Candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) for the Edo South Senatorial District of Edo State in the 2019 generation elections, Ese Owie (PhD is brimming with fresh ideas and determination to change the fortunes of his zone. The erudite scholar, lawyer and entrepreneur, believes he will use the power of legislative appropriation to bring infrastructure development to his people. In this interview with JOHN OSADOLOR and INNOCENT ODOH, he also advocated for the restructuring of the federation as the panacea to the myriad of crises rocking the nation. Excerpts:
You have emerged as the Senatorial candidate of the ADP to for the Edo South Senatorial District. Why did you choose the ADP?
I am a lawyer by training, an entrepreneur by calling and a public intellectual, so at every point in my life I have sat down and decided the route I will take. Thankfully I was part of the process that brought the two leading political parties today into being. I was a founding member of PDP, a founding member of the A.C.N that became APC. So there is really nothing anybody can tell me about the PDP or the APC. For me I am not running on the issue of political platform, I am running on just one issue- competence.
We must change the negative narrative about Nigeria. For instance, in those days parents did not send children to private schools. We were sent to federal government institutionsso my key interest is in interrogating the current public governance structure and ask whether or not the current legislature has done their job. So it is not about power it is about service.
What do you see in Nigeria and Edo state of today that motivated you to seek this office?
In all modesty I have been blessed by God and there are structural issues in Edo that we must fix. I am not scared to say the truth. A lot of people lie. I tell people that Edo (former mid- west) was the only region post- independence that was created via constitutional means through a referendum. So, one of the fallacies in our historical discourse is that Nigeria stood on a tripod post-independence that was not true. It was true for just 2 and half years and Edo was the fourth one. Edo was conceived as the epicenter of sub regional development so the reason why the Binis did not take any key position in the post premiership position was that they wanted the capital and we wanted the capital because we wanted to drive development.
So,whoever emerges senator for Edo South, must represent the collective aspirations of every mid-westerner, be it Ijaw, Itshekiri, be it Ishan, be it Urhobo, be it Benin. So the only thing driving me is that we must have development. Fifteen years after we still cannot explain why the Benin Bye pass is not complete. Phase one was completed in 2003 fifteen after not a dime has been put on the Benin bye pass. The University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) was the second largest tertiary hospital in this country with over 900 beds, but today it has no functional dialysis machine. The Benin-Lagos road is not complete. The power of the legislature is in appropriation. A legislator that cannot convince his colleagues to appropriate money for projects he has an interest in is a failed legislator.
I have an aversion for tokenisms, you cannot in this modern stage say you are commissioning sole apple light of 150,000, that is not the job of a senator. You cannot be s senator and be giving grinding machines or tricycles (Keke NAPEP). The power is over ways and means of appropriation, and God willing when I am elected, I will challenge all my contemporaries to a proper debate.
The challenge however is that Edo is APC dominated and you are running under a relatively new party- the ADP. Do you believe that this new party will help you realise your dreams?
I come from by far the most cosmopolitan senatorial district in this country. Edo South is home to every ethnic group in this country. So one thing is for certain, election rigging in my district is not possible. I have worked for government, I have a track record in the private sector; I am Ivy League trained, so Edo will decide. I will take on the establishment head on and all I am asking for is free, and fair election. Thanks to social media, voters are a lot more intelligent today; the lies people told 20 years ago cannot hold water today. So this level of incompetence must stop and the reason people like us are joining the field is that we want to stop incompetence. So when you say that Edo is an APC or PDP state it is not true.
The Edo voters are extremely enlightened they will vote according to their collective consciences and I believe I am the best man in the race and by the grace of God and the will of the people, come February 2019, I shall emerge as the Senator for Edo South.
There was a reason the government postponed the Edo governorship election for those who know. For the first time in our history the Edo governorship election was decided by 50,000 plus votes, it has never happen before. So there are undercurrents that people are not reading, they are being naïve. That the APC moved the Edo election was an indication of a problem. Even in Osun look at what has happened in Osun, the dynamics are changing. I am running on just one platform, the issue of credibility and an addendum to that is competence because a system that breeds incompetence cannot be a system.
You said that you are a founding member of the APC, so why do you have to abandon the APC for the ADP?
I did not abandon the APC, there are legacy issues. I worked for an APC government, I was a cabinet commissioner under the APC but the way government works not everything that happened that you make public. There are a few things that happened while I was commissioner under the APC government but my relationships with the people with the APC government remains. They are still my brothers, sisters and friends. There are also reasons I am not running under the APC, those are personal issues.
I believe the APC is still good but what I want to do I don’t think the current epoch is the right place to go. While I respect the party as a political party of means I also have my personal political ambitions so I will not do APC. It is the reasons for the PDP. I believe I have the pedigree, the network, the experience, the track record to win in a general election. So I am doing a new party and I am asking the Edo people to come and vote regardless of party. I have been tried and I have been tested. I grew revenue for over 300percent in six months, I was a commissioner that served without blemish , my track record is there for other people to see, let them bring out the other people and let us evaluate and let the people vote.
In term of ideas is there a possibility that what the APC lacked in ideas is what you have found in the ADP?
My service to the APC government was out of my commitment to my personal friend and mentor Adams Oshiohmole. So I am not in the position to interrogate what happened in his government or interrogate the manifesto of the APC. That I served in the APC government was out of my personal respect for former Governor Oshiomhole and his visionary leadership. You notice that since I left I have not made a statement against his government or made a state against the APC.
I am in a platform that gives room to interrogate the current system. Why should the Lagos-Benin road not be complete? Why should Oloibiri where Nigeria first struck oil 60 years ago in Bayelsa not have a functional health system? There are structural issues we must interrogate whether we like it or not. It is not just the issue of APC or PDP but the current structure of governance in Nigeria. Is this structure sustainable? If it is not then we must restructure the federation and actively do a proper devolution of powers.
What is your own definition of restructuring? The Vice President sees it as geographical demarcation. If you were to be in the Senate, how will you pursue the issue of restructuring?
Anybody in the executive that is talking about restructuring is either talking out of ignorance or mischief because at the heart of restructuring is a fundamental constitutional amendment. So the restructuring can only be done by the National Assembly and the state assemblies, because in the absence of the amendment of the 1999Constitution you cannot change the current governance structure.
So Presidential candidates that tell I will restructure Nigeria in six months are either joking, lying or are being ignorant. The most important thing is having a competent legislature. In normal systems the legislature is the most important arm of government because the executive can only work where the legislature makes proper laws. That is why the US Congress is the most powerful arm of government.
So for restructuring the first thing we must do is to elect competent legislators in 2019 and sit down and review our constitution and agree on our governance structure and in the absence of that we will continue to have no country. A situation where by a state from the North West gets more money because it has 44 local governments than a state in the South west does not make sense. We must have a proper system for accounting for revenues, for sharing revenues because what we have today is a fraud. So I am for restructuring 100percent but the restructuring that will be done properly with a vibrant and effective and efficient National Assembly.
If you will take one issue to the National Assembly, what will that issue be?
If I am elected senator today, I will focus on infrastructure. Like I said earlier, the former Mid- West seats in the neck between the north and south, there is no road between Lagos and the east and every year we do appropriation. Legislators go to Abuja and literarily go to sleep. So for me the main thing that I will do is to ensure that there is a proper appropriation for infrastructure.
And whoever is senator for Edo South, must represent the collective interest of the entire Mid- west and must build linkages between Edo and Delta that is why I said as Senator for Edo South I will ensure that the Auchi Polytechnic is properly funded as a centre for development for technical education. I will ensure that the Abuja-Lokoja-Okene-Auchi –Benin Road is fully completed in my four years of office by way of appropriation. I will put enough pressure on the Minister of Works to do it. I will ensure that the Benin- Lagos road is fully funded and completed; I will ensure that the Benin Airport is upgraded to a full international airport so that the people of the then Mid-west will no longer need to go to Abuja or Lagos to travel abroad.
For health care, I will ensure that the UBTH is properly funded to play its parts as the centre for health care excellence not just on paper. So for me it is about ways and means I will play the right politics to ensure that between my colleagues and I what we need expenditure wise is covered and the people of Edo will get what they desire. Enough of mediocrity, enough of tokenism, we have gone past the stage of sharing grinding stone, Keke NAPEP.
In specific areas of youth empowerment what will you propagate in Edo south?
I have worked in multi-jurisdictions and I have lived in about 7 countries and one thing that is clear is that we have the wrong approach to empowerment. What we call youth empowerment in Nigeria is a euphemism for thuggery. The politicians don’t do anything for the youth but six months to election they will buy motorcycles (Okada), and share for them. For me we must have a structured approach to trade policy subsidization. The current level of state aid is not sustainable. We cannot have 25 development finance institutions. You have SMEDAN, Bank of Industry; you have NEFRON and so on. We must have a way of pooling these funds together and a have a rule based system for state support.
Who are your likely opponents and what is their strength and what makes you think you will win the election?
I have been in the political space for long. But from the about 10 candidates in the race, I think I am the most experienced, the most qualified but the decision is for the Edo South people to make and I believe they will make the right decision and whatever decision they make posterity will judge, but I believe I will win, I believe I am the most qualified. I have got the public sector record. I have fixed a defector tax system without blemish, so I believe I am the best man for the job.
Looking at the issue of not- too -young –to- run law, do you think that a good number of people who cannot meet the cost can run for election?
The problem is that we have a dysfunctional system. The fact is that most young people who are interested in running for office cannot afford it because it is way too expensive. So we must find a way of fixing the electoral system to make election become cheaper and young people who don’t have the money can run. My election is not going to be cheap but I am committed to this project because our children and grand- children cannot continue like this. This system has failed us. Forty years ago, nobody went abroad to give birth, nobody went to private school. So it is not about not –too- young- to- run. The issue is that we must fix the system and tell ourselves the truth. The system has failed absolutely. Students cannot go to law school, pharmacists cannot get placements, and doctors cannot get horsemanship and we are spending billion running Petroleum Technology Development Fund(PTDF). This is one of the things I will fight, the PTDF must go. Their job can be done by one office in the ministry of education with a corresponding office in the Ministry of Petroleum.
What is your take corruption?
Our problem is not corruption. The word corruption is not Igbo, Yoruba or Edo. Our problem is simply a case of leadership and as an addendum to that is incompetence. We are not as corrupt as the Asians but the Asian economies are growing, you know why? When we are doing favouritism, they search for the best people. Let’s be frank, the military built Hilton, built International Conference Centre, built NICON Luxury, built Sheraton, built IBB Gulf Course, built Federal Secretariat, built road in Abuja. But what have we done since 1999 of democracy?
What picture of 2019 do you see?
I believed that Nigerians are now more enlightened and I believe that elections cannot be rigged anymore. Even for vote buying I believe that the incidence will be less.
Let’s look at the recent elections in Ekiti and Osun states, I believe the will of the people will prevail, Osun was a clear case. The fact that there has to be a rerun in Osun clearly shows that they could not write results. So the era of result writing is over. Nigerians are way too intelligent for manipulation. 2019 will go smoothly.
Look at the APC they have been having running battles in their primaries, which tells you that impunity cannot happen anymore.
How have the previous lawmakers in from Edo state fared in the National Assembly?
Let me leave that to posterity and the good thing about posterity is that it is largely fair, so let Edo people judge whether or not they have performed.