Airhiavbere: I will ensure even development in Edo

Major General Charles Ehigie Airhiavbere (rtd), the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the July 14 gubernatorial election in Edo State, in this session aired on AIT, last week, explains his plans for the people of the states. Excerpts:

What is wrong with Edo State that informed your governorship ambition?
My heart has been in Edo and, having served at NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, I discovered from the SWOT analysis on Edo State – that is the Strength, the Weaknesses, the Opportunities and the Threats – that a lot is left undone.

This has to do with the leadership vacuum in Edo State. Edo State is one of the richest states in terms of GDP of N11.8 billion and one of the poorest in terms of unemployment and poverty rate in Nigeria. First and foremost, government is a continuum. I believe that the state should not be at a standstill. It should grow and that is what has motivated me into politics.

Those gaps, especially the weaknesses, the threats are so predominant that you discover that you have a teeming population of unemployed youths and they have suddenly become restive; you have insecurity; you have the decay in terms of education, infrastructure, health services, the HIV prevalence.

These are things that have brought governance in Edo State to its barest level. The industries have become moribund; there is unemployment at its highest rate and there is this rural-urban drift that has made all the communities rather abandoned; and, these are things that are clearly stated and I believe my coming into politics and joining the PDP would quickly transform Edo State and that is why I am here.

I believe that having taken a critical look at the various opportunities available,  the PDP is still the party that will quickly transform Edo State.

Why did I say so? The PDP is the party at the centre, and if you take a look at Mr. President’s transformation agenda for this country, seeing the pattern of voting during the last April election where he came out victorious, especially from South-South states, I believe that this is not the time to test run any other party. I came straight to the PDP and I believe that this is where the transformation of Edo State can take place.

Many people say that nine and a half years of PDP rule in Edo produced nothing and they seem very happy with what is going on under the ACN government. So why should they vote for another PDP candidate?

If you go through the history of what we have in Benin today, all the people that were in PDP, the key players in the PDP of eight years have moved to a new platform in the ACN.

*Gen Airhiavbere

Talk about the Director General of the Oshiomhole Campaign Organisation (Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu); he was the Chief of Staff to the PDP governor and also the SSG. There is a roll call.

I want to tell you that during that period, those who are now in the ACN were then in the same PDP. So we are likely to have another period of lack of performance. Let me tell you something: democracy is rulership from the people. The people give you their mandate and when you sign the dotted lines, you are signing a social contract with them; and, security and welfare of the people is the purpose of governance in this country as provided for in the Constitution; and, so, for leaders, it should be their priority when they sign that contract to make sure that they deliver, otherwise they would have failed.

What is really new in the new PDP since we continue to see the same old faces that were there in the previous eight years of what has been described as “years of the locusts” in Edo State?

The old faces are there but there is a rebranded atmosphere. Everybody has a stake in the new PDP. Those that were in different factions have now come together; and, that is the first sign of the fact that the PDP is new. We held our primaries after the congresses and there were no congresses elsewhere. The primaries were free and fair.

The exercise was televised and a candidate emerged, acceptable at all levels. I have a manifesto where I have said I would declare emergency on security, education and health care; and, above all, to make sure that we can quickly turn around the fortune of this state to a situation where there is going to be a human face to leadership; where there is going to be transparency, honesty and accountability to the people. I believe that is the new PDP government that is coming on board.

How do you respond to the suggestion that you have fallen under two bad umbrellas: carrying the sin of the PDP and that of being a military man?

For the historical sin of military involvement in politics in Nigeria, it can be shared by both the civilians and the military. It was bad business for the Nigerian Army or the armed forces coming into governance because the worst civilian government is better than the best military government.

Most of the military involvement in politics had its civilian content. I will just give you an example. After a successful military coup, you pick a Lieutenant Colonel, who is in his middle experience level, and you deploy him to Edo State. He arrives in Edo State with probably his ADC and his Chief Security Officer. Every other person that works with him is a civilian. So where is the buck coming from?

Could you respond to the second leg of the question about the burden or the baggage of the PDP by contesting on the party platform?

Like I said, a government in a state is a continuum. We are beginning to develop; we are beginning to learn more but I have come to experience with Edo State since I came on board that our voting citizens are very aware. I have well over 5,000 fans on the facebook; I have well over 50,000 volunteers for GC (General Charles); and I am on twitter all the time and I have discovered that they are very, very eager for change.

They are well educated voters. In Edo State, we have so many graduates; the only pain is that they are walking the streets unemployed; so, they are yearning for a change. There is not a need for a leader who is not ready to perform. What happened in Egypt should give you an idea of what can happen here: a situation where you come into authority and you are not ready to deliver. What President Goodluck Jonathan is doing now at the federal level, creating the reform process, fast-tracking development and you can even see the roads, you can see the railroads, the schools, the UBEC and so on.

A lot of things are taking place in the reform process and I think we should allow democracy to grow. Yes, the first four years of PDP in Edo State was not as it should have been; the people also had the opportunity to make a change or to give another chance for a change; the one and a half years of Osunbor government you are talking about, he was inundated by a legal process that ended up in bringing the ACN government in November 2008. I want to let you know today that by the research I have, well over 48 of the leaders that are in ACN today were in the same PDP that we are talking about and I believe that from November 12, 2012, there is going to be a development in Edo State that will take care of the interest of the people and you are going to see a transformation that will quickly bring Edo State from the doldrums it is in now to one of the best states in Nigeria.

You said you were going to declare a state of emergency in the area of security. Can you tell us what that would entail?

The issue is very clear that the security of a state is the sole business of the chief executive. It is his duty to ensure that the lives and properties of the citizenry are secured. My duty will be to make sure that all the security apparatus in the state is well coordinated and put together to make sure there is a direction of safety for everybody. From what I have experienced in Edo State, especially very recently, from available statistics, there is an average of seven kidnapping in the state on monthly basis.

Uncountable numbers of robbery take place. I have experienced it and I have seen it even on the highway; and, when recently, the governor’s Principal Private Secretary was assassinated, the governor himself who is the executive custodian of security took to the street in protest. Against who? It is automatic that the state is a failed state when you talk about security. Most of us have lost loved ones to armed bandits, to kidnappers and even most of the security agencies have also lost people in the process of rescue. Who will they protest to? Is it not the state governor?

As far as I am concerned, if you are talking about security for Edo State, it is a failed state.
How do you respond to the view that your campaign promises lack substance and that your promise to declare emergency on three areas is vague?

Let me quickly correct one or two statements that the campaigns did not have the content that was desired by the people. The campaigns do have. I have gone through the 18 local government areas of Edo State and I have also gone through, campaigning in the 192 wards.

I visited them personally and I also took some statistics of widows, widowers, unemployed, physically challenged, children in the various wards and I can give you statistics to help the process of rapid development when we come to power. Let me quickly take you through some of the problems we observed, especially in the infrastructure, schools and health sector.

The infrastructure development in Edo State has been centred on  roads without economic values and what we intend to do is to quickly review and complete those roads when we come in and the only type of roads we will be interested in are economic roads: the roads that will lead to farm settlements, joining the communities together. I just give you one example: if you are leaving Ekehuan now and you want to go to the headquarters of Ovia North East Local Government Area at Okada, you may not find your way there in less than three hours because you must come out, hit the Ring Road and probably get back through Uselu, Ekiadolor then back to Iguobazuwa Junction before you move to Okada.

So, how can development take place in that direction? So, we must network the local governments together in terms of infrastructure development and within my 100 days in office, I want to come up with “Operation-Fill-All-The-Potholes.” We will give hotlines to people across the state to make sure that where potholes exist, they would be blocked. We will quickly move to the health care services where virtually, we are spending over N2.2 billion just to build the Central Hospital in Benin and, because of the unusual nature of the contract, N2.2 billion spent so far and the building has collapsed. There are existing hospitals: Stella Obasanjo Hospital is there; we have one in Irrua.

We can quickly re-equip and remodel them to state-of-the-art and ensure that there is healthcare service for our children below the age of five, our pregnant women from three months pregnancy up to delivery; no matter the complications, government is responsible especially for pregnant women to make sure that infant mortality is taken care of because; as of today, it is about 15 out of every 1,000 children you have and I think it is unacceptable for Edo State. We can quickly address that. Then we take care of our senior citizens: those that are above 70, pensioners; they are at home.

Their healthcare is taken care of by  government and we make sure that we deliberately have a Specialist Hospital in every senatorial district. At that level, we would have taken care of healthcare for our people. We will encourage the doctors and those who are ready to work in the rural areas, we will give them special salaries, provide houses for them and they will work.

How would you increase the revenue of Edo State?

We know that Edo State is predominantly a civil service state. You are taxing the people in a state that has no industry that is functional. You are coming up with a draconian tax regime and levies; and, this is a government that promised the people that levies even at motor parks would be cancelled. You now come, simply because you want to increase your IGR at the expense of the people you are supposed to govern. It is unacceptable. All you need to do is to review the revenue profile and the way it is spent.

I believe that the first thing we should do is to block the leakages of this present government like a situation where contracts are awarded arbitrarily, not following the due process. That is why we have a problem. Take Airport Road, Benin, for instance, the first award was N4.5 billion for a road that is less than seven kilometres. In fact, if you put your odometer, it is exactly 6.82 kilometres and you are doing it in four years. I want to talk of leakages because I believe this government knows that there is a problem in that direction and that is why there are these draconian laws to milk the people of their money.

Your promoters and sponsors seem to parade you as a Benin candidate. Is that what you stand for?
I do not stand for that. It is one of the political arrangements if I have to say so. I want to tell you that they parade my capacity; they parade the fact that I am a Major General. They parade the fact that I moved through the system and retired unblemished, played my part, held several appointments and I delivered on the job. This is enough to parade. But the most important to parade here is that Edo South is given the opportunity that they hold the highest voting strength and they flaunt that. It does not mean that is exactly what they want to sell.

They just flaunt it because they believe they have been given the opportunity before and this is an opportunity for them to do it again and that is exactly what I believe they are going for. But let us put tribal politics behind us because that is exactly what others have done. They started it. You go into the Government House today, all the appointments have been skewed towards a particular tribe and I think that is exactly what is giving room for this type of question. I want to assure that when I take over as governor of Edo State, I am going to be governor for all.

Who is General Airhiavbere?

I retired from the Nigeria Army as a Major General. I joined the Army from the Nigeria Military School in 1969; I found my way through the system and I became a Major General in 2008. I hold Higher National Diploma in Accounting from Auchi Polytechnic, a Masters Degree in Business Administration from the University of Ibadan. I am a member of several professional bodies including the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Nigeria Institute of Management and a member of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru. I also taught in Kuru where I retired from the Nigerian Army.

It has been a wonderful, beautiful career I had in the Nigerian Army. While I was there, I was the best all round cadet during my course at the Nigerian Defence Academy. In 1981, I won the Forces Service Star (FSS). I also won the Meritorious Service Star (MSS), the Distinguished Service Star (DSS) and Corps Medal of Honour (CMH) and I retired meritoriously unblemished having commanded the Nigerian Army Finance Corps for three years. My last port of service was as an instructor at the NIPSS, Kuru. You know this is the Institute that moulds the leaders of this country.

This interview was first aired on AIT .

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Airhiavbere: I will ensure even development in Edo