One of the aggrieved governorship aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, in this interview with Punch newspaper FISAYO FALODI, as culled by current news now .com speaks on the alleged endorsement of Mr. Segun Abraham as the party’s candidate by the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
You felt outraged more than your co-contenders for the All Progressives Congress governorship ticket when information leaked that the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had endorsed Segun Abraham as the party’s candidate in Ondo State. Why such demonstration of anger?
First of all, that adoption was unjust and unfair. It amounted to undue influence on the system. Moreover, it contradicts the constitutional prescription and I am talking of the APC constitution. Now, my view is that if we are going for an examination and we are all preparing for it, it is wrong and inequitable to declare one person to have won or to have even been in the first position before we enter the examination hall. I am a human rights activist; I fight for the rights of the people. In this case, it is not for the rights of other aspirants, but my own rights.
The second issue is that Asiwaju Tinubu has done it before, it is unfair treatment. I was involved in 2011, we were working, competing, campaigning and Tinubu invited me to his house only to tell me that somebody, who is actually a good friend of mine, had been adopted to be the candidate. I asked him at that time who took the decision? Apparently, that decision was taken without the input of anybody in Ondo State. Considering the fact that I have worked to build the party in Ondo State and since 2004, I have never compromised in my commitment to the party, I then wondered what could be the reason why somebody would impose candidate on others. He did it in 2011 and his action brought us failure and defeat.
Again, he is doing it now. There is no absolute certainty that I would become the party’s candidate, but there should be absolute certainty that I would have a fair chance. That is the issue. When he called somebody and then declared him as the party’s candidate, he has provided an unfair chance for others. The third reason is that it is an assault against the rights of the people of Ondo State. They have the rights to constitute a government of their choice over themselves. One of the tragedies of this country is that the ordinary people have continually suffered from leadership’s trespass and transgression.
One of the essential leadership’s transgressions in this country is the tendency to give the people government of the leaders by the leaders and for the leaders usually for their privileged positions. As a human rights activist, who fought for the rights of citizens, democracy is about the people’s rights to constitute a government over themselves.
Kwame Nkrumah said it is the right of the people to govern or misgovern themselves. But when you have a situation where somebody takes away that right, the person has injured greatly, people’s human rights and the inherent danger in this should be understood. When you impose a candidate on the people, supposing the candidate is not the person the people want, that is oppression, tyranny, dictatorship and we went to jail against that manner of governance; governance of what I say and what I want, that is why I stood against the imposition of an aspirant over the people.
Some people said they were surprised that you felt angered by the endorsement despite the fact that, according to them, you have no political structure in Ondo State. What do you have to say to that?
What do they mean? Does any individual person have political structure? Everybody works within the structure of the party. This is the third time I am seeking the political party’s ticket to run for governorship election. No other person is running for the governorship position among the aspirants for the third time except me.
When the issue of governorship arose in 2007, I was an aspirant then and we came to Isaac John in Ikeja before the same Asiwaju Tinubu and I remember what he said at that time. He said ‘the only governorship aspirant I can identify here is Tunji Abayomi.’ In 2011, there were about nine aspirants when Asiwaju Tinubu again imposed Rotimi Akeredolu. Of the nine aspirants, five of them said ‘if you don’t take us, then take Tunji Abayomi.’ If they say I don’t have a political structure in Ondo State, I want to tell them that I built the APC in the state with my own money.
If they say I don’t have a political structure, I want to tell them that I know the time I paid each of the 18 local government chairmen of the party in order to keep the party alive.
If they say I don’t have a political structure, I know when I was financing the meetings of the party in the various senatorial zones of the state. If they say I don’t have a political structure in Ondo State, I know that all the election issues of the party, I have been the one that is handling them. If they say I don’t have a political structure, I know that they turn to me to resolve all the problems in the party. If they say I don’t have a political structure, I know that I participated actively in ensuring that the current chairman of the party in Ondo State, Mr. Isaac Kekemeke, became the chairman. If they say I don’t have a political structure, I know that I have not lost any election for the party in my own constituency in Ondo State. So, what other political structures do I need in Ondo State again?
Some people said you would have kept quiet if Tinubu had adopted you, instead of asking that the rule of law should be abided with. How do you react to that?
That is a very good question because Tinubu himself said in his letter to me that I sought his support and that if he had given that support, I would not have complained. I have written a reply to him to tell him that he is wrong and that his information is manifestly incorrect. If he is of the view that I sought his support, he should give the time, the mode of the support and what he said when I sought that support. I have never, I repeat, I have never gone to Tinubu to seek his support for my candidature. I believe that if I am going to be the governor of Ondo State, I have to talk to the people of the state. We must keep in mind that he is a public figure and when people go to him; they would show it in television and pose for pictures and others. Nobody can say they saw me doing that. That is not to say that on his own, he cannot support anybody he wants, I don’t have to question his right to do that. But he cannot give the party a candidate; he has no such right to do so. On July 31, 2016, at that meeting (the one I made reference to in my first letter), Tinubu gave the party a candidate, he directed the party to work for the candidate. He said he would fund them. That is an error; it is dictatorship. Tinubu has no such right to do that. You cannot abuse my rights and expect me to keep quiet.
Your argument now is that Tinubu went too far to abuse you and your rights…
Not my right alone, but the rights of other aspirants. If he thinks he can do that, then every other leader of the party can do it. Tinubu is not the chairman of the APC. Can the national chairman of the party do that? Can the national secretary of the party do that? Leadership entails a sense of responsibility and we should not promote our interest such that it will injure the rights of other people.
If Tinubu cannot understand what I am saying, then I am sad. If he cannot understand, then it is unfortunate. I am not saying he cannot have personal interest in anybody, but my position is that he cannot give the party a candidate. That was what he did when he invited the Ondo State Chairman of the APC, Isaac Kekemeke, the chairmen of the party in the three senatorial districts of the state, and some others and gave them instruction, possibly monetised instruction, and asked them to go ahead and execute it. That is unfair to the people.
From the letter you wrote to Tinubu, it appeared you had expected that he would endorse you based on your relationship with him…..
No. First and foremost, I did not say in the letter that Tinubu cannot support anybody. Don’t forget that I was against the same endorsement in 2011. The point I am making is that I have never accepted a benefit that injures the rights of others. And I will never, never do so. So, if he had called me privately and said that ‘I am going to publicly endorse you,” I will tell him that he should not do that because it is unfair to other aspirants. But if in private, for example, he gives money to his friends in order to enhance their success at the poll, I have no problem against that. The truth is that Tinubu must appreciate the fact that we have a constitution that prescribes how a candidate for an election is to emerge. Part of the prescriptions is not that a man will summon, on his own, some leaders of the party and give them instructions.
I am not doing this for selfish reasons, I am a contented man. After all, it is my money I am spending each time I seek to run for the governorship election. He has not claimed that I came to him to ask for any money.
You made reference to a meeting Tinubu held with some APC leaders to ensure that his anointed person emerged as the APC candidate in the primary, but if you don’t have information that they planned to rig, then you must agree with Tinubu that they did not do anything wrong. Don’t you?
They did something wrong. Tinubu himself in his letter spoke on fairness and undue influence. He said the primary would be fair and devoid of undue influence.
These two points were violated by Tinubu himself when he summoned that meeting and instructed them (Kekemeke and others) to execute his instruction and this is not fair to other aspirants. Don’t forget that the aspirants were subjected to certain pre-conditions such as payment for nomination forms and others. A man out of his stubborn sweat paid N7.5m and many of the aspirants did more than that. For example, what I have spent for the party is certainly close to N10m, apart from the amount I have spent in preparation for this arrangement.
The money I have spent is running to N20m out of my stubborn effort. Somebody will now say ‘this is the candidate of the party and go and work for him.’ That is unfairness. He is using the weight of his position to unduly benefit one person and to unduly destroy the chances of other aspirants. Anyone in position of leadership should maintain objective justice to everybody.
Even if he wants to do it (endorsement), there are ways to do it without obvious injustice.
From what you just said, it means Tinubu is above the constitution of the party. Is that not what you mean?
That is it. He has placed himself above the rules and the norms of the party. Is it part of the constitution of the party that he should summon the party chairman in Ondo State, chairmen of the party in the three senatorial districts and the ward chairmen and give them instruction to the detriment of other aspirants? I don’t have that kind of dying commitment to the principle that injures the rights of the people.
I am where I am now out of choice. I had been with people and I have interacted with great leaders. I could have been part of the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party. I was there when the PDP was being formed; I was with former President Olusegun Obasanjo when they were bringing letters to him at the initial formation of the PDP. In fact, Obasanjo wanted me to be part of the PDP, but I chose to be where I am now out of principle.
What role did the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, play in the issue of the endorsement?
He has always maintained the position that due process should be allowed.
Did he stand by that word?
The point is that he wants to stand by it, but the confusion has been created by the abnormal intervention of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As a major contributor to the emergence of the party and as a significant factor, especially in the South-West, he ought to have reflected on the issue we are talking about, instead of merely reacting to it. The mere fact that he is big does not mean that other people have no names.
Don’t you think Odigie-Oyegun should have cautioned Tinubu from embarking on such an abnormal intervention as you said?
What if Oyegun cautions Tinubu and Tinubu refuses to accept, what happens? The best caution is the caution you give to yourself, not the caution somebody gives to you. That is the most effective caution; Asiwaju Tinubu should have cautioned himself. Look at the abnormality now: you imposed somebody on us, but what if the people of Ondo State do not want the person. The point I am making now is that he injures our rights as a people when he summons us to Lagos each election time and gives instruction on who should be the candidate. What kind of administration is that? Only a slave will accept that kind of nonsense.
Will you recant all you have just said now if Tinubu makes a U-turn and endorses you as the party’s candidate?
I will not. My friend, Rotimi Akeredolu, went to Tinubu, but his position is that Tinubu told him that he does not have any favourite (candidate) and that the whole process would be free and fair. After he had assured the people, he now raised a candidate. If Tinubu endorses me, I will reject his endorsement. In my letter to him, I told him that I would reject it if he did it. I told Akeredolu in 2011 that he should reject Tinubu’s endorsement and allow free and fair primary. If you push other aspirants away, how would they help the party to win the governorship election? If he endorses me, I will tell him to forget it because I am committed to the principle of rights, honour and liberty. Find out from Obasanjo, I was with him for years; ask him if I have ever asked for personal benefits from him.
You were with Obasanjo, possibly his lawyer, for many years, but the former President suddenly made U-turn and dumped you as his lawyer and later adopted Chief Afe Babalola as his lawyer. What went wrong?
I am always with Chief Obasanjo; there is no time I am not with him. Even when he was the President, I was an unofficial adviser to him, but he has the rights to have more than one lawyer. He chose Chief Afe Babalola for something and he consults and listens to me on other issues.
Some people have said that, no doubt, you are an achiever and a name to reckon with in your chosen career, but a poor material for elective positions. How will you react to this?
What are the qualities for elective positions? If I am a poor material for elective positions in Nigeria, then elective positions in the country are tainted by abnormality and polluted by lack of ideas and high-mindedness. The materials for elective positions that will honour the society are men of intelligence and no one can deny me of that. In terms of integrity, nobody can question me on that too; I am a man of integrity. Will you doubt my compassion for the people? Or Understanding of issues?
Some of your critics, even among the APC, felt that your outrage against Tinubu’s endorsement of Segun Abraham did not have much effect because you are not popular politically. What do you think about that?
If I wasn’t popular politically, then why is the response? Why was attention given to the issue I raised? I wasn’t popular politically, why is it that it is me that the leadership of the party turns to in virtually every situation? I wasn’t popular politically, but I have run for governorship election three times. I wasn’t popular politically, but I have always won elections for the party in my constituency. I wasn’t popular politically, but I am a national figure. I wasn’t popular politically, but the Vice-President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, when he came to Ondo State, stayed in my house. I wasn’t popular politically, but Tinubu had visited me in my home town in Oke-Agbe, Akoko. I wasn’t popular politically but Obasanjo had visited me in Oke-Agbe. I wasn’t popular politically, the American Ambassador had visited me in Oke-Agbe. I wasn’t popular politically, Bisi Akande had been there. I wasn’t popular politically, I am the only one left when others disappeared after the 2011 governorship election in Ondo State. What are the measures of popularity, I want to know. I doubt if my voice can be disregarded in this country.
You said the APC leaders turn to you when there is crisis in the party for resolution, will you offer to assist the party to resolve crisis in future because it appears that you are boiling with anger now?
We are facing a lot of dilemma now. On one hand, there is a party in power in Ondo State that has betrayed the trust of the people and on the other, we have our party, the APC, that has a great chance to defeat the PDP in Ondo State, but the APC has been corrupted by undue influence and unfairness. What do we do now? We have to find a way to resolve the problem because we have to think about the interests of the people so that their hope for betterment and material development can triumph. That is the paradox that I face now. I am a very, very, very contented man. I don’t want to build an empire; I believe that God has given me the opportunity to become somebody. Tinubu said I should not accord so much to myself and I told him that he should not be too anxious to tell the people how unimportant they are. I have a name in the world; I have been honoured with great people by an ancient American university. I was among the nine world changing leaders honoured by the university. I have been on the board of Robert Kennedy Centre, the United States, and I have interacted with four presidents in the world.
Some people are of the opinion that your temperament to issues does not befit someone vying for political office. What do you have to say to that?
If you don’t stand for something in Nigeria, people will trample upon your rights. This is the character of leadership in this country. The character of leadership in this country is anything goes and I just refused to accept just anything and I am ready to lay down my life for the principle I believe in. That was why I went to jail. There was a day I was going to my house in Iju, Agege, and I saw a soldier whipping a woman, that was the day I said even if it would cost me my life, we must fight against the military. I could close my eyes to issues, after all when I was in detention, the military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, invited me and said ‘we just want you to be on our side and we will give you anything you want,’ but I rejected it and said that I don’t betray my friends whether they are dead or they are alive. I could trade honour for personal benefits, but I refused to do that. Nigeria needs men of character who can stand up for something. They say my temperament is not good, but you need hot temperament to deal with the disorder that leaders have brought to the people of this nation. Every wealth that could have taken the country to greatness has largely been taken by the corrupt pitiless oligarchy that took over leadership and the people are in massive poverty. They say my temperament is not good, how can you have a peaceful sleep without a disturbing dream with the level of poverty in this country?
You have done well as an activist, but some people believe that activism and politics do not mix. Any reaction to this?
The greatest men who have improved human condition are activists in politics, examples abound in human history. The reason is very simple; they are disturbed by the level of people’s poverty and the people’s anguish. So, they constantly seek to work out solutions to the people’s problems. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a classical example. Go to Europe and America, you will find that the greatest men in terms of concrete development and improvement of the living condition of the people are activists in leadership because they are not preoccupied with the acquisition of money and wealth.
There are insinuations that you may convince other aspirants to defect to the PDP if Tinubu has his way….
I will not do that. I could have gone to other political parties all these years. I have been approached with mountainous offers by other parties, but I rejected them. Politics to me is not the end; the end is to improve human condition and I am not seeking power just to be powerful and I am not seeking wealth just to be wealthy, but I am seeking a situation whereby the happiness of the people will be increased. I am seeking a government that will work for the people so that their lives will be better.
Akoko division from the Ondo North Senatorial District has produced governor in the person of the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati and two deputy governors in the last 16 or 17 years, yet you want the division to produce you as the candidate for the next election. Do you think this is fair enough?
This thing has been arranged before now and Ondo State has been following the system before now. In Ondo State, until now, the deputy governor will always come from the zone that will produce the next governor. When the late Chief Adekunle Ajashin became the governor, the deputy governor came from Ekiti. When Adefarati became the governor, his deputy came from the Southern senatorial district and when the late Olusegun Agagu became the governor, the deputy governor came from the Central. When Olusegun Mimiko became the governor, the deputy governor came from the North and it is expected, under this unwritten arrangement, that the governor will come from the Northern senatorial district. The Northern senatorial district is made up of three federal constituencies – Owo-Ose federal constituency, Akoko South-East and South-West federal constituency and Akoko North-East and North-West federal constituency. Now, the thinking is that after Adefarati from the North, then Agagu followed from the South and Mimiko followed from the Central, we go back to the one (Northern senatorial district). You don’t start counting from two, you start counting from one; that is the argument.
There are two divisions in Northern senatorial districts of the state –Akoko and Owo-Ose. Of the two divisions, Akoko has produced Adefarati and if you want the next governor to emerge from the Northern senatorial district, why not consider Owo-Ose?
There is nothing like divisions under the political arrangement; I don’t think there is something like that. If you want to talk of division, then you can say why not allow Akure to have it? The division has not really been the commanding factor in terms of political office sharing.
Governor Mimiko has altered the arrangement. Mimiko is from the Central, while his deputy hails from the North, but the governor has endorsed Eyitayo Jegede, who is also from the Central, to succeed him. What do you have to say to this?
That will be a new political experiment. Until now, we have been following the popular unwritten political arrangement in Ondo State. It is possible to change the pattern now, but let us wait and see the consequences of that new experiment.