The immediate past Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba is a leading governorship aspirant in Edo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The former state commissioner with rich pedigrees in the private and public sectors left significant imprimaturs as commissioner and minister. In this interview with Channels TV on “Sunrise Daily” on Thursday, January 18, 2024, he speaks on why he wants to be the governor of Edo State. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to throw your hat in the ring for Edo governorship?
Ans: I was in the cabinet of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and before he came into power, there was a dearth of infrastructure in the state. Every area was flooded beneath city. Benin, the capital city, was ancient, you know. Nothing really was working. And a couple of us and others pushed that we wanted our state to be on the side of growth and Comrade came in and for eight years, the state saw transformation. Currently we have another government which ought to be an offshoot of that government, a governor who was part of the economic team for that government. I was also a member of the economic team. Now one would have thought that being part of the team, you continue on the things that we all agreed, but nothing is going on. Even the drains that were constructed are not being taken care of; they are not maintained. Or you go back to Benin, if it rains for three minutes everywhere is flooded. You will agree with me that if you buy a brand new car, you have to service it, after usage for maybe a month or two, right?. You change the oil and you change the plug; but that is not happening with the drains since the drains were constructed. All the roads are not yet paved; so you have a lot of silt still going into the drains…. That’s just to give an example. I looked at the inflation rate: 26%, but when you look at food inflation in a Edo, it’s 33.2%…
Can it be devoid of what’s happening in the country?
Yes, it can because Edo is an agrarian state. Edo North, Edo Central and Edo South. They are very good in food production, but the problem is that the post-harvest loss is high, about 60%. And why is this so? Because of lack of acess of this food to the market.
When the governor contested at the time. Many had high hopes. And they will always do when anyone is contesting. The same way you’re coming in now as part of the team as well. Some people are now thinking, look, it’s the same narrative. They all promise us all these kinds of things. Now you’re here saying you’re in the same team, nothing is happening. They say what’s the guarantee that if you get there now, somebody won’t be saying the same thing of you much later?
The difference is that I have antecedents. I have been in government, in the ministry and I worked, ok. I was also a federal minister and I was able to attract projects to the state that we can see, that we can feel and that we can touch. I have been involved in the process. I understand the issues. The former one was not involved. He was visiting.
You say that you’ve been a minister and you’ve attracted projects to the state, but every time we talk to the governor, he’s always talking about how the roads that have not been fixed are federal roads…Now when you talk about roads, you know most of the access roads going through, I mean it’s a transit state. A lot of movement from the southwest, even sometimes from the southeast and even the South-South cannot happen unless you go through those states. So, in which areas would you say that you have brought projects that have been of immense impact to the people if it’s not in the area of roads?
I have attracted road projects; I’ve attracted water projects; I’ve attracted light projects. But the road to the Government House in Benin City in GRA, is it a federal Road? It is not. When it rains, it gets flooded and you can’t drive through it. And that’s the road that leads to the office where the governor is. When Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was governor, most of the roads we worked on were federal roads. Upper Akpakpava Road is federal; Sapele Road is federal. Airport Road is federal; Ugbowo Road is federal. And when the refunds were made, Comrade was already out. So, it’s the current governor that got all of this. But you didn’t give me sufficient time to answer why I want to be governor because I was just doing the preliminary just to tell you the state of the state….The second thing too is that like I said earlier, I facilitated the National Development Plan and we got all state governors involved; we got local government chairmen involved; we got the private sector involved and all of that and identified the problems across the nation and came up with solutions. What is left now is implementation. I am not seeing that traction and most of the things that needed to be done, especially with regards to poverty. Like I said openly, I solved national issues. That’s why we say 133,000,000 Nigerians are poor. It’s not monetary poverty; it’s multi-dimensional poverty. And when you’re looking at multi-dimensional poverty, we’re talking about lack of access to health care, that’s basic health care, lack of access to education, lack of access to potable water and sanitation. All of these are missing. That’s why I want to go and implement and fix these.
So, the issue that you raised concerning things that were in, that worked when you were in government with the Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and now that those things seem not to be working raises a question on my mind about the structures upon which that government ran that was not sustainable and how that sustainability of governance can be sustained irrespective of whoever is in office. What do you think went wrong at the time or that needs to be corrected?
First, I think that the government was in a hurry to start its own legacy by doing new projects and so totally left what we all agreed to in in our strategic plan that was put forward for the state. Like I said, the governor now was the chairman of the economic team and I was in that team and we very much laid out what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. And just like the President Buhari era where he said government had spent money in putting infrastructure in place, a lot of these have not been completed; some for 40 years and they have not been completed. And since government is a continuum, what you need to do is to fix those because once you abandon the projects, to come back to it some years after, the cost is going to go high because of the time value of money. So, for me, I think either that the governor there now didn’t believe in what he was agreeing to at that time and wanted to start things of his own. The stormwater master plan, for instance, showed that in Benin City, there were 23 troubled areas and we had dealt with about six. We were working on the 7th, which is the very big artery to the Ogba River and we had done 70% of that. It was used to campaign for him. The President came and inaugurated the completed parts of those projects because in that project we had roads; we had street lighting; we had primary drains on the ground; we had side drains. There were about 11 roads to be dealt with in the entire catchment. But the governor has not added any bag of cement to complete that project. So, I think it’s an issue of the individual.
A number of people might argue with you on that one, particularly because the civil service is supposed to be the continuum of governance. And that is why, as you said the other time, they are the technical experts that are supposed to ensure that some things continue the way they are. For instance, you talked about maintenance of some of those things. Do they need the governor’s authority to do the jobs for which they were employed, maintaining government infrastructure? So, is there anything wrong with the systems which governments work that make them malleable to the political influence of some people, whoever they are?
Yeah, I don’t know whether you’ve worked in the public sector before; but, to think that the civil servant will decide what to do and what not to do when provisions have not been made for it, it’s not right in the public sector; you budget for what you want to do and if you have budgeted for them before, you also now spend. You will raise a memo that will also go back to the chief executive. You know depending on what the value is, some might stop at the level of the permanent secretary; some may get up to the level of the commissioner or at the federal level, the minister. And then there are some that have to go to the state councils and the federal executive councils. So, the whole thing, the bucks still lie on the table of the governor. He decides his agenda and what he wants to do and the civil servants cannot tell him you must do it when he’s refusing. I can tell you that I have a relationship with the governor. A year after he was there, I sent him messages to say the drains have not been desilted. These are the areas we did; so, you need to do (some work) in these other areas so that you will not be disgraced. But he never did. This Commissioner has called me as former Commissioner for Environment to say this is the challenge they are having and they asked me what should we do? I told them and they said we’ll go to governor. Governor did not approve. He said they wanted to steal money, and why should they steal it? I think it’s just a lack of understanding of what needs to be done.
One more thing before we close Prince. What the Oba of Benin said during your visit to him. I imagine you take the Oba very seriously?
Yes, I do.
Is it true he told you your chances were very slim?
He never said so. I have never gone to the Oba to say that I want to become governor of the state. I only went to the Oba to say I have finished my job as a federal minister and thanked him for this level of support. He did ask some questions. You know, how many people did you help? What did you do and all of that…I am a Prince and I respect that institution. It would have been wrong of me to get up right after he had spoken to now say I did this, I did that and I did that, you know. But we met later that night and we spoke, you know, and I explained things to him and he understood. So, there is no issue between His Royal Majesty and I. I gave him a lot of regards. In fact, as I’ve been going around in my consultation in the state, I have complained about the way that the government has been treating traditional institutions in the state, you know, from time to time threatening traditional rulers that they are going to be dethroned. And even in my own case, my traditional ruler was dethroned.
Yeah, but you have said they will not be dethroned?
Ans: Yes, they will not be dethroned. We will review the laws and change all of that. We must show respect for our traditional institutions.
Just quickly, what do you make of this when you hear that there are too many aspirants on the platform of the APC and they’re thinking of a consensus candidate?
Well, just at the beginning I did mention that we’ll be going through a process of trying to prune down. Like they said, the more the merrier. But it just goes to show you the enormity of the problem in the state and the interest people have to solve this problem, because a lot of people are dissatisfied.
Is it something you will subscribe to, the consensus process?
The process is going on; there was no agreement yet. If it’s possible to have one person as a consensus, fine, but the committee that was set up was asked to go and prune down because they are 29 in the party aspiring and they said prune it down to single digit. if it is possible. And, that is fine.
Adapted from www.conclaveng.com
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