What are the challenges that will face the next governor of Ogun State?
The greatest challenge is to find a means of uniting the different ethnic groups within Ogun State. The next governor should also be somebody who has the wherewithal to earn the respect of our major leaders, both traditional and political. For example, the Awujale has been on the throne for over 50 years. The Alake of Egbaland is a seasoned administrator, who has served as the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters. Whoever that is going to be governor should earn the respect of these leaders. He will need competence and capacity. There is no oba in Ogun State who is not either a professional or a degree holder. We have people who are highly exposed, critical and analytical in Ogun State.
In the light of the challenges you have briefly highlighted, what are the qualities you expect from the next governor?
We should have a person who has a relative administrative experience, who has a high political sagacity. I expect an exposed, educated and somebody who will respect dissenting voices and opinions.
The perception out there is that there is still a gulf between you and Governor Ibikunle Amosun. How is the party tackling the challenges of reconciliation and harmonisation in Ogun State?
The so-called gulf is a creation of those who want to benefit from an impression of rivalry, which is non-existent. I am 78. I am going to be 79. I feel insulted when they say there is rivalry between me and the governor. I respect the governor. He is the chief executive. He is the head of Ogun State. I therefore, must accord him all necessary respect due to his office. There is nothing like rivalry. I am somebody who does his civic responsibility. I pay my tax regularly and up to date. Among the people in my age bracket, I will be among the first 10 in the whole of Ogun State, in terms of the quantum of tax I pay annually. My pension is only N676,000 a month. The tax I pay to Ogun State is in millions of naira. What then could be the reason for rivalry and disagreement. I don’t live on government largess. I don’t need government contract. I am contented. In relation to the APC, I am an advocate of internal democracy. Once the party allows the people to choose who will be their representatives, at all levels, both party and elective offices, I am very comfortable. At my age, I should be father to all. If you see that as a disagreement, that is using a wrong language. I insist always that we must do things right. We should be committed to the constitution of the party. I was the chairman of the committee that drafted the constitution. And I will continue to insist that the party’s constitutional provisions should be followed and upheld. I cannot be the one that headed the committee that drafted the constitution and be the one that will subvert the same constitution. That is what people have played upon and said there was a phantom rivalry.
What are the issues that are likely to shape the governorship primary and election in Ogun State?
First of all, there must be transparency in the evolution and emergence of anyone who will fly the tickets of the two major political parties. I have been governor two times, not two terms. Two different times, under the military and civilians. And to borrow the words of Adamu Ciroma, I won fair and square. None of my elections was ever challenged, either verbally or legally. In truth, the two people that I contested with at different times later wrote letters congratulating me. If I went through due process and won fair and square at the party and state levels, I should not under any circumstance be unfair to whoever is going to emerge as governor by wanting to impose or be part of the conspiracy to impose candidates. Therefore, what I expect is a fair, open and fair primary as a major factor that should shape the process of emergence of the governor of Ogun State.
What is the place of zoning in Ogun politics?
Let me first of all start by saying that the advocacy of zoning is not exclusive to Yewa. The two contending forces are using different languages to propagate their zoning philosophy. The Yewa/Awori/Egun in Ogun West says it is the turn of Yewa. The Ijebu says rotation should be on provincial basis. I am saying that, if you are going to use fairness, justice, equity; any language you want to use, the Yewa/Awori/Egun people of Ogun West Senatorial District deserve after 40 years to be given an opportunity. But, it must be based on merit. I qualify it with merit, not just to put a figure head there who will mess up governance in the state. Those who are not knowledgeable think that is anti-Yewa. At the same time, I do not accept the Ijebu’s propagation of provincial system, that the whole Egba Province made up of Egba, Awori, Egun, Yewa and the whole Ijebu Province made up of Ijebu and Remo should be the basis for rotating the governorship. They are wrong because there is nothing like provincial system in our constitution. The constitution recognizes the federal level, state level, senatorial district, federal constituency, state constituency and local government. Anything outside those things stated in the constitution cannot hold. So, when I say no zoning, the Yewa/Awori people should thank me because I say Ijebu cannot use provincial system as the basis for sharing the slot of who governs the state. Just as the Yewa/Awori/Egun. I refuse to say Yewa because the Ogun West contains other ethnic groups. Ogun West deserves to have it, but they must work for it, by virtue of the fact that the balance of forces between them and Ijebu are not the same. They should not be fighting each other.
Could you shed light on the balance of forces?
First of all, the Ogun West people only have five local government. Ijebu and Remo people have nine local governments. It almost doubles Yewa. The West Senatorial District is already disadvantaged by the number of local governments. In calculating the votes, you must have one third in two thirds of the local governments. A good Yewa candidate’s first point of call must be to unite the various ethnic groups in his senatorial district, in terms of Awori, Egun, Anago and Yewa, and the core Yoruba of the north of Ogun West. When they are united, then, they go and tackle the nine local governments in Ijebu and Remo in Ogun East Senatorial District by selling themselves, which I did, both in 1990 and 1999. Major forces were rallied against me. I went directly to the people.
T’Ekobo has just entered the political lexicon in Ogun State. Is it a perception of the governor or the new perspective being offered by the Ogun APC?
We are all t’Ekobo. Anybody who wants to reach the peak of his profession cannot lock himself up in Ogun State. If Obasanjo had locked up himself at Owu, he wouldn’t have reached the peak of his career in the Army as the military Head of State and elected President of Nigeria. I found myself keeping the legacy of Egba and Ogun State alive by finding myself in journalism. The first newspaper was founded in Abeokuta. If I had stayed in Abeokuta to continue producing a community newspaper, I wouldn’t have able to become the General Manager of The Herald newspaper, Editor of Sketch and Managing Director of Daily Times. If the present governor had stayed in Abeokuta, he wouldn’t have been able to set up an audit firm and did most of his businesses with Lagos State government and oil companies. There is no major oil company in Ogun State. Gbenga Daniel said he was selling elevator. Until recently, there was not a single elevator in Ogun State; until in recent years when there was one in OPIC Building. If he had stayed in Ogun State, he won’t be able to sell a single elevator. So when you say t’Ekekobo, all of us are t’Ekobo. The lexicon of t’Ekobo does not arise because the constitution of Nigeria, which the amendment to the Electoral Act by the Senate has now emphasized, says that anybody is free to contest for any office and anywhere. Until the constitution says otherwise, nobody can be disqualified by any party, INEC or anybody from contesting. The issue of t’Ekobo does not arise. I didn’t know anywhere in Ogun State, until 1989/1990 when I wanted to contest for the governorship. I went round virtually every village, got myself acclamitised, knowledgeable of the terrain, the people, their interests and aspirations. Until then, I never lived in Ogun State other than spending the holiday in my village and Abeokuta. Having an exposure is crucial to governing our state. You need that exposure to go a higher realm.
Can APC retain power in Ogun State in 2019?
Of course, yes. On condition that we allow transparent primary. On the condition that you allow the people to have a say on who emerges as our candidate. I have no interest in any particular candidate. I want the best for the state as much as I sympathise and support the sentiment of the Ogun West people, who on moral ground is eminently qualified to enjoy that slot. I am sure whoever is coming out to do serious ground work and not make the mistake of the past made by their past leaders that have denied them the opportunity of getting the governorship ticket.
What were the mistakes of the past?
For example, when I decided to contest in 1990, our leaders of the old UPN; Papa Abraham Adesanya, Papa Olaniwun Ajayi, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Papa Solanke Onasanya; told me bluntly that they will not support my candidature, not because I am not a loyalist of Awolowo. They all knew I am a loyalist. I served Awolowo, both in his life time and after his death. But, they had decided that the governor should come from Ogun West Senatorial District. I didn’t buy their decision. What I did was that I went round the entire state, preached my philosophy to the people, exposed myself to the people; to weigh the merit and demerit of my candidature. It was an open ballot system where you queue behind the picture of your preferred candidate. There was no confusion in terms of symbol or ballot. I emerged. At that time, Prof. Olabimtan, my senior in the Methodist High School, was even more qualified than me to be governor. But, he made a tactical error of relying on the leaders to deliver him. I went to the people to deliver me. I thanked him. He conceded and rally round me to get me elected as governor. By 2010, when Ogun West had the best material after Olabimtan, Gen. Idowu Olurin, a man who had all the attributes that our Yoruba norms and philosophy captures as omoluabi. An officer gentleman. Again, they threw all their eggs in the baskets of Gen. Obasanjo and Gbenga Daniel to deliver the governorship to them. Talk of experience. Talk of exposure. A man who had been head of ECOMOG, governor in Oyo; a successful governor. When Awolowo died, he gave the best speech among the governors in the Southwest. I was there at the Parliament Building. The speech was based on progressive philosophy, which could earn him the governorship automatically. But, tactically, they put their hope on some individuals. Again, they lost. At that time in 2010, Yewa youths invaded my house, that I did not support their candidate. I asked them a single question to which they didn’t have an answer. Did their elders and leaders ever canvassed their programs, ideas and philosophy to me? Even the head of Yewa Think Tank, Dr. Ibikunle, served in my government. He never approached me. Not even a phone call. They put all their egg in the PDP basket. Olurin, who should have had a free ride, didn’t get it. They are beginning to make the same mistake now, hoping some individuals will be there to deliver them to the Government House. I am telling all of them, particularly aspirants from Ogun West, to first of all go to Ijebu; go to their villages, go to their leaders, expose yourself in Ijebuland. All the obas are either bankers, accountants, military personnel. The oba of Itele made a first class at the University of Lagos. These obas, these community leaders in Ogun State are highly enlightened people. Look at Omolayoye. He retired from Unilever and continued to live in his village. That is ijebu culture. They impact on thei roots. I have been telling the aspirants; go and sell yourselves to these people so that when you get to the primary, they will use merit, just like they used it for me. The Ijebu adopted me as their candidate on the eve of the primary. The wishes of the elite then, even my father, the Awujale, was not comfortable with a candidate from Egba then. Today, I am his first son. My own style of governance agreed with his own philosophy of fairness. He came to like and respect me for it. The governorship will go to Yewa,if their elders and obas engage elders and obas from other areas. They should engage the two major parties and persuade them to take their candidates from Ogun West. They will now look at the two candidates from the two parties from the same Ogun West. I know intimately the Yewa’s character.
What is Yewa’s character?
The Yewa, Awori and Egun are distinct groups. I had that experience when I wanted to create paramount chieftaincy for them when I was governor in my first coming. At that time, the chairmanship of the Council of Obas was rotated among Alake, Awujale and Akarigbo. I felt it should not be confined to two senatorial districts as they are talking now, that they deserved a paramount ruler. I am an advocate of what they are calling for, but I don’t want them to approach it in a lazy manner. I didn’t use my power and influence as governor to ram down the paramount ruler on the Ogun West people. I consulted Oba Dr. Sikiru Adetona. I pleaded with Oba Oyebade Lipede and I pleaded with the Akarigbo. It took me a long time to get them to agree that we should have a paramount ruler from Ogun West. After I had persuaded those major obas and after canvassing it among obas in Ogun West, I had the greatest obstacle in Ogun West. Oba Ibeshe was adamount. He said under no circumstance would he ever cede his own crown to the Olu of Ilaro. Oba Afon traced his roots and crown beyond that of Olu Ilaro. Olota did not want to hear anything about it; he said he and his people were distinct. He said as an Awori, he was not going to accept the paramouncy of the Olu of Ilaro. Oba Ipokia said it was impossible. The secretary to Government. Deacon Poju Adeyemi, who has joined Governor Amosun and Obasanjo to preach power rotation to Yewa knew what was going on then. He said only one or two obas did not support it and that I should approve it. I said no way; that the paramount ruler is the paramount ruler of everybody, and that until everybody accepted. I had to go personally to plead. It took me quite a long time before they accepted. If I didn’t like Yewa people, why would I give them the self-respect they wanted. Olu Ilaro now sits as chairman by rotation over the Awujale, the Alake and the Akarigbo in the Ogun State Council of Obas. Within the West, they have dichotomy. That should be surmounted by whoever wants to be governor. Then, he should go to Ogun East Senatorial District to seek support. We in Egba, the Osun Central, do not have any case after eight years of Governor Amosun.
How do you see the agitation for the creation of another state from Ogun State for the Ijebu?
I am totally in support. When we had a little over 30 provinces in the colonial days, ijebu province and Egba Province are the two provinces that is still one state. Sokoko has been broken to almost six states; Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto. Some states have been broken into three, four. Yet, Ijebu and Egba still remain two provinces in the same state. It is totally unfair. That is lack of equity. I support Ijebu State out of the old provinces that deserves a separate state.
Have you and former President Obasanjo reconciled over the 2003 that made you to lose your second term bid?
I have no grudges against former President Olusegun Obasanjo about 2003. The election was massively rigged. I didn’t lose any election. They wrote 1.2 million votes for the presidential election. The opinion poll they claimed they have done tallied with the results they wrote for the governorship. The result came to 600,000. They forgot that they had written the 600,000 votes for the governorship. By the time they now add the result to the 1.2 million votes, they didn’t add account for the 600,000 votes for the governorship. Till today, they can’t account for it. Were the 600,000 ballots voided? Were they not used? The Court of Appeal, which was the court of first instance in the presidential election, described the Ogun election as criminal in nature. But, I accepted my fate because I didn’t come to serve by garrison command philosophy. Today, I am at peace with myself. At 78, I am still relevant in the politics of Ogun State and Nigeria.