Monday, November 13, 2017 11:41 am
Honourable Samson Osagie, the minority whip of the House of Representatives in the 7th National Assembly clocked the golden age of 50 on 11, November, 2017. In this first part of the interview he had with journalists to mark the milestone, the former lawmaker who is now Executive Director, Marketing and Business Development, NIGCOMSAT spoke about his early years, education, advent in politics, law profession his 16 years sojourn as a lawmaker as well as his failed bid to transit to the Senate from the Green chamber. Ayorinde Oluokun was there.
Looking back, what would you say are the highlights of your life in the past 50 years?
First and foremost, I must thank the Almighty God for making me attain the age of 50. I just see right now that life is such a deep phenomenon. At every stage, you learn new things and even, the more you learn, the less you know. And the way God has programmed life is that you need to have a large dose of patience to be able to understand the mystery. So, for me, looking back at the last 50 years, or let me say, the last 40 years when I can begin to recall the events of life, I must but thank Him; given the very, very humble beginning. I still have a clear mental picture of where I started from.. If I was to go by the story of how I was born, where I was born and where I am today, it must be thanksgiving all the way. From a very, very humble unpredictable beginning to a height that nobody would have thought of if we are to go by our human intelligence. I must tell you that I have come a long way and my life has been a success, a huge one at that and I cannot but continue to give God the glory.
Just take us back to how it all started…
I was born to a retired military man, uneducated parents, so to speak. They were not living together, but they were married. They were separated because my father, as a soldier has to move from one station to the other and the wisdom of having me to stay back in the village-EGBA in Present day Uhunmwode Local Government Area of Edo State – while he sojourned all over the country was to ensure that my education was not affected. I stayed with my mum at Egba where I was raised up. My mum was the only child of her father who died some 38 years ago now. My mum and I were staying with her own dad. I started Primary at Aguebor Primary School Egba and by natural coincidence I could just learn fast, what they called native intelligence.
Among my peers, I was always excelling, academically from primary one, so much so that by the time I was in primary three, I could write a letter to my dad anywhere he was serving And by the time I was in primary five, I was already being summoned to community meetings in village squares to read letters for the elders and to even write letters for the community. I recalled that I used to top my class, but during one of the examinations, I came third in the village primary school.
In those days, the difference between a child who was doing well and a child who was a failure was that on the day of vacation, when they would announce results, parents would come to school to listen to their children’s results. The results were announced at the assembly ground in the primary school. And so, when they get to your class, and they start announcing results, your parent will want to hear. So, I think it was in the second term when I was in primary three, I came first in the first term and in the second term, I now came third and I started crying. So, immediately my mum heard the result, she went home, But after she left, I thought she was angry. So, when we eventually closed, I went and hid myself inside the bush. I was afraid to go back home because I thought I had not done well. And then, I caused panic for the woman because after sometimes, she started to look for me. My mum had gone to prepare meal for me and she was now looking for me So, I cried out from the bush path. She asked, “What is the problem?” I said, I didn’t pass well, she said ‘for what?”. To cut the long story short, she called me in, gave me food and encouraged me to do better in the next exams. So, I worked harder to pass and regained my position in the last term of that session. So, it was like that all through my primary school days.
What about your secondary school education…
One event that also punctuated my education at the primary school was that as at the time that I was at primary five, going to primary six, the secondary school in my community was established by Dr. Iyayi Efianayi, a well know philanthropist and industrialist. He donated it to the Bendel State government. Then, Professor Ambrose Ali was the governor. It was the era of free education. He built the school and donated it to the state government. And then, among the committee that put together the opening of the school and admits students were some top people from the community. They came to the primary school, because they needed to feed the secondary school, to pick their children and relations even from primary five.
But I had nobody to speak for me. Some of my classmates went into secondary school without going through primary six. And I felt so bad, and I told my mother, about it. ‘This one has gone to secondary school, but my mum said, ‘but they have not finished primary school now, so you wait, finish your own.’ Then, co-incidentally, during that period, my dad came back from the Army and bought things for me. I complained to him, he said no, there was nothing to worry about. I should just finish my primary school first. So I have to take to the advice of my parents.
The secondary school took off and in its second year, I was now due for admission and I had to write the common entrance. Pupils from various areas across the country came to write the common entrance and behold, I came second in that common entrance examination and I was highly celebrated. As fate would have it, some of those who left me in primary five and went to secondary school failed class one and I met them.
Eventually some could not even complete secondary school education. So, when they say ‘delay is not denial,’ there is a huge sense in it. We went through the secondary school, I did all my best, didn’t repeat any class, came home with laurels from time to time.
How did you decide on reading law at the University?
As at the time I was getting to the zenith of my secondary school education, I had my eyes on reading accountancy. It was just an intuition on my own, not because I had somebody I was looking up to. But intuitively, I just said I can be an accountant. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too good in mathematics and I had this teacher who was a bully. So if he teaches you anything, he takes it out with his cane. Towards the last classes, in those days when you have to do some difficult mathematics like quadratic equations, surds, factorization, Logarithm etc , I was interested in learning and passing them because I know they were necessary for me to read accountancy, that teacher didn’t help matters but eventually I had a pass in mathematics.
So, all that said, I still came out of the secondary school, made the normal five credits at a go which certainly did not qualify me to read accountancy. The challenge now was what do I do? I started doing what they called ‘forum shopping’- look at what course was available in what university that my qualifications can fit into because I had at the back of my mind that no matter what it is, I wanted to be a graduate. So, in my first year, I applied to UNN to read Political Science. I did JAMB, I couldn’t make enough points to get admitted. I have to take to teaching in my village secondary school, but not the one I went to.
And when I couldn’t get that admission for a few months, I now went to Higher Certificate Of Education department at Edo College, Benin city. I got admitted to do Advanced Levels, I did that for two years and I came out with eight points. But it was not enough to read Law and all those other competitive courses. So, I applied to University of Ibadan to read Political Science, but I was denied admission on the basis of quota. Somebody from Niger State was admitted to read Political Science with six points, I was denied because the quota system did not favour Edo State. I went to meet some Edo lecturers, Professor Obobaifo and a few of them from Edo State that time and they told me, well, there was nothing they could do because I was from educationally advantaged state. I became frustrated, so I went back to teaching for another one year.
Then, I started again with the forum shopping- which course will not be too competitive – and I ended up with Philosophy. So, I applied in 1989 for Philosophy at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife through direct entry and I was admitted. I didn’t know anybody. In fact, they said we were only six that applied and six of us were taken because it was not a competitive course. So, I got to Ife and I started studying Philosophy from 200 Level. At the end of the first year, I discovered that there was a possibility of changing a course from Philosophy to Law. It was a tradition in the school and it has been going on. And Ife was one school then that does not strictly require literature or mathematics for you to be able to study law. At the beginning my department didn’t want to release me. After some lobbying, pressure and persuasion I was released.
So, when I was in 300 level first semester, I was released to go back to Law at 200 level. I joined them in the Law Faculty for another three year programme and by the end of the third year, ASUU strike paralysed academic programs I had to spend four years and I eventually graduated with flying colours. I came out with second class upper division to my own surprise as well at the law school, against all the challenges of 1994 – that was the year fuel scarcity started in this country. We had to trek from Isolo to Law School in Victoria Island, we managed and we were able to make it.
By February 1995, the result was out and I also made second class honours upper Division. I was then called to the Nigerian Bar on 22 March 1995 and became a full fledge lawyer and that was when it dawned on my parents that I was on the right trajectory. I still remember vividly that my father broke down in tears on the day of my call to Bar because he never really understood what I was doing. He thought I was just one rascal, jumping from one course to the other. He felt so fulfilled. However, I must thank my parents particularly my mother who stood by me through thick and thin while I was in school.
You started your independent legal practice very early…
I was mobilized for Youth Service in Ogun State Ministry of Justice and later, Lateef Adegbite Chambers. I returned to Benin in 1996. I joined a fairly young lawyer in his chamber, wanting to learn how to practice. But I had wanted to be in corporate legal practice. At a time I became the Legal Adviser to Iyayi Group of Companies. I cannot forget a friend of mine with whom I taught at Messiah Secondary School, Urhokuosa – I met him there, he was far senior to me. But we bonded immediately I came to the school. He was teaching History and Bible Knowledge. I was teaching Government, Economics, Commerce and Book Keeping for the junior classes.
And the guy had gone to Japan after we left the teaching job, he wanted to read Law in Ife, he couldn’t make it, so he just travelled abroad. He came back in late 1996 and I told him I have become a lawyer and I was working in another lawyer’s chamber and he said, ‘for what, can’t you start your own law firm, why should you be under somebody?’ I said it cost money to open a law firm. He said ‘my friend, go and look for a space.’ May his soul rest in peace, My friend, Joseph Amadin Ediagbonya, he gave me money to get an office apartment and that was how I started my chambers in November 1996 also with the financial support of Mr. Abel Omoruyi, Managing Director IYARE Motors less than six months after I left Youth Service.
In fact, it was unprecedented. I incurred the wrath of very senior lawyers in Benin. They said, Ahaa, ‘he is too much in a hurry’, he doesn’t even want to learn. What does he know.’ Well, I started my legal practice and I was meeting many of these lawyers in court and I wasn’t doing badly.
So, how did you join politics?
It was in the course of my legal practice that my community, Egba community sent for me to join politics to represent them as Vice Chairman of the local government. Some Politicians actually came to meet the President of Egba Development Organization Engineer Collins Idemudia who took me in soon after I returned from Youth Services having taken interest in me before I left school. And the opportunity just came- they came to meet him and said we needs somebody in your community that will come and join us to be a vice chairman to a chairmanship candidate. The man told them that in my community, we don’t do politics and that was true. It wasn’t as if people were not participating in politics, but there was no one out there engaging in political contests. So, he asked me whether I was interested. I said I was interested. That was how I joined politics in late 1996 under the Abacha transition. But along the line, I discovered that I wasn’t qualified for the position.
They wanted me to be vice chairman to a chairmanship candidate. But by the time the primary was conducted, the candidate of those who came to meet us was defeated, but the candidate of another group within the party- UNCP won. And then, smartly because of the people that were supporting me, that other group now took me as the vice chairman to their own chairmanship candidate.
But I now discovered that I was not qualified on the grounds of age. Under the Transition Decree of 1996, to qualify to be a chairman or vice chairman of a local government, you must have attained at least, the age of 35. As at 1996, I was 29. But they said, ‘No, I should go and swear to an affidavit.’ I said to add six years to my age? I felt so confused but convinced that it was not a risk I was ready to take. So, I reported to my benefactors that this is what they wanted me to do, they said, ‘No, no, no, you are too young for that’ Look, that is what they do, politicians, they don’t tell the truth, how can they ask you to go and swear to affidavit?’. You have already graduated, you are a lawyer. You have your records. And your records show your true age. So, if you now go and swear to affidavit to increase your age now and tomorrow, they now discover your records in school, what will happen?’ I even told them that I just wanted them to know that there is no way on earth that I would do that. It was against my beliefs and against my principle.
So, Pa Iyayi suggested on the advice of my brother Julius Onaghise that we shouldn’t just run away. We should write to thank them and also tell them that even though we are not going to be able to accept we are stiil going to work with them in their party, so that if they win, we can be in their good books.
And whatever we are asking for, we would be on the right moral footing. So, that we did. We reported to our father, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia of blessed memory and he now said that was fine. We gave him the letter. In fact, by that evening a new vice chairman who was older than the chairmanship candidate has emerged. As a matter of fact, that challenge of age was not only confronting me, it was speculated that even the chairmanship candidate himself also has that challenge which eventually showed up after we won the election. He was taken to court, they challenge his age and the election.
One of the arguments was that he was not qualified by age and that the election that happened in my own unit where I voted was rigged. We got the highest votes in my own particular unit. I went to court to defend those votes. Eventually, we succeeded in the case and the man became chairman of Council. Three months after the election, a new set of guidelines came out for election into State Assemblies. So, when I saw the guidelines, I discovered that I would be qualified to run for the House of Assembly. By the Decree, to be a member of the House of Assembly, you must have attained the age of 30 as at the time of the election. So, I now stepped forward to meet the same people. I said now that the Local Government Election was over; I want to go to the House of Assembly.
A few other people also came out, but we were able to negotiate with them together with my people. I was given the the ticket of the party to contest the house of Assembly for the Uhunmwode State Constituency. Thanks to Sen.. Roland Owie and Owere Dickson Imasogie amongst others but both of them were the leaders of the Local Government at that time with Dr. S. O Ogbemudia as our overall Leader in the State. As at the time they were conducting the primaries for that election, I was still less than 30. But luckily enough, the election was going to be on December 7th, and by November 11, 1997, I would have clocked 30.
The primary was conducted in October. So, when I appeared before the screening panel, one of the issues that was raised at that interview was that ‘look at your age, you are below 30. I said, yes, you are right. I am below 30 as at today. But the law says you must be 30 as at the time of the election. I will be 30 years and a month old by the time the election will be held. In fact, the Committee clapped for me and they said I should go. I won the election. But we had to wait from December, 1997 when the election was held to June, 1998 when Abacha died. We were not sworn in, but we were called members- Elect of the House. So, I was member-elect of the United Nigeria Congress Party for six months. Of course, when Abacha died, the transition ended and General Abubakar came in and started a new transition process.
Election into Edo House of Assembly…
By 1999, a new set of elections were conducted. I got the ticket to run on the platform of PDP and I won, I became a member of Edo State House of Assembly and I was sworn in. As at that time, having gone into the House of Assembly, my biggest ambition was to be the chairman of my local government. I thought that when you are a chairman of the local government, you will be able to impact much more than being a member of the house of Assembly.
But some leaders particularly Owere Dickson Imasogie told me that I have no business contesting the chairmanship of a council and that I should remain in the House since I was doing well. He added that if I remained in the House, I have the chance of going for the second term and even stand the chance of going to the House of Representatives.
That was the first time I was hearing that there was the possibility of graduating to the House of Representatives. To cut the story short, the horse trading that characterized the chairmanship election didn’t actually favour me and eventually, I had to give it up for Dr. Ogbemudia’s son, Eghosa my brother and I returned back to the House for a second term. That was how I went back to the House. So, I now started to pursue that ambition that Owere Imasogie had shown to me , I was supported by Dr. Ogbemudia and my performance at the state level also gave me an edge and in 2007, I was elected to represent Orhionmwon and Uhunmwode Federal constituency .
House of Representatives and defection to APC
Well, in my first term in the House of Representatives a political tsunami happened in Edo and that was the change of government through the court when Professor Osunbor, the governor with whom we contested election on the platform of PDP was ousted by court and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Action Congress was installed as the Governor. That shook the Politics of Edo State from which many are yet to recover. So many political casualties were recorded.
And along the line, the Comrade Governor started making inroads into the political circles in Edo. I was one of those he reached out to because he said he was impressed about my performance in the House and he sought my support to work with him as the governor of the State and from the way he started, I also had no doubt that I have so many things in common with him.
So, I was attracted and that was how by May 15, 2010, I became a member of the Action Congress, later Action Congress of Nigeria on the platform of which I contested my second term for the House of Representatives in 2011. I came back to the House for a second term, thus making the fourth term consecutively in my political career.
What would you say are your achievements in the House of Representatives
My last term in the House of Reps was quite eventful. That was when I was able to achieve most of the milestones I set for myself in terms of attracting development to the various parts of my constituency. With my enhanced position as a ranking member and a principal officer, I had the rare privilege of being able to attract projects and give people more jobs.
Even as I speak with you, two and half years down the line, some of the projects that were started in the twilight of my leaving the House are still ongoing. Worthy of mention is the 25 kilometre road that goes from Benin, through Egba to Akure road which is still ongoing. I thank God for that. The primary health centres through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, schools through UBEC, electrification projects of several communities because I represented a predominantly rural community.
I had the privilege of travelling far and wide- almost all the continents because of the demands of my job as parliamentarian to attend courses for the advancement of legislative duties, the legislature and legislative management, courses in leadership and so many others in many parts of the world. An opportunity which being a legislator also afforded me is that it gave me the opportunity of having friends today in every part of the federation.
If you talk of any state in the country now, I would not have to think much before I could tell you a few names who were of course, my colleagues.
Failure to win Edo South Senatorial District in 2015 general elections
Because of my performance in the National Assembly as minority whip , my courage to confront issues as they come, especially as member and one of the leader of the opposition party my governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was quite impressed and sold the idea of running for the senatorial seat of my district – Edo South Senatorial District- to me.
I accepted to run in 2013 for Senate. Despite all the challenges and land mines put on my way, I won the primaries conducted by the APC on December 8, 2014. However, I did not win general election held on March 28, 2015. Of course, the story of how the election of 2015 was conducted in Edo is something that is well known to many people today. But looking back, I think there is nothing to regret.
God has a purpose for everything. When I looked back now, I think I haven’t lost anything. God has only made a statement to me that ‘Look, I give power. I don’t think this one is meant for you.’ So, if it is not meant for you, if you like let all the governors in Nigeria support you, you will not get it. It was the governor that invited me to run in the first place and I thanked him for that. It was in appreciation of my performance and I remained eternally grateful to him for all the support that he gave me.
Now, when I lost election in 2015 a new vista was opened in my life. I became a new born baby in learning the lessons of life afresh. I never knew that I didn’t have the number of friends I thought I had. Almost sixty per cent of those that were always around me including some of my staffs when I was in the House disappeared. But again, it was a lesson in defeat that I was learning. It was like there was a conspiracy to send me into political irrelevance. And I said, ‘Wait a minute, is it the same life that I have been living?’ Because in the course of my political career, I wouldn’t say I was hundred percent perfect, but I can say that within the limits of human abilities, I did my very best to put smiles on the faces of majority of people who I came across or who asked me for help.
As a legislator, nobody expected me to provide everything. But if I give you my project records, you can see what I did. Is it in the area of meeting real personal needs of political actors to the extent that you will do the unthinkable in order to get a critical actor to be happy? But no sooner had I left office and they saw that the authority has left and they thought that like the Biblical Jonathan, the glory of God has departed, their own was how to send me to a political exile/extinction (My own reading as I came to interact with older political friends, read books about life, religion, existence and all that and matched them with the experience I was going through, I now said yes, I can understand what is happening) I was like a man who have been viewing life from one angle, what has happened was that God has taken me from that angle and has taken me to another angle and is telling me to see if it is the same life I was seeing when I was in government.
But I discovered that the life was totally different from what I was used to. And I told myself, thank God for all these lessons because if I had won the election to the Senate, these same people would have remained my idols and I would have continued to massage their ego. And one good character which I developed when I was in office was that I refused to allow people feel that after getting into office, I am now either disloyal or fighting with them.
So, even when they are wrong, I found a way to adjust or where there are backlashes, I found a way to solve the problems arising therefrom to ensure that everybody is happy. But when I left office and I have no such authority or resources to play that role I was playing in order to stabilize the politics of the area and I now decided to say a man must play politics with principles and I held on to some principles to say, look, this issue is not like this, I can’t go with this, I became an enemy. So, to cut the long story short, I have enjoyed being out of power, not in monetary, physical, material terms but I am richer in experience about life , about individuals, about those who called you friends and about politics generally. So, I have no cause to regret at the end of the day.