Taiwo Akerele, Chief of Staff to Edo State Governor Obaseki, in this interview with Southsouth Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI, speaks on the All Progressives Congress (APC) crisis, the governor’s second term bid and the challenge of reconciliation.
What is responsible for the rift between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his godfather Comrade Adams Oshiomhole?
Whatever the issues are, they are resolvable. Oshiomhole and Obaseki are very close, nobody should be deceived. The issues they had were political. They had political disagreements. The cause of falling out is political and resolvable politically.
When there is political crisis, a lot of factors will come in, that will tend to heighten the tension, especially the activities of fifth columnists or third force. We were in Iyamho (Oshiomhole’s hometown in Edo State) during Sallah break, which was in the middle of the crisis.
Governor Obaseki remains the leader of APC in Edo state, while Comrade Oshiomhole continues to be the father of all, not only as a former governor of the state, but as the current national chairman.
Comrade Oshiomhole is our man anytime, anyday and he is best of friends with Governor Obaseki. What happened was a normal political disagreement, which is settle-able. Every other issue is subsumed under this sub-issue. In any case, no matter how we war war, dialogue and peaceful settlement remain the ultimate.
Governor Obaseki means well and he requires the support of all APC members and the general electorate. I also want to use this medium to call on the persons who disagree with him to forget whatever might have happened in the past. Governor Obaseki is a man of peace, pro-development economist and a politician.
With the tension calming down, after the failed plot to remove Comrade Oshiomhole, has Governor Obaseki reached out to the national chairman of APC?
You will get to know, any moment from now. Whatever has happened between when the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of APC met in Abuja and now, you will soon be informed.
With other serious-minded and very popular governorship aspirants on APC’s platform in Edo State, will Governor Obaseki be able to win the party’s June 2 primary?
Governor Obaseki getting APC’s ticket for re-election on September 19, 2020, along with his deputy, Philip Shaibu, is not in contention.
We will go for primaries, but the party has different methodologies, including consensus, direct and indirect. So, whatever it is, Obaseki and Shaibu are ready, but ordinarily, they should be given the right of first refusal.
What are your expectations of the Chief Bisi Akande-led APC’s National Reconciliation Committee?
We are waiting for the committee’s time table. It is a major assignment that Chief Bisi Akande and others are handling.
How do you see government in Nigeria, based on your twelve years of continuous work?
Government is not easy to run in sub-Saharan Africa. I will not allow any of my loved ones to work in government, especially my immediate family, and of course in particular my children. There is nothing as demoralising as working so hard and receiving no commendation, but continuous criticisms. But for maturity and when you look at the impact you are making in the life of many people, I would have long left the scene and of course, one day, very soon, I still have to move on, for others to come and continue.
We do not have a system to calculate the intellect, man-hour, energy and sleepless nights public servants spend and invest in the course of discharging their duties.
Unfortunately for me, I have not been able to adopt 100 per cent political approach to my way of doing things, hence our work ethics is dictated by our orientation, working with the World Bank, the European Union, DFID and other international bodies. Hence, sometimes when you do not get results, due to other people’s inability, after working so hard, it is quite frustrating.
People do a lot to occupy this position. I do not want to say certain things, but I was just doing my work and I was appointed to be the chief of staff. Some people thought it was part-time, presuming that I was acting and that within six months, the real person would be appointed. What other miracle do I want in my life more than that?
That is why if I am travelling today to London or Lagos, I will remove one or two things that are personal to me in the office. So that in case I hear my removal on the radio, I do not need to come back here (his office). I did not contest for the position, it is appointive. So, I am at the beck and call of the appointing authority. I am grateful to God and Governor Obaseki for the privilege to serve. This is my fourth year. I always live in confidence that I have done my best.
I am sending a message that when you are appointed into a position of authority, you should know that the way it came, it can also go that way. The only people that have security of tenure are those occupying elective positions and they can be recalled, but the process may be longer. So, public office, particularly appointive, is not sacrosanct. I am happy and I really thank God that I am able to maintain the position, despite all the challenges.
The position of chief of staff is very tough, particularly in Edo state that is politically very volatile and I am from Akoko-Edo LGA, that some persons will just prefer to get the people’s votes during elections and after that they are abandoned, until another four years. Today, Governor Obaseki has been able to show to the minorities in Edo state that we are part and parcel of government, development and government’s plans. I am a symbol of God the father.
Will you later aspire for elective office?
In view of what politics can do to development, it is very difficult not to go into politics, especially if you are passionate about development. If I am not in government, how will I have been able to help my people to construct some of the roads that we have done in Edo State? So, you need government instrumentality to be able to influence development and improve the quality of life of your people.
There is no way you can be a critic, without looking for an opportunity to address some of the issues you have criticised others of. So, I will not run away from politics, because that is the only way that I will be able to impact on my people and be able to make a difference.
I have been a social critic for many years, especially since 1993. Now that I have the opportunity to look for a window to address some of the issues, I will not shy away from it. My children may not be as strongwilled and exposed as me, because I have been exposed to politics right from when I was 17 years old. My children are being brought up in a completely different set-up. So, they may not be strong, when they have opportunity to work in government. As a vehicle for development, all passionate people are encouraged to come into politics.
You recently wrote a book on your reflections. What motivated the writing?
I finished writing the book in 2016, shortly before I was appointed as chief of staff, but I had to hold on to the public presentation, because I became extremely busy afterwards.
Right now, I want to do public readings, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the political tension and crisis, I also have to reschedule again. Nevertheless, the book is ready.
The book is dedicated to my parents, especially my mother, the late Madam Modupe Akerele, who thought us a lot of values and issues of life and of course my father, who died when myself and my twin brother, Kehinde, were just 13 years old. I was extremely close to my father and I was the last person that saw him and spoke with him, before he died that fateful Sunday morning.
The book talks about my growing up years at Igarra, my student days at St. Paul, now Anglican Grammar School in Igarra and the University of Benin (UNIBEN), life as a pro-democracy activist, a banker and development economist. The roles of mentors like Prof. Pat Utomi, Julius Ihonvbere, Godwin Obaseki, Adams Oshiomhole and others in my life and of course I wrote a little on the principles of ujamah and ozoveshe (good neighbourliness, collective humanity and selflessness). I looked at economic growth, domestic racial discrimination in Africa, the evil of quota system, federal character and other issues.
Part two of the book looks at my life as a development economist and my roles working with the World Bank and the European Union to draw resources for the development of Edo state. I documented the various steps we took and the entire political economy of working with development partners in Nigeria.
I thank Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti state, for his support. We were all in the June 12 struggle together. Also Dr. Reuben Abati, who contributed one of his articles to support the book. Of course Prof. Pat Utomi of the Centre for Values in Leadership, who thought me the principles of deferred gratification.
As a development economist, what are your thoughts on the Nigerian economy?
Nigeria is an extremely poor country, but most people do not understand when this statement is made, simply because they see a few rich men here and there, but the quality of life of an average citizen is determined by the per capital income.
Any country that is dependent on one source of revenue is doomed to always rise and fall and your GDP growth cannot be on the upward swing all the time, especially when the price of your single product, crude oil, is determined by external forces such as the recent coronavirus pandemic, global recession, war or restiveness in the Middle East etc., and of course, you do not control OPEC. Even your domestic realities and fundamentals do not support maximum production capacity.
Until we begin to be serious about economic diversification, and I agree with Alhaji Aliko Dangote on this in his recent interview, that we must take diversification seriously, especially agric business, production, manufacturing, services, efficient maritime sector, organised diaspora engagement and meeting our domestic needs, our people will continue to remain poor, because economic opportunities are limited as a percentage of demand for formal engagement by the qualified and energetic youths.
SMEs are largely informal and your data base for computation of indices is weak, infrastructure remains inadequate, population growth is not commensurate to economic growth. Nigeria credit system is still developing, hence most people who are eligible for credit cannot access, due to lack of reliable credit registry. Looking at our educational sector and curricula, we still offer outdated courses that are not relevant to modern day economic and industrial realities, our engineers are not encouraged, technology and science are treated with levity, our investment in mathematics, artificial intelligence, research and development is one of the lowest in the world. How much do we earn from cocoa, oil palm, cassava, yam, dairy products? And these are areas we have comparative advantage, compared with other countries.
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