How operation ‘see-and-buy’ denied me PDP gov ticket – Oni, ex-Ekiti gov
Former governor of Ekiti State and the candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the June 18 governorship election, Chief Segun Oni, tells says that people are tired of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, amidst other national issues
The crowd was huge when you officially returned to Ekiti with the SDP flag, but people say it is all about converting votes for your party. What do you think?
The urge to see us contest and win is the driving force behind the crowd. They are trying to make sure that there are no impediments in the way of their objective. We have no fear. At election time, you will even see more crowd. What we are trying to do now is to improve voter turnout by telling them ‘don’t relax. Go and register so that you can have your Permanent Voter Cards and vote on the day of the election’. It will be massive.
You are a professional, an engineer specifically, do you find politics fulfilling?
Politics is for everybody, whether you are an engineer or a doctor. It is fulfilling. Politicians have the opportunity that is not comparable to any to affect society. If we, do it well, society will have a lot of mileage, if we abuse it, society will be destroyed. That is why we are seeing the lack of progress; it is because politicians abuse it. But when you also look at it, the people encourage politicians and they allow them to abuse the system, hence the vicious cycle. We must change that.
Why have you always loved to be a governor?
It is because I believe that it is a service point from which you could serve a lot of people, a lot of human needs, and a lot of problems can be solved by governors. Next to being a governor, I will say, is being a local government chairman. Why I put the governor before the local government chairman is because of the resources available to the governor, otherwise, it would have been better even with the local government chairman. The resources make the difference. The governor can really affect a lot of lives.
So, what do you think you will do differently as a governor if voted to return to the Government House?
First, I will ensure that the things that we did during my first coming and were not as successful would be redone, repackaged in such a way that we would get better results. For example, we had a micro-credit scheme, it was not quite as successful, we think it was because we were very hasty. We wanted to deliver to the people quickly, but the people had not yet reached the level at which we should be making disbursement before we did. So, we would have put the exertion in terms of the hours of training. Most of those people we gave N100,000 micro-credit loans to were handling sums of N50,000 and above for the first time in their lives, we should have had them trained on what to do with it, we should have sobered them up for some weeks before they could get the money.
It is a pity we lost a very great opportunity. I don’t want to put all the blames on the people. Even though there were people who got the funds and succeeded with it. Yes, those would be the exceptional ones, our objectives should be to make the average person or the below-average person to succeed; it would have been a different story. This is just an example, there were quite a lot of things that we did before that we realize we can do better.
Governor Kayode Fayemi had a long legal tussle with you in a bid to get you out of office, yet you joined him in the APC later – why?
I was trying to show that I had no hard feelings. I won the election two times fair and square, back-to-back and it was cancelled. The first excuse that the court used was that accreditation sheets were ticked with a red biro, people who are grounded in jurisprudence should be able to prove whether the colour that you use to tick would affect the substance that was ticked. But if the judge says it is right, it is right, if the judge says it is wrong, it is wrong, we swallow it. We went to vote a second time; they cancelled the results again until they cancelled enough to make us fail. I took it in good faith. I wanted to show that we are not desperate about anything. I wanted to give my service to the people, if they were prevented from having my service, so be it. I did not think that I should make enmity about or enmity around that. That was why when I moved on principle, I did my best for the party on the other side.
Nigerian elections always end in courts. You were once a victim; how do you think the 2022 Ekiti elections can be conducted without resorting to litigations at the end of the exercise?
Fairness. If people feel cheated, they will still go the way of the courts. It is better to have people going to the courts than to have people using guns, and machetes. Sometimes, people who go to court go not because there is a very strong basis, but because they believe the court would take it from them. The attitude that somebody was ticked in red biro, therefore, an election should be cancelled -who supplied the red biro? How will I say that I lost because the election was ticked in red biro? These are the kind of attitudes that we believe we should be getting over with; gradually, we will get over it.
You were in the PDP, then you joined the APC, later, you returned to PDP and now you are in SDP. Some people say you are inconsistent. How will you react to this?
No. I would rather say I am consistent about principles. I don’t make compromises with evil. They asked us to go for a primary that was defined in the guidelines as secret balloting, which means what you do should not be exposed to anybody until you leave, but we saw at the voting point a jamboree, where people were thumb printing and going to show a Lord of the Manor, that is not right, that is primitive. And somebody will say I am not consistent because I complained and I didn’t want to be associated with a place like that? No. it is because I am consistent about principles.
Recently, you described SDP as a mass movement in Ekiti, but some people will say you are like a rolling stone that gathers no dust as prominent politicians didn’t defect with you. Do you agree with this?
You saw the crowd on Tuesday; that would have answered your question a bit. That should tell you that people are moving along. Anybody can describe any situation the way they want it. I moved from PDP to APC, I want to say that the election that followed showed my influence. In my local government, for example, it was a different story. But anybody who wants to belittle you can say anything. Today, I thank God I have been governor and people are saying a few things about me and it is by the grace of God.
Who are you attracting to SDP?
The people I am attracting to SDP are politicians of like minds and they are there already. You saw many of them on Tuesday. The reason we are together is that the principles that bind us together are strong. They are about values, they are about service to our various communities, and based on that, we will deliver real development. I want to say that if you measure development indices with every governor that has been fortunate to be at the helm of affairs here, no one performed as much as me. When I was governor, the average life expectancy here was rated as the highest in Nigeria. We don’t have LUTH, UCH, here, but without sounding loud, we made sure that here in Ekiti, you got drugs prescribed to you at our facilities’ pharmacies. If it was not immediately available, we had power bikes, which could reach any nook and crannies of this state in less than two hours.
But do you see the possibility of SDP winning the June 18 governorship as you are facing the candidates of the governing APC and opposition PDP, among others?
The people know the difference now and people are talking about it, the people of Ekiti know what they got from each of those who had been governor in the state. This is why you don’t have to labour too much before people can agree or disagree with you.
Some people were saying it would have been an easier task if it had been the PDP flag that you were flying.
No, I don’t believe so, because the sympathies we have now are two-fold. First, the PDP would have enjoyed part of it, but people now believe that there is one man who constituted himself into a junior god, and they do not want to see themselves continue under such tyranny, so the people want freedom. They want to assert their freedom to choose. The fundamentals are about ensuring that alternatives that are created will be the alternatives that will work, not the alternatives people boast about without any impact. So, I don’t think it would have been better in PDP.
Despite the perceived popularity, how did you lose the PDP ticket?
The night before the primary, we accredited about 650 people, who believed that I was their preference. And by the time we got to the voting point where people were instructed to show their votes to a Lord of the Manor, many of them chickened out. You can’t blame them; what is the status of these people compared to that of the former governor? Do you want them to develop the kind of inner strength they don’t have overnight? The person who created the voting system and called it a secret ballot protected the votes and the voter. So, I believe that we must have lost at least 300 votes to the fact that the secret was removed from the primary election and there was nothing we could do about it.
Going by that and the outcome of the primary, will you agree with those saying that everything shows that former governor Ayodele Fayose is more sophisticated and more grassroots-oriented than you?
If somebody could steal, is that sophistication? It that sophistication or crookedness? At times, we allow crooks to have their way because we call them smart. There is nothing smart in crookedness.
But in the build-up to the primary, why was it difficult for the aspirants – you, Senator Biodun Olujimi, and others, to team up against Fayose’s preferred candidate?
First, I don’t believe in teaming up against anybody. I believe in working my way through. So, I worked my way from day one as one who could work without collaboration and would win. If not for the crookedness of ‘see and buy,’ I would have won. If it was something that I could not win, I would not strive; I would not go into it.
If you are going into an election, especially a primary, I expect you to be able to say with certainty that this is the number of votes that I think I would get. And if it is below a particular level, you should ask yourself, do I want to win or do I just want to participate? If winning will be impossible, there is no harm in either seeking an alliance or seeking alternatives.
People out there believe there are deep-seated rivalry, hatred, and irreconcilable differences between you and Fayose. Is it true?
From my point of view, I will say there is none. From his’, I don’t know because I know he has complained and I must tell you, anybody who knows me knows that I don’t go out of my way to create problems for people. Some of the things that he (Fayose) would talk about, I marvel, and I ask myself how he can believe such himself!
So, can you say you are friends with Fayemi and Fayose?
There is still a gap because being friends is much more than the absence of animosity. It means, yes, no animosity, if there are you solve them amicably. There are also degrees of warmness either by relating with one another regularly and so on, I cannot say that there is friendship, but I can seriously say there is no animosity. Being friends means you see one another, you warm up to one another, and call one another.
How will you assess the over seven years’ tenure of the Fayemi-led APC government in Ekiti?
Well, I have always told journalists the same thing I will say now that I don’t assess other people’s government.
But do you think the Ekiti dream has been achieved all along?
If I believe the Ekiti dream has been achieved, then there will be no basis for me to want to be governor again. I am the kind of person that I am not that I am looking for what to do. I want to give my service where it is important so that it would add value. If it is just going to be a marginal value, I would not try to offer my service. So, the Ekiti dream is not anywhere near achieved for now, but I believe all of us should be trying to make a go at it so that in the end it will be achieved in our time.
What is your opinion on the agitation for Southern Presidency in 2023?
As far as I am concerned, the agitation that I am praying for is that there would be a President to serve Nigeria well and serve Nigeria right. If the person is a southerner, fine, that is very good. If the person is a northerner, why not? The reason we are reducing this to South/North is because we have not seen in the past nearly eight years, anything that anybody will not have been able to predict.
I am very sorry that I was one of those people who traversed the nooks and cranny of this country campaigning for President Muhammadu Buhari. When we were doing it, we saw three critical needs; the need to repair the battered economy, to put a check to excessive corruption, and for security – internal security.
The security thing was not as pronounced them as it is all over the country now. It was just the North-East, but we knew that whatever was happening in the North-East was happening to Nigeria, and it put us all on our toes. Today, it is not the North-East alone that is now under the weight of insecurity.
The economy that we believed was battered then was still healthy enough to be exchanging N160 or do to the dollar. Today, it is N560 to a dollar, which means if it was battered then, it is completely washed away now.
We thought of corruption and we hoped to be able to, at least, create a situation where we could put a stop to excessive greed and corruption. I am sure you know now that people are joining the government and becoming rich overnight. Nothing is putting them in check. People consider you to be mad if you do same. Some of us holding on and standing by our principles are becoming scandalized, but we had made up our minds that what is right will be right and will always be right and what is wrong or despicable will always be despicable.
But why do you think Buhari has not been able to achieve any of the three?
If you ask me, I will say people have taken advantage of him because there are not enough controls. He is a good man and good people are always easy to misunderstand. He does not want to hurt people. So, there is a difference between the toughness that we imagined and the simplicity we encountered. My conclusion is that if you are president of Nigeria, don’t aspire to be a good man. Remember there is a principled man who will not allow anybody to cross any line that should not be crossed and will not allow anybody to get away with it no matter who is involved.
Some people said education has a role to play in this regard, are we getting it right in the education sector with these incessant strikes and the present curriculum?
I don’t think strikes have much to do with the kind of leaders that Nigeria will produce. It will have something to do with the overall standard of education and the worth of, for example, a typical university degree. But overall, it is not everybody who will be a good manager of men and resources. It is not everybody in the United Kingdom that can manage well or manage better than people in Nigeria. The difference between us and the UK is that their best people are more at the top than our best people here. Our best people here are way below the ladder either because they do not have enough money to have access to politics, or because their kiths and kins would not even believe in them. Nigeria must get it right.
During the week, a traditional ruler in this state was shot by suspected kidnappers, what is your advice to the state government and security agencies on how to curb kidnapping and herders’ menace in the state?
For me, this is now a total embarrassment. It happened around the same place where a serving commissioner and so many other people were kidnapped, so why has nothing been done about it? I was talking to an official of a security outfit in Abuja, I asked them to do a project around that area to ascertain the reason why it has been impossible for the people around there to find a way. I remember there was a time armed robberies were very rampant on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the police killed a couple of armed robbers around that route and robbery stopped. If they had been kidnapping people around the same area in Ekiti for years now, not even months and we haven’t heard that there is a serious project done, either sponsored by the state government or the security agencies all this while. I think it is an embarrassment.
Some people say poverty is multiplying in Nigeria and life is hard generally owing to the high cost of food and other necessities such as cooking gas, electricity charges, etc. Looking at the government’s economic policies, do you see any hope for Nigerians?
I will say simply and frankly that there is no hope. If there is hope, we would have seen it. This government has been there for six years and things are still going down. What Nigerians should do is to search for an alternative. It is too late for us to hope. There is no hope, we should stop deceiving ourselves. What democracy has allowed is for us to retool our thinking and see what will happen in the 2023 general election.
Do you see PDP or the possibility of a third force as the way out as far as 2023 is concerned?
Third force, yes, but PDP is far from it and there is no hope in APC. On whether we should be getting prepared for PDP, what I will tell you is that in a party that allows people to vote in a secret ballot and show somebody, and get away with it, that party is not the one that is coming. If you allow people with any primitive sentiment to get away with glitches like that, then the system will not be run right, that is why I believe in the idea of a third force. It is not as if we have seen anybody, it is not as if we are sure, but I think we should put effort around the third force to see whether a leader will emerge that will be able to put Nigeria right.