By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Gbenga Oke
…says Bola Ige successfully blackmailed Awolowo for 2nd term ticket
PRINCE Olu Mafo is a chip of the old block. As Secretary of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN Parliamentary
Caucus in the old Ondo State of House of Assembly between 1979 and 1982, secretary of the State UPN
Caucus and subsequently as State Secretary of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, he was privy to the intrigues that threw up the crisis that bestirred the State in 1983.
A lawyer, Mafo was a member of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003 and following that, Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly. Presently a member of the Presidential Monitoring Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC projects, he in his words was one of the closest associates of the deceased erstwhile deputy governor of the old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo.
Following Chief Omoboriowo’s death, Vanguard sought Mafo’s opinion on the personae of the controversial deputy governor. Excerpts:
AS a member of the Ondo State House of Assembly in 1983; can you recollect the events of June, July and August 1983?
I was the parliamentary secretary of the House of Assembly, arranging all the affairs and proceedings of the House. You will recall that the same year, we were heading for the presidential election and Chief Awolowo wanted to be the flag-bearer of the UPN and to succeed, he must get the support of the governors, the LOOBO state governors as we called them. So, there was some horse trading. He promised Omoboriowo, he promised the deputy governor in Oyo State, Bola Ige, Ambrose Alli and Jakande. He promised them that all of them would return with him.
What exactly did he promise the deputy governors?
He promised them they will be returned as governors to replace the incumbent governors. He promised all the deputy governors and this was unknown to anybody until this issue came and I asked Omoboriowo, ‘people are accusing you of being too over ambitious what is the background?’ then he told me the story and I believed him.
It was that promise that almost ruined UPN because Bola Ige told the old man, ‘if you are not supporting us to come back as governors and you are supporting my deputy, I am not going to pay my own ten million naira’ because that was the amount each governor was to pay to assist the presidential campaign. So, at a very late point, the old man for once somersaulted and he decided to allow the governors run for second term and that was the beginning of the UPN crises in Oyo, in Ondo and practically everywhere in the South-West.
It seems as if only you and Omoboriowo were privy to it. How can we substantiate this?
You know there is so much about Chief Awolowo that some of us know that the public may never know. The 1983 election for example, when he called some of us to Park Lane for a cocktail and there I told the old man that the 1983 election was over.
Based on what?
Based on what I knew from my friend, Uba Ahmed (General Secretary of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN). The point is that because of the crisis in the UPN, the governor was fighting us for removing the speaker in Ondo State and he enlisted the support of Chief Awolowo and of course Chief Awolowo called us to Ikenne and I told him ‘baba I am sorry, the House will not accept the speaker back.’ We did our homework, made our enquiries, investigated the man and found him liable of so many stupid offences which compromised the House. And that is a problem when you have a Speaker that is wining and dining with the Governor at your expense.
We wanted ours to be a vibrant and focused assembly. If you look at the development which we achieved with our determination to put the commissioners on their toes and stop them from plundering resources of the state, it was still the best. Ajasin’s government gave the best to Ondo State. From factories, to roads and water and whatever is existing today, Ajasin created it and we made it possible because we didn’t allow the commissioners to steal. The four we discovered, we told him to remove them and they started begging.
This was our internal UPN secret. Instead of allowing the begging to go through the system, they just announced their redeployment from their ministries; and of course, the House took him up and we just called him all manner of names. Professor Aluko was on our side because he (Aluko) investigated these commissioners and found that they had stolen money. So how can you redeploy them? That is what I told him. You have not removed them instead you decided to redeploy them to other ministries where they will perfect their stealing and you will never discover it.
The picture you are painting about Chief Omoboriowo is different because a lot of people saw him as over ambitious and a bad person. How do you react to that?
No! I would say I was the first among equals in the history of those four years in Ondo State. I know a lot that the governor did not know, I know a lot that Omoboriowo did not know. The secret of the state were with me and the speaker, Richard Jelowo. What I am trying to say is that, Omoboriowo and his Oyo State counterpart, Chief Afolabi were assured that they would be governors in their respective states by Chief Awolowo. If you say it now, Babatope (Chief Ebenezer Babatope, then National Organising Secretary of UPN) will say Mafo has come again, he has invented something. God is my witness that is the truth.
Was it all the deputy governors that were promised?
Yes, it was all the deputy governors.
Including Akorere in Bendel State?
What was the basis of that assurance by Chief Awolowo?
Generally, you know Chief Awolowo, he was not satisfied with the performance of the incumbent governors then and he believed the deputy governors would do better.
At what point did he give them that assurance?
He made the promise to them (deputy governors) before he announced to them (governors) his intention to contest the presidency and of course solicited their support, I mean the governors now.
The second leg was that before then, he did not know that the deputy governors will openly show their interest to his embarrassment, but they did. When a meeting was called on the funding of his presidential election, it was Bola Ige who spoke on behalf of the governors. Bola Ige said ‘no, we are not paying, you want the deputy governors, let them assist you,’ he was very blunt.
I think the only man who did not toe the line, I think was Ambrose Alli and my governor, Chief Ajasin and of course, you can expect Jakande to be loyal at any time, he didn’t say anything. But Bola Ige claimed he was speaking for all the governors and they all nodded according to Omoboriowo.
Was Omoboriowo at that meeting?
Yes, he was present at the meeting.
Were all the deputy governors at that meeting?
Remember, they were talking about how the states will use their offices to fund the presidential campaign and all the deputy governors were there. So that was the only issue they discussed. Now, when they (governors) realized that their deputies were showing interest in their position, they called another meeting and asked ‘baba (Chief Awolowo) what is this, they (deputy governors) said that you are the one encouraging them to come out’.
He first of all blasted them and accused them of not performing and that UPN would lose most of the states if they were not careful. The governors said ‘ok no problem, if that is the way you see it, we will try on our own to come back and we are not going to support your presidential ambition.’ Bola Ige said that to him.
Ambition of their deputies
You know it is like the do or die situation of today that a governor cannot have a second term. It was at that meeting that the governors got to know about the ambition of their deputies. Of course the deputy governors went back to him (Awololwo) either collectively or somehow, and he told them ‘I am sorry, my hands are tied, they (governors) are blackmailing me that they will not support me financially and what do I do.’ So, he told them ‘you are still younger men, let this one pass, let’s work together.’ But most of them (deputy governors) had gone a long way preparing to be governors of their states, particularly Omoboriowo.
But as Omoboriowo was Ajasin’s deputy could he not also be blamed for the alleged failure of Ajasin’s government?
No. By then, Ekiti State was still part of Ondo State and three quarters of the permanent secretaries were from Ekiti. Then there was a gang up by the non Ekiti as we called ourselves. There was a gang up by the civil servants using the politicians to say how can we have a governor and the Ekitis are still more than us in serious positions. It was that other factor that led to Omoboriowo being called home by the Ekitis who told him that they were supporting him, that ‘whatever Awolowo says, we are supporting you.’
Could it not be said that Omoboriowo’s defection from the UPN to the NPN was an act of desperation?
No. He wanted to contest and he believed that the old man let them down and that he had gone too far and believing that under any platform that he could win. I am aware that Chief Awolowo tried so hard to persuade him because he loved that man (Omoboriowo) too much and I will say even more than Jakande. So dear, so close to him. Omoboriowo was led to believe that he will be governor but when the crises came frontally, I led the house to pass a resolution on the floor that we were all moving out to NPN and we did.
It was because of the crises. They were fighting us for not returning the speaker and Omoboriowo was very sympathetic to us and they were now fighting the man they believed would be governor in the next election. So we said let us get out of this party and to give Chief Awolowo and Chief Ajasin a real knock. We decided by a resolution on the floor which I moved.
So did you really carry out the threat?
Yes we did and I can tell you that for more than six months, (name withheld) who was in the NPN was paying our salary and allowances.
Do you believe Omoboriowo won that election?
No. It was rigged.
Did you support him in rigging the election?
No, I did not.
But you were already in NPN then?
Yes. I was, very close to him.
So how did the NPN rig the election?
Well, like any rigging system, they used the people, process and documents. You manipulate the documents; you get an election of your choice especially when you have the federal might behind you.
After his death Omoboriowo is being hailed as a good man. But do you think that the crises and the death were worth it?
No, the killing was not our making. The killing was organized by the UPN, they believed that if they killed as many of us as possible, that we would pull back but that hardened the resolve of members of the House of Assembly. It was so dangerous and for example I became the secretary of the NPN in the state and when I worked in my office, I had some police about four or five of them walking around me in my office, and we never knew where I would sleep because between 7 and 9 in the night, I could head for Ijero to sleep with Omoboriowo or straight to Benin where Ogbemudia would facilitate my sleeping and then get back to Ondo State. It was very dangerous and the people that started the killing came from Ijebu Ode.
Chief Onabanjo organized that and he brought them with their ammunition and everything with government vehicle to Ondo State. What they did not know was that we were also monitoring them. They did not know our own position. They just believed that they would move in and kill all of us and that was their mistake. Adewusi (Inspector General of Police) was also there for us and he gave us fantastic assistance.
After that election and the crisis, Chief Omoboriowo it seemed had a fundamental change in his disposition to life. Some say he became a Christian. What happened to him?
Omoboriowo had always been a good Christian but I believe that after the election and the court cases which he lost, I was in the House of Representatives; he came to me and told me he felt bad about politics generally and the deception in the leadership of political parties.
Did he name Awolowo?
Well, he had his doubt about Awolowo’s sincerity when he called the deputy governors and urged them to prepare to take over. I said, what do you want to do now? He replied and said “I am a born again now and I want to spend the rest of my life asking for forgiveness and getting closer to my creator God” and that was what he did through-out.
So, how will you describe Chief Omoboriowo?
The picture of Omoboriowo as a power drunk young man, as a man who wanted to unseat his boss is not true. There were two factors. The promise to them by the leader of the party and the Ekiti factor. The Ekitis were feeling that the non Ekitis were getting at them and in fact, that was what propelled the creation of Ekiti State. All their leaders were behind Omoboriowo. I mean every Ekiti man, every Ekiti leader of standing…So, it was not just his making, he didn’t wake up and say ‘I want to be governor.’
I know as a fact Omoboriowo is dead now and most of the people who are privy to this thing are dead. Babatope who was the organizing secretary cannot speak on the issues I am talking about now because he was not privy.. He would have heard about it (though) but he and Jakande are the two living fanatical supporters of Chief Awolowo alive today. Jakande was not (actually) a fanatical person, he was humble, sincere, loyal person but people like Babatope, oh no! Everything that Baba did must be right.
Do you believe so?
As parliamentary secretary in the House and of the UPN, I was supposed to be attending all the meetings at Ikenne and wherever they were holding it, but I attended only once. The setting of the meeting and the way the thing was being conducted was so undemocratic and I told one of my friends that I will not come here again.
Are you saying that Awolowo was undemocratic?
No. Chief Awolowo was democratic but the trouble is this and that is the bane of our political system. If Chief Awolowo had sponsored a goat, he would have been elected on his reputation and performance as premier of Western Region. They just believe papa, papa, but nobody…I will give you an instance, we had a meeting at Festac gallery when all of us were elected in 1979.
We talked about our salary and allowances, then Chief Awolowo said he was hearing voices, that we were giving to ourselves too big salaries and wages and he preached at that meeting that ‘if you people don’t do what I am going to tell you now and that I have the consent and the backing of the governors, I will urge the crowd who come to the Assembly to stone you people and drive all of you out.’
We didn’t say anything but when it got to the point of reacting myself, another friend who is late now, Omodunbi, Colonel Ariyo and Bode Olowoporoku, as Awolowo was talking, for the first time in his life we were heckling the man, we were shouting no, no, no, no and the man looked to Ambrose Alli on the left and Jakande on the right and he said, ‘what is happening, Aluko what am I hearing? I am in the wrong place, I am in the wrong party with the wrong people!’ It was unbelievable that people can heckle him while talking, that people can shout, no we will not agree, we will do what we want to do!
Jakande said baba, let’s adjourn this meeting, so the meeting was adjourned and overnight they tried to talk to us and we came back and maintained our stand that a House of Assembly under the constitution then must fix salary for public officers and we will not take dictations from anybody. So, I didn’t like the way they were doing things personally and that is why I kept away from their meetings.