Reuben Abati, renowned columnist, thinker and former presidential aide, has finally made the big move from pen pushing to partisan politics, emerging recently as the Ogun State governorship running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He fields questions from Femi Ogbonnikan, on the promise of the Kashamu Buruji/Abati ticket for the transformation of the gateway state

Chances Despite Crisis

We have the best chance. The PDP is the winning party in Ogun. The PDP in Ogun State is not enmeshed in any crisis. What we have is normal in politics, normal even in human relationships, and normal, even in families. What we have is a case of intra-party crisis. And this is not just in Ogun State. What is playing out in Ogun State is something coming down from the party at the national level. The politics of the PDP since it lost the 2015 general elections is what you are seeing in Ogun State. And it pains me. It is Ogun State, which is a state with very enlightened people that has been turned into a battle ground for a family feud within the PDP. I interact with all the gladiators involved and I see that they all know each other. It is just one family. But there are disagreements, in terms of who is the legal representative of the party in Ogun State. And that matter has been taken to various courts, at all levels, all the way to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal. The courts have decided and made it clear, that only the rule of law can prevail. While political parties are important, no political party is above the laws of the land because justice must be done. In more than four instances, all the way to the Supreme Court, the courts have said that the Engineer Adebayo Dayo-led executive is the valid, authentic, legal body to represent the Ogun State PDP. And that all candidates presented by that executive are the legitimate representatives of the PDP in Ogun State. The rule of law is very clear.

The basic principle of law is that, nobody is above the law. Because when you raise yourself above the law, you violate the rule of law, you violate justice, you destroy equity and you turn yourself into an absolute dictatorship. While political parties, at the national level, have their own powers, they do not also have the rights to violate the rights of others who are entitled to justice. The basic issue in Ogun State is not to say that it is enmeshed in crises, but it that all the parties involved must respect the rule of law, must respect order of courts; and the party at the national level seeking to rule Nigeria, must also respect the rule of law. Because it would be very contradictory for the PDP at the national level to say, it objects to the Buhari government and at the same time to be seen to be violating the rule of law and to be seen committing the same errors, that it accuses President Buhari and his team of. All the persons who belong to PDP in Ogun State, in spite of the feud are saying we are working for the PDP. And we have held reconciliation meetings. Everybody is saying, whatever the matter is, it is the PDP that we are working for. So, everybody is saying, we are loyal to the PDP in Ogun State. But in terms of the details that are projected publicly, people would think it is a crisis. We don’t have a crisis and we stand the strongest chance of winning. Let me explain that. If you look at all the tickets in Ogun State, the Remo people, have been in government through our leader, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, for eight years. The Egba have been in government as governor for two years under our father, Chief Olusegun Osoba, the Aremo of Ijebuland. For two years in the first instance, then for another four years. We have also had another Egba man, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, running Ogun State for eight years. Now, in 2011, the issue about the Egbado people becoming governor came up. They were supported by my principal and others. In 2015, the issue also came up. The Egbado people should also become governor. It didn’t work in 2011. It didn’t work in 2015. Now, politics is a game of numbers.

The PDP candidate for the governorship election in Ogun State now, my principal, Senator Buruji Kashamu, is from Ogun East. Ogun East has nine local governments and it is only Senator Kashamu who has chosen somebody from Ogun Central. I am from Ogun Central and we have six local governments. From Senator Kashamu side alone, we have a total of nine plus six from mine to make 15 local governments out of 20 spread all over the 236 wards in Ogun State. The thing we are in control, in terms of numbers. And the Egbas, ordinarily, cannot come back after eight years of being governor and after an additional six years of our father, to say they want to be governor again. Our people have told me, that they don’t think that is equitable. The Remos, have not only done eight years under Governor Daniel, they have also done four years of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). The last time, the mainstream Ijebu was 40 years ago under Chief Bisi Onabanjo. And the mainstream Ijebus are saying, “This is our turn.” And the Egbas are saying, “We cannot afford to be out of government for another 16 years. Because if you keep rotating the thing, the Egbas will be out of the loop, for the next 16 years, after Osoba and Amosun. I believe a time will come when there will be a full consensus, that the Yewas must produce a governor.

But this is not the time. Because, there are some analysts that say, there are two key divisions in Ogun State, the Ijebu division and the Egba division. The Egbado division is part of Egba division. And to vote for an Egbado man is to allow the Egbas to take it again. So, the Egbas, from what I see, from what I hear, they don’t mind, they are happy to be deputy governor, but they don’t want a situation whereby their own division is taken out of the loop. Strategically, the PDP in Ogun State has made a good choice. And I think that, we stand the best chance of winning, both in terms of numbers, the sentiment of the people, and in terms of the efforts we have also made to sell our programmes to the people. The Buruji Kashamu/Abati ticket is probably the only ticket that is engaging people at the level of idea and programmes. There are people who run for offices in this country that they have no document, they have signed no contract, they have no ideas, and they are just whipping up sentiments. We have run and managed to run so far, a campaign that is based on issues, engaging the people at various levels and we have a document that articulates what we want. Senator Kashamu has also signed undertakings with traditional rulers, with local government workers, to assure them, that he means business and he is running an issue-driven campaign. We don’t attack personalities, we don’t abuse people, and we are runnin on ideas. I urge the people of Ogun State to listen to those ideas and engage us at that level.

Kashamu’s Expulsion and INEC’s List

The Federal High Court in Lagos, Justice Buba, ruled that the Engineer Adebayo Dayo-led executive is the legitimate, valid executive of the PDP in Ogun State. Section 25 of the PDP Constitution, I think, makes it clear that the chairman of the party has the powers to organise primaries and to make returns, accordingly. The whole issue has been: “Who is the legitimate chairman of the PDP in Ogun State, and who has the powers, the right, the legitimacy, to organise primaries?” The Engineer Adebayo Dayo – led exco organised the primaries and made returns, appropriately to the national body of the PDP. But the national body of the PDP, for reasons from my own observations, which are based on personality differences, ignored that exco and said they don’t want to work with this exco. But they are not in a position to say that because the Dayo-led exco has gone to court and the court has made it clear that, ‘this is a legitimate exco’. The party is important here, but the party cannot over-rule the court of the land, because, it is the duty of the courts to ensure stability of the social order. It is also the duty of the courts to ensure justice. It is also the duty of the courts to enforce the laws of the land. Nobody, either chairman of a political party or a candidate can over-rule the administration of justice in Nigeria and that would be blatant dictatorship and arrogance of the highest order. In two different high courts, in Lagos, it was affirmed that the Adebayo Dayo-led exco is the legitimate executives of the PDP in Ogun State. Another Federal High Court in Abeokuta further re-affirmed and it was a re-affirmation of the position that has been taken by the Federal High Court. In law, there is a principle called, “lex lata, lex laga, lex feranda”. The other thing you raised is that Kashamu was expelled from the party. The courts have said that he was not expelled. That, yes, the party can have a disciplinary committee or can raise issues or sanction its members, but the court of proper jurisdiction has already set that aside.

Whether PDP can defeat the ruling APC in Ogun State

The only thing you can say is, the APC is the incumbent government in Ogun State. But from what I see, from what I hear and from what is going on, nationally, it is very obvious that the people of Nigeria and the people of Ogun State are tired of the All Progressives Congress, the ruling party. And why are they tired? In 2015, the APC ran a campaign of calumny, of propaganda, of hate, they over-promised Nigerians. But in the last four years, they have under-delivered. So, I see a lot of objection to the APC across the country. And this is not a partisan comment. As a journalist, as a technocrat, as a researcher, as an investigator, these are the things that are happening. It is possible to say, because I am involved, that is why I am saying that. But from my analytical point of view, from the dispassionate point of view, that is what I see. And in Ogun State, I see a lot of disenchantment with the APC. We have made the performance of the Amosun government an issue in our campaign, because as I told you earlier, we are committed to issues. We are not doing a campaign of personalities and all of that. We have not done that, and if you have any evidence to the contrary, provide it. But the truth of the matter is that, we have received representations from people in Ogun State. We have done our own research. Workers in Ogun State, the organised labour in Ogun State, are complaining about how the government has been victimising them. Salaries have not been paid. Arrears have not been paid. Deductions are made from their entitlements, pensioners are groaning, teachers are dis-oriented. Some of the documents that have been presented to us, including statistics, shows there are many workers who have died under Governor Amosun’s watch.

What we tell them when we engage them, is to say, look, all these issues will be looked into when we get there. Not to make Amosun look bad, but to say, this must be done because our commitment is to justice and the rule of law. So, there are issues, nationally, in terms of the failure of the APC. There are also issues in Ogun State, in terms of the disenchantment of the people. The people of Ogun State want change. If they wanted change in 2015, they want that change now more than at any other time. And the PDP is the party to look up to, as a party that can provide that alternative to move this state forward. And what we say in our policy documents, that our commitment is to take Ogun State to greater heights. This again is in response to the yearnings of the people, to the groaning of the people, to the expectations of the people. And Kashamu is strongly committed to that agenda. If you see the posters, we have put out, we say, “alanu mekunu 2019” (benefactor of the masses 2019). Sen Buruji Kashamu is a noted philanthropist. He has done a lot for the people of Ogun State, or, generally, for the people of the Southwest. He alone has distributed more than 5,000 vehicles to assist people. He believes in entrepreneurship. He has empowered many small and medium scale enterprises, without expectations of any return. Now, as Governor of Ogun State, he wants to be given an opportunity to do a lot more. So, I think, the PDP has a strong stake, has a strong chance and the people who express misgivings say, “can’t you people resolve this issue of family crisis as it were, because everybody in Ogun State wants to vote for the PDP? But, when we hear that, you, people, are in court today, you people are in court tomorrow, somebody who is not being recognised by law is saying, he is the candidate, we are disturbed, because right now, in Ogun State, the people want the PDP.” And they want Senator Buruji Kashamu and Reuben Abati.

What will PDP do differently?

You are trying to use tricks to get me to criticise Amosun’s government, but I will not take that. You know, this is also my own job. I have interviewed many people and so, I know the tricks.

What I have told you is that the things we propose to the Ogun State people is to take Ogun State to a higher level, to greater heights. We have said in our campaign, that, as far as we are concerned, anybody that is given the opportunity to govern Ogun State, should do his best. When our father, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, was governor, nobody accused him of non-performance. He made his own contributions. When Governor Amosun got there, if you look around, you would see he has done his bit. But we are saying that we will do better than all previous administrations combined together. What are we selling? We are selling the fact that, Kashamu is an entrepreneur. He has on his payroll over 5,000 employees, as an industrialist, not just in Nigeria, but also in the Republic of Benin and other parts of Africa. We are saying that, this is a man who has the welfare of the people at heart, even as a private person. And he has combined that with somebody like me. I don’t think you would consider me a fool. If the people vote for us, and I become the Deputy Governor of Ogun State and that would be my fourth political posts in Nigeria. I had been on the board of the Governing Council of a university; I had been on the board of the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF). I had been a presidential spokesman and I had been a key figure in the Nigerian presidency, in terms of the opportunities my boss, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan gave me. If you elect me deputy governor to Kashamu, you are not electing a dunderhead. You are electing a man with significant experience who can add value. And that is why I keep saying, at all levels, the Kashamu/Abati ticket is the strongest proposition for the people of Ogun State. What we are asking for, is support. What we are asking for is for people to engage us at the level of ideas. We are not running a campaign where we are complaining about what has passed, like Osoba didn’t do this; Gbenga Daniel didn’t do that; Amosun hasn’t done that too, no! We are are here to campaign. We want to be given an opportunity to serve and to add value.

Crises in Education Sector

Well, this same issue came up when I went to represent Kashamu at a debate organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ogun State Council, a few days ago. They called it “face-to-face with labour.” The concern was expressed, just as you have done, about the state of the education system in Ogun State. And you are right. Ogun State is the state of very well educated people, brilliant people who have made their mark in the world. This is a state of Prof. Wole Soyinka, to cite one significant man, as an example. This is a state of many professors, many seasoned administrators. This is a state, the first newspaper was published, “Iwe Irohin” in 1859. Some of the schools in Ogun State, have been there, like forever. Enlightenment came to Ogun State long before there was a spread of enlightenment in other parts of the country. It becomes scandalous that, in a state like this, schools have no equipment, the teachers are not paid, there are no basic facilities. So, it is something that must be addressed and this is something that we intend to address. But I think, first, most of the schools in the state have to be returned to their lost glory. So, what is important is what kind of priority a government sets for itself? You have brought up the issue of education but there are also other areas of concern. Because of his background, Kashamu is excited, and if he is given an opportunity to promote entrepreneurship, he is talking about opportunities of micro, small and medium scale enterprises.

He wants to prove a point to show that, as an entrepreneur, as a businessman, he can reproduce a lot of business people and empower them in Ogun State. Because of his background, he is talking about industrialisation. He is looking at Ogun Waterside; Ogun Waterside is next to Lekki, Lagos. How do we link Ogun Waterside to Lekki, Lagos, because Lagos is at contiguous state? And you can see that Lagos is spreading, it is sprawling into, and towards Ogun State. So, he has a special interest in Ogun Waterside. How do we economically draw the Lagos economy towards that axis? He is looking at Agbara where there is a lot of industrialisation going on. How do we support the companies there? How could we further deepen the investment potentials there to increase IGR? If we increase IGR in Ogun State, we would be able to do a lot more. The whole argument is that most of the people who live in the border areas in Ogun State work and pay tax in Lagos State, this is unacceptable to us because these are key stakeholders in Ogun State. And we want to bring them into the social safety and social development net in Ogun State, so that they can have a sense of belonging. Ogun State has enormous potentials. We believe that other governments have done their best, but they only managed to scratch the surface. With our talents, the support that we expect to get both from the people and from other knowledgeable people, locally and internationally, we intend to show that it is possible for development to spread for the benefit of the people.