* Marginalisation: ‘S/West, architect of its own headache’
By Bashir Adefaka
Senator Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, 68, is chemical engineer product of University of Liege, Belgium. A farmer that he also is, Ladoja was one of the very few Nigerian figures that created the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Between 2003 and 2007, he was elected governor of the Oyo State. For three hours at his Bodija GRA home in Ibadan last weekend, he told Sunday Vanguard the story of what transpired between him and Governor Abiola Ajimobi and how the attitude of the governor has led to the current strained relationship between the ACN-led government and his young but vibrant Accord Party. On the state-of-the-nation, he said since Nigeria cannot be discussed without a mention of the PDP, that PDP’s biggest mistake was its failure to make the late Sunday Awoniyi its national chairman.
The Oyo State Government said the EFCC seized some of your properties and froze your accounts and it said it has asked the EFCC to hand them over to it. What is your take on that?
First and foremost, let me tell you that this an issue still in court. And it will be contemptuous of court for anybody to speak on such matter. In the said publication, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Taiwo Otegbeye and Festus Adedayo alleged that properties were seized and accounts frozen. With the Dauda Kolawole an ACN chieftain joining the fray, there is the need to react and correct the erroneous impression that is now in circulation through the ACN propaganda mercenary.
For avoidance of any doubt, no fund was seized from me. Not even any of my properties has been taken over by the EFCC. The so-called seizures were made from Chief Wale Atanda of the Heritage Holdings, who the EFCC in a curious twist converted from a defendant to a prosecution witness. At any rate the issue is still in court, as I said, and it would be contemptuous of the court to comment on it.
The body language of the incumbent administration in Oyo State is indicative of a strained relationship between you and the governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. Where did things go wrong and what really is the problem – because at some point there appeared to be an understanding to work together?
You have talked of body language and I don’t want to presume that I have to interpret body language. I would rather want a situation whereby somebody will tell me directly that we don’t need you again. Of course, from the beginning there has been one problem or the other. The problem started when the government said they had problem fulfilling their part of the agreement they had with us.
At that time the belief was that the leader of their party, my late brother, Alhaji Lam Adeshina, was the cause, may God bless his soul; because on one of the occasions I remember that they asked the governor to go and cancel the agreement. We believed that yes, the reason for going into the government should not be defeated and the reason for going to the government with him, Governor Abiola Ajimobi, was to help him stabilize the government so that he could be able to perform to the best of his ability.
But since the death of my brother, Lam, it seems as if the situation is getting more and more complex. Not just about the agreement but also, there have been vicious attacks on my person and on our party. If you say body language, may be that is the body language that they want us to interpret as to say, “We don’t want you again.” But we want to say precisely that when they tell us that they don’t want us any more, then, we would pack our loads and leave.
How did you pull it off – your Accord Party that is; winning some seats in the state assembly and four Reps?
The propelling power is commitment to service. You see, I have had opportunity of leading this state from 2003. During the campaign I told the people in no uncertain terms that this is what my government will give you and this is what the government will do and when we won the election in 2003, we set out doing them. We gave them the parameters with which they could measure those things we did.
For example it was during campaign we said within the four years we would eradicate guinea worm in Oyo State because the state was one of the most endemic states at that time. So, it was fulfilled and by the grace of God guinea worm was eradicated during our time. We said we would improve the situation in the education sector and we provided them with an environment conducive for learning. We told the people of Oyo State during our campaign that we were not going to have more than 30 pupils and students per class. We were second to Katsina in 2006 SUBEB rating. At that time, Ladoke Akintola University Ogbomoso was rated as the best state university in Nigeria and number seven in all the universities (Federal, state and private) in the country. So, we were rewarded. I mean, that effort we put into the education sector was rewarded.
So, if we now came back to say okay, we want to contest, it is not Accord Party that people were looking at. People were actually looking at those behind Accord Party. If it is possible to build a reasonably affordable house where people can line, why do you have to go and build a marble house, particularly where you have some other pressing demands? That was the secret.
Now, coming back to your question about the propelling power that made Accord Party perform greatly within the short time of coming up, those were the things that we did and people said oh, this is the man we can trust. There was no magic. It was just the question of harvesting the trust of the people.
Immediately after the election, the PDP made frantic efforts to ensure that you return to the party. So much that even former President Olusegun Obasanjo paid you several visits and a body was raised within the party to meet with you with a view to bringing you back to the PDP but all those efforts came to naught.
What made us to stay until December 2010 to go into Accord Party was that, we believed that we were members of the PDP. Because as a founder of the party, I believe that there are some fine gentlemen in it. Of course, after sometimes it was hijacked. The biggest mistake that PDP made was that it did not choose (Sunday) Awoniyi as the chairman of the party in 1999. If Awoniyi had become chairman of PDP, maybe the party would not have derailed.
So, with the talk that Ladoja left PDP, I don’t see anything tangible in it. All of you knew what happened between 2003 and 2007 which led to my leaving the party. The reconciliation they pursued was not sincere until 2010 and then we said, “Look, enough is enough. It doesn’t seem that this party that is People’s Democratic Party and later on became People’s Deceiving Party is going to change.” We then decided to go and found a party that was relatively unknown here. That was how we got into Accord Party and by the grace of God we did it.
(Cuts in) Although your party, as young as it was, performed reasonably well at the 2011 elections but you lost the governorship. Do you have any cause to regret it?
I have no regret that I lost the governorship election at all. But the only thing that I’m happy about is that the people of Oyo State have shown me love; they have shown me loyalty and the only thing I can do to appreciate those people is to give them the best I can.
So, when PDP now came, we agreed that where Accord led the PDP we would have the chairman; where PDP led the Accord, they would have the chairman. We didn’t ask for more than what we could normally have asked for. What we asked for was for the posts to be shared in proportion of our efforts.
So, after the ward congresses, when the Local Government congresses were supposed to be held the next week, we now discovered that the names of our people that were on the executives during the ward congresses had been changed. But I said, “Let us go ahead” but also said that a party where you cannot be sure that two plus two will be equal to four; a party where you cannot be sure that what you did in Ibadan is what they are going to reflect in Abuja isn’t a serious party. I said, go ahead.
And then again at level of the state congresses, we found two parallel lists: One body had its own congress at Liberty Stadium, another body was doing its own at Olubadan Stadium. And I said, “Hun hun! We don’t want to become another faction of PDP.”
Some people in PDP are still insisting that you should return to PDP. Some are even saying that, as a businessman, there is no way you are going to remain in the opposition. What is your reaction to that?
You see, politicians will always find a reason to justify whatever they want to happen. Where were they when all those things were happening? We are not in PDP. The PDP of today is not the PDP of our dream when we started it in 1998. The PDP of our dream was a party established to satisfy needs of the people and not one where the Chairman and Secretary would be acting in different ways and for different purposes.
They agreed together that they were going to re-conduct the congress of Adamawa State. Then after that, 10 out of the National Working Committee members – led by the secretary you said (laughs) – met behind the chairman and then reversed the decision that was taken when the chairman was sitting in – a matter that concerned the chairman of the state! That is where they have problem; in a situation where you cannot be sure that the decision you have taken here in Ibadan will stand when you get to Abuja. So, I don’t see myself being in such a party.
Now, you said some of them were saying as a businessman, Ladoja should not be in opposition. Do they say that a businessman should always be in the government party? That is not true. I am not a contractor and so I’m not looking for contracts.
From the way you have spoke so far, it appears that, in spite of everything, you restrain yourself from criticizing the government of Ajimobi so as not to be held responsible for why the government fails…
(Cuts in) I’m not saying that I will not criticize. What I’m saying is that, it is my responsibility as an elder statesman in this state to work for the stability of any government in power, so that the people of Oyo State can enjoy that government. And so, once elections are over, party politics should soft-pedal. I was the first person to congratulate Abiola Ajimobi when he became governor.
What is your take on the merger that recently brought about the All Progressives Congress, APC, and why is your party not involved?
In 1999 there were three major parties: the PDP, APP and then the AD. After the first set of the election, when it was time for presidential election, APP and AD allied using AD/APP as platform. They contested that presidential election and they lost! Nothing new is happening. The only thing is just for the APC to say they will be able to carry the votes of ACN in the Southwest, they will be able to carry the votes of APGA in the Southeast and then carry the votes of CPC in the North West and that of ANPP in the North East.
But look, this thing is not arithmetic. What would have been best was for you to develop your party to a level where you can fight election on your own so that you can have people of like minds. But in a situation whereby people of different interests come together to say we are merging to win votes, let’s wait and see. There will be a time that the CPC will say, ‘Not anymore; we cannot go on with CAN’.
APGA will say ‘no, no, no we can’t work with Buhari’.
From the report we have now, APGA has even already said that they are not part of the arrangement.
If the only reason they are coming together is to win election, then, that is conspiracy. Are you saying that the manifestos of APGA, ACN, CPC and ANPP are the same? Do they have the same outlook? They would have normally first of all worked out what is going to be the basis for participation. And that is where I expect that they should have started from. Now APGA is disagreeing over the merger. You don’t do things like that. They just jumped at it simply because they want to win election. No. It’s not arithmetic.
Now that you don’t seem to want to participate in the mega party thing, what efforts are you making to spread out on Accord Party?
Yes, we have taken root in Oyo State. We are already in Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Lagos and so we can assume that the Accord Party is in the whole of the South West. And at the same time, do you know that we have legislators from Delta, Anambra, Rivers? So, we are making efforts in other parts of Nigeria also to make sure that our party is able to spread as fast as it can. Our chairman is from Katsina State and that is to show you that very soon, they will see us in every state of the country.
What then is your politics going to be like preparatory to 2015?
You see, people are looking at APC and PDP as rivals. PDP of today has sacked Oyinlola, Mustapha and Segun Oni. So, what is the fate of PDP? Is the implosion happening in PDP not going to affect its ability to perform in future election especially the 2015? The impression is that may be another party will break out of the PDP so as to enable the aggrieved people to satisfy their aspirations and so on. But who knows? Because parties are not just
I say that 2015 is still far away, particularly with what is happening at the national level of the PDP because you cannot talk of Nigeria without talking about PDP. The party has about 26 governors and so there is no way you talk of Nigeria without talking about PDP. But may be the headache they have is that they find it difficult to manage the success they have made over the years. And all the things that are happening in the party presently, the outcome of it will determine what happens in 2015.
You see, if you disrespect the courts, you are doomed. One of the problems the PDP has is that it always disobeys court orders.
President Jonathan said he was the most criticized President in the world. How do you find that comment?
Yes, he said so. He has been mostly criticized but I can hear that from him that he’s making amends and he is truly making amends. He had said that the situation would improve. He had promised that the infrastructures would be better. That is one thing I learn about Nigerians: We are fast at criticizing our leaders. We are not patient enough to allow them to work. If you amend the Constitution of Nigeria today, tomorrow, another person will ask for Constitution amendment again. That is what we are in Nigeria.
What I can just advise Jonathan to do is that, once you know your people for what they are, whatever they say should not bother you at all. What you should do is to ensure that you know what is good and be rightly guided too and ensure that you do things correctly. So, I don’t see that as a big problem.
So, one thing that I like about Nigerians is that, we are very critical about our leadership. What you, President Jonathan, should do is, when they are criticizing you, take them where they are right and make amends and where they are wrong, explain to them why you have taken the steps you have taken. After all, people have not yet overcome hunger, we have not yet had a situation whereby all Nigerians have good education, we are yet to even be able to give all-round employment to those of our people that are in need of employment.
Just before the last question, you are aware of the cries of marginalization by stakeholders in the South West that they claim the President Jonathan has inflicted on the region. How did we get to this point and what is the way out?
Most of the times, we don’t want to take consequences of our actions. Today in Nigeria, the South West is in the opposition. Is that true? And so if you know it is true and of a surety it is true, and the psyche of many people in government is that, they should not feed my opposition, or that they should not encourage the opposition to challenge them, that in itself is something.
Then another angle of it is that people in government from South West are not looking for the benefit the region can derive but the benefit they can get from the government on personal grounds. That is one of the reasons why they cannot even say it boldly that look, we are leaving PDP if they fail to satisfy our yearnings. This man wants to be a board member and the other wants to be something else and so on. That is the problem. We know that many things that are supposed to come to South West are not coming. Look at that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. You are in the opposition party. How can an opposition now expect that you could just go and lord it over the major party.
And now we are shouting marginalization here and there. But nobody is preventing us from creating our own Eldorado in our states and our region. If we are not the Chief of Army Staff and we are not in important positions, it doesn’t mean that we should not be able to do well for ourselves here.
South West voted for Jonathan. How they did it, I don’t know because I would have expected Ribadu to win in South West. I mean, in a situation whereby Jonathan won more than 50 percent of Lagos votes and, yet, PDP didn’t have one member of the House of Representatives means that there must be a magic that Jonathan performed to that extent in Lagos and other parts of South West. May be the God of his father were behind him to have that kind of huge success here. It was only in Osun that Jonathan did not win in the whole of South West and he did not do badly there. I think it was forty something to fifty something percent.