‘Why Ondo APC governorship primary must be free and fair’

Ahead of Saturday’s gubernatorial primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, a chieftain of the party, Bola Ilori, in this interview with SEYE OLUMIDE, hinges the success of the primary on free and fair process, though with a caveat that the incumbent is the candidate to beat.

On Saturday, April 20, Ondo State APC will hold its governorship primary. Do you foresee a major twist or the matter ending up in court? 
The court is part of the democratic process and that would not be a problem. It is part of exercising the rights of the people. I will not count that as a serious threat but APC, as a party, has a mechanism of resolving issues at the end of the day. The possibility of litigation is not a problem at all. What could be a problem is if there is violence or crisis and these are what can create problems in a democratic arrangement.

Are you saying there may be a crisis on Saturday?
So far, there is no threat of violence on the part of any of the contestants, but this is politics, and you cannot rule out the possibility of anything in the process. But this would depend on how the national secretariat of the party handled the primary. To me, APC has not done badly in the previous primaries that were conducted. If they handle the Saturday exercise fairly, there would be no basis for violence. However, a free and fair primary will reduce the chances of post-primary litigation.

Even with the obvious infighting among the aspirants, especially the attempted move to impeach the governor and moves to stop him from succeeding his former boss. Putting all these together, you still do not see a problem?
What has happened before the demise of former Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has been overtaken by events. And if you look at it, the same House of Assembly members that served Aiyedatiwa notice of impeachment in the past, more than two-third of the same Assembly have endorsed him to continue now.
What happened at that time was the interest of those who felt that they would benefit from their assumed closeness to the late Akeredolu.

But life has a way of playing out somehow and it has played out in such a way that the same Assembly today are all wearing Aiyedatiwa’s cap. The same Assembly has endorsed the governor privately and openly. There is no issue at all within the party. Any right-thinking person who knows the temperament of Ondo State and the level of maturity of the state politics would understand that it would be tough for APC to think that it can throw away a willing and sitting governor and hope that all will be well with it, that permutation will be a real joke.

Are you privy to any endorsement among the aspirants by the late Governor Akeredolu before he passed on?
The only endorsement done and made publicly was when Akeredolu told everybody that he would be reducing and Aiyedatiwa would be increasing. Any other endorsement till today remains a beer parlour talk. Let anybody provide evidence of his endorsement by the late governor. Everybody keeps saying that the late governor endorsed him.

However, one of the aspirants, the former President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Professor Faduyile, has come out to say that the former governor didn’t endorse anybody. The former Special Adviser on Health Matters to Akeredolu also challenged anybody to provide proof of his endorsement.

As far as I am concerned, the endorsement of Akeredolu is neither here nor there. Akeredolu is now late and what is important is the active players on the field now.

Peradventure Aiyedatiwa wins the primary, the label of a traitor awaits him as one who betrayed his former boss. How will you correct this during the campaign for the real polls?
That impression is not holding any water in Ondo State, I can tell you that. Aiyedatiwa rode to governance on the crest of popular support. You remember the fact he couldn’t be impeached because people were against that plot, which shows the goodwill of the people towards him. That impression is given by some set of noisemakers. There was no evidence that Akeredolu ever stood against the governor.

And that’s why if Akeredolu was supporting those who wanted to get rid of Aiyedatiwa, the incumbent would have gone by now. Akeredolu as at then had full control of the Assembly but he never agreed with the plot. He was terminally ill, so he was fighting for his life. They brought Akeredolu back from overseas to enable him to perfect the impeachment process of Aiyedatiwa but the man was too weak to join them in the plot. The issue of a traitor is in the mindset of those who want to contest. I challenge anybody to counter me that Akeredolu never, and at any time authorised any impeachment against the governor.

What transpired between you and President Tinubu at Ondo Airport, when he asked where you belong, and you immediately pointed at the governor. Does that suggest a nod for the governor by the President?
What Mr President wanted to ask me was who I was supporting among the aspirants, and you know I’ve had a long political relationship with President Tinubu. He spoke to me wanting to know what was happening at the party in Ondo. And I replied him. The President must be the father of all, but I deduce what he wanted from our conversation, so please permit me not to say anything beyond that on the question. Our conversation also guided me to understand his mind readings.

But what’s more important is that the President is a master strategist when it comes to election matters. Knowing the pattern of events, unless a sitting governor has committed something grave, that is not when you remove a governor to bring in a fresher. I am not new to the mindset of Mr President on matters like this. It has happened over and over, not just in government alone even at the local government level. It’s not always easy to remove a sitting council chairman and not talk of a governor.

We cannot just throw out a sitting governor to bring in a fresher, otherwise, we must be ready for a serious battle. We don’t have that kind of structure to just remove a sitting governor in Ondo. True, Lagos did it to former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in 2018 but Tinubu was in the state, and he was able to hold the party together. We cannot confront a sitting governor in Ondo State after we throw him out. The power of the incumbent matters a lot in politics; anybody can say otherwise.

How acceptable is APC in Ondo considering the economic hardships across the nation?
Go and check the records and see the achievements of the party in Ondo. The state also gave Tinubu the highest votes in the West. The highest margin of victory for Tinubu came from Ondo State. And if you want to measure the barometer of acceptability of even the national government in Ondo State, you will want to look at it in the form that even when the President visited Ondo, how was he received? He was welcomed massively.

What people read in the paper and on social media are often not reflective of the real situation. People understood that Nigeria had been having problems before Tinubu became the President and that he couldn’t have done any magic to correct all the challenges that he inherited. It would take him some time. Ondo people are politically enlightened, they understand the issues. They would not vent their anger on somebody whom they know is not guilty of what’s facing the nation at present.

There are also local peculiarities that make the national issues even different from what’s happening in Ondo. By the time Tinubu came to Ondo the dollar to a naira was about N1,700 to a dollar but today the dollar is gradually coming down. It means that the policies of Mr President are yielding results. The talk in town is that the price of rice was around N70,000 and above when the dollar was N1,800 but now the dollar has fallen but the price of rice has gone up, which means that we are the enemies of ourselves and not the government.

Do we even have a viable opposition in Ondo State? I doubt it. There is nothing much on the part of the opposition to fear at all. My dear, if there is a free and fair primary in APC whoever wins is certain of winning the November gubernatorial poll.

Considering your closeness with the former governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, who made you a commissioner in the state despite the fact you are an indigene of Ondo, where is he now in the scheme of things in the APC?
Former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, once said that there are efforts ongoing to resolve whatever issues therein between the President and Ogeni Aregbesola, so I have no reason to doubt what Baba Akande said.

Do you see President Tinubu surviving the alleged gang-up by some groups in the north against his presidency?
Tinubu is a deft politician, and he is in charge. You are dealing with a seasoned politician and an active one and not a layback politician. He is in control of whatever he is doing. The tide is working for him and if he could have navigated through when things were so bad, I can tell you he has passed the worst, which was when the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) planned to declare a strike over hardship, but today things are gradually coming down.

If you look at the history of Tinubu, it has always been like that. I remember when he first became the governor of Lagos State, if you rewind to that time, it was as if he would not survive but he did. It was part of his destiny to run into a storm early and thereafter he will stabilise and move forward. This is also playing out now as things are gradually getting better. Let us also appreciate a large number of northerners who are deft supporters of Mr President.

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