Honourable Oluwole Oke, a member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP, represents Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency of Osun State in the House of Representatives. In this interview by TAIWO AMODU, SEGUN OLATUNJI and KEHINDE AKINTOLA, he explains the undercurrents behind the seemingly intractable crisis rocking the PDP in his state, among other national issues.
PDP South-West zonal leadership and the state chapters have expressed determination to regain lost grounds. But we also know that the state chapters are polarised into factions in Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti. How do you reconcile the resolve to win South-West against the background of the schism in your party in the region?
I agree with you that we have had a lot of issues, including problems at the zonal level, but you know politics is dynamic. Even the society itself is also very dynamic. Yes, there are problems. Even within the All Progressives Congress in Lagos, they have their own issues. In Ogun State, they have their own issues, ditto, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti. So virtually in all the parties, conflicts abound. Figuratively speaking, even the tongue and teeth fight but they still resolve their differences as they cohabit within the mouth. Same applies to political parties. Conflicts abound, but we would overcome and one thing I will like to emphasise is tolerance. Everybody wants to be in one position or the other. People want to grab power. That is why you see maneuvering and counter-maneuvering, but at the end of the day, we should always believe there is the invisible God who also authors and puts whoever He wants in an office.
So, I admit there are problems and issues. I may not be able to speak generally. I may not be able to speak about Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, but Osun, where I come from because I am very familiar with all the issues in the party. I can assure you that we would overcome all our problems, particularly, in Osun State.
Will it be valid to say that the internal dissension in Osun is externally induced?
I don’t think so. I doubt that.
But there have been insinuations that APC is instigating the crisis.
It is not so. The problem in the Osun PDP is a case of a person who knows that I am as smart as he is but who wants to lord it over me. He wants to lord his own wish, his own aspiration, his own terms over me without taking me into consideration. That is the case in Osun State. It’s a struggle for the soul of the party and who becomes the governor. That is the situation and nothing more. Anybody who is front-loading or preaching interference externally is not being truthful. So, the problem within the PDP in Osun is very simple. It’s a case of a people who want to outsmart the foundation members of the party. People who initially were not members of the party joined the party and at a stage, they left the party, came back and they wanted to drive the foundation members of the party out. That is the problem in Osun State and we, the foundation members of the party in Osun State, are saying no. We will not accept that because we also had the wherewithal, the capacity to leave the party when they left, but we chose to stay back in the party. That is what we have within the party. And those people who came to join us, because they also have their own advantage, you know in politics, every vote is important, you must also dissect and understand your capacity and factors that you need to put together to win the state. You need the votes, so everybody is important. You also need logistics and resources to be able to capture power. So, the common people on the street, who are our own party members, are there, but you need to bring all the logistics to be able to achieve success. But if you are saying that the people that you left and came back to meet are inconsequential, then, it is not going to work. We will only be working and probably preparing the ground for the APC to also continue to hold on to power. But if we are sincere with ourselves, all we need to do is to continue to accommodate one another. Okay, you have the money; you have the resources, but we don’t have; you have the people. Okay, let us bring all these together to achieve success. Except we do that, we are just deceiving ourselves. So, that is the problem we have in Osun. There is no external infiltration. They’ve accused me of conniving with Bourdillon, but I’ve never been to Bourdillon before.
Who is Bourdillon?
It is Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They alleged he commissioned me to dismantle the PDP in Osun. The truth remains that he is a leader of repute in Yorubaland and in Nigeria except we are deceiving ourselves. Yes, he is in the APC, but due to cultural demand, I respect him. But the fact is that I have never met Senator Bola Tinubu.
Even on the Osun matter?
I have never met him. Not even on any matter because I represent just two local government areas in my state. I know the number of traditional rulers that we have. I know the herbalists, the imams, the pastors, the men of God, the transporters and the market women in the two local government areas. I know where the votes are in the two local government areas and if it is in a true country where we practise true federalism, I don’t need more than that to improve the well-being of my people. I don’t even need to go to anybody in Osogbo. I don’t even need to go to Ile-Ife, if all I want is to continue to represent my people in the federal constituency. But now I’m a member of a party in which we also have other members from other constituencies and, by extension, I also owe them the duty of care.
So, I also have to look at their interests and how I can promote my party beyond my federal constituency, so, that is why I have to strategise to make sure that what we are doing in Ijesa North in Obokun-Oriade that have made us to continuously win elections are replicated in Ijesa South, in other federal constituencies where we have not won elections. So, the issue in the PDP, as I have said, is about some people who think they are smarter, wiser than me or than some of us who have been foundation members and who have remained in the party, when, in fact, we are smarter and wiser than them.
It is being insinuated that in the National Assembly your relationship with the ruling party shows that you are one of them?
In the case of the National Assembly, you need to understand the fundamentals in parliamentary politics. You need to understand the conventions and the practices in the National Assembly. You need to bear in mind that it is a number game here. We are 360 members and when it comes to partisan convention, we have ranking. Ranking has also been recognised in our rules, so, when it comes to ranking, the most senior person takes the leadership position. It is a practice all over the world. So, in the National Assembly, upon inauguration, a Speaker must emerge.
By principle, practices, conventions and rules, PDP has no majority but the APC has more than two-third. They are more than 240 and they need just 181 to have a speaker. So, what are we saying? However, the PDP decided to push for another member of the APC who in terms of ranking is a junior to the speaker that emerged.
So, if there was discipline within their party, it should have been a win-win situation for them because all they should have done was to organise themselves, put their house in order, and just come here to tell us, ‘this is our speaker.’ This gentleman is the leader of this party, after hard work, he emerged as the majority leader and now his party has come out with the majority, he is a de facto speaker. Just like [Nancy] Pelosi, there is no argument about it.
But I saw the move as trying to work against the known principles, practices, conventions, and rules of the House. Supposing it was the PDP that had majority, even in terms of ranking even when I am senior to [Yakubu] Dogara, I couldn’t have competed with him because he was a sitting Speaker of the House. Dogara would have emerged automatically as the new speaker.
I am a pragmatic person and I face reality and when I saw that this was the move, I told my leaders in the party that Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila is the de facto speaker. He was the majority leader in this House and his party has returned a majority of its members; let us not waste our time. And that is why on the day he declared, I came out openly to support him and I promised I would stand by him through thick and thin.
Looking at some of the issues raised as a fallout of the emergence of the current Minority leadership in the lower chamber, have you been able to address the issue of polarisation within the party?
We are back together, we are one.
But some of your colleagues are nursing the wounds of betrayal.
Excuse me, there’s no question of betrayal. It is logical, if you are talking about the leadership of the Minority caucus, the same rule also applied to my senior in the House. The only leader I have in the PDP is Honourable Nicholas Mutu. So, if you’re also looking at balancing, the national chairman is from the South-South. Honourable Mutu is from the South-South. Thus, if Mutu, who was also a Minority Leader by convention but because we had a sitting speaker, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, who at that point in time was the speaker of the House whose party had then formed the minority, Dogara automatically became the Minority Leader of the House. But he opted out. Mutu, was asked if he would want to be the Minority Leader but he said he was not interested.
The next to him is me, Wole Oke. Did the party nominate me? Okay, assuming you are looking at who had occupied the position before, you will talk about Honourable Leo Ogor. I made efforts to ensure that Ogor became the Minority Leader but because of his health matter at the time, the party wanted our junior, our colleague, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, so to say and in all fairness to him, very sound on merit. And he knew I was against him. We met and he knew that I was supporting him, but again it was a number game.
[Ndudi] Elumelu came and said he was also interested, as we were all third-timers and both of us were third timers. So it was left for them to play their game. Two of them went out to our members, all the minority party members. At the end of the day, the mistake those of us the PDP members made was that we thought that we were the only minority members of the House, while in fact there were five other minority parties. So I think Elumelu was smarter enough to convince other party members and got their support for him to emerge. So how do you trace that to me?
A senator from your state, Osun, recently raised an alarm that the state is almost running into bankruptcy and called for a halt to both local and external loans. But less than 48 hours after he made the statement, the APC caucus from the state, including Senator Ajibola came around and said the picture painted by Senator Francis Fadahunsi was false. Where do you stand in all of these?
I am an accountant, an economist and I also read law. Loan, as far as I am concerned, is not an abomination. It is not an aberration to take loan. But when you take a loan you must have programmes and projects that you want to use the loan for.
We need to have a very comprehensive position of the Osun situation. How much has been taken? What was the purpose of taking the loan? What did they use the loan for? What’s our balance sheet? How far have they serviced the loan? Unfortunately, we also need to understand that the National Assembly does not have jurisdiction to investigate the finances of the state. And that is purely in the hands of the state assembly.
I don’t rush to discuss issues. Perhaps Senator Fadahunsi has facts that I don’t have as we speak and I don’t deceive myself. But, I need to find out from the Debt Management Office (DMO) how much it has booked as external loan for Osun State and what is our balance sheet. The Accountant General of the Federation, and the Central Bank will have to give me a position on Osun’s finances. These, I will embark on. I will write to them that I want to have their positions. I will also speak to my speaker in the Osun State House of Assembly on our financial situation. It is when I have these positions that I would speak to the world. I would speak to the citizens about the situation. But for me to just comment offhand, I am not used to that.
Since dust has been raised on the issue, have you made efforts to find out from relevant agencies the true status of your state’s financial health?
This is what I am telling you because I know my boundaries. I speak to facts, I don’t speak to rumour.
How long will this take you?
You also understand that when I write to the Speaker of the state’s assembly, he will write to me. What I know is that truly, before the former governor left, we had financial issues. At least, I am aware that salaries were not being paid as and when due. I am aware that some people were earning half salaries and don’t also forget that we have issues bordering on the COVID-19 pandemic. So, all expectations, projections may not be met, do you understand what I’m saying now? But I know, I’m not speaking for the governor. I know that the incumbent governor is a financial person, he is a financial engineer and except we are not being sincere with ourselves, the gentleman is trying his best. How do I mean? At least, people are now earning their salaries as and when due, that much I know. The pain that our children go through by trekking thousands of miles to get to school has stopped because he has gone back to the old system. He has recognised those schools that were merged. There is a standard by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on the number of kilometres that a child should trek or walk to school so that the child will be able to learn and assimilate.
I think he is adhering to that standard now. I think the man is trying to right the wrongs of the past. For example, I challenged the incumbent governor, I spoke to him and said ‘Your Excellency, we are not ‘State of Osun, we are ‘Osun State.’ He has agreed we are now Osun State. I said ‘Your Excellency, you are running a parliamentary system at the local government level against the provisions of the constitution that we should run the presidential system’ and he has agreed that we should run a presidential system. So, if he has issues with his finances bordering on the loans he inherited, he has not taken any loan since he came into office, but the loans taken by his predecessor. We would be unfair to start holding him responsible but he has inherited both the assets and liabilities. What we should do is to have a holistic view of the financial situation of Osun State and see where we can bring our expertise to exit the state from its current financial position.
My own type of politics is as I am in government I should be able to separate party politics from governance. Whether I like it or not, Oyetola is the governor of Osun State. I am a member representing Ijesa North and whether you voted for me in Ijesa North or not, I›m representing you and I owe you a duty of care irrespective of your party affiliation. That›s my type of politics.
2022 is coming when we will have another governorship election, so if anybody assumes things that I›m an agent of any party, then we wait until then.
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