Engineer Segun Oni is the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the All Progressives Congress ( APC), who once governed Ekiti State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He spoke with SULAIMAN SALAWUDEEN on his ambition to return to the government house, having been removed by the court after spending three and half years as governor in the ‘Fountain of Knowledge’. Excerpts…
You have announced your intention to contest Ekiti governorship in 2018, what are the odds?
Against anything in life there will always be odds, but we should recognise the odds and the prospects. As far as we are concerned on this journey, the prospects far overwhelms the odds. The odds are factors to be considered, but the prospects far outweigh them.
Very recently, as late as last week, Governor Ayodele fayose mentioned one of such odds, saying APC would not give you the ticket. What are prospects of your getting the ticket?
As far as I am concerned, every man has his own wish. It is the wish of the governor that I should not be given the ticket because he knows if I am given the ticket, the battle will be tougher, and nobody prefers a tougher battle.
But he knows that if anybody gets the ticket, it would be a runover for him. That’s why he continues to say I will not be elected. That’s his prayers and he is perfectly entitled to it. Everybody has their own preferences, nobody prefers a tough battle to an easy one. But he is not the one to decide for the APC, the APC will decide in its own best interest. So, the field is open and very, very good for us.
Ekiti Unity Forum has come out to back you. What is the significance?
The significance is that a lot of people, different people, different shades, different interests groups are backing us. It means the people’s expectations also must humble us to know that we are going in for a tough job. We must do everything to justify the confidence that people have in us.
What are your advantages over other contestants?
First, my face is known. I have been there before. Its like I am a student going to repeat a class, there are things I did extremely well that I will continue, there are things I think I can do better, and so on and so on. It won’t be difficult for us to kick start or jumpstart and get the state to be in full motion.
At least we can know that in the hands of somebody who has been there before, you can put government on cruising altitude in less than a year, and hardly can you do that if you are a new person, even if you are a genius, unless you are running in a government that succeeds another government in the same party and they are all for continuity, if they are not for it, no way you can hit cruising altitude in less than a year. But if you are a repeater of class, of course you can do it.
Why is politics in Nigeria always featuring known faces all the time. Is this not an error?
It is not an error. Everywhere, you must have your preferences based on the criteria of who can engender development. In some countries of the world, it is even worse. You keep seeing the Benjamin Netanyahus, the Yitshak Rabins and so on, coming and going, but it turned all positive for the State of Israel.
Because they know what they want and they know who can deliver it. What we are looking at in Ekiti is what each and everyone has capacity to deliver and I think that is what should dominate our discuss.
Political positions in Nigeria seems to offer limitless access to cash as people become stupendously wealthy just within months of assuming offices. Why are political positions susceptible to abuse?
Nigerian politics in my own view is susceptible to abuse because the people of Nigeria, as electorate, majority of us are susceptible to abuse. If we demand money from people, if people will have to go beyond normal means to search for dollars to whet our appetite because they want to have access to power and we allow it and encourage it, then we have told them they also must fend for their own in very crooked ways.
If we reduce our appetite to want to make quick grabs, the politician will also see he has no option. You cannot go on and become rich overnight and expect us not to question you. But if we are trying to become rich overnight off that guy, and we assume the guy is stupid, so when he now starts doing his own, so when he now start doing his own, we start saying oh, look at him. But when we are milking him and he was running from pillar to post to godfathers and bankers, we were the ones taking the milk off him.
I think the society gets the type of leaders it deserves. My advice: let us also reduce our appetite for immediate wealth, for quick wealth, for undeserved wealth, and let us all face the future of this country together. You see people like us know and we can always say it now that you don’t have to have tons of money to live well in this country.
I left government with less than five million naira in my account. I left the whole of security vote for October, I left on October 15, I left more than half of security vote for September still unspent. I did not touch a dime there, and I walked out into the unknown on an empty pocket.
I was still young enough, my children were in school, and I did not allow the fear of the future to press me down and here I am today. I have never witnessed kwashiorkor and my children did not. It means God will always fend for His own people and I want Nigerians to take that lesson.
You could have chosen that time to clear the balance of the security votes, but many won’t toe your line. Isn’t that a system well susceptible to abuse?
Nobody would have asked me if I had cleared the security vote. But let me tell you, not toeing my line is not a crime because it is security vote. My own is a matter of personal discretion, and it did not make an angel, it did not make other people devils. I am just saying this was personal decision I took, anybody who does it differently is not a devil, because It is not embezzlement.
If I had walked away with that, it would not have been embezzlement of government money because you decide to define embezzlement in terms of who should have access to it and who should not. The system everywhere in the world is susceptible to abuse. In systems, there will always be loopholes, people who abuse capitalise on loopholes.
Is the system not being criticised now for abuse, even in the USA. It is the extent to which you can abuse it and get away with it that encourages further abuse. For Nigeria, nothing is wrong, nothing. We have this penchant in Nigeria for castigating ourselves too hard all the time.
We can make our own mistakes, we will get back online, but let us also try and learn to give little credits to little achievements. And we stand up against little pockets of abuse wherever we find it, the system will be getting better. I believe that Nigerian democracy is better now than it was in the second republic, because in the second republic the access that people had to those who govern them was less.
In the third republic, we did not do much. But now, you and I can reach our governors, senators, we can send text messages, and however impervious he wants to be, he would still know what people are saying and it would now be left to him to face the people’s wrath someday or change his style.
There is progress and let us always appreciate it when there is progress and with the Buhari regime, there had been much progress, because he has tied the hands of the corrupt man and impunity who would have been going over the land, dangling what he/ she had stolen.
But Buhari is being opposed now.
There will always be opposition. Machiavelli said there is nothing more dangerous than promoting a new social order. Those who would benefit from that social order will keep quiet, they won’t be in your defense, those who are already benefitting from the existing order you want to change will be up in arms against you.
We are seeing that now. People who will benefit, largely the masses, from the minimisation of corruption are not speaking. We, the masses are not speaking, but those who are benefitting from excessive corruption are up in arms.
We should expect it, it is natural. And of course when such powerful people rage, they will employ the press to wage the wars we are seeing now. But then, Buhari is not a man you can cow down, and he is not going to be cowed down. So the war against corruption will continue, whether they like it or not, it would continue.
As the leader of the party in the South, you ought to have an insight into about president’s health.
The much that I can say now is that even the Archbishop of Canterbury went visiting him, and you can trust Baba, it would be a lot of banters and humour. If somebody is not healthy enough, he won’t be seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those people who are spreading very ugly and wicked rumour by now should be going to their churches and mosques to pray for forgiveness.
There are rumour of fissures and blocs within the APC; Buhari and Tinubu’s divisions. How is that playing out on the party?
I don’t know of any division. I know the APC division, that is the only division I know. The APC as a party our own division, our own work, our own focus to make Nigeria better, which we are working on. There is no division. People must always speculate and read meanings, but most of these speculations are wrong and I want to say they are wrong.
What should people even be looking out for in a leader, what should they desire in a leader?
What they should look for is how well the leader serve them, what development they can see, how the system favours them, or how the system disfavours them, and their level of comfort. People know good leaders. It does not matter what propaganda does to throw up people as heroes where they are not.
The people who are at the receiving end are not fools, they know. They will always acknowledge when the time is ripe who served them well and who did not.
How would you assess the Peoples Democratic Party government in Ekiti now?
I am not going to assess Ayo Fayose’s performance, because my party is trying to take over from his party, and anything I say, they will criticise me, saying ‘what else would he say’. Do you expect me to go clapping? No. And if I say anything, they would say this is what I have said.
I don’t try to do things that may not be of positive use. Criticising the government of Fayose is not of positive use to me and I know that we are getting ready to square up at the next election. When that time comes, we will campaign just how we should campaign.
We will show people why they can be better off, much better off. We will show them the gains of the past and the prospects for the future. They will then make up their minds where they want to go.
There are canvassers for Ekiti South agenda. Has that issue ever come up at APC leadership meetings?
APC in Ekiti is made up of people from all the senatorial zones, the leadership also cut across the zones. At any point we should expect that to be a topical issue. But my own believe, which is my contention that I always put forward, is that as a party, the first law is for us to protect ourselves, preserve ourselves.
The fundamental issue for us now is power. We want to have it, when we have it, we can leisurely decide where we are going to take it to. But, can we leisurely decide how we are going to have it? No. How we are going to have it will be through very, very excruciating hard work, and exposure to opportunities that can make us readily take power from PDP.
So, it is not about the leisure of where we want to put it, first the reality of how we want to get it. Therefore, I want to say and I want to appeal to our brothers and sisters from the south that this is not against them. But it is also for the self preservation of our party members. Because if we are not careful, the other party will have it.
God forbid, we don’t want them to have it, we want it in our hands, so we can do the right things. So, if there is going to be any delay, its just going to be a delay, in my own calculation, it’s a delay that is not going to be more than four years, before the South achieves what we want to achieve. They are in power, they cannot make a categorical statement now.
In a way, you are saying Ekiti South should tarry a while for the governorship?
The South should see what is going on as some kind of progress. The last time we were talking at elections, nobody was giving a definitive promise to say ‘if whatever happens, the south should have it in four years. If we were doing it then, the four years should be maturing now’, and that means nobody would be contesting that it had already been agreed.
There had never been a time like this now, so this for them is progress, to say when this happens, and we are the first person to say it. Even Fayose did not make promise to the South, that it would definitely be there. Now, he can treat up exigencies, because if he thinks that is where it would be, even right now, no categorical statement. They are in power.
They cannot make a categorical statement now. It means they have not promised it to the South. It wont happen to the South in four years time. If we have the opportunity, if we take this power, we will deliver it where it should be and will end up the debate about marginalisation of any zone.
We are capable of doing that in four years. But, let us first consider the fact we first need to have the power, at least those people from our own party, we first get the power before we can allocate it. So our first job is to have the power before we can allocate it. So, our first job is to grab it and by God’s grace, we will grab it.
In your assessment so far, has the Ekiti electorate really learned sufficient lessons to choose the right leaders?
I believe so, I am so impressed. I want to say very, very clearly, and this is my own belief, that this land of our birth Ekiti is worth and deserves everything from us, everything that we can give to it and I am one person who is so convinced. I can say it very clearly, I did not take a kobo of government money. I did not miss or regret it.
I give glory to God. When I was declaring on the 17th of July, the crowd I saw, and the emotions people were pouring out, what they were saying convinced me that this state is worth serving with everything that we have. You see, I wish I knew this. This state deserves even if you have to sell your own assets as a leader.
It deserves every inch of it. It deserves it. So, for now, I did not miss taking a kobo of government money improperly. I did not miss it. in fact, I remain grateful to God that serving a people like this, I would have injured my conscience so much if I did anything against their interest when I was there.
I would have injured my conscience so much. The people of this state deserve the best from the leadership. They don’t deserve a leadership that is looking for how to build a house or buy a jet or how to do anything.
This state deserves a leadership that will put everything in it and not ask for anything back. I must tell you the people will criticise followership. Yes, we cannot have a perfect followership. Neither will you have a perfect leadership. But I must say again this land of our birth, Ekiti, deserves everything from us.
It deserves our all in all. I have seen it from the people. These are very, very appreciative, discerning, smart people. They may not argue with you if you are in power. Because they feel that such argument is a waste. It is not that they don’t know what to say or that they don’t have the courage to argue with you, but they believe it is a waste.
Don’t assume that they are not writing your confidential report. They will show you at the right time what they have written for you. And I want everybody in power to take a cue from that, a lesson from that, now and in future.
Is it true that the leaders of your party are already discussing who to favouramong the many big names?
Leaders should not do that, they have to leave that to the people. What we want to elect is not the Pope, that it is the conclave of cardinals that must seek God’s direction on who to choose. The leaders here will allow the people through the primaries to choose. So, the leaders should not intervene. Leaders can each have their own preferences. They can reflect their preferences in the corners of their wards or local governments where they know their people who are going to vote. But I don’t think the leaders should come out and say we leaders we support so, so, so. It is not that I am afraid that if they say it, it will not be for me, but I believe it wont be right for them.
What if eventually you are not favoured with the ticket, what will happen?
Let me make it clear, a lot of people have been coming to me to put pressure on me, saying people are talking, small boys are talking against you in the social media, they say you are a decampee, and so on and so on.
My reply is that people are entitled to their own views. And they are saying we know that you are so popular on the street, especially after the 17th of July, and that if you take any party here, the party will win. I just tell them you are insulting me.
Because as far as APC is concerned, I am the face of APC in Ekiti. I am a Deputy National Chairman and I am a man of honour, and nothing supercedes honour as far as I am concerned. Not the aroma of being governor or being president will supercede honour. I told themthat I am Deputy National Chairman, if my party says we are not choosing you, I am still a member of the party. I won’t contest anything. What do I need to be despirate for? I have been a governor, If God does not want me to go back and be governor, must I force myself into it.
So I am not one that is looking for an opportunity to get known. I have served the people, and if what I have done is final, for me, I believe that all I should say is ‘thanks to God Almighty’. Because, if we share this governorship, one week per person, it will not get to some people.
So, if I have had the opportunity of nearly three and a half years of service, I will tell myself that e don do (enough), if God says e don do. I am saying it very clearly, I am not the type you will see flying the flag of any other party.
Apart from the fact that that is not my own kind of person. Also honour is crucial and paramount. Honour also begets honour. I see myself as holding the position of honour, probability of anything else for me is zero.
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