A governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Jamiu Afolabi Ekungba, speaks with selected journalists in Lagos on his ambition to govern Ondo State, the zoning question and other issues. MOSES ALAO brings the excerpts:
AHEAD of the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State, people have been saying that there are too many governorship aspirants from the APC. How will you react to this?
The truth of the matter is that in the issue of governorship, not only in Ondo State, but everywhere, all citizens that do not have criminal records pronounced by the court of law, are eligible to contest. Therefore, you should not expect that when the vacancy comes, everybody will not aspire to be there. That is why in Nigeria’s political atmosphere, we call people aspirants, those aspiring to be governors. Then after the primaries, you now have a candidate in party and thereafter, a governor.
So in other words, it is the legitimate right of everybody to aspire, but what is necessary at the party level, is for the party to be so organised, so educated and motivated to ensure that the only candidate that will emerge from their party will be the right candidate. It shouldn’t be a candidate that buy votes, but one that is not only electable because of his antecedent characters and integrity, but one with the right kind of education. It is the responsibility of the party and the party men therefore, to educate, sensitise and motivate their members to ensure that whoever emerges as their candidate are not only electable because of antecedent and character, but they are eligible because of past demonstrable antecedents.
It is the responsibility of the party to ensure that those people who have the best materials are thrown up and delegates are allowed to make their choice. And in some circumstances, then you now put some conditions to it. Whose turn is it? Which zone should produce last? Which zone should produce next? What is wrong is that the political system setup does not allow the right person to come at the right time. So the wrong persons have always been thrown in. A friend of mine, who is a Briton that worked here in Nigeria for about 38 years once said that Nigerians would have been better than any nation in the world, but our political system always throw up not the first 11 to fifth 11, but the seventh or eighth 11, because the first and the second 11 would always think they are too good to be in politics. And that is what our Asiwaju, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu told me in 2011 when he invited me to his house to draw me into political activities. He said when the people of integrity and honour like you say that they don’t want to get involved in politics, then you don’t have the moral right to complain when vagabonds and touts take over governments and rule over you.
But how do you think the APC can get the right candidate and get others to back him?
The party has demonstrated this over and over again. In Kogi State for instance, there was a primary, the candidate died and the party said that the person that comes second should move in. In Rivers, there was a primary and a person won, though to some of us, there was someone we had personally felt would win, but once the primary was done and the person discovered that there was no chance for him, he dropped out. So when the primary was done, the party had no alternative than to rally round the person that won. And the same thing is happening in Edo now. So I believe that the same thing will happen in Ondo State. And there is also one thing I am sure will happen, I was told that there are 42 aspirants, but I am sure that by 5 August, when the collection of forms closes, the number would have reduced drastically. Then there will be screening, and it is not even everyone that collected the form that will be screened to be qualified to contest. By the time aspirants that are screened to contest move into the gallery, of course, whoever loses at that level has no one to blame. Our leaders have said that there is going to be transparent, open and objective primaries and they have demonstrated that so far so good. A lot of people have been putting pressure on them to declare them as the candidate of the party, but the leaders have been just.
We have to get it right because Mimiko that we are dealing with, I know him thoroughly. This is a man that is not paying salaries, yet is keeping money for the election. I told the APC that he is not the type of man that can be fought with money; this is a man that has started showing the evidences, buying and distributing rice like Fayose. That is Mimiko for you. Mimiko will do anything to win an election.
There has been what is regarded as the Akure agenda, whereby the people of Akure have been saying that though the state capital has the highest number of voters; it has never produced a governor. They are claiming that it is Akure’s turn and they are going to do anything to get it. Have you thought about that in the APC?
I have always told people that when you discuss politics, I am an accountant in politics and the first concept I was taught in accountancy is truth and fairness. Is it true that an Akure man has never been governor? Is Otiko not an Akure man? He was a governor of Ondo State during the military reign. When you talk about past presidents and head of states, you mention Buhari and Gowon. So why will you mention past governors of the state and not mention Otiko. We have to be truthful about it.
Secondly, when we are talking about division, I tell people that Nigeria as at today doesn’t recognise division. Nigeria as at today recognises senatorial district, federal constituencies, state constituencies, local governments, wards and unit. So do you now want to obligate the constitution?
Third, in terms of the population of those in Akure, the question is, are the people there Akure indigenes alone? Are there no people from other states or local governments in that place? That is my argument. Everyone has a right to fight for his locality, but what I have always told Akure people who talk about agenda is that God should help APC and I am picked as the candidate, whoever they bring from Akure and myself will discuss and talk about demonstrable antecedent. I will ask him what he has done for Akure that I have not done better than him, because you must be a citizen of a town by birth and by heart. I have two things I can mention that I have done for Akure, but I won’t mention it now. So anyone has to tell me how he is a better Akure man than me.
So in terms of Akure agenda, I am Akure agenda, because what I have done for Akure in my life, I have not done up to that for my home town in Owo in terms of infrastructure and bringing the dividends of wherever I worked to Akure. But the truth of the matter is that Akure is in central senatorial district of Ondo State. So it will not be fair if a person from the central senatorial district is now governor and you now say Akure should be governor again. You want to make Ondo State like Kogi State where a particular group will continue to produce governors. So the question is, is that fair to the other senatorial districts. And also, will the other senatorial districts agree to that? So these are the issues.
But there are strong indications that the PDP may likely pick its candidate from Akure. Is there a strategy on the side of the APC to counter that move?
I am not from PDP, so I don’t know about that. What I am doing is that I, Jamiu Afolabi Akungba, am working assiduously round the clock and round the walls to ensure that I win the primaries of my party. And anybody that PDP picks, I will defeat that person flatly. My leaders know that I have a lot of what I call block votes, and no one can take that from me. That is why I am not leaving any stone unturned. That is why I am not pursuing the leaders, but rather pursuing the delegates. So if the leaders now come and assist me with the delegates, then we will cruise home.
When I emerge as the candidate of my party, PDP in Ondo State will crumble like pack of cards. I have the magic in my hands. I know Mimiko and he knows me. So he knows that if I emerge, he will sweat, but no matter how much he sweats, APC will win the election.
But there is another tussle between Owo and Akoko on who should benefit from the zoning to that axis.
As I said, I believe in truth and fairness, let the Akoko man be truthful about this matter and let them be fair. It is as simple as that. These are the things that we are telling the delegates and you will see what will happen on the day of the primaries. If our leaders can rise to ensure that the election is not monetised, then you will see what the people will do.
Whoever goes into equity must go with clean hands. These are the issues of becoming a governor of Ondo State. It is not like it was in the past. Ondo State is economically prostrate. Mimiko has ruined that state economically. Whoever becomes the governor of that state does not only need his mental, experience and academic strength, but he also needs the help of God. So if you go ahead and win the primary election by crook and fair, where are you going to get the support of the vote to rule the state? So that is why everyone must be truthful and fair in this matter.
With the situation of things now, socially, economically and politically in Ondo State, and in Nigeria, don’t you think it is not right for someone to come out and say he wants to be governor?
I have been asked this question so many times. That has always been things God has done for me. I joined the International Bank for West Africa, Olasore was our MD then and he discovered that the bank was not doing well. He set up a six-man panel, headed by one Mr Odunlami from Ado Ekiti. Ikuforiji Adeyemi, the former speaker of Lagos State was there. That is the only one of the six people among us that I know his addressed among us now. You can ask him. I was one of those people that restructured the International Bank for West Africa to become AfriBank. I remember when we called it AfriBank then, we said it was Nigeria’s first financial supermarket. And within one and half years, the bank moved from the 13th position to the 4th. That is my luck. And I made a record in that bank; I was the only person that had six promotions in eight years in that bank. A friend of mine, Samuel Kolawole became the MD of Trade Bank, which was a total mess as at then. He approached me as a friend and convinced me to help, which I did. I went to Trade Bank and we restructured it and it soon became the strongest leading medium sized bank in Nigeria.
So the point is let everyone coming out show their antecedents and that is why I said we need demonstrable antecedent to pick the APC candidate. I have been into it in the past, I have seen it and by the grace of God, God has assisted me to turn around many organisations. So Ondo State’s economy is not independent of the national economy. However, as much as it is not independent, it is now worse because it has been mismanaged in the last seven and half years. Mimiko has been doing a lot deceiving to people; he built two Abiye hospitals, and tells the whole world he has transformed the health sector. Yes, the hospitals are good but building just two in Ondo town and Akure, is that good? Abiye hospital is about maternal care, does that mean people in Owo, Akoko and other areas should not give birth to children or come to Akure and Ondo to deliver babies? He built mega schools, but what is the cost of those mega schools? He is putting bus stops in Akure, does Akure need bus stops? Go and see the value of each of the bus stop, what are they being used for today?
In over seven years, I have the record, over N600 billion was collected by Mimiko from the Federal Government as federal allocation. So if he says he is paying N4 billion as salaries, that is N368 billion in eight years. I have calculated up till the time he will be going in February. When you take 368 from 600, you have 240 billion. Where is it? I am not talking of intervention funds or internally generated revenues or loans, or the money he met. I am talking of the federal allocation alone. So when you add all these to it, you will be talking of about N400 billion, where is it? Where is the money? What has he used the money to do that will develop the economy of the state and make the state to be self-sustaining and progressive?
Rather, I will give you an example that is painful. Dangote was to do a refinery in Nigeria; the biggest in Africa. Dangote brought this refinery to Ondo State, you pressmen should ask our governor why he let the opportunity slip from his hands and go to Lagos State. That refinery will be ready in the next 60 days. Imagine the number of people it would have engaged; imagine the economic impact that refinery will have on Lagos State. That refinery is supposed to be in Ondo State. Those are the issues that are making us ask ourselves what is the way forward for Ondo State?
The way forward for Ondo State is for people like us to take a decision either to fold our hands and allow another governor by accident to take over, so that in another eight years we are going to be worse than what we have now. Then as a citizen of the state, what is going to happen to me? I will be morally, mentally and spiritually depressed. I won’t be happy. This is what has brought me into politics. I have come into it and I will do my best to get it and when I get it, I am going to exert myself all the trainings I have in my life, all the friendships I have acquired in my life to make sure that I bring the state back to progress.
You mentioned that if the primary election is not monetised, the best candidate will emerge. But what if some aspirants bring heavy money into election?
I have been telling our leaders, as a member of the board of trustee that they should work hard to ensure that it is not monetised. Ondo State is key, not only to Nigeria. This is the only oil-producing state that supported president Buhari. So it is key to the Federal Government and it must make sure that Ondo State doesn’t go to the hands of opposition. It is also key to our political leader, Asiwaju, because if we are looking at Yoruba land, and we want to move Yoruba land forward, there is no way you can leave Ekiti and Ondo. Ondo State is where progressive politics started in Nigeria.