• ‘We were shocked when Minister abandoned President’s re-election campaign’
By Bashir Adefaka
The wind blowing in the All Progressives Congress (APC) portends danger ahead, according to Alhaji Hammed Eleyele, a former ally of the Minister of Communications, Abdulraheem Adebayo Shittu.
The Oyo State Coordinator for the Buhari/Osinbajo Strategic Campaign Group (MBO), with whom the Minister worked when he (Shittu) started the Buhari re-election campaign in 2018, spoke with Sunday Vanguard. Excerpts:
In my last interview in Abuja with the Minister of Communications, Mr Abdulraheem Adebayo Shittu, he told me something different from what a media report said, that he did not shut down MBO Office in Ibadan. But you left the Shittu camp for Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s camp. If there was no issue, why did you switch camps?
Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo Strategic Campaign Group (MBO) didn’t have any problem so big. The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, was its Chairman, Board of Trustees. But, along the line, a problem happened between him and the National Coordinator of MBO. I tried to intervene but, at the end of the day, the problem couldn’t be resolved and it led to the Minister withdrawing from the group.
I, as the state Coordinator, however, decided to forge ahead because I was asked in Abuja that in the event the Minister ceased to be the Chairman of the BOT, what would I do? They asked to know whether I would continue or I would stop.
First of all, I didn’t give them an answer and that happened on two occasions until the third time when I was also asked and other colleagues in the Minister’s camp, like Nasirudeen Abdulafeez and Oladele Saheed, asked me to go ahead and tell them l would stay on.
But why do you think Abuja would ask you such question repeatedly?
It was because the National Coordinator, Mallam Usman Ibrahim, knew that I love the Minister and, for some time, they were avoiding me whenever they had a meeting because they believed I was the one giving the Minister information on what they were doing.
Eventually, when I told the National Coordinator that I would continue as Oyo State Coordinator, he said “Congratulations!” The Minister had made up his mind not to be part of the group and what that meant was that he ceased being the financier of MBO.
So he was the financier of the group…
He was doing his best and there were some aspects he was taking care of. MBO had staff members whose salaries the Minister was paying, although not regularly. All of that stopped and there was nothing to cater for the running cost of the group from the camp of the Minister to which I belonged.
I was in Abuja when Mr Tola Ajala, one of MBO’s National Patrons, called me and said the Minister called him to say that the landlord of the building housing our office had been worrying him and that, because he had nothing to do with MBO again, he (Ajala) may evacuate what belonged to the group from the building. I saw it as one of the biggest mistakes the Minister would ever make. Even other members of the Shittu camp whose opinion I sought about the Minister’s decision were aghast about the appropriateness of it.
And if I had allowed that situation to pass without solution, would it not have meant the end of MBO in Oyo State? Because it got to a point that what was left of MBO was only that building. So, quitting and evacuating the group’s belongings from that building was to bring MBO to a halt in the state.
What then did you do as State Coordinator to save the situation?
I struggled to find another building at Molete.
Funded by whom?
It was funded by Mr Ajala because that previous office was also funded by him. Ajala was the one that paid N3 million rent for the previous office building. This National Patron was always concerned about how not to allow the problem to escalate but when his effort to resolve it failed, he decided to continue to associate with both Shittu’s camp and MBO and, so, he funded the rent of the other place we got at Molete which was N750,000 after the previous N3 million. He was even responsible for the funding of banner but, when the national level complained about the banner, I took up the funding of another banner, which was just N65, 000.
But you have been accused of dumping Shittu for Ajimobi. How come Ajimobi could not fund MBO?
Leaving Shittu does not mean going to Ajimobi. I was in the party and Ajimobi happened to be the leader of the party in Oyo State. That was what was surprising to Shittu’s camp. They thought our being able to survive was that Ajimobi was financing me but mine was to ensure the party succeeded.
Remember, Shittu didn’t leave the party also.
Yes. He did not leave the party. He said so. But he was saying that he would create another Buhari campaign organization, which I also saw as a wrong decision. I asked, ‘How would you create an organization as big as MBO, well established, and you now want to demolish it just because you have problem with the National Coordinator, whereas, you are far above that National Coordinator by being the Chairman of the Board of Trustees?’
I then asked, ‘Where will you put me? I swore allegiance to do my best for the uplift of MBO and its members. Would I allow MBO to die, therefore? You are no longer with the organization because of unresolved issue. Then, I have to stay with MBO’. That was the decision I took which they misunderstood for me going to Ajimobi’s camp whereas the agenda of MBO is to promote the party and its candidates.
When Shittu left, did Ajimobi embrace or work with MBO?
Ajimobi didn’t work with MBO. The governor complained to the National Coordinator that I didn’t come to him and truly I didn’t go to him.
Okay, when you now went to him, did he do anything positive for the group?
I didn’t even go to Ajimobi but I didn’t let anybody know that I didn’t go to him.
But to the Minister, Eleyele had dumped him for Ajimobi. He must have seen something before saying so.
He said so because he was amazed by the success I was achieving as State Coordinator of MBO. He didn’t know where the support was coming from. I would like to make it clear to our supporters and every other interested Nigerian that I didn’t leave Shittu for Ajimobi. The only time I came in contact with Ajimobi physically was when he came to Sepeteri for campaign and I happened to be at Sepeteri then, which was what I reported on the Facebook and, which also was where they drew their claim from, thinking that the governor and I had been dinning and wining together before he came to Sepeteri.
But what could be wrong that Ajimobi had to go to the extent of reporting you to the National Coordinator that you didn’t come to him?
He reported me to the National Coordinator because I simply did not go to him.
If you had gone to him, what would he have done?
As the State Coordinator of MBO, I was supposed to go to him. But because of the love I have for Barrister Shittu, I refused to go to him. And all the major stakeholders in Oyo State wanted me to go to the governor but I gave them one excuse or another to support my not going to him.
Some people claim the governor didn’t really campaign for President Buhari?
I wouldn’t know that Ajimobi didn’t campaign for President Buhari.
But the President lost Oyo State despite the governor and MBO.
That doesn’t mean that he didn’t campaign for the President.
The fact, however, remains that President Buhari lost in Oyo State despite your MBO and Ajimobi’s leadership of APC…
(Cuts in) The losses we incurred in Oyo State during the elections were a product of many factors which include the internal rancour between the main leaders and the party in the state, the Minister inclusive, with himself as the leader of Unity Forum. Those are the people that left the party. Those that left the party were larger in number than those who remained.
But we, at MBO, were on the same page with the camp of the Minister. We were aggrieved as well. But once an issue is resolved at the national level, MBO doesn’t have option than to abide by the resolution of the national secretariat of our party. That is what I did. Even if the problem escalated beyond that, I would still remain with the party and all the candidates of the party would be my candidates.
Osun State is shaking. Oyo State is lost to the PDP. Do you have any fear that what aggrieved members talk about won’t affect the future of APC? But before you answer this question, tell me, would you say the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, is actually wrong on the issue that is causing him to be aggrieved?
I admire the Minister in some aspects of the decision he took, like going to court. I love it. That is the last resort of the common man. Therefore he did the right thing. What I opposed is his dissociating himself from where the party was going; like his decision not to vote for the governorship candidate of the APC, in the person of Adebayo Adelabu, a.k.a. Penkelemess, because of the way he emerged. All of us didn’t like the way Adelabu emerged. All other candidates were like Shittu, they didn’t like the way Adelabu emerged but they had to agree. And I told people that if Shittu emerges in court tomorrow as the APC candidate, he becomes my candidate. That is MBO for you. If it is any other person, he too becomes my candidate. That is what they misunderstood and I cannot be explaining all of these all the time.
I don’t entertain any fear. I just see those developments that occurred as an opportunity to do things right.
Look at those people that left the party in Osun, like the Secretary to the State Government, had it been that they were in the party, with their followers, some numbering up to 30,000, some 10,000… Look at the margin between us and the PDP. So, those people contributed to the success of the PDP rather than of APC because they were aggrieved.
So, things were not right. We didn’t take the right step and that made people feel aggrieved. What I see in that is the opportunity for us to do things right next time.
And I have to appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari on the position he took that he wouldn’t interfere in the workings of institutions like INEC, the judiciary and the legislature. That will now make politicians choose people’s satisfaction as against using cunning ways to succeed because they now know that, if they don’t make people satisfied by their conduct or performance, they will automatically fail.
How should the President handle the emergence of the ninth National Assembly leadership?
Because of our experience with the outgoing eighth National Assembly, I advise that Mr. President should influence the emergence of the leadership of both chambers of the ninth National Assembly. Those to emerge must be based on their contributions and must have interest of the party at heart and they must be ready for sacrifices.
People talk more of the interest of Buhari than they do of the interest of the party because they believe that talking of the interest of the party is talking about the interest of certain people. Considering how that behaviour made Buhari and APC to lose to the PDP in Oyo State, what is your take?
The path to the survival of the APC has been revealed in the just concluded elections. APC is all about Muhammadu Buhari. Remove Buhari, APC is finished. And if he doesn’t contribute in 2023 to the emergence of who succeeds him, APC will fail. So, you can see it. See the National Assembly elections we had the same day with that of the President, we recorded a very huge success, particularly in Oyo State where we had nine House of Representatives’ members out of 14 and two senators out of three.