A former Governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE, speaks about the corruption allegations against his eight-year administration and the forthcoming governorship election in the state
Why have you been silent on the political developments in Edo State?
I always wonder why people would be reading meanings to my silence. I think I am a very dignified person in the sense that I have served the state as a local government chairman. I have served as a two-term governor. I really have nothing to prove and our own candidate is mature enough. He does not need to be babysitted; he does not need a feeding bottle. So, as far as I am concerned, our party is well-grounded. Our party chairman is very versatile, he is capable and he has been doing very well. He has my full backing. He has my endorsement and I give them my tacit support and cooperation at all times.
How would you react to the criticism that your administration was very corrupt?
They said that the PDP stole money. There is nowhere in any of the charges where they said that Lucky Igbinedion embezzled money. There is nowhere in the charges where they said that Lucky Igbinedion mismanaged so many resources. But a lot of people just talk because of lack of knowledge or maybe their illiteracy is worrying them.
We did not have the money to be corrupt with. We were receiving one of the lowest incomes in the state. For the first four years, all we were doing were just paying pensions and wages. If you look back at the records, there was nothing to be corrupt about because there was no money to be corrupt with. So, I can say categorically that my administration was not corrupt.
So, why did you opt for plea bargaining instead of pursuing your corruption case at the court?
Well, it depends on what you mean by opting for a plea bargain. You do not know whether it was the EFCC and I who initiated the plea bargain. I just felt that I should move on with my life, first and foremost. I have done my thing. What has happened has happened but I can tell you that I never stole Edo State money. I never mismanaged Edo State money. I was never charged locally or internationally for embezzlement of fund. So, as far as I am concerned, the people are talking rubbish.
What is your assessment of the level of preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct the governorship poll?
Well, we have been hearing all sorts of rumours and information about their level of preparedness. We just have to take them for their word that they are fully ready, just as they were before the initial date of September 10. So, I do not have any reason not to believe them that they are fully ready for the September 28 election.
How did you feel when your party’s candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu left your government and campaigned for Oshiomhole?
Like I said, he is a matured politician. Everybody has the right to do what they have to do and you know that our polity is not really based on ideology as of today; that is the truth. People jump from one party to the other for different reasons. Maybe they have been pressurised out of the system. You have to know why they did what they did. You cannot just use a blanket judgment to say that what they did was right.
Do you think he could be trusted with a public office having allegedly betrayed you?
Pastor Ize-Iyamu has never betrayed me. He has always kept me in the know on all his political moves.
Ize-Iyamu was said to have enriched himself while in your government. Is this true?
I am not aware he enriched himself with public money while I was in office. There was paucity of funds during my tenure, so it was not possible for anybody, including Ize-Iyamu or myself to enrich ourselves.
You did not respond to series of criticisms against your administration by Governor Adams Oshiomhole. Why?
Well, I do not have the same background with the incumbent governor. We come from different backgrounds and we have our ways of approaching various issues. I do not believe in calling people names. I have never criticised his government; that is not my style. I believe that I have given him enough rope to do his own thing. It is now time for the people of Edo State to really look inward and search their souls to see under whose administration they have lived a more comfortable life, a more secure life, and a more people-oriented life. So, I will leave the people to make that judgment.
He believes in ‘listening to himself’. I believe in ‘watching and listening to other people’ rather than making unnecessary and vile, rude statements about other people. I was not brought up in that way. I was brought up under a very strict, disciplined family. Both my father and mother brought me up well; they did not teach me to start abusing my elders or even abusing people of equal status.
The seat of the governor is highly important that you must watch what you say because people are listening. People associate your words with that seat of authority. So, when you talk, you have to be very diplomatic. You have to be dignified in your words and carriage. It is not a position or seat where you talk just because you feel like talking. Like they always say, if you have nothing better to say, maintain the silence.
He replies to everything. As a governor, you do not reply to every comment that is made. Otherwise, you will just over-talk, which is what everybody now knows him (Oshiomhole) for. He overreacts, exaggerates the truth and blows his trumpet. He should let the people decide. Let the people create that opinion; he is trying to force it down their throat and the people say, enough is enough.
I once asked him to look back at his inaugural photographs and find out how many people are still with him. If he found out that most of them are still there, then he is doing well. If he could not find those people that were there on the first day of his inauguration in 2008, then there is a problem.
So, do you think that he has failed?
Definitely. His loyalists left when they started discovering his characteristics and his mannerism. What comes out of your mouth goes a long way. It is like an egg; once it comes out of your mouth, you cannot put it back together. You can think that you can go back and apologise behind, just like him telling a woman to go and die. How can you tell a widow that is struggling and wanting to make ends meet to go and die? The worst part is that the people he is now abusing are the people he knelt down for before his election and started praising them. But today, he is abusing all of them. So, where is his judgmental capacity? When you talk too much, you talk nonsense.
But the governor accused your administration of massively laying off workers and grounding the state civil service.
When you get to the retirement age, you retire. When we came on board, we discovered that our wage bill was high and, for one reason or the other, we had to do some restructuring. We employed many teachers. It is like in the private sector when companies retire people and employ new hands. The Federal Government retires and employs, so it is a continuous exercise. But we did not owe anybody. The backlog of salaries that were up to 18 months was paid up to date.
Today, the state owes over $200m and I do not know how many billions of naira inclusive. But when I left in 2007, I was not owing any bank, not even overdrafts, not salary arrears, not pension arrears, even though they are lying left and right now. It is a well-known fact and well-documented. I believe in the development of human capital and I believe that I did that very satisfactorily.
What is your reaction to the ranking of Edo as the state with the third highest debt?
It is not normal. It is very unusual. It is very bad for our people. I feel sorry for the next PDP government coming in on September 28 because it is going to meet an empty treasury, a big hole in our finances. So, I just pray that by God’s grace, he (incoming governor) has the wisdom and the wherewithal to create some ingenuity. The state of indebtedness they have put us is frightening.
What are your regrets after leaving office?
I have no regrets whatsoever. I did my best. I believe my best benefited the people of Edo State. So, I have no regrets at all.
There has been a speculation that you are gradually withdrawing from the PDP. Are you still an active member of the party?
I have never left the PDP; that is one thing for sure. I have remained a staunch member of the PDP since inception. We are the founders and I have never denied being a PDP member and I remain so. It is true that I have not been active the way some people expect me to be. I believe that after serving the state at the highest level, it is better to take the back seat. I am not a political jobber. I have other jobs to do. I have businesses to run. I have my family life to live.
I believe (that) once you have served the public, there must be a time when you should now take the back seat and let the new hands come on board, rather than trying to pamper them as if they are not mature. These people (candidates) at the stage now are mature. When I was the governor, I was not even 50. I was just 42.
So, the person running on the platform of the PDP is over 50 years already. He is not a small guy. He is not a baby, so he does not need me to carry him on my back. He does not need me to start talking. He is matured. He knows the state very well, so you do not need to entertain any fear.
What role are you playing in the current bid by the Edo people to elect a new governor?
I am playing my role as a PDP helmsman and as a two-term governor of the state. They say experience counts. So from time to time, I do meet and discuss with the party chairman and other members of the party that come to seek my advice. So, just because I am not in the public glare does not mean that I am not in full support of our party or that I am not making the statutory contributions or obligations that are expected of me.
I just decided not to be in active politics because, like I said earlier on, I am not a political jobber. I believe there should be a time to move on in some of these aspects of life.