Honourable Isaacs Kekemeke, the chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State, has been in the eye of the storm as the party prepares for Saturday’s governorship primary election. In this interview with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, he speaks on the genesis of the crisis, endorsement saga, and the way out. Excerpts:
The APC primary election is fixed for this Saturday. What efforts are you putting in place to assuage the feelings of aggrieved members of your party?
I think we should move from calling them aggrieved members to desperate members .They have transcended the line of party faithfulness, loyalty and party commitment. What we have now is a few people, who are becoming so desperate that will stop at nothing to destabilise the party, debase it and give it a bad name. They have become spoilers and embarrassment to the leadership and teeming members of APC. They have also gone ahead to desecrate the culture and tradition of Akure Land in their desperate moves and desire to embarrass the party. I want to thank, on behalf of the party, the Royal Majesty, Deji of Akure Land, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi, for reacting promptly that what they have done amount to descreation of the culture of Akure people and that everything will be done to make sure that they are brought to book. I want party members to begin to see that this is no longer a joke. It is an attempt by a few individual to weaken and demonise the party leadership, so that they can leave the party weakened. Unfortunately, I want to assure them all that our party remains strong and we will not be weakened.
I deliberately resisted making statements so as to enable us reconcile this differences immediately after elections. But the more I keep quiet, the more encourage they get in their mischief-making. They are fighting me for no reason because I do not organise the party primaries. As at today now, the process has been taking over by the National Executive Councils through a National Working Committee, and this is what is done everywhere. In Edo and Kogi, the National Executive Committee organised their primaries. Ondo cannot be an exception. They have set up the machinery, the Governor of Jigawa is the chairman of the organising committee and his advance team is here, already meeting with appropriate security agencies and sorting out logistics. So, where do I come in? The only thing they are doing now is to try to harass, intimidate and blackmail me to support them, and I can never do that and as God liveth, they will never win.
But the aggrieved members alleged you are the brain behind the supposed endorsement of a particular aspirant, having allegedly recommended a list of some aspirants to APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu?
Do you fight the recommendee? Most of them that are fighting are people who have put aspirants’ tag on their heads; I am the only one who doesn’t have an aspirant tag on my head. Their action is idiotic reasoning; idiotic for anybody to say that somebody of Asiwaju status will be overwhelmed by my recommendation or will be dictated to by me. I have said repeatedly that I did not. I think they are afraid to fight Asiwaju because they know the consequences and they want to fight me. I have decided to hand them over to God to fight them. One of the aspirants , specifically Mr Rotimi Akeredolu said that as a lawyer, you know the implication that once the majority of the party faithful signed for your removal, ordinarily you should have stepped aside. My answer to him is that as a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, he is my predecessor in office and as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the people of Ondo State rejected him in 2012, so, he should not contest again. As lawyer, he knows that he didn’t need to contest because he was rejected in 2012, if that is how it works. He was overwhelmingly rejected then and why is he contesting again? That is the logic.
Some of the aspirants alleged that you are actually working for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state?
They are the people working for the ruling party. If they are not working for PDP, why would they be demonising their national leadership? They demonised Asiwaju, Pius Akinyelure, Kekekeme, and all the known leaders of this party . They do everything to seal off the state secretariat of the party. Who is now working for the ruling party? And we know those who dancing with (the state governor, Dr Olusegun ) Mimiko anyway! We know them; they are fifth columnists in our party. They want to weaken our party, after which they will leave and join another party; we know them.
What do you think is the solution to the crisis?
Let me say very soberly that there is nothing extraordinary that is happening here. In my address at the State Working Committee meeting I made it very clear that nothing extraordinary is happening in the party.. We had primaries in Edo sometime ago; we have a similar situation there. In Edo, there was an allegation by the deputy governor that the governor was trying to assassinate him and all of that.
It is not something unusual. Even in Kogi! So, it is everywhere, I mean it’s happening in all the parties. Where ambitions are involved, you find out that tempers will rise. For instance, we still have a single authority trying to conduct our primaries here. The opposition has two authorities, two primaries. The only thing is that we have few disloyal party people; a few uncultured party people; very few of them who are trying to create the impression that something extraordinary is happening here and that there is crisis in our party. I will give an example, we have a 15-member working committee and 11 of them are working with me. We have only three of them, who are making all these noise. We have state executive committee; all of the 18 chairmen are solidly behind me. We have a state executive committee, where members were saying that their signature were forged and they are not party to the drama of passing a vote of no confidence. So, where do they get the numbers? What they do is to get paid from whoever and try to distabilise the party with the impression that something is wrong here. They went to court and said they had an injunction. They merely went to obtain a paper at the court registry and I am not even served with the papers and they’ve been shouting all that. You can see how illiterate and desperate they have become. But I have decided never to get to their level and I think is becoming unbecoming of them.
The majority of the aspirants do not agree with you that endorsement does not amount to imposition?
I have said it many times that when ambitions are involved, we find out that it takes very strong men, extraordinary men, to remain sane or to remain balanced. Even primary school pupil knows the difference between endorsement and imposition. I think it is common knowledge that endorsement is just a common expression of preference. No more, no less! Imposition means the exclusion or the denial of the right of the individuals to aspire or participate in a democratic process, particularly process of the primaries of the election. That is simple and everybody knows that even in the best of democracies, this happened. Example of America, where a leading presidential contender in Republican endorsed President Barack Obama (a Democrat) eight years ago.. In Britain, just a few weeks ago, we saw the process of the emergence of a Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May, and we know that it had to do with endorsement and counter endorsement. Endorsement simply means an expression of preference and what people are saying is that if that endorsement is not for me, it shouldn’t be for any other person, simple! And more so, some of the people that are complaining now have come to me that they have been endorsed and that I should work with them.
One of the aspirants, Barrister Akeredolu alleged that, considering the area where the endorsed contestant comes against the backdrop for the balance of power in that area that, it was not proper for Tinubu to have endorsed the particular aspirant because it is suggestive of the mindset of the party?
Was I there when he was endorsed in 2012 and imposed on the party? . I don’t like to join any issue with him. All I know is that if he said I should have resigned because some people forged signatures, who clearly rejected him in 2012? So, he should hesitate having been rejected by the people of the state in 2012 from contesting elections if that is his logic?
In your recommendations to Tinubu on the contestant to be anointed, did you categorically zero in on where the aspirant comes from?
You are insulting Asiwaju and I will never join you to insult him. People must learn to be respectful to other people and to leaders. People must know that they are not the only human beings, and begin to see themselves as if they are the only human beings. People must know that whatever thing they think they have achieved, others have achieved it and others capable of achieving it and stop being fool of themselves. So, I am not going to join issues on those things.
Some of the aspirants said you are not even sure there will be free and fair primaries?
They are afraid and they do not need to be afraid because I have no place in the entire process of the primaries. I have said this before. In fact, the man you just see now (Monday) is Alhaji Ali Magachi, who is leading the advance team of the Governor of Jigawa to come and conduct this election. Why are they afraid? They are afraid of losing? Nobody is restricting you from assessing the delegates. The delegates are known. You can assess them. I have only one vote which I even promised not to exercise. So, what is the fear?
Given the twist and turns preceding the primaries, your party will have a lot of work to do after the exercise in term of reconciliation. How do intend to go about it?
The problem I have is that you (people) talk as if the crisis is peculiar to our party. You talk as if it is peculiar to the state. Everywhere primaries are held, this is what happens even in the United States, where we have the best tradition. So, it is everywhere. The problem we have here is that this is an isolated election, so every attention is focused on us. Otherwise, what is extraordinary? There have been places, where people were killed; where guns were shot, and all of that. By His grace, such is not happening here. So, nothing extraordinary is happening. What is happening here is blackmail, intimidation, threat and all of that! And it is normal in politics and I believe that a few weeks to come, all this must have been dealt with because the delegates will have spoken.
How are you going to manage the post-primaries crisis because some of the aspirants are already threatening not to support the endorsed contestant if he emerges as APC candidate?
That means they are not democratic, although, I do not know about the anointed candidate because if there is such, we will not be talking about voting at the primaries. So, there is no anointed candidate.
But, there is an endorsed aspirant?
There is not one single endorsed candidate; there is not one single endorsement. There are thousands of endorsements. Asiwaju himself has explained that he does have a right to endorse. Why are you asking me? He said it that he has the right to endorse and nobody has said he doesn’t have the right. The National Executive Committee and National Working Committee of our party said, yes the individual has a right to endorse but the party does not have the right to endorse. The party does not endorse at all and if anybody gave Asiwaju power, it is these aspirants that gave him power because all of them went to him individually or went to the people that they think he knows him or went to his aides to seek his support and the man says I have a right and I believe he does have. Nobody has been able to say he doesn’t have and all of them have one endorsement or the other. So, why is this noise? Is endorsement contending with endorsement; brain contending with brain?
Those who can abuse can contend with further abuse; those, who can mobilise contend with mobilisation; those who have logistics will contend with logistic. That is what happens all over the world. If you are unlucky to think that a particular endorsement is heavy against you, you go back to the field and work instead of going to the air and saying unprintable things about other people.