BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Chief David Edebiri is the Esogban of Benin Kingdom. He is one of those involved in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. The Esogban, fondly called the Oracle of Benin Kingdom, in this interview, predicts doom for those against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to him, a group called Association of Non-Partisan Voters of Nigeria will be used to neutralize the Third Force, being put together by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to stop the re-election of Buhari. He declares that the immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, is the best man for the national chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress, APC. On his latest book he claims to have written to put the history of Benin Kingdom straight, Edebiri says the Oba of Benin is supreme.
You recently launched a book that has to do with the Ogiemien family in Benin Kingdom. What motivated you to do that?
One is to educate young people who were told that their forebears were once kings. Two is to bring the facts to Benin people who want to be on the right side of history that the titles a section of the Ogiamien family is peddling do not exist in our system. Nobody has heard about Utata Benin nation or Imperial Majesty Ogiamien Ogiso Utata Benin nation. I did the needful to explain all these facts and also to make sure that the present and future generations of Benin people know exactly the position of the title of Ogiamien in our history and culture. On the issue of mock battle involving the Ogiamien and the Oba, after Ogiamien’s resistance failed – he resisted the 5th Oba (Ewedor) in the present dynasty – Ewedor decided to move his palace from Usama to the city centre. Ogiamien was defeated.
His general was killed in action. So the man had no option but to settle for a chieftain title in the palace of the Oba of Benin and none of the protagonists of this new philosophy of Ogiamien being a king can dispute that. The man knew that there could not be two kings in the kingdom. So we tried to make them understand that our own type of monarchy is not the one that condones rival power, it is supreme. It is monolithic monarchy and the people, from time immemorial, have learnt to put up with the situation and we are comfortable with it. We have operated it for quite a long time and there have been no problems. So the claim about Ogiamien being a king is balderdash. Many of those boys talking do not even know their root. But, in that book, I have been able to tell them their root.
Eholor Nire, one of the minor Uzamas, is the father of the man, Evian, and Evian is the father of the man, Erebor, who was the first Ogiamien. That is a line of chieftaincy and not that of the Oba. I have intervened in such matters in the past. Since 2003 when I voluntarily stepped out of partisan politics, I have given the assignment to myself to document our history and culture. I have also written about Nigeria and politics because I was one of those in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence.
How do you assess the Buhari administration as we head to 2019?
I am not a partisan politician but whenever we see things going wrong we will always come out to speak. But I think they are criticizing Buhari because he is the President. Many of the critics are people who either have issues with the EFCC or they are potential candidates for EFCC investigation. So whatever they can do to abort the war on corruption they will do to make sure that Buhari gets out of the way. Otherwise there was a government in this country before Buhari. That government benefitted from high crude oil price. Meanwhile the money that was voted for arms and ammunition to curtail the activities of Boko Haram was brazenly used for political activities. None of these critics of Buhari has come out to condemn that government. None of them has come out to praise Buhari for recovering looted funds.
I do not see how Buhari would have been the cause of our ills in this country. For 16 years, PDP was in control of the affairs of this country; it was during this period that Nigeria witnessed the greatest plunder of our treasury. Buhari came into office and had three battles to fight: insecurity, Boko Haram; the economy being at its lowest ebb, and corruption. And suddenly, the man had health challenges. I want to say that in spite of the challenges, Buhari has done well on the issue of security. He has fought Boko Haram to a standstill; what remains now are scattered members of the sect committing one crime or the other.
On the economy, we can see how government under Buhari worked to bring the economy back from recession. Today the foreign reserve is blossoming. On the issue of war against corruption, the government started very well. But it has many obstacles on its way. To begin with, members of Buhari’s own party constituted a huge impediment to the battle against corruption, collaborating with some PDP members; they have, at every turn, tried to sabotage the effort of government. But I think, so far, Buhari has performed credibly on the issue of corruption.
I read some people who want to be President; their first manifesto is that when they get there they will probe Buhari. That is good. But I have said this in the past that certain people who are eager to be President are not destined to hold that position. So if the question of probing Buhari is the main focus of their presidency, they should forget about it because they can never be President. Nigerians will never trust such people because they have been dancing left, right and centre all in a bid to become President. All the National Assembly can do is to cooperate with the President so that he can complete his second term; after that, other people can come up and contest.
The only area I feel the Buhari administration has not done well is the area of power. The administration has failed Nigerians who had hoped that regular power will come with the coming to power of the APC. I want to urge the President to do all is within his power to improve electricity supply in the country before the 2019 general elections. It is inconceivable how a country can make progress economically without regular supply of power.
Two Edo sons, Comrade Oshiomhole and Chief Odigie-Oyegun, are battling for the chairmanship of the APC. How do you see the situation?
I have been in contact with some of the players. We don’t want the two of them to fight. It is known to everybody that Oshiomhole will bring great value to the APC if he becomes the National Chairman. He has a strong political base at home. Besides, people should recall that Oshiomhole was the first opposition governor that took then ruling PDP head on and he succeeded in turning what used to be a one-party state to an APC state. I do not need to be a card-carrying member to know that the APC has 95 per cent support in Edo because of Oshiomhole.
So it is not right for anyone who knows that he is not very strong or not even strong at his base to go to Abuja and start fighting for a position that ordinarily he does not merit. When you are vulnerable at home, you must be very careful about how you behave outside. Chief Odigie Oyegun has done his best as pioneer Chairman of the APC that was able to defeat an incumbent President; he has written his name in gold, so it is time to rest. I have no doubt in my mind that Oshiomhole will make a success of the venture having regards to his pedigree and what he has done in Edo. Oshiomhole should be given the chance to lead the APC; he has all it takes to do the job. I think Oyegun should also listen to the voice and movement of his President and act like a gentleman that he is.
There is this Third Force former President Obasanjo is mobilizing to stop Buhari’s re-election. Do you think he will succeed?
Because of that threat, some of us are mobilizing to float Association of Non-Partisan Voters of Nigeria in support of Buhari’s re-election. Talks are being held across the country; that is a direct confrontation with the so-called Third Force. I want to say with all emphasis that my good friend Obasanjo did his best while in power, but his best was not enough for him to regard himself as Mandela was to South Africa. He is not the conscience of the nation. All the problems we are in today came in 1999 with his presidency when he descended on the country with 36 strange bedfellows called governors. Today, Obasanjo should go and check how many of these men are not discussing with the EFCC. All our problems started with Obasanjo.
We know that the Third Force will die a natural death. I am sure Obasanjo is not going to bring people from Mars or the moon to run the Third Force, they are going to be the same people who, one way of the other, have cases to answer. When he was in power, those who were tried for corruption were treated to mock trial. Those found guilty of stealing money were fined N500, 000 and let off the hook. There was nothing he did to checkmate those who served under him as governors; so I think he should tow the path of honour or we will disgrace him. He is playing God; he is not the conscience of the nation.
What is even more annoying is that the two former Presidents, Obasanjo and IBB, who have been writing letters to Buhari, both tried to elongate their tenures illegally. We know how much the country wasted on third term under Obasanjo. We know how much this country wasted when IBB was in power and tried to elongate his tenure. These are not the kind of elders to advise a government. All the killings we are talking about, if these people had nipped them in the bud, the killers would not have been there today. These are no herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes; herdsmen do not have problem with market people, so why will they go to the market to kill people and you call them herdsmen? Why should they go to the mosque and kill people? We thank God that we have a President that the world listens to, so they will help us to overcome. Buhari is doing well and I will be vindicated in 2019.