interviewBy Simon Ebegbulem
Benin City — Dr Simon Imuekheme is one leader in Edo State who assisted in the stabilization of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led administration from its inception in 2008. He was Permanent Secretary, Head of Service and Secretary to the State Government until November 9, 2012, when the State Executive Council was dissolved. Following his accomplishments in the civil service, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) honoured him.
Imuekheme played a key role in recovering some oil wells belonging to the state but ceded to some neighouring states. There were insinuations that he was removed as SSG and was replaced by Prof.Julius Ihonvbere due to some unresolved issues with his boss, Governor Adams Oshiomhole. In this interview, he dismisses the insinuation and relives his experiences in government. Excerpts:
As an individual, I am very happy because I feel honoured by the award given to me by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TIC) in Edo State. As you know, Labour is really a very critical aspect of governance because they see everybody in government as an enemy or the oppressor. So for the TUC, the central organised labour in Edo, to single me out for the award is an experience I will cherish for life because they represent the views of the workers and, to a large extent, the views of the general public and it gives me a sense of satisfaction that during my service year, I served the people of Edo and the principals who gave me the opportunity to serve creditably.
How will you compare your positions as Head of Service and Secretary to the State Government?
As a career civil servant, you find that as Head of Service, as Permanent Secretary, as Chairman of Board of Internal Revenue, as Director of Hospital Services, you deal with rules and regulations as they relate to service basically; it has to do with manpower management, ensuring that the service is well looked after, that the workers are proactive, that the workers actually earn their promotions, they are promoted as and when due, that there is enough discipline in the system, that they are able to carry out the projects of government, that there is enough discipline in the system and that they are able to carry out the projects of the government in power. All through my days in the service, in the various positions I held, I maintained some principles.
The first is that workers welfare is crucial for them to be very productive, two; the policy of your principal, that is the governor and the executive council, is crucial because you must be able to get the entire service to key into the programmes of government and ensure that the programmes are well executed because it is the civil servants that actually implement programmes; if the civil servants are not forthcoming, they can ruin any administration. And I always put myself in such a position that I will command the respect of civil servants as well as command the respect of the governor so that I could be a bridge between the two; that is what has helped me. Labour is that bridge between government and workers so if you are able to get labour to appreciate what government is doing to embrace dialogue in finding solutions to problems, giving them the true picture of the situation of things are concerned, you will find that things will work well.
The difference with the office of the SSG is that, at that level, you are now the chief administrative officer of the government. You are now involved in active politics because you have to coordinate the political appointees, you have to coordinate the party, you have to coordinate the relationship of government and the legislature, you have to coordinate the relationship of government and the judiciary; so the entire instrument of government at that office of SSG is very, very demanding and you have to be prepared to accommodate all shades of opinions and, most importantly, you must earn the trust of the governor. If you earn the trust of the governor, then you are able to do so many things and it is not your own interest that you are there to propagate but the interest of the governor.
Like when I came initially, having not been involved in politics, I was a little bit uneasy, but my own attitude is that when you are given any job, you have to learn what it takes to be successful in that job, and having been in the state, I have interacted with the politicians with everybody in the state, it was easy for me to get a full grip of the situation and I made sure that what Adams Oshiomhole stood for was made available to the public both in the state and in the country at large. And I want to say with all sense of humility that I do not think I disappointed the comrade governor who gave me that opportunity.
But it was said that you fell out with the governor and that it cost you your job?
No, I don't have any problem with the governor. The governor is my leader, my brother and he is my friend. You can have a brother who is not your friend, you can have a leader who is not your friend and, for me, the day you enter an office, you should also know that, someday, you will leave the office. I am very critical at analysing people's comments.
When I was sworn-in as SSG, the governor made a statement, people will not know the context of that statement; I interpreted it on my own; what he stated was that, "This was not the time to experiment with the office of the SSG. I want to bring in somebody who knows what to do because I am going to be involved in active politicking and therefore the instrument of governance will not suffer and that is what informed my appointment of Dr Imuekheme because I know he knows what to do at all times. I came home that night, I saw myself as a stop-gap possibly to fill a vacuum and, right from that day, I prepared myself that maybe my appointment may terminate with the administration.
So when the EXCO was dissolved on the 9th of November, by 10th and 11th, I had removed my personal effects from the office. I had written my handover note; so my not being re-appointed didn't cause any problem to me because, in the first instance, I never knew I could get to the level of SSG and, since my non-reappointment, my relationship with the governor has remained intact and extremely friendly. It is true that a lot of people were disappointed but, like I told the governor, it is that they love me so much their reaction was based on the fact that having actively worked with them for the re-election of the comrade governor, many of them feel that if I am there, when it comes to patronage, I will be able to assist them, that was just the issue but, like I told them, the prerogative to appoint is with the governor.
How were you able to recover some oil wells for the state, because we understand it was a serious battle?
I said once that there were so many sensitive assignments I have done for the state people will not know but the governor and those who were in government then knew what it took us to be able recover our oil wells from other states. At that time, I was the Permanent Secretary in the office of the deputy governor and our monthly returns from the 13 per cent derivation was just N30 million a month and we were worried that it ought not to be so. The governor called us and expressed his disappointment and then they now gave me the responsibility to find out what happened.
I had to go to the Department of Petroleum resources in Lagos and, when I got there, I disguised as a research officer and that I was interested in knowing the distribution of oil production in nine states of the federation, state by state, and they obliged me the information. To my disappointment, I discovered that Ologbo, which is at the centre of Edo State where there is no controversy at all, all the oil wells there being run by Pan Ocean were credited to Delta State and also other wells like Kasaburu, Ona, they were all being credited to Delta. So I got a copy of the distribution from the DPR and, when I came back to Edo, I handed it over to the governor and that formed the basis of our petition to the Presidency that Edo was being short-changed.
Subsequently, the Presidency set a presidential committee on disputed oil wells and I was the representative of Edo state in the committee which was headed by General Mamman. They came to Edo with the representatives of the navy, the DPR, the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation, Boundary Commission including the Surveyor of Edo State and that of Delta. A fter evaluation, it was established that those wells belong to Edo State and they had to reverse the position. The officials at DPR actually thought I was a research officer but I had to take that step because that was the only way to recover what belongs to us.
My challenging moments had to do with coping with the antics of politicians. You have to be careful when you are in a political world because you can easily be blackmailed. It is conventionally stated that lying is part of politics; some people will tell you that white is black even when you are seeing; they will argue that what you are saying is white is actually black; so you find that to blend into the political terrain was one of the initial problems that I had. You have to keep your doors open.
When I used to go to the village, people won't know when I come in or leave, but when I became SSG and entered into politics, you come to my house in the village, you will find over 200 people waiting outside and inside and you have to attend to them. You have to attend to the youths because the youths actually are the instruments of election propaganda and all the things that it takes to convince people and, if you offend them, you will find that they can be extremely be counter-productive; so the fact that you no longer have your privacy was a very big challenge. But I am happy that I had that opportunity because it exposed me to that other side of life.
Are we going to see you soon seeking elective office?
In terms of contesting for elective office, it has not really occurred to me. My primary aim of joining politics was to make sure that Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole succeeds in office. I used to tell him that my politics starts with him and, having embraced ACN, I am now a leader of the party in my local government, I am a leader in the state as far as the party is concerned and, looking at my pedigree, there is no doubt that I understand Edo State, that I understand the terrain, but as for elective office, it hasn't crossed my mind because I look at all the issues that are involved; the intrigues, the blackmails and all that some of those things don't agree with my person. But like Fashola said, if we leave politics to the 10th eleven, the country cannot move forward; so we need people with integrity to try and modulate things so that the country can get its bearing. So I will continue to serve, offer my views and participate.
Edo guber tribunal judgment
We are very happy with the judgment starting from the Supreme Court ruling. When that judgment came, I sent a text to the governor that his election was ordained by God and that whatever God ordains cannot be altered by man. It has never happened in Edo that a governor wins 18 local governments of the state without violence, without any thugerry, without firing of guns and things like that but he won the 18 local governments convincingly and the people of the various local governments are happy. So it was something like goose chasing for them to have gone to court in the first instance. I believe that the leadership of the party that initially felt that they will not go to court read the atmosphere and the situation very clearly.
I know Oshiomhole's classmates in primary school, I equally know his classmate in Blessed Martins Secondary Modern School. Dr Osuma, who retired as a Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service of Edo State, was Oshiomhole's classmate, the current MD of Rapid Response Agency (RRA), Engr Stanley Ndako, was Oshiomhole's classmate. I can mention many of them that I know because we came from the same environment, but when a matter is before the court, you find that you can comment on it so that you will not be arraigned for contempt of court. But I am happy that the Supreme Court has spoken, then the state Election Tribunal also delivered judgment declaring that Airhiavbere's petition was frivolous and bereft of evidence. So the governor will now focus in delivering dividends of democracy to the people of the state which he has since started.