Chief Alexander Olusola Oke is the governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the November 26 election in Ondo State. He speaks on his vision to take the state to a higher level of development, expressing the belief that people’s wish must prevail at the poll. BOLA BADMUS brings the excerpts:
YOUR opponents believe that you are desperate, citing your defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and now AD. How will you react to this?
Those who say this are either ignorant or being mischievous. They are ignorant because they fail to know that I have been in politics for over 31 years and I have been rock steady all these years. I was a little boy during the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) days; I joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and was there throughout its lifespan. I was in UNCP throughout its lifetime too. I went into PDP; I was there for 16 years. I rose through the ranks and I became a national officer of the party. I am, no doubt, a beneficiary of some of the achievements of that party.
But people cannot close eyes to reality. At the time I had to leave PDP, it was expedient and I had no option but to do that. All of a sudden, people with ideologies that were incompatible with my dream and vision found their ways into the PDP and hijacked the leadership. It wasn’t partnership or patriotism; it was pure hijacking of the leadership. And I found it difficult to operate in that kind of environment.
For instance, I was the indisputable foremost leader of PDP after the demise of our leader, Dr. Olusegun Agagu. But all of a sudden, the only way I knew what was happening in the party was through terse text messages sent by one small boy to me. I was totally vanquished within the party and all it required for me was to either get out of politics or find a new platform, so I left the PDP painfully, because that was a party I built over the years. I put everything into that party. And so, I challenge anyone who finds himself in that circumstance that will believe that staying put and fighting, confronting the governor, fighting the system was the answer to it. I didn’t want to cause tension in the polity, so I left quietly.
In the APC, the facts are still fresh in the memory for anybody not mischievous to have forgotten. I came into the party in April; I put in everything in terms of energy, resources, time to build that party. And the party was built. We were assured and re-assured that free, fair, transparent, credible primaries would be conducted. But you all saw what became of that primary. It was the most corrupted primary I have ever witnessed in my life. It was the most perverse primary that I have ever witnessed. Delegates’ tags were sold, and people that were not delegates were allowed to vote. There was no proper accreditation and in the middle of the night, the delegates’ list was substituted. I lost over 250 delegates in the process and so the election was compromised.
The party has its own internal mechanism for redress and I followed due process. The appeal committee constituted by the party came up with the report sustaining all the three legs of the three allegations that were proved before the panel. The panel, therefore, nullified the election. The matter went before the National Working Committee of the APC and by a decision of six against five; they upheld the report of the appeal committee. Regrettably, it is a party where majority will have its say and the minority will have its way. At the end of the day, it became clear that the party couldn’t give to Ondo State the desired change. If the foundation is wrong, you cannot put a super structure on such a corrupted foundation and, therefore, I cannot be part of that perfidy.
What I assure the people of Ondo State is a true change, a change that is devoid of corruption, manipulation and all forms of deceit. I have traversed the entire length and breadth of Ondo State six times. I know all the nooks and crannies; I know their sufferings. I am part of it. In my existence up till now, I have been in this geographical definition of Ondo State without an exit for six months and so I am a partaker in their suffering; I share their pains and joy, their aspirations and hope and I believe that I have service to render to the people of Ondo State and I will be failing in my responsibilities at this time if I maintain culpable complacency when I can do something.
Why the Alliance for Democracy?
The Alliance for Democracy (AD) is our party. It is a party that has ideal, that is built on principle, that is built on vision. Our founding fathers have kept faith with the people of the state. They have keep faith with the Yoruba people and, therefore, I believe that is a very solid platform at this critical time when we want to critically transit and there are conflicting and irreconcilable philosophies and ideologies, which will not advance the cause of the people of Ondo State.
I need to seek a platform that is known to them, that believes in them, that is structured to advance and protect their interests, AD is the party I found in the process.
But one of the APC’s candidates has been campaigning on why Ondo State must vote for the mainstream party; being an AD candidate, if you win, how will you work with the Federal Government?
That is why you need somebody like me who operated at that national level, who, therefore, will be able to leverage on his experience to synergies with other institutions, other government levels to be able to get the best for Ondo State. What is important at this moment is to get a leader with vision, one with a sense of direction who must have a solid foundation at home upon which you want to leverage.
Ondo State is part of Nigeria and, good enough, I can say that in President Muhamamdu Buhari, we have a president whose politics is nationalistic. Therefore, the argument that I want to have a government that will not have access to the centre is not correct.
People are saying that having been in PDP at some point in time, you are likely to benefit from the crisis in the PDP in this election, do you agree with this notion?
What is happening in PDP and the APC as well is rather unfortunate. I am coming into this election not on the basis of calculation of crisis in any political party. I believe that I have the pedigree. My people know me. I have a vision. I have a sense of direction and I want to campaign on the basis of issues and things I can do for the people of Ondo State.
But if there is crisis within any party or all of the political parties, the advantage that I have is that I have traversed the entire political landscape across all the boundaries. So, if you are talking of the progressives’ camp, I have been there. If you are talking about a little to the right, a little to the left, I have been there also. And if you are talking about the extremes, I have also seen it all. So, I stand, even without internal crisis, to benefit from these experiences over the years. If you are talking about PDP, there is no important person that I don’t know and who do not know me. If you are talking about APC, I have seen it all and therefore, I am bound to benefit from any crisis within these parties. But I am not one who will exploit any situation and, therefore, what is happening in PDP and even APC is, to me, regrettable and I urge them to find solutions to their problems.
There is this apprehension in the state, especially among the electorate, that there are plans to rig the election with federal might. Can we get your reaction on that?
It is not the people that are scared. The politicians are the ones scaring them by saying that if it is only one vote that is cast, they will be declared as winner. This is ridiculous; our electoral process has grown over time with the introduction and insistence on the use of card readers. How much of manipulations can anybody do? I laugh at politicians who believe that this is an APC primary that they can rig with ease. We are talking of election and so this threat of ‘we will rig and win at all cost is a misplaced one. I am busy campaigning out there, while they are in the comfort of their homes and offices threatening the people that they will rig.
You contested in 2012 and you are contesting again in 2016, what inspires or drives you to want to be the governor of Ondo State?
You are quite right, I contested in 2012 to be governor and there were good reasons for me to contest then. These reasons have only multiplied; they have increased, expanded. Therefore, so long as those conditions are still prevailing and multiplying, I will be failing in my responsibilities not to come out at this time. And what are these reasons? Ondo State is a state generously loved by God. If we look at the resources available to us, we should be leading: a shining example to others in Nigeria. I am talking in terms of natural resources, human resources, agricultural resources. Whatever resources you can imagine that would help the development of a state, Ondo State has it in abundance. The largest rich human resources, they are all there, but we are not doing well.
A critical assessment of Ondo State today would show that the people of the state are poor. They are not poor in their heads, but in their pockets. And I have come to appreciate over time that poverty of the pocket could also affect the poverty of the head. If you traverse the entire landscape of Ondo State today, you cannot find one industry that is producing anything. The concomitant effect of that is that employment cannot be generated anywhere. Government has come to a standstill in terms of the employment of its citizens. We need to diversify our economy to be able to get our citizens engaged.
For seven years running, graduates from the universities have come out in their hundreds of thousands every year with no employment opportunities. The effect today and humiliatingly, is that most of them have become okada riders, drivers and beggars and are idling away at cheap joints in the communities.
This is not good for us. It is the recipe for revolution any moment and, therefore, I cannot fold my arms.
How do you hope to change all of these if elected?
We are not unaware that the economy is in bad shape and Ondo State is worse for it. And of course, it has to be so, when we had enough we never built a solid foundation for the future. Lagos State is said on record to have the fifth largest economy in Africa today because while there was abundance, preparation was made for the future. We didn’t prepare and now we have been caught unawares. Therefore, we need a lot of vision to be able to bring about all the good things I have said.
First, the major burden is debt burden. I may not be able to be too specific but I am told and I readily believe that we are down with over N108 billion debts in Ondo State. That is a major challenge to the incoming government. But government liabilities are valid assets. Government assets and liabilities are valid assets; no government can take assets and run away from liabilities. But the way to manage it and reduce the effect on what we are doing is to go back to the negotiation table and reschedule some of those debts, not in terms of the avoidance of liabilities but to give space so that the amount committed to servicing the debt can be reduced and whatever you get from there can be ploughed back to face the challenges of government
Two, we have a lot of assets that are wasting away. We should do something urgently to complete the various industries or factories started by the last administration, which were nearing completion in their different stages. And then we can bring in private investors, after proper evaluation. The truth of the matter is that despite the depreciation of those assets, the state of our economy, that is, the devaluation of Naira has also helped in enhancing their value.
You can’t ask Ondo people that area already badly affected by the economy to pay more taxes. Even the ones on ground presently, may have to be reviewed to give it human face. Now, the Olokola project is there, we intend to bring that back on the table and it will be able to solve tremendously the problems confronting Ondo State at the moment. The cassava processing industry in Ikoya is there. So we look at the entire projects together, they will all help to begin to re-shape our economy.