By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Wahab Abdulah, Dapo Akinrefon, Simon Ebegbulem & Kunle Kalejaiye
THE second and final debate among the major candidates in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Edo State was held last night with the incumbent, Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP rival Charles Airhiavbere locked in a feisty debate that was characterized by personal attacks.
The climax of the exchange came towards the end of the debate as Comrade Oshiomhole responded to allegations of building a N10 billion country home when he dared his PDP rival not to provoke him into releasing what he claimed to be details of how he, Airhiavbere was allegedly forced out of the army and detained for three months prior to retirement.
The third candidate in the debate, Chief Solomon Edebiri, of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP was largely calm and was often left out in the exchanges that dotted the brickbats between Oshiomhole and the PDP candidate. Edebiri repeatedly deployed his experience in business and industry to respond to many of the issues raised bothering on the economy and industralisation of the state.
The debate organized by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group, NEDG, immediately deviated from the peaceful nature which it started when the three candidates were asked to shake or hug one another as Oshiomhole spiritedly fought off persistent challenges by his rival to deflate his achievements in office. Twice during the nearly three-hour debate, Oshiomhole was indeed forced to ask the debate moderator to remind him of the questions asked as he was lost in the track of responding to allegations raised by his PDP rival.
Airhiavbere consistently sought to expose what he claimed as the inadequacies of the incumbent repeatedly citing the lack of due process in the award of contracts, high level taxation and increase in school fees. As he attacked, Oshiomhole responded sometimes making mockery of his main challenger. Asked how he would boost the economy of the state, Airhiavbere took umbrage at what he said was the Oshiomhole government’s insensitivity in demolition of residential buildings saying that such actions put the citizenry in a state of discomfort to contribute to the economy.
“In modern day world before you bring down peoples houses you must have alternatives for them,” the PDP candidate charged. But responding, Oshiomhole flaunted his administration’s record in linking the rural economy to the urban economy as his major platform in boosting the economy base of the state. “We have been able to reconnect the rural economy to the urban economy. Last year we made available N1 billion which we shared to actual farmers in addition to distribution of fertilizers. We have sunk over 100 boreholes,” the governor said as he relayed his achievements in infrastructure and economic empowerment.
Award of contracts
But Airhaivbere again and again faulted the award of contracts as skewed in favour of insiders in the Oshiomhole government. To that, the governor chided him saying that Airhiavbere was still in the army and would not have followed the tenders unless according to him, he Airhiavbere was looking out for tenders as a serving officer. “He keeps on talking about advertising but he was at the army at that time I don’t know what time he had to look out for tenders,” Oshiomhole said.
Airhiavbere sought again and again to portray the Oshiomhole government as peopled with former members of the PDP who he said were the wrong men in the PDP. “Those that were in the old PDP have moved over to the ACN to continue what they are doing and a child that is thirteen years has not seen anything,” Airhiavbere said.
The governor was quick to admit that the ACN in the state had sprinkling of former members of the PDP, but then challenged his rival to the fact that the same group of leaders have continued to lead the PDO. “What matters is leadership, if good men work under a robber over time they will become robbers. We have no apologies that people have left the PDP and Edo State was almost a one party state at one time. You saw their rally at the stadium all the old men were there,” the governor noted as he affirmed that the young men crying for change were fully with him.
“We are happy that you are not proud of your past,” Oshiomhole told the PDP candidate. “PDP keeps referring to itself as new PDP, what is new in the PDP when all the old men are still there. We are proud of our past that is why we are ACN, not new ACN.”
“Edo people are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel and from the ashes of the old PDP we are building a new Edo State,” the governor added. Airhiavbere attacked Governor Oshiomhole over his failure to conduct local government election alleging that he has continued to defy the provisions of the law and the constitution in sustaining appointed local government officials. “A situation where in three years local government elections have not been conducted. A situation where you will be the one to handpick the senators, we will not allow that,” the PDP candidate charged.
A sort of drama played out when the three candidates were asked on how they would handle local government funds. Edebiri in his response said that “The local government funds should go straight to the local government, they should have no business with the state.” When Airhiavbere took his turn to attack Oshiomhole without addressing the question, the governor flayed the PDP candidate for not answering the question saying
“My brother in the PDP did not answer the question,” as he alleged that the law used in appointing local government caretaker officers was approved by the PDP dominated House of Assembly and implemented twice by PDP governors.
On how he is utilizing local government funds, the governor said: “The practice I think has been under the PDP that the state government spends the money on behalf of the local government. But now we insist that local governments (get their money) we never spend local government money and will never do.” As Oshiomhole teased Airhiavbere about his role in the army and in the finance corps noting repeatedly that funds for military hospitals were mismanaged alongside pension funds for soldiers, Airhiavbere responded that he would not join issues with the military saying he was not the Army Paymaster and that he retired from the army with honour. “I trained leaders at the NIPSS, I know what is it to lead.”
Extension of service
He said that there were attempts to extend his service in the army on account of his usefulness but he politely declined. Oshiomhole was not pleased with Airhiavbere’s depiction of the students of the Ambrose Alli University, AAU when he said “If you train children like goats they will come out like goats.”
Responding to the allegation published on online media that he is building a N10 billion mansion in his village, the incumbent fired back: “That is not all that they have said, they even claimed that I have a big estate in Benin city and another one in Lagos. Only God knows where they get their information from. In 1991, I completed a family building, it is part of our tradition in this part of the world that you don’t forget your place of birth. I had a house nine years before I became the NLC president.”
“What I am doing in my village is a four bedroom house which I intend to live when I leave government I have not started building a house because I am a governor. In my assets declaration, I did declare all my assets, where they are and how I acquired them.”
“So, it is up to the PDP that is spreading this information to tell me how an uncompleted building, even the photograph shows that they have not completed the roofing, the scaffolding is made up of bamboo. How can that four bedroom become N10 billion? And I don’t think that is what I will want to waste my time on.” Oshiomhole said that the PDP candidate, however, would not have that manner of testimony saying that he had information of how Airhiavbere was forced out of the army after a three month detention.
Giving his testimony of service to labour and the country, Oshiomhole added: “I served as the NLC president for eight years, I was the longest serving NLC president. All my predecessors served for six years. I was the first to serve for eight years. No one has made that mark so far. Some of us denied ourselves of comfort, we lived on our pedigree. I have made my name around the world. I am not a saint, but a decent human being.”