Dr Isaiah Osifo was a two-time chairman of Uhunwode local government in Edo State, Chief of Staff to former Edo State governor, Prof. Osariemen Osunbor, a public policy consultant and a farmer. In this interview, he lamented how lack of continuity of government policies stunts development in the country, the choice of PDP presidential and vice presidential candidate’s party politics and efforts at solving PDP crisis in Edo State. Politics Editor, TUNDE JOSHUA brings excerpts.
Some politicians are into farming, so what about being a politician and a farmer?
Everyone should be a farmer because it will be good for the society. Farming can be taken as a career or an occupation, but I don’t think being a politician is an occupation. My farming origin is like a heritage because my parents were teachers and farmers and after retirement, they went into farming full time, my grandparents were farmers too. They were into public policy affairs too so it was more like a family career.
My father told me if I want to be an independent man, I should be farming and I have seen the results.
We heard that Malaysia came to Nigeria to take samples of palm fruits and are doing good with what they took from here as a leading palm oil producer globally and we are still where we are.
You were a two-time chairman in Edo State which is government at the grassroots level and with your background what are the investments you made in the agricultural sector while you were in office?
Local government area is the foundation for policy, formulation and implementation. I made sure I did something different from others and I was the first local government chairman to create an agricultural department in the local government area. We are rural councils so I made sure we had a specialized department that addresses agricultural issues, to assist the state government ADP to operationalize agriculture in our field. The local government under my administration had a farm, we had maize farm on a large commercial scale.
Is the farm still functioning?
How will it function, that’s the system we have in this country, when the leadership is faulty, there’s no continuity and policy. I have listened to the presidential candidates and I have asked them to tell me where they served and made a difference and if they give me an example and what difference they made I’ll take them seriously.
We had a large maize farm supervised by the agricultural supervisor, new graduates of agric that were employed. It is only the council I worked with that has a full government-owned farm with 100 meters oil plantation farm and the commercial value of this plantation is over 400 million investment worth.
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I left the council in 2002 and this is 2022, 20 years after and no one has planted one tree in addition to the 15,000 trees I planted. What do they do? The council chairman goes to the office and releases it to those exploring it and they are making money. They don’t grow more trees, if I left it at 100 meters, and they are now doing 20, 30 meters then imagine a council that’s heading 400-500 hectares of oil production in productive age. They don’t need to wait for agricultural revenue.
What is the government doing, these things are going into extinction because nobody is encouraging agricultural development? We didn’t stop there; we are the first Council in Edo State to raise 25,000 oil palm seedlings. I brought it and shared it to the farmers in Edo State free of charge to go and plant in three to four years. They will be making income from it and today they are grateful to me.
With this so much knowledge about agriculture, I have been writing papers to the state and federal government that since they have someone that has done something there, they should utilize it but it is a shame that I left the council 20 years ago and we don’t have one additional hectare plantation anywhere in the local government.
You’re one politician who seems to be very vocal and outspoken but some will argue that it is always against the opposition party. Is it true?
If you’re in a political party and that party is in government you have access to the government so you don’t need to go to the newspaper to speak against the government because you have access to the government, so what you do is to present your ideas, your criticism, your memo.
Right now I belong to the PDP party, I have access to the government so I speak to them and do my documentation for reference purposes so it would be known. I capitalize on the access I have to the government so I express myself to them instead of coming to the TV or media.
You have moved from one party to another, as a member of a party, why not stay with your party and seek ways to resolve issues instead of jumping ships?
We are deceiving ourselves in Nigeria about democracy. We have not started practising democracy. If I am serving a boss and he is not doing well, I don’t have the right to leave him? I can’t belong to a party where people just believe that the party is now owned by one man who piles names of delegates, puts them on the line and asks them to vote against the right person.
Is that democracy? If you violate rules and regulations, people are not bound to stay with you. There is nothing wrong with leaving a party that doesn’t follow rules and regulations, a party that doesn’t allow one to air his views and when one has left, there’s still nothing wrong with coming back when the party has learnt and taken your opinion into consideration.
By the time you violate your own party’s constitution and ask them to stay with you, it is barbarism. When a party keeps their rules and regulations, they will be a mild movement because nobody has offended you, the system is good and you have not been undermined. I was elected to the council in PDP in 1999 but they started misbehaving and I left, other people left to other parties. When you have been undermined please go to where you can ventilate, it’s not a crime.
Still on PDP, the crisis rocking the party, the factional candidates in Edo State, don’t you think this will affect the chances of the party in the forthcoming poll?
Of course, it will, it is natural. When you have division in a political party, it will affect their fortunes in the general elections. What is causing the faction is wrong, two cannot be wrong.
What is the leadership of the party doing to settle this issue?
When the leadership is struggling with members or associations that have the tendency to break rules and regulations the leader will have problems. Political party relationships are meant to be leaders relating with the members and members relating with the leaders.
The two factions cannot be right, one is wrong and one is right but how do you now know the one that is wrong and right? I believe every party should keep to their rules and regulations. With what the governor has said in the last meeting I hope it will bring a reconciliation committee and it should be able to bring these interests together and reconcile them for the general election so the party can win.
Democracy is evolving, you’re not bound to one party doing nothing. If one political party can’t put their hand together to achieve something, there are other parties. We have 17 political parties. If INEC can do their job to conduct a free and fair election, this noise about the different political parties will be irrelevant. We should forget about parties and look at the credibility of each candidate.
I think we need a reorientation not just for INEC but also the populac?
Yes, Nigerians should rise up without guns or fear and say enough is enough that they want a free and fair election, they should look at the candidates they are voting for and not the party and they should not vote based on party.
Do you think your party PDP has picked the right candidate?
I believe in zoning for fairness and equity. They are credible candidates from the south east but you have to put the demographic into consideration, you have to put the political culture, voting pattern into consideration and that is how PDP got their candidate from the north.
So, this was done all because of winning the election?
It’s all about winning the election and doing the right thing. The southeast will be happy to have a northern man who will do the right thing and give them hope that it will be their turn. It will definitely evolve and go to the right person irrespective of where they come from but we are not yet there, and that is why we need a good president to give a structural layout and Atiku is good with restructuring.
What do you have to say about the accusation against Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that he is a wrong choice?
You can’t make a wrong choice in two elections in two terms for 8 years. If he was bad he wouldn’t have been there to serve for 8 years and after a year you would have seen his character but he wasn’t bad. Since 1999 Obasanjo’s achievement has not been beaten by anybody, and we are in a democratic government, and in democracy only one man cannot take the credit because it is a collective responsibility. Atiku’s government was good, so we want him to build on that foundation and save Nigeria.
Still on the running mate, there were grievances that Wike was to be the running mate to Atiku but he picked governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
I didn’t speak with the presidential candidate, but what I think is Wike is a fantastic guy, he is a local government man, and Okowa is also good but the difference is that Okowa has an affiliation with the South East. Atiku is a very reasonable man, he felt if he can’t pick someone from the South East, he should be able to pick someone who is close to the south-east and Okowa has his right leg in Sout-South and his left leg in South East which is an advantage for election and representation.
Ahead of the 2023 election, what is your advice for Nigerians and your party?
Nigerians should go out there and tell INEC that they have no choice but to conduct a free and fair election. To my party, I commend them for choosing a candidate who is from the grassroots and has evidence of what he has done, and his certificate.