The All Progressives Congress party’s governorship primary in Ondo was shifted twice in one week and some people say the reasons go beyond the ones given by the party. Do you also suspect foul play by the party’s leadership?
No, I don’t suspect any foul play. My take is that the party at the state level has not shown enough cooperation with the national body of the party. You will notice that at a meeting with the executive members of the party, the chairman was said to have stated repeatedly that they were not prepared. So let’s be fair to ourselves. The party in the state was not prepared, had not made bookings, had not contacted the Independent National Electoral Commission and not done anything as they said. Those coming to conduct the election had expected those basic things to have been done, thinking that they would only be required to have a look at what had been done and approve or change a few things. So I’m sure that the primary committee needed time. I want to believe that the party was ill prepared and this led to the shifting of the dates, though there have been rumours here and there, but I don’t want to believe them. I believe the reason for the last postponement had to do with the Presidency’s wish to see all the aspirants and the earliest time the Presidency could engage with us was on the Monday preceding the date for the primary. And if we had to be in Abuja on that Monday, we would not be able to return to Akure to prepare for the primary slated for Wednesday. So I think those are the things that informed the postponement.
Some people believe that you have no political weight. How do you think you stand ahead of the election?
I have a very bright chance, not just bright, I can assure you, by the grace of God Almighty, I am winning the primary. I never had any doubt in my mind; I know that I will win.
Some people have said that you don’t look prepared for serious governance and that you are an ‘on and off’ politician, who only remembers people when you need their votes. What do you say to that?
It is better for those who have that notion to ask from the people of the state to tell them if any other person is more familiar with the politics of the state more than me. I am somebody who ran for an election in 2012 as a candidate. How is it possible for that person to be unfamiliar with the politics of the state? I ran for an election, I toured round the 18 local government areas of the state more than once. The places I know now in this state, even the governor cannot claim to know them. So I want to tell you that I am very familiar with the politics of the state.
Even if you eventually get the party’s ticket, what chances do you have to defeat the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, who is from the Central Senatorial District, which has the largest chunk of voters?
(Cuts in) Forget about that, that is a fallacy; Central is not made up of Akure people alone. We have a large population of Owo people in Akure. We also have Akoko people, Ondo people, Idanre people and so on. So Akure is cosmopolitan and every other person has come there to stay. Akure people are minority in Akure; I can tell you that I shall win that election if given the ticket. There is nothing for me to worry about; the votes I will gather from all over the state will be mammoth. So whether they bring their candidate from Akure or Ilaje, that would not stop the votes I will get.
Before now, you hobnobbed with your party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, with the hope that he would endorse you as he did in the last election. Is that the reason for your recent outburst against the man who put you ahead of other candidates at the time?
I don’t know those who are saying so; I don’t know what they mean by endorsement this time around. There was never a time that I was endorsed by anybody. I keep explaining it to anybody that cares to listen that there was no time I was endorsed by anybody. We had a process that every candidate submitted to in 2012. That process is called caucus team. The caucus of the party interviewed and interacted with all those who had interests in being governor and by unanimous decision, the caucus team picked me. There was no issue of endorsement. I have never sought anybody’s endorsement. I have never asked anybody to endorse me. But I have informed the leaders of the party that I am running. I informed Asiwaju, I informed Baba Bisi Akande and I informed the President of the country. I informed virtually all the leaders of the party including all the governors. I did not ask them to endorse me. I only went to inform them. That was what happened. If I had sought for endorsement, I would have been disappointed. But since nobody endorsed me, there is nothing like disappointment.
You said you were not endorsed by Tinubu in 2012 but how come that was not the way Ondo people and other persons interested in the position saw it?
Let me start from 2012. We operated under the Action Congress of Nigeria and the party in 2012 did not say it was going to conduct primary. In the ACN in 2012, nobody paid money for expression of interest but here, all aspirants have paid N2m each, except the lady among us who paid N1m. In the ACN, nobody obtained any form but here, we have all paid N5.5m each to obtain form to run this election except for the lady, who got it for free. When I say that I was not imposed or endorsed by anybody in 2012, I stand by it. I remember the operation and all of us who contested know it too. We attended meetings, not once, twice, three times or four times with the leadership of the party then; that was the style in the ACN. The leadership of the party formed a committee headed by Chief Akande and included all past governors like Tinubu, Niyi Adebayo, Segun Osoba, and probably Lam Adesina and governors of the ACN then. So the committee needed to get a consensus candidate, so it was not one person that imposed the candidate. Tinubu couldn’t have imposed me; he couldn’t have endorsed me because like I said, there was a process and it was one that all of us submitted ourselves to. In an interview, I said there is a law that says that you cannot complain of an injury when you have voluntarily submitted yourself to the process. In that process all along, if not all the time, the committee usually asked us if we were all prepared to abide by its decision and accept whoever was chosen among us and everybody said yes. So, I know for a fact that in the meetings, because it was not just one meeting, people argued in support of different aspirants. If by consensus in that meeting, I was endorsed or chosen to be the candidate, then it was not one person choosing me as the candidate. So it was not one person that imposed Akeredolu on others. I am sure if you ask Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, he will tell you that he did not impose Akeredolu on others. What I’m trying to get at is that after I emerged as the consensus candidate, as a predominant leader of the party then, Asiwaju Tinubu engaged other aspirants and told them why the committee picked Akeredolu. And as the leader of the party then, he spent a fortune to assist us in the election in the state and nobody can take that away from him. So when anybody comes around and says that Akeredolu was imposed on others, I always take pains to explain that I was not imposed on others. All of us who contested agreed to abide by the decision of the committee and not that Asiwaju said this is the candidate. In this particular case, Asiwaju had told all of us to go and run for the primary, and then, he came out to say he was endorsing a particular person, when all of us had spent money to obtain forms. There’s difference in the two cases. People must try to understand and many of us should be able to say the truth.
People know you as a close associate of Tinubu and he supported you as the ACN’s candidate in 2012, at what point did the two of you have issues?
I will not say Asiwaju (Tinubu) supported me, many people will think he did. I knew in 2012 that he mentioned to me that he was the one that asked Olusegun Abraham to contest, so if in 2012, he brought Abraham, his friend, because they are close, then I don’t think I have to say more than that. The possibility is there for anyone to think that since he (Tinubu) asked somebody to contest, maybe he was persuaded then and had to be part of the collective decision. I want to believe that Asiwaju must have been persuaded by our leaders. So I went into the 2012 election with the belief that Abraham was his candidate but like I said, it was possible for him to have been persuaded at the meetings when the committee took the decision. If the opinion of the committee favoured me, then there was nothing anybody could have done. We have leaders who can testify to this that Tinubu did not impose a candidate in 2012, it was the decision of the committee.
Then is it true that you are the leader of the group of aspirants ganging up against Tinubu’s candidate?
What do you mean by gang up? I am not ganging up against anybody and I don’t know whether some people are ganging up against anybody. What I know is that I am running for governorship and I am running to win the primary and I will win the primary. Gang up for what? Gang up against somebody who has no vote, somebody who is not known, somebody who cannot win, somebody who has no structure? Wherever it is he comes from, he cannot win. We don’t need to gang up against him; he would come in this election a distant fifth with all the support he gets. Even with every support they give him, he would come a distant fifth. All I know is that I am working to win and I would win the primary.
What then happens if the candidate allegedly supported by Tinubu wins the primary?
I can assure you that whoever wins will have my support. I am a member of the party and a loyal party person and I cannot go to any other party and I’m only in this race for service. If I feel too strongly about any candidate they pick, I will withdraw back into my practice; I have lost nothing. But I know that there will be some difficulties, not from me alone, but from many of the aspirants who will feel that they have been dumped if the endorsed candidate emerges winner. So we must be prepared to manage this. But I know if any other candidate emerges other than the endorsed candidate, everybody will come out to support him. So the party can still manage it. A meeting has been called now and if that meeting gives directives and asks people to stop this monumental monetisation of the process, all we need is to assuage the feelings of the aspirants and drop the issue of endorsement. Then, whoever emerges among the aspirants, we will all support.
There is already an internal crisis in the Ondo State APC and it will be tough for anyone who wins the primary to get the support of others. How would you deal with the problem and placate aggrieved members of the party should you be successful?
When there is a contest of this nature, there would be a lot of dust but the dust would be settled after the primary. We belong to the same party; we will talk to one other. Immediately I emerge, I will set up a committee to liaise with other aspirants to work together and unite as a party. There will be no problem; my romance especially, is with the people of Ondo State whose interests I want to serve and I am giving them the assurance that they will get good government as soon as I get to power.
The party’s chairman in the state, Isaac Kekemeke, has purportedly been impeached and you aspirants are also in support of the impeachment. How has the party been dealing with that?
Kekemeke was not purportedly impeached; he has been impeached. In law, he has ceased to be the chairman of the party. What the national body said is that it is more concerned about the primary now. According to law, a motion was passed by two-thirds majority of the state executive and it has been sent to the national body. What is expected of him (Kekemeke), if he is a man of honour, is to step aside and let the national body set up a committee, according to the provisions of the party. The man has been impeached. But I am not one of those who impeached him. What I know is that majority of aspirants have said it over and over and we have told the national body and also discussed it at every forum that we don’t have confidence in him again. If a vote of no confidence has been passed on him by all and sundry in the party, I don’t know why he wants to stay on by force. As for the impeachment, I am not part of the executive that impeached him but I have no confidence in him.
But it appears that President Buhari and the party’s national secretariat support Kekemeke because they have not said anything about the matter.
I don’t think they kept mute and that is why I said to you that the national headquarters said its immediate concern in Ondo State is the primary and after that, it will set up a committee. It cannot put so many sticks in the fire but the major thing now is the primary and thereafter, it will make a resolution. If he (Kekemeke) has honour, he should step aside now.
But won’t that affect the primary negatively?
There is no way it will affect the primary because he has no role to play in the primary. We have even said that he should not be allowed to play any role in the primary. That is why we said he should step aside. For instance, if he has said that he is endorsing an aspirant and has gone ahead to work for the candidate, nobody would frown at him but as a chairman, he wants to deploy the apparatus of the party to serve the interest of a particular aspirant. You cannot force all the party leaders in the state to work for any aspirant; no responsible chairman would do that.
Some people have said that you are not independently minded and can be pushed around by the APC national leaders. What do you say to that?
Anybody that says that does not know me. That is not possible when everybody is even afraid of me. Do you know the position I occupied before? The President of NBA! In fact, one of the problems I have with some people is that they are saying maybe this man will be too rigid and I am assuring them that they don’t need to fear. I would run the state in the best interest of Ondo State people and not in the interest of any individual, so there is no way anybody can push me around. If the problem is that I am going to run the state in the interest of Ondo State people, I have no apology for that. I repeat, if the fear that the people have is that I am the person that cannot be pushed around, I have no apology for that because I am going to run the affairs of the state in the best interest of Ondo State people, not in the best interest of any individual.