May 2, 2011
Kayode Soyinka, renowned journalist and publisher of Africa Today and former gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is fractured because Governor Ibikunle Amosun was imposed on original party members.
You’ve had a successful career in the media, here in Nigeria and internationally; what motivated you to go into politics? GENUINELY, I wanted to serve, having had personal fulfillment, as you’ve rightly alluded, in my career. As a political journalist, I have over the past 37 years always interacted with people in politics, both locally and internationally. I therefore thought I had reached a stage in my life and career when I should put something back to the community that made me. I didn’t want to do it nationally at first, but chose to go back home to the grassroots level. So, I went to my state, Ogun State, where I identified with our people and later put my name forward and campaigned in three general elections to be elected as governor. I had, and still have, a lot to offer the state. You’ve contested in three consecutive elections and you did not get the ticket. What went wrong? You are right. I do not know who before me had done it consecutively for three times in the state. And I don’t know why they didn’t give me the ticket. Not that they don’t know me or have no idea of what I could contribute to the development of the state. Not that I am not qualified or experienced enough to be given the ticket. The question keeps begging: why Soyinka was not given the Ogun governorship ticket on the three occasions he contested. Maybe, one could say the first time in 2003 was understandable. I was competing with an incumbent governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, and I may not have been expected to get the ticket at the first time of asking. But contesting for the ticket made it quite absolutely clear that this is a job I would like to do. Although I did not get it then, but I surely left a mark, gained a lot of experience that could stand me in good stead in future elections, and more importantly attention was focused on me in the party. Our leaders and members saw me as a rising star: someone for the future. The second attempt in 2007 was better. I campaigned better and gave it everything. But again I lost the ticket to the late Dipo Dina in, to say the least, controversial circumstances. However, this last time round in the 2011 general elections, I thought very strongly that I should have been given the ticket. I don’t know why I was denied again. Some said I was fighting “from the outside”, meaning I did not go to dobale or grease the elbows of the powers-that-be in the party. I don’t know. I think you should go and ask the leaders of the party. I, at one stage thought that the powers-that-be in our party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), don’t like me. Or otherwise, how do you explain someone, which is me, whom you had denied the ticket on two previous occasions –– this is his third time of vying for the ticket; he is eminently qualified; he has invested so much financially and otherwise in helping to sustain the party in the state; despite being denied the ticket twice before he did not leave the party to cross carpet like so many did; he did not abuse the party or join other people in running it down, like others did. Why not reward him for his loyalty by giving him the ticket in 2011? People have asked these questions. This last time, they had to go outside our party to bring someone who had never been a member of our party, who did not struggle with us while we were in opposition in the state for eight years and gave him the ticket… You are referring to the current governor of the state? Yes! They gave the ticket to Ibikunle Amosun, who is now the governor. See the irony of that decision: Amosun, this same Amosun, who did everything possible in cohort with others in the PDP to make sure that Chief Osoba lost that election as governor in 2003. He became a PDP senator in that same 2003 elections. Besides, he ensured that we never got back to power in 2007. Now, we had an opportunity to get back to power in Ogun State and somebody who did everything possible to get us out of power in 2003 and 2007 was given our platform and governorship ticket in 2011. That was wrong. It was unacceptable. It was morally wrong. We were in the opposition all through the eight years of PDP government in Ogun State. Our party was almost dead in Ogun State. I was the one, together with Dipo Dina, principally sustaining the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Action Congress (AC) in Ogun State then. The party was almost in extinction in the state and everybody kept asking what was going on in the party. We were the ones helping our people at home, who required various forms of assistance, we gave them money and whatever support we could give them because they are loyal members of our party and we needed to keep their loyalty and keep them in the fold. When they came to us, we gave them whatever we had. We were sustaining the party, we were the only two –– Dipo Dina and I –– campaigning from 2005 at great personal risk across the state to keep the party alive. Even Chief Osoba wasn’t in Abeokuta then, because he had been threatened by the PDP government in the state. Remember? They were going to charge him for murder –– trumped up charge. He was in Lagos, in internal exile you might say. We only welcomed him back home during the last election. Is that the way to compensate us by going outside our party to bring a former PDP senator, who became an ANPP governorship candidate in Ogun State and also in the books of CPC and handed him the ACN platform that we had worked so hard over the years to prepare; as well as the governorship ticket of a truly progressive party? They gave both the platform and ticket to him on a platter of gold! I think that was wrong and utterly lacking in principles. Don’t you agree with the argument that Amosun was, perhaps, the only strong politician to wrest power in the state from the PDP? That’s utter nonsense. Not true at all. The ACN, as we had it then in Ogun State before Amosun came in, should have been more ambitious and courageous than that. First of all, I was waiting for the party to make up its mind and be bold enough to give me the ticket and allow me go and face him at the polls. And with the party’s machinery firmly and totally behind me, I am sure we would have still won. Secondly, those who voted in the last election in the state did not vote for Amosun per se, but for the party. They voted for ACN not for Amosun. Let nobody deceive you. So, even if it was the youngest of the original 10 ACN aspirants, Temitope Kuyebi from Yewa, that was put forward to be elected governor, ACN would still have won that election because Ogun State people in that particular election had had enough of the PDP government and were desperate for a change and it was ACN, not Amosun per se, they wanted to vote for. But what did we get in the end? We now have a government in Ogun State today that is only ACN by name but in reality is still a PDP/ANPP government. That is the root cause of the problems and the division we now have within the party in Ogun State today. The ACN is divided in Ogun state. There is the Amosun (SIA) camp and the camp of the original ACN members loyal to Chief Osoba and the party. The party is divided because Amosun was forced on the party, he has become governor and has brought in his ANPP/PDP/CPC people and his friends from Lagos to take the plum jobs in the state and in the local governments and giving our original ACN people crumbs from the table. He is running a winner-takes-all government, plotting and doing everything possible to wrest the control of the party in the state from Chief Olusegun Osoba, especially now that we are all now going to merge into APC. Can you imagine? That is partly the reason why there is division in the state House of Assembly, where the Mace was broken a few weeks ago, and the reason why members went into a free-for-all fight during the membership re-validation exercise, which took place across the state recently. Given the nature of sub-ethnic politics of the state, why do you find it so hard to accept the governor, an Owu man like you? A ha! Good question; and that is where you are also wrong; because, for me, it is not as simple as that. Yes, he is an Owu man like me –– but I did not know him. I only met him for the first time shortly before he came to join us. Now, if I am that kind of person, I could be an opportunist and use the advantage of being from the same place with him to get whatever I want from his government; after all, people who are not even that close to him have been taking advantage of him and doing well for themselves as we speak. But please listen, what is wrong is wrong and we Owus are known for our principled stance. Contrary to the traditional belief among Yorubas, we are not stubborn people but principled people. Therefore, in this matter I have to behave above board. That is why I, Kayode Soyinka, could not support the wrong imposition of Amosun on us in the state, especially when the leaders of the party in the state and at the national level did not count us even worthy of an explanation for such imposition. That explains why till date, I am not party to this government. As I said, he’s been running a winner-takes-all government. Look at his deputy, Hon. Segun Adesegun, an original AD/ACN man, do you hear of him? It’s like a cat and mouse game between them; he has virtually reduced him to just drinking coffee and reading newspapers at the office –– nothing much for him to do, he is by and large a ceremonial deputy governor. The situation is so bad in Ogun East Senatorial District, where the deputy governor comes from, that our members there are complaining bitterly of maginalisation, some are even threatening to move to another party. However, I believe that the time will come when we will have a truly ACN government in the state, because those who allowed him to be imposed on us must have learnt their lessons by now. I didn’t want to talk about this now, but since you have prompted me to speak, that is the truth. If I have offended anyone in the party for speaking the truth, I am sorry. We are victims of imposition and we don’t want imposition. It is undemocratic. And it should be done away with in the new party- APC- that we are transiting to. Yet, Amosun emerged as a consensus candidate. Why do find that hard to swallow? Consensus by who? There were 12 of us governorship aspirants, out of which 10 were original ACN members, one came to join us from PDP –– Akinlade, a member of the House of Representatives from Yewa, and Amosun himself from ANPP. And I was their leader. The party in Ogun State asked me to lead the governorship aspirants. Actually, the original plan was that they wanted us to agree among ourselves on just one candidate, if possible, who would then be used by the party to face Amosun in the primaries when he finally joined us. It would have been the party’s anointed versus Amosun at the primaries and it would have been difficult for him to win it. We held several meetings over this for several weeks and couldn’t make any headway. But the point still remained that no single aspirant among us came out in support of Amosun. The party leaders at the national level knew that. Chief Osoba, our leader in Ogun State, knew that. We had an explosive meeting with the leaders, all the five of them –– Osoba, Bisi Akande, Bola Tinubu, late Lam Adesina and Niyi Adebayo – in Lagos and in the presence of Amosun himself. The meeting at Isaac John in Ikeja was so explosive. One by one, all the aspirants got up to say “no” to Amosun. It was so explosive that some altercations occurred between some of the aspirants and Tinubu, because the aspirants believed that it was the Asiwaju of Lagos that was behind Amosun and was trying to impose him on us in Ogun State. Amosun sat beside me, on my left, at that meeting. And in fairness, I actually sympathised with him as the barrage of criticism drew on and it was too much. I was raising my hand to intervene and speak, but Chief Akande, who was the chair of that meeting, wouldn’t call me. When he finally did and I got up to speak, I thought playing a moderating role in that charged atmosphere was the wisest thing to do. Therefore, I chose not to oppose Amosun, but made him realise that he should not feel that he was not liked by all of us who were not in favour of him coming to join our party anew and going straight for the governorship ticket. I explained to him that we were the ones who suffered to sustain the party while we were in opposition for eight years in the state. Now that we had successfully built the party up to such a level that it had become the beautiful bride and a beautiful house had been built on a solid foundation, you now want to come in, not asking for a room to stay in but wanted the whole house – come on! I asked him to put himself in our position if he would accept that himself if the scenario were reversed. I was the last to speak and I thanked the leaders for listening to us and appealed to them to be fair in their decision on who would be handed the governorship ticket for Ogun State. For me, there was no need to fight with anybody. Immediately I rose up to speak, I noticed that Tinubu adjusted his seat, now sitting close to the edge – an indication that he was particularly interested in what I had to say on the matter. I kept my composure. My instinct has always been that if you want to be a governor you better start to behave like one – you must show leadership. And there would be nothing for me to gain by opposing Amosun and our both supporters would go on the streets in Owu and set our homestead ablaze because we wanted to be governor. My intention is to serve and not to foment violence. That was why I decided to take such moderating posture in such a politically charged atmosphere. But after all said and done, they all remained adamant and still went ahead to impose Amosun. Now, I went through this to let you know that if truly he were a consensus candidate, there would have been no issues. He would have been unopposed. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with having consensus. But for us in Ogun State, on this issue of Amosun, a serious problem arose because he, Amosun, was the odd man out – it was 11 against one. Now, consider this: If this had happened during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who we all profess to be followers of, there is no way Chief Awolowo would have allowed one man to prevail over 11! The electoral act is even very clear on this. Where there is an opposition to a so-called consensus candidate, you go for primaries. There was no primaries at all in Ogun State in 2011. Party leaders just went into one dingy hotel room in the GRA in Abeokuta to declare Amosun as the chosen candidate. It was after they had made that declaration in the presence of other aspirants present that they then left for the party secretariat to showcase him publicly as the candidate of the party. It thought that was disgraceful. I personally did not go there because I couldn’t support such a charade and dignify it with my presence. So I left Abeokuta and returned to Lagos. And I remember too that two other key aspirants Remi Bakare and Gbenga Obadara too were not there. They were both on conference telephone call with me as the charade was going on. Now, what is the way forward? Has there been any attempt at reconciliation in the party? Reconciliation? You must be joking. Unfortunately, the party in Ogun State has never been known for doing reconciliation. No matter your level of contribution to the party you are always left on your own to leak your own wounds. That is an example of the brutal nature of politics in Nigeria. Nobody comes to you to appeal to you and justify why certain decisions had to be taken – let us even say it is for the interest of the party. No, no reconciliation at all – up till today. However, that does not bother me personally. I have been in their midst for several years now and I am familiar with the ways and attitude of our members. Nevertheless, I am a huge contributor to the party financially. I have always been. So, I remain a stakeholder and I pray and hope that I will remain a force to be reckoned with within my party, ACN (and when it finally becomes APC), and in Ogun State politics generally. I want ACN to do well in elections, not only win in more states but win the Presidency. I, therefore, would like to join forces with other likeminded members to fight for true democracy within the party. I will fight for true democracy because I have lived over the years in places where true democracy is practised, democracy cannot therefore be given a different coloration or name in my own country. I am a founding member of the ACN. And I am an original ACN because I have my political roots in the AD. I joined ACN because I like its ideology, what it stands for as a truly progressive party, defender of the ordinary people – the masses; and not because of anybody. There were other options when I entered into politics. But I chose the truly progressive party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) then and supported it wholeheartedly. AD as you know transformed to AC and later to ACN and we are now transiting to APC. It’s good that we now have control of six states nation-wide. And with APC, we will even have more – about 11 already. We must fight to retain them, starting with the next governorship election in Ekiti State. Kayode Fayemi must return as governor. The same when the time comes for Osun – Aregbesola must return. Both have done remarkably well in their first term so far and deserve a second term to complete their work. And as a party, we should continue to build ACN to become a truly national party. I will appeal to the leaders of the party that the time has come for the party to be moved to another level, and one sure way to do that is to make the party inclusive of everyone and let there be true democracy. That is why I am in favour of the current effort to merge with other leading opposition parties to form the APC. I like our leaders. I hold them in very high esteem, particularly Chief Bisi Akande, the national chairman of the party. He has sacrificed a lot to hold the party together, and he is a good listener – he listens particularly to the views of younger and talented members in the party; same with the late Alhaji Lam Adesina. Shame that he died. He was also a leader with listening ears. He was on our side in our struggle in Ogun State. If you say Fayemi and Aregbesola should be returned, why not Amosun as well; hasn’t he done well?First, they have been in office longer than Amosun; they therefore have done enough over a longer period of time that we can see on ground, to justify their return to continue with their good work. However, even Fayemi and Aregbesola that I have singled out for praise, I believe ultimately they would still have to present themselves for endorsement by the party. That some of us may want them re-elected for second term does not mean that they cannot be challenged in the party by others who might also be interested in the job. However, we all know how difficult it is in Nigeria to challenge an incumbent. Whatever the case may be, there would still be primaries or endorsement by consensus. So, it is the party that will ultimately decide who the eventual candidate will be. Secondly, you ask me if he has not justified his mandate. It is not me that should be judgmental on that. It is immaterial what my view on that is. It is the view of the people of Ogun State that matters. If he scales through and gets the party’s ticket for a second term and to run again in 2015, you can trust our people to surely deliver their judgment at the polls on election day. What is your relationship like with former Governor Osoba? Good. We understand you don’t get on with each other, why? That’s not true. As the leader of the party in Ogun State, why didn’t he put his foot down that the governor should come from the rank of the original ACN aspirants?It is interesting you asked that question. As I had explained, we held several strategic meetings with him – the original ACN aspirants, without Amosun. We were still with him till about 2 a.m. the day they chose Amosun and he was still reassuring us that the governorship candidate would emerge from our group. I never believed him though because I know Chief Osoba very well and I can read him correctly from the palm of my hand! What I found shocking was that he agreed with Tinubu that Amosun should be given the Ogun State governorship ticket. If he had put his foot down and said “no”, Ogun State was his territory and Tinubu should not interfere, he should face his Fashola in Lagos; we would have rallied round him and supported him in Ogun State. But he didn’t. So, he should not complain whatever ill treatment or lack of respect he allegedly may be getting now from Amosun. Some people said they wouldn’t give me the ticket because they know I am opinionated and single-minded and they would not be able to control me. Well, they are entitled to their opinion, and they probably don’t know me well enough. But are they able to control Amosun now? They are now complaining that Amosun is too individualistic, stubborn and not being equitable in his distribution of jobs, positions and projects. They should leave him alone and allow him to do his job. Regardless, one thing I know which I must say here is that I would not have treated Chief Osoba the way Amosun is allegedly treating him, if I was the governor. For one, he is my senior colleague and a former boss; secondly, he is an elderly person, and my upbringing will not allow me to be rude to our elders –– it is for these two reasons that I always still give him due respect, despite the fact that for reasons best known to him he has consistently refused to support my ambition. I have known him for 34 years now.