A former Commissioner for Information in Ondo State and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in the state, who recently accused Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of mismanaging the state’s resources, Mr Banji Ayiloge, tells PETER DADA why the Presidency should come to the South-West in 2023
After your recent criticism of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, the leadership of the All Progressives Congress in your local government area disowned you, saying you were not a member of the party. So why have you been claiming to be a member of the APC?
As of today, even the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, is not a registered member of the APC in Ondo State, though he won the last governorship election on the platform of the party. There are two reasons for this: he defected to the Action Alliance. That’s his party and that was why he was suspended from the APC. Then he imposed his team known as ‘Team Aketi’ (on the people). There was no meeting anywhere in the state and the people we have in the state as APC members are those people who were with him during the election. They are only masquerading as APC members in Ondo State. These people form only about 25 per cent of the members of the party in the state, while our group, Unity Forum, makes up about 75 per cent of the members of the party. I am a member of that forum.
Those claiming that I am not a member of the party in Ifedore Local Government Area are the same people handpicked by Akeredolu as officers of the party in the area. What do you expect them to say? However, some of them have apologised to me, saying they had to do it. I was with some of them in Adebayo Adefarati’s administration. For them to turn round and say they don’t know me is ridiculous. Apart from that, I was the chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change in the state and even represented the South-West region at a point. The communiqué urging the CPC to merge with other political parties was sponsored by me and sent to Tony Momoh, who was the chairman of the CPC at that time. So how would somebody now say a foundation member of the APC was never a member of the party because he travelled out of the country?
The next step for the Unity Forum is to reform the party because there haven’t been meetings of APC members anywhere in the state. What we have is the Aketi team calling themselves the Continuity Forum. This is very dangerous for the party because I see Akeredolu trying to scuttle the chances of the party in the election because he has been financing the AA under which his people contested the last election.
In other words, I am not an ordinary member of the party but a leading contender to be the next governor of the state next year, by the grace of God. And if election is held today, I am sure I will defeat Akeredolu.
So you are already sure that you will contest the next governorship election in Ondo State…
Yes, I am even a leading contender, as I said.
But you were once an ardent supporter of Akeredolu, at what point did things go wrong between the two of you?
When Akeredolu wanted to contest 2011, he came to my house and begged for my support. He selected me as the director-general of his campaign group and the first question I asked him was which part of the state was he from. This is because at that time, I was trying to shop for a candidate for the ACN (the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria) because the party was weighing the option of picking its candidate from the northern senatorial district while the incumbent then, Olusegun Mimiko, hailed from the Central district, just like me.
And I thought it would be politically unwise to pick the governor from the Central district again, though there was no rule against that. I was looking for a credible candidate to support then but not from the Central district. When he came to me with his profile as the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and after being convinced by a friend that he belonged to the progressive movement, we supported him and started working for him.
There is something I want you to know about electioneering; the way you run your campaign is the way you are likely to run your government. If you run a lousy campaign, you’re going to run a lousy government. Everything we told him not to do, he did it, so before the end of that campaign, I was sure of the kind of governor he would be. At a point, I went to see Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (APC national leader) to complain about him but he (Tinubu) said I brought him on board and persuaded me to go back and work for him. He was just too erratic and when he was running for office again, I didn’t do anything (to support him); I folded my arms.
If the national leadership of your party directed you to go and work for his reelection, will you not agree?
I don’t think they will do something like that. Politics doesn’t work that way. They have been here before and they did not ask me to follow Akeredolu blindly. They listened to us and we reached an agreement and the agreement was not followed. I am sure they will return to find out why the agreement was not followed.
In one of your previous interviews, you described Akeredolu as the worst governor ever produced in the state. Are you criticising him because you are interested in his position?
Yes, I still maintain that because it is very clear to all. What is his achievement? The late Adekunle Ajasin was a governor and he was able to perform with little resources then, and even gave scholarships to people studying overseas. All we can see now is a flyover on a federal road in Ore, which has not even been completed. In 2015, the annual federal allocation to the state was about N53bn but by 2016, it went to N76bn and by 2017 when Akeredolu took over, it went to about N80bn and it has been rising since then, but what are we showing for it?
I thought the former governor, Olusegun Mimiko, was lousy but when you compare him with Akeredolu, you will want to commend Mimiko. The Office of the First Lady was created and the First Lady behaves like she is the governor while the governor goes about doing nothing.
But civil servants have been praising him for paying their salaries as and when due, is that not a plus for him?
Why will he not be able to pay salaries after getting N80bn as federal allocation annually? Within two months, he should clear the backlog. How dare you praise a governor for paying wages? If I were governor, I would borrow to pay wages because if you work, you must be paid. Workers deserve their wages. If they are denied their wages, it will affect the economy. No state should owe anyone their salary.
You are one of those who supported the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to get to power but he has since disappointed many Nigerians; do you regret supporting him to get to power?
I think people should look at it from the perspective that there is no government that can perform magic in Nigeria. But since Buhari got there, we can see improvements. We can see some infrastructure being put in place and we can look at his fight against corruption. However, we hope to see Buhari stabilise the anti-corruption fight and block loopholes through which public funds are stolen. That way, the next person that takes over from him will consolidate that.
Are you saying there is no problem with the regime of the President, Major General Buhari (retd.)?
The defect in Buhari’s government is there because of the political situation in the country. People like us have been talking about devolution of power or restructuring. For instance, when people ask me how President Donald Trump is doing in the United States, I just laugh. We only read those things on the pages of newspapers. If the mayor of my town was behaving like Trump, I would have been back home (in Nigeria). The mayor is responsible for clearing garbage, paving local roads, and the town generally. The local government allocates money to pave local government roads, so we don’t care about whatever Trump does.
I have been talking about restructuring for the past 20 years.
But your party, the APC, is in power and has shunned every move made by Nigerians to get the Buhari regime to restructure?
Our party supports it. If you looked at the manifesto of the party when it contested in 2015, you would see that it was there. Besides, I am saying I support it. You said the party has not been supporting it. Well, for the rest of my life, I will be building a coalition of people that will support it in my party to make sure that we restructure the country. This is not a military era, we have to debate it. Even in the USA, there are people who don’t like Trump in the Republican Party. If I were a state governor, I would push for restructuring and make sure I had enough reasons to back it up.
So what is your position on the recommendations of the report of the National Conference of 2014?
There are very good things in the 2014 confab that I like and I am sure there may be some that I would not like. We have to look at the report. We can’t just throw everything in the dustbin. But unfortunately, we don’t have any of our governors in the South-West talking about it anymore. For 20 years, I have been preaching it (restructuring). I was a part of the defunct National Democratic Coalition.
What do you think will be the future of the APC if the power remains in the North beyond 2023?
Come 2023, power belongs to the South-West; that is the only way the party can exist. Equity demands that people should support the power shift to the South-West; there is no doubt about that. If the power does not shift to the South-West, then it is bye-bye to the party. What did we labour for?
We are not fools. Let me tell you, when you look at the multi-ethnic setting of the country, for the next 50 years, there must be provision for zoning to reassure each region at the national level (that they belong to Nigeria). We have had Fulani, we have had Yoruba, and we have had Ijaw and Hausa. So if Buhari tried three times in the past and failed, and on his fourth attempt, formed an alliance with other parts of the country, especially the South-West, to win, then I think it is only fair to let other people try it.
Even if there is no zoning in the constitution of the party, the sentiment now is that the Presidency should go to the South-West and not to remain in the North. That would destabilise the party. What should we tell our South-West people? Are we going to tell them that we are there to play second fiddle (to the North)? It is not going to work if power does not come to the South-West.
People believe Nigeria will have problems if its electoral system is faulty and the electoral system has faced serious criticisms since the regime of Major General Buhari (retd.) started. For instance, the APC won the recent Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections amidst violence and massive electoral malpractices; what do you make of this?
I can see that our electoral system needs to be updated. We should not wait till the next general elections. What people should do is to push their legislators to get a proposal to make it work. There is no perfect election anywhere in the world. However, people should look at the mistakes of the past and push their legislators to make corrections.
In the case of Kogi and Bayelsa elections, I don’t have on-the-spot assessments of the polls. However, the mistakes made there can be corrected before the governorship election in Ondo State. We don’t like violence and don’t want a repeat of 1983 electoral violence. People like me have been shouting and what we are saying is that violence should be prevented in the state.