After I led students to confront IBB at Dodan Barracks, Gaddafi invited me to Libya —Ex-Ekiti AG
•How Fayose tricked me four times
Ise-Ekiti-born activist, lawyer and politician, Owoseni Ajayi Esq, is the immediate Attorney-General of Ekiti State and current chairman, Ekiti State Law Reform Commission. In this e-interview, he spoke on his relationship with former governor, Mr Ayo Fayose, his political ally of two decades.
You were known as an activist before your advent in the government of Ayo Fayose. How was the transition from being a students’ leader, leading lawyer to a politician?
My student union activities were a build-up to greater responsibility in life. Most of the problems we have today are because there was no prior training for leaders. Through the instrumentality of money politics and godfatherism, incompetent people now emerge in sensitive leadership positions across board in the country. No mediocre or incompetent person can emerge as president of the Great Ife students’ union or be appointed into any position in the students’ union leadership. Corruption in any shape, including money politics, did not determine students’ leadership during our time. Hence, you dare not misbehave after election into office. Most of the leaders of the students’ union trained in Ife still remain credible till today. Lanre Arogundade and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele were trained in Ife and were National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) presidents at one time or the other. Ayo Olukotun, Eddy Olafeso, Mafo Ola John, Sola Ebiseni, Olusola Oke, Yinka Odumakin (of blessed memory) and many others too numerous to mention here, were all products of Great Ife students’ union, who remain credible till today. Having trained in Ife, you will always be conscious not to tarnish an image you have struggled to establish. In the reverse, leadership, which just emerged through political manipulation and money politics, will not care or bother.
As a village boy, how was growing up and were there hints of you becoming a popular lawyer/politician?
Yes, right from my youthful years, I had developed traits of leadership. I was appointed class captain in my very first day in primary school and a senior prefect in primary six. At the College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti, I was into students’ union activities and acted in different capacities – chairman of the constitution drafting committee. We produced the union’s constitution of the college still in use till date, probably with amendments to suit prevailing situation. I was also welfare commissioner of the students’ union, Public Relations Officer (PRO) and then president of the body. I participated in drafting the NANS’ constitution and formation of the new NANS after the defunct of NUNS, last headed by Chief Segun Okeowo.
At the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), I was elected the first Principal Liaison Officer (PLO) of the law students’ society, a position created for first-year law student, which I vied for. I eventually became the president of the students’ union between 1985 and 1986. So, you can see that I was well prepared for leadership from my days as a student.
During your days in Ife, unionism was more about activism than show-off. Did you have a social life as a student?
As earlier answered, you can only succeed as president of the Great Ife students’ union, with dedication, absolute commitment to student activism, particularly as University of Ife’s students’ union was seen as the beacon of the student struggle in Nigeria. The light to lead other students.
During Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, I had cause to lead about five lorry loads of students from Ife to Dodan Barracks, the seat of the military junta over the bombing of Bengazi and Tripoli by the American super power with all African leaders keeping quiet, without condemning it. For this, President Muamar Gaddafi of Libya invited me to Libya on a one-week visit to study the Libyan revolution. It was activism throughout my days at Ife and I had no time for any social life and I barely escaped rustication from the university over the Kaduna Polytechnic crisis that led to the loss of many students’ lives and the closure of the university for six months, for storming Ile-Ife prison, which we described as storming the Bastille, after the French revolution.
What was your most challenging time in office as the Attorney-General of Ekiti State?
During my first appointment as attorney-general, I battled the issue of the impeachment of my principal, Governor Ayo Fayose throughout and during my second coming, I was initially preoccupied with how to stop the House of Assembly dominated by the opposition from impeaching the governor before the expiration of the tenure of that House. This was a hectic and troublesome period. From one court to another and attending crucial meetings in Ado, Lagos and Abuja, including meeting President Goodluck Jonathan to avert impeachment of my boss.This became only abated when the new House dominated by our party (PDP) was sworn in.
You may not be together now, but your political career so far has been largely defined by your long association with Fayose. How did you meet him and why did you part ways?
I had been in PDP as their legal adviser before Fayose came. I even worked for Professor [Tunde] Adeniran, who was our first gubernatorial candidate against Governor Niyi Adebayo. When Professor Tunde Adeniran became Minister of Education, our intention was to use Senator C.K. Awoyelu as our gubernatorial candidate, with me as his running mate, but Fayose who had never played politics came with a bang and we had to succumb to his firepower and joined hands with him to defeat late S.K Babalola at the gubernatorial primary and eventually defeat the incumbent Governor Niyi Adebayo at the general election.
You then went into government with him?
I first served as the chairman of the sports council before becoming attorney-general during his first tenure as governor. After he was removed from office as governor in October 2006, I remained with him in his sojourn outside office and battled all his legal cases, including EFCC, murder charges, incessant police invitations both to Ekiti Police Command and Abuja Force Headquarters. We were able to see him through and get him re-elected into office as governor in 2014. Generally, I believe all human beings have their idiosyncrasies and period of madness. As you are not perfect, you should expect imperfection in whom you work with. Indeed, you need to be tolerant and show maximum understanding in your relationship with people; so was with me and Fayose.
So, why did you two fall out?
For my faithfulness to him, he promised to make me his deputy three times and he failed those three times. The last time I had got him elected as the gubernatorial candidate of PDP as his campaign Director-General (DG), awaiting my pronouncement as the running mate and the party members were waiting for the announcement with no contending opponent. But the governor came up with the idea of using a technocrat who is apolitical as deputy governor to serve out his term together. He summoned a meeting of all the party leaders at his Afao home to appeal to me to go back as attorney-general, and get myself prepared to take over from him on expiration of his tenure.
He obviously did not keep that promise too.
All the party leaders who are still alive and active in politics saw the suggestion as good for me. This brought in Professor Olusola Eleka, a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University as deputy governor. The governor announced to the hearing of the whole state that this deputy governor would go with him at the end of his tenure. I cannot conjecture or speculate about why he changed this mind and unnecessarily became hostile to me. His unexplained and unjustifiable hostility towards me and my ministry reached the peak when he dissolved the entire state executive to remove me as attorney-general less than 12 hours to my appearance before the Privileges Committee screening us for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Abuja.
Did he tell you why he did it?
Till date, he did not tell me why and how I deserved to be treated in such a manner, despite my contributions to his legal and political survival in life, particularly in saving him from being sentenced to death over the murder of Dr Daramola and Omojola of Ifaki-Ekiti, which paved the way for his second coming as governor of Ekiti State. The speculation was that he needed someone pliable and somebody he could easily manipulate to succeed him and that Owoseni, who had been an activist throughout his life would not fit for such a purpose. For that singular act, many party leaders left him and joined hands with the opposition to defeat him and his candidate. Fayose has thus become history to be forgotten in the archives of political history. The rabble – rousing he is doing in the politics of South-West PDP and unnecessarily engaging Governor Makinde for leadership, is just to make him relevant.
The issue of rape is dear to the heart of your state’s first lady. Now that you have been saddled with the task of reforming the laws of the state, what are your focus and targets.
Let me first and foremost appreciate Governor Fayemi for appointing me as the first chairman of Ekiti State Law Reform Commission. Governor Fayose said openly in radio and television interviews that having been too close to him politically that I would not be considered for anything under Fayemi’s regime. He also said it was not in their nature to accommodate somebody like me and that I was merely wasting my time with them. This appointment has already debunked that insinuation. The issue of rape has become pandemic in the country generally. Possible attempts are already made by the previous and present government to checkmate it. During my tenure as attorney-general, we amended the law to change the penalty for rape from seven years imprisonment to life imprisonment. This government has gone further by introducing the advertisement and displacement of photographs of persons convicted of rape in public places in the state, including their hometowns. These are already codified and will form part of our new Ekiti State Law to be midwifed by our commission and the Ministry of Justice of Ekiti State.
Has the combination of these measures halted the rape surge?
In this dirty and barbaric game, the people involved are virtually illiterates and indecent people who are not conscious of the laws we have made to checkmate their infamous behaviours. In the Law Reform Commission, our board has a gigantic task of setting the machineries in motion to establish the commission worthy of its counterparts in FCT Abuja, Lagos, Ondo and other states of the federation where it has taken shape. We thank the Honourable Attorney-General of Ekiti State, Mr Wale Fapounda, for his cooperation in achieving this task that must be done.
How close are you to Governor Fayemi? I ask because you are relatively new in the ruling party and I know you once sought the governorship of the state?
My relationship with Governor Fayemi is as close as that of all his political appointees to him. I am not new in the party because we have all just registered as co-joint members of the party, but I must acknowledge the fact that he has his close associates while I was on the other side. Now that I am with him, I am always 100 per cent loyal and committed to my leader as exemplified in my 20 years relationship with Fayose under hard conditions. I am fully prepared for any assignment given me by him in promoting his good government and advancement of his political career.
Can we have a look at your family life?
I am married with children and I don’t mix my family life and the comfort of my children, with politics and as Christians, we have to follow the tenets of the religion we have elected for ourselves.
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