A former Governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni, who until recently was the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the All Progressives Congress, speaks with Punch Newspaper about his decision to return to the opposition PDP and sundry other political issues
What exactly prompted you to leave the PDP at the time you did?
At the time I left the PDP, a series of things happened. If you remember, I was National Vice Chairman of the PDP for the South-West, and suddenly, some people went to court behind us. We were not served any court summons and somebody who claimed to be representing the party as a lawyer was a former legal adviser of the party who lost in the congress. He pretended to be representing the party and they ensured that the court voided my election without my knowing. Because it was not against me, it was against the party, I expected the party to fight like a lion.
Because, first, it is fraud perpetrated against a party and it is injustice. I expected the party to react very stoutly against it. I walked up to the then National Chairman and he was cold. I didn’t know that the other party had reached out to him. That was how I started reconsidering my position within the party.
This is because, first, anywhere I want to be, the dignity of man must not be compromised. Other things also happened. So, you can see there was no way I could operate in such a situation where somebody went and took a jankara judgment. If the party had gone to challenge it, I’m sure even the guy who called himself the party’s lawyer could probably have gone to jail. But I saw that the system had been penetrated and I just thought it was not worth working for.
Meanwhile, I was National Vice Chairman, and while I was the National Vice Chairman, nobody complained. I was paying salaries for the staff in the South-West. I was paying rent. I was responsible for all the running costs of the party, including press advertisements, conferences and so on. The only person that made contributions to the finances of the party then was former deputy governor of Osun State, Erelu Olusola Obada, who was a minister. We asked ministers to contribute N5m each per annum for us to be running the affairs of the South-West. She paid her own. You can ask any other minister. Nobody paid a dime. So, I was running a party from my pocket, even without having enough myself. I remember a singular event; we had a mini-convention where we had everybody at Mrs Afe Babalola’s event centre in Bodija. We spent a total of N5.8m that day because we gave everybody that attended a standard meal and people from all over the South-West were there.
I had already got a house I wanted to purchase for the party and I had got a property trader to purchase a house and to agree with us that, if we were able to pay, within a year, we would not pay more than a premium of 20 per cent, because we knew how much he was buying it. I was doing all this without any personal benefit to me and you can now imagine a group of people coming up to get a jankara judgment behind me and the party. Of course, it was not only me. They started with me. Remember what they did to Olagunsoye Oyinlola as National Secretary and they did same thing to Bode Mustapha, who was also the National Auditor? That was how we all left.
The party was strong in your state and it could have won the last governorship election. But people are saying people like you betrayed it. Why did you do that?
I wasn’t in the party (PDP). I worked for my party. I was a member of the APC. I have no regret. I worked for the APC and I told all of my supporters to work for the APC. So, I have no regrets — ‘that is what I should do’ and I did it.
Was former Governor Ayo Fayose such a bad person that you could not work with him?
It is not that. We were not in the same party. Don’t forget I was Deputy National Chairman of the APC. That was where we met and the APC was in contest, so I was in contest.
The PDP made you governor and the APC made you deputy national chairman. Which of the postings do you value more and which of them was more beneficial to your people in Ekiti?
Obviously, being a governor is more beneficial to my people because, when you are a governor, you can’t compare it to anything else. You are able to touch many lives and more lives. But being deputy national chairman is also a very good opportunity to contribute your quota to how the party is being run. I still believe that, without political parties that are well run, you can’t have democracy that will be stable and good. Some of the problems you are complaining about all over the place now have their roots in the ways political parties are managed. So, it was a very good opportunity for me to also be part of the running of a political party at the highest point.
You teamed up with others like Gov Kayode Fayemi who worked hard to remove you from office and your efforts helped him return to office. What gave you the impression that he could be trusted?
I would do it all over again. That (PDP) was my party and I don’t hold any grudge against Governor Fayemi till tomorrow. He calls me his brother. I call him my brother, and I believe he is my brother indeed. We can play on different sides of the field in the game of politics and that we have done. We played on different sides of the field; we played against one another. We played together. I am ready again that we should play against one another. For me, I don’t see it as what should generate bad blood.
Did you have any agreement with him when he emerged as governor?
I believe I don’t have to have any agreement with him. I don’t believe in all these agreements. When you show somebody that you don’t trust him by putting his hand on paper, ‘please sign this for me,’ it’s like saying ‘I don’t trust you.’ But what makes you think that, because the person has signed a piece of paper, he will then force himself to confirm to your trust? I don’t believe in it. I did not sign any agreement and I didn’t need to sign any agreement with him. All I need is that my people should be taken care of. As far as I’m concerned, if we can have even 10 people today who have benefitted from that government, even as councillors, it would not be easy for us to leave because they would have friends within our team and those friends would convince some other people to save their jobs. It would not have been easy.
(At) the meeting we had on Sunday in my country home, (we had) over 250 people selected from the various local governments, not selected centrally. Each of the local government sent its own people, not a single person said he had benefitted. It was all tales of woe. ‘We paid to contest primaries.’ ‘They took our money; they didn’t return our money and they didn’t allow us to contest primaries.’ How do you want to convince such a person to continue with such a party? Or ‘we wanted to contest party positions in the congress.’ For some, their wards had agreed that they were going to be chairmen or because of the leadership traits they saw in them. But when it was time, they would say no because ‘this is a Segun Oni person’ for a less acceptable person. Even in my ward, former deputy national chairman, I didn’t know how the people who are still officials now were selected. The ward people lined behind one another and voted for a set of people. It was their own election, which they videotaped and sent to the authorities. I didn’t go there — what is my business with a ward chairman or a ward ex-officio member? But they did it; they queued but they selected some people from nowhere. That was why it was easy, for example, to go and do a hatchet job to pronounce me suspended and it was done.
So, it the lack of internal democracy and decency that created some of these feelings. And they were not doing it for the governor; they were doing it for themselves because, if the governor doesn’t make somebody a councillor, will he make himself a councillor? So, we politicians are full of tricks and this is why those of us in positions of authority should learn, so that they are not just using our names to commit crime and we keep quiet.
While I was governor, I told people I didn’t have any interest in who became what at the grassroots. Go and compete among yourselves. Whoever gets it is for me. Whoever does not get it will know that it is his acceptability that is in question. And that has always been my attitude. If we want democracy to continue and do well — and I’m passionate about democracy — we have to encourage internal democracy. We have to ensure that, just like people competing to become a senator among political parties, within the party, whoever the party will send must also compete. I believe that is what we need as Nigeria because the lack of internal democracy is a destabilisation factor that can cost us our democracy, if we are not careful.
What were your expectations and those of your supporters when the APC won Ekiti or won generally?
I expected that they were going to be part of the system. They cannot take more than is their due. But I expect them to get their due.
You know it’s always difficult to return from the courts and be friends again. When you gave the impression that Fayemi would forgive and forget the trauma you made him go through after taking him up to the Supreme Court while fighting for the APC ticket, do you think bygones are bygones?
Let me first explain to you. There is a guideline and the guideline was very clear who could contest the primary. And it was very obvious that the guideline was not followed. It was not even at my instance; it was at the instance of my supporters who insisted we had to go to court. And of course, I knew they were making sense, so I said, ‘Okay, guidelines are clear, yes.’ But I also did a detour by telling the then deputy national chairman, ‘Otunba Adebayo, my people are in court. You are the deputy national chairman. If I were you, because I was in this position before, what I would do is to negotiate them out of court— talk with them and pacify them.’ He promised he was going to do that and, if he had done that, there would have been no need to go to court to that extent. But he didn’t do it. After a while, I kept reminding him, ‘You said you were going to call these people.’ And I told my people, ‘Whenever he calls you, if you have any agreement, agree with him. Don’t bother to come and find out my own view. Whatever is acceptable to you, since it concerns you, is acceptable to me.’ So, I gave them a blank cheque, but he refused. At a stage, when I kept reminding him, he said yes, it was deliberate, he didn’t want to call them and they should go and withdraw from court first. I said, ‘You didn’t tell them that and, if you tell them that and it is not unacceptable to them, it means there is a stalemate. I said, well, I had done my own bit and exactly that. If the party did not want the court case to go on, it knew what to do. I had given them a window, and not a window of arrogance, a window of settlement, and I believe that, if they had used that — yes, I know (in terms of) the courts, there would be stress — even if your case is so good, you can’t be too sure. But then, the window was there, opened very clearly and it was not utilised.
You claimed that none of your supporters had been rewarded or given any appointments in the state. Did you report the matter to party leaders like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Adams Oshiomhole and others?
I’m sure they do know. I was suspended from my ward by people who were not elected to run the ward, who were imposed themselves because they knew the agenda they were going there to do anyway. When I was pronounced suspended, a few of my top people were also pronounced suspended in their own various wards. I said I was not going to write but they insisted. They wrote on behalf of all of us, including me, to the national chairman, explaining what happened. Up till today, we were not dignified with an acknowledgement saying, ‘We received your letter of protest and we are looking at it.’ And it’s been about a year or more now. So, what could we have done that we didn’t do?
Let me take you back to history. You remember that when Chief Clement Ebri joined our party, within three months of his joining, he was suspended at his ward for anti-party activities. He didn’t complain. I read it in the newspapers and invited all of them. I told them, ‘I cannot invite you here to come and be stating your case against Ebri because he is a former governor of Cross River. I cannot say a former governor cannot make mistakes but it is not at your level to put him to judgment. We are not running a party that will denigrate and disrespect people at will. Many of the people who are ward executives are holding their first positions of responsibility. Many of them have never worked in the public or private sector to such an extent that they have clout and experience. You can imagine such people inviting a former governor and saying they have suspended him. I said, ‘No, the fact that we call ourselves a political party, we must also respect ourselves. Go and give Chief Clement Ebri a letter of apology. That is why he is still in the party today.’ I don’t expect that people will hear that a former governor of Ekiti State who is also a former deputy national chairman of a party is suspended at his ward and nobody will think that this is worth talking seriously about.
For me, it is an omission, a gap, that will come back to haunt some other people. That is why a sitting national chairman is being suspended at his ward, somebody that all of us elected at a national convention, which means he is no longer a ward fry. A ward would come together and say they are suspending him because, when such happened, they did not react. I am grateful to God that, today, I reacted in the case of Ebri. Unfortunately, and this is the regret I have, by the time they were doing constitutional amendment, I had left to contest the governorship. If I was still in office then, I would have caused the constitutional amendment to say, the level that you reach is the level at which you will always be tried. We are not saying your ward cannot report you but, if you were a member of the House of Assembly, your ward would report you to the state and the state would then put you to trial and judgment. If you were a former or present member of the National Working Committee, you wouldn’t be tried below the level of the NWC. And it is only by that there would be dignity. I can tell you there can be a president, either former or sitting, that a group of boys will decide in his ward to suspend, if they continue to operate the present constitution they have. So, we should think and we should act so the future will not continue to be in chaos.
When you discussed with Fayose and Senator Abiodun Olujimi about your desire to return to their fold, what was their reaction?
Of course, they were happy. What do you expect their reaction to be? We had operated together. All of us have our different strengths and weaknesses. If we combine our strengths, it means we have a better chance.
Are you sure they genuinely welcomed you?
I believe so.
Now that you are back in the PDP fold, what exactly are you back for? Are you still interested in the governorship?
Number one, I told people, I am back into full dignity and respect. I don’t like being disrespected and from what I’ve said now, you would have seen a lot of disrespect. I don’t disrespect people and I don’t want anybody to disrespect me, I don’t like being disrespected.
Number two, I believe the PDP has a very good chance of being the dominant party. We knew how fragile the situation was even at the last elections, so if I join hands with them, I know — I’m complaining now, none of my people, none of this and that. If we conduct a survey, how many of the other governorship aspirants who didn’t even go to court have their people in anything? Senator (Babafemi) Ojodu, for example, how many councillors or members does he have in the executive of the party today at his ward level or anything? That will tell you. They are all not in it. When you disrespect people, they can only keep quiet for as long as they don’t have an opportunity to pay you back. So, the party had already created for itself hatred even within its own fold. It only requires not even a very strong candidate but a united party to tumble time over. You will see when the time comes.
Are you still interested in the governorship?
I don’t want to start talking about governorship. First, let’s talk about party membership. When the time comes, we will see what will happen.
Some are saying your return to the PDP is a homecoming. Some are saying it is like a dog going back to its vomit because you had used harsh words against the PDP during the contest for the government you helped install in Ekiti.
I don’t have any regrets. Let me first say this. The politics we are playing now is not ideology-driven, so it’s different. You can’t become a socialist overnight if you’re a capitalist. But it is preference-driven, based on what you see that is attractive to you in one party or the other. So, as it is now, it is not more than playing professional football. And when you play professional football, you speak out for whichever side you play for. And you have no regrets if you score. If your country does not have you on its team and another country puts you and you are eligible to represent it, you will score against your country and you won’t have any regrets. You will even be happy to celebrate your goal. So, let me say very clearly, ‘I don’t have any regrets about whatever I have said.’ I won’t lie. I don’t lie. So, yes I have a tendency; I can use harsh words.
Also, let me confess something to you. We were driven by expectations of change that we believed would happen on the horizon. So, we were ready to go to any length to preach that change and I believe very much in it. Don’t ask me if my expectations were met, but then, we were like players on the circuit and we played really hard. Whether what we played for was worth it is a different ballgame.
You have tasted both sides now. Where do you think democracy is better practised in terms of processes and procedures?
Let me say this and I want to say it without fear or favour, I think it’s better in the PDP. PDP is better. When we came to the APC, we tried to make sure that was upheld. Don’t forget there was an NWC minus the national chairman and there were primaries, of which they sat on any appeal. I remember a case of Ondo State, Senator (Tayo) Alasoadura versus (Ifedayo) Abegunde, former member of the House of Representatives, who is currently the Secretary to the State Government. We had to bring all the ballot papers. Because I was the chairman of the nomination process, I said one of my colleagues should volunteer to be Abegunde’s agent, another should volunteer to be Alasoadura’s agent. Supported by two other people, we nominated a presiding officer. We sat and, seriously, we were looking at it ballot paper by ballot paper. And when there were ballot papers that were clumsily written — all these things were written — we took them round the NWC to know what it should mean. When we had finished sorting and it was very closed, I tell you, the presiding officer counted and announced the result. I tell you, Abegunde did not protest because, though they (he and Alasoadura) were not there, he knew that justice had been done. I’m sure Senator Alasoadura himself would feel fulfilled that it was not what somebody would say maybe he bought. That was how we did it. From what we are seeing, I don’t think they are operating at that kind of level. In my own state, there was no primary. They handpicked. The worst thing is that for those people who paid to have primaries, their monies were not returned to them. They are party members. How can you treat your members like that? Taking money from them and not giving them an opportunity to contest? And you are not even returning their money to them to say ‘we are very sorry, please have your money.’ Maybe they would think and maybe by tomorrow, they will take a decision at the working committee to return the money of everybody who paid to contest primaries for whom no primary happened all over Nigeria. So, when you talk about intra-party democracy, one of the reasons Iam going back (to the PDP) is because human dignity is more enhanced where you allow intra-party dignity. I will always go for human dignity.
What exactly do you want?
What do I want? What do I need? I am such a person who is ordinarily contented but I want to see human dignity always respected and always at work.
Do you think the PDP has what it takes to sack the APC come the next election in Ekiti?
When the PDP was in charge, the number of governors they were controlling versus the total number of governors that the total number of governors that joined together in opposition were controlling, you know, the gap was still very heavy. The gap now is maybe four or five states. That means it is close enough that you can call it, even now, anybody’s game. If you can call it anybody’s game now, more than two years to go, you don’t need a crystal ball because it is the party in power that can make mistakes. And every mistake they make will reduce from that edge they have. Therefore, if they have an edge of four states, for example, before we get to the general elections, it can reduce to even negative. And it is easier to make a mistake when you are in power. So, as to the issue of where it will go, I don’t have to go and check a crystal ball anywhere. If the PDP does not throw it away due to whatever would be its own mistake, then it is the next government in waiting. The probability of an implosion is still there. There are people in the APC who are still saying they are not happy as a result of what is going on. If four, five or six governors are removed, then it gives even a clear majority to the PDP. Even without that clear majority, it’s so close now that you can begin to call it ‘too close to call.’ It’s a matter of who will do a better job.
Are your talking to the likes of Prince Adebayo Adeyeye to join you to return home?
He’s my friend, but I’m not talking to him yet. The reason I’m not talking to him is that I believe he needs to first cool down and take his decisions based on the facts that would be in his hands.
Do you think the PDP will be in charge of the South-West, come 2023, based on the performance of the party now?
Former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola is back. That is the beginning. The PDP has a base now — one governor that is young, cerebral and agile. So, if you call him to any meeting at midnight, he is ready to get into his car and go. We will work with him. Like I told you, as fast as I’m concerned, it’s like moving from one premiership club to another. Wherever we are, we have to justify our name and our jersey numbers. It is unfortunate because there are people that we are leaving behind that we had developed strong bonds with such that we are like family already. Because of that, I’m not even sure what will happen to some of those people.
What do you think the chances of people like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, should they contest election in 2023?
Building the party is the goal of every genuine member of the PDP today.