Martins Ifijeh holds a conversation with Eyitayo Jegede, a frontline gubernatorial aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State on the readiness of his party to claim victory and provide better governance
What are the factors that will define the next governorship election in Ondo State?
First, we must understand that in any democracy, people determine who governs them and the essence of democracy is to make comparison between previous governments and the present. In that case, the populace will have to weigh their options, whether their lives, economy, security, health system or education have improved or not in the last three and half years. If there is no improvement, the obvious yearning of the electorate is to have a better government in place. That in itself is what is going to drive the next election.
This election is going to be an evaluation and assessment of the Governor, Arakunrin Akeredolu’s government and the All Progressive Congress (APC). The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a party does not only have a great chance of success but has an opportunity to come to the rescue of Ondo people.
Is the decampment of the Deputy Governor, Adegbola Ajayi not a game changer for the primaries in your party?
There is no cause for alarm because we are running a democracy. If APC is a winning party and a good platform, the gentleman will not move to the PDP. If he has a good chance of success in APC, obviously he won’t contemplate moving to PDP. If he has a cordial relationship with his party men and his boss, he will have no cause to say he is moving. We are not afraid of the competition. Now, the trajectory in the last few years is obvious for anybody to see and I say this clearly and with all sense of responsibility that before 2019, APC had all the structure in place but that has changed now.
You will recall that with the 2015 election, APC had all the three senators, but with the elections of 2019, it lost two. Even the one they retained is obviously not in good terms with the structure of the APC. In effect, the APC has no senator in reality.
Secondly, you will recall before the 2019 elections when President Muhammadu Buhari’s government came in, APC had majority of lawful votes, according to them. But in the 2019 elections, which is an assessment of the APC government, the PDP defeated the APC with a wide margin. The PDP scored the highest number of votes in the election of 2019 despite the fact that Buhari is still in government. And again, this is despite the fact that Akeredolu is the governor and still in government on the platform of APC. They had majority in the House of Assembly and all 18 local government caretaker chairman Akeredolu appointed. Ondo is the only state in the Southwest that recorded the highest margin for Atiku’s PDP. In that process, it was my privilege to be Director-General of Atiku’s campaign organisation in Ondo State, and the PDP clearly defeated APC. In that process, the PDP was able to produce three House of Representative members and some members of the State House of Assembly.
If the governor’s performance is satisfactory, all these agitations will not have come in. There is a crisis of confidence if not a vote of no confidence on this administration, not only from PDP, but majorly from APC itself. So, when you have these destructive tendencies within a political party, it is obvious that those claiming to be administering the state really do not have time for the state.
That is one of the reasons very outrageous fees are imposed on our students in tertiary institutions. Before APC came in, the fee was N35,000 or there about, but when they came in, the first thing they did was to inflict pain on the poor. And summarily, without any iota of conscience, the governor insisted that even the poor must not only pay for education of their children, but must pay through their nose. And what is the effect of this? First, lots of our young lads have dropped out of school.
Two things I have conquered: Greed and selfishness. And that is what our people want from us. Go to our health centres, it has practically crumbled. There was this five-year old girl who sought medical attention because she had appendicitis. They insisted she must pay N17,000 or N22,000. This is not a story that I was told; this is what I saw because I was partly responsible for trying to pay the medical bill. Before operation, they insisted she must pay another N22,000 before taking her to the theatre. We paid for the surgery and it was successful. When she recovered enough to go home, they said she must pay for pharmaceutical and laboratory services. She didn’t have the money, so they put syringe in her body and tied it up so that she will not be able to leave. After we paid that, they still didn’t allow her leave, claiming the pint of blood they gave her must be returned. Eventually, the person that I sent there had to donate blood before she was allowed to go home. That is the kind of crisis we face in the health sector. All the gains of the past have been eroded. Unfortunately, our people are at the receiving end.
What are your chances among other PDP aspirants?
We operate a delegate system. The Constitution of the PDP has clearly provided for those that will form the Electoral College and they cut across the 18 local government councils. As I speak with you, we have nine aspirants jostling for that ticket. Interestingly, I was the one that contested election in 2016, I had only one day to go because Court gave the verdict on Wednesday, we arrived Akure on Thursday from Abuja , Friday there was no campaign, so, we had only Thursday and despite that, in the entire polling units in the state, there was nowhere that I personally appointed any polling agent. Those polling agents were appointed by the person who claimed they have tickets of the party. So, you can see that I operated from a disadvantaged position.
That was why we clamored then that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should extend the time of the election, but in their wisdom, it refused. So, we went into elections practically with my hands tied at my back. We were, however, able to make impact, we came second. Ondo state desires people like us who are selfless.
What is PDP doing to resist the political merchants in the Southwest that worked against the party during the last election; using Ondo and Ogun cases as a reference?
We all learn from experience. The PDP is a matured party, made up of reasonable people at the top. Don’t forget that the suit we instituted against a faction of the PDP years ago was a watershed in the history of the PDP. That case itself resolved the crisis of PDP in the entire country, otherwise PDP will not be what it is now, God used our matter in Ondo State, up to the Supreme Court to resolve the crisis between Makarfi and Sherif factions.
I know that in elections, a lot of variables come into play. A lot of politicians will take advantage of the poverty of our people. An average person whose monthly income is below N2,000, N2,500 or N10,000, was offered N5,000 at the point of voting, meanwhile this gentleman or woman had not taken a meal for two or three days and yet he has a voter’s card and the politicians know such an electorate is easy to manipulate.
When our people took money during the last election to vote for APC, little did they know that they were voting for the destruction of the future of this state. As soon as voting was concluded, the first step the government took was to increase school fees and hospital bills, forgetting that these are basic things that should be free because the primary purpose of government is the welfare of the people.
What is the position of the PDP on zoning and how do you intend to run an all-inclusive government if elected?
Let me first address the issue of zoning before talking about inclusiveness in government. I have said it at several fora that this idea of zoning is just contrived by those who are seeking power and afraid of competition.
Coming to PDP which is the party I belonged to in 1999, when the new democracy started, the first candidate of the party was Dr. Olusegun Agagu of blessed memory, and he was from the South. Four years after, he tried his luck again, and then same in 2007. PDP in its wisdom also gave the same ticket to him when he was a Minister. When PDP was giving out its ticket again, it gave it to same Dr Agagu from the South. At the next primaries, PDP gave its ticket to Olusola Oke still from Ondo South. The North or Central did not complain because we all believed that we should put our best legs forward.
Four years after, I was privileged to carry the party flag. What then followed was a challenge to my candidacy. The person that challenged me came from the South, so for God sake, where is this zoning coming from?
We are not afraid of merit and competition. The only reason we are in this business is to offer good governance to our people and if some people think that they should deny people good governance on the premise of such contrived phenomenon, then I don’t think our people are so unwise to believe that argument. Zoning has no place in the constitution of the party, and it has no place in the regulations of the party. The party has always emphasized on democracy.
You asked about my level of preparedness. Our people are very reasonable; they listen to all the aspirants and see what they have to offer. We have learnt a lot of lessons. You will recall that in the 2016 election, I passed through a lot. I am now a seasoned sailor because we have learnt our lessons. I believe ultimately that God gives power; he gives to whoever he wishes.
There is this notion that delegates are neglected after the primaries, is this true?
There are institutions established to foster democracy, and delegate system is one of such. The whole idea is to announce our democracy and leave people with choices. Those who are delegates are party men who want to contribute to governance which I think is their right to do.
Again, if you are in this business called politics, the person that carries the flag is only a pilot of a plane; he does not own the place. When I am given the flag, I am given the flag for and on behalf of the people. Delegates constitute the bulk of these people and God willing, they would be able to participate fully in all decision-making levels of governance. They will also be able to offer their own expertise and experience in governance. Be rest assured that in terms of quality contribution and comfort, the delegates would form part of the governance in all the true sense of the word.
Are you confident that you and other aspirants will have a level playing field?
I have offered my best to this party with great sacrifice and cost to myself. I have served at various levels of the organs of the party. I am presently the Secretary of the National Disciplinary Committee of PDP. I was the Secretary of the committee that conducted the primaries in Kogi State where there was violence and gun shots. I have led the party in Ondo state for three and half years by virtue of being the party flag bearer when it was left in the cold. In that process, we have sacrificed a lot and I have no regrets about it.
Will you say you have a better chance of winning the governorship seat?
The response of people out there across the 18 local governments has been extraordinary and sometimes I marvel that our people are so conscious of the need to have a good face and good governance in place. Critical to this, is the primaries. We have nine aspirants now. It used to be 19 or thereabouts. Each and every of the aspirants believe he is qualified and there is no dispute about this, but what is ahead of us is a big battle, it takes a lot of courage, goodwill and sacrifice, and over and above all, it takes a person who has the courage for the final push. That is where I come in. Our people, including the delegates, are knowledgeable enough to count on the sacrifices of each person and not to be carried away by those who claimed they have money.
We do not want to go the way of the past, where we had irreconcilable differences in PDP. The APC is having its fair share of these irreconcilable differences and I think we should keep the PDP holy in the sense of the word as an alternative to a failed administration. That is why I believe that this alternative is represented by myself because we are coming with a clear heart and mind to serve the people.
Can we rule out a consensus option in choosing the candidate?
I don’t know, if anybody wants to step down if he can step down. There is no harm if at the appropriate time, those who are aspiring also believe that those ones with previous experience, those ones who have been tested and trusted, like myself should be able to fly. PDP is a family and it will not cease to be a family because of primaries. What we are sure of is the victory that lies ahead.
Are you saying PDP in Ondo State is good to take over from the APC in the next election?
Solid, good and they know it, APC knows it and that is why you have confusion in the camp of the enemy. That is why again you have influx of APC members now in PDP. Some are interestingly coming to seek office in PDP.