‘’There are no ideological differences between the parties as far as the reality on the ground is concerned.’
The man comes across with the demeanour of one with an unquestionable good breeding as he does, with the enlightenment of his debonair background.
He is a scion of the Edozien royal clan of Asaba and his uncle is the present Asagba of Asaba, but Dr. Leroy Chuma Edozien is very much at ease with the gruffness of the downtown hoi-polloi, as he ia equally at home with the dash of the upper-crust society, into which he is born.
When you get even closer to him, all of your stereotypes of your regular, uptown ‘in’ people, are likely to be totally disrupted by the simplicity of a man whose eclectic tastes range from as far afield, as the rendition of the classical masters, to the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Bob Marley and the issues they raise.
The man is also as bookish as he parades an impressive array of certificates. A gynaecologist of several decades in practice, he also holds a doctorate degree in law and has authored professional works that have received wide acclaim. As a medico-legal expert, he has served in courts in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
Though his laurels are many, Dr. Edozien believes that his best laurels yet, would be earned right here, at home, if and when he is given the opportunity to serve his own people, right down to the grassroots. When, therefore, he threw his hat into the ring, as it were, to contest for the governorship of Delta State, under the All Progressives Congress, he was only following his heart. But many, who knew him well, felt a man like him didn’t fit that bill – not with the notorious “murky waters of Nigerian politics”.
Edozien thought differently. Like his favourite Bob Marley would sing, “Who’s gonna stay at home, when freedom fighters are fighting?” Someone must banish whatever fears and take the bull by the horn. The situation must be helped to change.
He took the plunge, but came clean out, almost as soon as he went in, to prepare for battle, for yet another day. Why would he pay so much money, just to buy the Nomination Form, alone? “I would sooner use all that money to assist the poor in my rural area,” he avered.
Dr, Edozien spoke further about his experiences, trying to get a nomination to contest for governorship of his state, under the platform of the APC:
THE PEOPLE’S EYE: You were one of the aspirants to the office of the Delta State governor, under the platform of the APC, then suddenly, you pulled out of the race, what happened?
EDOZIEN: Out of the blues, the party set a fee of N22.5 million for the gubernatorial nomination form. This was outrageously high in comparison with what other parties were charging and with fees from previous elections. It was also clear to me that the leadership of the party was determined to install Chief Great Ogboru as the flagbearer – he was in exclusive control of the party structure and the indirect, rather than direct option, was adopted for the primaries.
In the circumstances it would have been naivety to expect any outcome other than what the party leadership wanted. Further, paying that huge nomination fee would have been like pouring water into a basket. Aspirants who made silly money from politics and government contracts may spend money that way but not a politician who has only his or her hard-earned money to rely on.
TPE: You are also on record to have voiced your reservations about the amount of money a candidate was required to pay for the governorship Nomination Form of your party. Could you please elaborate on this issue?
Edozien: Yes, my reservations pertain not only to my personal political ambition but, more importantly, to the sustenance of genuine democracy. Such outrageous fees for nomination forms rule out many competent and committed aspirants. Anything that excludes genuine contenders from participating in elections is antidemocratic. And, as if the fees were not outrageous enough, many aspirants were treated abysmally at the primaries, too.
As the wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari, has said, it is disheartening that some aspirants found their names omitted on election day and some found that their opponents had been given automatic tickets. This should be condemned. High fees for nomination forms should be seen as part of the spectrum of impunity and imposition of favoured candidates. In other words, the high cost of nomination forms is intended to exclude competition and those who are not eliminated at this stage of purchasing nomination forms are eliminated further down the line before the favoured candidate’s name is submitted to the electoral commission.
TPE: What would you say you have picked up from your party politics within this short period and from the Nigerian political terrain, in general?
EDOZIEN: Not anything unexpected, really. We have always known that Nigerian politics is murky and dictated by the self-interests of politicians, rather than the overriding interests of the community. What is different is that, rather than just hearing of these issues, I have now personally experienced them.
TPE: Obviously, you met some problems on ground when you made your entry into politics — just like indeed in any other field of human endeavour. What were chief, among these problems and what solutions to them, would you proffer?
EDOZIEN: The chief problems include incompetent leadership, ill-informed followership and the mindset of underdevelopment. The solutions I proffer are encapsulated in my core message which is, NEW PATH: New Personality, New Approach to Politics, New Thinking and New Hope.
TPE: Let us talk about the widespread corruptive influence of money in Nigerian politics, generally. What do you think are the long-term effects of this influence on the lives of the people and the nation, vis-à-vis development?
EDOZIEN: The corruptive influence of money is pervasive at all levels of Nigerian politics. Party leaders expect aspirants to bring money to them. Party faithful expect aspirants to give them money and material benefits in exchange for their support. Money is used to plant fifth columnists, or to induce defections. Money is used to buy delegates votes at primaries. Vote-buying occurs even at polling booths.
The corruptive influence of money has been widely recognised in the current electioneering but it has been present for decades. I am aware that it was a substantial factor in the 1983 elections. So, many of the ills of our current political dispensation can be traced back to the decades-old, old enslavement to money. Clearly, there can be no level playing field and no genuine expression of democratic will, if money is the dominant factor.
It is regrettable that after all these years the voting public has not realised that vote-buying disenfranchises the masses. Once disenfranchised in this way the voter loses the moral authority to hold the politician accountable for performance in office. Aspirants who spend money in this way probably see it as an investment and would want to reap returns on their investment when voted into office.
I acknowledge that our people are poor and hungry but that accounts for only a fraction of ‘money politics’ – a lot of it occurs not because of hunger but because people place self-interest and immediate gratification above the national interest and legacy. In a nutshell, the long term effect is perpetuation of poor governance and under-development
TPE: Did you particularly notice any peculiarities to Delta APC politics? What were those, if you did notice any?
EDOZIEN: That estate is a microcosm of Nigeria. The shenanigans in data APC are essentially the same as those in PDP and most other political parties. There are no ideological differences between the parties as far as the reality on the ground is concerned. My hope is that at least one or two of the newly registered political parties will turn out to be different.
E: In a level playing field, what do you think were your chances of winning the APC’s nomination, then going on to finally win the governorship race?
EDOZIEN: In my view, I was the best of the APC aspirants in Delta State. I brought intellectual and technical competence to the table. I was the only aspirant without baggage from previous political or commercial dealings. I was the only aspirant who was self-sponsored and not beholden to any financial benefactor or godfather. I have a vision for the state and can be trusted to deliver and to engage with the grassroots. With all of these I should, without question, have very high chances of winning any party’s nomination, if there were a level playing field and then, of course, going on to win governorship race.
TPE: What are your alternatives to an oil and gas revenue-based economy?
EDOZIEN: Since the 1980s there have been cries for expansion of our non-oil exports but these have not been matched by any firm, consistent and sustained action on the part of government. In my view, the most viable alternative is agriculture, with the associated agro-business and this would be my major focus as Governor. We have the land, we have the human resources, but we have lacked the political will to resuscitate the agriculture sector which, prior to the oil boom, sustained our economy.
I have spoken about the agriculture value chain which we should be pursuing. I give credit to the current government and Minister of Agriculture for the efforts they are making to promote mechanisation and to the Central Bank, for the efforts to finance farmers. I do think, however, that more attention needs to be paid to implementation, so that we get value for money from the financial and other investments that have been made in the agricultural sector.
Another alternative is the development of entrepreneurships, particularly through incentivisation of the informal sector and this is an alternative that fits well with the agriculture value chain.
TPE: In the face of unreliable power supply to drive small and medium-scale industries, given the human and material resources of a state like Delta, would you do anything for renewable energy, despite the abundance of fossil fuel sources in the state?
EDOZIEN: Doing nothing is not an option. Fossil fuel sources will not last forever. Climate change and other pressures necessitate implementation of policies and projects to generate renewable energy. Many communities in Delta State are located at considerable distance from the national grid. Renewable energy sources could boost rural economies.
At present, solar energy appears to be the most feasible source of renewable energy in Delta State, and the technology is getting better. Other sources, particularly small hydropower systems, could be explored in Delta State. We shall obviously be working in tandem with the national energy policy but I will be looking to utilise Delta-specific energy mapping, encourage private sector operators and link our renewable energy initiatives with skills and entrepreneurship training. I will aim to achieve generation of a minimum average of 1 MW of renewable energy per local government area.
TPE: What innovations do you think a Governor Edozien will bring to Delta State?
EDOZIEN: I will be a governor known for both substance and panache. My government will be the first genuine social democratic government in Nigeria, since the return to civil rule, emphasis being placed on development of human capital, poverty eradication, participatory governance and social justice.
The biggest ‘innovation’ will be doing things the right way i.e. good governance, which we have not in the last 19 years. Good governance is the foundation of sustainable development.
Other diverse innovations will include promotion of hydroponics, investment in teachers and building of social capital (that is, investment in relationships).
TPE: Could you please offer a glimpse of your thoughts on the issues of the restructuring of Nigeria and Resource Control?
EDOZIEN: There are different interpretations of the term, ‘restructuring of Nigeria’. Generally, the focus has been on geopolitical restructuring but fiscal restructuring has also been part of the discourse. The broad principle should be that governance and development should be as close as possible to the grassroots. This would be best achieved by what has been referred to as ‘true federalism’. The federating units should have as much control as possible over issues such as education, healthcare, security and control of natural resources.
On the other hand, the situation where some states are unable to pay workers’ salaries without recourse to federal government bailout raises questions about the economic viability of these states. These are issues that the country should face squarely: we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. While I understand the clamour for geopolitical and fiscal restructuring, I think there is a greater need for attitudinal restructuring. We need to change the mindset of both the leadership and the followership. Social injustice, feelings of marginalisation, inequalities in the allocation of resources and bad governance, have all contributed in large measure to the current clamour for restructuring. If we have geopolitical and fiscal restructuring without the requisite attitudinal restructuring, the polity will continue to be troubled by disaffection and instability.
TE: What is your assessment of the country’s educational system, especially with the dropping of the teaching of History, from our schools curricula?
EDOZIEN: It is common knowledge that the quality of our educational system has been in progressive decline. Our educational system has failed to move with the times and to adapt to the realities of our local situation. We remain stuck in what we inherited from the colonial masters. We now realise that we have young men and women who have been through secondary and tertiary education but lack the skills to contribute to the economy, through enhanced productivity and innovation.
The introduction of various skills training programs for young people across the country attests to the failure of our educational system. We are lagging behind in science and technology. We appear to be paying more attention to tertiary education than to primary education, thus underplaying the role of primary education in national development. As I understand it, History was not dropped completely from the schools curricula but was subsumed under the Social Studies curriculum.
Following pressure from different quarters, the Federal Government has directed the reintroduction of History as a stand-alone subject. As we all know, if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t know where you’re going. The reintroduction of History is welcome but I would also want to add that this should not be History for history’s sake but History for the purpose of advancing national integration and guiding future generations.