In an interview with journalists, governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Chief Olusola Oke, explained how he intends to change the fortunes of the state for the better and dismissed insinuations that he was banking on the crisis within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress to become governor. Shola Oyeyipo brings the excerpts:
What inspired your ambition in 2012 and 2016 governorship race in Ondo State?
When I contested in 2012 to be governor, there were good reasons for me then. These reasons have only increased and therefore, so long as those conditions are still prevailing and multiplying, I will be failing in my responsibilities not to come out at this time. And what are these? Ondo State is a state generously loved by God. Considering the resources available to us, we should be a shining example to others in Nigeria.
Whatever resources you can imagine that would help the development of a state, Ondo has in abundance. A critical assessment of Ondo State today would show that the people are poor. They are not poor in their heads but in their pockets. And I have come to appreciate that poverty of the pocket could create poverty of the head.
I believe that given the opportunity to be the governor of Ondo State, I can start to re-direct the development of the state. And the starting point will be to examine what is on the ground. Since I already have the database on what is on the ground, how do we utilise what we have to solve the problems confronting us.
What have you garnered are the issues during your campaign?
The aggregate opinion of the people of Ondo State is that the present situation is no longer tolerable. They want a change that will bring about creation of wealth, bring productivity back on the table; a place where a labourer will earn his wages for work done; that will see to the emergence of industries in this state; not government initiative alone but private engagement in flourishing business in the state.
The people want reduction in poverty level; they want job opportunities; they want infrastructural decay to be addressed. They want our schools to wear good look; they want the transport sector to be organised and less chaotic as it is today; they want the coastline resources to be developed and exploited. They want those abandoned industries to come back on stream. So, the desire of the people of Ondo State fits into my dream. It fits into my manifestoes and we are on the same page.
How do you intend to achieve all of these lofty ideas if elected?
First, the major burden is debt. I may not be too specific but I am told and I readily believe that we are down with over N108billion indebtedness in Ondo State. That is a major challenge to the incoming government. But government’s assets and liabilities are valid assets; no government can take assets and run away from liabilities.
But the way to manage it and reduce the effect on what we are doing is to go back to the negotiation table and reschedule some of those debts. Not in terms of the avoidance of liabilities but to give space so that the amount committed to servicing the debt can be reduced and whatever you get from there can be ploughed back to face the challenges of government.
Two, we have a lot of assets that are wasting away. The various industries or factories started by the last administration which were nearing completion in their different stages, we should do something urgently to complete them. And then we can bring in private investors after proper evaluation. The truth of the matter is that despite the depreciation of those assets, the state of our economy, that is, the devaluation of Naira has also helped in enhancing their value; I am sure today that if they are valued, we will still have a lot of funds tied down there. With vision and commitment, all these are achievable and once they are achieved, Ondo State will shine again.
Your opponents are saying as candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) you are an orphan and that Ondo State needs to be in the mainstream. How do you intend to work with the federal government in collective interest?
That is why you need somebody like me who operated at that national level, who, therefore, will be able to leverage on his experience to synergise with other institutions; other government levels. What is important at this moment is to get a leader with vision, one with a sense of direction, who must have a solid foundation at home upon which you want to leverage. Ondo State is part of Nigeria and good enough, I can say that of President Muhamamdu Buhari, we have a President whose politics is nationalistic and therefore the argument that I want to have a government that will not have access to the centre is not correct.
Of course, I am not becoming governor to fight the federal government. Mine is to collaborate with government agencies to get the best for Ondo State. So, it is not a question of which party you belong but a question of your vision, direction and the sincerity of purpose. The excellence you see in Lagos was attained when it was under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), not because it was part of the federal government controlled states. That foundation was laid a long time ago. So it’s a question of leadership really. What the leaders of Lagos State saw years ago which we didn’t see is to our chagrin today.
There is the speculation that you plan to benefit from the crisis in both the APC and the PDP in this election. Is that correct?
What is happening in PDP and the APC as well is rather unfortunate.
I am coming into this election not on the basis of calculation of crisis in any political party. I believe that I have the pedigree. My people know me, I have a vision, I have a sense of direction and I want to campaign on the basis of issues and things I can do for the people of Ondo State.
But if there is crisis within any party or all of the political parties, the advantage that I have is that I have traversed the entire political landscape across all the boundaries. So, if you are talking of the progressives, I have been there, if you are talking about a little to the right, a little to the left, I have been there also. And if you are talking about the extremes, I have also seen it all.
So, I stand, even without internal crisis, to benefit from these experiences over the years. If you are talking about PDP, there is no who is who that I don’t know and who does not know me. If you are talking about the APC, I have seen it all and therefore, I am bound to benefit from any crisis within these parties. But I am not one who will exploit any situation and therefore what is happening in PDP and even APC is to me regrettable and I urge them to find solutions to their problems.
One of the agenda of your party is free education at the primary and post primary levels. How realistic is this given the state of the economy?
We will look at the resources available, we will look at the infrastructure, and we will look at the reality. I met with members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recently and one of the requests made to me was the return of schools to the missionaries. All of these we will put together to have a new direction, new vision for our education, for our health, for everything and we will come out with detailed analysis and a position we shall take. But I assure you that free education has come to stay. It has been with us since the days of Chief Awolowo. We need not only free education but qualitative education.
Are you truly desperate?
Those who say this are either ignorant or being mischievous. Ignorant, because they fail to know that I have been in politics for over 31 years and I have been rock steady all these years. I was a little boy during the UPN days. I came to SDP and was there throughout its lifespan. I was in UNCP throughout its lifetime too. I came into PDP and I was there for 16 years. I rose through the ranks and I became a national officer of the party. I am no doubt a beneficiary of some of the achievements of that party.
People cannot close eyes to reality. At the time I had to leave PDP, it was expedient and I had no option than to do that. All of a sudden, people with ideologies that are incompatible with my dream and vision found their ways into the PDP and hijacked the leadership. It wasn’t partnership or patriotism; it was pure hijacking of the leadership.
And I found it difficult to operate in that kind of environment.
For instance, I was the indisputable foremost leader of PDP after the demise of our leader, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, but all of a sudden, the only way I will know what was happening in the party will be via terse text messages sent by one small boy to me. I was totally vanquished within the party and all it required for me was to either get out of politics or find a new platform, so I left the PDP painfully because that was a party that I built over the years.
I put everything into that party. And so, I challenge anyone who found himself in that circumstance that will believe that staying put and fighting, confronting the governor, fighting the system was the answer to it. I didn’t want to heat up the polity so I left quietly.
In APC, the facts are still fresh in the memory for anybody not mischievous to have forgotten. I came into the party in April, I put in everything in terms of energy, resources, time to build that party and the party was built only for us to be assured and re-assured that free, fair, transparent, credible primaries will be conducted but you all saw what became of that primary. It was the most corrupted primary I have ever witnessed in my life.
It was the most perverse primary that I have ever witnessed. Delegates’ tags were sold, and people that were not delegates were allowed to vote. There was no proper accreditation and in the middle of the night, the delegates’ list was substituted. I lost over 250 delegates in the process and so the election was compromised. The party has its own internal mechanism for redress, I followed the due process.
The appeal committee constituted by the party came up with the report sustaining all the three legs of the three allegations that they were proved before the panel. The panel therefore nullified the election. The matter went before the National Working Committee of the APC and by a decision of 6 against 5, they upheld the report of the appeal committee.
Regrettably, it is a party where majority will have its say and the minority will have its way. At the end of the day, it became clear that the party cannot give to Ondo State the desired change. If the foundation is wrong you cannot put a super structure on such a corrupted foundation and therefore I cannot be part of that perfidy.
What I was assuring the people of Ondo State was a true change, a change that is devoid of corruption, manipulation and all forms of deceits. So, when I was confronted with that kind of challenging situation and of course, based on the popular demand of the people of Ondo State that at this critical time, they need a man who has vision; one who has idea, who has the fear of God, who they know and who knows them well.
What informed the choice of Alliance for Democracy?
Alliance for Democracy (AD) is our party. It is a party that has ideals; that is built on principle; that is built on vision. Our founding fathers have kept faith with the people of the state; they have kept faith with the Yoruba people and therefore, I believe that is a very solid platform at this critical time.
There are fears about alleged plans to rig the election by the APC, using the federal might. Is that true?
It is not the people that are scared but the politicians that are scaring them by saying that if it is only one vote that is cast, they will be declared winner. This is ridiculous. Our electoral process has grown over time with the introduction and insistent on the use of card readers, and how much of manipulations can anybody do?
I laugh at politicians who believe that this is APC primaries, which they can rig with ease. We are talking of election and so, this threat of “we will rig and win at all cost” is a misplaced one. People that want to rig election must be ready for the consequences of such. But this election is not available for rigging. Power now resides with the people. They will determine who they want.