Major General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd) is the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the July 14, 2012 governorship election in Edo State. In an interview with reporters, he discusses the reasons why incumbency will not be a factor that will affect the outcome of the election and allegations of a plot to rig the election among other issues. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE was there for LEADERSHIP.
It is just few days to the governorship election, what are your expectations?
My expectation is that we will win the election. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has worked really hard in the last seven months to make sure that we put our programmes in the hearts of Edo people.
We have visited the 192 wards to meet the people at the grassroots level to tell them that we can bring development to them come November 2012 when the new government will be sworn in.
What gives you the confidence that you are going to win the election?
What gives me the confidence is that the government in Edo State today has not come up with programmes that are people-oriented; they have not come up with programmes that will create employment for the teeming youths that have suddenly become restive, they have not come up with programmes that will provide for the lives and property of the people.
And that makes the people extremely vulnerable and the people have continued to clamour for change, transformation and rapid development. That has been the dreams of our founding fathers.
I believe the programmes of the PDP in education, health and security have brought the party to limelight in Edo State.
I think we have reached the level now when Edo State should go beyond lamentation.
If you compare Edo State with states like Cross River, Akwa Ibom and also compare it to a state like Rivers, all of which are in the same South-South region like Edo State, you will discover that Edo State is far behind due to the fact that the level of performance of the old PDP was low.
And that has also given us the plat-form to access the performance of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that has been there for the past three and a half years.
It is clear that most of the people that have been there in the old PDP who did not create a proper bench mark for performance have also moved to the ACN and are presently dominant in the Oshiomhole led government.
It is the same set of people that are still in the helm of affairs in Edo politics. I believe that this is the time for a change, the time that the new PDP is coming with a transformation agenda to key into the transformation agenda of Mr. President. That is where we stand today.
You stated that you were confident that you will win; are you not considering the factor of incumbency which Governor Oshiomhole has to his advantage?
Oshiomhole has actually ruled Edo State on the pages of the newspapers. He enjoys the privilege of having been the richest labour activist ever known in the world. The issue of incumbency is a fallacy that can be easily demystified.
An incumbent that is not performing at the expected rate of the public is very vulnerable and the people of Edo State are yearning for a change and that change must come through the ballot box come July 14.
You mean, as opposition candidate, you can upstage a governor that has ruled for almost four years?
It is easy to upstage him because a governor that does not do what he preaches is very vulnerable to change. Anyway, that is the beauty of democracy where people are given the opportunity to make changes as and when due and the opportunity has come for Edo State people to change their choice through the ballot boxes and that is exactly what we are going to see come July 14.
The power of incumbency cannot be a factor if Edo people are given the opportunity to express themselves. Let me remind you that up to this moment, the local government election has not been held. This is unacceptable in a democracy.
But many states in Nigeria are also experiencing the same thing?
Edo is a state of highly educated people. They are very aware and they know what they want for themselves. I believe that Edo State requires a very fast transformation process that will bring succour to the people.
You said the governor doesn’t do what he preaches, what exactly do you mean?
First and foremost, as a comrade, he is required to be the caretaker of his people.
A man that has a labour background, who holds the sentiment of his people in power, one would have expected that he would be the first person to implement the minimum wage policy.
One would have expected the welfare of the people to be his paramount interest, but he came up with levies that are harsh to the people, he came up with several policies that are not in favour of the people, including the demolition of houses without compensating the people.
Above all, contracts that are awarded to contractors do not have the local content value which is something that should relate to the people that we govern. So, the sum total is that the interests of the people he governs are not taken into consideration.
Your critics say you don’t have a programme of action. What is your reaction to that?
We have a programme of action that, by the grace of God if we win the election, for the first 100 days, we intend to assess the ongoing projects of the ACN led government to ensure that all ongoing projects are completed.
Edo State people have indicated interest to be aware of what is going on. We intend to come up with Operation Cover Potholes in Edo State to ensure that our youths are immediately given the platform for employment.
There will be skill acquisition centres that are immediately established in the various local government areas to ensure that within the first 100 days, there will be an immediate effect of a new government in place. We hope that in the first three months of being in office, free and compulsory education policy would have started to come on stream.
All our students in the tertiary institutions would have been granted bursary. And those students that do well in the universities would be given scholarships. I want to assure you that the healthcare services will ensure that the pregnant women are registered and treated free of charge in the hospitals from their first month to the ninth month when they will have their delivery no matter the complications.
Our aged, those that are 65 and above, will have their medicals free and children below the age of five will also have their medicals taken care of by government. In the first three months, we would have created an enabling environment for security of lives and property.
All these shall be provided in such a way that our women and youths will be empowered. That is where I stand in the first three months of our administration.
There is the allegation that the PDP in its desperation to win is buying voters’ cards from the electorate.
From the interaction we had with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Friday, it was clear that it is the ACN that is buying voters’ cards for the electorate and what they intend to achieve by this, only God knows.
But the chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega made it absolutely clear that if you do not have a voter’s card, you will not be allowed to vote despite the presentation by the ACN that those who don’t have cards should be allowed to vote. So, our conclusion is that it is the ACN that is perpetrating the act of the procurement of voters’ cards.
But the claim is that members of PDP have been arrested buying voters’ cards
Members of the PDP were not arrested buying voters’ cards. These are orchestrated activities by the ACN to create a posture that the PDP is buying voters’ cards.
PDP ensures that people have their cards intact but most of the ACN officials take the laws into their hands with the aid of the police to arrest party faithful and in the process height-en the political tension in the state.
How do you see the deployment of 3,500 soldiers to Edo?
It is the best thing that has happened in Edo State. That soldiers have come will help beef up the security situation in Edo. There have been threats and counter-threats but I believe that if the environment is secure, people will come out to vote the candidate of their choice but not in a situ-ation where the people are scared.
What you can find now is that with the soldiers around, people will be free to go about their duties and vote their candidate on July 14.
How about the allegation that the PDP plans to rig the election?
It is the ACN that is planning to rig the election by bringing the likes of Asari Dokubo and his cohorts into Edo State.
The governor has continued to raise alarm about the circumstances surrounding your exit from the military. Did you actually negotiate your way out of the military?
I was surprised when the governor said I negotiated my way out of the Nigerian Army.
The governor is used to negotiation in everything he does. The Nigerian Army and above all the Armed Forces in general have laid down preliminary procedures that cannot be faulted.
Over the years, it has been tested and proven to be adequately followed in the Armed Forces.
I have made it categorically clear that I served the Nigerian Army meritoriously for 37 years and throughout my career, despite the challenges, I held appointments that were even senior to my level most times. I served in Washington, I served in Command, I served at different levels and I was never found wanting on my job.
So, I do not understand where the governor got the information. I do not know what informed the belief that I negotiated my way out of the Nigerian Army. I want to assure the public that in the Nigerian Army, you do not have the opportunity to negotiate any issue; it is either you come out clean or you come out unwanted.
Ethnicity has been one of the issues in the governorship race. It is even being said that this gained prominence because you are a Bini man. How do you see the ethnic factor as a Bini man?
I don’t believe that ethnicity was introduced into Edo politics because of me. The Otaru of Auchi said that Etsako people will not accept a second fiddle or accept second position. I think the issue of ethnicity was introduced by the incumbent governor.
And for me, I am a very loyal and detribalised Nigerian and I came into this race to wipe the tears of the people, come up with a credible leadership and be in a position to spread development across the length and breadth of Edo State.
I want to state categorically that if you visit the hometown of the present governor, you will discover that development has taken a very high stake in the process of providing infrastructural facilities for his people. The roads are tarred even to the farmland.
Are you expecting free and fair election on Saturday?
We have had several interactions with INEC and they have given us the assurance that the election will be free and fair, and I believe so.
What is your advice to the people of Edo State?
And then give Edo State the chance to develop under the new transformation agenda of Mr President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, so that Edo State can also key into the PDP family to enjoy the dividends of democracy.
We enjoin our readers to send their stories/articles/reports, including pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Benin City