His name may not have been ringing bells as politicians jostling to succeed Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State intensified their campaigns for that purpose. Indeed it was not until recently that Chris Aigbovbiosakueku Ogiemwonyi cranked up his political machinery and stormed the campaign trail to sell his candidacy to delegates in the various zones and wards in the state.
The former Minister of Works (state) and retired Group Executive Director of the NNPC, says that as a law-abiding party man, he decided not to jump the gun but chose this time to kick-start his campaign following an earlier appeal by the governor.
The All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftain who is reportedly ranked among the political first eleven in Edo State, is convinced that he remains the best candidate to take over from Oshiomhole. And after assessing his chances in the up-coming June primaries, he had declared that he is confident of picking the APC ticket, adding that when the chips are down his records of outstanding performance in the public service will speak for him.
He also said he will not be swayed by distractions and insinuations bordering on his marital life, alleged corruption-tainted past and the possible imposition of an anointed or hand-picked candidate. Excerpts:
The campaigns by politicians jostling to succeed Governor Adams Oshiomhole appear to be getting more frenzied by the day. And the impression in some quarters is that you are yet to fully get into the fray, an indication that you are a late starter. Why is that so?
I am never late; by my character I am always on time. But in this particular case, there was a superior directive asking that all aspirants give time to the governor to carry out his statutory responsibilities in terms of governance. So, after the elections of 2015, in May, we were all invited to Government House where the governor pleaded with the aspirants not to heat up the polity and make the environment inconducive for him to work. In compliance with that, I shut down my office and subsequently went back to my love, which is engineering consulting. I waited. I remember when he said during his 7th anniversary that he would make a statement. But those are history now, and since the big boss gave that directive, I have complied. And I think this is the appropriate time to go to the field, that is why yesterday (March 15, 2016), I commenced my real consultations with the people of Owan West, Owan East and Akoko-Edo and today (March 16) I will be visiting our people in Etsako.
How do you rate your consultation with the delegates in the areas you have visited? Are you confident that the warm welcome they reportedly accorded you will translate to votes during the APC governorship primaries in the state?
From what happened (during the visit), I give thanks to God; it is not my making but it is the way God decreed it. That was my first time of getting to Igarra and my triumphant entry into Igarra is something I will not forget quickly; the way we were received at Sabogida-Ora, Afuze all these I owe to my creator who gave me life.
It’s a humbling experience that reawakens in me the desire to stick to my core values of humility, hard work, respect to fellow human beings, love and help when you are placed in a top position just like when I was at NNPC, at NAPPIMS. I marked a man at Igarra who said even as a minister I helped. All these I have forgotten but it keeps on reverberating. ‘Oh, you helped me when you were in either NAPPIMS or NPDC or NGC or even as Minister’.
At a point, I was almost crying. I thanked God that what I sowed, I am reaping. I left NAPPIMS in 2003, almost 13 years ago; people are telling me ‘you did this or that for me’. The lessons from these is whichever position you are placed, render service to your people and that is what I advise the younger ones who are now holding public offices; don’t neglect your people because a time like this will come when your people will score you and what I saw yesterday is like giving a man eight or nine over ten.
But there are complaints in some quarters that the contract for the Benin-Abraka road construction which was awarded when you were Minister of Works for State was abandoned. And that the contract for Benin-Ofosu road which was awarded under your stewardship was not completed. Your reaction?
Ogiemwonyi Ogiemwonyi Life is like that. While some are saying you are on a positive path, others who are a bit negative will start projecting negative thoughts. Some people cannot imagine a man who went through the public service for 34 years and served one year as a minister will live above board; it’s not something too common in Nigeria. Now on the Benin-Abraka road, everything about my involvement is purely political.
The much I knew about that road is that I accompanied the then Minister of Niger Delta, my brother, Elder Peter Orubebe to flag off that road. As the only Minister then, though I was a Minister of State, I was the only minister from Edo State during the last year of President Jonathan, and it is customary, when there is a major project like that in your constituency, you accompanied the minister coming to flag it off.
However, I was equally there in Council the day that contract was awarded to RCC and it was something to last for about three years. The first one year we were in office, it was funded to the tune of about N10b and I left after one year. The second year and the third year, if they were not funded and we know in Nigeria there is paucity of funds. Why are people dragging me into it? The signboard of the commencement of the project at Idogbo is so clear: “This contract was awarded by Ministry of Niger Delta”.
I was junior minister in the ministry of works. On the Benin-Ofosu, again it was awarded before Daggash and myself came in as a Minister. But I made a promise to the Benin people that in one year we would be Ministers, me and Daggash, the Ministry of Works released N98 billion out of the over N350b. If you divide N98b by 36 states in Nigeria, every state should get between N2b to N3b on the average.
However, because I am from Edo State, I had to lobby for the release excess fund to the tune of about between N9b to N10b that one year I was a Minister to RCC to accomplish the promise they made to carry out a full reconstruction of the Benin-Ofosu highway and thereafter did some palliatives between Ofosu and Ore. It is on record that that was what we did.
Some of your critics, including your fellow aspirants, have continued to make references to your marital status, raising questions over it and arguing that if you cannot manage your home you cannot be trusted to be able to manage a state. What do you have to say to that?
I try not to discuss my family life in public but now these issues are in contest. I tell you one thing: my family records are very straight. I remember I left UNIBEN at 24 in 1974, and in 1976 after my NYSC I got married at 25. And I tell you, today my first child is celebrating her 40th birthday April 11, that is next month.
I will be 65 years this month but my first child would be 40 years old next month; my son is 38 years old. I have two other beautiful girls who are in their 30s. As at today, I have a grand-daughter who is 15 years old, that is my first grandchild. I have a grandson who is eight years old. These are records. They are there and today we have no control about what happens to us. True, I lost my first wife, my first love, a beautiful and wonderful lady. I got married to her a month after my youth service; I think November 1976.
We married, she gave me four beautiful kids, she died of cancer in 1994. I mourned her for six to seven years; she was really my wonderful wife, she was good to me. Out of respect for her, I vowed I was not going to remarry, that was until her mother put pressure on me and said ‘my son, you can’t stay alone’. So after six years I remarried, today I am happily married, my wife is Lady Joy Ogiemwonyi, a beautiful lady, a strong believer in the faith and she equally gave me a beautiful daughter, Nosa.
So when people talk about what they don’t know, I keep on praying for all the aspirants. I don’t want to talk about their family lives, they have their problems but God has been faithful to me and I keep on giving Him thanks. I will not pay evil for evil but I’m praying for them that we should show love to each other.
I am sure there are many people who will want to know what happened between you and Stella Oduah?
For Stella Oduah, again this is my family life. I met her, you know, men, we will always stray. The truth was that the time I got to Lagos in 1999, Joy my wife was a student, was just finishing from the university and I met Stella, a pretty lady. We were friends and had a relationship that didn’t go too far.
I think I saw Stella last in June 2011. But I keep on praying for her because she has a child for me; I pray for her every time, there is no animosity, we are friends. As a Christian I have no enemies, I wish her well. She is in the Senate now, I am proud of her.
I asked that God will grant her her heart desires. Some marriages succeed, some fail, the relationship just faded and we became incompatible, that is all.
Back to the governorship race, some people claim that Governor Oshiomhole has possibly anointed a candidate to succeed him and that there are pressures on the other aspirants to step aside for this favoured candidate. How does that make you feel?
Nigerians do so much of rumour mongering. I have known the Comrade-Governor for a long time. Let me tell you, I was with this man three weeks ago, we sat on the same sofa, he didn’t tell me, Chris, step down for anybody. We talked, we are friends and brothers. I respect him as a governor, I respect people but I don’t fear anybody. I respect Comrade Governor, we sat, we discussed.
I went to him and said, ‘Your Excellency, I heard you have a preference for somebody which is allowed’ (if you have four, five or six kids, you have a preferred child though you don’t show it to the others. I asked the Governor: ‘I heard you have a preferred candidate and he said yes Chris’. I said why don’t you make me equally your second preferred candidate, he told me he would consider it. This is pure politics.
The man has the right to have a preferred candidate; yes all I did was just to go to him and plead my cause to him, we have been friends since 2007, that he should equally check me out, try me, don’t just have one but two preferred candidates. He said he is considering it and as I am here now campaigning, I am sure he is watching me, he is listening and I will never speak ill of the governor because he has done well and we are brothers.
When I heard that word ‘anointed’, I never believed it and I don’t want to believe it because Comrade Oshiomhole popularised the one-man-one vote mantra. Before his coming, the issue of godfatherism was in vogue in Edo State. He fought against it. I think it will be too early for him to change his dancing steps. He is dancing well now and I am sure he wants to dance well till November so that we will continue to praise his legacy when he is out of office.
Don’t forget people will not talk of him now until when he leaves office. So I pray for Oshiomhole everyday for him to leave a wonderful legacy and one of the legacies he should leave in this state is this one-man-one vote mantra and I pray he should be strengthened to ensure there is a free and fair primaries because that will be what will preserve the name Oshiomhole. I pray he will not derail, I pray he should be like a father to all the aspirants and let the best candidate emerge.
If you are nominated and elected as Governor of Edo State, what are the three key areas you are going to tackle in your first one year in office?
You know my background as a civil servant. I am so proud I went into the public service and later into government. I am now in politics. The question is what is my party, APC’s vision? I have studied our manifesto and the first priority in the manifesto is job creation. Our party at the centre harps on creating three million jobs in a year.
My first assignment, as my priority in Edo State where unemployment is at the region of 65% today, I will strive for job creation to take the youths out of the streets. So I will try to industrialise Edo State and as I am touring now we have carried out a feasibility study of the various natural resources in the LGAs and I am calling on my friends who are investors to come to Edo State.
Priority number one will be job creation and security; priority number two is education; I want to educate the people not just to have a degree but to educate their minds for them to be aware of who they are because once you are educated no one can undermine you.