With the governorship election in Ondo State just around the corner, the contestants are not letting go. They have maintained their optimism. In a chat with reporters in Lagos, the ACN’s candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu presented himself and his party as inevitable in the Ondo power equation. Deputy Political Editor, ABRAHAM OGBODO reports a recent encounter.
HOW do you wish to dispel insinuations that you are not your own man and that you were handpicked and imposed on other aspirants?
I wish to place on record that I have always been my own man. The assumption in some quarters that I was handpicked is not correct. I had served as attorney general of Ondo State before and I know the state very well. When I was a former president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and I was championing a number of campaigns, aimed at curbing government excesses, was anybody using me? So all along, I have always been my own man.
On the issue of my emergence, I want to say that the process that produced me was fair because all the aspirants without exception signed up to it. Every political party has its process of selection, which I believe is democratic enough. If at the end of the day, some people feel aggrieved, which I believe is normal, we can only talk to them, which we have been doing and most of them are now with us. If we have one or two who felt they must eventually go, there is nothing we can do about that. It is politics or personal ambition.
If you chose to be governor and somebody offers you deputy governorship ticket and you go, that means you never wanted to be governor. The process of my emergence was thorough and I believe the Action Congress of Nigeria that chose me has made the best choice for Ondo State ahead of the governorship election.
Your opponent who is the incumbent Governor kick-started his campaign few weeks back and we all witnessed the mammoth crowd that graced the event even in Owo your hometown. Doesn’t that disturb you?
Let me say this, the crowd you saw were people they brought from outside. People from Owo never came out. They brought in people from all the 18 local governments to Owo in many buses. We are unperturbed because we know people are behind us. Even with the crowd that was brought to Owo, if you ask them to vote, we know that over 70 per cent of them will vote for us. We have been out and we have seen crowd too, those who will attend rallies from 9 am till 11 pm without being given a Kobo. Those are the real crowd. Those are the people we have. If you do your research in Owo, you will confirm what I’m saying and you will discover that the crowd was brought there.
Considering the fact that the governorship election is close by and your major opponent is a sitting governor, what do you think can make him lose the coming election?
Let me say emphatically that Mimiko has already lost the election. He can never win any election in Ondo State and that is why he is running from pillar to post. If you have a government that has nothing as achievement in four years, how do you expect people to vote for such government? In four years, he started one or two roads, none is completed. And I have said while I was campaigning that he can never completed any of those roads because I will be the one to complete them. I’m standing on that. Again, you have a government where unemployment is a norm and many of these unemployed people are voters. How do you expect those people to vote for a government that does not provide them with jobs?
I tell you many of those you see in their rallies were there because they are forced. Some, out of inducement and some are there for sightseeing. Some go there to collect vests and money. In the hearts of Ondo State people, Mimiko is out already. You need to go to Ondo State, the whole place is dry. There is no money. That is the reality people of Ondo State are facing and many people who are not there don’t know. And that’s the reason we are confident we are going to win.
Specifically, what are your programmes for the people of the state?
We have sold to the people of Ondo State a five cardinal programme, which focuses on education, technology, agriculture, entrepreneurship and infrastructure, especially in the rural areas. I have told them that I have commitment to the rural areas and our farmers will have cause to smile and that is why they are coming along with me.
We will improve the IGR (internally generated revenue) when we get there. And this is not going to be by tax but by ensuring we increase the number of places where we generate money into the coffers of the state government. On the issue of surplus bitumen deposit in the state, even if effective mining is too much for just a state, about six to seven states can come together and run a company that will take care of it. Our investment will be larger and investors will be happy to participate.
Governor Mimiko was recently endorsed by prominent personalities such as Dr Tunji Braithwaite, Dr Fredrick Fasehun and Mrs Ganiat Fawehinmi among others. What does this tell you?
It tells me nothing because endorsements don’t win election, especially by people who do not count in the power calculations. Who is Braithwaite in Ondo State politics? Nobody. Who is Fasehun in politics of Ondo State? Nobody. Yes, Ganiat Fawehinmi can ride on the goodwill of her husband, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. But I can tell you that if the husband were to be alive, he would have supported me. So, I will rather prefer having the spirit of the husband who is no more, rather than that of the wife who is around.
Recently, the governor alleged that illegal registration of voters is being carried out by your party and the INEC chairman also confirmed that illegal registration is going on in Ondo State, though he refused to mention any party. What do you make of this?
We are not in government. So we couldn’t have been carrying out illegal registration of voters. ACN does not have the resources. We are not PDP and we are not controlling the Federal Government. We are only controlling some states, so you will agree with me that this is a tissue of lies. So who are the people doing the registration? When the issues was raised, I remember INEC saying it was wrong for Ondo State government to be doing its biometric registration of the labour force at this point in time. I think that is where the suspicion came from. The government has been there for almost four years, so, why hasn’t the biometric registration taken place? So, why is it being carried out on the eve of the election? And it has also been discovered that some of those being captured are not even workers with the state government. But one thing I know is that such steps will be a futile exercise, as no amount of rigging will change the result of the election. INEC should be commended for what it did in Edo State and I have confidence that the result of the Ondo election will be free and fair.
The demographic calculations are not particularly in your favour it would seem. You are from Ondo North, specifically, Owo, which has smaller population compared with the Akokos and Ondo Central and South. How do you hope to win the votes from the North and other senatorial districts?
I am very sure that ACN as a party must have considered all these permutations before making a choice of a candidate from Owo. And I want to say categorically, that no one is better placed than a candidate from Owo. In a state like ours, there are so many fallacies being dished out to the public and because it is done persistently, it is beginning to look like the truth. Of course, Akoko is an integral part of Ondo North senatorial district and it has four local governments with 54 percent voting population, while Owo has two local governments with about 46 percent voting strength. So the figures are not determined by the numbers of local governments.
Secondly, the relationship between Owo and Akoko has always been that, if you rub my back, I will your back. Most times, when the governorship candidate comes from Owo, the senatorial candidate has always been from Akoko. The current senator representing Ondo North is Prof. Ajayi Borofice, who hails from Akoko. He is a member of ACN. So the choice of a governorship candidate from Owo is just to balance the relationship that has always existed between the two.
Today, an Akoko man will say, “We are sure that ACN will win Akoko but our problem is Owo.” So, the Akoko people are solidly behind ACN and they are supporting our candidature.
The Central senatorial zone of Ondo State is like a pool that connects everybody together. We have people from Owo, Akoko and the South senatorial zone in Akure. I remember we once joked that if you remove the population of other senatorial zones from Akure, it will be clear at once that there are more non-indigenes than the indigenes. Agreed, the figure in the central is large but it comprises those from other senatorial zones.
Coming to the South, Olusola Oke, the PDP candidate is from the place but luckily for us, our deputy governorship candidate Dr. Paul Akintelure is also from the area and he belongs to the largest ethnic group there, I mean the Ikales, who are much more than the Ilajes where Oke is from. So when you look at it you will discover that a lot of balancing is already in place. I know PDP will eventually work with us. Chief Olusola Oke and I have one agenda and that is to get Mimiko out of that seat. When we meet at rallies, we joke and drink together and tell each other that the important thing is to push Mimiko out.
First ladyship has been abused. If you become governor, what role will your wife be playing?
It’s quite unfortunate that my wife is not here. But I can tell you that I’m married to a person that is highly political. She is somebody who does not believe in wasting people’s resources. So we are going to have a first lady who is not going to waste people’s resources. I know that for sure. She runs an NGO that addresses women issues. She is the President of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BECAN). She already has an idea of what to do. It is not that when she gets there that she would start thinking of what to do. I’m sure her programme may include, “let us all jug for a week. Let’s have breast cancer examination for all women,” among others.
Besides the factor of incumbency, which is quite strong in Nigerian politics, how do you hope to successfully offset the cart, considering the unimpressive performance of ACN in the 2011 general election in the state?
The performance of ACN in the last general election was actually determined by many factors. I concede that ACN did not do well in the election. But when you ask people, they will readily tell you that there was a belief that there was an understanding between ACN and Labour Party. Many of those who voted Mimiko and Labour Party were doing so with the understanding that that both parties are the same. But it was a matter of time before they all knew he was never part of them. Therefore, you cannot use that election to judge this one because many of the ACN members have returned to their base. The ACN has won over half of those who are in Labour and over half of those who are in PDP. So I can tell you that ACN is quite formidable in Ondo State today, more than ever before.
On the so-called incumbency factor, we do know that no power of incumbency can match the resolve of the people. When people are determined, there is no amount of money that can entice them. When the people were determined in Oyo State, Akala left. When they were determined in Osun State, Oyinlola left and also in Ondo, when the people were determined, Agagu left for Mimiko. So if he could oust Agagu, who had both the state and the federal might at the time, he should know he is nothing. I can assure you that we will run Mimko out of Ondo State.
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Akeredolu: We Shall Get Mimiko Out Of Office