Ondo 2020: I will contest against Akeredolu

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Former Ondo State Commissioner for Information Banji Ayiloge has unfolded his governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with DAMISI OJO, the former Director-General, Aketi Campaign Organisation during the 2012 election, speaks on his ambition and how the party can retain the state in next year’s poll..

There will be governorship election in Ondo State next year. What are your plans?

Let me declare through this medium that I will be running for governor of Ondo State. Before I go further, let me say that I am the most qualified of all the people running for the post, including Akeredolu himself. It is about time Ondo State had a well-travelled, well-read, clear-headed and definitely tenacious person to become governor. Nigerian politics is not like those in the organised parts of the world where you can back someone for office and play a good part in the background to usher in development. I know I have a deserved reputation for steadfastness and  passion to implement good developmental programmes. When these personal traits are pitted against someone with lesser skills and personal agenda. My professional degree is economic development. I was educated both in Nigeria and the United States and had worked in the public and private sectors – both in Nigeria and in the United States. It will not only be a personal loss for me, if I do not utilise my experience to uplift my people; it will be a colossal loss to the people of Ondo State.

If you take a closer look at those who have signified their intention to run, they do not have  comparable set of skills that I have in abundance. You have a defense attorney who has not run anything other than a small law firm of a few junior lawyers running the state. At every turn, we now realize that he lacks any appreciable managerial skill, the finesse in dealing with people, coupled with a penchant for clannishness. Undoubtedly, Governor Akeredolu’s nepotism will have a long lasting debilitating effect on the people. But, we can still arrest the situation before he does more damage. We must make sure that Ondo State bounces back from the spiral fall it has been experiencing for the last two decades. The need to reposition it to its prime place among the states in the country is of paramount importance to me. Right now, Ondo State is only a pawn to outside interests and must be rescued for the sake of our fatherland.

Recently, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was in Akure to reconcile aggrieved factions within the party. What is your assessment of the parley?

I will say that the parley was a complete failure. I am not one of those who would hide behind some diplomatic double-speak to describe what has happened. In Ondo State, there is no reconciliation yet. I will tell you the reason. During the meeting, it was agreed upon that an ad hoc committee comprising of all factions be set up to manage the affairs of the party with the aim of reconciling everybody. That committee would then be charged with the task of planning a new congress to replace Adetimehin’s leadership, which in actual fact, is the “Team Aketi” group. Akeredolu grudgingly accepted this condition at the meeting. Ever since the meeting, Akeredolu has vacillated in implementing this very important decision of party leaders. Akeredolu may not be sagacious, but he knows that new executive members in the state comprising  all factions may spell doom for his second term ambition. He is now stalling and maneuvering to buy some others over to his camp.

Now, let us look at the situation on the ground in the state today. Team Aketi has a paltry 30 percent of the people in the party. The concerned party members constitute the other 70 percent. The task of the 70 percent is being made easier by the day because of the ineptitude of the governor. I am one of the concerned leaders meeting at Ali Olanusi’s house. We intend to build on our achievement so far and move the state forward. I must also say that by involving the APC leaders first, we have shown that we have the interest of the party at heart. If the leaders buckled to the pressure of the governor and ensure his nomination the second time, then all options are open to us.

Governor Akeredolu is in his third year. What is your assessment of the administration?

The Akeredolu’s administration is the worse so far in the history of the state. This is why all hands must be on deck to see to the end of the retrogressive administration. For the first time since the military administration, we have a governor that lacks political and managerial skills. Moreover, it is highly clannish and avaricious.  His son is in charge of the state’s IGR. The saying in Ondo State is that you can only have access to state contracts if you are from far away Imo state (where the wife comes from) than if you are a citizen of Ondo State. Even among the people of Owo, his home town, he has a only a coterie of friends who have formed the clique of favored elite. We must therefore, end the unholy racket currently that is currently going on in the state.

The governor has a pocket of people, especially on the social media chorusing the slogan that he is performing. Most of these people cannot say what the performances are but they say the governor is performing. Most of what are being done in the state at present is designed to misappropriate money from the covers of the government. The spate of roadway dressings – which the state calls constructions, is a case in point. Obviously, Ondo State has not had a new road added to the network of roads in many years. The government keeps applying asphalt on the surface of dirt roads and  calls that road construction. Those roads become impassable within three years, the asphalt coat is washed away after a few rains.   Can we all revisit those roads completed by the Mimiko administrations? They are in deplorable states of disrepair now. This is a state that received combined income of about 90 billion Naira last year. For not thinking harder and not being circumspect in the way we choose our leaders, we have allowed the spate of development as started by visionaries like Pa Adekunle Ajasin to falter. The late Ajasin created industries and financed education of our youths. He ruled the state with single-minded devotion. We must return to that period if we must have a legacy of which our people can be proud.

With your political experience, how do you think the APC will gain more support to retain power after the 2020 governorship election.

This a good question and it has far more consequence for the APC than the people of our state. This is because it looks like the leadership of the party is toying with the idea that they can put a band aid on the festering wound in the Ondo State branch of the party. Their calculation seems to be that Akeredolu is going to have access into our state’s funds to bribe the electorate. Those of us in the concerned leadership group plan to embark on sensitisation of the people to this callous practice. We have done it in the past political dispensations in Ondo State and elsewhere in Yorubaland. In the contest against the National Democratic Party (DEMO) headed by Chief Akintola, the Action Group went to town with the slogan: “Bo r’owo mi o r’inu mi, Demo ni mo wa“. You only see my hands but not my heart, I am a member of the Democratic party.) The people went to vote for the Action group.  When the Action Group successor – the UPN came many years later, the people voted the UPN into power and moved to assert its victory on the street. Therefore, Ondo State people are not dummies. They are politically schooled and are determined to send Akeredolu back to his law practice in Ibadan. They know that Akeredolu’s heart is in Ibadan and not Ondo in state. He is merely using the state for his own selfish purpose.

Having said this, the future of APC in Ondo state depends on how it handles the present crisis. If the APC as a party continues to vacillate and not institute a fair and credible settlement of the crisis, APC must then prepare to be a minority party in Ondo state. I personally wish this does not happen. However, politics is a game of numbers. Majority of the party cannot be on the outside looking in, while a coterie of friends continues to act as if they are our overlords.

Do you ever believe in zoning system being promoted by some people?

Let me begin by saying that ideologically, I am opposed to zoning, especially in a unit as limited as a state. A state comprising of less than four million should be able to put its best citizens forward for election and that citisens should work for the interest of the people. Unfortunately, zoning actually limits the prospective candidates to a narrow geographical area. As a reporter who covered the political beats in 1978/79, I helped to highlight the zoning formula which was introduced by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)was opposed to it. As a fact, I did a story on zoning by interviewing Umaru Dikko, Ibrahim Takuma, Remi Fani- Kayode and Adeyinka Adebayo – all of the NPN. They all had divergent views on zoning. While those from the North supported it, Adebayo and Fani-Kayode were not enthusiastic supporters. I then interviewed Josiah Olawoyin  of Kwara State who blasted the zoning formula as a way for a geographic area of the country to foist itself on the rest of the country. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was later to lend his weight on the side of the anti-zoning brigade. He posited that zoning was capable of imposing mediocrity and declared that he would work against zoning and national character with the last breath in him. It is therefore amusing to see avowed Awoists especially in the state and local governments advocating zoning.

I want to point out without any contradictions that at the national level, zoning may be desirable as we have not moved from multi- ethnic country to a nation. In fact, nothing makes zoning at the national level to be compelling  than the current political situation in the country. But in the states where people are near homogenous, there is no need for zoning. Our politicians have even taken it to a ridiculous level where there are zoning formulas in the Local Governments. My fear is that soon, some would start to press that we zone according to streets. This is not healthy at all.

Let us now relate this to Ondo State. It is the zoning arrangement that threw up Akeredolu in 2011 and 2016. This is because we allowed some leaders to gather together to dictate that the Northern Senatorial zone should produce the governor. That arrangement, which was never written in the party constitution, barred the rest of us more qualified people from the race. It became a question of personality and geography and never about competence. Now that the northern senatorial district will be completing one term of 4 years, the consensus is that the representative from the northern senatorial district- Akeredolu, is not worthy of a re-election. It is now time for qualified contestants from other districts such as the Central Senatorial district, to put their best foot forward. I am from the Central Senatorial District and I am the best candidate to send Akeredolu out of Alagbaka- the seat of government.

You were the Director-General of Akeredolu Campaign Organisation during the failed 2012 governorship poll under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Why did you leave to United States after the poor outing?

With due respect to you, I think your first question is unfair. However, while I accept your skepticism about the 2012 outing, I have no iota of guilt feeling as regards your innuendo that someone who once worked tirelessly for Akeredolu’s ascendancy into the political office of Ondo State can now plan to run against him after just three years in office. Let me provide a brief background as to how I came to that point.

When I returned from the United States in 2001, I joined the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was a natural thing to do for those of us who were leaders of the pro-democracy groups abroad. I later became a commissioner under the AD’s administration headed by late Governor Adebayo Adefarati. After the Obasanjo-induced political tsunami, which swept all but one AD administration out of power in the west in 2003, I judged correctly that Obasanjo would do the same thing in 2007. What I did not count on was the emergence of Rahman Mimiko through the courts.  Mimiko who became the governor is from the Central Senatorial district like me. I decided to be a passive politician facing my business interests both in Nigeria and the United States.

In 2010, I had the foresight to join and became the pioneering Chairman of the Congress for Political Change (CPC) founded by President, Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, my living room was the temporary secretariat of that party in Ondo State until Tunde Bakare donated money for payment towards leasing a permanent secretariat. The fight against corruption was the tipping point that brought me to the CPC. It should be noted that most of those closest to Buhari today in Yorubaland campaigned strenuously against him at every quarter. I was vilified for being with Buhari, whose name at that time was a taboo in the political lexicon of Yoruba politics. Yet, I put my resources on the line for the CPC and Buhari. However, with my sheer commitment and dedications, Buhari scored appreciable number of votes in Ondo State, despite the fact that he did not visit Ondo to campaign. I remember writing a memo to Pastor Tunde Bakare that Buhari was preaching to the choir by visiting and revisiting Northern towns and states. I advised that he should leave the North and focus more on the rest of the country, particularly the Southwest. He did not.

You may be wondering what my explanation has to do with your question, which is my decision to back Akeredolu; and why I am now running against him. They are all connected in the sense that when I realised that Buhari only wanted a region to complement his hold on the Northern region, I rededicated myself to the affairs of Ondo State by helping to organise the party in the state. My calculation was that, even if Buhari would not win at the federal level, the CPC would have at least 11 to 12 governors from the North and thereby help in bolstering the national profile of the party party in the southern states, particularly my Ondo State. Unfortunately, only one governor scaled through in the north, and the rest of us could only watch in disappointment as voters in the north tore up their voters’ cards as soon as Buhari lost the presidential election. It was even more depressing as Buhari vacillated in dissuading voters in the north from destroying their voters’ cards. After the election, Prince Tony Momoh, the national chairman of CPC, inaugurated the committee of State Chairmen – each representing the six geo-political zones in the country, and charged us with the task of finding the way forward for the party. I represented the Southwest and I subsequently played a prominent role in the committee. The committee recommended that the CPC as a regional party, must merge with all other regional parties in the country if it must win election against the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

After the Presidential election in 2011, I again started my quest to make Ondo a state that would be in the forefront of progressives development in the country. Rahman Mimiko was still in office. I decried how the state was being run by him. Projects were developed and executed on a whim and clearly designed to siphon funds from the state. For instance, the Owena dam which was completed under Agagu was not put into use; he then created a government department that was handing out borehole contracts like sweets to cronies and family members.  Since Mimiko and I are from the same Senatorial District, it would have been politically naïve to plan to succeed him. Therefore, backing a good candidate from other districts was the most politically viable alternative. The ACN became an alternative progressive party to use.

(The Nation)