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Obasanjo wanted me to cry or…— Rasheed Ladoja

Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja

*The people of Oyo know who they will vote for next year
*On Yar’Adua: Nigeria is a   complex nation to rule
*How we managed Oyo finances

How do you present a Sunday Interview and the only thing you discuss all through is GARRI, the Nigerian staple? Or, how do you interview Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja, former governor of Oyo State, and you will be barred from asking questions that border on politics?

That was the situation until last Tuesday, January 26, 2010, when an opportunity presented itself.
It was a chance group meeting and Sunday Vanguard decided to capitalize on it to bring you his  views.
In this session, Ladoja introduces new perspectives,  especially regarding why he was presumed to have prevaricated on the eve of the 2007 elections, explaining that with the benefit of the  insight he had at that time, he couldn’t have conducted himself otherwise.
But, he still went on to talk about GARRI, lamenting that why should the commodity produced here in Nigeria be more expensive than rice which is imported from Thailand.

Excerpts:

By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor & Anthonia Onwuka

What went wrong? Many say you   prevaricated and made a mess of a golden opportunity; that people were actually waiting for you to take charge at some point but you didn’t.  Even the choice of a platform, which was offered to you on a platter of gold, was muddled by you and that is why you’ve found yourself where you are now. Action Congress, AC, was waiting on you and even the Labour Party, LP, was also there, but you still went to Akure for a PDP rally where, in your presence, Obasanjo handed the party’s flag to Akala?  What  type of politics were you playing?

The first challenge we had was that when I got back, we had to resolve the problem of those who were loyal to me as legislators.  People raised the issue of those who were loyal to me and they said they were away for 11 months and, therefore, could not legitimately claim to remain legislators.  The constitution, they say, requires them to attend proceedings in the House of Assembly for, at least, 180 days in a year; so, that there was no way they could have attended proceedings in the House if they’d been away for 11 months. Therefore, their place had been declared vacant by INEC.

Immediately that happened, we knew the next thing they would  do again was to say ‘yes, we can impeach him again and we know that the option he would also take is to go back to court.  Meanwhile, this is January so, there is no way he would be able to finish with the court case by May, 29, 2007.

Now, the question was:  Do I want to just pack it up and go back home or do I want to stay there and satisfy the masses who gave me a mandate and expect certain things of me as their governor?

How did you then resolve the problem of those legislators?
We decided that we would stick it in there.  The legislators went to court and they got a restraining order.  But you and I know that at that time, a restraining order to Obasanjo was no order.  Twice they fixed the date for the elections for the legislative houses and  other issues arose.

Mind you, the legislators who did not go with me in the struggle were already given automatic tickets for
second term. These people now wanted to impeach them because, rightly, the constitution says you should attend proceedings for 180 days and if you’ve been away for 11months, how then can you make 180 days within  30 days?
So on that score, constitutionally, they were right, but we need to add that when they are wrong, Obasanjo just does not want to admit. That is why a restraining order would mean nothing to him.

You said you had a choice between going back home and fighting.  So, which one did you opt for?
I decided to stay and fight. Somebody high up in the administration of Obasanjo, the former Chief of Staff, General Abdullahi Mohammed, was very useful and supportive. He decided that it was good that we should attempt to come to a peaceful resolution.

Ladoja

I resumed on Monday and I went to see Obasanjo in Abuja on Tuesday and the first thing he told me was that he heard that it was a convoy of Action Congress that led me into Ibadan, which was very untrue. He said ‘we know where you belong to’. I said no!  I told him to ask the Police because I went to Eleyele office of the Police first. Now, it was a matter of sacrifice: do I want to sacrifice the 12 legislators who went with me or salvage them? That was one.

The next was a matter of relevance:  Do I want to be relevant at the time of election or do I want to go back to the courts?

So, it was a deliberate policy, but as you said, the ticket of AC was waiting for me.
But I think it was a Thursday that I received a telephone call. I know the person very well because the voice sounded familiar, though when I asked, he said he was not the one but I think I know the person.  The person said ‘my friend Rasheed, do you know who killed Bola Ige’?
I responded by saying ‘I don’t know; how can I know? If I knew, I would have said it’.
The person asked again, ‘what about S. M. Afolabi’?
I said ‘but Afolabi died a natural death’. He then said ‘go and ask people who should know’.
He then asked ‘what about Funso Williams’? I said ‘I don’t know’.
He said ‘people are coming to kill you this weekend-o’.
And I asked him ‘what is my offence’. He said ‘we know that AC would proclaim you their candidate and it is unacceptable to us’.

And I asked him ‘who are the ‘us’? He said ‘whatever you like you say’. He said that ‘if by any chance you escape, by next Saturday, we will conduct elections into the seats of those 12 legislators that have been declared vacant and, one week after, we’ll impeach you lawfully and it will be unanimous, not a matter of we didn’t get two-thirds’.

What did you do?
When you are faced with that type of situation, you’ll become lonely and nobody would give you advice. The person who told me those things knew what he was saying. So, I just decided to play the game and, by that time, the Akure incident had taken place.  It was a matter of waiting to strike back because if you take a wrong step, you won’t win.
We ran to Lagos and visited media houses and I also knew that they would ask me the question about the platform on which I would run. They asked me if I would run on the AC platform and I told them that ‘no, I am a PDP person and I remain a loyal PDP man. We went round, just to put the mind of the people who telephoned me to rest.

What was this thing between you and Obasanjo?  It was as if there was something more to it?

Yes, there was this thing between me and Obasanjo – there was always an accusation every week. Obasanjo, at that time, was uncontrollable because there was nothing anybody could  do to him.

Even while I was in Lagos that evening, after going round all the media houses, I went home but couldn’t sleep in my house because when you’re there, you’re like a captive. You just see them around you and some of them you do not even know what they’re there for.

After the Akure issue, my ADC was withdrawn and they gave me names of three people to choose from but I told them I didn’t need any one.

When we got to my house in Lagos, I went out through the back door so they didn’t know when I left the house.
It was on a Monday that I came in through the front door that they saw me again because you can not just take anything for granted. If you’re gone, you’re gone.

There is a Yoruba proverb maja masa la’mo akinkanju, which means fighting and knowing when to strike and retreat is the hallmark of bravery.

If you can fight and don’t know when to retreat, you’ll go with the battle. That was what happened.
It wasn’t a matter of me not knowing what I was doing.  I knew what I was doing but when faced with this situation, wisdom became very key.

Chief Ladoja

But it was a gamble?
Yes, it was a gamble but it nearly came through because by the Thursday before the election, I asked people of Oyo to vote for Ajimobi because I would not have had the opportunity of saying that.
Ajomobi won and Akala also knew that Ajimobi won.
I have a reason to protect my life first before any other thing.

Are you running in 2011?
Well, 2011 is in the hands of God Almighty. I am a Muslim and only God knows those who will be alive then. But since I know my life is in the hands of the Almighty, if I am asked to contest, I would.

Who are the ‘THEY’?
The generality of the people of Oyo State and they are asking for it already.
If you want to find out the truth about what is happening in Oyo State, just board any commercial bus and listen to the people speak. Don’t let them know that you’re a journalist; just listen to them talk about what they wish or want the most. Go to the market and ask the people. They know who to vote for so they can not be deceived again.

Let me give you an example on the issue of salaries. There was a way we did it when I was there.  My administration always kept two months salary in the bank so that whenever the federal allocation did  not come on time, the salaries were being paid.

In fact, whenever there was a festivity, say on the 18th of a month, I made sure that the salary of workers was paid before that festivity because there was no need giving somebody money after an event. How would they tell their families that they are working? That is the joy.
There are many other examples and the people of the state know. Just go anywhere and start the discussion and hear what the people will say.

In fact, there is a joke in Ibadan now; people say that I have taken away the mantle of profit and that until I return as their governor, profitability may not return to the market. When you have all this goodwill, it is not good you lose it. I am a very happy individual; I can feed myself. I’m only concerned that garri is more expensive than rice.

About Obasanjo and yourself, some people may not be satisfied with the response you have given because there are those who believe that there is more to this thing than meets the eye?
I don’t want people to be satisfied for nothing. I told you about my experience and why I did what I did.
Who is taking care of Bola Ige’s family? Who is taking care of Funso Williams’ family? Have they been able to find their killers?

Who am I? The man who talked to me in a way to leak the secret to me was just being right and doing the right thing.

But at the height of the crisis, people went to the extent of saying that the problem between you both was beyond politics?
Between who and who?

Between you and Obasanjo?
No.  No.

Okay! There was this talk that it was over a woman, that you may have upstaged him  in a competition over a woman?
You know people will say anything.

But you were aware of this issue of you and Obasanjo and the other woman?
Yes!  I was aware. I knew Obasanjo before he became  president (I didn’t know him when he was head of state) but I knew him when he was a poor farmer and I told him that. And whether it is indiscretion or whatever it is, I saw in him a friend and I felt I owed it to a friend to tell him the truth.

What truth was that?
I told him that I heard that he was trying to go for third term. I learnt about the third term and I went to him to inquire if it was true and I told him he was not even qualified for the one he was then serving, but he got annoyed and asked ‘am I not a Nigerian’?

I told him that it is not about the constitution alone; that presidency in a civilian dispensation is for politicians and to contest in a political setting, you must have your own money before people can contribute for you. Honestly, he was poor because he just came back from prison.

I also told him that charity begins at home, that he could not win councillorship election in Abeokuta, but God still made him president. I told him that he was not bigger than God who made him president but now he was looking for third term.

That night, Gbenga Daniel called me and asked what I did to Baba and I told him we had a discussion. We then agreed to meet in Abuja for the National Council of State meeting.

He told me what Obasanjo told him. I respected Obasanjo as president but I also have my role as governor and this mentality that everybody must kowtow to him is not right. People said I should go and beg him but I insisted that I did  not know the offence I had  committed though I still went with Gbenga.

So, how did the meeting go when you went with Gbenga?
He said no. Later, Obasanjo said  when Baba Alayande was begging him, if I had shown some remorse or if I had wept to show remorse, may be he would have forgiven me.  He also said I don’t believe there is anything in governorship, which is true. It is just service for me.

That is the truth, at least, from my own side; but there was nothing else.
Later he said he warned me that I should have found a way of taking care of the late Adedibu by making provisions for some money for him through contract. Although he said I should just find a way round it through contract and the person would  make the money available to Adedibu, but the corollary to that was that he would also have sent Nuhu Ribadu after me, that I inflated a contract.

That was all. But I also believe that there is a difference between your personal and public lives because, as a public office holder, the constitution vests you with certain responsibilities which you must live up to.

Now that you appear set to contest, and knowing that the incumbent has a lot of influence, there are quite a number of people gunning for the same thing using the PDP. Are you considering other options?

You see, I am a founder of PDP and I don’t think that it is good for me to build a house and run away when there is a possibility of taking back my house back.

When we were forming the PDP, Akala came to me and said ‘oga, I should have gone with you to your party but I want to  be LG chairman and some people will not allow me but if I go to APP, I will win’.

So I gave him the nod and he left and he said for governorship, he would be there for me and, in truth, he was there for me when we wanted to do our primaries for governorship because he hosted us, despite the fact that he was ANPP.

If we founded PDP and Obasanjo took it away from us and we now have the responsibility of making it what we want it to be, why should we not try?

But I can say so far, so good, irrespective of whether Akala has said that there is nothing to reconcile.
In 2005, they deregistered 90 per cent of PDP members but they later set up the Ekwueme Committee, meaning, the party knew that something was wrong.

The question I asked the committee in Abeokuta was whether they still wanted us in the party and the answer was positive.

The Shuaibu Oyedokun issue came up and Akala said they should set up a reconciliation committee, picking five from each side but we felt some  people would kick against it by asking if the party belongs to Akala and Ladoja. So, we put a third leg – five from Richard Akinjide and Yekini Adeojo group. The Oyedokun committee came up with recommendations but it didn’t go beyond that.

The SSG was the chairman of the committee but after deliberations, the five from Akala refused to sign the report though Akala could be said not to have been happy with it because his people did not sign.

But Akala has been using the exco he put in place with the support of Adedibu to run the Oyo State chapter of the PDP to the exclusion of the other leaders of the party?

Yes. But what I know is that there was a report which his side did not sign but the committee said it reflected their position. The vice chairman also thought Obasanjo would be in a better position to resolve the matter, so he invited Obasanjo to Ibadan to come and arbitrate but that still did not work.

Then, the Ike Nwachukwu committee decided to add another four members, making it 19. The committee listened to the case – I went with Akinjide, Adeojo, Elder Oyelese and we told them our grievances and Akala also came to the committee and they came with a report which they brought to Ibadan on the 5th of  September, saying they were setting up two organs (the elders’ forum and the implementation committee) and the 19 people would form the implementation committee which would create an all-inclusive exco for the party.

After that, we were called to Abuja, but as usual, only 13 people went to Abuja and they were asked to pick a chairman amongst them and they picked one person and they gave the chairman to one group, secretary to another group, but his people did not attend that meeting.

It was after that, that he said there was nothing to reconcile.

What’s the make-up of that committee because there have been many committees?

The people in the committee are as follows:
Ike Nwachukwu, chairman
Two serving governors, Suswam and Goje
One former governor, Ibori
Pioneer secretary of BOT, Jerry Gana
Pioneer deputy chairman, Shuaibu Oyedokun,
A representative each of the Senate and House of Reps,
Former woman leader of the party,
And a member of the BOT from Borno.
These people are going to find a solution to the logjam

What were the demands you put forward?
At the time they deregistered people, I was there and I said I wanted all of them to be re-registered Also, I said I conducted local government elections just before I left and at about the same time Obasanjo conducted elections in Abuja. My own elections were cancelled but those of Abuja were not.

I wanted them to revert that decision or, at the worst, whatever the judgment of the Court of Appeal is, we should all abide without going to the Supreme Court.

We also told them that once we are re-registered, we must be able to enjoy all the privileges of the party, that we did not want any position in government but we would want to have positions in the party.

The governorship tussle in Oyo State would be keenly contested next year and…
(cuts in) Let me tell you, it is likely to be based more on personalities than on political parties.  It is either you’re accepted or not.

Going by what the Senate is trying to do about constitution amendment, the elections should be free.  If the votes will count, I don’t see how I would be beaten.

Look, those talking about Pa Adedibu miss the point. Here was a man, a politician, and when President Obasanjo pronounced him garrison commander, what did you expect?

The problem was what they made of Pa Adedibu and not Pa Adedibu himself as the problem and I don’t think Pa Adedibu alone could have caused all the violence people were talking about.

Even within the PDP, there appears to be no unity; don’t you see this affecting your fortunes?
Once people abide by what the committee’s recommendations are, primary of which is that a free and fair congress should be conducted so that we can have an accepted and acceptable exco in the state, once that is done, it would be easy to forge unity.

Now, to the issue of garri?
Yes.  I have a farm and I went there once and I gave them money to go and buy rice and garri and they brought the list back and half bag of garri was put at N4,800 while half bag of rice was put at N4,200.
I was scandalized on seeing this; that why should garri that we produce here be more expensive than rice that is imported. At first, I thought it was a mistake. The man who planted the rice in Thailand, the miller, the manufacturer of the bag, the freight charges, the wholesale and the retailer all made their money along the way, but the garri that is produced in Igbeti in Oyo State is more expensive.

The same thing goes for the wheat that is imported. Why should we keep burning our foreign exchange like that? It is the amount of foreign reserves that you have that  adds up to the respect you have.
China has about $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves and also has a population about ten times that of Nigeria. So, if we want to catch up with China, we would need about $250 billion in reserves before we can even start.  We have just $50billion.
Mind you, Chinese money is good money because they are selling the labour of the average Chinese whereas our own is natural resource that God has given us; so what happens when it finishes?
So, we have serious problems and these are the things that give me serious concern.

But your party has been in power for so long and things have gone progressively bad.
You see, when you’re in government, people will bring proposals to you, beautiful proposals that would suggest that magic could happen.

There was a time Obasanjo said we should all be planting cassava, forgetting that in Laos, they also plant more cassava. Meanwhile, from Nigeria to China, it might take about six weeks whereas  from Laos to China is just about six hours. So only on freight, you’re disadvantaged.

A lot of people planted cassava. Again Obasanjo said we should put 10 per cent of the cassava in bread, but the means to convert it was not yet in place. In any case, if the converted cassava is more expensive than wheat, why should people buy it. Cassava in Thailand is $60 per tonne and in Nigeria the same thing is about $200, why should they buy our own.

Then, somebody will, one day,  just wake up in America and say our naira is over-valued because why should the cassava in Thailand be $60 and in Nigeria it is $200.

President Yar’Adua has been away for over two months now; are you people worried at all?
Why should it surprise us? The work of a president is about 36 times more than  that of a state governor. A governor has one state to look after but a president has more challenges.
Put yourself in his shoes, if you have headache, can you write? Then look at his illness and people are shouting.

I feel Obasanjo has done us a lot of damage by imposing him on us so he can just not come out now and start talking. What is he expected to do? Just transmit a letter and somebody has interpreted it in this way that to transmit the letter means to inform them that he is traveling or he has traveled but as it is now the transmission has been made public that in case the senate did not know before, now that he is not around, everybody has known.

Supposing he’s not able to write? We still have a problem of wanting to build a nation.  It is the turn of the north and the issue now is about why should somebody take somebody else’s turn.

The issue of Abdulmutallab has made Nigeria a country of interest to the Americans and in the world, people look at Nigeria now with scorn?
It is not because of Abdulmutallab alone that we are having problems with the Americans or in the world.  The problem had always been there before now; it’s just that it is more acute now.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.