Former governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State during the 2012 election in the state, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), was described as a political rookie when he entered politics, contested and lost that governorship poll. He is at present the party’s Interim Chairman in the state. In this interview with newsmen including MATHEW STALOREH of WESTERN POST, Akeredolu talks about that framing of his by political opponents and the handling of the APC crisis in the state. He also bares his mind on some national issues.
One of the things that people used to blackmail you with during the last governorship election is that you were not a politician and that you were just coming into politics to learn. Two years after that election, what has been your experience?
I have leant a lot from that election. For the past three years now that I have been in politics, I can say that politics has changed me but it has not succeeded in taking from me my integrity. I hear people say the way of politicians is to be untruthful. I do not buy that. If you want to be a liar or dishonest person, you will be and not because you are a politician. I have not lost my conviction and there are certain things I still reserve for myself to continue to be a disciplined man even as a party man. My own approach to politics is to refuse to say something if what it requires is to tell a lie or blackmail. I am convinced that I will be what I will be if I do not tell lies or blackmail. I know you can only achieve anything only by the grace of God. So all I can say is that I am not die-in-the-wool politician yet and I do not want to learn all their tricks. Your plans and plots do not really matter to me. All that I want to continue to do as a politician is to seek for office legitimately and if ordained by God, I will be there to serve the people of this state.
At the national level of APC, some people are canvassing the possibility of Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. What is your view about that?
I know the APC has not discussed presidential ticket for now but what the party is battling with now is how to conduct successful congresses. APC has been registered but is still been run by Interim Executives both at national and state levels. What makes up a party? It must have in place its officers duly elected and that is what the leadership of the party is grappling with. The question of who the presidential candidate will be and who gets the ticket is not there for now. But people are no doubt entitled to their opinion. As far as the issue of ticket is concerned, I can only speak for myself and not for the party. In speaking for myself, I want to say that religion should not have role to play in the presidential ticket of the party. If the best for this country is Muslim-Muslim so be it and if it is Christian-Christian ticket, let it be. I see no part that religion will play- I might be wrong. There is no evidence that if you are a Christian or Muslim you will do better. We have had Christian as President and Muslim as President. Both of them have stolen the fund of the country very well. So what is the difference? I think we need to tell our people that what will benefit us is what should be important to us in this country. We must leave out religion and we must not sacrifice merit for religion. In 1993 presidential election, it was Abiola and Kingibe. It was Muslim-Muslim ticket and nobody complained. Nigerian voted for them. We can only talk about politics of balancing and region or zone but not religion. There are many Christians from the North who can produce president just like we have many Muslims in the North who can produce President. There are enough Christians in the North and Muslims in the West who can be a better president. If for instance, we want to pick president from the West and because the West is predominantly Christians and there is a Muslim there who can be a better president but because he is a Muslim you deny him the ticket. Will it be said that we are doing any good to ourselves. We will be shooting ourselves in the leg. Religion should have no part to play. I do not believe in religion politics so whosoever merit it should be given the ticket.
The APC is under your leadership temporarily as Interim Executive Chairman. How will you assess the progress made so far by the party in term of acceptability?
Thank you. If you talk about acceptability of the APC, I can say without any fear of contradiction. It is not because of the making of Interim Executive Committee but because the party is acceptable. The people of this state have accepted APC. So many factors are responsible for acceptability. One of it is the apathy towards the ruling Labour Party (LP) in Ondo State. LP has shown to the people of this state its recklessness. The people of this state, with huge allocation from the Federation Account, have not benefited anything substantial from the LP government.
The last membership registration exercise of the APC showed that people have abandoned the LP and that was responsible for the outcry of that party that we used INEC to deceive people to register. People of this state are no fools. On the question of how far we have gone, well, I am not too sure that I can say that we have done too well particularly those of us who are older members of this party. Our actions have been geared towards pulling the party in so many directions, groupings and factions. Many of us are still living in term of aspiration. Our people do not understand that by the time a primary election is conducted and a candidate is chosen that terminates aspiration. All we are still doing now is aspiration here and there, which is not in the interest of the party. I thought that the opportunity of having Interim Executive Committee would have been enough for us to build a united party. I believe that we must come together if we love this party. However, I believe that this grouping and faction will come to an end by the time we have elected executives of the party in place. Our own executive is in the interim and it shall be terminated in about two weeks time. The unity of this party is paramount to me. Luckily we are not running for governorship election in 2015. What that means is that we must put our differences behind us and ensure that we win the state and federal houses of assemblies and win the presidential election. I am appealing to our people to come together in the interest of this party.
2015 Election is around the corner and the party will be participating in State Assembly Election, House of Representatives and Senatorial elections. Do you foresee the party doing well in the elections by winning available seats?
The party should be able to win. The fact that we have differences now does not mean that we will not overcome it. Our differences are not very serious. Our differences are only based on unnecessary envy. We cannot hate one another forever. If anybody says he or she hates me, that is he/her problem but I still love him/her. If we decided to put behind us our differences and believe that everything will happen according to how He had designed it, we will make it in the party. If we rally round our candidates for the 2015 election, I believe it is our time to make it in Ondo State.
One of the problems that the party is being faced with at present is the gradual exit of some of the so-called grassroots chieftains like Tolu Babaleye, Femi Adekambi among others. What are you doing to put an end to this giving the fact that the PDP is not relenting in its bid bring more people to its fold from the APC?
I see it as a good omen for anybody to want to leave the party now. The earlier they leave the better for the party. We do not want a situation whereby someone leaves the party at the point of choosing a candidate. If you want to leave now, it is better so that we can know some of us who are left. To me, the flimsiness of the excuses they gave for leaving the party gave me a conviction that they are people whose defection may not affect the fortune of the party. The reason they gave is that they wanted a party where their ambition will be better realised. How do you want to convince that person? The war has not started you are saying to people that you will be defeated. People are expressing intention to run for office and you said to yourself that a person you are contesting with will be more favoured. Is that logical? Does it sound reasonable? Maybe if they had given other reasons, it might sound logical. If they had said that somebody was imposed on them, it could have been reasonable but for you to say that you will not be picked for the office is not a good reasoning. I believe that those leaving do not have interest of the party in the first place and that is why they have to leave which is better for the party. Elections are not won solely by party members but by the masses. The party members are fewer than those who win election for a party and it is the appeal to the people that wins the election. That is what matters and people do not know. If you are not going to belong to that party, nobody can force you. If people want the party, whether you are there or not the party will win. You can only convince few people to follow you. If there are few others who because of the reasons want to leave the party, they should do so now in the interest of the party.
Will you consider running for the governorship election in the nearest future?
No doubt about that. But that is not my priority for now. I do not want to talk about it again until the appropriate time. What I want to talk about now is how to build the party in the state and win subsequent elections.
It seems you now feel comfortable settling down at home now. Does that have anything to do with the last election?
Oh! Yes. This last election has made me a village boy now. I am enjoying coming home now. There is always a beginning for something and when you put an end to what you are doing. In the time past, I was always coming home only when relatives and friends are doing something. After the election, I now carry a lot of responsibilities and that informed by frequent appearance in Owo, my hometown. No doubt, a number of people look up to me for leadership and I cannot abandon that leadership role. I do not intend to abandon those responsibilities. I have to be here to shoulder those responsibilities. I must keep the flocks if I do not want them to disperse. So I have a lot of reasons to be here than before the election. I now have different roles to play as a party man. Before the election, I do not have any role.
Ekiti State Governorship election will be held very soon. What are the chances of your party there?
We will win that election. There is no doubt about that. If INEC gives a level playing ground, APC will win hands down. I know the ground might not be level that is they will give tough competition but at the end of the day we will still come out winning. The third scenario is the deliberate plan of the PDP to rig the election. If anybody does that, he should be prepared to face the consequences. Ekiti is not Ondo State. We are in government there and we are up to the task. It is not like Ondo State where we are not in government and they can decide to rig us out. We will use everything to stop the rigging because if we say we have to wait for the court, it is no longer the best place to get justice. You get justice if you are able to fight for it.
What is your view on the ruling of the court on the 37 lawmakers who defected to APC from PDP that they should vacate their seats?
There was never such judgment. It was the opinion of the Court. A number of times, before a judge comes to court, some of them would have taken some drink. When you are drunk, you say whatever you like with your mouth. What the judge said is what Fela Anikulapo referred to as “Noise in Vendor’s Mouth.” There is no reason for him to start making such noise on what was not before him. What was before him is change of leadership. He could have either said yes or no but instead of addressing the issue he went on a voyage. Although it is called orbiter in law but that was a verbal diarrhea of a judge advising people on what was not before him. The judge, Niyi Ademola, is my friend. He was Secretary of NBA branch in Lagos State. I know by now he would be regretting those utterances. It is more of exuberance anyway. I cannot say adult exuberance, but he was just being silly with all respects to him if it is necessary.
What is your impression about the ongoing National Conference in Abuja?
I think it is better for me to start from my earlier reaction to it from the onset. I have said so and I still maintain it that it is a mere jamboree. I believe there is nothing that has not been discussed in this country. It is not that we do not know our problems. We know them but the only problem we have is that we do not have leadership at the national level that can faithfully address the identified problems. We have debated, discussed, written and changed the constitution over and over again but things have not changed. And things will not change, except the leadership changes. All these unnecessary talks and discussion will lead nowhere and we are not going to get anything from the conference. The morning shows the day. If you look at the way they started, they would have said to you that they are not there for any good.
What do you think the country needs to get right before it can have peaceful and successful 2015 election?
2015 election will only be peaceful and successful if there is a level playing ground for every party. I have a very strong feeling that if we are not very careful it might be an election that will be characterized by rancor, fracas, riots and crises except there is equal treatment for everybody. Polity today is being heated up because of desperation among politicians. Part of our fear is that funds are being stolen by people in government to prosecute politics of 2015. With billions of naira being lost on a regular basis, one will know that people are planning large scale fraud/rigging. I personally believe that people are planning election that is going to be a mirage. There are different ways elections are being rigged today and the latest one is that INEC rigs for you when you are in control. INEC today do not have leadership that has integrity. Jega should not be trusted by any Nigerian because I do not think he has any integrity.
You are a counsel to the opposition party in Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal, are there any similarities in the case with that of Ondo State Election Petition in 2012 looking at your involvement in both?
Looking at my involvement in both, I will say INEC has shown patently that they are hands in glove with the PDP. There is no other way of describing its roles. When you look at the rigging in both elections, you will know that it could not have been perpetrated without INEC’s involvement. In my own case in Ondo State, we talk about injection into the Voter’s Register and that INEC did not display Voter’s Register. After that court case, they went back to re-strategize by refusing to inject the Voter’s Register and they went further to display the Voter’s Register in the case of Anambra. The evidence we have in the case of Anambra has it that where a candidate is popular, INEC would remove their names from the register such that they are disenfranchised. People came for the election in Anambra and they could not find their names on the register. On the Voter’s Register that was displayed, people could find their names but on the Voter’s Register being used by INEC Presiding Officer, they could not find their names so they could not vote. The Anambra State style of rigging is another design of INEC with the PDP. That is why I said we do not have election umpire that has integrity and that could be trusted. You cannot trust INEC under Jega to organize free and fair election. We now have a petition on Anambra election and we are praying that it would not go the way of that of Ondo State at the tribunal. Our hope is with the Court of Appeal and we do not know the panel yet but we hope to have a fair panel, we have enough reason to nullify Anambra Governorship Election. One of the evidences we have is on double registration but the tribunal has succeeded in denying us the opportunity of leading our evidence claiming it is reelection matters and so they decided to strike out so many paragraphs as they did in Ondo State. So the situation has come to be that before you can will an election, you have to contest with the umpire and judiciary. The most annoying thing is that the judiciary is supposed to be independent and free from influence to be corrupt. Unfortunately, the judiciary is part of the society so there is no way the society would not reflect in the judiciary. As for me, I expect the judiciary to be different from the society. Anybody can be president, governor and senator but it is not everybody that can be a judge. You must be a lawyer. We should be the one to exhibit good example.