One of the governorship aspirants in Ondo State in the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, recently spoke to journalists on some of the challenges in the party ahead of its primaries. James Sowole presents the excerpts:
The APC primary election has been shifted twice. What is your reaction to this?
My take on that is that the party at the state level has not shown enough cooperation with the National Secretariat. You will notice that at a meeting with the executive member of the party, the chairman was said to have stated repeatedly that they were not prepared, so let’s be fair to ourselves, if the state is not prepared, like they have not made bookings, they have not contacted the INEC and have not done anything as they said and those coming to conduct the election expect those basic things to have been done only for them to come and look at what they have done and probably approved or change some few things.
So, I’m sure that the primary committee is yet to come now and they needed time so that when they come to probably carry out some of the things they are afraid to do, I want to believe that it is ill-preparedness that has given rise to this shift, though there are many rumours here and there, I don’t want to believe but the reasons I believe for the last postponement, I am informed and truly believe that the presidency wanted to see all the aspirants and the earliest time they could have an engagement with us.
Before the latest postponement, there had been leadership crisis at the state level. Where do you belong?
I am not too sure we have a divide because APC is still one and APC remains one. What had happened overtime in the last couple of weeks is that the party apparatus, the executive members, the elders, the women wing, the youths and all tendencies in the party have virtually passed vote of no confidence on the chairman and this speaks a lot; it speaks volumes that we do not have confidence with those we are supposed to be working with, that is just probably the only thing.
But since the chairman has refused to step aside and allow interim transition for all of us, because I can also tell you that a majority of the aspirants also said the chairman should step aside not only until after the primary election but until the governorship election because we do not have confidence in him any longer.
What informs your no confidence in the chairman?
I am of the opinion that the chairman deserves the right if he wants to support any aspirant of his choice. It is quite possible and he might say as chairman, I want to hold the balance, it is still another possibility, but when you now choose to endorse a candidate, which I said he reserves the right to do, he cannot use the apparatus of the party for the support of the aspirant he chooses. So, what most people have found out is that because he’s the chairman he now called all local government chairmen and told them that this is where they should go.
This is wrong, and again called the chairmen of the 203 wards and said this is where we want to go. That will be unfair to others. Though it is his right, you will lose that leadership position immediately you make a choice and people will lose the confidence in you and that’s why they passed the vote of no confidence in him.
But the chairman was said to be acting the script of a national leader of the party?
I doubt that and if he said so. He knows the full implication of that and I’m sure that Kekemeke is not somebody that can be led by the nose. I want you to quote me on this. There’s a Yoruba adage that says when you are sent on an errand like a slave, when you get there to deliver the message, you pretend that you’re a freeborn and everybody will still respect you and say it is not a slave that brought this message. This is a way to put it assuming it was true. I have been to the national leader you refer to, so many of us went to him and gave his words that he was going to allow free and fair primaries and it is after the primary that he would come up to support whosoever emerges.
And now that he has endorsed someone?
I must tell you that I’ve not heard him say it.
But he had not denied it either, even in the letter written to Tunji Abayomi?
He said in the letter written to Tunji Abayomi that he has a right but he did not state there he was endorsing a particular candidate. It is not denial and it is also not for us to assume that he had endorsed him. If he endorses a particular aspirant, it is his right. The National leader reserves the right to say that I am endorsing a particular candidate, I don’t see anything wrong in it but what I said is that the moment you did that, you have stepped into the arena, you have become partisan, and cannot lay claim to leadership.
It is not that you’re not the leader of the party but for this contest, you cannot say to me as an aspirant that you are giving me order, more so that you know that I’m an aspirant and you’re taking side against me. To me, there’s no quarrel about this. If he decides to pursue that course to say yes, I’m going to endorse a particular aspirant and probably bring in money, he must accept that he will not expect all of us who are on the other side to now to agree to his decision. He has become a chief campaigner to one person. So, all of us too in our campaign, whatever comes out of it, he has to take it.
You said you were not imposed in 2012 but it started from endorsement to imposition. Do you think you can still have a free and fair primary?
Let me start from 2012, I’ve said this over and over and try to explain to people that 2012 was different from what is happening now. We operated under ACN and ACN in 2012 did not say it was going to conduct primary. 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 ACN, nobody obtained form but here, all of us have paid N5.5m to obtain form to run this election except for the lady who got the form free.
When I say I was not imposed by anybody in 2012, I stand by it. I know the operation and all of us who contested knew too. We attended meetings not once or twice or three times or four with the leadership of the party then. That was the style in ACN. The leadership of the party formed a committee headed by Chief Bisi Akande and included all past governors like Bola Tinubu, Niyi Adebayo, Segun Osoba, and probably Lam Adesina. So, the committee needed to reach a consensus. It is not one person that imposed the candidate. Tinubu couldn’t have imposed me; he couldn’t have endorsed me, because there was a process but this process was one that all of us submitted ourselves to.
In an interview I said in law, there’s a law that say 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: are you all prepared to abide by whosoever we chose among you and everybody would say yes. So, I knew of a fact that in the meetings, because it’s not just one meeting people argued for different aspirants. If by consensus in that meeting I was endorsed or chosen to be the candidate, it was not one person choosing me as the candidate, so it was not one person imposing Akeredolu on others.
Tinubu supported you as the party’s candidate then, at what point did you disagree?
I will not say Asiwaju supported me, many people will think he will. I knew in 2012 that he mentioned to me that he was the one that asked Abraham to come and contest. If in 2012, he brought Abraham who is his friend because they are close and I don’t think I have to say more than that, it was not necessary that I might not be a candidate in 2012. The possibility is there for anybody to know that if you asked somebody to come and contest, maybe he was persuaded then and had to be part of the collective decision and 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 committees took the decision. If the opinion of the committee weighed more on his side, there’s nothing anybody can do. We have leaders, who can testify to this and it is not the issue of Tinubu imposing a candidate in 2012 but it was the decision of a committee.
Have you spoken to him on this particular issue?
Sincerely, I’ve not but I’m just telling you what I believe that he’s a political juggernauts and will not zone governorship and senatorial seat to one particular place. In Akoko, Ajayi Boroffice is a Senator now and if he picked Boroffice we would have said that if he comes in, Owo/Ose can produce senator. But now Akoko will retain Senate and will become governor. I know Tinubu’s sagacity in politics and I know he won’t do it, knowing him for what he is, having taken his own decision, I know he will want to back it up.
You’re going to the primary and if the endorsed aspirant emerges, how would you take it; would you still support the party?
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. I’m only in this race for service. If I feel too strongly about any candidate they picked, 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 dumped if the endorsed candidate emerges. So, we must be prepared on how to manage this. But I know if any other candidate emerges other than the endorsed candidate, everybody will come out to support him. The party can still manage it.
Do you stand a chance?
I can assure you that it’s very bright. I’m not only assuring you of that but take my word, you will come back to congratulate me after the Saturday primary as the party’s candidate. Talking about percentage, I don’t live in fool’s paradise, somebody who has no delegate says he will have 85 per cent, this is not possible. The so-called endorsed aspirant is fooling himself. Quote me, he’s living in fool’s paradise but for me, I am almost certain that I would get 65 per cent which is enough for me by the grace of God.