By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, & James Ezema
On June 20, the Ibeju-Lekki Federal Constituency bye-election was conducted. The contest was between PDP and AD, but actually, PDP contested against AC which supported AD. Despite the support, PDP still won the election. However, Hon Okanlawon Soniyi, the PDP candidate, who insisted that AC cannot win elections in Ibeju-Lekki in this interview, spoke on the factors that made PDP win the poll. Excerpts:
How would you describe the character of Ibeju-Lekki politics in view of the fact that the local government is dominated by the PDP in an AC-controlled Lagos State?
Some of us who are leaders in the area are respected by the electorate. When we agree to go a particular way, don’t look back, And that was the position in 1999. We all decided to be members of ANPP because we did not believe we should be cheated. We believe that weâ€™re being cheated in that place and we sat down and convinced ourselves that the party to follow was ANPP and we won all the elections in 1999 for ANPP while AD was everywhere in Lagos State and South -West.
So that was the decision. Along the line there were overtures and we decided to go into AD and we were all there again embloc. In the course of staying there, there were crises here and there, we tried to settle , but at the end of the day, the decision was so sharp that we left for PDP; myself and some other people led by Alhaji Otunba Bode Oyidele. He led us out of AD then to PDP.
And we believe that we are still strong enough to hold the forth and we have been in-charge of Ibeju-Lekki as far as politics of the area is concerned. And we demonstrated this in 2003 and in 2007 because we left AD in 2004 and 2007, we won the elections except the House of Reps election.
And what happened then was that one of our strong holds in Ward I was cancelled by INEC and we felt terribly aggrieved because if that ward was not cancelled, we would have won outright because we won the two Houses of Assembly, we won the Senate, we won the presidential election; all the elections we won in 2007. And at the end of the day, INEC declared AC as the winner by 134 votes. we never believed it.
When we had the gubernatorial and House of Assembly election, we felt like going home to sleep because the margin was wide. So, we were embarrassed by the result that came when they conducted the House of Representatives election. Thatâ€™s why we went to the tribunal to prove that the result of that Ward should not have been cancelled and if it was not cancelled, we would have won outright. During the process of doing this, the lawyers discovered some other things and that was the certificate thing. And that was part of our prayers.
We said that â€˜ok, we won the election, beside that, this man was not qualified to be there educationally in line with the Constitution and Electoral Act, 2006â€™. So, the tribunal agreed with us that he didnâ€™t qualify, and of course, they didnâ€™t agree with us that we won that election. So, we still felt dissatisfied and we went to Appeal Court.
At the Appeal Court, we were all processing the filling, surprisingly, Tunde. Isiak was the first person to appeal against the judgement and he claimed that he possessed the certificate. So, he became the main appellant while we were the respondent appellant at the Court of Appeal. And then, the whole thing is history now, at the end of the day, Court of Appeal really made a categorical statement that the man forged the certificate.
The language our lawyer used at the tribunal was that he did not qualify and stated the reasons but the Court of Appeal affirmed that he forged the certificate and that our appeal is no more relevant, that if somebody is disqualified as a result of educational qualification, it is as if there was no election, So, it did not arise that we should appeal against something that does not exist.
So, it ordered a rerun election. And that was different from the tribunalâ€™s ruling that we should go for fresh election. The tribunal ruling has its own implication; may be all other parties would have been involved. But the Appeal Court decision was rerun, and that means everything has closed (for fielding new candidates), only the parties that remained, excluding the AC which fielded a candidate without educational qualification. So, we went for the election and we found justice.
You said earlier that in all the elections, PDP won Ibeju-Lekki, and that AC won House of Representatives by by 134 votes….?
AC won by 134 votes but we have been vindicated. Go and check the record, it was landslide this time around. That ward itself, has the current chairman of Lekki Council Development Area and we even defeated him in his own booth. So, that shows it is our stronghold.
But if you look at the result, it was 8,805 for PDP and 6,867 for AD, that was pretty close and does not reflect the fact that the area was a PDP stronghold?
It appears close , I was not expecting that the result was going to be as close as that. But we really fought against AC not just AD.
This was an election that was exclusive to a constituency. it was not like a normal election. So many other things were involved. This is an election Asiwaju Bola Tinubu came in with the Lagos State cabinet, with the House of Assembly and all the 57 local government to campaign. and they had some money.
So, it was election we fought with AC, not with AD. AD does not exist in Ibeju-Lekki. It is close no doubt, but we will go back and find out what happened and weâ€™ll make some amendments and put in place new strategies and we still retain the place as our stronghold. Certainly, many revelations have come to light and weâ€™ll make some corrections.
Why I asked that question was because of future elections. Donâ€™t you think that the table may turn against PDP in Ibeju-Lekki in the next election if they could pull that much?
It wonâ€™t turn, it wonâ€™t turn. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu himself admitted that we won the election. So, we leave that for now.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the AC stormed that place in the build up to the election and you also admitted that AD does not exist in Ibeju-Lekki because many as you said believe the the election was between AC and PDP even though the candidate was fielded by AD. How did it make you feel when you saw that massive support for AD candidate?
I was not intimidated because I performed as council chairman in Ibeju- Lekki , I erected the electric poles spaning about 47 kilometres. If the government did not collapse, I would have stringed the whole thing. Beside that, the coastal road, we barely spent three months and they had started it, I added another six kilometres to it. People continued to say it. And beside that, the state government is not doing much to help our people.
I donâ€™t know. There is no visible presence of Lagos State Government in Ibeju-Lekki. The basic infrastructure are not there and we need roads everywhere. And on top of it, lands are being carelessly given out and acquired mainly for residential purposes, not for industrial need.
If it were for commercial/industrial development that lands are allocated, then we would have thought of some of our people getting gainfully employed. What happened is that in all, our people are not satisfied. So, with all these factors, Iâ€™m convinced beyond anything that weâ€™ll win the election and we won it.
Actually what you are saying is that AC is not popular in that place because of these things you said, why is it so?
They are not popular because the state government did not do much, or virtually not doing anything to cater for our people. even as far as Epe, you need to go to Epe where the Speaker is from, not much is being done for that division. And the major part of the resources to Lagos State is derived from the spans of land in Ibeju-Lekki. Why is it left like that?
Something should come back in return for us. Assuming you will leave them that way, why not give them something in return as it happened in Eti-Osa, the adjacent local government? Most of the development there were carried out by the military. And the present government has not done anything as far as the local government is concerned.
You are saying that AC is not popular because people are dissatisfied with AC-led administration in Lagos State as a result of acquisition of their lands and particularly non-development of that place by the government?
Exactly, the unnecessary acquisition of lands and near absence of government presence in Ibeji-Lekki. When you come to the metropolis, compare it with what is happening in our area. You go there this rainy season, you wonâ€™t like it. So, we are appealing to the state government to do something. Besides, the people in the area respect some of us in the PDP and we can always talk to them and they always listen to us.
Does it mean that if AC government decides to move into Ibeju-Lekki to develop the area, stop acquisition of lands, the people will now support the government?
(Cuts in) What Iâ€™m saying is that the people respect us and will always listen to us.
The issue now really is the acquisition of lands and not development of the area?
Can you paint a clear picture of how the PDP won the bye-election in Ibeju-Lekki?
It was by planning; serious planning and sensitising the electorate. Right from the night it was proclaimed that there was going to be a bye-election, we started our planning that day. We approached the leadership from the national to the state level. They planned with us and they contributed to ensure victory for the party. You see, people believed PDP cannot win any election in Lagos State. To me, this is the beginning of better things to come.
So, I toured almost everywhere in Ibeju-Lekki and I had one on one meeting with major community and opinion leaders. I was everywhere in Ibeju-Lekki to explain the issues before us with them and why government should actually not neglect us. Even if you are not popular, a government can do certain things to make you popular. we will not because weâ€™re in another party and make difficult for any other party to come in and do some good things. no, we wonâ€™t do that. We must welcome good things for our people.
Does it mean that the neglect you talked about started with the government of Mr. Babatunde Fashola or with the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu administration?
No, with Tinubu. We should be interested in bringing federal presence to that place. That place is rural and riverine and not much attention has been paid to the area, weâ€™ve to search for survival elsewhere any way. That is why all the leadership there all agreed that we shall search for survival for our people and weâ€™ve discussed with our people and they agreed with us.
Those of us who opted for PDP have our personal reasons. That is an area where we have two local governments, AC has two chairmen of local governments in that place. The whole Ibeju-Lekki is divided into two local governments and are controlled by AC. Despite that, we still defeated them. One of the chairmen lost his booth and lost his ward to PDP, although they may claim that we fought against AD
Chief Bode is said to be very very instrumental to the PDP victory at Ibeju-Lekki, how true is this assertion?
I have respect for him. He is very courageous, very bold and the followership respect him. He is our leader.
As the honourable from that area now, what are your plans for Ibeju-Lekki?
In fact, Iâ€™ve started it. The basic problem there is the problem of infrastructure. Whatever is available from the rural point of view from the Federal Government, Iâ€™ve already started by making contacts with the Federal Ministry of Water and Rural Development. I know we have problem of water in Ibeju-Lekki. I have already started the contact with the relevant departments at the federal level. That will not deter the Lagos State government, what we want is provision of efficient services, water and development for our people.
So, you intend to work with the present Lagos State Government in making sure that the place is developed?
The state government itself is also under PDP government (at the federal level), so we are interwoven. We cannot run away from it. It is through governance you assist your people. You cannot alienate yourself from the federal government, you must work to together in the interest of the people. So, politicians are not enemies. When youâ€™re in government, you must play your part very well.
I will recall, during the time of Jakande in Lagos State, despite the bitterness of politics at that time he succeeded in approaching President Shehu Shagari then to get the metro line merged, but for the intervention of the military that time all was going on very well.
So, irrespective of political linings, we still have to work together in the interest of the people. And that I intend to do. We have major problem of infrastructure all over the place. Nothing is happening. No major market in Ibeju-Lekki, no industries, and other things.
So, what is the future of politics in Ibeju-Lekki, especially ahead of 2011?
Weâ€™ve … All weâ€™re going to do is to sustain it. Since Iâ€™ve been sworn_in Iâ€™ve been returning to my constituency on regular basis and i intend to continue that. I have to be close to the people. I have to explain all that happen in the National Assembly to the people. Iâ€™m the link now, whatever they want, my responsibility is to pass it on, relate it there and follow it up. And whatever is being discussed there, Iâ€™ll be able to inform them. That is the type of representation I intend to offer to my constituents.
Do you foresee a future realignment between AC and PDP? What if AC makes overtures to the PDP leadership and decides to do what the people wants?
I prefer to be in the national party, not a sectional party. Like as it happened during the tenure of Asiwaju in Lagos, if there is too much confrontations between the government and the presidency, the people of Lagos State are the losers for it. No amount of money you can realise on your own, although you get your normal allocation, what of other things that the federal government has to do (like) sustenance roads and bridges and other federal projects in Lagos State. If the confrontation is too much, the President may not have time for you.
That was why as soon as the present governor was sworn-in, I think that week, he went to Abuja to confer with the President. Look at what is happening. If it were confrontation, most of this beautification being under federal bridges or federal roads might not happen and we will be worse for it.
And that is my own idea of governance; we might have some political differences but you must have respect for constituted authority, whatever your position, so that at the end of the day you get something for your people. That is the objective. You must promote the welfare of your people. It is not through confrontation. You must have cause to be confrontational occasionally, as much as possible, you must be able to come together to achieve this primary objective because you will be worse for it if you donâ€™t do that. And I intend to do that.
So, what youâ€™re saying is that as far as Lagos politics is concerned, Ibeju-Lekki will be under PDP?
Weâ€™ll be close to the federal authority more than before. Look, some people are talking of the whole of South West, opposition, opposition, opposition, or this type of thing. It will even be worse for us. If the other geo-political zones in the country are saying â€˜this wayâ€™ why should we be left out? Why do you want to be on an unnecessary opposition. That is not to say that there will not be occasional opposition but let us be in the mainstream. Let us do it together.
It is like local government being opposition to the state. You might have your differences, yes, but at the end of the day you must be able to consider the welfare of your people. That is what Iâ€™m emphasising, the welfare of my people is very important to me.
How do you see the future of PDP in Lagos State in Lagos politics?
The process of reconciliation is on and I think what we need to do in PDP in Lagos State is to be able to sacrifice. Letâ€™s forget about our difference, sacrifice, discipline and recognition of leadership. And that was what ewe did in Ibeju-Lekki. Everybody wants to be members of House of Reps, everybody wants to be governor and all that. I donâ€™t believe in institutionalised faction.
If there is election forthcoming, then, you might have your groups, at the end of the day lets forget about it and concentrate all efforts on the party. I believe in the party, not factions. And I think that made also possible for us in Ibeju-lekki, we donâ€™t have factions in Ibeju-Lekki. We donâ€™t welcome it, we donâ€™t tolerate it but you can have your ambition.
If you have your ambition, ok, but if knock yourself against a stone, you will just break. Once we resolve that weâ€™re going that way, you cannot but go that way or you get yourself straightened up. That same thing should apply at the state level. Let us bury our differences and believe in whoever is eventually nominated and work sincerely and avoid penetration by opposing party. People should take it seriously. Thatâ€™s what we did. for three day I didnâ€™t eat in Ibeju-Lekki during our election.
I didnâ€™t change my clothe, I didnâ€™t bathe. No time for it. When there is election, there is election and you donâ€™t have time for any other thing. So, this is the attitude to it. I believe the followership is in Lagos State. You might not believe it but we have followership in Lagos State.
All we need to do is for the leadership in Lagos State to motivate them. With this victory, from what I can feel at the national level, they believe something can happen in Lagos State. They are now taking us seriously and that is the truth. With this victory, I believe there is more for the PDP in Lagos State.