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Clem Agba: Why We Have A Large Number Of Aspirants In Edo Governorship Race

CLEM AGBA: Why we have a large number of aspirants in Edo governorship race

IMMEDIATE past Minister of State for Budget and national Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, has thrown his hat in the ring for the Edo State governorship race on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview on AIT’s Kakaaki, on Monday, January 29, 2024, he responded to a number of questions and shared his perspectives on some contending issues. Excerpts


Que: Let’s start by looking at the large number of aspirants in your party. What exactly do you think is responsible for that because having a large number of aspirants probably would be an indication that there’s a problem coming up in choosing one of them at the end of the day, and the APC had experienced that in the past, especially in Zamfara state for instance?

Ans: OK, I don’t know whether we really have a large number because until you pick up your form, we are not sure whether you are aspiring or you are pretending because usually there are contenders and then there are also pretenders. I think we’re beginning to see those picking their forms, and for me, they are truly those who are aspiring. But I think that the number is still a little bit large because from the last count I heard that about 12 had picked up the form. And I think one reason for this is because of the dismal performance of the current government. You know, when Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole was governor, the state began to see some form of development, you know, in various areas of the state, be it education, health, road infrastructure, flooding and erosion control. But all that has disappeared and a lot of our people are not happy. And in addition to that, there’s a whole lot of poverty in the land and there isn’t any form of empathy coming from the government side. So, a lot of us are desirous of making a change in the state and just to ensure that we bring back our state on that path of growth that it used to be.

Que: OK, so help us to get a sense of what is really happening within the APC because we have so many issues. First, it was that the number has been pruned from 29 to 6 and another account is that the NWC has given everybody freedom to run if you want to aspire, just go and pick up the ticket. So, what exactly is the true position of things within the APC? How many people, you know, has the party actually pruned down the number to? And what were the criteria used? Or is everyone allowed to go because we see some who have said we accept the decision of the NWC and others are saying no, we don’t agree; the national body didn’t say that, so we’re picking up the form; what exactly is the situation?

Ans: Ab-initio, no one was deprived from collecting the forms. What had happened is that there was an in-house arrangement by the party in the state to say let us find ways and means of pruning down this number so that at the end of the day, we would go into the election as one; because, obviously, the position is going to be for one person, not for 29. And based on that, the leadership of the party in the state called for a meeting of all the aspirants, and we all agreed that a pruning exercise should take place all. There were about 26 of us there. It later grew to become 29, and all 29 presented themselves before that committee that was set up. The terms of reference for the committee were made known to us, and the questions that they asked, the documentation that they sought were around those terms of reference. After going through that, the leadership met again, called all 29 aspirants to read out their verdict based on the committee’s report, and that was how it was pruned down to six. Some accepted it, others didn’t. And the leadership did say that what they did was advisory. You know, it wasn’t compulsory because it is the national working committee that really should do the screening. So, it was a family arrangement, you understand, to do the pruning?

Que: But some people don’t agree with this family arrangement and the question is, as some are also saying that the people that have been pruned out are probably notable names; for instance, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, and that those who have finally made the list of six do not have that capacity to wrest power from the ruling PDP in the state at the moment. Is that the true position of things?

Ans: That can’t be the true position. I am among the six and I’ve had almost well over 20 years of experience in the organized private sector. I worked at the subnational level as a two-time Commissioner for Environment and Public Utilities and also as Commissioner for Land, Survey and Housing. I have been a minister, albeit Minister of State for Budget and National Planning; so, I know the connection between the national and the subnational and the benefits that can come from it. I’ve worked with the multilateral agencies. So, to say that they see that it has been pruned down to some people without experience, that definitely cannot be correct. You know, I have quite a lot of experience both in the private and in the public sectors. So, I disagree with what you just alluded to.

Que: OK, so are you saying now that you’re following with what the party says? No zoning, nothing. You’re free to contest the election or contest for the ticket rather.

■ I collected my nomination forms before the APC family arrangement to prune the number of aspirants-Agba

Ans: I was the first to collect my forms and in fact I did collect the forms even before this family arrangement came up. I am someone who plans my life-what I want to do, OK? And that is one of the things I also see lacking in government. Most times we react rather than being proactive. So, once I saw the timetable, I already planned that I was going to be among the first, if not the first to pick up the form. So, a day before the collection was supposed to take place, we transferred the money for both the expression of interest and for the forms. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to be around in Abuja on the day of the collection, I made arrangement to have a former colleague of mine pick up the form, and I think that was about 10:30 am that he picked up the form that day. And the advisory that we received not to collect forms came up about one 1:00 pm; and because I am a party man, I called the state secretary of the party to say I have just received your SMS saying we shouldn’t collect these forms until this family meeting takes place, but I have collected the form. He said, well, you have collected. You have collected. We can’t change that fact. It’s the fact that you have collected.

Que: There’s something about the nomination and the two forms that you collected that I’d like to ask your opinion on. And that has been something that has given quite a lot of people a cause for concern. It is the high cost of picking up these forms, N10 million and N40 million for Expression of Interest and nomination forms respectively. What do you think? Isn’t that a bit pricey for you to just get the ticket to the office? People have said that that’s part of what encourages corruption when people get into office because of the high cost of contesting elections in Nigeria.

Ans: If you look at the cost of the form and say that that is a high cost, I think relative to all other costs, it is not high because you spend a lot more money, you know, for your logistics, moving around, moving your team around than you would do with the forms. But, again, it’s one way of pruning down; it is one way of showing those who are serious. Give the forms for free, and you have about a million who come up for it and you will create more confusion. With N50million, 29 were ready to go for it. So, I don’t think it’s on the high side, especially when you consider the other costs because this just represents a little percentage of what is required to run the race. And, again, when you look at government, it’s not just about an individual. I think that is why it’s called government because it’s made-up of people, people of like minds, you know, people who believe in something together. So, you find that collectively, friends and associates and others will also help you raise those funds just to ensure that they take back the state especially when they believe that you are the one to pivot that group.

Que: Another issue that seems to be raising concerns in the All Progressive Congress is the party primary mode. For instance, I understand the NWC has said it should be direct primary election, but some are saying this is illegal. It should actually be the other way round. So, give us a perspective of the party at this time, and yours as well. What do you think? Is there any illegality in the mode of primary election-whichever one the APC chooses to use?

■ I don’t see illegality in the direct primary mode that APC has agreed to adopt for guber primary in Edo-Agba

Ans: I don’t see any illegality in the mode that has been chosen. The party constitution allows for two types of primary election: a direct or indirect. And, again, depending on whether the stakeholders agree to it, I think the electoral law also says the same thing. It’s either direct or indirect. Again, all of this was discussed and we were all aware of it upfront. When you talk about money politics, it really comes in when you are doing indirect. And, of course, a while ago, you alluded to N50 million for forms being on the high side; it discourages people. If you really want people of good intent who do not have the resources to go for it, then direct form of primary election is the best way to go, where you are calling on the membership of the party to do the voting and decide who their standard bearer should be. But when you have a select few to choose, then they begin the bargain and what you find is that the highest bidder gets the ticket, not necessarily the best for the job.

Que: OK, now let’s go to the politics of zoning. Now, there’s been plenty of talk around which zone of Edo state should get the governorship seat in the 2024 elections. What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with those who say that it’s the turn of Edo Central?

■ I agree with our party constitution that says: “No zoning”- Agba

Ans: I agree with our party constitution that says no zoning. Again, we are in opposition in our state, so we should be putting our best foot forward to reclaim power. You know, sometimes people talk about morality when it comes to politics. That comes in after you must have got power. What you do is you say we are in opposition, which is the best way that we can get the position back to ourselves. Who is the best person that we can put forward? Who’s got the experience, who’s got the capacity to deliver? I think that is what is very, very important. But again, not just to dodge the issue, you will say that the state is sitting on a tripod- Edo North, Edo Central and then Edo South. And then you also look at the past and say what has happened? How many governors has each of the senatorial districts produced? How many ministers has each of these senatorial districts produced? In terms of other political appointments, how many had each of them produced? Because you have to look at all of these, not just taking one in isolation. And if you look at it from that perspective, Edo South has produced 4 governors, Edo Central has produced 2. Ambrose Ali was a governor in the state, even though…

Que (Cuts in) That was Bendel state….

Ans: It doesn’t matter. Those of us from the Edo part of the then Bendel gave him the support and voted for him and all the things that he did in the Edo part of Bendel State are still there. The Ambrose University, for instance, is one. It’s not taken away. You know, Osunbor was a governor and he was there for 18 months. That’s the second governor that Edo Central produced. Edo North has only produced one in the person of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. And, then, when you look at the number of ministers, Edo South had produced three, Edo Central had produced five. I was the first minister to come from Edo North and I wasn’t a full-fledged minister. I was a minister of state and only did three and a half years. So, it is just now that we have a full-fledged minister; so, when you look at it, it’s 3 (Edo South), 5 (Edo Central) and 2 (Edo North). So who really should it be zoned to? Because if you are going to equity, you must go with clean hands. But like I’ve said, I belong to the three parts of the state, either by birth, by marriage, by association or even by education. My parents, both of them were from Edo North. My wife is from Edo South; I did my tertiary institutions in Edo Central. Also by marriage, my immediate elder brother is married from Edo Central. My wife’s immediate younger sister’s husband is also from Edo Central. So, which part of the state am I going to cheat? So, I think really that what is important is that our state is going through too much.

■ There is no empathy coming from government in Edo State-Agba

There is no peace; there’s acrimony every day. There is no respect for institutions. There is no empathy coming from government. The state needs to be rescued. Our rural dwellers are suffering. They are only remembered during elections. After that, it’s four years’ time that someone will remember them again; and just for one thing, for the votes. They are entitled to have good water, to drink potable water. They are entitled to have basic health facilities; they are entitled to basic education; the environment should be clean. But everything that seemed to happen is happening only in the urban areas and that is why I am coming with my TRUST Initiative, which is Transforming our Rural and Urban Spaces Together. I facilitated the current National Development Plan and also the Nigeria Agenda 2050. We looked at the various binding constraints in the country and why a lot of progress is not being made and one of the things that clearly comes out is the total neglect of our rural areas. This is where 60% of our people live. This 60% of our people produce 90% of the food we eat and what they produce does not get to the market. The post-harvest loss is huge- 60%. What that translates to is for every 10,000 tons of food that our farmers produce, only 4000 gets to the market. And we try to investigate to say why is this happening? It is because of lack of integrated rural development. You know, they are not considered as people, you know, so the food they produce does not get to the market because there are no roads; they don’t have power; so, they can’t even store the food. When they are unable to move them to the market, they cannot communicate. So that’s a big issue.

■ The various deprivations that our people go through will be taken care of because there are two types of poverty-Agba

So, you find that when you are dealing with development in the rural areas and at the same time taking care of the urban areas, you discourage rural-urban migration. The various deprivations that our people go through will be taken care of because there are two types of poverty. There is the rural poverty. We also have the urban poverty, The urban poverty has a lot to do with money, you know, not having enough money to take care of the things that you want to take care of. But that is totally different from what happens in the rural areas. In the rural areas, it is as a result of deprivations. You have the money but you don’t have the access. They don’t have good schools, basic education, or even if the schools exist, you don’t have teachers in the schools. There are no basic health facilities available. At least that’s the first port of call for everyone: Primary Healthcare centres. Edo with 192 wards should have a minimum of 192 Primary Health care centres. It can grow beyond that, but it has to take time to have that done so that if you have someone who is sick in the village, he may have come in from America with about $2,000,000 in his pocket and he falls sick at night and there is no hospital to go to. Will you say such a person is rich with his $2,000,000 in his pocket? That person is poor because the hospitals are not available. Now you find that what we are doing today, just focusing on the very big things, wanting to be like America and Europe, which is OK, to want to go to the moon, but you have to take care of the basic things first. Just like Ibrahim Maslow said in his hierarchy of needs theory. You cannot be talking about self-esteem or self-actualization when you have not been able to take care of the issue of hunger. You have not fed yourself, you can’t cloth yourself, you don’t even have accommodation and I see this happening everywhere. Like I said, these were identified in our national development plan; so, I want to be able to implement what Nigerians have come together to make: a plan. The current disconnect that is taking place…you see, when Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole was governor, that road was there. It was being maintained by the state government. A couple of federal roads were done and the federal government did refund the money under this new government. They never told the people. You know at least they received about N18 billion. So, who are those plying these roads? They are Nigerians. They are Edo people. The road to the Government House in Benin is not good. When it rains, the whole area is flooded. That is not a federal road. It is not even a United Nations Road. It’s the state government road. A road leading to the seat of power where the governor stays. So, you’ll find that it’s the issue of an individual. OK, I have been in the state. I remember when you visited and you interviewed me while I was Commissioner for Environment at King’s Square. You saw the things that we were able to do.

Que: (cuts in ) I’m surprised the King’s square has gone to something else.

Ans: Again, that’s to tell you that we have an issue with leadership. If we were there and something was done, it shows that something can be done. All that is now required is maintenance. We built new infrastructure there. We were maintaining them. We built several drainages across both primary and secondary drains. They are not being maintained and that’s why the whole place is getting flooded again. If you buy a brand-new car, fresh from the factory, after a month or two, you will need to change the oil. You will need to change the plugs. You have to maintain the car. You don’t say because it’s new, you keep on driving until it dies. That is what we are having in the State. The rate of siltation is high because a lot of the roads have not been paved, so that tells you that you should constantly and consistently work.

Que: How do you intend to implement the TRUST Initiative without complaining about funding or maybe the federal government not helping you out like we see the governors cry out these days?

Ans: I think the most important thing is about taking care of issues; it’s not fund. Money doesn’t solve problem. It does to the extent that you have an individual who knows how to apply it. Currently, with the state’s IGR and the FAC receipts, it’s good. But it is the application of the funds that is an issue. A while ago I did mention that we are putting our funds to the wrong sources. We’re putting them into very big things that are not impactful. You don’t want to build a road that people don’t use. You don’t want to build a hospital that is not accessible, that people won’t use, OK? So, it is the application of the resources that is important. First, I talked about the rural areas. As the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, I was the Chairman of the Technical Committee of the National Poverty, and Reduction with Growth Strategy. And, one of the things that we did is building rural roads across the country, around the agro corridors. And I went around the country to visit these projects and I could see the impact, especially when I went to Imo and Enugu, I could see the joy in the faces of people who now could move their products up to the market. So, we don’t need big money, OK? We just need someone who’s prepared and who’s willing to do.

Que: A road like the one I talked about earlier. Indeed, it is a federal road. Agreed and such road requires a huge capital to be able to deal with. So. if you’re the governor and you are met with such a challenge… Not just that though, there’s another one that goes to Warri as well and all of that. So, if you are the governor and you are met with such a huge task of fixing such a road and then you’re not getting the support of the federal government like the governor is saying at the moment, how would you deal with that?

Ans: A stitch in time they say saves nine. The road was not always like that. It was allowed to depreciate to that level that you need huge sums of money to fix it. I did mention a while ago that that road was constantly being maintained by the government of Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. You know, maintenance is very, very important. You know, our people, they just believe that once you build a house, you walk away. If you don’t maintain the house, the cost of doing the repair work later when you begin to have structural defects is going to be very, very huge. So, what is important in projects is the impact of what you are doing on the people, not just the number of projects that you have done. As commissioner, the work that I did was impactful. You know, I redesigned the King Square. It used to take close to 45 minutes to one hour to just drive around that ring road., like people call it in Benin, you had a motor park there. There was a market and all sorts of things were being done in the central business district of Benin in Edo State, the heartbeat of the nation. I had to take the bull by the horns. In fact, I was attacked the very first day I went there and I’m not sure you remember, you know, by one of the proprietors of a transport company. But I wasn’t deterred because my team said to me, previous governments had sent us here and when we wanted to do our work, they gave us a call and asked us to pull out. I said, really? I said it’s OK. I will lead the team. So, I led them myself, you know; leadership is about walking the talk. You know, you inspect what you expect. I’m not sure you recall when I went to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital; they were given money just like the other 51 tertiary medical institutions across the country. But what I found in the National Hospital in Abuja, or what I found in Kano, in Nasarawa, in Benin, at LUTH was totally different from what I found in Port Harcourt. And if I had sat down in my office in Abuja, I would have just assumed that having visited 14 of those 52 institutions, that they were all working well. I didn’t find new beds. I didn’t find the equipment that were supposed to be procured.

■ I will bring to the table a leadership that walks its talk-Agba

So again, you can see that it wasn’t an issue of money because they were all given the same amount, but they worked differently. So, what I will be bringing to the table is that leadership walking the talk, ensuring that whatever is provided for a project is used for the project. In fact, before you go into the project, you have to do your NEEDS analysis. You have to meet with the people to know what they really want, because in your mind it might be a road that they require while they actually require water or something else. So, all of those have to be done and the people need to be carried along. So, funding is not the issue, it is the application of funds for the right projects and projects that are impactful.

Que: We must go now. But before we go, I want your closing shot to be on the administration of local government in Nigeria. This state government and local government joint account seems to have caused a lot of problems. And we were talking about it on the News review earlier on in the programme. So, how do you intend to bring development to the people at the grassroots If you become governor of Edo state? Will it be business as usual? The local government account in the pocket of the governor, or will you be doing something different?

■ Local government should be allowed to do their work, and that they should be accountable to their people-Agba

Ans: For me, I believe that the local government should be allowed to do their work, and that they should be accountable to their people. The need to sit with their people to determine what needs to be done with funds that are made available to them. Today, we only have federal and state; the local governments are just existing in names. And, of course, it’s easy for them to say, we can’t do this, we can’t do that because the state government is keeping their vaults, and so the people cannot hold them responsible. And this again, goes beyond local government. I think what is also more important is your autonomy for the state Houses of Assembly. But unfortunately, they keep voting against their own autonomy. I don’t know where that ever happens except in this clime.

Que: Some have blamed it on the governors’ overbearing attitude towards the State Houses of Assembly too, because a majority of the members were actually appointed. We saw on social media a short while ago, the deputy governor-elect prostrating to the outgoing governor of Kogi state, isn’t that the attitude down the line?

Ans: Maybe it is their own tradition. And an elder brother, that’s the way they greet there.

Que: I’m talking about the fact that State Houses of Assembly tend to defer to the governors, to the executive?

Ans: Does that not tell you that there is a problem? Why would they defer? They are different arms of government; they should have their autonomy so that there could be checks and balances. Otherwise, the governor just says and does whatever he likes. And then the state loses.

Que: All right. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. Of course, this is an ongoing conversation. I’m sure you’ll be here again and again and again until the election happens. And then, we’ll see how it all plays out. We have been speaking with Prince Clem Agba, who is one of the aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in Edo 2024 governorship election. He has been sharing with us what is happening in the APC regarding the primary election and his plans for Edo state should he win the election. Of course, we wish you the very best as you go into the race.

Ans: Thank you very much for having me.

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