Austin Ilenre Emuan is a chartered architect, development expert, environmental activist, and a neo structural scholar. He is one of the leading aspirants from Edo Central to take over from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole later this year, on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Felix Omoh-Asun, he narrates his alternative to creating wealth and making Edo a “compelling destination” for investors. How is he going to this? He answers this and many others.
How has it been general in life?
My life has been quiet interesting. I believe in variety is part of life. My philosophy in life has always been that of dreaming big because I believe strongly that dreams are the foundation upon which we eventually build our lives. I have learnt to always dream great dreams; I have learnt to aim beyond the roof top.
You have the ambition to run for the governorship for Edo state, what is your vision for the state?
My vision for the state is very simply, that is hinged on bi-cultural policy. This has to do with a vision that I have and it is burning in me like a passion, I will call it a burning passion. My vision is to have Edo as one of the most industrialised state in the country, and a compelling investment destination. And I intend to do this by democratizing, by improving on the infrastructure we have and this could be done by Edo people. In other words I want to tap the intellectual and creative ability of Edo people such that whatever we have developed at the end of the day will be created by Edo people for Edo people. Remembered I talked about bicultural policy, this is what is going to drive all the policies we have. What I mean when I say bi-cultural policy is that when you look at Edo State now, is like a melting pot for all cultural strips. Now time has come for use to take the best of our culture that are coming from other parts of the state or of the world, so that we now have what I call hybrid culture, which could be improve on, make it better than ours or one we have imported. Then we will use it to create a cultural meat and map that we will use to develop and give the state a sustainable and secondary economy.
Are you not too refined to come into politics having in mind the kind of politics we play in this country?
That has always been the problem. There is a saying that evil thrives when good men fail to act. The question I asked myself before getting to the rostrum of politics is if we continue to complain, is it not the same people we complain about who will continue to govern us. So I said to myself, why not come out first and allow people to reject or accept me. And one thing I have enjoyed is an overwhelming acceptance by Edo people. This is because time has come for us to have good men to mount the rostrum of politics because it is the only way we can bring about the desired change. If we want to bring about change we must have a good mind and goodness will transcend down from the top. This is why I told myself let me come out, I know with the kind of vision I have I will be able to translate Edo into a state we all will be pride of. I want to see Edo where our economic aspiration will be embedded in our economic reality because our economic realities of today are not in tandem with our economic aspiration. We must bridge that gap.
You are from Edo Central, how much networking or inroad have you been able to make into Edo South, Edo North?
My approach in this regard is based and hinged on one of the major bi-cultural policies that we have. I want to use that to drive the economic. And the name of the policy is ‘YOURS EVER’. This is about the word ‘EVER’ that is, ‘Edo Village Economic Renewal’ (EVER), which means my focal point will be the village which is the core, and the point we will use to bring about development. In terms of consultation I have also taken that strategy. My first point of call is the grassroots. As I speak to you, I have already carried out an audit of all the facilities we have. I have them at my finger tips. I know where the valuable trees are, I know where we have valuable cash crops are, I know where natural endowments are located in all the communities in the three senatorial districts. And from there, all my consultations moved to local government areas, villages, communities and to the top. We are busy putting structures on ground. And I am singing a brand new song and people are listening, and we are busy watching their body language. It is obvious our song is melodious in their ears.
Before now there is the body language of the Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, which suggests that he is backing Godwin Obaseki, what do you think about this? All the aspirants in Edo met with the national executive of the party in Abuja, what did you discuss?
Well, before now, what I have always maintained is that it was a rumour. That is it is either it is true or it is not true. Either way let’s look at it one after the other. If it is not true, it is left for the Governor to make a categorical statement on the issue so that he could douse the tension. He actually said severally that there will be level playing field for all, but that he has the right to support a candidate. That was what he said. I think based on the fact that the polity was getting warmer and warmer and getting heated up that was why our party in its wisdom called all of us, aspirants to Abuja. And the first thing they told us was that they wanted to tell us all that we are going to be given a level playing ground and that was quiet comfortable to every one of use. Now we are more than sure that there will be no imposition or preferred candidate. And we in APC believe in the supremacy of the party. The only thing we told the party is for them to make the declaration public so that everyone will know the position. So I will say we had a good meeting with national executive of the party. The opportunity was also used to remind us of the manifestoes of the party, so that when you are campaigning or canvassing you should not forget where you are coming from. This because whatever the economic blueprint you have must be based on the economic blueprint of APC, predominantly hinge on welfarism. So we had a very good meeting.
Knowing very well that Edo politics is based on what organization you belong to and you are just coming into Edo politics, how do you intend to surmount this?
Like I told you because we are singing a new song, and everybody whether they are Muslim or Christian, or belong to any association, is listening. The fact remains that everybody will like to listen to a good music because music is a universal language whether you understand what it is said or not, you listen to the rhythm and if it is good enough you will enjoy it. What we are simply saying is that we are going to bring about distributive development. This is about creating economic activities round natural endowments as obtainable in community basis and on senatorial basis. We have also told our people that we will set up Edo development bank and this will be supported by micro finance people. So that people who are graduating from vocational and technical schools will have access to credit. As neo structural scholar, I have found out that people are poor not because they choose to but because of the system we have designed. It is about time we redesigned the system. As neo structural scholar I am advocating that capitalism needs to be redefined in this world. And how do you redefine capitalism, you need to take a bit of socialism and blend it with a part of capitalism then you will have hybrid of capitalism that will have a human face, capitalism that will think of the other person being your brother’s keeper. It is not the winner takes it all.
The campaign by the Edo South have been very loud for governorship slot across parties, how do you intend to douse the tension?
You see you cannot prevent people from aspiring. What I have always said is that if we must live in harmony in this country, particularly in our state, the first thing is to face our reality. You will agree with me that it is not in our constitution to have power shift between the northern and southern part our country but it is part of our reality. The northerners clamoured for power shift. We have federal character because someone felt our reality we must not ignore it. Edo state is made of three senatorial districts and these senatorial districts are like three islands in the sea. Though separate but are connected, that connection is what binds us together as brothers. We must not forget that we have the same ancestors and if you remember very well when Afamai Esan was supposed to be created, the Oba of Benin then wrote Pa Anthony Enahoro and said that Edo State is one of the homogenous states in the country, let us stay together. If you have a piece of roasted yam and you want to share it among three brothers like Edo State is, standing on a tripod, three brothers, you cut the yam into three, each of the three brothers take after each other. Let us look at the reality. We had John Odigie-Oyegun (Edo South) as the governor, the deputy was from Owan (Obadan), Edo North, after him came lucky Igbinedion as Governor (Edo South), Oghiadome (Edo North) was the deputy. After that we now have Adams Oshiomhole as Governor (Edo North) and deputy, Odubu (Edo South), do we still need anybody to tell us anything about power shift. Igbinedion served eight years and by the grace of God Oshiomhole is serving two terms of eight years. So, for fairness and equity we do not need anybody to tell us where power should shift to, naturally. But I am not saying that because power must shift to Edo Central that we should get a fool or a mediocre. We should look for the best among the best. This will be on the part of equity and fairness.
What is your relationship with the Governor; have you told him you are contesting?
My relationship with him is cordial; he is the father of us all. No, I have not told him one on one but he knows I am contesting. We are planning to see him; we do not want to be out twist by the fact of rumour, that he is supporting a particular candidate, which in fact has been cleared. In fairness to the Governor, he would be there for eight years by the time he leaves office; he will be a bit desperate to look for someone he thinks can take over from him. It is natural. The only thing we are saying is that he should open up his mind and let all his children in because it is not good for a father to play one child against the other.
You are from a senatorial zone that is predominantly in the hands of opposition party, PDP, in the state, even your senator is PDP, how do you intend to break that jinx?
Well, that assumption is a mirage. The reality today is that APC is the party to beat in Edo Central. It has stronger and better reach in Edo Central. It is in all the corners of Edo Central, if election is held today APC will clear every ward.
If you party decides to present a person from Edo South as the candidate, what will you do?
My party will not do that based on the meeting we had with the national executive they have assured everyone that every aspirant will be given a level playing ground, we are all holding on to that. They cannot come and say; oh no we didn’t say that.
The Comrade Governor would soon finish his tenure, how will you access him, which area do you think he has not touched, you will concentrate on if elected governor. Secondly, Igbinedion opened some industries, so what is your industrial blueprint for Edo State?
If you remember what I said earlier on, I said my vision is to see that Edo State is the most industrialized state in the country. In terms of question relating to Adams Oshiomhole is that economic development is a destination. Because it is a destination, you have to move from point A to Point B. The basis has been done by Comrade Oshiomhole. He has made effort in the area of providing infrastructure and when you develop infrastructure you are laying a foundation. Where Edo is right now, based on what Oshiomhole has done, he has made Edo State a compelling investment destination. But in the area of creating wealth is where I will want to concentrate on. I want to take advantage of the infrastructure he has created to create wealth. Let only creating robust wealth but distributive economy, so that when you are taxing, you are also creating wealth, you are not taxing rent. Presently, people are rebelling against taxes because you are taxing rent and not wealth. This is the more reason I told you our industrialization policy is going to be democratized; it is going to be distributive. For instance in Edo North where you have mineral resources you create such economic activities round things that are compatible with mineral resources. In Edo Central where you have good arable land for agriculture, you develop agriculture; farming, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and marketing. This will be a major value chain that will create mass employment. And when you create job opportunities you are creating wealth.
Ahead party primaries what message do you have for the people of Edo state, party, leadership both state and national level?
My general message to my people, the Governor, co aspirants, is to first of all look forward to a very fair, credible election that will appeal to us all; this is what we are praying for. This is a lesson to be learnt, particularly from Bayelsa election and Kogi. Based on what transpired in those states, we have learnt a lot from them and should ensure we have peaceful and credible election. The fact that we will have a level playing ground, people should not be intimidated by anyone for any reason to support any candidate, let them support anyone they so wish. And in doing that they should look at aspirants’ vision for the state because if we are not able to build upon Oshiomhole legacy, we will have a problem. All we want in Edo State is to have a candidate to be able to translate, create wealth, so individual satisfaction is hinged at the end of the day on collective effort.