BY NDUBUISI ORJI
When General Charles Airhiavbere (retd) dumped the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) for the All Progressives Congress(APC) immediately after the last presidential election, not a few was shocked.Airhiavbere was the PDP governorship candidate in Edo State in 2012 and remained in the party since until April this year.
But why did he have to abandon a party that gave him its platform to contest , a gubernatorial election, almost immediately he retired from the army? In this interview, the retired soldier turned politician rationilises that decision. Airhiabvere, who is seeking to contest next year’s Edo State governorship election on the platform of his new party, APC also speaks on his chances of clinching the party’s gubernatorial ticket. He also gave a peep into his programmes for the state if elected governor.
You left the PDP immediately after the presidential election, what exactly happened?
Let me start this way. In Nigeria, we have political alignment. And what influences my political alignment is not the political ideology, but the platform with which you can showcase what you have; the leadership structure you have for your people. Now, with my background as a soldier, an army general, it is easier for me to reach the center by advocating that my state should key in to the centre. From my experience in the PDP, our state was in opposition for a period of six years. After the court case victory to ACN. I know what we lost. Because everything meant for Edo State was given to just one person. At every level PDP deferred to him. so, it was a defective process.
So, it was easy to take a decision immediately Jonathan lost at the centre. President Muhammadu Buhari came on board; it was clear that there was going to be a change. And that change was going to be effective, because the then president-elect, as the time I moved was a former Military Head of State even though he was there for a period of a year and eight months. It was clear he was coming to do justice and to effectively change the political structure in our country. So, it did not take me time, and above all things have been in place in the event of Jonathan losing, I have a new commander-in-chief to whom I will be 100% loyal.
Many perceive you as not being grateful to PDP as a political party, because you joined the party not long after the party fielded you as a candidate in the last Edo governorship election, then at the onset of trouble you jumped ship, probably to advance your own personal interest of governing the state.
First and foremost, PDP should be grateful to me for coming to rescue them, because as at the time I joined the party there were two factions; the Uyigue faction and the Dan Orbih faction. I merged them, I brought them together. I used my influence. I used my political dexterity, my grassroot movement of that particular time. And as at the time I came out into the PDP, I already visited 18 LGAs of this state on my own NGO platform. And I have to rebrand it as the new PDP. Even during my first interview aired by AIT, I told them, I made it clear. They said I am coming in with two baggage’s; the first baggage is the PDP and the second baggage was coming from the military background. It was well cleared. And I told them that the PDP we were building, the platform we are building for the PDP is because of the PDP at the centre was to ensure, as at that time, that the PDP has a muscle. But as it were, I later discovered that it was a party of impunity. I was in the court, they left. And as a candidate of the party, PDP Edo State didn’t deem it fit that I should be the first to be a national delegate. They left me out. I stayed with them, because PDP was the party at the centre. And immediately they lost the centre, I didn’t have any one second to stay further. There were a lot of things that were wrong there which we should leave for the historians. And don’t forget that PDP is the most monopolistic party. The monopolistic graph of super profit is always difficult to break but I broke it and I was there. So, they can’t tell me that. They should look back at how I took the PDP through the 192 wards. So,many of their former candidates didn’t even know their wards. They didn’t know where they came from, because they were injected from the top. And me, through the grassroot, I made sure that we visited the 192 wards in our campaign and that is how PDP came on board in Edo State. They were gone. As at today, they are gone. (cuts in) They were gone as in?
PDP would not cough in Edo State.
But they did well in the National Assembly and presidential election… That was before I moved. After I moved what happened in the (state)House of Assembly? It was clear. It was crystal clear. That my movement caused that lost.
What are your chances of picking the governorship ticket of the APC for the next governorship election, viz a viz the fact that most of the governorship aspirants in the PDP are now in the APC?
Where were they, the candidates you are talking about when I faced the incumbent? You, see Edo State needs a vibrant leader. A focused one. A dogged and prepared leader, who can take Edo State to the next level. Governorship of Edo State is not for the weak. Edo State is a very highly intellectual state, rich in human, material and even natural resources. We need a leader who can think outside the box, and that is where I come in. I always tell people, I have a rich family heritage. I have heritage of a profession that I started at the age of 11, I rose to the rank of Major General. I have experience of having been a diplomat; having worked at the embassy. I am an Accountant. I hold MBA from the University of Ibadan and I led my corps for three years. So, these are things qualify me. Of all of them, I have been the only governorship candidate that took a party to second position in the last election. As you can see, I am the candidate to beat in the two parties(APC and PDP).
Do you think that as good as you are that standing on the APC platform you can make any headway in the election, owing to the fact that many people on the streets are not happy with the APC?
I am working very hard right now. That is why I am coming into the field to make sure I win the APC primary. It wasn’t easy for me to move my followers from the PDP, to move them to the APC even as I stand. If you look at the result, the two weeks we had between the presidential election and the House of Assembly election, the result was clear that we made an impact. Because as at that time the people in the field were already getting disgruntled about what was happening. But I can assure you , I am working hard. By the time we hit the ground running for the campaign and I pick the ticket . I can assure that once I get that ticket, people will collapse into the APC. That I can assure you. I know the two parties. I was fielded as their (PDP)candidate and I would like to refer you to the results of the (2012) governorship primaries. I came a distant first. the person, who came second was over 200 votes below me. So, Edo State, the last election between me and the governor exposed the political game. It took the stakes high. This was a major general, and a very popular, well established labour leader, who had always confronted government. So, it raised the stake in Edo politics. That is where we are. It is going to be a difficult terrain for so many people to play and to understand. Things can always change. That why it is politics. I don’t see the challenge. I dont see it as insurmountable task. I believe when the chips are down, only the tough will keep going. you watch what will happen in few months.
If you become the governor and by paraventure in 2019 , the APC loses the presidency, are we going to see you moving to another party as it seems you detest being in opposition.
It is not that I detest being in opposition. But I can tell you, I am not the man that saw tomorrow. I can tell you that President Buhari has come in as a messiah and I know Nigerians will give him a chance to bring the change that they have being yearning for. I can assure that his credentials will work for him in the second term. Let me remind you that PDP was in power for 16 years and every other person was in opposition. Don’t forget that General Buhari contested four times on different platform. So, he will consolidate on power. you have seen the action of the last few weeks he is already creating a new platform for everybody to fly. By May, he would have done a year and there will be a lot to talk about. You will see him from January next when the new ministers are going to start operating with a new budget. I think that will prepare him for 2019. So, I don’t see APC losing out. I also don’t see myself moving out of APC.
What would be offering the people if you emerge as governor?
Well, I will just give you a graph of an institution. You have a point of entering and you have a point of exit. my point of entry, my covenant with the people of Edo State, which I call my contract with them. Once I win, I have signed a contract with them to create jobs, using agriculture, our natural resources, strengthening industries, and creating an enabling environment and a very secured state for investors to come. I can’t do it alone. I have always told people that I don’t have a reason going to Lagos through Ore,when from Ekenwan Road you, can hit Gelegele port and collaborate with other states and do another road, which is a state road, you can toll it if you want to. there is no reason why I cannot collaborate with federal government to do federal state roads which are within my state. I am excited to be in the next election. it is an excitement for me and as I said earlier, I am the candidate to beat.
Credit: The Sun