Successful Courtroom Lawyer in the Race

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After taking his time to acquire necessary academic qualification and put his professional career on a solid foundation, Dr. Ismail Abiodun Saka-Layonu, a governorship aspirant on the platform on the platform of the APC is convinced it is time to vie for the highest public office in Osun State. Nseobong Okon-Ekong presents excerpts from his interaction with journalists.

There is widely assumption that the politics of Osun State appears to be dictated from Lagos by the national leader of the APC in Lagos, do you share this opinion?
In politics, you are bound to have a lot of conjectures and speculations. The national leader, everybody acknowledges, is very respected as far as South-west politics of the APC is concerned. People know how close our governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is to the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I think that is as far as it can go and how far it should go, anything beyond that falls into the realm of conjecture and speculation. That they have a very cordial mentor-mentee relationship is not a secret. The fact that the governor had been in Lagos for several years, and had cut all his political teeth, so to speak, in Lagos is a fact that is generally known. It is a fact also that he was even a commissioner in Lagos State before coming to his home state to work and to live as governor. I believe that is why some people are saying that. Naturally, one would expect that there would be some, at the height of it, ‘influence’; and at the bottom, ‘respect’ for Asiwaju. Beyond that, it is in the realm of conjecture and speculation. Certainly not control. The governor is an independent minded person who operates within the guidelines or the programmes outlined by the party, the APC.

What is your background in politics?
That would be linked to my late father, Chief (Hon.) Saka Layonu, a prominent politician in the First Republic. Not out of false pride, but out of what I call history and verifiable facts, I would say that my town, Ede, by God’s grace, was put on the political map by my father. He was a Minister until the collapse of the First Republic. He also played a bit of politics in the Second Republic before Osun was created out of Oyo State. As late as 1983, he was the gubernatorial candidate of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, that was promoted by the late Waziri Ibrahim, who was famous for ‘politics without bitterness’. That was his last outing. After that, he retired from active politics. I have that antecedent. The state hospital that is in Ede today, by the grace of God, was facilitated by my father. For myself, I have, not until recently, been in active political involvement. I have been quietly involved in the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, not in an overtly active capacity. Of course, I have always been politically aware. Since I started voting in 1979, I have participated in all elections, in terms of being politically aware and being a voter. Now, I am a progressive and member of the APC. I am a gubernatorial aspirant. This is the first time I am throwing my hat in the ring for for election.

Don’t you think you should have started your aspiration from trying to become a legislator at state or federal level?
People have their flair for things. In everything you do, you know yourself. For instance, in the legal field where I am really situated, my flair has always been for advocacy. I have been a courtroom lawyer all my life. In politics, I do not see myself operating in any other capacity than in an executive position where I can have the privilege to carry out some of the things I have envisioned for humanity, beginning from my state.

Are you aware of a zoning arrangement within the party that may have put this aspiration beyond your reach?
Some people say that within the party there is some kind of zoning arrangement. Others say it is not provided for in the constitution. I have read it myself. It could actually be interpreted to say that there must be some understanding geographical spread. The party has actually taken a section of the Nigerian constitution and modified it at the state level. I would say that there is some recognition that what applies at the federal level, where the constitution says that the government will be arranged in such a way as to give effect to federal character and to give everybody a sense of belonging. It could be said that there is an article in the APC constitution that could be a basis for saying that some principle of zoning or slotting arrangement is recognized in the constitution.

Whatever the case, what Osun West is saying is that we should uphold the principle of justice and fair play. If you go back to the history of the state; the first executive governor was the late Senator Isiaka Adeleke from Ede. He spent 22 months before the collapse of the Third Republic. If you take it from 1999, you had Chief Bisi Akande as Governor. He spent four years, he did not have the opportunity for a second term. He is of the Central Senatorial zone. Then Oyinlola (Olagunsoye) came (even though of a different political party-PDP). Oyinlola is from Okuku also from the Central Senatorial zone and he spent almost 12 years before the court nullified his election and Aregbesola came in. Between Baba Akande and Oyinlola, you can account for almost 16 years. Both of them are from the Central Senatorial zone. The current governor is an Ijesha man from the East Senatorial zone of Osun State. He is completing, by the grace of God, two terms of eight years. The West Senatorial zone is saying that fair is fair; even if you go as far back as 1991/92, the West Senatorial zone only had 22 months through Isiaka Adelelke; since 1999, Osun West has not had the opportunity of being governor. If you say, you want to take it to any other senatorial zone, are you now saying that the current governor who is from the east, will say it should go to the east again? If that happens, there is the possibility of having the east rule for another eight of 16 years. My own concern is that the government of the State of Osun will always continue to be by my party, which is the APC. If you say somebody from the Central Senatorial zone should emerge again, there is the possibility that the Central Senatorial zone is going on for another eight years, which will add up to 24 years. Before you now have the opportunity of the West Senatorial zone producing the governor, if we don’t get it now, it will come in another eight years.

Ede is where the PDP Senator, Ademola Adeleke comes from. Is it correct to assume that your town has sympathy for the PDP?
No. There are certain factors that you must not forget. That late Senator Isiaka Adeleke, his brother, was in the APC. He went to the Senate on the platform of the APC, when he died, there were issues of concerning who will take the ticket or where the ticket will go. Anyway, that may be the subject of another interview entirely so that I don’t lose focus. May be when he did not get the ticket from the APC, then he crossed over to the PDP and won the election on that basis. Considering the fact that his late brother was an APC senator, to that extent, you can’t say that Ede is a PDP town. Senator Ademola Adeleke has also declared his intention to run for governor on the PDP ticket.

The governorship primary of the APC on July 7 is the hurdle you have to cross, how prepared are you?
If you were to make your findings in Osun or if you were to talk to people who are on ground, I can tell you that I am very much on ground. We have established a movement called ‘Agbajowo’ which is in all the local governments of the state. It has penetrated the entire state. Currently, I am on a tour of the federal constituencies in the state. I can tell you that I have been given very warm reception everywhere we go. I believe that I am much loved and that by the grace of God and the support of the people, I will get the ticket to represent the party in the general election.

And if you don’t, Sir?
The heavens will not fall. I will look forward to another day; something better that God has planned for me. My father’s political philosophy was ‘politics without bitterness’. I have inherited that. I do not believe in violence. I shun it. I condemn it and I do not let it reflect in what I am doing. Secondly, I am a disciplined party man. I joined this party of my freewill. I have always been in the progressive fold and I do not see myself jumping from one party to another. God forbid that we should have the kind of crisis that some other parties are contending with. My plan and my prayer are to remain in the APC. I believe firmly that by the graced of God and with the support of the people, my party will find me worthy of taking that ticket at the primary, but if I don’t get it, life will not end, heavens will not fall. I will remain a committed party man. I believe that there are so many other good things that God has kept for me and they will certainly come my way. It is a privilege to get the support of the people to carry the flag for the party. What is even higher than that is for the APC, as a party, to win. There is no sleep for me until the primary is concluded on July 7. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover. I am not relenting. I pray, but I must work towards it as well.

What is the most important thing that you have done so far in your ward?
If you come to Ede and say you are looking for ‘Agbajowo’, SAN or Dr., people will quickly link the reference to me. They will take you either to my father’s house or to my own private residence. I have my own contributions that I have made. There are things that point to me as a person, but, that the town itself can share the glory. I happen to be first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Ede; now there are two of us. It may not be tangible in terms of things you can see physically. I have engaged youth empowerment. You cannot call yourself a politician without engaging things like that. In a limited sense, even the post that I currently occupy as Chairman of the Governing Council of Waziri Umaru Polytechnic in Kebbi State, I believe I have used it to offer some positive impact. I do not wish to mention the names of the particular individuals that it has pleased God to benefit through me.

Can you offer an honest assessment of the Aregbesola administration?
Aregbesola has done very well in the estimation of the majority of the people of Osun State. My father-in-law is from Kwara and frequently journeys from Kwara to Lagos, through Ibadan. Before Aregbesola came, he knew what the place was like passing through Osogbo on your way to get to Kwara. At a point, he avoided Osogbo. He said one day, he decided to come through Osogbo again. Then encountered the transformation in Osogbo; the roads, even the main town centre, the Olaiya Junction had become so much transformed that if you were seeing it after a long time, you would think you were somewhere else. Look at the structure of the schools that he has built. A lot of people coming to Osun for the first time will think it is a tertiary institution. It is not just in terms of the physical edifice, we are also talking in terms of the teachers, the welfare of the people in that sector; the kind of trainings that they go through. There are a lot of intangibles that we cannot see. He has done well. That is just the truth. He has transformed the state. He has laid the foundation for some really good things that will come in terms of making sure that we are not dependent anymore on statutory allocation, that cannot not get us anywhere. All of these achievements have been recorded against the background that Osun is down at the bottom of the revenue allocation table. If you look at what has been achieved and you compare that to what we get, it is a very wide imagine. It is an attestation to the most prudent and most frugal management of resources.

But some people believe that by borrowing so much, Aregbesola has put generations of Osun indigenes into some kind of eternal
Truly, if you look at governance as some kind of business, tell me any successful business person of note today that engages in business and does not borrow? Borrowing is not the issue, it is what you do with what you have borrowed. If you borrow money and divert it into share consumption, of course, you will not see what you have done with your money and you have no hope of recovery or profit from any venture that you engaged in. The money will just go! But if you borrow money and you put it into productive ventures, you can see what you have actually done with that money, that money will yield both in terms of the tangible and the intangible. That is what Aregbesola has done, you can see the tangible and the intangible. In terms of the massive investment in education, for instance, you are seeing the WAEC and NECO result of Osun, it is climbing up several levels to be where we are today. The profit or reward of all these will come in a few years and then the state will be the better for it. What he is doing is to actually prepare the foundation to increase geometrically the income earning capacity of the state. The natural result of that is that the IGR will go up tremendously. The expression is ‘money well borrowed, money well spent’.

What are you bringing to the table?
In terms qualification, I think that is the least, anyway, because constitutionally to become governor, you only need to have secondary school certificate. It is not for me to come and celebrate myself or tell you in terms of academic record what it has pleased God to have helped me achieve. I can tell you that in the field that I have chosen, by the grace of God, I am a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. I have been one for close to 10 years now. My exposure in terms of education has been both local and international. I went to the University of Ife (now OAU). I was abroad in one of the top colleges in the UK for my Masters , as well as PhD in Law. I have been a courtroom lawyer, substantially all my working life. I have not ventured, before now, into active political engagement because I took to my father’s advice. My father must have suspected that one day, I will follow in his footsteps into politics. He called before he died and said I should do my best to become a SAN, that thereafter whatever I wished to do I would have his blessing. I have kept to that. By the time I became a SAN, Aregbesola was more or less emerging. To that extent, whatever my aspirations were I had to wait. I was involved in some other forms of public service, not active politics of going to the ballot. This is the first time I am doing that. It is quite challenging, especially at the level at which I am taking it, but I believe that in terms of the capacity, in terms of quality, it has pleased God to give me what it takes. My antecedent is helping a lot, I must confess, my father’s record of service to the people has helped a lot. Before now, a lot of people had approached me to be more politically active, but I resisted it because I was putting my career on a very solid foundation. Since God has given me that, I have been asking myself, what next? From my much younger days, I knew that what the noblest thing anybody would aspire to or try to do is to have a record of service to the people. Politics, for me, is not about daily living. It is not a lifestyle. It is not about acquisition of any type of wealth or material thing. I am not saying I am wealthy, but God has given me enough as far as material things are concerned. Politics is about the opportunity to serve the people. I will bring to bear my wealth of experience from the private sector to demonstrate that capacity to create wealth. That is really my Number One agenda, creation of wealth and being able to take the state to a higher level. That is what is pushing me.