1. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Nigerian electorate will go to the poll on the 25th of February 2023, to elect the next president. DR TONY AZIEGBEMI, PDP state chairman, Edo State assesses his party’s chances at the forthcoming national and state elections in this interview conducted by TELIAT SULE and ONOSETALE OMOIKE, both from the Nigerian Observer. Excerpts:

Sir, kindly introduce yourself

I am Tony Aziegbemi and I am the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State.

What could you say about your party and what stands it out among other political parties in Edo State?

Well, for us in PDP, we have been very strategic in all that we are doing. We are aware of the sufferings of Nigerians and that include Edolites. You don’t need to tell anyone that what the APC government has done to the Nigerian psyche is so bad. We have never had it this bad in this country.

If not for the vision of our Governor Godwin Obaseki, Edolites would have had it worse than what they are feeling now. This is the only state in this country that has increased its minimum wage; it is the only state that pays the salaries of workers on the 26th of every month, and has recently approved over a billion naira for pensioners.

The governor is looking at developing the intangible assets of the state. There is a big difference between tangible and intangible assets. The intangible assets that the governor is developing will be there after him. It is not a question of brick and mortar, there are things you will not see but when the results start to come out, it will be unbelievable for the state.

The governor is working towards having a situation where this state will have no need to be running to Abuja every month to collect monthly allocation. Look at the Ossiomo Power Plant, Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, the Edo Tech Park, EdoBEST education system, and look at the developments in the agricultural sector, where over a hundred thousand hectares have been earmarked for oil palm production.

All these are projects that we may not see their benefits now, but when he has left office, that is when a lot of these developments will start bearing fruits and Edo people will know that this PDP administration in Edo State under Governor Godwin Obaseki is leading us well. That is why we as Edo people have to pay him back by voting PDP in the presidential, senatorial and House Representatives election so as to strengthen his hand in negotiating for more developmental projects for Edo State.

That is why we are encouraging Edo people to vote for PDP because it is only the PDP that has done it before that can do it again. This country had the largest economy in 2015 when President Jonathan was handing over to this APC led administration. The GDP of this country was about $500 billion dollars, as we speak the GDP is much lower in value. The naira-dollar exchange rate was about N180 – N200 to a dollar but today it closer to N800.
The prices of all goods have gone up, Nigerians are suffering and I would enjoin Edo people to please vote PDP all the way when they are handed ballot papers in the coming elections because if we do that then there is hope that we will be lifted out of this suffering that APC government has led us into.

I would like you to assess your campaign thus far for the presidential election. What have you done differently this time?

I think you would agree that we have seen massive crowd in every state where Atiku Abubakar has gone to. I was with him in Oyo, Delta and Kwara and the support was massive. Nigerians know; they can feel it; they can see it that Atiku Abubakar is the only one that can alleviate their suffering.
Secondly, if you notice Atiku Abubakar doesn’t indulge in name calling. He is telling Nigerians I am going to earmark N10billion for youth development. He has said he will devolve more powers to the states and local government councils. He has said he is not against state policing, and has said so many things that Nigerians can understand and say yes, this is one of us. Unlike the other parties where its about reading out figures and ideas that are incoherent, comparing us to Bangladesh, Singapore, South Korea, places that have nothing to do with us, that we are not linked to in anyway be it culturally, economically or ideologically.

It is very clear, the difference between us and them and we are going to be different going forward. We will not condescend to the level of calling names or demeaning people. Nigerians are very intelligent people and they will know that it is only Atiku Abubakar that can help us out of these struggles.

So, what aspects of the economy will your party prioritize if it wins that will have positive impact on Nigerians?

The PDP is a party that has empathy for Nigerians. We know that Nigerians are suffering; we feel it, we see it, so the first thing Atiku Abubakar will do is to try and unify the country. The country is so divided and we cannot build an economy when everyone is suspicious of one another. Everyone must come together as Nigerians and Atiku Abubakar will bridge the gap and bring us together.

Again, what will make people believe in his administration is the nature of the appointments he will make in his first month in office. You cannot say we are one when all the heads of all the security apparatuses in the country are from one region of the country, you can’t do that and convince me that we are one.

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From Atiku Abubakar’s appointments, you will know that this man wants to unify us. Once we can get a sense of unity among us at the early stage of his regime, the devolution of powers to the states to get them busy will be easier and then development will follow. We do not have a federal citizen; everyone is a citizen of a state. Devolve power to the states, let the states handle more affairs and from there everything will start taking shape and Nigerians will start seeing positive change. You will not believe what harmony and unity can do to the economy of a country. Once everybody says “okay, this is our leader, let’s follow him,” the kind of enthusiasm and creativity that would unleash on the system will be unimaginable.

In Edo State, you are vying for seats at the national and state house of assembly elections. What stands your candidates out from the crowd?

You know it is clear that you cannot compare apples with oranges. You cannot compare for instance our Edo South Senatorial candidate, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen with any of the candidates from the other political parties if you put them on a scale. The scale would even break because of the weight of Matthew Iduoriyekemwen. Same way you can’t compare our senatorial candidate Senator Clifford Odia in Edo Central to the persons contesting against him in the other parties.

Or comparing the Edo North candidate, Senator Alimekhena who has been there for two terms, who knows the workings of the senate to Oshiomhole who was given a chance to be the national chairman of a political party and he couldn’t handle it. I think Edo North people know it is better to stick with Senator Alimekhena who has being there, who doesn’t need to learn the ropes of the Senate and who has constantly delivered for the people of the Edo North.

There is no local government in Edo North that Senator Alimekhena has not impacted positively. So, I expect the PDP to prevail in these elections, with all the governor and deputy governor have done in Edo North, you don’t expect the people to vote a cantankerous character like Oshiomhole to go to senate.

How do you rate the performance of INEC thus far: the preparations, distribution of non-sensitive materials and engagements between INEC and political parties?

For us in the PDP, we expect INEC to be up and doing. The last engagement we had with them they invited political parties to brief them on the timelines of the things they were doing. Recently, the national headquarters gave the political parties a certified copy of the voters’ register. As far as we are concerned in Edo, we don’t have any issue with INEC as we expect them to be efficient and neutral. INEC said they have received all the funds and support they needed to do their job without interference.

We are all aware that nationally, there still exists some division within your party at this point in time. We are talking about the Wike camp and those who are with him. Are you confident in your chances in the presidential election bearing in mind that these issues have not been resolved?

As a party man, I would have preferred that we didn’t have that division. It would have been better if we didn’t have that division. But as a human being, you must give a thought to the fact that you can have division. If you notice, the division has not had the kind of negativity that would affect the party.

The party has gone round the states that you would have thought the effects of the negative sentiment would have been more. If anything, I think it is even making the PDP stronger because people see that in the PDP the power reigns with the people and not with a group of individuals and that is why it is called the Peoples Democratic Party.

That is why you can see that the negative impact the five governors are making is not that much because the power does not reside with them. The power is with the people, the ordinary Nigerians, that is where the power is. So, as much as I wouldn’t have wanted the division, I think the national chairman of the party needs to be commended. He has composed himself so well in the face of the humiliation and insult that have been meted out. He has kept his calm, carrying our presidential candidate to all the states and the message has always been “Please Nigerians, consider the PDP. We have done it before and we will do it again.” This internal division you are seeing we will get over it before the election.

Edo State is one of the PDP strongholds, but we are now seeing the emergence of a third force. Do you think it would have any effect on your chances in the coming elections?

Politics is about human beings. Therefore, if you don’t have human beings standing for you, it will be difficult. There are 4,519 polling units in Edo State. I would be surprise if the so-called third force you are referring to has agents in all the polling units in Edo State. If they do, I would clap for them. If you don’t have polling agents in half of these units, then, how do you intend to win. We acknowledged that there is a third force but we don’t see them as a threat in Edo State because they don’t have the capacity. Of course, they would make some noise in the urban areas like Benin city, but the urban areas in Edo constitute about twenty percent of the electorate. The remaining eighty percent reside in the rural areas and they don’t have the capacity to be there and show their presence.

What’s your parting word for the Edo electorate as the election approaches?

First of all, pick up your PVC. Secondly, the governor has assured that there will be peace in the state before, during and after the elections. Nobody will be intimidated. Just pick your PVC, locate your polling unit and vote. We expect Edo people as they are being given those three ballot papers on the 25th February to vote PDP all the way. Remember, their governor has done a lot for the state and is prepared to do more for the state. Edo people have to strengthen his hand to negotiate for more development for Edo people from the PDP federal government led by Atiku Abubakar when he wins.