Mr Saka Yusuf Ogunleye is an ex-officio of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, who ‘replaced’ the party chairman, Isaacs Kekemeke, purportedly sacked by a group within the party on Tuesday. He speaks with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI on the reasons for the ‘sack’ and the way forward for the party.
How did you find yourself in this shoes and what led to this crisis?
I am the new acting chairman of the APC in Ondo State. It is unfortunate that we are in this situation but I want to assure you that we will come out stronger. The then chairman of the party who was supposed to be the leader of the party and provide a level play ground for all governorship aspirants under our great party ended up as the campaign manager of one of the aspirants. Twenty five of the aspirants obtained the N2 million form from the party here in Ondo State as development levy and they paid N5.5 million each to the national secretariat of the party and obtained nomination forms. These aspirants were assured that the primary would be free, fair, transparent and credible. But just last week the chairman, in his wisdom, called an emergency meeting and informed us that he had been called to Lagos and that out of the 25 aspirants, Asiwaju had decided to endorse one as the candidate of the party. Before that time, all the aspirants were screened in Abuja and were assured of free and fair contest. The sacked chairman did not even allow us to contribute to the matter before he stormed out of the secretariat. We now decided that since the chairman, who was supposed to be a referee, decided to shift the goal post in the middle of the game, he cannot provide a level play ground for all the aspirants. One of the aspirants has left for another party because of this. We decided not go the way we did in 2012 when a candidate was handpicked and the rest left the party and Mimiko was allowed to come to power. We concluded that the chairman cannot lead us to victory and in accordance with the constitution of our party, the congress met and decided that the chairman be removed to give room for a new leadership capable of standing the party in a good stead ahead of August 27 and destiny has put that leadership on me, Saka Yusuf Ogunleye.
What were the steps taken before sacking the chairman? Did you inform the national leadership of the party?
APC promised the people of Nigeria change and we had that change and what brought about that change is because Nigerians were tired of doing things in the old order. Our party has a constitution and we are guided by that constitution. We have taken a decision and we have informed the national leadership of our position. Once the executive committee of the party is out of order, we can remove them. There is a provision for this in Article 7 of our party’s constitution.
Your party primary is slated for next weekend. Will this crisis not affect the primary and the chances of the party in the actual election?
No. What we have done is to reposition the party. The state chairman, unknown to members of the party, doctored the list of the delegates for the primary election and took it to Abuja. This was done to pave the way for his anointed candidate and rigging of the primary. Once the list of delegates has been tampered with, you cannot have a credible primary and when the primary is not free and fair, there will be chaos. We must ensure that the primary is free of manipulation from any quarters. So, what we have done so far is to put our house in order. It is internal democracy that will help us to go into that primary united and have a candidate not imposed on us from Lagos or by anybody.
But do you see the endorsement of a candidate by the leadership as an imposition? And if at the end of the day, the allegedly imposed aspirant emerged through a free and fair primary, will you accept him?
If free, fair and open primary is conducted without making use of doctored delegate list and such an aspirant wins the contest, we will accept the result but the man cannot come out as the acceptable candidate of the party. A pronouncement has been made because the chairman had been deploying the party’s machinery to campaign for the aspirant. Last Friday, he invited party chairmen from all local governments and told them that Mr President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande had unanimously endorsed the aspirant. I am sure you know the implication of this. What the chairman was doing was to use his position to mislead the people of the state and try to help his candidate. Anybody can endorse an aspirant, it is personal, but the chairman has turned the endorsement into adoption and it is turning into imposition.
Did you get in touch with the leaders before sacking the chairman?
One of the aspirants wrote a letter to Senator Tinubu and he replied that he would ensure that there was free and fair primary as a leader of the party with a clause that as a party member, he reserved the right to support any aspirant but we said no to this. He is not an ordinary member of the party but the national leader.
Don’t you think this crisis will affect the fortune of the APC in the governorship election?
There is no crisis. We did not take the law into our hands. What we are trying to do is to allow internal democracy in our party. What we are saying is that the chairman has shown bias. If he shows remorse, we may change our stand but we don’t want him to create problems for us at the governorship election by imposing a candidate at the primary election.
Do you have the support of the local government chairmen of your party?
Yes, we have met and they all agreed that we must take a bold step. The ward chairmen and the state executive members were part of the meeting. What else do we want? Kekemeke is not the party but a symbol of the party, being the chairman, but he is no longer in control. He has been rejected by this party.
If a meeting is called to resolve this crisis, will you embrace peace?
Yes, we will embrace any peace move. We will do everything to show that we are not out to create problems in the party. But I can assure you that it is an internal issue. We remain members of a family. Despite removing Kekemeke, he remains a member of the APC. We did not suspend or expel him from the party.