BY ABUTU AGADA
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN candidate in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) in an interactive session with journalists in Lagos shared his thoughts on issues surrounding his emergence, governance in Ondo and his plans to enthrone a new political culture in the Sunshine State. Excerpts:
Your emergence as the ACN candidate was shrouded in controversy leading to the exit of some of your fellow aspirants from the party. So, how do you react to insinuations that you may not be your own man?
I wish to place on record that I have always been my own man. The assumption in some quarters that I was hand-picked is not correct. I served as Attorney general of Ondo State and I know Ondo State very well. It is also instructive to point out that when I was president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and I was championing a number of campaigns, aimed at curbing government excesses, was anybody using us? So all along, I have always been my own man at every given opportunity and at every point in time.
On the issue of my emergence, I want to say that the process that produced me was fair because all the aspirants signed up to it. No exception. Every political party has its process of selection which I believe is democratic enough. If at the end of the day some people feel aggrieved, which I believe is normal, well. But we have continued to talk to them and most of them are now with us.
If we have one or two who felt they must eventually go, there is nothing we can do about that. It is politics. It is personal ambition. So for me, nobody can fault the process of my emergence because it was thorough and we were all part of it. So by and large, I believe the Action Congress of Nigeria that chose me has made the best choice for Ondo State ahead of the governorship election.
Your opponent who is the incumbent Governor kick-started his campaign in your hometown with a mammoth crowd in attendance. Does that not sound ominous for you?
The crowd you saw were people they brought from outside. People from Owo never came out. They brought in people from all the 18 local governments to Owo in many buses. We all know, crowd doesn’t vote. We are unperturbed because we know people are behind us.
Even with the crowd that was brought to Owo, if you ask them to vote, we know that over 70 percent of them will vote for us. You can bring people to a rally. You can drive people to a rally and you can more or less bribe people to come to a political campaign. They were more or less forcing people to come out.
We have been out and we have seen crowd too, those who will attend rallies from 9 am till 11 pm without being given a Kobo. Those are the real crowd. Those are the people we have. If you do your research in Owo, you will confirm what I’m saying and you will discover that the crowd was brought there.
What factors do you think can make the incumbent lose the coming election?
Mimiko has already lost the election. He can never win any election in Ondo State and that is why he is running from pillar to post. This is because he knows quite well that he has lost the forthcoming election.
And how did he lose? It has been said that if you have a government that has nothing as achievement in four years, how do you expect people to vote for such government? In four years, he started one or two roads, none is completed.
And I have said while campaigning that he can never complete any of those roads because I will be the one to complete them. I’m standing on that. Again, you have a government where the army of unemployed has increased and many of these unemployed are voters.
How do you expect those people to vote for a government that does not provide them with jobs? I tell you many of those you see in their rallies were there because they are forced. Some, out of inducement and some are there for sight-seeing. Some go there to collect vests and money.
In the heart of Ondo state people, Mimiko is out already. You can stay here in Lagos, watch television and start to imagine how we are going to defeat him because of the crowd you see. But I don’t have any doubt in my mind that he is going to lose. And if we are to look at it critically again, are the people of Ondo State foolish? They are not. I mean we are talking about Oba Adesida Road.
The road has been there all the while, with street lights on it and then you remove them and put other ones. At what cost? There is no project today he can commission except the markets which are responsibilities of the local governments. And this is someone who has refused to conduct election at local government level. And the markets, nobody is even going there. Just drive through Ondo State and you will see that there are no people in those markets.
The other one, you force people to go and be building town halls. What has the state government got to do with the building of town halls? What are the people there to do? These are what people could raise money among themselves to build. And in fact some of these town halls are already collapsing.
In Opete for instance, a side of the town hall wall has collapsed. So this is a government that has not achieved anything, except hardship. The economy is grounded. How do you expect people to retain it? You need to go to Ondo State, the whole place is dry.
Specifically, what are your programmes for the people of the state?
We have sold to the people of Ondo State, a five cardinal programme. These include education, technology, agriculture, entrepreneurship and infrastructure, and most importantly, the rural areas.
How did you receive the endorsement of the governor by some prominent citizens like Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun and Mrs Ganiat Fawehinmi, among others?
Endorsement don’t win election, especially by people who are out of the woods. Who is Braithwaite in Ondo State politics? Nobody. Who is Fasehun in politics of Ondo State? Nobody. Yes Ganiat Fawehinmi can ride on the goodwill of her husband, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
But I can tell you that if the husband were to be alive, he would have supported me. So I will rather prefer having the spirit of the husband who is no more rather than that of the wife who is around. Yes, when Chief Gani Fawehinmi died, the governor gave him a befitting burial and we also know that he established a diagnostic centre which he named after him.
How do you react to insinuations that the political configuration of the state does not favour you, given that your base, Owo does not have much population?
I am very sure that ACN as a party, must have considered all these permutations before making a choice of a candidate from Owo. And I want to say categorically, that no one is better placed than a candidate from Owo.
In a state like ours, there are so many fallacies being dished out to the public and because you repeat them all over again, it seems to bring about some elements of truth. Of course, Akoko is an integral part of Ondo North senatorial district and it has four local governments with 54 percent voting population while Owo has two local governments with about 46 percent voting strength.
So the figures are not determined by the number of local governments. Secondly, the relationship between Owo and Akoko has always been that, if you rub my back, I will rub your back.
The role of First Lady is now said to be an abused phenomenon. Should you succeed would your wife follow the present pattern of abuse?
It’s quite unfortunate that my wife is not here. But I can tell you that I’m married to a person that is highly political.
She is somebody who does not believe in wasting people’s resources. So we are going to have a first lady who is not going to waste people’s resources. I know that for sure. She runs an NGO that address women issues. She is the President of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BECAN). She already has an idea of what to do.
It is not that when she gets there that she would start thinking of what to do. I’m sure her programme may include “let us all jog for a week. Let’s have breast cancer examination for all women”, among others.