In the July 20th edition of Saturday Sun, one of the leaders of Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, accused Aremo Olusegun Osoba, veteran journalist and two-time governor of Ogun State, as being one of those who destroyed Afenifere, among other charges.
But in this interview, the former governor explained why Senator Okurounmu, is after him, saying that his relentless attacks on him are borne out of “jealousy, envy and wickedness”. He also responded to Okurounmu’s claim that he was a traitor, a double agent and one of the Yoruba leaders who betrayed the late MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election. Excerpts.
Senator Femi Okurounmu, a chieftain of Afenifere recently said some of the things you wrote in your book, Battlelines, were lies and an attempt to distort history. How will you respond to that?
I will not descend into using uncouth, insulting and gutter languages like Senator Okurounmu did by referring to me as a traitor, a security agent and a double dealer. In spite of his sustained attacks on me in the last two weeks, I was unruffled and unmoved as a tested fighter and warrior. On the day I launched my book, I showed series of pictures and one was me as boxer at the age of 10. I also titled my book, Battlelines, to show a lot of the blackmail that I suffered in both my professional and political life.
As for Okurounmu, I will describe him as a frustrated, unfulfilled politician as well as a failure in his chosen profession. His recent attack on me was borne out of jealousy and the major factor is envy and wickedness. Yoruba language is highly proverbial and Yoruba will describe Okurounmu’s situation as somebody suffering from ‘Ija ilara kii tan boro, Anjuwon ko see wi l’ejo’ which means’ when you are envious you carry that burden almost forever and an envious character cannot easily say the reason why he is envious particularly when God has been too kind and generous to the person he is envious of. That is the situation between me and Okurounmu. My answer to that is: I pray to God in heaven and our heroes, many who died in the cause of the struggle, particularly those unsung. But I will be specific with our leaders that wherever they are in heaven, I appeal to them to forgive Okurounmu at 80 because insinuation that the military government was after me because I was an agent is false.
Sergeant Rogers was categorical when he was cross-examined by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a renowned authority in the Law of Evidence who was then the Attorney-General of Lagos State. He mentioned names of those of us who were marked down and they were instructed to assassinate. I appeal to the spirits of Kudirat Abiola, Alfred Rewane, the spirit of Bola Ige who died in the hands of assassins, the spirit of Olu Onagoruwa , the spirit of those who were hit and a lot of them died in the cause which include Papa Abraham Adesanya, my brother, good friend and soul mate, Alex Ibru. I can go and mention names of those who were marked down by the evidence given in court. I am still alive. If they were after me as a security collaborator and agent, then Okurounmu destroyed the spirit of these people who died in the cause that all of us who were marked down as stated in the evidence recorded in court that we are all agents. May the spirit of those who died in the cause forgive Okurounmu. May their souls continue to rest in peace but what he has done is making all of them turn in their graves.
What about the allegation that your governorship election in 1992 was funded by the former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida?
I’m shocked and disappointed at the lack of knowledge and intellectualism displayed by Okurounmu who claimed to be a PhD holder. If you are a student of history, you will know that the two party system, a little to the right and a little to the left in my time were well and openly funded by President Babangida’s government. We hadn’t arrived at the garrison command politics of Obasanjo, the politics of do-or-die of today. At that time, voting system was open ballot. You queue openly behind the photograph of your candidate at all levels.
Votes at that time were not monetised. In our time, we didn’t need much money to run our campaign because the parties were funded, we didn’t need to fund the party or buy votes because voting was by open ballot. You queue in the open behind the photographs. What evidence has he that I collected money when the party has already been funded? What do I need the money for when voting was by open ballot? We have a situation where the wife will queue on one side and the husband will queue on the other side. On the day of the election in Ijebu-Igbo, Papa Adesanya at that time, who was a junior brother to my father-in-law directed people in his voting centre that they were supporting Afolabi Olabimtan and people were telling him ‘Papa, you have a right to say you are supporting Olabimtan but we are for Osoba’ and they queued openly behind my picture. The same thing with Papa Ayo Adebanjo in Isanya Ogbo, where his closest political foot soldier in Isanya-Ogbo, late CP Odunsi was my supporter. He openly queued behind my picture contrary to the directive of Papa Ayo Adebanjo. So, what money did I need from Babangida then?
What will I spend the money on? You don’t even need an agent because the result is recorded. An example is Lagos. In Lagos, the late Wahab Dosunmu and Towry Coker were candidates for the Senate seat in Lagos. Somehow, they disagreed that they were not happy with the way the primary was being conducted and so they decided to boycott it. However, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele said she was not boycotting. Two of the people queued behind her. At the end of the day, Babagana Kingibe upheld the result and said there is no provision in the constitution for boycott. The party members still went ahead and voted for Bucknor- Akerele who was not their candidate despite the fact that she was not the original candidate they wanted. There was party discipline then. I can give you several examples to show you that there was discipline in the two-party system. There was never one carpet-crossing. Towry-Coker or Dosunmu did not cross because they felt that they were not fairly treated in the party. It was in the same Lagos that when they conducted the primary and they were not happy with the way it was conducted, they voted for House of Assembly in the open and also decided to queue behind the late Michael Otedola who was governorship candidate of NRC. The system then was open. So, what do I need the Babangida’s money for? That is why I said Okurounmu is lacking in sense of history, intellectualism and political knowledge.
But Wale Oshun, the chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) also claimed that you donated 5,000 pounds to the project of Mrs. Maryam Abacha but when NADECO approached you for financial assistance, you gave them a paltry 250 pounds. What really transpired then?
I have answered Wale Oshun in my book. I titled that chapter ‘Unkindest Cut’. His was the unkindest cut I can ever think of because both of them claimed to be Secretary-General of NADECO but it was a lie. Neither of the two were part of the 49 people that founded NADECO. NADECO was formed in General Adeyinka Adebayo’s house in Ikeja and it was a coalition of so many forces. Neither of them was present and so they cannot tell the story of their forefathers. The closest person to me in exile in London was Wale Oshun. He was a regular visitor to my house. He should tell you first what transpired between us as individuals. When he was briefly detained in Ikoyi Prisons before he ran away to the United Kingdom (UK), I was regularly going to his house with Segun Adesegun, former Deputy Governor of Ogun State and Alhaji Sule Onabiyi to help the wife. My passport was seized and I was to attend an operation in 1993 when MKO Abiola asked me to come and return as the foremost governor behind him to come and face Babangida which I did. Then, I had nerve root problem and my nerve was almost cutting off by the time efforts were made to get my passport released. My wife’s passport was also seized so she couldn’t travel with me. I had a three-hour operation at Princess Grace Hospital. If my relationship with Wale Oshun was that sour, how come he was the first person I saw by the time I came out of anesthesia? He was the first person by my bedside when I came back to life and opened my eyes. But I know his problem.
What is his problem?
Under SDP, he failed in Lagos. He was playing his politics in Lagos but lost out. So he came to Ogun State and because both of us were in the Constituent Assembly in 1998 where I met him over 30 years ago, he pleaded with me that he wanted to be my running mate. I now told him that Papa Awolowo was a democrat who practiced democracy to the core and as one of his staunch followers, I am not going to handpick my deputy. The field is open and he is free to come in, I will throw it open to contest. In his local government, he defeated my deputy in Ogun East (Waterside) local government and he emerged through the Option A4 at the first level. At the second level, he lost out to Rafiu Ogunleye. At the state level, he lost out in Ijebu, so he was not one of the candidates who were considered at the state level where Ogunleye won by narrow margin. So, that is the genesis of his attacks on me because he could not forgive me for not handpicking him as my deputy in 1991. He is still carrying that burden till today. At that time there was party discipline. The party then decided that let us compensate this young man who failed in Lagos, who also failed to become Deputy Governor in Ogun and we gave him House of Reps ticket. After he won the election, I supported him to become Chief Whip as the governor of Ogun State then. We are that close. Senator Jubril Martins Kuye was in the Senate then and he became embittered because he wanted to become a principal officer in the Senate but since I supported Wale Oshun, there was no way an Ijebu man can get principal officer in Ogun. So, this is the genesis of the bitterness of Wale Oshun. He and Okurounmu have not gone beyond that level ever. My God is great. I have gone beyond the level of a one-term governor. I became governor the second time under a different political dispensation. Okurounmu said he wants a public debate but I will not descend to the level of dancing naked in the market at the age of 80. There is a saying that when you see a mad person who picked your cloth at the riverside while you were swimming, instead of you to cover your nakedness with leaves, you now decided to run naked after the mad man to retrieve your cloth, everybody will say they saw two mad people running on the road. Okurounmu is not a mad man but I will not join him in dancing naked on the street.
So, what would you say led to the crisis of confidence within the Afenifere?
Our elders started the breakup of Afenifere with Bola Ige’s issue. The D’Rovans election was the beginning of the end of Afenifere. The details are also in my book but I feel bad when even in his grave, Ige is still being attacked in writing. And I have challenged the Afenifere elders: how many young people are with them now and whom would they hand over the leadership of the group to? Me I am part of the elders and we are beginning to become a total failure. When we all go there would not be an Afenifere because our attitude does not accommodate contrary opinion. I will give you examples. We the Afenifere were registered under AD and Oyegun was part of us. We had a meeting in Kaduna where Oyegun made a suggestion that AD needed a spread to enable it win the presidential election, and he said why don’t we collaborate with All Peoples Party (APP) under Mahmoud Waziri? If you see how our elders lambasted Oyegun to the point that he was kicked out of AD, yet Oyegun suffered more than anybody in exile. He was kicked out and at the end of the day our fathers didn’t provide alternative because they are one-way thinkers. But they later returned to what Oyegun had suggested earlier but by then the elected APP governors were against us. If they had cooperated with us, there was no way Obasanjo could have won the 1999 presidential election. That is why I always hit hard at all the elders that they are the ones who destroyed AD’s opportunity of winning the 1999 presidential election because the whole country had conceded the presidency to Yoruba and Falae was in the forefront to win.
Our leaders are always one-way route and once you come up with alternative suggestion, you become an enemy. They don’t read history. When you are fighting for a cause, there must be alternative agenda. Take for example restructuring; we are all for restructuring and true federalism and you keep saying you want it right and now. Is there any provision in the constitution where the president is empowered to by decree restructure? I have been telling them to let us engage the National Assembly but they will go to the pages of the newspaper shouting to the top. When these elders met the 8th National Assembly under Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House respectively, late last year and discovered many of the things that have been done and how far the lawmakers have gone to approve certain amendments in the constitution, they were surprised. I challenged them to come out and tell me what they came out with after their engagements with the National Assembly.