Chief Clarence Olafemi, a former Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly and one time acting governor of the state is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in the state. In this interview with Journalists, he spoke on Kogi politics among other national issues. Yekini Jimoh presents the excerpts:
As a chieftain of the APC in Kogi State, what do you think about the judgment of the Supreme Court over the governorship election in the state?
There have always been litigations after any major election. The unfortunate aspect of it is that the period of litigation is always difficult for the incumbent governor to fully perform. This one took about six months from the time he was inaugurated to the time he got the Supreme Court verdict. My submission is that the governor should now sit down and concentrate on governance and development.
Like a football match, after a game, no matter how critical the match is, immediately the final whistle is blown the people shake hands and embrace themselves and go back to the drawing board to prepare for another contest. What should be paramount now is that everybody should sheath their swords and re-strategise for the next election as this one is over because the Supreme Court is the highest place anybody can go.
However, the governor has to be accommodating. He should not throw away people’s criticism. He should see it as an opportunity to make amends. There is no perfect human being on earth, whatever anybody is doing in government; he is only trying his best. If such a person is criticised, he can only look at the criticism and filter them out to know which one is fair, political and holds no value. There is no doubt that my major concern as a principal stakeholder in APC is that it took some of us full time work and commitments, physical and financial commitments to build APC and we will not want the party destroyed or scattered.
So if there are genuine complaints as to the governor marginalising the founding members of APC, he has to adjust. I am his supporter since he was inaugurated. I took the position to support him because that was the decision of my party. The judgment was not strange to me; I saw it like that from the beginning and I said it loud.
Are you saying there have been complaints of marginalisation from members of the APC?
Yes, I have heard complaints. I am a board of trustees member and with the death of Abubakar Audu, I am not too sure if there is anybody more senior to me in APC. Only six of us started the meeting of how to form the Kogi State APC in Audu’s house and I was there. Since then, I have been working tirelessly for the party. I was a member of the presidential campaign committee. With the deaths of Audu and James Ocholi, it remains only me and Ramatu, who is the national woman leader as members of the presidential campaign committee from Kogi.
So I have a lot at stake. Those complaints are genuine, but they are not sufficient to abandon the party or abandon the governor, that is my own differences with those that are agitating marginalization. You don’t stay outside to fight a war that is inside, it must be fought from inside. But when you stay outside and you throw missiles inside, you will destroy both the good and the bad. The appeal I have for our members that are aggrieved is that we should find a meeting point to iron out things. If they carry this quarrel too far, they would have succeeded in destroying APC in the state, which is what I don’t want because I laboured to build it. I cannot be alive and see somebody destroying it. I will not be happy.
That is why tactically, I have refused to attend any meeting. I still want to remain as an elder of the party that can be trusted to mediate. Mediation can come from many sources, but the most identifiable source is the national. They should set up a reconciliation committee and let people like me, who have not been so conspicuously on one side or the other be able to come in. I have my friends and admirers, who are complaining, I belong to the government by virtue of being a party man, so I still relate with both.
I’m in a better position to join any reconciliation committee. We need it. The earlier the better now that we have gotten to the end of litigations. We should not waste time because the consequences of delay is that it will make some people irreversibly opposed to this government and what it means is that they will continue to fight the government and weaken the party because the governor will continue to fight back and at the end of the day, the consequences will not be good for any side.
What effort did you make to resolve the complaints about marginalization?
The problem we had was that the governor came in with a mindset. Some people believe that the mindset is not political enough to make the party cohesive. When he was inaugurated, a lot of us, including a high percentage of those that were opposed to him now supported him. They were at the stadium for his inauguration. The genesis of the problem was when it came to appointments. He is an executive governor and sees himself as an executive governor, but democracy is the government of the people for the people and by the people.
We have a practical example and it is that of former Governor Ibrahim Idris. When he came to power, he appointed the deputy governor from the man who came second in the primary election, which was A.T Ahmed. He appointed the speaker of the House of Assembly from Senator Tunde Ogbeha, who was the most senior ranking senator in the state. He appointed the SSG from the Akande Awoniyi group and despite this he still had his own loyalists like Abiodun Ojo, made a commissioner.
The commissioners were also shared after consultations with leaders. It is a misconception to think that if you give somebody an appointment, he or she will come to your government and work against you. A typical example is the present SSG, even though she was nominated by Dino Melaye, she is loyal to the governor now by my own assessment.
So, what I think is paining some of those that are outside now is that there is no doubt that some people supported Yahaya Bello during the primary election. But shortly after he lost, these people migrated to the PDP and they faced us in the election. The 240, 000 votes that Audu gathered were against those people. We struggled against them and we got the votes and this victory, by way of death was given to the man who came second. I have nothing against that, but to now make those who fought us to get that result to be the beneficiaries completely, isolating those who fought for it, then you should expect them to react.
Not everybody can behave like me because I am economically a bit stable. I can feed three square meals. What governor Idris did was that immediately after the Supreme Court verdict, he came back and reshuffled his cabinet because he was accused of putting in place a group called “Ibro family”. So, he used the dissolution of the cabinet to make amend.
My own advice is that, even if Yahaya has some grievances against some people, there is no permanent friend and enemy in politics, what is permanent is interest and his interest today is that he is the father of Kogi State, not by age, he is in charge of the affairs of the state and that is confirmed by the Supreme Court, whether anybody likes or not, so he has to come down and ensure that he succeeds.
Talking about reconciliation, how do you think this can be achieved in Kogi APC?
It is a very simple thing. We know ourselves, we know the principal actors. I cannot talk of reconciliation with PDP, but it is still possible because there are some people in PDP today that if we talk to them they will join this government. That was what Governor Ibrahim Idris did when he brought the likes of Senator Ohiare, Senator Ohize, who were strong opposition to our government from the central senatorial district and they made us lose the whole central. We went to Abuja four times to hold meetings and negotiate settlement with them.
There is always a road to peace, except you decide you don’t want to take the road. We know the principal actors; we will start from our own party first. We have the Faleke group, we have the Dino camp and the Yahaya Bello camp. These are the three major camps now that are flexing muscles against themselves. As it stands today, if we don’t do the reconciliation, it will bounce back on APC in the future.
Idris Wada was a sitting governor, he had problem with people like me and they kept us outside for too long. By the time they wanted us in, we said no, we are not coming in; we prefer to stay outside and destroy them in an election, which we did and flushed them out. I led the largest defection consisting of about seven House of Assembly members of PDP and we were doing the underground work for two years. Wada had those two years to reconcile with me, but he was arrogant about it and it bounced back on him. The fact that APC is a sitting government now does not guarantee success in the future election, particularly that we have been so fragmented now. We must start gathering ourselves and put them together, make it formidable.
What do you think should be the role of the national secretariat of the party as it is being accused of taking side in the crisis?
If we are talking about reconciliation, we are not talking about who is wrong or who is right; we are talking about how to make peace. The past is necessary so that we can design the future. Yes, the national secretariat played some roles but today, we have no other option other than that national secretariat. They are the administrative head of APC. They are the one vested with the power of setting up committees and particularly committee of this nature. It is the composition of the committee that now matters. All the groups should be consulted and have members on the committee. We will now critically examine what has led us to where we are. There will be argument for and against and at the end of the day, we’ll reach a compromise, and we need to do it quickly.
Now that the apex court has confirmed Yahaya Bello as governor, what do you think should be the expectations of the people from his government?
There is no man that is perfect. So, part of the imperfections of the governor is that he has left critical advice in the hands of his contemporaries, people who work with him, people he can trust, but he needs elders, who have passed through the water and know how deep it is.
A masquerade cannot assess his own dancing step; it is the outsiders, who can assess it. I believe that the governor will see whatever he is doing now as being right, but he is a masquerade dancing. The spectators are the ones to judge him. He has to bring in more competent, qualified people to help him. He is still going to be the chief executive; he will be the final determinant of his policy and direction. Honestly, he needs more quality advice than he is getting now.