Business mogul Captain Idahosa Okunbo spoke with reporters on his parting of ways with Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki and why the All Progressives Congress (APC) will reclaim the state at the September 19 poll.
How did your quarrel with Governor Godwin Obaseki start? What really went wrong between you and where does your relationship stand now?
I want to thank you for honouring my invitation. I am very press shy person, I hardly grant interviews but I find it very important and relevant at this time for me to also talk. I have written but I think I should talk.
Thank you for the question about Edo. Facts are fact and a lie will remain a lie. You will get real facts today.
First, I consider myself an elder statesman of this country, I also consider myself a relevant stakeholder in my state.
Just as important as that market woman who is also a stakeholder that sells tomatoes and pepper so I have always wished well for my state and I still do.
At the beginning when Governor Godwin Obaseki approached me in 2016 that he wanted to run for the Governorship of Edo State, he came in the company of a friend, Noggie Meggison, to my house in Ikoyi (Lagos) and that day I unveiled to him the relationship between me and his late father who happened to be like a father to me, in fact he nurtured me in my youth.
I told him the relationship between myself and his father that as a child, I was his father’s friend and that I had no choice but to support his ambition.
And after that, he kept coming to my house with Rasaq Belo-Osagie.
When he came, he respected me and we respected each other, we eat together and the relationship was very cordial and I was happy that at least somebody from the private sector like myself had come into the governorship race in Edo state, apart from the relationship I had with the father which was very dear to me.
When it came to the time to support financially, he came to me in Abuja with the same Rasaq and I did my little bit to support him and thank God it is the same candidate today that is also his opponent again.
Now, what happened after that?
He was elected as the governor in 2016 and I was very elated and as we continued, the political class that elected him were all coming to me, including Rasaq Bello-Osagie that brought him to me.
I want to start mentioning names now so that there can be reference.
The were complaining about how he was treating them and how he didn’t want to see them anymore after being elected and I kept calming them down.
I even quarreled with Rasaq, I said: “Rasaq, leave this man alone” and I kept talking to the political class and said listen, I know bankers, that I know investment bankers; you can’t squeeze anything out of their hands.
He said he was gathering money to improve our state, I said so be it.
He said he’s developing our state and I said so be it, let hin be but I kept going back to him to say my brother please manage these people
You have found yourself in the political turf so please manage them because I believe there are so many attributes of leadership, the ability to manage people, perseverance and patience.
I told him that when you have even more than ten workers in your establishment, you will have different kinds of people and the ability to manage them to achieve your desired goals is what is important because as I was fighting the political class, I was advising him on how to manage them because for me the state was my concern, development of my state is top priority.
That was why when I was going to China to meet some investors, I mentioned it to him and he was willing to come, I was excited that he was willing to come, I bought his ticket and that of his aides.
And we went to China and we met my investors and we spent good time together, I did that and paid all the bills not because I have too much money but what I wanted to show to my brother was look I am not coming for government purse I wanted to show him that I wanted to help genuinely and I seriously meant well for him but to my surprise, the things that started unfolding after, I couldn’t believe it., I was always wondering what I had done.
For instance, when the President was coming to Benin for the Army Day, I reached out to the Presidency, the President has seen my products, the President had eaten products from my farm, the President loves the products, so I wanted to use that opportunity of his coming to Benin to invite the President to commission my farm and I also thought that was an opportunity for Godwin, the Governor to also showcase the farm as one of his achievements.
Only for me to hear from the grapevine that he never wanted the President to come to my farm, I needed to confirm if the President was going to come to my farm and I did.
Then, I got a phone call from Godwin he said, I learnt the President was coming to your farm, he will come but he was not going to come out of the car
I was wondering how will the President come to my farm for the commissioning of my farm and not come out of the car.
Whatever I am saying here today, God Almighty knows that I am saying the truth.
He gave me that call and I laughed, only for the event to be cancelled because there was an incident in Maiduguri and the President had to go to Maiduguri.
I started to think what was going on here.
Most of these things started last year. It is very true that a few people had approached me that I should come and run against him.
Can’t the rift be settled?
But for me, let me be honest, I will be the last person to quarrel with any government that is performing or any government at all.
Because at the very beginning when Godwin told me his plans for Edo State, If Godwin presents to you his plans for Edo State on PowerPoint, you will kiss his feet.
It is like in the Bible when the devil said take all this and bow before me and Jesus said get thee behind me Satan.
And as we progressed, all those packages that he presented, none was done.
I learnt most of them were all on paper and they continue to be on paper and consultancy services attached to most of them. Of course, as we speak, most of those projects are not on ground and me I can’t be deceived.
You can’t continue selling propaganda because when you tell lies continuously, it becomes truth in some peoples’ ear.
Some can be deceived, but I cannot.
A situation where you have 600 children packed in a room selling propaganda on social media of projects that are not there. It is appalling
But, that is why most of our brothers in the Diaspora are sold on his agenda, but they do not know that most of those projects are just not on ground.
You sell propaganda, you impoverished them and then when it is election time, you now throw corns at them and tell them to see white and call it black. I will not allow that in a society I grew up in.
I don’t live permanently in Benin, but I have always retraced my steps to my home because there is a saying that a child that doesn’t remember where he comes from is lost.
I am completely in touch with my environment back home. I know that is where I am from and whatever I can do to relate with my people, I always do.
Like I said, a lot of people approached me to run for governor of Edo State and most of the people that did, will tell you I said I wasn’t interested because I have set a trajectory for my life and over the past 32 years, I have been involved in business and before that, I was a very good professional pilot.
And at 63, my mates that ran for governorship did that in 1999 and was not ready to start learning new things.
And that is one of the reasons I tried to help Godwin, because in his old he could not learn new things that is why he fell a victim.
He found himself in politics which was not his turf, it was not his forte and he would have sought for God’s wisdom to be able to manage the position he had found himself.
That was why I was talking to him and trying to mediate in the matter because I never wanted him to fight anybody, not to talk about fighting me.
Why is reconciliation difficult?
When he started fighting the political class, I told him, when he came to my house, I said GO, please if you keep fighting these guys, they have a boss who is Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and very soon, you and Adams will quarrel.
He said God forbid, instead of him and Adams to quarrel; he will resign from being governor.
I said okay and not long, Adams became Chairman of APC and the people on ground whom he was fighting now found solace in Abuja and they came to seek help from him. I was watching and comrade started helping some of them through his position.
And the quarrel started,. He became angry with Comrade and complained that why was he helping people that were fighting him in the state.
Then it came to their primaries and the full blown quarrel started, I went to him and tried settling them.
I went once, the second time I said, go my brother, your position today is Governor and Comrade is Chairman of APC, I don’t think there is anything both of you will sit in front of the President and ask for our state that we would not get.
I said please this quarrel should never happen. I said lets nip it in the bud for the sake of everybody. I was in his house for three hours. I knelt down, begging. I said for the sake of the state, I don’t want this animosity to continue, whatever it takes, please close it out.
That night I left and that same night when I got home, I got a call from a common friend in Lagos who told me that Godwin said you should stay out of this matter; otherwise, you might be a collateral damage.
I said collateral damage? Me? I said should I ask him? He said ask him.
The next morning I called him, I said Ogierebor, that is what I call him, I said Ogierebor, this is what this guy told me, he said yes, it is fight to finish o, you better stay away so that you will not be caught up in the middle.
I said thank you! But I said I won’t relent. I reached out to elders who were more power than myself, that we should not have a state where there are no elders.
Was that the day after you saw him?
Yes, and because of that the dispute was never resolved till today.
Now, let’s talk about myself, there was a particular Sunday that Thisday published a story on its front page and I know that newspaper front pages are very serious.
The headline was NPA Cancels SAA and they put a bogus figure that we were earning, that we were operating illegally and that the person behind this company, OMSL, my name was mentioned and they twisted it that I was interested in the governorship.
That particular write up was a big embarrassment to me and co-incidentally, Jim Ovia was hosting Emefiele at the Civic Centre that day on his return as CBN Governor Appointment.
I was there at the venue and some friends were questioning me if I was interested but I was responding to them that I was not.
As I was leaving, thank God, Godwin was coming in, we were outside, he pointed at me and embarrassed me in front of everyone shouting “incoming governor”, I held him that is the photograph you guys see of both of us and cuddled him and I said are you one of them?
I took him back inside the venue and in order to disabuse the minds of those who had interrogated me earlier, I went behind his seat and grabbed him and they took our photograph, that photograph is what people see and I left.
As that incident grew, SAA saga grew. Everywhere I went, they told me this is political, your problem is political, and somebody actually told me he was behind it. But I did not believe it and I went in the evening to his house we were outside among some common friends,
I told him, I said GO, they told me that you are the one behind my saga at NPA, he said no no. I am not the one.
He carried his phone and dailed someone very important whom I also respect.
He told the person, why is Hadiza harassing my brother now. The guy replied, he was on speaker, Godwin you said that man is troubling you in Edo State.
Hadiza is fighting your battle for you, are you not the one who sent her or have you changed your mind? He quickly switched off the phone.
I said Godwin, I have caught you, you are the one who caused this and you are going to repair it for me.
The common friends that were there included Anselm Ojezua, Barr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, former NBA President, my friend, Peter Okundaye, was there, Chief Oseni Elamah was there and a few others. You can call any of this people. I don’t lie. He now told me and said on Tuesday, we will see in Abuja. I never saw him.
After that, I was called in NNPC. I was called by the Adhoc Committee on Pipeline Security and Oil theft to make a presentation.
The night before that presentation I went to my brother, I said I did not know you were the Chairman of this Sub-Committee in The Governor’s Forum. He said no problem, you have nothing to fear just come make your presentation and that will be it. The next day, the Oil Majors were there, Shell was there, NNPC Management was there, AITEO was there different people were there.
The industry was complete. I went with Chief Ayiri Emami. I went with him so he could talk about how we have been managing the Community since our operations covered his community.
He does not work for me, but he was there. That day to the admiration of everyone that wa there, I presented flawlessly.
The only question was from my brother, he said how are you paid, what is your contract like?
Who asked the question?
The governor, he is the chairman. I said Your Excellency NNPC has my full dossier, they have the payment terms and legal have my contract.
There is huge network of pipelines in this country and I was only handling four- Escravos to Warri, Bonny to Port Harcourt, just four. There are many, you have the Trans-national lines where losses are being recorded.