One of the Governorship Aspirants in Ondo state for the October 10 polls, who suspended his campaign activities recently due to the global Corona Virus Pandemic, Banji Ayiloge in an interview with the ‘TopSearch Magazine Reporter on the political development in Ondo state. The US based Political Economist said Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and his embattled Deputy, Agboola Ajayi are two sides of a coin. The former Director-General of Akeredolu Campaign Organisation in the 2012 governorship election also declared his intention to work for the victory of another aspirant, Engineer Ife Oyedele both in the primary and election proper.
Question: You are one of the APC governorship aspirants in Ondo State who suspended his campaign activities because of the global COVID-19 Pandemic, however, some people are of the opinion that you backed out because of the huge money involved in the purchase of nomination form and other processes. How will you react to this?
Answer: Please, allow me to adopt the Shakespearean wisdom in my approach to answering your questions. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare showed Caesar on the Way to the Capitol ostensibly to be crowned a King. A Seer approached Caesar along the way and told him he had a personal message for Caesar. Caesar told the Seer that he was on the way to the Capitol on Public event and that “What touches us must last be served”. Caesar was assassinated that day at the Capitol. Therefore, I am not going to be like Caesar, I will attend to what touches me first and will answer the rest of the questions after.
I launched the Public phase of my campaign in June 2019 – well ahead of many. At that time, Akeredolu was running around impressing leaders of the party and everybody that cared to listen that he was loved by Ondo State people and that his re-election was unassailable. I put a lie to that and showed everyone that Akeredolu was vulnerable and was actually going to have an uphill task in winning the party nomination. I not only convinced the party hierarchy of his weakness; I also reinforced his vulnerability among the people who came after me to declare to run for governorship.
I was in Nigeria till December 14th, 2019 and left for the US on Christmas vacation. I was due to come back on the first week of February. I postponed my arrival back in Nigeria till early March to know more of the Coronavirus that was sweeping the world. I live in the suburb of New York. I have watched how the pandemic began in New York area with just two deaths only to balloon to more than 10,000 deaths within months. As we hunkered down in the New York area, I was also more disturbed that my native country (Nigeria) was repeating the very mistakes that was made in the US.
For instance, after the US closed its borders to Europe and China, Nigeria’s airports remained opened and many in those countries routed their flights through Nigeria to be able to enter the US. For about a week or a week and a half, this was what happened until the Buhari administration woke up to its responsibility by closing the airports. I knew then that we were in for some troubles. The virus is still ranging in the southern part of the US and it is increasing in Nigeria. Today in Ondo State, Akeredolu who was seen sneezing while he was surrounded by a dozen people – all without face masks or even a handkerchief to cover his mouth, has just said he is positive of the coronavirus. The WHO, American CDC and the Nigerian counterpart of NCDC have all stated that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 are capable of infecting others. My wise decision for being far-sighted to postpone my campaign should be commended by all right-thinking members of the society.
On those who said that I backed out because of the huge sum of money required to run for office, I want to ask them whether they are aware that this would be my fourth involvement in campaigns in Ondo State. I was the Chairman of the Adefarati re-election campaign in 2003, Akeredolu’s up to his nomination and was heading Buhari’s effort in Ondo State in 2011. Don’t they think I know what it takes to run for Governor by now? What pains me about the postponement of my campaign is that our two fold plans had to be postponed.
The first was the plan to win the nomination which would have showcased what we call retail politics of knocking every door to ask for votes, and the second was to stop the ignoble practice of political parties charging up to N25m to show intention to run for office. It is even more ridiculous that the electoral law does not allow for an independent candidate. Are we saying that there are no middle-income people who are not corrupt in our state who can be governors than cyclically fielding of corrupt people? There is a correlation between the current empowering of in-laws, friends and cronies, and the prohibitive sum of money required to run for office.
The reason that I regret having to postpone my campaign is that I intended to force the issue in court. Some are saying that it is the internal affairs of the party. No, I disagree. A party is a public institution and should be welcoming to all comers. When they impose an impossible amount of money as the qualification to run for office, they have abridged the fundamental right of a citizen to run for office. This is even more so when the law prohibits independent candidate.
Question: Now that issue of COVID-19 is gradually fizzling out, are you still interested in the race or supporting one of the aspirants?
Answer: COVID-19 is still very on and I wish Rotimi well and wish him a speedy recovery. However, I want to advise that people should be very careful. It is not likely that I will be back in the race soon. I have directed my supporters to fuse with the IFE OYEDELE campaign. Ife is a very humble person and does not see himself as the only bulb in the room like Rotimi. Oyedele understands that building a state requires the collective efforts of many. Unlike Rotimi Akeredolu who was indicted by the Fawehinmi Panel and is now being said to be culpable in all the underhanded grafts in the state, Oyedele will be coming up with clean slate.
Question: The issue at stake now in Ondo state is the sudden defection of the Deputy Governor from APC to PDP. What is your comment on this?
Answer: When I came out to announce my candidacy, I said there was a need to reform our politics in Ondo State, if we must clean up the Augean stables to bring about desired change. Take a look around you, 99 percent of Ondo State politicians have no jobs. Politics is not a job but vocation. To run office in Ondo State, you must be prepared to do what these hungry people called empowerment, you give them huge money and continue to feed them until you win. After winning, they expect you to continue by rewarding them with plumb positions in government.
This is why between the likes of Akeredolu and Mimiko, you have about 250 Special Assistants between them. They don’t have offices, but they get cars, furniture allowances and all the pecks for political office holders. They get booted out eventually at the end of the tenure only for the incoming governor to pick new ones. This to me, is a waste of resources. We need Teachers, Engineers, and Artisans, but the money have been exhausted on payment of political jobbers. Akeredolu has dozens of people on our pay roll as aides on ordinary social media.
Question: Governor Akeredolu and the ruling APC insisted on Agboola’s resignation as Deputy Governor, as a notable politician, how do you see the whole issue?
Answer: Agboola should have resigned from office. If in actual fact he has serious disagreement with the governor. People are not in politics for any discerning principles or for the good of the society at large. If you and your Governor have irreconcilable differences, we should have known that before now. Agboola has not come out to say this is what he wanted to do and Akeredolu said he totally disagreed. Perhaps Agboola is just fed up watching the governor help himself to a larger part of the pie and he thinks he deserve more. It is all about politics of self-interest and not being of public service anymore.
Question: Is there any hope for the ruling APC to retain power in Ondo State with the present political situation.
Answer: APC is not going to win if it fields Akeredolu for the second term. If it fields a person like Ife Oyedele, APC will win. PDP will win if it pitches Jegede against Akeredolu. However, An Akeredolu in APC to face Agboola Ajayi in PDP should encourage one of the contestants to move to the third party. Akeredolu and Agboola are two sides of a bad coin.