Donald Ojogo, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ondo State, in this Interview by HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, speaks on the forthcoming, party primaries and other contentious issues ahead the governorship election in the state. Excerpts.
THE APC primaries will be coming up in July, and some members of the party have been agitating for direct primary for the party, and it seems the body language of the governor is for indirect primary.
First and foremost, we’ve not come out as a government that we are opposed to direct primary; neither had Mr Governor expressed aversion for same. We’re not afraid of any mode of primary. And I’ll want the public to know too that the noise being orchestrated by those in the Unity Forum for direct primary is to put out a narrative that Mr. Governor is opposed to any direct primary. In fact, we’ll even prefer a direct primary. So those who are making noise about direct primary are only wasting their time.I have to say this, the truth of the matter is there are no two situations that are the same. Somebody made allusion to the situation in Lagos State. Everybody stepped down for a particular aspirant then and it was a two traffic contest between the incumbent governor and the then governor. For those who clamour for direct primary, the message to them is that Governor Akeredolu is more prepared for any mode of primary than those who clamour for direct.
Are you saying that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, is not scared of direct primary?
Scared? Does it not sound preposterous that in a camp of very deceitful governorship aspirants or governorship hopefuls of about six or seven who cannot put their heads together that the only slogan bringing them together is direct primary? It’s laughable and that is unfortunate. You can’t put something on nothing. What is the basis for their clamour for direct primary? They are very irreconcilable, well contradictory, with very lethal interests against one another. These are people who cannot come together. Among them are those who say they want to run for governorship but are not ready to abandon their choice appointments at the federal level. They are scared of resigning. Today, we want to challenge them that for anyone who wants to be governor, he must be prepared to take the bull by the horn, resign, come and campaign. Among them, we have seen audio aspirants, who we just listen to on the social media. Among them, we have seen aspirants who have made it a project or a venture every four year; governorship has been their projects. At the end of every four year, what they do is to acquire property in Abuja.
Why must you be scared of a group of people with contradictory interests? What they have seen in the governorship aspiration is merchandise. Are we talking about those who are shouting direct primary, who have turned themselves to be veterans of a so-called disintegrated group or someone who refused to declare his intentions but desires to be governor as a result of some problems he has deliberately created within the Unity Forum, ‘we know them. So, it is not possible. Their reasons for coming together are not altruistic, they are personal, very deceitful and mischievous. So, their interests are not in the overall interest of the state.
In the camp of Governor Akeredolu, our case is different. We are not on the same pedestal with these persons with usually contradictory and mischief-laced interests. We are not bothered, but one thing is very important, we are not going to take any issue with levity, no opponent is worth being overlooked. We’ll not underrate any even as we wont be bothered by every of their antics. Surprisingly, none of them has come out to repudiate the performance of the governor. That itself is a great relief. It is agreed that Governor Akeredolu has performed; so what else is required.
Is the governor considering what is often called Plan B, if he fails to secure the APC ticket? Will he move to any other party to realise his second term ambition?
This is absolutely needless. It means you have already concluded otherwise. We should not be talking about Plan B. We don’t have anything like Plan B, Plan A and even Plan C. All we know is that we are going into the primary of the APC to win and going to the election of October 10, to defeat whoever will be presented by any party. So, we have nothing like Plan B. We can’t discuss Plan B, there is no basis for us to even discuss Plan B.
Governor Akeredolu is alleged to be behind the crisis in the Unity Group, especially over the choice of consensus candidate for the group?
One credit we should give to Mr. Governor is the fact that he is the only governor I have seen that has refused to be the typical nocturnal politician. That is to underscore the fact that he does not have time for all these insinuations people are talking about. Mr. Governor is not interested in the crisis in the Unity Forum. He tried as much as possible that rather than creating problems there, he commenced the process of bringing everybody together. You remember the Advisory Council that was set up, Mr. Governor bankrolled it so that there will be peace in the party in the state. I’ll not be competent enough to discuss details of the Advisory Council’s resolutions but I can tell you that Mr. Governor, alongside the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was instrumental to the setting up of the advisory council. You will also recall that these same elements in the Unity Forum rejected the idea of the Advisory Council. These elements in the Unity Forum could not have been united according to their desires because of certain unsavoury actions they took; recall the insults they hauled on the person of former Interim National Chairman of the APC, Chief BisiAkande. They were very disrespectful, which is very unusual in the culture of people of the South-West. Chief Akande, by every standard, is a well-respected person in the politics of this nation. But when some persons, who came together just for the purpose of mischief, could go to the extent of hauling stones of insults at him, there is no how that group can be united. So, rather than blaming Akeredolu for their problems they should go and beg Bisi Akande for forgiveness. They are under a spell for their insolence.
But looking at the election that is around the corner, don’t you see the crisis as an albatross for the party in the election in October?
There is no political situation or political era that can be devoid of crises. If you are looking at a crisis-free situation, then you have no business being in politics. Your ability to navigate around crises to victory is what is most desirable. Your ability to bring crises entrepreneurs in every situation together to come out victorious is what we find to be most applaudable. So, crises cannot be isolated from political situations. We don’t see it as a very unusual thing. The issue is simple. Come out stronger from whatever crisis you find yourself.
Recently, the N4.3 billion was discovered in a secret account with a commercial bank triggered an uproar in the political scene. Can you shed light on the issue, as well as another allegations that the governor’s son was paid the sum of N430m as consultancy fee from the secret fund?
You alleged that the governor’s son collected N430 million as consultancy fee from the N4.3 billion. Where is the evidence that he collected the money? The truth of the matter is I know with the viciousness of the opponents of Governor Akeredolu either within the APC or outside is so fierce to the extent that if they had got a piece of single evidence that the governor was collecting one naira from Ondo State, they would have been flying it. Let them come out with the evidence that the governor’s son collected N430 million. And, I want to tell you that the N4.3 billion couldn’t have been paid into expenditure account but into revenue account.
Who discovered the money and how was it discovered?
Let me give you the background of the N4.3 billion crisis. Who discovered the money? The money was lodged since 2008 or 2009 even before the advent of the immediate past government. Zenith Bank hid it from the immediate past government. But immediately this government came on board, somebody in government was informed that the money has been laying in the bank. The people went ahead through due process to find out what was actually wrong and they discovered that the sum of N4.3 billion was in Zenith Bank for over 10 years without even the knowledge of the immediate past government. First, what the government decided to do, I mean officials of government, what they decided to do, was that they had a running battle with Zenith Bank as they insisted that the interest on the money must be calculated for keeping the money that long without the knowledge of government. But with no intention to defend the bank, if your money is in the bank and you didn’t write that the money should be traded with, the bank couldn’t have done business with your money on your behalf to generate interests for you. It was just docile, laying fallow in an account. So, if the money was there and no interests had accrued, what was the basis of keeping the money there before the period of discovery? So moving the money to another banks was punitive enough for the bank in question. So, all those papers you see flying about the money, was it paid into private account? It was the same government’s accounts. It was put into government’s properly managed accounts.
Talking about the House of Assembly probe into the secret account, do you think the lawmakers are still acting within their power?
What the House of Assembly did was not out of place. But it was not the House of Assembly that discovered it. When the money was discovered, what the Ministry of Finance did was to transfer the money to the ministry of Budget and Planning to be incorporated in the 2019 budget. But by the time the money was discovered in 2018, the 2018 budget had already been prepared and passed by the House of Assembly but it still reflected the financial statement of the accountant-general. By 2019, the money reflected in the 2019 budget under inherited fund and it was duly appropriated for by the House of Assembly.
The House of Assembly discharged its constitutional responsibilities but the source of inspiration for some, just a few, about five or six members of the House of Assembly that it was not appropriated for, that source goofed. He wrote a badly scripted piece for five or six of Assembly members to act and that was the reason they goofed. I can tell that majority members of the House of Assembly were not happy about that false alarm that was raised and I am also not happy to say that I do not need to make further explanations other than adopting the statement that was made by Rt. Hon. Speaker that some Fifth Columnists wanted to take advantage of that little gap in communication
On one or two occasions, the House of Assembly also came out to acknowledge the fact that some persons, outside the House, were trying to use that issue to create some problems between the executive and the legislature, but those persons goofed. Government didn’t spend the money without legislative appropriation. I want to say emphatically and fearlessly that those who think they can use very spurious and unsubstantiated issues to blackmail the governor and the government of Ondo State because of their ambitions have failed and they will continue to fail.
I can tell you that Mr. Governor has a minimum of 20 members of the House of Assembly who are solidly behind him. Those few five who are against Aketi may have their reasons and it is their right not to believe in the aspiration of an individual. So, it is the noise of the minority. There can’t be a better thing for democracy than what they are doing.
I also want to use this opportunity to appreciate the Assembly for their steadfastness. They have displayed enough statesmanship. Under the leadership of the speaker, they have resisted several attempts by these over-ambitious individuals to rock the boat. Those who are standing with Mr. Governor are still standing.
If you look at the level of viciousness and the ferocity of the attack on the person of the governor and the executive arm, if they were having the majority, I can tell you today that they would have commenced impeachment proceedings but because they do not have it, they go all around to tell the world that yes we have the majority. They do not have the majority. So, whoever is flaunting that he has the majority members supporting him in the Assembly is only spreading falsehood, it is perception hype.
The cold war between the governor and his deputy is no longer news in the state, is governor Akeredolu planning to dump his deputy while the deputy is said to be romancing with the PDP?
I don’t know if there is a cold war. If at all there is, it is not abnormal in politics, it is not unusual in politics. And as far as governance is not affected adversely, those of us who are working under them have not seen the reason to believe that there is a cold war. We do not believe that there is any cold war, we don’t think so.
Whether the deputy governor is going to PDP? I lack the competence to answer that question. I’m not in his mind, I’m not in his heart, I’m in APC and I do not think I would want to subscribe to rumours that he is going to PDP. If actually, you have also considered them rumours why don’t you wait and see that he has actually moved to PDP before we confirm that these things are real. So, I do not want to believe in those rumours but the along line you have said, I also hear them as rumours. I don’t want to believe that it is true. Even if it is true, it is not within my competence to either confirm or deny.
So, the governor may pick another running mate in the next governorship election?
I also do not know. I lack the competence to know if Mr. Governor is picking another running mate; and why so, if at all, ask yourself. .Mr. Governor does not believe that a winning team must be changed. He, Akeredolu is the winning team. But he also does not think that he has the power to stop anybody who does not want to belong to the winning team; he doesn’t have the powers to force anybody to stay put.
The governor is said to be losing grip of the state House of Assembly, and lack the capacity to incorporate the lawmakers to impeach his deputy?
I can tell you specifically that Mr. Governor is not interested in impeaching or removing anyone. He’s not interested. That is not even his business. Mr. Governor believes that whoever wants to leave his government can leave at any time. He will not raise a finger to push anybody out. The governor is having enough majority, a comfortable majority that is more than two-third in the House of Assembly and he has no problem dealing with them, then why must he go-ahead that they must impeach someone?
At what point did the governor and his deputy parted ways?
I do not know, and I don’t want to know. But I can say that Mr. Governor in the history of Nigeria, Ondo State, in particular, is the only governor that entrusted so much power in his deputy much more than any other person. In the history of Nigeria, I can say that the Office of the deputy governor of Ondo State, I’m not talking about the personality but the office of the Deputy Governor became more powerful and more influential from 2017 till date under Akeredolu.
And if there are issues the public sees in the realm of loss of confidence, distrust, and disappointment, culminating in a cold war, according to you, we need to know why because I also don’t know at what point something went wrong and there shouldn’t have been any reason for anything to go wrong because since Akeredolu came on board, the office of the Deputy Governor became more powerful than it was. And if actually, they have parted ways, it will be unfortunate and only betrayal of trust and confidence, it could have been the reason.
Ahead the next governorship election, don’t you think governor Akeredolu should be bothered with number of his kinsmen from seeking to unseat him?
The plethora of aspirants from Owo. It is good that they are coming out but the joy of the multitude coming from Owo is that it only creates the impression that somebody from Owo will still remain governor but not in the manners of their desires.