A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Rotimi Akeredolu ( SAN), one of the All Progressives Congress (APC) aspirants for the party’s ticket in Ondo State in the November 26 governorship poll, speaks with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI on the crisis surrounding the choice of the party’s candidate, purported endorsement of another aspirant by APC national leader, and other issues. Excerpts:
What has informed your lack of confidence in the state chairman, Mr Isaac Kekemeke, something must have gone wrong or happened?
What informs my decision is very simple. I am of the opinion that the chairman deserves the right if he wants to support any aspirant of his choice. It is quite possible and he may say ‘as chairman, I want to hold the balance.’ It is still another possibility. But when you now choose to endorse a candidate, which I say he reserves the right to do, he cannot use the apparatus of the party for the support of the aspirant he chooses. So, what most people have found out is that because he’s the chairman, he now called all APC local government chairmen and told them that this is where they should go. This is wrong. Again, he called the APC chairmen of the 203 wards in the state and said ‘this is where we want to go’ That will be unfair to others, though it is his right. But you will lose that leadership position immediately you make a choice and people will lose the confidence in you. That’s why they passed the vote of no confidence in him.
It is being alleged that the chairman claimed he was only acting the script of APC National Leader (Senator Bola Tinubu); that he should mobilise support for a particular aspirant?
I doubt that and if he had said so, he knows the full implication, and I’m sure that Kekemeke is not somebody that can be led by the nose. I want you to quote me on this. There is a Yoruba adage that says that when you are sent on an errand like a slave, when you get there to deliver the message, you pretend that you are a free born and everybody will still respect you and say it is not a slave that brought this message. This is the way to put it assuming it is true. I have been to the national leader you referred to; so many of us went to him and he gave his words to say that he was going to allow free and fair primaries and it is after the primary that he will come up to support whosoever emerges.
Now that he has gone ahead to endorse one of you….
I must tell you that I’ve not heard him say it.
He has not denied it, even through the letter he wrote to Dr Tunji Abayomi?
He said in the letter written to Abayomi that he has a right, but he did not state (there) he is endorsing a particular candidate. It is not denial and it is also not for us to assume that he has endorsed him. If he endorses a particular aspirant, it is his right. The national leader reserves the right to say that ‘I am endorsing a particular candidate.’ I don’t see anything wrong in it. But what I said is that the moment you did that, you have stepped into the arena; you have become partisan and cannot lay claim to leadership. It not that you’re not the leader of the party but for this contest, you cannot say to me as an aspirant that you’re giving me order, more so that you know that I’m an aspirant and you’re taking side against me. To me, there’s no quarrel about this. If he decides to pursue that course to say ‘yes, I’m going to endorse a particular candidate’ and probably brings in money. He must accept that he will not expect all of us, who are on the other side, to now to agree to his decision. He has become a chief campaigner to one person. So, all of us too in our campaign, whatever comes out of it, he has to take it.
You said you were not imposed as the candidate of the then Action Congress of Nigeria in 2012, but the process of your emergence started from endorsement?
Let me start from 2012, I’ve said this over and over and try to explain to people that 2012 is different from what is happening now. We operated under ACN and that party in 2012 did not say it was going to conduct primary. In ACN then, nobody paid money for Expression of Interest but this time around, all aspirants have paid N2 million each except the lady among us who paid N1million. In ACN, nobody obtained form but here, all of us have paid N5.5million to obtain form to run this election except for the lady who got it free. When I say that I was not imposed by anybody in 2012, I stand by it. I know the operation and all of us who contested knew too. We attended meetings not once or twice or three or four times, and the leadership of the party then. That was the style in ACN.
The leadership of the party formed a committee headed by Chief Bisi Akande and it included all past governors like Bola Tinubu, Niyi Adebayo, Segun Osoba, and probably (late) Lam Adesina and the governors of the ACN then. The committee needed to reach a consensus candidate. So, it was not one person that imposed the candidate. Tinubu couldn’t have imposed me; he couldn’t have endorsed me, because there was a process but this process was one that all of us submitted ourselves to. In an interview I said (in law), there’s a law that says that you cannot complain of an injury when you have voluntarily submitted yourself to the process. In that (2012) process, all along if not all the time, the committee usually asked us that, ‘are you all prepared to abide by whoever we chose among you?’And everybody would say yes. So, I know of a fact that in the meetings, because it’s not just one meeting, people argued for different aspirants. If by consensus in that meeting I was endorsed or chosen to be the candidate, it was not one person choosing me as the candidate; so it is not one person imposing Akeredolu on others. I am sure if you ask Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, he would tell you that he did not impose Akeredolu on others. What I’m trying to get at is that after the meeting, the committee by consensus, agreed on me. As a predominant leader of the party then, Asiwaju engaged other aspirants and talked to them why the committee picked me and as the leader of the party then, he spent his fortunes to assist us in the election in the state and nobody takes that away from him. When anybody comes around and says that Akeredolu was imposed, I always take the pain to explain that I was not imposed. All of us, who contested, agreed to abide by the decision of the committee and not that Asiwaju said ‘this is the candidate.’
In this particular case, Asiwaju has told all of us to go and run, and he has now come out to say I am now endorsing a particular person, when all of us had taken money to obtain form and spent money preparing for primaries. There’s the difference people must try to understand, and many of us should be able to say the truth.
Asiwaju supported you as ACN candidate then, where is the parting point between two of you?
I will not say Asiwaju supported me; many people will think he will. I knew in 2012 that he mentioned to me that he was the one that asked (Dr Olusegun) Abraham to come and contest. In 2012 he brought Abraham who is his friend, because they are close and I don’t think I have to say more than that. I want to believe that Asiwaju must have been persuaded by our leaders. So, I went into the 2012 election with the belief that Abraham was his candidate but like I said, it was possible for him to have been persuaded at the meetings when the committee was taking the decision.
If the opinion of the committee weighed more on my side, there’s nothing anybody can do. We have leaders who can testify to this and it is not the issue of Tinubu imposing a candidate in 2012; it was the decision of a committee.