We have seen the negative. In fact, it is as if we don’t have a president in the Villa, maybe, a resident.
With diminishing fortunes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to retain power, at the centre, beyond 2023 and the ghost of 16-year ‘misrule’ still haunting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), proposing a new mega party before the next general election, according to a former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, does not sound feasible, even as he retorted, “it’s not impossible.” Oyinlola spoke on national issues during an interaction with journalists as he celebrates his entry into the septuagenarian club after clocking 70 last Wednesday. TUNJI OMOFOYE was there.
What do you make of plans by some politicians to float a mega party to fight APC and PDP?
It is not too feasible, but I will say nothing is impossible. We were saying merger was not possible until it happened in 2015. So, anything in politics can happen, but it depends on those making the move. The merger of 2015 was successful, because at the point of merging, there were about 16 governors on the side of forces against the party, so, the balance of force was almost the same.
The only difference was one was still sitting in government. But, who and who will form the government so that the experience of APC will not be the result? If you want to make a meaningful result have a good number of incumbent governors, you just of necessity have to poach some to achieve the same end. So, if you are able to got up to ten or twelve governors, with all other stakeholders, that’s enough to make waves.
If you are to meet President Buhari today, what would you tell him about the style of his government?
I will tell him, sir, you have not done well sir! Yes, he badly fell short of everyone’s expectation. Because with the benefit that he has served the country before as a military man, he ought to know where to start and how to drive things, but that has not happened. We have seen the negative. In fact, it is as if we don’t have a president in the Villa, maybe, a resident.
Why did you dump PDP after almost two terms as governor?
I didn’t dump PDP. PDP dumped me. I was the party’s National Secretary and I felt the leadership, as at that time was not running the party in line with the tenets of our constitution, so I was also there to tell him. I am not just a politician, but also a lawyer. So, I tried to put him on the path of the law, because many times, he would go contrary to the law and dictates of the Constitution. And they felt there is need to remove me as the National Secretary.
The plot succeeded through a suit against me stating that I was not properly nominated from Southwest before I became the National Secretary. There is nothing like that in our constitution. The process of getting elected to the National Working Committee is that a position will be zoned to a place; any interested applicant would go and take their form and go for election. That’s exactly what I did. I bought my form, campaigned for my position and I was elected at the Eagles Square. What brought about the idea that I was not nominated was just an excuse to get rid of me as the National Secretary, because Justice Abdul Kafarati, was perfectly in the pocket of late Senator Kashamu Buruji.
When I was removed, some of the governors felt that President Jonathan breached their agreement, which was not known to me initially. It was that the President should give us the chairman; the Governors’ Forum will provide the secretary. I still had two months to go in Law School, when they came and met me. They said the secretaryship was zoned to Southwest, we have x-rayed all those showing interest to become the National Secretary, but not pleased with their character and what have you. I said okay; let’s look for other people. It was in my house in Abuja that Osun endorsed Ebenezer Babatope. They said they have thought of everybody and that they have come up with possible suggestions and it was I. That was 16 days to the national convention. So, I said no that you people are trying to stir up trouble in this party. 16 days to convention, we have people jostling for this position, the likes of Prof. (Tunde) Adeniran, Sarumi in Lagos, Prof. (Taoheed) Adedoja, they have been there on the field. They said no, that it’s not their business.
They have decided I should be and I said okay, if that will work, we need to take certain steps, first of all, tell Jonathan that I am your candidate, if he agrees to that, that’s your first hurdle, the second hurdle, let Jonathan call Obasanjo and tell him that he wants to use Oyinlola as the Secretary of the party, if Obasanjo says yes, then let us go ahead. Why I was requesting that the President must call Obasanjo was because of those who have been out there before me in the Southwest, so that he can let them know that it was not my decision and that I was not stabbing anybody at the back. That was the decision and it went like that. But, after some time, he called Baba (Obasanjo) when he was in, I think, China.
So, he called me and said President Jonathan has called him. Though, after the governors left me, I called him to let him know and he agreed to the procedures I put through to them to get through the exercise, so he called me that Mr. President has contacted him so, I can go and see him.
I went to see him and he said yes, he would have called me even earlier, because you cannot poach in the Southwest without Baba’s endorsement and that’s why I have been holding to see Baba, he has seen me and he has given me his blessings that I should be the National Secretary. We went for the election and we got elected. So, now, the issue of second term came and they were feeling that Oyinlola would not go along with the plan to make Jonathan run. Whatever is wrong anywhere, and convinced in my mind that it is wrong; you will never see me there. I will never interfere no matter what it was going to cost. So, I felt that in the first instance, they have not asked me, but I was able to deduce that they thought without asking that I will not go along with that plan.
That reminds me of a bully in my school, if he wants to beat you and cannot find any excuse at all, he will just stare at your face like that and say “this your twitching lips want to abuse me,” then he gives you a slap. I mean, allow the mouth to abuse you first before reacting now. That’s exactly what they did. They went to court on a cooked up, unrelated charges and the judge pronounced that I am no longer the Secretary of the party. I went on appeal and a panel of three judges lambasted the judge, that at the first instance, he grossly misapplied the law. Okay, let me go back, they will not allow me to go back to my office; the next thing I heard was that I am being suspended.
That negates the letters of the Constitution, which says if any member commits offence, you must tell him of his charges, let him reply and if his reply is not clear enough, you refer him before a disciplinary committee. One, you have not alleged anything against me, you just said I am suspended, I’m fact, that action came the next day after I got the judgment of the Court of Appeal. The judgment was delivered on Thursday and on Friday they said I was suspended. How will you suspended me, when you have not gone through the procedure. So, it became a matter of Presidency and the Governors’ Forum. That was when seven governors said, you abridged the agreement, if the secretary has gone, then, the chairman must go, Bamangar Tukur must go! That was how we started the movement.
For of all, we went and formed the New PDP, with (Kawu) Baraje as chairman. As a matter of fact, it was a kind of peer group effect he wanted, so that we will call, we would agree and disagree. Some people emboldened the National Chairman that the seven governors have no electoral consequence and he bought into that.
How can you say seven incumbent governors have no electoral value? How Mr. President bought into that, I still don’t know till tomorrow, but that was what cost PDP the election. I say so, because if you tally the votes, though, two bought into the retreat, Jigawa and Niger, but their people had already subscribed to our movement. The seven states voted massively for Buhari. So, if you deduct the votes from those seven states, from Buhari’s total scores, it is clear.
So, when it came to the decision of moving into APC, my followers in Osun came to me, asking how are we going to join hands with the APC with regards to what they have done to us here, I say, well, this battle is not mine; it’s a collective decision. The seven governors cannot be fighting my course and I will be going the other way round. Yes, if I am to consider what happened, yea, there shouldn’t be any relationship but looking at the national picture, where we have all decided; the new PDP decided to move, on account of my illegal removal, because that is the beginning of PDP crisis, that was what forced those governor’s to form new PDP and moved. So, that was the genesis, I cannot extricate myself from the common decision as a result of what has happened to us or what APC has done to us in Osun State. And, I told my followership that this fight is because of me; you may decide to stay wherever you want to.
But the thinking was that you followed Obasanjo, because he influences you and was already working for General Buhari…
No, that is the mistake people make. The last human being to accept Buhari’s candidature was Obasanjo and I say that with every emphasis, because I was involved. Yes, Baba had fallen out with Jonathan, but in his projection, it was AOBJ (Any option, but Jonathan). That was his style, any option, but Jonathan. Now, taking a cursory look at the candidates that were coming from other parties, there is no other person we felt could handle the delicate governance of Nigeria better than Buhari among the contenders and that was why the choice of Buhari became the order, coupled with the fact that he has been at the helm of affairs in this country under the military. So, he had that wide edge over all others. I can tell you, it took the team of Saraki, Amosun, Bola Tinubu, Kashim Imam and myself that went and bombarded Baba at around 7am, that was when he succumbed to our pressure. He said that Buhari that he knows would try in the area of military matters, after that one, he said he knows next to nothing; not economy, not foreign affairs and he has been proved just right.
With hindsight, do you regret supporting Buhari?
When he appointed me as the chairman of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), on a part time level, I didn’t feel that that’s what should be my take, given the efforts put in. If really you want to serve, you serve in any position, not looking for money to build house or send anybody to school. And that’s why I accepted, but why I had to resign was when, what we have discussed, what we made the manifestoes of our party was being denied. That’s restructuring. When the President said he doesn’t know the meaning of restructuring. I know I was in all the meetings with the Afenifere, with the Southwest, the principal reason those ones bought into the project was because of restructuring, only for my President to say he doesn’t know the meaning of restructuring. I felt deceived and to show it, that’s why I told him he should keep his appointment.
That aside, some PDP stalwarts also feel you quit APC again, because Obasanjo also abandoned the party…
No, no, that’s not because of it. I have told you why. If I should say President, I don’t want your job, that’s the main reason, there is no other reason. You have used me in my own little way to deceive other people and when the history of my race is being told, I don’t want anybody to tell it negatively. That’s why and I have that at the back of my mind. Even, when I was the Military Administrator of Lagos State, no bullet will leave my barrel in pursuit of anything and I thank God I left Lagos without firing any barrel despite the fact that that happened to be the turbulent part in the history of Lagos State.
The entire Northeast, where you served in different military formations as brigade commander, battalion Commander, and acting GOC is in turmoil. Does that make you feel like your generation has failed to secure the country?
Well, I wouldn’t say my generation alone. The entire country has failed, because each and everyone have a part to play in shaping the country’s future. When I was the Battalion Commander in Bama, I served at Lake Chad area and we dominated the place, such that no bandits, no kidnappers, no herders came to oppress our people. On that part of our lake, Nigeria had 25 per cent of the lake and Doro, which is the first place to board a flight boat to Kinasara, the farthest village. On the 25 per cent of the Lake that belongs to Nigeria, it will take you eleven hours by flying boat.
So, we dominated. If you listened to the Sultan’s interview, he explained how his battalion dominated the Lake Chad area; he was a lieutenant under my command in the battalion. Yes, we dominated so that no intruder from Chad ever came to that place. Now, after service as Military Administrator of Lagos State, I was posted to Maiduguri as Brigade Commander.
And, there are three battalions rotating duty for six months in the Lake. So, we all know every link of that lake that belongs to Nigeria. One peculiarity of the Lake Chad area was that anytime that there is change of government in Lake Chad, it’s usually violent change, they would move from Njamena and settled at Lake Chad area to regroup, and take it up in their own part of the Lake. And so, one has been able to put a finger on the trouble spot, and we were able to curtail it by putting troops on ground through rotation. Now, after Lagos, Col Ozodinobi was in charge of Borno, though my junior, he invited me to a security meeting and at the meeting, we were trying to see how to forestall any security breach in the state. But, one potent danger to the security situation in Borno then was the prevalence of thousands of Almajiri in the town. The Dogoyaro (Nim) tree is about the only tree that thrives in Maiduguri. And minimally, under each tree, you will find around 15 to 30 Almajiri taking Quranic studies. We said look, this is potent danger for the future, if these ones will grow up to become men and they have no means of livelihood, they have to fend for themselves in whichever way. So, we were suggesting that more classrooms should be constructed so as to accommodate them in schools, where Quranic studies will be taken. And surprisingly, one of the Commissioners at the meeting said if we do that, the Mallams (the Quranic teachers) would be thrown out of job.
I was so furious and told him that if you are one of those unfortunate Almajiri under the tree and you have no basic education, would you be in this meeting? You would be under the Dogoyaro trees too and let me tell you, if nothing is done now and we leave them to grow up to be men, many of you will not sleep again. I told him at the meeting you all that think you are big men will not sleep again.
They will break your house by day time, they are grown-ups and they must feed and if there is no social means of livelihood, it would be every time robbery. They have grown and that’s why we have trouble there and the orientation, educationally is, obey Mallam.
Some people consider your movement from new PDP to APC and back to PDP as political prostitution…
No, it is not. If you look at the circumstances that made me move, it cannot be considered inconsistency. I didn’t do anything wrong, they moved against me in PDP, they removed me. I went and joined APC, what we agreed to do, you reneged and I said, I can’t be party to that kind of party. Restructuring was the major thing we sold to Southwest and it makes Adebanjo to key in into Buhari’s project. So, when he (Buhari) said he doesn’t know the meaning of restructuring, I left. It’s a matter of defending one’s principle.
Did anybody tell you that I had a bargain with any party before joining? Never! I came to APC, they said Senator, I said no, they asked my child to go to the House of Assembly, I said no. Why will the first benefit of coming to a party be found in my pocket and that’s why there were three persons from Okuku among those vying for the House of Assembly. I invited them into a room there and said give me one honourable for me to submit his name. They came and said they can’t pick themselves and that they have agreed that anybody I picked they will support and it was simple, there are factions in Odo-Otin, one is being supported and the other one called his name integrity, the one that has no supporter was the one that I submitted his name. Hon Laolu Oyediran.
Then again, they asked my son to come and be Commissioner, I said no. I foresaw a situation in future, where people will say it’s because of position that I moved and when I was moving with late Isiaka Adeleke, oh, he told them what he wanted and they gave him, we moved together, they asked me and I said I don’t want anything, because of the future and that’s why I can talk to anybody anyhow and at anytime, because there was no agreement. It was voluntary, because of the integrity I am protecting, to come and join.
There is speculation that you are angling for the position of PDP national chairman, how true is it?
How will any progressive mind not aim for higher plain? One thing is certain, if it’s zoned to the Southwest and I am able to mobilise enough support, I will throw in my cap. But, the first thing is that let it be zoned to the Southwest, because they do zoning. Some people have been spreading the rumour that I am being brought back to become national chairman. And I said, you people have been running around, begging everybody for Oyinlola to come back, now you have succeeded, in fact, when I was trying to resolve the differences in the party, I had cause to meet with the national chairman, (Prince Uche) Secondus. I told him that have been told of the suggestion that Col. Austin Akobundu should resign, and I asked him that I was also told they have carried a story to him that I am being brought to upstage you as the National Chairman, is there no zoning again? Because as the National Secretary of the party before I left, I know there was zoning. If the national chairmanship is zoned to the South/South, will I come and contest with you there? He said no.
So, if it is zoned to the Southwest and I am able to muster the support of the leaders and party men, I have every qualification to be. For ten years of my life I have been governor, two and half in Lagos, seven and half in Osun. I have been the PDP National Secretary, which means I have worked hand in hand with the national chairman and the Secretariat, what other experience do you want in a man to lead a party? So, if it’s zoned to Southwest and I am able to muster the support, because it needs support, you can’t just jump out and contest. Like the time I became the National Secretary, it was the support I got from the governors that made me to say I am going in and that’s why it was yours truly. So, if I see that kind of support, why wouldn’t I? It’s a call to service.
But, we heard that some bigwigs, including Governor Seyi Makinde, are working hard to ensure that you become the national chairman?
If Governor Seyi Makinde wants me to emerge as national chairman to boost the influence of PDP in Southwest, what is wrong in that? I don’t see anything wrong. He has not told me that he is pushing for me, but if one of the reasons he wants me to be is to boost PDP in the Southwest, why not. One of the reasons he wanted me back in PDP was for leadership role of settling dispute within and we have worked enough to know the problems in the two states we have worked so far, Oyo and Ogun.
They say President Buhari is not listening to his superiors or those that serve with him in the Army, does that include you?
Who is he listening to? Does he listen to his wife? So, you can’t talk of any other person. If his wife shouts that he doesn’t listen to her, then who are we? That’s his better half.
Do you see Amotekun as enough response to insecurity in Southwest?
If well organised and equipped, it is well enough. And I don’t see any difficulty in nipping insecurity. When I was governor here (Osun), I could from my car monitor what is going on in all the thirty Local Government Areas, because I deployed communication network directly with all the security agencies, with all the DPOs in Osun and from my car, I can monitor what is going on. If there is a robbery going on somewhere, I can call and alert the security close by. That was why we had few cases of insecurity in the state.
Nigeria’s unity seems to be under serious threat, what are your candid views and the way out?
At no time has this country been so divided along every front, including ethnicity and religion. In all the frontlines, it has been made more pronounced under this administration and if care is not taken, we may be heading for the precipice. My candid opinion, which I believe is the opinion of so many Nigerians, is for us to discuss or renegotiate our basis or the basis of our togetherness. In a nutshell, either we go to a conference, which I think will not be necessary, because we have a report of the confab that was well conducted. We can dust the document and implement what is inside or let us restructure. We had a federal administration from 1960 to 1966 during which every region ran its own area according to the needs and desires of their people. There were healthy rivalries between the regions. Pa Awolowo was running his own free education; others were copying it all over. That’s healthy rivalry, so the best bet, if it’s not going to be a blow out, is for us to look at restructuring of the country.
Would you advocate a situation where former Heads of State come join hands to look at the issue and find a lasting solution?
We are called a Federal Republic; there are ways and manners in which the federal state is run. Why can’t we keep to the letters of a federation? Where we took it from, we saw how institutions have made democracy to prevail, just of recent in (United States of) America. So, he would have subscribed to the style of administration in governance; why can’t we sustain the tenets and keep to the dictates of a federation. I run my educational scheme the way it suites my people and not a straitjacket educational system running from Borno to Osun states. No, that will not work. The police issue, we had local police in the Western Region and those were police drawn from localities.
There is no how a rogue will steal within a community and they will not get him. They know all the bad boys within the vicinity. Where we drew the federal system from, they have state police; the laws of one piece cannot override the other. I remember my last visit to America and a security was detailed to go along with me wherever I went. Now, I was to buy a golf equipment, but I have to cross to another state to the ship, where I want to get the golf equipment, the security man said, well, he has no authority to cross from here to there.
He didn’t go with me, because his jurisdiction did not cross to the other state. So, I went on my own since I know I won’t be unlucky to come across any hazard; I bought the golf equipment and he was waiting for me and I joined him until he accompanied me throughout my journey until I returned. That’s where we took the federal system. It has been bastardised by the military rule, but why can’t we go back? Because it suites some people to keep the unitary system alive, where things are skewed in their favour. Appointments, development; so, they won’t want to let go