Former Delta State Commissioner, former Chairman, Uvwie Local Government Council, a one-time elected councilor, Ward 10 and Leader of Uvwie Legislative Arm, Sir (Hon) Bright Onajefe, Gift Edejewhro is a frontline governorship aspirant on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State. In this interview with our correspondents, Markson Isaac and Mamuzo Efiderhe, he bares his mind on his aspiration, why those with political godfathers would not emerge as governor, his agenda, DC-23 screening report and rotation amongst others.
Can we meet you Sir?
I am Sir (Hon) Bright Onajefe, Gift Edejewhro a one-time elected councilor, Ward 10 Leader of the Legislative Arm, one time Chairman, Uvwie Local Government Council, two time commissioner, commissioner of Local Government Affairs and commissioner for Science and Technology from 2015-2019.
Why are you in the gubernatorial race?
I want to be governor of Delta State because I know very well that I have a lot to offer in terms of leadership, service to the people and more especially I know very well that leadership without the fear of God is nothing. I know our people need real service when it comes to governance and I want to offer myself to provide true governance to our people.
What is your definition of leadership?
A Leader is a man who put resources together to achieve a particular goal or goals for his people. In terms of organization as a leader you know where your organization wants to be at a particular time. You need to get the right material, the right resources in terms of human and economic resources to drive that process and get there. Leadership is all about organizing the people, getting the people to do what they need to do, to achieve a particular goal.
What is your purpose as a leader?
My purpose as a leader is to harness the resources in Delta State, the human resources, the capital resources to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people.
How well do you know Delta Sate?
I know Delta State very well because I was a commissioner of Local Government and Chieftaincy affairs, so I have toured the twenty five Local Government areas in Delta State. I know all the traditional institutions in Delta State.
Delta State has been adjudged to be a complex state with multi-ethnic groups from three senatorial districts, how do you intend to relate satisfactorily with everyone?
Delta State is a multi-ethnic state yes but at the same time as a leader or somebody who wants to lead the place the most important thing is not to do politics in your decision making. Do not bring in politics just do what is right for the people and that is what I stand for and I have the will power to do what is right for Deltans. And I know very well that yes the complexity in Delta State can also be handled. The current governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa is doing very well in that area there is relative peace in Delta State and you know our revenue is tied to oil. What this means is if there is crisis where this oil is found and taken from and if it is not handled well, automatically insecurity from that area is going to affect oil production. If I become governor, we are going to improve on that area, get the right leadership in place and also have a mechanism to have interaction and all that with them to ensure that we take proactive steps in handling all issues before it gets out of hand. I have done it before when I was chairman of Uvwie Local Government Council. In my time, as local government chairman, there were no crises because I was very pro-active I know how to meet the people not them meeting me. I meet them before things get out of hand and with that we were able to achieve the peace we achieved then. In terms of complexity,
Thank God that our conflicts are not religious related because conflicts that have religious undertone like Boko Haran are difficult to handle. In Delta State our conflicts are more of intercommunity boundary related matters. Those are issues that can be handled easily. Then also getting the corporate organizations who work in these communities to do what is right for the people and then getting the people too to give them the enabling environment for them to do their operations, I know collectively we can achieve much.
Delta Central 2023 (DC23) lobby group recently screened most of the aspirants in Delta Central, we noticed that you did not attend the screening, what could be your reason and how will you describe DC 23?
DC 23 as the name goes Delta Central 2023 it means it is Urhobo Based Group and for PDP because members of the group are mainly PDP stalwarts from Delta Central. I have identified with them from onset but the area of screening that is where I wasn’t comfortable with because they are trying to play the role of INEC and the party so I saw it as something that has been taken too far hence I refused to submit myself to that screening because I felt ordinarily they shouldn’t have come up with screening and all that because anybody who says that he wants to run for election must have seen himself as qualified to run for election. But if DC-23 says that they want to screen all aspirants from Delta Central count me out and to buttress my reservations there are a lot of dissatisfaction already amongst those who went for the screening that is to tell you that the exercise was in futility and that is the truth.
So far how would you describe DC 23?
In the area of them going round to solicit for other ethnic groups to support the Urhobo cause, for an Urhobo to emerge as Governor come 2023, I commend them on that, it is a good move also on my own, I played some role there but not when it comes to the screening thing I felt it is outside their mandate.
From the screening exercise, do you sense bias that they are working towards a particular candidate?
I do not know, I do not really know much about that, maybe if I have attended the screening, maybe I would have sensed something of such but to have even screened and presented two aspirants from a particular local government and all that I really do not want to speak about the screening issue again.
Contesting for governorship in Delta State requires a lot of money; do you have the financial capacity to muscle your way through?
Money alone cannot make a governor in Delta State. Those who have been governor in Delta State were not the richest. Ibori was not the richest when he became governor, Kriegar was much richer, Uduaghan was not the richest, Okowa was not the richest so money alone cannot make you a governor of Delta State. If the people trust you that will count for you, your antecedents but I am not a poor man by the grace of God.
Do you think god-fatherism will come to play before and during the primaries?
The issue of god-fatherism is a jinx that Okowa has actually buried. Okowa’s emergence has actually taken care of the issue of godfatherism so godfatherrim will not play a major role as we move towards PDP primaries and general elections.
What is your take on the controversial 2021 electoral bill?
Whether it is direct or indirect primaries it has pros and cons that is the truth. Yes direct primary is like every member of the party or a particular party deciding who emerge or becomes their candidate. To me that is too expensive, how do you control the crowd, the insecurity that may likely come out of it because direct primary is like general election sort of and you know how general elections go, thuggery and even snatching of ballot boxes cannot be ruled out. For direct primary you need the umpire INEC to physically be present. During indirect primaries they are more like observers present to ensure that you do what you are supposed to do but in direct primaries they are going to conduct the activities in line with party guidelines, recently they came out with how much it will cost them to conduct direct primaries billions of naira, the question begging for answer now is, can the parties fund INEC during direct primaries? Even if the party can fund INEC, don’t you think that some influential persons will put the money together to fund INEC for direct primary so they can decide who gets elected?
So for your party, direct primaries should not be accepted?
To me it should be optional. They would have captioned it direct or indirect primary so it is left for the party to choose. After all APC did the direct primaries in some of their primaries like the case of Anambra where they had hundreds of millions of vote for their candidate to emerge but in the general election it was something else. So what it means is that in all of this, I am still of the opinion that it should have been captioned optional, direct or indirect not the direct primaries that they have accepted in the amendment they did, I am sure if they have imputed direct or indirect on the bill maybe the president would have signed so that you as a party can decide how you want to conduct you primaries.
There is a saying that one must have contributed one way or the other to the development of his/her society before he can seek the peoples’ vote, what have you done to deserve Deltans vote?
I was commissioner for Local Government Affairs before and I actually supervised the cleanup of the payroll system of the twenty five local government areas. Before I left office the issue of ghost workers was no longer there I have contributed to the peace and security of Delta State and I am still contributing. So Delta State has been relatively peaceful because we have contributed so much to it. If the roads are not safe, can you drive here or get to your shop, the answer is no.
How would you rate Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s administration?
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is doing very well I mean he has fulfilled all his promises he has worked toward them, is it in the area of health, education, road infrastructure name them and he has promised that he is going to complete all his projects before he exit office come May 29th 2023.
Are you comfortable with the privatization of Delta Facilities such as Delta Line, the Airport etc?
That is the way to go. Did you know that Delta Line ran into debt of over half a billion, Did you know that staffs of Delta Line then were not committed to the growth of that agency, but now the place is running smoothly, drivers are paid salaries and allowances on time, vehicles are on the road rendering services no more indebtedness, to me that is the way to go. Government should have no business in business directly they shouldn’t. Because of the experience from Delta Line, that must have informed the concession of the Asaba airport because to run an airport is very expensive even those who were running Osubi Airport ran into debt. I hope you know that the airport is being run by FAAN now. Believe me if Delta State Government is still running that Asaba Airport as at now I am sure it would have been one closure or the other because they wouldn’t have been able to meet up with financial commitment to the regulatory agencies.
But Deltans are being retrenched from work as a result of privatization?
I am not aware of that
Investigation has revealed that Delta State has less than 40% of employment, the host community as we speak are regretting and wondering why the government deceived them, collected their large expanse of land with the promise that their youths would be employed. Any comment on this?
Do you think that the investors are not going to employ from the indigent communities at the end? They would still employ to complete their 90% and that is the truth.
But the ratio of employment, 90% to the company and 10% to Delta state government and the host community is disheartening.
There is an agency set up by the current administration; it takes care of employment ratio between investors and Deltans. Such cases should be forwarded to them but Concession is the way to go because that is my area I have a Master’s degree in transport management and logistics.
What’s your agenda for Deltans?
In few days’ time we will be in January I already have my plans and I know Deltans will be elated when I unveil my agenda. My agenda is coined after my name BRIGHT.
Due to the huge success of the ENDSARS protest, young people are going to engage in 2023 elections in greater numbers than ever before, how will you keep them engaged?
2023 and beyond we don’t have much investors coming in to invest in Delta State like I told you government should not have any business in business but government can play some roles. We need to build investors’ confidence. The previous administration talked about ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ there are other solid minerals in Delta State that can be harnessed. Delta state can be a hub for glass factories because we have huge deposit of the silicone gel (common name sand) and you have them in a large deposit in Delta Central. Ughelli Axis to be precise there is a stream that runs from Ughelli North to Ughelli South and part of it is in Delta North. How many glass factories do we have in Delta State? Beta Glass is the only one running there is another one which is supposed to be Delta Glass but because it is owned by Government what happened to it, it is moribund now. But we can provide the enabling environment for investors to come in. Ordinarily government equities in business should be land because by virtue of the law the state government owns the land. Government should therefore acquire the land, create enabling environment, build invertors confidence, have a good working relationship with the host communities because without the communities, investors cannot bring their money. We must streamline the activities of communities and if you can get it at those level investors will come. If investor number one come, no trouble and he is doing very well he will also invite others that this place is good, business is good, operation is good, profit margin is safe because that is their major concern. So Delta State can be a hub for glass factories. Let me tell you the finished products from Beta Glass in Ughelli are taken to Onitsha and Lagos whereas window glasses can be produced here. We really do not need to export the glasses because we have the finest silicone gel to finish the production. The ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ Policy of the previous administration of Uduaghan would have looked at that area. We have deposits of clay in Delta so what stops us from harnessing the presence of these solid minerals? Clay is a major components for making ceramics, are there ceramics companies here, no they are mostly in Lagos, where do they get their raw materials from? One of the major factors of siting an industry is to site closeness to source of power and raw materials. We have power generating facilities, we have GENCO’s in Delta, there is one in Ukpai, Sapele and Ughellli and yet with all these factors we are still not there yet. Leadership is about knowing what to do.
What if you know what to do but after elections, the Party comes in with its own agenda, will you not jettison your agenda?
Yes by virtue of the Electoral Act there is no room for independent candidacy so every aspirant must get a party platform to run for elections true but once you are elected as a governor, you are not the governor of the party alone, you are the governor of the state, governor of all parties, so if you say that the party did not allow you to perform or fulfill your promises to the electorate who takes the blame, is it the party or you? Definitely you so be smart or your political name will be buried.
If you get elected, how will you avoid becoming part of the people that has created and is contented with the way things are now?
In as much as I will not abandon my party the PDP, I also know that PDP wants its flag carriers to do well that is the truth, so PDP will not be a stumbling block to its flag bearers performance.
So do we blame the non-fulfillment of campaign promises on sycophancy?
You who wears the crown know if you are not doing well, won’t you know that you are not doing well? If sycophancy is coming in won’t you know that this is sycophancy, let me tell you I was invited to be honoured with a chieftaincy title but I sat down, asked myself if I have done enough to earn a chieftaincy title, this is me for you, I said is it not too early to earn a chieftaincy title and I answered you have not done enough to earn a chieftaincy title. Keep your head straight and keep working. So I rejected the offer but I am a knight of the church. I prefer to be addressed as Sir Bright. I was knighted like seventeen years ago, I was still a youth in the church then but because of the roles I played back then I was selected and I also asked myself should you be a knight? And I got a self-conviction that yes, so I accepted to be a knight I was a councilor then so what I am trying to say in essence is that you as leader, if you are not doing well, you will know that you are not doing well so when these praise singer come, you will also know that these are sycophants except you don’t know what leadership entails or you never had a mission or a vision for the people. As a leader, from time to time document your own activities and score yourself.
As governor your judgment will be tested in in times of crisis, can you tell us about a time when your judgment was tested and how you were able to handle the crisis?
I have been trained in conflict resolution and conflict management, so I think I have the required tools if it comes up and I have managed conflicts before now and I am still managing conflicts. I managed the Ekpan Crisis some persons who needed to go to jail, went to jail and these persons are not far from me, some of them are my cousins but I did not play politics with the issue. For you to be a chairman and succeed as a chairman of Uvwie Local Government Council, you must have skills in management of crisis.
The agitation is that Urhobo should produce the next governor but there is another agitation inside Urhobo that the candidate should be from Okpe or Ughelli and you are not from these kingdoms, What’s your take on that?
The question now is this, those who are bringing up this agitation, what is their basis for the agitation? Are they more Urhobo than the Uvwie man, are they more qualified than the Uvwie man, are they more resourceful than the Uvwie man, are they more focused than the Uvwie man? The answer is no. So their agitation is baseless. This one that we are struggling, scheming and agitating about who and where the next governor should come from, have we asked God who is your choice in all of these?
Is there God in Nigerian politics?
If you read the Bible, God enthrones leadership. Otherwise Ogboru would have been governor in Delta State because he had everything going for him. The element of God when it comes to enthronement of leadership you can’t take it out. No matter how we manipulate, if God says no, your wisdom becomes foolishness, all your manipulations and the scheming will end in nothing. The Kogi Election, first tenure of Yahaya Bello, who was the flag bearer that actually ran for the election? How about the deputy, days to swearing in what happened? He was replaced and you say that there is no element of God in leadership choice. If it were to be as it were then (BC/AD) they would cast lots to see who God wants. When God gave Samuel the message that the person to replace Saul would come from the house of Jesse, where was David he was in the forest, he was busy taking care of the family sheep. What did Jesse do when he received the word of prophecy, he brought the finest of his sons but Samuel said he is not here and when David came in God said this is he, anoint him so God has the final say on who becomes governor of Delta state come 2023.
Ibori chose his successor; Uduaghan made an attempt but was arm twisted. Don’t you think Okowa would want to also choose his successor?
Yes Okowa is the political leader of Delta State right now, he is the Leader of PDP, he is the head of government, and he is a politician so if you say that Okowa will not have a hand in whom succeed him then we are not being fair to him. But he is a man who prays a lot, I am very sure that he is still searching the mind of God that is why he has not made any pronouncement, he is still searching the mind of God. Among us all let God show him who he has prepared for Delta State.
And if God shows him a man from Delta North or South would you queue behind him and the party?
I know that God would not show him a man from Delta North or South; my prayer is that God should show me to him as the chosen one.
But Delta Central has never respected the rotation agreement as they contested with Okowa in 2015 and 2019 so why should he make it easy for them?
He had personally said that no contestant will comes from Delta north and if you really take a look you would notice that not one has indicated interest from Delta North they have met ( I am part of Delta North because my mother is from there) and they agreed that no one should run for governor. I also know very well that the Ijaws will not run at the end of the day, they will only negotiate that they should be supported to be governor when Delta Central is done because then it would be the turn of Delta South to produce the governor this is according to PDP arrangement.
If elected will the youth top your appointees?
The elders of our party are also thinking in that direction that the youths should occupy strategic positions. We are in the 21st century the youths think faster. My administration will have 65% of youths, I mean both male and female.
What distinguishes you from other aspirants?
I am a different person and I am going to do things differently. In all the offices I have occupied politically I have always done thing differently.
If finally you emerge as PDP flag bearer, what should Deltans expect?
Delta will be BRIGHT, they should expect a Delta that is BRIGHT, Brightness means transparency, light not darkness.
2023 is fast approaching, your advice to Deltans?
My advice to Deltans is that election year is approaching, mostly the youths we should not allow ourselves to be used to disrupt the peace of Delta State and they should support a youthful governor and support the administration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa so that he can finish strong. God bless.