Human rights activist, lawyer and three-time governorship aspirant in Ondo State, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, has been in the eye of the storm lately with his altercations with the All Progressives Congress National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he gives insight into the issues and explains why he wants to govern Ondo State
Why did you join the governorship race in Ondo State?
The true situation is that the hope for which we fought for democracy had remained defeated. What we had hoped was that government would meet the basic aspirations our people. And if you look at the situation in the country today, especially in Ondo State, a state that had great potential is in actuality one of the worse financed in Nigeria.
I understand that as at now, we owe about six months salaries. In addition to that, the leadership in the state lives so well, while the followership merely exists. No human being that has conscience can be still in the face of this tragedy. That is why I feel that as a child of the mekunu, (the poor); I need to intervene in a way that is possible. That is why I am running. No other reason
. Specifically, what development programmes do you have for the people in case you are elected into office?
Everybody ask that question. But If I tell you I will build road bring water and build hospitals, these are common platitudes. I think the most essential contribution that one can make to governance is to inspire the people to develop themselves in all ramifications and all diverse possibilities.
Like I was telling some young people, if I have three centres for invention, innovation, design and productivity, and I challenge the people of Ondo State to come up with ideas that will develop their society, and I asked if they come up with these ideas, they are guaranteed financial support.
Of course, the reality of the matter is that the mind conceives, dreams and explores possibilities in life. The problem is that the product of the mind must have a fertile soil, and the fertile soil is a leader that is willing listen to get inspirations from the mind and to support them. There are great ideas that are coming for development.
There is nothing special about the white man who discovered all these things that we now enjoy. They are products of the mind. But the difference is that when they dream these ideas they translate to concrete results, because the environment is conducive.
That is often the issue. Is the leadership ready to create the environment that will allow the minds of the people to triumph in terms of development? I do not see that and that is why we are where we are today.
How do you see Ondo politics agitation for zoning to produce the next governor?
First and foremost, who can be comfortable with the level of development in the state? Today, in Ondo State, we can talk of the triumph of poverty. The level of poverty, the level of denials, the level of wants, core denials, is beyond comprehension. You just need to go to the villages. My late mother once told me that what is killing people is the disease of hunger.
I am talking about mere hunger. So when you have a situation like that, you need a little beat more than the regular thinking. You‘ve got to expand your mind; you‘ve got to think about innovative ways to bring change. So why is it that we have not been able to have serious change- developmental change? You have got to do more than that. You need to inspire the people.
That means that you need a strong mind, an intelligent mind; you need a disturbed mind, a mind that is coordinated and committed to the needs of the people. Not somebody that you just place there as your business agent. You know, or somebody who is just talking the common talk. You need more than that to develop.
I think it was Abraham Lincoln who once said: ‘To make a difference, you cannot walk on beaten part. You have to burn and thirst for distinction.’ So this is what is needed in order to conquer material poverty that is disturbing our people right now all over the country, and particularly in Ondo State. In terms of the issue of zoning, ideally and constitutionally, every citizen can run, if they meet the constitutional qualifications. But the truth of the matter is that political office holding is very orderly in Ondo State.
Usually, the next governor comes from the zone that produced the present deputy governor. And if you trace it from Chief Adekunle Ajasin, it has been an unwritten law.
During his tenure, his deputy was Akin Omoboriowo, when Ekiti produced the next governor. After that we had Chief Adebayo Adefarati and his deputy was Afolabi Iyatan from South Senatorial zone.
The South produced the next governor in Olusegun Agagu, and Oluwateru from Akure the Central Senatorial zone became his deputy. And when the Central produced the governor in Olusegun Mimiko, he got a deputy from the northern senatorial zone. It is expected under this arrangement that the North will produce the next governor.
But this year now, there are lots of changes. For example, Mimiko is alleged to be considering picking the Peoples Democratic Party candidate from Akure that is in the Central Zone, although we cannot fully say this until after the primaries. It is when the various political parties pick their candidates that we will then know whether we are going to a new experiment or we are carrying on the old order.
How would you access the process of producing the governorship candidate of the APC so far?
Well, the situation is a little bit more intense now, to be honest with you than I anticipated, considerably more intense. I am running for the third time. In 2007, I think we were about seven and at the end of it all, when the candidate was picked, and in this issue, we must also understand that we had to come to Lagos for that.
When he was picked, basically I was the aspirant who was left with him. I went all over the state campaigning with him. There was this crisis about the candidature. In 2011, a candidate was picked, again from Lagos and another disorder set in at that time.
Here again we are at. Now, if something had happened to you twice and brought negative or no expected result, it seems to me that the most sensible and intelligent way to attend to it is to do it differently. You can’t continue to do something the same way and expect a different result. Now we have gone through another period where Lagos again has summoned our people and given us a candidate.
What do you mean by Lagos?
I am talking about Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, calling the chairman of the party in Ondo State, the chairmen at the senatorial zones and the head of local government chairmen and those at the ward level, directing them to go and support a particular candidate. The thing is very offensive and greatly unjust. Now, in his letter, he said if he had supported me, I would not have complained. And that I asked for his support. That is totally wrong. I have never, I say never asked for his support.
I have written to him to give me any evidence that I ever asked for his support. I ask for the support of people of Ondo State.
Honestly, I feel insulted as an indigene of Ondo State that I have to rush to Asiwaju Tinubu each time in Lagos in order to constitute leadership in our state. With due respect, I respect Asiwaju, but we have also met together and have made great contribution to national development. The only thing that may separate us is perhaps his wealth.
There is no evidence that he is more endowed than me in terms intelligence, achievement or education. So why should this pattern continue? And the sentiment of our people clearly resent this whole idea, especially when it has brought us nothing but an imperfect hope and defeat repeatedly. So why do you want to do it again?
So what are your demands?
The whole thing is actually polluted now, because it has caused crises. The other day in Ondo State I learnt that some youths demonstrated and stormed the party secretariat because of this imposition wahala. So what we expect a leader to do is to respect the constitution of the party that prescribes a primary election, and ensure equal protection for everybody in the system.
Look at what is happening; the level of injustice is annoying. I have been building this party since 2004 and nobody has spent more time, energy, intellect and resources more than me. When you look at it all these years- in 2011 when we were heading towards the primaries, you called me and said this is the person we are picking. Then I asked him ‘who is picking who?’ I disagreed with him on that occasion.
Who did he pick then?
He picked a friend of mine, Rotimi Akeredolu and I told Rotimi, and he agreed with me, at least now, that it was wrong to have done so. On this particular occasion, what is even more annoying is that I tried to see Asiwaju Tinubu to ask him, ‘do you have anybody in mind, so that I don’t waste my resources, time and energy? I must have gone to him several times with the hope of asking these questions. I couldn’t reach him because he was either away or something.
I then went to his protégé, Chief Pius Akinyelure, APC Chairman, South- West, the same way I spoke to him in 2011 when I heard about this issue of imposition, because we are both from Ondo State. It was after maybe he told Asiwaju in 2011, and that was how I got to Bourdillon, only to be told that (Aketi) Akeredolu had been imposed on us. On this occasion now, I called him and said I have been trying to get Asiwaju on this issue without result.
He invited me to his house in Abuja and I begged him, ‘look you know what happened in 2011; I don’t want to fight the party and we have a chance to win; ‘Please, do you and your team – Asiwaju and co-have anybody in mind? If it is necessary for me to prostrate for you to tell me the truth, I will.’
Because if I knew, there would be no sense of injustice, because what you know, you cannot claim injustice. The man told me there is absolutely no preferred candidate. He said he knew that some people have been going to Asiwaju, but he has told them to go and work. It was after that I made my declaration publicly, along with other aspirants.
So now, after we have spent a lot of money- paid over N5million and over N3million to the party. I have toured eight local governments, bought vehicles and procured materials.
Some other aspirants have spent five times more than what I have because; maybe they are holding political offices. But how about us who made our money out of stubborn efforts only to achieve imposition? And then you have done this and you are talking to me disrespectfully. For what reason?
I am older than Asiwaju, hence he should show some respect. Then he wrote a letter to me because I said we are entitled to a fair contest? And what he said is false. I never went to him.
What are the likely consequences of this imposition?
The consequences of this imposition are that the party is in problem, seriously in problem. Some people have said that maybe it is Mimiko’s medicine that is working on APC, because in 2011, that was the campaign and it became a very successful mantra for any governor in Ondo State.
Mimiko just went around during the campaign and said ’people of Ondo State, how would you allow your governor to be picked from Bourdillon?’ The people resented it; people of Ondo State worldwide, resented it. You see, every state has its own character and the sentiment of the people of Ondo State resents oppression, it resents imposition.
Our people may not be rich, but they have honour and that is the point I am making. It is their honour after all that largely that fought for liberty and democracy in this country.
I am one of the precursors of democracy in this country. I went to jail three times. Tinubu never did. I was in this country suffering. He came back and became the governor of Lagos State- the very state where I was detained three times, one of them for one years.
Looking at your precedence, are you likely to leave the party?
No. I won’t leave the party. I did not leave the party in 2007, rather, I helped to build it, more than any other person did till 2011. In fact, after the defeat of 2003, I was left with rebuilding the party. I spent most of my money on it then. If I will leave the party, it means I am leaving politics entirely.
Have you taken your grievances to the party’s headquarters?
I have done that through the Chairman of the Screening Committee, Governor Abiola Ajumobi. I have drawn his attention to the level of injustice. How can you just, on your own, simply decide? Okay, what happens if the people of Ondo State don’t like the person you imposed on us? And after you did that you will now provide the money to force the choice on us. What nonsense is that? What was Gov. Ajumobi’s reaction?
He understood my position. Who will not understand that?
Are you the only one who expressed that concern?
I am not the only one. Other aspirants have done so. In fact, we are planning a meeting. I am going to Ondo State very soon and we are going to meet over this issue.
What if the party prevails on some of you to step down?
The party cannot prevail that some of us should step down in this instance. It has no such constitutional powers. But naturally, in this instance, aspirants will meet one another in a form of reapoachment and some will agree on some issues and disagree on the others. That is the beauty of democracy.
What is unacceptable is for one person to impose a candidate on us. That is offensive, highly offensive from the standpoint of justice.