people are angling for their various aspirants. Things will be said and things will be done. But for us, we remain focused. For me, I will remain loyal to Mr. Governor even after our tenure would have ended. Don't forget we worked together for about ten years. Remember we started this journey way back in 2006. He remains my boss and friend.
Without Comrade Oshiomhole's support, do you think you can win?
We need the support of everybody to win the election, particularly when you have a governor that has performed, a governor that is generally acclaimed to be very, very popular. So we need the support of Mr. Governor and every other person in Edo to win the primaries and indeed the general election.
But the popular perception is that there is a rift between you and the Comrade Governor. If true, have you made any attempts to settle the rift with Oshiomhole?
There is no rift between us. I went to see Mr. Governor to inform him that I was going to contest and he didn’t have issue with that. We see every day and we talk every day. From my end, no rift at all. You know people will say they read body language and all that. When you reduce matters to the question of body language, you know that is a subjective thing. It all depends on who is analyzing and what is the interest of the analyst. But for me, I remain a true and loyal friend to Mr. Governor.
Given power, what will you do differently from Oshiomhole?
Given power? (Pause) Well, if I win and I assume office, of course, you must realise no two persons are exactly the same. I have been a student of the Oshiomhole School of Government. We have learnt a lot from him and he has taught us a lot, too. No doubt, I will bring that to bear if Edo people give us their mandate to serve. Of course, I am my own man. I will also aggregate the good side of me and that of Mr. Governor and several other persons and bring them to bear in our day-to-day activities in government.
There were reports the other day in the media that your boss accused you of engaging ‘juju’ men to kill him. What really happened?
Don’t believe what you hear or read in some sections of the media. Whatever happens between me and Mr. Governor stays between Mr. Governor and me. It is not always the best to go washing the family dirty linen in the public.
Why would your boss make such a grievous allegation, if there's no element of truth in it?
Have I told you he made such allegation? Did you hear from him? What you read in the papers was what somebody said happened in a meeting between me and Mr. Governor and not Mr. Governor speaking. So, don’t believe all that you heard. You must realise these are treacherous times. These are political times when those who are scared of your popularity will go to any length to pay people to plant funny stories against you in some sections of the media. You know as we say in Benin, it is only a fruit-bearing tree that people throw stones at. It is an act of desperation by mischief-makers. But we remain focused. We will not be distracted.
What would you describe as your high and low moments as deputy governor?
Wow, there are several highs. One of them was the day Mr. Governor went to do the ground-breaking ceremony of the over 60 kilometresOromehe-Uronegbe-Ugo road in Orhionmwon local government area which transverses several communities. Orhionmwon is my local government. All my political career, my dream is working to improve the human condition. You can therefore only imagine my joy in seeing a bold attempt to make life better for our people. It was a joyous day for me when that was done. And one of my lowest points was certainly the build-up to my nomination as the running-mate to Mr. Governor for second term in 2012. There were a lot mudslinging from those who didn't want me to return, but thank God, Mr. Governor handled it maturely and I was returned. You know, you don’t contest to be deputy governor. It is the discretion of the governor and the leadership of the party. So, when people were throwing mud at me, I was not in a position to defend myself or say anything, and I took comfort then in the protective cover of Mr. Governor and I am grateful for that.
You have a Ph.D. in law. How come you did not practise and chose politics?
If you have been in Benin for long, you will recall that I practised law before I contested to go to the National Assembly. I practised from 1986-1999 before I won the election to the House of Representatives. From the legal profession I came and to the profession I shall return by the special grace of God.
Who are your heroes in politics?
My father, Chief MarsonOdubu, the present Okaiwu of Uromehe - he remains my one and only hero. Growing up as a child, I saw the powers-that-be, the political lords then were coming to meet him in the village and I decided there and then that I was going to be like him. Today, I don’t smoke, drink and I don’t even chew kola nuts. All these I took from my father. He is a quintessential gentleman, a man that epitomises all the good things about life, a man who looks after not just his immediate family but, indeed, the entire community. No wonder, God blessed him. At every age grade, he was the head. He has been a chief for several years. God has blessed him.
Your critics say you have been around since 1999. You were a two-term federal lawmaker, two-term deputy governor. Having been around for 16 years, aren't you tired yet?
Certainly not. All those who will say you have been around for too long and must give way to others without regard to competence and performance are not my role models. Those are the people who subscribe to the politics of “chop-I-chop”. If you must serve, you must have requisite experience and there is no other way to garner that than practical experience acquired on the job. How come if somebody wants to employ a driver today, you ask for driver's licence and five-year driving experience. Governance is a very serious business. Given what Oshiomhole has done in Edo State, you need a successor who will hit the ground running from day one, to build on and even improve on what he had already done. You need a governor that is game-ready, not one with mere potential. And I believe that I am tested and trusted and I believe I am the best person to sustain and even raise tempo set by Oshiomhole.
The APC has lost a string of election reruns, especially in the South South, in the last few months. Do you think this could be the beginning of a trend?
That cannot be in Edo State. Edo is the only state being governed by APC in the whole of the South South and the party is doing very well and people appreciate this. You know, as they say, one good turn deserves another. I know the people will support anybody that APC presents.
What is it about Oshiomhole that has surprised you the most?
His capacity for work, his boldness to tackle issues without minding whose ox is gored; his capacity to take difficult decision and indeed his commitment to make life better for the people of Edo State.