Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu is the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State. He speaks in this interview on his ambition and vision for the state. FELIX NWANERI reports
You were in the governorship race in Ondo State in 2012 and now you are back, what has been the motivation for you?
I was picked to ran in 2012 through caucusing in the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). I don’t believe that we lost the election because we were just victims of electoral fraud promoted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the outgoing governor – hand in glove.
We fought the matter to the Supreme Court as you know. And we believed we were walking on sound ground; we believed our case was good because there were some fundamental errors on the voters’ register. For instance, we were able to prove that there was injection of names in the voters’ register; there was nothing left because the voters’ register remains the basis of any election.
So, if there are errors in it, there was nothing to be substantially complied with. Again, this time around, I have yielded to the clarion call of our people. I believe they are not having the best as we would expect of an oil producing state. There is nothing to write home about the state capital.
You need to get to Imo State and see how developed the state capital is and I don’t believe our people have the best. They have been on the wrong side of everything. So, I am convinced that if given the opportunity, we would turn the lives of our people around. In 2012, we won in spite of shenanigans here and there. And again, moving on, we are trusting in God that we will win again.
Between then and now, has there been transformation in your political personality. Have you become more of a politician because we see less of you in the courts?
There has been definitely. As you have rightly observed, I have not been going to court that much, particularly in the last one year. I have only concerned myself by handling few cases.
At this age, I don’t need more than one or two cases in a year; it is enough for you to live on and the younger ones will keep going to court. So, because of my political pursuit I just felt like giving it all because it is the last time. If I win this election, I would thank God and I will serve my people. If I don’t win, I am back to my practice.
This is the last shot in politics except if I am convinced and I want to run for a higher office because I am getting old. So, this is my last shot at it, so I am giving it all I have. So, there has been tremendous change, seriously.
What has been your experience in the last five years since you dabbled into partisan politics?
My experience has been very nice. I have had good relationship with the people of Ondo State because when I ran, I knew we had our limitations.
I came into a political party that was virtually nonexistent in Ondo State and I knew that we had to put everything into it; not only myself, we had many aspirants in ACN; all of us made our contributions in one way or the other but when I became candidate, it became my own sole responsibility to make sure that the ACN is known.
I was coming up as former president, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). I had that high level of visibility in the country and nobody can deny it. I am proud of my pedigree. The fact that you have risen to that pedestal could assist any political party whatsoever and that lifted the party up.
The votes we garnered in spite of all the riggings was o n e t h at the ACN of that time never had one quarter of; or let me be fair to them, they never had a third of it. So, it has been like that; bringing up a party and being part of that party growing up into APC, which is a bigger party. My experience has been that people love you; people respect you, but there are other low sides of politics that I don’t buy.
That is where people get treacherous. Treachery in politics is not one of my ways of life and this is what is happening. And it gets on my nerves as a person that you will see people at the highest level involved in shenanigans and they have no respect for themselves.
They are treacherous people and cannot be trusted by anybody. It is an unfortunate thing but you see it. Though they will think they are playing politics, they are more or less going to destroy themselves at the end of the day. Politics, to me is loyalty.
Politics should be like a love affair in which whatever it is you love, you hold on to it. Friendship is something that you take dearly. It’s been my life but this is not so in politics.
This is what I have experienced. People that you think are your friends are the people that will stab you in the back. People you toil for don’t even appreciate it. It is just like people you lay your life down for; you will just be surprised that they are the people who will turn their backs against you. I don’t believe it is good experience when I remember what we go through these days and people say it is in the name of politics.
Is that what it is; that they don’t value friendship? Is it politics that you are not loyal to your party? You just mouth it. People want to play God, but they forget that they are men with clay feet.
Have you reached out to those that felt aggrieved after your party’s primary?
I am not sure that there were people that are really aggrieved. We went into a primary, someone emerged from the primary and some of them were suborned. They knew we had free and fair primaries but because people cannot accept defeat they suborned about three of us, encouraged them to file unmeritorious appeal, their appeal was thrown away and yet they do not want to stop at that.
They still went ahead to encourage them to involve in anti-party activities. Yes, one of them did the right thing and went to another party. Fair enough! But there is still one or two others, who pretend to still be in the party but they are working against their party’s interest. So, how do you say they are aggrieved? You cannot talk to them any longer. Somebody, who has left your party to another party and is being sponsored by the leadership of the party in the South-West.
It is unfortunate. What do you want to say to those people? You try to appeal to the leadership; you try to send people to them, you don’t do this to your party and they don’t want to hear. They are giving money out, not in hundreds of millions but in billions because you want to fight your party. So, do you still say those people are aggrieved? They have left. There is nothing we could do. Every other person that believes in the APC has returned to the party. Almost immediately we won, we met with people. Those who believe in the party remained, but those who do not have left.
Some are still here pretending because they are holding offices in the name of the party and they know that if they come out and say they have decamped to another party, they would lose their seats, so they are pretending.
So, there is nothing we can do about it. We have tried our best; we have made efforts to see whether we can bring them back to see reason but since they are being propelled from areas that I least expected; people that you took as leaders of the party are the ones encouraging this; they are the ones sponsoring this and they are encouraging anti-party activities; there is nothing anybody can do.
If they want to continue what can we do? We have left everything in the hands of God.
Given the picture that you have painted, it appears that the mechanism for party discipline has collapsed within the APC or is it that some of the leaders have become sacred cows that they cannot be subjected to discipline?
On party discipline, I believe that by the end of this election, a lot will be said about it. Most of the people who are involved in antiparty activities at the state and local government level, it is easier to identify them. People have written letters of protests that the chairmen of their wards have been attending so and so meeting. They have even removed some. Where the party has failed to discipline some, people have taken it upon themselves to discipline them.
Like a chairman of the party in one of our local governments here, who is believed to have moved to AD. I am told that they took the vehicle he was riding which they believe is for party work. I am not sure whether he has gone to the police to report or not but they took it. That to me is discipline.
So, if the party decides not to discipline those engaged in antiparty activities, people will discipline them.
But like said, after this election the issue of discipline would be dealt with because those who are doing it are doing it behind the scene. They have not come all out. That is why we said that most of these people are lilylivered.
They only pretend as if they are bold. We are throwing a challenge to them. If you are bold, attend AD rally and come out and say you are supporting AD.
I will tell you that they would be disciplined if they come out. The party disciplinary measures are strong and effective but when you don’t have them red-handed, it is not easy. When they are doing it clandestinely, it’s not easy.
When this election is over, we will put it across to the party and I know the party will discipline them.
You exchanged some words with your party chairman, Isaac Kekemeke before the primary, how far have you gone in mending fences?
I can’t remember exchanging words with Kekemeke. All I know of Kekemeke is that he is man who has occupied virtually all important positions you can hope for in life. He has been commissioner, a member of the House of Assembly, Secretary to State Government and Attorney-General. That means as a lawyer, he has occupied any position any human being can hope for.
That has a lot of influence on his decisions. Why I say it has a lot of influence is that he was right to come out and say ‘look, I am the chairman of APC and I will not be chairman of APC and go to join any other party.’
There are some others who are pretending but Kekemeke came out immediately and pledged his allegiance to APC saying he will not pledge any clandestine support for any other party. And I don’t believe that he is doing it. So, that is my view. I have no reason to suspect him. I have every reason to believe that we are working together to make sure that our party wins this election.
What are your programmes for Ondo State should you emerge as governor?
When it comes to my programme, I have five cardinal programmes and I have gone everywhere to sell them. It is called JMPPR. The J, we want to create jobs through agriculture, entrepreneurship and industrialisation.
We don’t have industries in Ondo State and people are not being encouraged to create their own businesses. So, we are going to have a College of Entrepreneurs, whose graduates would be able to establish their own industries; employ themselves and then employ others. We have to go back to basics. We want to encourage our youths to go back to agriculture. There are so many value chains in agriculture. It is just that people have abandoned it.
The M, we want to get involved in massive infrastructural development – roads; a lot of our schools are dilapidated, some have no roofs. Infrastructure is important and maintenance too. Then the P is that we want to promote what we call functional education and technical growth. We have schools but what training do we get from there?
We have schools, we don’t have teachers. We have some teachers who are not trained. The other P – that is provision of affordable healthcare services.
Today, most of our comprehensive health centres don’t even exist. Most local government areas don’t even have general hospitals. We must be able to provide affordable healthcare services. And the last – R; is what we call rural development and extension services because I believe that by the time I leave as governor of this state, the only thing I want to be remembered for is that I was the governor who opened up all rural areas.
Is it true that Governor Olusegun Mimiko is reaching out to you?
Governor Mimiko has not reached out to me. I don’t know what he would do from today. But you would not expect him not to reach out to anybody. He was pursuing a cause that he believed in its success. So may be now that the Court of Appeal has adjourned indefinitely, it is possible for him to say the election is on Saturday, why don’t I reach out. But I am telling you, he has not reached out to me.
If he does will you accept him?
We are talking about politics. If Oke decides to come back now, would I not accept him? Anybody can come. If Oke that said he is in Alliance for Democracy (AD) decides that he will no longer be contesting, wouldn’t I be happy?
Some people think you have won the election because there are some powerful forces behind you. Can you tell us about that?
People are entitled to say whatever they want to say but whether or not I have won the election is a different thing. When they say powerful people behind me; that will not be my basis for saying I would win this election.
I am telling you, I would win this election because God is behind me. He started this work and I believe He would complete it. Who are the powerful people? The president believes in his reputation, so he would never try to influence anything and we have come to accept it in the party.
You spoke about party members being treacherous, are you not worried that this is capable of affecting APC’s chances in the election?
I am worried that this treachery that is playing out would affect the party’s fortune, but it will only affect it to some extent because we will surmount it. The margin would have been wide, but it might not be as wide as we expected.
If we are together and the party is still intact, you can imagine what would have happened now that the PDP is totally decimated. It would have been very wide, but because of the treachery that some people have decided to engage in, which is unfortunate to me, but we would still win. I don’t run away from reality. I know it will affect our fortune.
You have listed some laudable projects you want to embark on if elected. How do you intend to finance these projects?
You can’t start such programmes if you have not given them a thought. I spoke about job creation and agriculture; what is going to be involved other than tractors, mechanised farming.
It is not that capital-intensive that you need to break the bank to do. I am sure that once the bank and other financiers, who are prepared to assist you, know that you are genuine, the money will come. I did ‘Aketi Means Business’ about four days ago, it was like a symposium. Chinese and Japanese people were here.
All of them wanted to talk to us about what they have. Some have signified that they want to have industries here. It is for you to give the enabling environment to them.
So, there are many ways you can do things. Even the little finance you have, when it is properly managed, you will see that you will achieve greatly. If you give a company land and you don’t take money from them, that is your own contribution. We don’t have to demand for much. We just have to cooperate and allow an enabling environment for companies to thrive.
When they are now thriving, our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will shoot up. So, there are many ways in which we will get money and I know that we have people who are ready to partner with us. There are banks who will partner with us. The informal economy can really galvanise the economy of a state.
There are many things we want to do at the same time and I am not worried about finance. I know that we are an oil producing state. We have money. It is just that we have not been dedicated in the way we have been running the affairs of this state.
Who do you consider as your closest rival in the race?
With the court decision, Jegede is probably out. I believe that the AD candidate is because of the stupendous money they are spending. He is enjoying very rare largesse coming from some APC states. So, since he has money and our people are poor; people capitalize on level of poverty. But I know our people, they might be poor but that poverty of the mind is not one of their diseases.
They will take money from them but they will still express their minds when the time comes. That is why we are confident that we will win by the grace of God. Ondo people know that they stand to gain a lot to be within the Change family than to be in a solo party.
Are you sure that this election will not be postponed?
I am not God and I am not INEC but I pray that the election is held on Saturday. If for reasons, I don’t believe the reason will be Mimiko. It won’t be fair.
The only way he can achieve that is only to organise maximum violence and chaos. But if he is not able to do that and I don’t expect that he will have that power, the security agents should be able to stop it. If INEC has reasons to postpone it; no problem for us. Hold the election today, do it in December, we are going to win. So, we are not bothered.
Some people feel that you are not a grassroots politician and that there is a disconnect between you and Ondo people. How would react to that?
I don’t know how these people measure their connection with the grassroots. If connection with grassroots is being deceitful, then I don’t think I have connection with them.
But if connection with the grassroots is the affection you show to the people, I know that no other politician in this state has better connection with the grassroots than myself.
I enjoy tremendous affection of the people of this state. Sometimes when I see the way they behave, I am in tears because I feel and I pray that nobody should terminate the interests of this people in who they want as governor of this state.