Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu
Governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) for the October 20 Ondo election, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, was in Lagos recently where he fielded questions from journalists. Olawale Olaleye who was at the parley presents the excerpts:
Your emergence as candidate of the ACN has been shrouded in controversy, how have you been able to appease the aggrieved and more importantly, disprove the notion that you are not your own man?
I wish to place on record that I have always been my own man. The assumption in some quarters that I was hand-picked is not correct. I have served as Attorney General of Ondo State before and I know Ondo state very well. It is also instructive to point out that when I was a former president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and was championing a number of campaigns aimed at curbing government excesses, was anybody using us? So all along, I have always been my own man at every given opportunity.
On the issue of my emergence, I want to say that the process that produced me was fair because all the aspirants signed up to it. No exception. Every political party has its process of selection which I believe is democratic enough. If at the end of the day some people feel aggrieved, which I believe is normal, well; but we have continued to talk to them and most of them are now with us. If we have one or two who felt they must eventually go, then, there is nothing we can do about that.
It is politics. It is personal ambition. If you chose to be governor and somebody offered you deputy governorship ticket and you accepted it that means you never wanted to be governor in the first place. So, for me, nobody can fault the process of my emergence because it was thorough and we were all part of it. By and large, I believe the Action Congress of Nigeria that chose me has made the best choice for Ondo State towards the governorship election.
Your opponent and incumbent governor kicked off his campaign few weeks back and at your home town in Owo. Isn’t that instructive?
Let me say this, the crowd you saw were people that were bussed from outside. People from Owo never came out. They bussed in people from all the 18 local governments to Owo. We all know crowd doesn’t vote. We are unperturbed because we know people are behind us. Even with the crowd that was brought to Owo, if you asked them to vote, we know that over 70 percent of them will vote for us. You can bring people to rally. You can drive people to rally and you can more or less bribe people to come to a political campaign. They were more or less forcing people to come out.
They are forcing civil servants while teachers were given numbers and at the end of the day, you gave them money. We have been out and we have seen crowd too- those who will attend rallies from 9 am till 11 pm without being given a Kobo. Those are the real crowd. Those are the people we have. If you do your research in Owo, you will confirm what I’m saying and you will discover that the crowd was brought there.
Why do you think an incumbent will lose to you?
Yes, when Asiwaju Tinubu said Mimiko will lose, I’m even saying that is an understatement. Let me say emphatically that Mimiko has already lost the election. He can never win any election in Ondo state and that is why he is running from pillar to post. This is because he knows quite well that he has lost the forthcoming election. And how did he lose? It has been said that if you have a government that has nothing as achievement in four years, how do you expect people to vote for such government? In four years, he started one or two roads, none is completed. And I have said while I was campaigning that he can never complete any of those roads because I will be the one to complete them. I’m standing on that. Again, you have a government in a state where army of unemployed has increased and many of these unemployed are voters. How do you expect those people to vote for government that does not provide them with jobs?
I tell you many of those you see in their rallies were there because they are forced. Some, out of inducement and some are there for sight-seeing. Some go there to collect vests and money. In the heart of Ondo people, Mimiko is out already. You can stay here in Lagos, watch television and start to imagine how we are going to defeat him because of the crowd you see. But I don’t have any doubt in my mind that he is going to lose. And if we are to look at it critically again, are the people of Ondo state foolish? They are not.
The government has not achieved anything, except hardship. The economy is grounded. How do you expect people to retain it? You need to go to Ondo State, the whole place is dry. There is no money. That is the reality people of Ondo State are facing and many people who are not there don’t know. That’s why we are confident we are going to win.
Specifically, what are your plans for the state?
We have sold to the people of Ondo State, a five cardinal programme. These include education, technology, agriculture, entrepreneurship and infrastructure, and most importantly, the rural areas. I have told them that I have commitment to the rural areas. I have absolute commitment to the areas and our farmers will have cause to smile and that is why they come along with me.
As parts of other things we will do when we get there, we will improve our IGR. This not going to be through taxation but by ensuring we increase the number of places where we generate money into the coffers of the state government. I’m very sure many people will be happy to pay their taxes. On the issue of surplus bitumen in the state, even if it is too much for just a state, about six to seven states can come together and run a company that will take care of it. We will jointly invest in it and we will still make our money because we are going to involve other people. Our investment will be larger and investors will be happy to participate.
Recently, the governor raised the alarm over alleged illegal registration of voters in the state. Is that not an indirect accusation against your party?
Well, we are not in government. So, we couldn’t have been carrying out illegal registration of voters. ACN does not have the resources. We are not PDP and we are not controlling Federal government. We are only controlling some states, so you will agree with me that this is a tissue of lies. Who are the people doing the registration? Suspiciously, the Labour Party! When the issues was raised, I remember INEC saying it was wrong for Ondo State government to be doing its biometric registration of the labour force at this point in time. I think that is where the suspicion came from.
The government has been there for almost four years, so, why has the biometric registration not taken place? Why is it just being carried out at the eve of the election? And it has also been discovered that some of those being captured are not even workers with the state government. But one thing I know is that such steps will be a futile exercise as there is no amount of rigging that will change the result of the election. INEC should be commended for what it did in Edo State and I have confidence that the result of Ondo election will be free and fair.
Looking at the political configuration of the state, especially that you are from Ondo north and specifically Owo which has smaller population; how do you hope to win votes in other senatorial districts?
I am very sure that ACN as a party must have considered all these permutations before making a choice of a candidate from Owo. And I want to say categorically, that no one is better placed than a candidate from Owo. In a state like ours, there are so many fallacies being dished out to the public and because you repeat all over again, it seems to bring about some elements of truth. Of course, Akoko is an integral part of Ondo north senatorial district and it has four local governments with 54 percent voting population while Owo has two local governments with about 46 percent voting strength. So, the figures are not determined by the numbers of local governments.
Second, the relationship between Owo and Akoko has always been that, if you rub my back, I will your back. Most times, when the governorship candidate comes from Owo, the senatorial candidate has always been from Akoko. The current senator representing Ondo North is Prof. Ajayi Borofice who hails from Akoko. He is a member of ACN. So, the choice of a governorship candidate from Owo is just to balance the relationship that has often existed between the two.
Concerning the Central senatorial zone, with all apologies to my Campaign director, that senatorial zone is like a pool. We have Owo people there, Akoko, people from the south senatorial zone among others. I remember we once joked that if you remove the population of other senatorial zones from Akure in particular, that is when they will know that there are more non-indigenes in Akure than the indigenes. Of course the figure in central is large but it is not just for the indigenes of the senatorial zone, it also comprises those from other senatorial zones.
And when it comes to the South, yes, Olusola Oke is from the place and luckily for us, our deputy governorship candidate is also from the area and he belongs to the largest ethnic group there, I mean the Ikales, who are much populated than the Ilaje where Oke is from. So, when you look at it you will discover that a lot of balancing is already in place. And again, Olusola Oke knows that the race is actually between two people. I know PDP will eventually work with us. Of course, we have always worked together because we both have one agenda and that is to get Mimiko out of that seat. When we meet at rallies, we joke and drink together and we often tell each others that the important thing is that Mimiko leaves that seat.
How do you hope to effectively engage the incumbency factor considering ACN’s dismal performance in the last election?
The performance of ACN in the last general election was actually determined by many factors. I concede that ACN did not do well in the election. But when you ask people, they will readily tell you that there was a belief of an understanding between ACN and Labour Party. Many of those who voted Mimiko and Labour Party were doing so with the understanding that that both parties were the same. But it was a matter of time before they all knew he was never part of them. In fact, he is PDP to the core and where he is going to end up at the end. So, we can all imagine the fortune of a party whose supporters went round with the assumption that both LP and ACN are the same.
But you cannot use that election to judge this one because many of the ACN members have returned to their base. The ACN has won over half of those who are in Labour and over half of those who are in PDP. So, I can tell you that ACN is quite formidable in Ondo state today, more than ever before.
When it comes to the issue of incumbency, I know he can out-smart all other parties put together when it comes to spending. He can spend in the rallies, campaign and giving people all sorts of things. This is because he is not spending his money but state’s fund. Obama cannot try it without going to jail. Cameron cannot try it. But in Nigeria, you can’t control it because there is no demarcation between an individual fund and the state fund.
But we must know that the power of incumbency cannot match the resolve of the people. When people are determined, there is no amount of money you can spend to entice them. When the people were determined in Oyo, Akala left. When they were determined in Osun State, Oyinlola left and also in Ondo, when the people were determined, Agagu left for him. So, if he can oust Agagu who has all the support of the Federal Government at the time, who is Mimiko? We will run him out of Ondo State that I can assure you on that.