Chief Olusegun Osoba was Ogun State governor between 1999 and 2003 and was in that capacity a colleague of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, outgoing two-term governor of Katsina State and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP ].

But Osoba who plays politics with the keen insight of a journalist and media manager almost drew blank when asked to assess the ability and clout of the person President Olusegun Obasanjo insist must be his suceesor. Osoba said he could not recall any contribution of Yar’ Adua at the Council of State and Governors’ meetings throughout the four years they were chief executives of their respective states.

“What I know about him was that throughout the four years that we were together, he was a very withdrawn , introverted kind of person. I cannot remember him making any serious statement at the Council of State meetings on the few occasions that he attended . H e was not regular at our meetings and at the meetings of Governors, I can’t recall seeing him more than once or twice throughout the four years,” Osoba stated.

A former editor and later Managing Director of Daily Times group at a time it was one of the biggest newspaper conglomerates in Africa, Osoba is now a chieftain of the main opposition Action Congress [ AC ] . He also among other topical issues ex-rays the ‘garrison command’ politics of the PDP, offers an insight into why the merger talks between the AC and the All Nigerian Peoples Party [ ANPP ] collapsed , made a projection on what the future holds for Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and explained why he would never honour any invitation from his state government as long as Otunba Gbenga Daniel remains the governor until he satisfies certain conditions.

Excerpts :

The most current issue in the polity today is the state of health of Alhaji Umar Yar’ Adua, presidential candidate of the PDP. What are the implications of the state of health of a potential president of this nation being perpetually in doubt to the extent that there were rumours of his death because he was flown abroad for medical reasons ?

Umar is a colleague of mine. We were governors at the same time, from 1999 to 2003 although he is on his second term now. He is a very pleasant character , quiet, unassuming person. I definitely would not wish anything evil for him or for any person. I am sure most Nigerians don’t want anything evil for him. We wish him well. But the implication is what I hope they have not crafted , because I heard that there was an amendment to the electoral act to the effect that if any presidential candidate dies, election could be postponed. I would continue to pray for Governor Yar’ Adua for good health and I hope the people who are designing the transition programme to fail would fail.

Can you elaborate ? What do you mean by people who are designing the transition to fail? Are there official designs for the transition to fail?

Ah! there are too many evidences that the thing is being designed to fail . Take for example this issue of indictment. Suddenly, indictment is being misinterpreted from what the constitution says. Indictment means a serious offence where you have been adjudged by a judicial panel according to the Tribunal Act, or that you have been found guilty of a gross misdemeanor by a competent court of law.
In recent time, you just find out that within 48 hours a panel is set up , it examines over one hundred cases and comes out with a report and within 24 hours, the Federal Executive Council would sit and immediately indict those people who have never been given the chance to appear before the panel to state their own side.

That is an evidence of serious concern. Another evidence is the chairman of the electoral commission which is supposed to be an independent body according to its name. He job is supposed to be that of the chief umpire but who has become part of the war against opposition and making pronouncements on the competence of an individual or candidates who would not be allowed to contest.
And before you could even digest that, you start hearing Nasir El-Rufai, who is a minister, who has no business whatsoever with the electoral process spitting fire in far away United States of America that a presidential candidate will never be allowed to contest. His name will not be on the ballot paper, he will not contest. And nobody has called any of these people to order.

There are more evidences. Only a few days ago, the Muhammadu Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation and the ANPP issued a statement that their candidate is being restricted on the means of his arrival in Bauchi State. That he should come by helicopter, he must not travel by road, he can only pass through certain roads, a former head of state of this country in a democracy!

I had a direct experience in Abeokuta myself. We were restricted from passing through a major road in front of the Government House when we went to campaign. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was with us. The vice-president of the country being restricted? And I, a former governor of the state, being told where to pass through and where not to pass through. I remember when I was the governor and Gbenga Daniel was campaigning , he used to go about with pilot cars and sirens in front of the Government House. I didn’t stop him . Nobody stopped him. The intolerance of the government of the day does not show evidence of good faith on their part.

You were in active journalism in the Second Republic when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was drafted into presidential race despite the fact that he wanted to be a Senator. Can you draw a parallel between that and the way Alhaji Yar’ Adua was drafted to fly the PDP flag.
The case of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was even more reasonable than what we have now. Alhaji Shagari took part in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) presidential primaries that was conducted at the Casino Cinema in Lagos and I was present . In the case of Umaru, he has never shown any serious interest, he is even more reluctant than Alhaji Shehu Shagari. It is a cause for worry for people like me, because although he is a fine gentlemen from a noble and good family in Katsina, I wonder why we should be looking for reluctant people to be presidents of this country. It is a job that one must be interested in before one should be given. Before and throughout my career as governor I was interested in the job. I wanted it and I went for it and I put in all my energy into the job. I don’t expect anything less from anybody who wants to be president of this country.

Why are worried about Yar’Adua?

I would say I am not impressed by the behaviour of the leaders of the PDP in displaying open dictatorial tendency in hand picking who should be the candidate of the party.
Why do you think President Obasanjo and the leadership of the PDP are insisting on Yar’Adua?
Because all the people in the leadership of the PDP are used to command structure. Orders coming from above. You see the evidence of militocracy in them, they either use the word ‘ capture’, ‘garrison commander’, dealing with people as if they are dealing with enemies. You can imagine the national chairman of the party saying the politics of Ibadan is like that of a garrison command and the ‘ garrison commander’ must be respected. The president is a retired general, the national chairman retired as colonel and deputy national chairman retired as a commodore in the Navy. That military mentality is still with them . They have not been able to purge themselves of the mentality.

Look at the Rivers State governor, he was virtually stopped from the presidential race. The same thing with my good brother, Donald Duke of Cross Rivers State. PDP does not believe in democracy.

But the belief of most analysts was that the party gave the ticket to a person from the north to ensure national cohesion since president Obasanjo is a southerner who was on his eighth year in power?
I don’t agree with you . The same PDP hierarchy organised a Southern Leaders Forum in Enugu last year and the Chairman, Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih , the deputy chairman of the party, Commodore Bode George went there to make inflamatory statements and far reaching statements about not allowing the presidency to go back to the North. It was there that Bode George insulted the North , saying that he has never found anywhere towards the Sahara that you would find human settlement and that he would never allow the presidency to leave the South.
When did they suddenly realise that power should rotate to the North? They did not stop Donald Duke and Peter Odili for the reasons you gave. Why don’t they let people make their choice ?
While you interacted with Alhaji Yar’Adua at the level of the Governors’ Forum, did he strike you as capable of being our president, I mean having the clout and the stamina ?

Unfortunately, I did not have the benefit to read his medical record, so I will not be able to comment about his state of health. What I know about him was that throughout the 4 years that we were together , he was a very withdrawn , introverted kind of person. I cannot remember him making any serious statement at the Council of State meetings on the few occasions that he attended . He was not regular at our meetings and at the meetings of Governors, I can’t recall seeing him more than once or twice throughout the four years.
It is, therefore,difficult for me to assess him and come to a very rational conclusion except if I can recall any serious contribution made by him at meetings which I cannot.
If you ask me to comment on Governor Victor Attah for example, I will give you a deep assessment of my knowledge of him or you ask me to comment on Donald Duke.

Are you trying to say that they will make better president ?
No, no, what I am saying is that from my interraction with them, I will be able to say this was what their contributions at meetings were because they were active at meetings when I was a governor. Umaru was not regular at our meetings and when he attends, he was reticent. I t is difficult to asses somebody who is quiet and reticent and does not attend meetings.

Would you do an appraisal of the on-going transition program so far?

It is looking very shaky and disturbing to those of us who believe in genuine democracy. Of recent, the Federal Government was issuing threats of dealing with the opposition. That itself is very worrisome .When they talk about ‘ do-or-die’, it is an acceptable political language, but when the other parties react, it becomes subversive. Only on Wednesday, the Campaign Director of Atiku for Presidency Organization was docked for alleged terrorism and the evidence the government has was that he gave N 1.5 million to some group. I began to wonder whether N 1.5 million can even buy some cartridges not to talk of buying weapons to organize terrorism. In a democracy, harassment of opposition and opponents is not the best way to handle a transition program.

While people will agree with you that the postures of the Federal Government is combative, what do you say about a recent statement credited to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of your party that there will be no election if the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] disqualified him?
It is the interpretation that some people got wrong. What he said was that INEC chairman should be careful, that he may end up in jail if he disobeys court orders. It would amount to contempt if you disobey court orders and you can be easily sent to jail if you commit contempt. That was what Atiku said. I could remember that at one of our rallies supporters were shouting ‘no Atiku, no election’. It doesn’t mean they were planning to go on rampage. What we are asking for is due process.

So, it was not that your candidate was already losing faith in the courts as the final arbiter on whether he would run or not?

Of course not. We have absolute faith in the courts. The judiciary has been doing very well. They have been responding quickly on cases brought before them in a manner that showed that they wanted to be independent umpire. Our candidate has not lost faith in the judiciary at all.

Your party and the ANPP were to forge an alliance for the purpose of confronting the PDP. What went wrong along the line?
We even beyond alliance . At a point we were talking about forming a mega party. We had reached a point of a merger and had even agreed that we will use the symbol of the ANPP then, the corn as the symbol for the mega party.We coined the name that reflected the name ANPP, ACD and AD. Unfortunately, before those things could crystalise, to go through the process of merger, which means each party would have to go to convention to get approval, the whole thing got stucked.
That was the major setback that we had . It was because of the inabilities of the parties to work out merger plans that we later thought of an alliance. Unfortunately, alliance is difficult to manage in a presidential system. It is not the same as in a parliametry where each party will hold its constituency and put everything in a basket and form a coalition.

It was said that the talks failed because neither Atiku nor Buhari was willing to forgo his presidential ambition. How far is this true ?
Unfortunately, they did not even have the opportunity to meet . We decided at the last meeting that we held that the two principal players should meetbut in between , Gen Buhari travelled abroad and vice- president himself went to the United States on holiday. They did not get to meet in the UK as some papers were speculating. And that was why we have been unable to push it further . We can’t continue to negotiate over and above the principals when they themselves have not had the time to sit and fashion out what form the working agreement will take.

Do we now take it that each party will go into the elections as separate entities ?
I am afraid that is what is going to happen.

You earlier spoke of the treatment you are getting from your state governor. Could that account for why you have not attended any state functions since he became governor?

I will never accept any invitation to state functions from Daniel until he either charges me to court for saying I was planning to kill him in Ilaro on october 19,2004 or he apologises. I still have a bail of N50 million on my head. He must either come out to say the incident did not happen or he charges me to court like he is prosecuting Dipo Dina now. I take great exception to an allegation of attempted murder . It is a seriuos offence which must be investigated . If he doesn’t do either of the two, I will not sit with him. Anybody that accuses you of attempting to assasinate him can accuse you of attempting to poison him if you sat with him at a public function.

I will want you to do a comparison of your administration with that of Otunba Daniel?

There is no basis for comparison. In four years, we had only about N48billion from the federation account, his own budget for this year alone is N 50billion which easily shows you that what he is getting in one year was what we got in four years, and with the little we got, we were able to do minimum of about 15 major roads, from Babcock University to the junction where he has done his own road to Abeokuta. If you are going to the East from Lagos, you don’t have to go through the traffic jam on the express road.

You can go through Epe and take a road we did from there to Ijebu and the East. In Ijebu Igbo, we did a road linking Ogun State and Oyo State, we call it Dagbolu.The same thing in Yewa. You can live in Aiyetoro now and work in Aboekuta because of the road we did there. I can go on and on. He did one side of the road from Sagamu junction to Abeokuta which is a federal road, for which he was even sudsidised and there is so much noise, so much celebration. And I tell people to ask him to mention any major road that he has done beside the one from Sagamu junction to Abeokuta comparable to all that we did throughout the state.

For example, from Abeokuta, you can go through Ajebo Road or through Odeda Road. These are two major roads that will take you to Oyo State. The one he is making noise about is that the Ajebo road failed and I said fine, if it failed , how about his own that was commissioned last February? Between February last year and February this year when it was commssioned, they have spent N500million patching the road.

It is incomparable. We managed resources very well, we delivered in a way that we spread projects round the state.We electrified 150 towns. In one day , in a local government called Ijebu North East, we electrified 17 towns.Those electrification projects are still functioning. With N 48 billion , we delivered so much. With over N 150 billion that Gbenga Daniel received , I have not been able to see comparable performance in terms of the money that came in . What the government of Ogun State collected in the past four years is much more than the totality of what all the governments collected since the creation of the state 30 years ago.

Unlike our time when oil was not more than about 20 dollas a barrel, it went as far as 70 dollas per barrel within the past two years.

It is a big disgrace that water would not flow in ancient towns like Abeokuta and Ijebu Ode who knew civilisation. It is a shame that those towns could not get pipe borne water in 2007. My government was the one that stopped the strangle hold of water tanker operators in Ijebu Ode. They are back everywhere now in Ogun State.

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