By Derinsola Simeon
Electoral debates are oftentimes about gauging which candidate connects more with voters while presenting policy alternatives to undecided voters. In the end, debates are potential stimulants to the strengths or weaknesses of a candidate.
Last Sunday evening, Nigerians were treated to an intense two-hour Channels Television-organised debate between Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two leading contenders in the Saturday, September 19 Edo State governorship election. Both men squared off in what was a grudge contest more or less considering the volatility of their electioneering so far.
Not surprisingly, Ize-Iyamu, whose ‘SIMPLE Agenda’ manifesto has caught on like wildfire in the state and beyond, was at his spontaneous and eloquent best. No falsity escaped him. He was cool and composed, comfortable and confident in front of television cameras and a handful of supporters of both parties. He came away with some of the most memorable moments of the heated debate.
Obaseki got off on a wrong footing. Not a few people recall that his claims to political fame and fortune was as Chairman – from 2009 to 2016 – of the Edo State Economic and Strategy Team under the administration of former Governor Adams Oshiomole before he was elected governor.
It, therefore, came as a crippling shock when, tackled on the huge debt profile of the state, Governor Obaseki blamed Oshiomhole saying, “What happened is that my predecessor in office borrowed recklessly and the federal government had to restructure all the debts that we have taken before I came into office. These included a whole series of bank borrowings, borrowing to pay salaries.
“So, the federal government restructured outstanding obligations to Edo State, to the tune of almost N30 billion. That was what was responsible for adding to the debt stock, not borrowings from this administration.” He also alleged that the immediate past government owed contractors about N70 billion, and pegged the total debt owed by the state at N120 billion.
Silence enveloped the hall as the brows of guests were furrowed in disgust and disbelief. But Ize-Iyamu, who didn’t serve in the administration questioned the integrity of Obaseki, saying, “It is scandalous to attribute the huge debt to a predecessor that you were the Chief Economic Adviser to. Sometimes you seem to forget the role you played in the past government.” That succinct response further reinforced the public’s positive perceptions about Ize-Iyamu.
Another zinger moment was when Obaseki promised to open up the state to endless possibilities, noting that he had created 157,000 jobs so far. At the outset, he said, “I promised to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs within four years. Just before COVID-19, we have created both direct and indirect jobs for Edo people as much as 157,000 jobs.”
He claimed the figures were verifiable via third-party sources such as the National Bureau of Statistics and noted that government’s role was not to directly create jobs but to leverage and create an enabling environment for the private sector.
However, Ize-Iyamu pointedly asked him: “Where are the Jobs?” Facing the audience, he said, “I am sure he is not going to misplace the appointments he is making now as jobs. I know that in the past one month, he has appointed over 2,000 people as SSAs on social media and the rest of them. Those are not jobs. When you say you have created jobs, in what area? We know for example that there is a glaring vacancy in the teaching profession and every school we went to, they practically had no teacher.”
The APC candidate was not done. “Eight of 10 graduates in Edo State don’t have jobs. There is unemployment in the state. The governor was just releasing fake statistics. The little jobs available were given to outsiders. My fellow contestant is not worried about the brain drain in the medical sector.
“This is, according to him, because he wants to do e-diagnostics. Mr Obaseki did not know of the Stella Obasanjo Hospital, which was built over 12 years ago. So, what was he doing when he was in government? He does not even know what is happening in the state.
“I am shocked that the state’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has been closed. The danger is that we will be going outside our state to look for nurses to help our mothers in labour. The government has spent around N16 billion to train teachers, but how has this improved education in the state?”
A contrite Obaseki admitted that there were challenges in the area of employment as, “Human capital development is one of the areas that the government has accomplished a lot. Jobs came from the way the government addressed the problem by creating a sense of purpose to encourage the private sector to participate.”
If the governor thought that he could smooth-talk his way out of his obvious ineptitude and failure, Ize-Iyamu came prepared to point them all out to the world. Insecurity and criminality are rife in Edo State yet, Obaseki said: “What we have done to improve the security architecture was to use technology by creating hi-breed security architecture.”
With all guns blazing, Ize-Iyamu said, “The security challenges in Edo have reached an alarming proportion. The only thing Governor Obaseki increased is security vote but there has been no investment in security. Our state is one of the few in the country with no advanced technology for fighting security. If he had invested in security, the issue of insecurity would have been an issue of the past in Edo State. We can combat human trafficking if we make the home environment more conducive and curb the rural to urban drift. There are laws in place and the federal government is doing a lot to reduce it.
“Our security vehicles cannot fight security. I will introduce tracker and drones to tackle crimes. The personnel deployed in our state to combating insecurity will complement an organised state police but we must work with the federal government and every other stakeholder. Our people must feel safe at all times. Kidnapping is high in the state. We are not showing enough concern. If I were governor, I would have acted on veritable intelligence and mobilised security agencies to flush them out of the forests around Okada-Ofosu road.”
The moderator asked if the Edo Civil Service was over-bloated and what would be done to cut down on the workforce, to which Obaseki said, “The problem is that it is not over-bloated, it is just aged. We need to bring in more people to work for the government; smarter people and we need to train them.”
Reacting, Ize-Iyamu said, “I think the model that the governor has tried to adopt is to reduce the workforce to the barest minimum but unfortunately, whatever savings he thinks he is making, is not seen in capital projects.”
Similarly, Ize-Iyamu accused the governor of excessive borrowing for agriculture without any project to show for it. “In the agricultural sector, the loan that the governor has collected is staggering. He (Obaseki) has collected over N75billion in debts. What did he do with them? All his promises remain unfulfilled although he came in when there was a high windfall in Edo.”
Ize-Iyamu said further that the N2 billion the state invested in Sobe Farm by partnering Saro farms has not yielded any meaningful result, adding, “The Agenegbode Rice Project, N5billion went down the drain. The oil-palm project, he collected N69 billion from the CBN and the money has been shared to cronies.
“No Edo person has benefited from that money. The governor made what I might call a very lame attempt and he failed completely and we are in a very sorry state.” Obaseki faulted the figure but failed to mention the actual amount he spent.
What would have been a Eureka moment for the governor was when the authenticity of his university degree was questioned and he responded thus: “I studied in the Faculty of Arts and the university has said I graduated from the institution. It is very sad that in a country like Nigeria, some people who do not have the qualifications have the effrontery to challenge the qualification of those who went to proper schools. That is a very sad situation that we have found ourselves.”
But Ize-Iyamu fired back. “We do not doubt that you attended the university. The issue is that you failed school certificate. You had no English and Maths, which will make it difficult to enrol for A-Level. And if you got A-Level, why is it that you’ve not been able to present the A-Level, where is the result? You had only three credits without Mathematics and English. That is a moral question. A lot of people are looking up to you as a governor and as a leader.
“Your disqualification by the APC arose from the information that your party now, the PDP, provided, because the PDP, when I was contesting against you (in 2016) said you have no results. Why have you not answered the question? Where is your result?”
Obaseki must have wished he could end the debate right there and then. And it ended ignominiously for him.
Days after the debate, Ize-Iyamu has been receiving commendations in torrents from far and near for his sterling showing. Noteworthy, Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano State, said, “What happened during the debate organised by Channels Television and other stakeholders between Ize-Iyamu and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Godwin Obaseki, shows that ours is an issue-based process.
In all the areas discussed, it appears to all that the APC is ready to take Edo State to higher levels. Our outlined programmes in the areas of security, education, health and others show that our party is determined to better the living condition of Edo people.”
Ganduje, who is Chairman of the APC Gubernatorial Election Council, said, “Looking at the trend and manner in which the debate went, it appears to all that APC is in top gear and determined to win the Saturday election and Edo State and its people will be saved from the clutches of underdevelopment and retardation.”
*Simeon, a graduate of communication studies, wrote from Benin