The standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress [APC] in Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu [SAN], in this interview, explains why he believes he will win the poll, among other issues. KUNLE ODEREMI brings excerpts.
You were in the governorship race in Ondo State in 2012 and now, you are back in the contest. What has been the motivation for you?
Seriously, when I ran in 2012 by His grace; through caucusing in the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), I was picked to run for governor. Yes, I don’t believe that we lost. We were just victims of an electoral fraud promoted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the outgoing governor – hand in glove. We fought the matter to the Supreme Court, as you know. And we believe we were walking on sound ground – we believe our case was good because there were some fundamental errors in the voters’ register. Once, for instance, we were able to prove that there were some injection of names in the voter’s register, there was nothing left because voter’s register remains the basis of any election,. So, if there are errors in it, there was nothing to be substantially complied with.
This time around, I have yielded to the clarion call of our people. I believe they are not having the best as we would expect of an oil-producing state. The state capital, there is nothing to write home about it. You need to get to Imo State and see how developed the state capital is and I don’t believe our people had the best. They have been on the wrong side of everything. So, I am convinced that if given the opportunity, we would turn the lives of our people around; ‘why not give it another shot again. So, I came back.
In 2012, by the grace of God, we won in spite of shenanigans here and there. And again, moving on we are trusting in God that we will win again. So, we are here.
Between then and now have you seems to have become more of a politician because we see less of you in the courts?
As you have rightly observed, I have not been going to court that much, particularly in the last one year. I have only concerned myself by handling a few cases and at this age, I don’t need more than one or two cases in a year. It is enough for you to live on and the younger ones will keep going to court.
So, because of my political pursuit, I just felt like giving it all because it is the last time. If I win this election, I would thank God and I will serve my people. If I don’t win, I am back into my practice. This is my last shot at politics except if I am convinced and I want to run for a higher office because I am getting old. This is my last shot at it; so I am giving it all I have. Therefore, there has been tremendous change, seriously.
Have you reached out to those that felt aggrieved after your party primary?
I am not sure that there were people that are really aggrieved. We went into a primary; someone emerged from the primary and some of them were suborned. They knew we had a free and fair primary but because people cannot accept defeat, they suborned about three of us, encouraged them to file unmeritorious appeal. Their appeal was thrown away and, yet, they do not want to stop at that. They still went ahead to encourage them to involve in anti-party activities.
Yes, one of them did the right thing and went to another party. Fair enough! But, there is still one or two others who pretend to still be in the party but they are working against their party’s interest. So, when you say they are aggrieved, how do you say they are aggrieved? You cannot talk to them any longer; somebody, who has left your party to another party and is being sponsored by leadership of the party in the South-West. It is unfortunate. What do you want to say to those people? You try to appeal to the leadership; you try to send people to them – you don’t do this to your party and they don’t want to hear.
They are spending a stupendous amount of money and giving money out; not in hundreds of millions but in billions because you want to fight your party. So, do you still say those people are aggrieved? They have left. There is nothing we could do. Every other person that believes in the APC has returned to the party.
Almost immediately we won we met with people. Those who believe in the party remained, but those who do not have left. Some are still here pretending because they are holding offices in the name of the party and they know that if they go out and say they have decamped to another party, they would lose their seat. So, they are pretending. There is nothing we can do about it. We have tried our best. We have made efforts to see whether we can bring them back to see reason but they are being propelled from areas that I least expected.
What are your programmes for Ondo State should you emerge as governor?
When it comes to my programme, I have five cardinal programmes and I have gone everywhere to sell them. It is called JMPPR. The J, we want to create jobs through agriculture, entrepreneurship and industrialisation. We don’t have industries in Ondo State. People are not being encouraged to create their own businesses. So we are going to have a College of Entrepreneurs, who, at the end of the day, will be able to establish their own industries; employ themselves and then, employ others.
On the M, we want to get involved in massive infrastructural development; roads; a lot of our schools are dilapidated, some have no roofs. Infrastructure is important and maintenance too. Then, the P is that we want to promote what we call functional education and technical growth. We have schools but what training do we get from there? We have schools, we don’t have teachers. We have some teachers who are not trained. The other P is provision of affordable healthcare services. Today, most of our comprehensive health centres don’t even exist. Most local government areas don’t even have general hospitals. For instance, from Owo area, to Ifon, Ikare area, and so on, if you take ill, you are rushed to the Federal Medical Centre. That is supposed to be a referral centre, not necessarily where you take the first treatment, but because we don’t have comprehensive medical centres and general hospitals that are functional. We must be able to provide affordable healthcare services.
And the last R is what we call rural development and extension services because I believe by the time I leave as governor of this state, the only thing I want to be remembered for is that I was the governor, who opened up all rural areas; roads, water and every other thing that will make life comfortable for rural dwellers. We have abandoned our rural areas for too long. Our farmers – they don’t have roads even to their farms. They toil day and night; no light, no water and no road. Some of them die of dysentery and cholera because the same water where they defecate is where they wash cloths and drink.
You spoke about party members being treacherous. Are you not worried that this is capable of affecting the chances of the party in the election?
I am worried that this treachery that is playing out would affect the fortunes of the party, but this would only affect it to some extent but we will surmount it. The margin would have been wider but it would not be wide now; it would still be wide but it might not be as wide as we expected.
If we are together and the party is still intact you can imagine now that the PDP is totally decimated, it would have been very wide, but because of the treachery that some people have decided to engage in, which is unfortunate to me, but we would still win. I don’t run away from reality. I know it would affect our fortunes.
You have listed a lot of laudable projects you want to embark. How do you intend to finance these projects?
When you talk about financing your programmes, you can’t go and start such programme if you have not given it a thought. I spoke about job creation and agriculture. What is going to be involved other than tractors, mechanised farming, plough the land for them, they will plant, they are the ones that will weed. It is not that capital-intensive that you need t break the bank to do. I am sure that once the bank and other financiers who are prepared to assist you know that you are genuine, the money will come. I did ‘Aketi Means Business’ some days ago, it was like a symposium. Chinese and Japanese people were here in Adegbemile Ondo State. All of them wanted to talk to us about what they have. Some have signified that they want to have so many industries here. It is for you to give the enabling environment to them. It is not my money but once they have it, which is part of the industrialisation we are talking about. People will have jobs. So, there are many ways you can do things.
Despite your national clout, some still feel that you are not a grass roots politician and that there is a disconnect between you and the residents of Ondo. What do you say to this?
I don’t know how these people measure their connection with grassroots. If connection with grassroots is being deceitful, then I don’t think I have connection with them. But if connection with the grassroots is the affection they show to you as a politician, I know that no other politician in this state has better connection with the grassroots than myself. I enjoy tremendous affection of the people of this state in everywhere. Their interest in us, you can feel it yourself. Sometimes when I see the way they behave, I am in tears because I feel and I pray that nobody should terminate the interests of this people in who they want as governor of this state. It is clear. You need to go out and ask people. They know who they want to be their governor. When I see the way our people behave, something occurs to me that if you are not careful and if they continue this way, you might lead them to a point where they will be acting like the North Koreans when they see their president because they know who they want and they are prepared to do everything for it. So, to me if that is what is called grassroots.