Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu was President of the Nigerian Bar Association between 2008 and 2010. Two years after his tenure, he threw his hat into the governorship race in Ondo State, emerging candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria at the 2012 governorship election. He lost the election. But ahead of this year’s governorship election in the state, the former candidate of ACN, which later fused into the All Progressives Congress in 2013, has indicated an interest in the race. Akeredolu says he is motivated by the zeal to rescue Ondo State from the crisis of leadership. He speaks with Gboyega Akinsanmi.Excerpts:
I ran governorship race last time for obvious reasons. And those reasons have not changed up till now. Really, I am passionate about Ondo State. Having had the opportunity of traversing every nook and cranny of Ondo State, one is more than convinced that it is necessary to have a change in leadership in the state. Governance in Ondo State in the last seven years has been a waste of resources. One is convinced that the time has come for us to make meaningful impact in the life of our people and for them to have the benefit of good governance. That is why I am running. I am running to give our people the benefit of good governance so that they can derive the utmost, which they can get from a good government.
How confident are you that your party, All Progressives Congress, can defeat the Peoples Democratic Party government in Ondo State?
What we need is to look at the statistics. If I say I am confident, you may think I am talking about myself. But my confidence is based on and backed up by statistics. In the last election, we had widespread manipulation, which was well clear. Everybody knew it was manipulated. Let us take the figures for granted. Then, the Labour Party did not score up to 50 per cent. Precisely, it scored about 44 per cent of the votes. We scored 24.15 per cent and the PDP polled about 26.24 per cent. So, when I say it is backed by figures, I know what I am saying. If Olusola Oke has left the PDP, it speaks volume. The votes two of us could garner even when it was manipulated were more than 50 per cent. Who says PDP has stronghold in Ondo State? The PDP does not have stronghold in Ondo State. We are not bragging. We have shown it with the defeat, which we were able to wreck on the PDP in the last presidential election. We won fair and square. If any person says our party is bragging, he must be a dreamer. We are giving a real situation. We are sure of winning the governorship election. As I mentioned to you, we won elections into the House of Representatives. We won two Senate seats in the state. Can that be bragging? It can never be bragging. We are on ground in Ondo State. And we are sure of winning.
In 2012, the inability of your party, then ACN, to properly manage the ambitions of its governorship aspirants was believed to be the greatest impediment of the party at the poll. Ahead of the next election, a similar scenario appears to be playing out. Are you not worried that there could be a replay of the 2012 situation?
ACN did not fall victim. The party adopted a method of choosing a candidate. That method was what the party adopted in a good number of states. It was a pattern for the ACN then. Well, a number of people reacted to it. People have also raised objection to it. I believe their objection and reaction have been taken into consideration in the decision of the party to conduct primaries. When we have primaries, all the aspirants will fall in line. By the time we obtain forms, there will be less than five aspirants who will stand for primaries. Even with five aspirants, we can agree among ourselves that whosoever wins, the others will support. I have always argued that primaries are an essential part of party politics. It is necessary. At the federal level, some argued that we should not have primaries and we should back a particular candidate. But other party members refused. All of us went for primaries. At the end, other aspirants pledged their support for the candidate that emerged. Indeed, they supported. Primaries are a panacea now for the problem we had then. I did not condemn the system then. But I know it was what was acceptable then. It was what was practicable at that point in time. In their wisdom, the leaders felt that was right. A number of aspirants who contested then submitted ourselves to that process. No aspirant queried it. At our meetings, we were asked whether we would agree to the party’s decision. All of us agreed to abide by the decision of the party. If you have submitted yourself to a process, you cannot complain thereafter. But a lot of people complained after. Now, our leaders must have probably thought about it and asked all aspirants to go through primaries. We hope whosoever will win we will now back him up. The essence of primaries is for dust to rise. There is no political party where you will not have dust. Look at the Republicans in America; they are raising dust. Look at the Democrats, they are raising dust. The difference in their own is that after the primaries, the dust settles and everybody becomes one and backs the candidate that emerges. It is not that everybody likes Donald Trump in the US. I can assure you that virtually all Republicans will back him if he wins. I believe that should be our goal in APC.
But Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s personality can pose a challenge in a way. Is the APC cohesive enough in the state to spring up a surprise?
Mimiko felt he was strong. He was there. He campaigned for former President Goodluck Jonathan. He was battered and bruised. Mimiko’s time has come and gone. Now that he is going, there is nothing like Mimiko again in Ondo State. You need to be in Ondo State. Mimiko is the most ineffective governor I have ever seen. What he is trying to do is to set up a situation whereby Akure people would rise against others or create a kind of ethnic clashes. He is bringing ethnicity or tribalism into this contest. But it is not like that. The people of Ondo State are wise when it comes to political wisdom. We have a sense of fairness. It is not only Ondo people. The people of Yoruba origin have a sense of fairness. We know what is fair. We know what equity demands. We know nobody can take us for a ride. Bringing Akure against other parts of the state will not work. I am sure that the people are going to vote for who they believe is most qualified or who they believe can deliver or who they believe really has integrity. Integrity is not what you earn overnight. You cannot buy it.
What lessons have you learnt from the 2012 governorship election?
The major lesson I took away from the last election is that on the decision day, you need a set of dedicated people to serve either as agents or as representatives to do many things for you. You cannot afford to leave that important aspect of electioneering in the hands of people who are not committed to the party or who are not committed to your cause on the election day and on the election eve. So, when you have people who are more or less like traders or who just want to cash in on it and make money, you are in trouble. We are trying now to win the primary. Immediately the primary is won, we must aggregate as many people as possible that believe in our cause genuinely or who are ready to serve. Government is powerful. But you do not bring in people who believe in making money into their pockets. People who believe in power are ready to make sacrifice for their party to be in office. Those are people we need. This is the greatest lesson I learnt in the last election. You do not go around with people who are not committed to your course. If you have more of them than those who believe in your course, they are prepared to sell that cause along the line. Some people sold our cause in the last election. They felt they were not concerned and all they were concerned about was money. We worked and we will continue to work. I cannot say that working is not part of it. We really worked. There was no ward that we did not touch. There was no place we did not go in Ondo State. No other candidate has travelled every nook and cranny of Ondo State like we did before the last election. And we saw problems that our people were facing and that even informed one of the cardinal principles, which I believe.
Another lesson has to with primaries. Probably, primaries will have taken care of it. This is to ensure that every person that contested will come on board. No matter what you do, a number of them worked against their party. That is a sad thing. Many people worked against us who were aspirants. Some who felt they were not paid worked against the party, to the extent of even taking money from the party and pretending that they were working for us. But they were working against us. It is not right. Honestly, I bear no grudge against any of them. It is all right. It is their choice. Our party lost, but we are coming up again. I pray they will not do the same thing. But we are coming up bigger and stronger?
What you had been elected governor in 2012, what would you have done differently from what the current governor is doing?
If I am elected, my major goal will be to provide security for the people. Majorly, job creation is key. That is one of the problems we have in the country. It is key to everything. There is no way we will continue like this either in Ondo State or any other state without creating jobs for our people and you think there will be security. When people are out of jobs, as we have an army of graduates who are not employed, the devil will find work for you. When I say Mimiko has failed, let him point out any major thing he has done to create jobs for our people. We are talking of creating jobs for thousands of people. He claimed he was doing something about agriculture at Ore. Those boys complained they were not paid. They had to leave the place. The place is now totally abandoned. It is now a bush. He claimed he was doing cattle ranch. There is no single cow there. They imported cow sometime and showed people. The place is abandoned. Agriculture is key because of all the value chain agriculture can bring. Employment that will follow it is important to everybody. This is what has been lacking. That is why I said he has not been effective. We have made a lot of money without result. In the South-west, with the exception of Lagos, we have the second highest allocation. What have you done with that money? Why is it that today we have had a government for almost eight years without result. He abandoned a university and at the late hour rushed back to say he was doing something. Nothing is being done. He has again established a new university. Pa Adekunle Ajasin established a university. Owo did not have a university then. He did not locate it in Owo, his hometown. In his own time, he located the university in Ado-Ekiti. Because you must have a university in Ondo and you abandoned the one in Okitipupa. It does not make sense. The university in Okitipupa was for science and technology. You should have continued the one in Okitipupa. If you needed medical sciences to be part of that, it could still be there. You now spend the money you have to build a new university. It does not make sense to a number of us.
You have a medical centre in Ondo. That is fine. I am not against establishing things in Ondo. The point is that you do not have to cripple other infrastructure projects that are in place because you want to have a university in Ondo. To me, government is a continuum. When I come in, by God’s grace, I will not scrap anything. Rather than do that, I will ensure that whatever you have put in place is properly put there, except where I see that it is going to be a waste and then we merge. I will never go all out, as Mimiko did to Ondo State University of Science and Technology. He abandoned it. It does not make sense.
Which other areas do you think the Mimiko administration did not perform?
Mimiko’s government has a lot of defects. A lot of us think we should have a habour today. We do not have. We have the longest coastline in the country. We have the Olokola Deep Seaport and Free Trade Zone project. We have Dangote Group, which once showed interest in it. Whatever it could have taken, Mimiko should have brought Dangote Group to the Olokola Deep Seaport and Free Trade Zone. If you see what Dangote Group is doing between Epe and Lekki, it will amaze you. It is a big project, perhaps, the biggest in West Africa. It should be in Ondo State if well handled. It is an unfortunate thing. Olokola has a lot. We have a road there that almost leads to Lagos. It is shorter. You can go by sea. It is shorter. There are many things we could have been doing. If we have a habour there, we have ships that barge in Lagos that will barge there because there is shallow point in that place. We also have the deepest point in that place. There are a lot of things that could have been done.
But, like I said, my brother, who is the governor, plays politics too much with everything. He did not dedicate his talent. I believe he has talent. But he did not dedicate his talent to the cause of the state.