•Accuses Jonathan’s man, Okurounmu of blackmail
Amid threat by the Peoples Democratic Party to dislodge it from power and palpable symptoms of fragile cohesion, the All Progressives Congress (APC) would do well to rally its diverse tendencies to save the party from disintegration that may also cost it victory in the 2019 general election.
And where and how to begin is immediately seeking to regain the trust of the South West caucus of the party, perceived to have been betrayed and sidelined in the emergent government and power arrangement, regardless of its contributions to President Muhammadu Buhari and APC’s ascendancy in the 2015 poll.
That is the submission of a chieftain of the party and two-time governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, while fielding questions on political developments in the country from a senior editorial team of Saturday Sun midweek.
The APC leader said the party and its South West component were in urgent need of a new deal that would assuage disappointment, restore trust and adequately compensate the latter for its invaluable role as a catalyst of the change regime, if the party was not to lose one of its major pillars. His warning is coming at a time the South South and South East regions of the country appear to be drifting towards the main opposition party, the PDP.
Towards this end, Chief Osoba stressed the need for party stakeholders in the region to close ranks and present a formidable united front to articulate their common interests and demand equitable accommodation in a new order.
Similarly, he warned of the possibility of an implosion and defection of the New PDP component of the party, taking a cue from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, if genuine efforts are not made at reconciliation and inclusive running of party affairs.
The former Ogun State helmsman vehemently debunked an allegation that he engineered the ill-fated pact between Alliance for Democracy governors and former President Olusegun Obasanjo which resulted in the AD losing some of the South West States in 2003. He dismissed the accusation by Senator Femi Okurounmu as just another in a series of unguarded utterances and falsehood by a careerist in defamation and revisionism. He gave a vivid account and insights into what transpired at the time, citing places, names of witnesses, alleging that Okurounmu, who headed the committee that recommended and organized the 2014 National Conference under President Goodluck Jonathan, lacked the moral fibre to make odious insinuation and impugn his integrity. He spoke with FEMI BABAFEMI, Editor and YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE, Assistant Editor
Senator Femi Okurounmu in an interview published last week by Saturday Sun alleged that you were the mastermind of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) deal with former President Olusegun Obasanjo which led to the party losing some South West states to PDP, how true is that?
It is a most unfortunate statement made by Senator Okurounmu. It is a total distortion of the facts and sequence of event. I was never a close pal or friend of President Obasanjo as governor. None of the AD governors was really close pal of President Obasanjo. The AD governors were the leading lights and most objective contributors at Council of States meetings. Not only that, the AD governors were in the forefront of series of court cases to test the constitution to force Obasanjo to respect the constitution. We were in the forefront of cases that went to court on status of the local government, because right from inception, Obasanjo wanted to control the local government through ALGON, we were in the forefront and went to court to force him to respect the constitution in respect of fiscal federalism. Therefore, I am shocked that Senator Okurounmu will now, years after, still continue with his unguarded statements about the rigging of AD governors and senators that included himself out of office by President Obasanjo.
He said he was setting the record straight. As an active stakeholder even then and now, what would you say happened?
I was happy that I saw him yesterday (Monday) at the Walter Carrington Lecture and book launch by the wife. I had challenged him and Chief Ayo Adebanjo on the statement he made to you. He said he stood by it and I was also disappointed that Chief Adebanjo also said he accepted Okurounmu’s view as the true sequence of events. First of all, the first meeting we had with Obasanjo was at his own instance in 2002. He came to the University of Lagos graduation ceremony as visitor to the university. At that time, the students were up in arms against Obasanjo. He lobbied the then governor of Lagos, Asiwaju Tinubu to come with him, because he knew that Asiwaju’s clout would dampen the students’ antagonism towards him. Governor Tinubu then informed us then that he had requested to meet us after the graduation that day. That evening, he met us at the old office of the president and head of state in Dodan Barracks. All of us AD governors. The only non- politician with us was the then director general of the DSS, Kayode Are. There, he broached the idea of collaboration and the reason was that the democratic setting was fragile and unless we can carry out a successful civilian-to-civilian election, the new democratic setting would collapse. That was the thrust of his request to us and we responded that we cannot collaborate with him without him reaching out to our leaders. We reported back to the Afenifere caucus meeting. It was that caucus meeting that now mandated Pa Abraham Adesanya to speak to Obasanjo, because many of the members felt that the war for restoration of democracy was fought by Afenifere/NADECO and it would be unfortunate if we allowed the efforts to be destroyed because at that time Ghali Na’aba had attempted to impeach him. Senator Okurounmu was one of those in the forefront of fighting and defending Obasanjo, he was one of the closest to Obasanjo that time as senator. I am happy that Senator ‘Biyi Durojaiye is alive, all the governors, four of us are still alive, except Lam Adesina and Adebayo Adefarati. So Pa Adesanya was mandated to link up with Obasanjo, but Papa insisted that under no circumstance will he go to Abuja to meet Obasanjo and if Obasanjo wanted any meeting, it would be at his instance and it must be in Yoruba land. That was why the first meeting was held in Abeokuta. I challenged Okurounmu or any living leader of NADECO/Afenifere to tell me if I had any one-to-one meeting with any of them to plead Obasanjo’s cause, or to request them to support Obasanjo and even if I did, which is not true in any case, were they all so dull-headed I railroaded everybody and applied the whip on everybody including Pa Adesanya, late Olanihun Ajayi, Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Solanke Odesanya, all our leaders, all our governors, all senators, all House of Reps, to support Obasanjo? Was I that powerful? That was the sequence and there were subsequent meetings.
Probably in some of those meetings you were very vocal in pleading Obasanjo’s cause. Could that have informed the insinuation?
At the meeting where it was finally agreed to collaborate with Obasanjo, I never said a word, the meeting was held in Ota. I was not privy to the arrangement for the meeting. There had been a meeting in Lagos at which the conditions for collaboration were discussed, I was not there. I only got a call from Papa Adesanya that we should proceed, we were requested to meet Papa Adesanya and other leaders who had met in Lagos, at Ota. I was not privy to what they had discussed, I was not at the meeting where they discussed the whole thing, it was when we got to Ota that Chief Cornelius Adebayo and Senator Okurounmu, having been mandated by the meeting held in Lagos of which I was not part, made presentation of our position to Obasanjo and the position included the fact that we wanted true federal structure, we wanted a genuine census, the request included free, fair and transparent elections. Okurounmu should tell me whatever statement I ever made at any of the meetings at which he was present and my colleague- governors were around, any of them that I lobbied to support Obasanjo, he should state the meeting and the statement I made at that meeting. Cornelius Adebayo and Okurounmu presented the positions agreed by them before we met in Ota and Obasanjo hoodwinked everybody, made convincing presentation. First of all, he said the days of manipulation of census was gone and that he had commissioned and received the satellite map of Nigeria where without even physical counting which scientifically is now possible with Google that the number of houses in every village, every settlement, have already been identified via satellite and that where you have only three or ten huts in a village, you cannot claim 1,000 people lived in such a place and that with modern satellite, which we all now know with Goolge, that if you google anywhere in Lagos today, anywhere in Nigeria, Google will direct you to the place and will even pronounce the name of the street. He said over census, he had the satellite map and was determined to give the country a genuine census. On fiscal federalism, he said his mission in the second term would be serious implementation of some of the core things that we wanted on devolution of power to the state. On lopsided so-called federal character and other things you use in sharing things, he said his privatization policy was aimed at handing over those government institutions and parastatals back to private sector and that Nigerian brains in the Diaspora would be brought back to Nigeria and that his second term would be for government to engineer policies rather than be in control of power, plus all the infrastructural parastatals that were important to the economy and that our best brains would be brought back by those who would be in control in collaboration with international organisations and companies. I don’t want to go too far, he gave a strong impression of a man who was ready to do what we have been preaching, what Papa Obafemi Awolowo, a strong federalist, a strong advocate for the devolution of power in all his books had advocated. That was why I was telling people that (Governor Nyesom) Wike’s statement on Yoruba is most unfortunate because Pa Awolowo was the champion of the now Niger Delta states. He named it CORE states, Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers States, all the axis from Ogoja, to Bayelsa, Delta were all in Papa Awolowo’s writings. And he asked Justice Udo Udoma, current Minister Udo Udoma’s father, and others who were his strongmen to work with him on it. Wike had not been conceived not to talk of being born to now talk the way he insulted the Yoruba. If Pa Awolowo went as far as creating Midwest out of his own stronghold of Western Region as sincerity for devolution of power, why would someone be casting aspersion?
So, Obasanjo convinced us to the extent that Chief Adebanjo, after the meeting, and we went to Gateway Hotel where I had arranged a late dinner and a review of the meeting and the decision on what to do, was so excited and said he was so shocked and surprised at a changed Obasanjo. Those were his words. I reminded Chief Adebanjo yesterday(Monday) that you were the first to speak and you were the most vocal in Ota. I reminded him yesterday that did you not say that Obasanjo is a changed man? And he said “yes, because of some of the things he said”. I said if you yourself you were convinced about Obasanjo’s presentation how then do I become the mastermind of our agreeing to work with Obasanjo? I challenged the two of them yesterday. The problem with progressives are multifarious.
So, where would you say he got this idea of your culpability with his insistence to stand on his ground?
I have supported my statement with concrete evidence, names, sequence of events, venues of meetings. Let him give you sequence of events in his own case. I told you that the problems with us progressives are multifarious and it is still manifesting itself now.
How do you mean, sir?
First of all, the problem with progressives is that we distrust ourselves, some of us do a lot of sloganeering, we get carried away. First, the issue of distrust, this same Okurounmu and others were in the forefront of those who tried to destroy my name during NADECO. You will recall that Kokori was our final shield and the day he was arrested Punch insinuated that they heard that he was invited by a former governor, I was the foremost SDP governor in the fight for restoration of June 12. I can say that I was the only governor form South West among the 49 people who formed NADECO, who signed the document of the formation of NADECO in General Adeyinka Adebayo’s house in Ikeja. I was the most vocal, therefore, I was a target. Unfortunately, I would say, our leaders ate the disinformation poisonously. I became a pariah and leper within NADECO, because everybody suspected I was the one that must have called Kokori, whereas Governor John Oyegun and I earlier that day had warned Kokori. We refused to meet him because we told him that a prominent figure in the struggle had been arrested a day before and he was now the only one remaining, so, we should stop making contact. He said he needed some funds and a new telephone. Oyegun was ready to surrender a telephone. Oyegun and I just raked up whatever we could find. I drove down to the house of one of my cousins, Segun Osoba George, living within the neighbourhood of Kokori, and invited Kokori’s daughter to meet me in Segun Osoba George house on Nathan Street, rather than we going to Kokori’s house. There we handed the cartons of money to the daughter earlier in the day and warned that Kokori should be careful and make no contact. Kokori phoned me to confirm that Cordelia, the daughter had delivered the message by me and Oyegun to him. Oyegun is alive. Therefore, there was no need for any contact anymore. He was called out that night and he had revealed in his book that it was Fred Eno, a close aide of Abiola, and he and Fred Eno were arrested by the people he thought he was going to meet at the hotel, where they were to meet at Yaba that night. I didn’t know anything about it. But they ate it up and Okurounmu went all out everywhere to destroy my name. Before the 1999 election, when Obasanjo was released, Okurounmu went to Obasanjo in Abeokuta and told him, because Obasanjo, as soon as he came out, came to thank me for the support I was giving to his family when he was away in prison. I was actually helping to sustain, in my own little way, the wife Stella, even the chairs from my house were the ones we took to his compound to be receiving people, with Osoba name on it. So, when Obasanjo told me that Okurounmu told him that I was an Abacha man, I told Obasanjo that Okurounmu is always that kind of character. I said he has always been like that. He said why? I said they should ask how did he lose being deputy governor to Bisi Onabanjo? How come that Bisi Onabanjo who so liked him that he told him to pick any ministry he wanted in 1979 as commissioner, how come that today he is not welcomed by the Onabanjos? I said Okurounmu has a penchant for unguarded statements, propaganda, so, Okurounmu went all out as chairman of Afenifere in Ogun State to say that I was an Abacha man. I took everything in its strides. But Papa Adesanya refused to be hoodwinked, he said the mistake they made in 1991 when they opposed me when I was contesting as governor in SDP, when they supported Olabintan and I won the primary and won the election, he would not make it again. We went into the primary, at the end of the day, we agreed that Okurounmu should be the senator. Obasanjo, after he became the president, got the security report of the investigation going on then where Sgt. Rogers had been telling the investigators what transpired and Rogers had stated that twice they made attempts to kill me. So, the Chief of Staff to Obasanjo was the one who called me to Abuja and told me they were surprised, they didn’t know I was in such danger, that Abacha hit men waited in front of my house all day in Dolphin and Rogers said they couldn’t see me and that one day I was going to Abeokuta, they pursued me and thought that after the Sagamu interchange on the way to Abeokuta they would now kill me, the soldiers at the checkpoint, passed my car, but stopped them and that was how they couldn’t catch up with me. So, General Mohammed told me all this, which is on record as court record that myself, Bola Ige, Adesanya, Alex Ibru, Alfred Rewane were all on the hit list of Abacha hit men as stated by Sgt. Rogers. The present Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo was the prosecutor in the case, he is till alive. This same Okurounmu at a party he organised in his house for elected AD people in Ogun State, publicly apologized for all that he had done to me, that he never realised that I was in such danger, until Rogers started making statements in court. All of them knew that I was in hiding for one year, because I didn’t have the passport to travel out of the country among other factors. They didn’t know the details. Okurounmu is alive, go back and ask him, did he make a public apology to me? He has gone back to his old ways of making inflammatory, derogatory, destructive statements. That is why I said we progressives have multifarious problems. He should state his relationship with the Afenifere leaders, why is he the one all the time always on the warpath? God bless the soul of Bola Ige. He is the major instrument to the total destruction of the relationship between Bola Ige and other leaders.
How exactly do you mean sir?
Leaders of Afenifere are still alive. In one of Afenifere meetings, Bola Ige was then Minister of Power, or Steel, I think, he made unsubstantiated allegation against Bola Ige at one of our Afenifere meetings, that Bola Ige was undermining all the leaders of Afenifere and that he had been holding nocturnal meetings with those of them in Abuja, he was then a Senator in Abuja and that Bola Ige was collaborating with Obasanjo, the same allegations he is making against me now, to destroy the leaders and destroy AD. Go and interview (Senator Olorunnibe) Mamora, he is still alive. Mamora, that day at a point when the whole thing became a terrible issue, I remember, got up and said Uncle Bola Ige was being turned into an ‘Alabahun’, (tortoise) of the Afenifere, that everything is now loaded on his head. I remember Mamora made that statement, to show how far Okurounmu can go. He should tell you what is his relationship with the Bola Ige family. How come he is the only one in conflict with leaders of the progressives? The Onabanjos, whose head was his governor and under whom he served as commissioner, he should tell you his relationship with them today. I won’t go into detail. He was secretary of Afenifere, what led to his leaving, he is still Afenifere, is he always at Afenifere meetings? He has problems. That is why I say progressives until we learn to be objective, to respect each other and even to respect dissenting views and not just follow one- line action, there will always be problem, that is the problem of we progressives, one -line action.
From all you have said, do you think there is something personal between you and him? Second, he also said that when you became governor in 1999 you all stopped associating with Afenifere, and that, that was where the problem between AD governors and Afenifere started.
There is nothing personal between us, it is just his character. I have given you examples of other people. It is his character, it is his ways. I have told you the case with the Onabanjo family, go and talk to their families if they are willing to talk. I have given you examples of his ways of doing things. After the election was rigged, I remember two weeks to elections, again, Pa Adesanya suddenly ordered Obasanjo to report in Ota, two weeks to the election, and at that meeting, Papa invited Ladigbolu, who is alive, the Awujale of Ijebuland as the foremost Oba in Yoruba land, Bishop Gbonigi, and we AD governors, and there he accused Obasanjo that he had information that Obasanjo was going to ambush us, that he was going to use military tactics to ambush us and rig the elections. I had never seen Pa Adesanya speak in such strong language and fury against a sitting president. It was Awujale who brokered the peace and tempered the mood of baba and said Obasanjo should give assurance of a transparent election. Of course, we all know the story. If Okurounmu still believes that Obasanjo won the election, how come he himself as a Senator lost? Does it mean that he was a failure as a Senator? My book is going to come out. You recall that in my own election, Obasanjo said he scored 1.2 million votes and by 8’o clock they had counted 1.2 million votes, result from Tongeji, an island off Ipokia, from waterside which will take not less than four hours to get to Abeokuta, they had collated everything and announced results by 8’o clock. And by the time they announced 1.2 million votes for him, the totality of the votes for all the gubernatorial candidates came to 600, 000 and two ballots were handed over to each voter. So what happened to 600, 000 ballots? We raised the issue. Obasanjo had no answer till today. So, I say categorically, we did not lose any election. The election was totally manipulated and you would note that all elections conducted under Obasanjo regime including 2007 elections, totally manipulated. That one does not need any overstatement. The issue is not in any way personal.
Now after the elections, we were still AD. There was no time the AD/Afenifere meeting was called in Ijebu Igbo that all the governors were not present, up to the end of our tenure. Papa Adesanya, in all fairness, a good leader, a sincere leader, was still trying to patch the different tendencies, because there was still the Bola Ige tendency which Okurounmu contributed to inflaming the dichotomy and the disagreement within them. At the end of the rigging of the election, Papa still called a meeting to Jibowu, the headquarters of Afenifere then, wanting to patch up, when we got there again, some of these leaders did not change their ways and when one of them made uncomplimentary statement about Otunba, Governor Adebayo’s father, Otunba Adebayo got up and said “to hell with all of you, I will not sit here and you people will insult my father”, that he was not a bastard and he walked out on all of them. He is still alive, to show you that the destruction of AD started with them, let them tell you, is it true that Adebayo walked out on them? We decided to reform AD. After Bola Ige’s death Papa still tried to create a future, efforts were made to bring the tendencies together, Bola Ige was already dead. We were to now reform the AD, both Akande and Akinfenwa indicated their intentions to be chairman. Many of us suspected that Obasanjo through some Senators who were working with Obasanjo, was in collaboration with Akinfenwa to foist him as chairman. Abdulkadir had been taken in by Obasanjo as adviser. The same dichotomy, our leaders instead of helping to resolve the differences, held a meeting in Akure where they adopted Akinfenwa as their choice. How can leaders that are supposed to find solution to the two people now go and adopt one? That was the final blow to AD. So, for anybody to say that AD governors were the one responsible is mere propaganda, we were then out of office.
I used a word at a meeting I had with some of my colleagues last week. I said we Yoruba we are in a state of flux. What transpired at the PDP convention should be a lesson to we Yoruba, which is beyond the issue of South West Yoruba, but extends to some I will call internal Diaspora, those in Kogi and Kwara. The APC needs to learn a very serious lesson from what transpired at the PDP convention. If we must benefit from the implosion within PDP, we must ensure that we don’t go through the same implosion within APC, we must ensure that we hold transparent congresses at all levels and allow the party members to have a say in our congresses and our convention. We are even more endangered because the APC is a coalition of many forces. The PDP has a philosophy binding them, late Afolabi was the one who said Bola Ige was invited to chop and Bola Ige asked, ‘what did you ask me to come and chop?’ I wont go too far into the philosophy in PDP, you chop I chop, that’s what binds them together. When they start talking to each other, their common interest will get them to regroup. We will benefit if we learn the lesson, serious one. As for South West, I wont talk too much because I am the chairman of reconciliation committee of the APC in South West, therefore, I should not pour petrol on the fire. We need serious rapprochement among ourselves within South West and this time around the PDP is playing a game of lobbying and getting to strengthen its foothold in both South South and South East traditional allies. The South West now must, as a matter of principle and as a centerpiece of our strategy, engage in serious discussion on what we want in the coming dispensation; that is crucial. We in the South West never go for monetary gains or the spoils of office. This is why till today Obasanjo cannot say that any AD leader or governor asked for anything from him during the 2003 election and I am bold to say that I, as Segun Osoba, as a journalist I have a personal relationship with whoever has been president or head of state in this country, right from the time of Tafawa Balewa, Shagari, Obasanjo himself, Murtala, Babangida, Abubakar, Yar’Adua, except Jonathan who I refused to meet, I have good relationship, intimate relationship and none of them can say that I ever asked for any benefit. That is how we were trained by Awolowo to be in Yoruba land. The development of Nigeria and our area, the economic hub of Nigeria, the South West, is the focus. I am saying it boldly that we in the South West must regroup, be united and we must demand minimum condition for what should be the programme of action, philosophy, manifestoes of the next dispensation for what we are going to do. What has happened in the PDP is a shocker and the attitude that the Yoruba are never with them is most unfortunate, because we are the only group, the only nation in Nigeria that does not do one-way politicking. But we in APC, we in South West, need to shine our eyes now.
Does that mean that you the leaders need to sit with President Buhari and renegotiate the alliance?
I don’t want to reduce it to individuals please.
The APC at the national level?
I have told you that I am holding a delicate and important position within the APC in the South West. I have access at every level to express my views. At the age of 78, if I said that others make inflammatory and unguarded statements, I too should be more elderly and circumspect.
The last time we spoke with you, you itemized certain landmines that APC should avoid ahead of 2019 including the issue of internal democracy, which you just reiterated now. You also spoke about making some mediatory and internal checks and balances structures to function. Now, we saw what played out at the PDP convention, where the governors more or less muscled their will in the emergence of the chairman. Since we spoke last, how far have your own suggestion towards ensuring peace and cohesion of the party been addressed by the leadership?
I will be honest with you. The health challenges that our president faced, was a serious challenge to the party itself, that created some problem for us. I am happy that the president himself is back and immediately called a major national caucus meeting on October 30, followed by NEC meeting and we took certain decisions there. I hope those decisions will be implemented. I don’t want to talk publicly about it. I still believe in what I said there that we need serious rethinking. Take for example, party membership, with the situation in PDP now, we need to open our doors and really do serious recruitment of members at the grassroots. The next election, with the provision passed by the Senate on amendment made to the electoral act, would be more transparent than most elections that we have held, because they have approved digital and electronic system into our electoral process, which Kenya has been using, which has been exposing the manipulation in Kenya. APC, therefore, must be prepared to really work hard towards a transparent election at which every vote will count. I won’t go beyond that.
There are also fears at the moment that the New PDP component of APC, with the exit of Abubakar Atiku, will sooner or later move and that may be a really fatal blow to your party.
Correct! We must not overlook that factor, that is why I keep saying that we must reenergise, rearrange and create the enabling atmosphere for genuine fusing, we are yet to really fuse successfully the different groups that came up and form the APC, we still need to fuse.
The disenchantment with the APC administration has persisted. Would you say the party stand any chance to win the 2019 election, especially if President Buhari decides to run? There is also the dimension of the South West/ Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, that people believe was betrayed and given the short end of the stick in the scheme of things, despite its remarkable contributions to installing this government.
I am not one of those who believe in superstition or a fundamentalist- religion wise. But I must tell you that most of the medical people I know are telling me that it seems that President Buhari’s looks like a tale of somebody who has undergone a modern miracle. Most people had written him off as dead. A lot wished him dead. All kinds of permutations were in place two months ago. Pictures that were shown were in no way complimentary on the internet. Many of the medical people I spoke to, highly placed professionals, specialists, say they cannot explain how he has miraculously come back and looking stronger than what he was a year ago. So maybe there is still modern day miracle and I prayed that, that miracle may eventually play itself out. I have a feeling that the God of Nigeria loves Nigeria so much that each time we are about to collapse, something happens to bring us back to the path of rectitude. He may be playing on President Buhari as manifested through his miraculous recovery, energized, renewed and redeemed. I, therefore, think that with all the issues that you have raised, we can hope. Look yesterday, he was in Kano, the day after in Daura, currently now in Paris, that was not the case a few months ago, that means hope, that would help us, for him to now look into the working of government at mid-term, any government must face its mid-term blues anywhere in the world.
Yes, on his return, even before then, we were told to expect a cabinet reshuffle to integrate those who laboured for the APC victory and reinvigorate the government. But it’s yet to happen months after, just like it took him months before he constituted his first cabinet. This is what fuels public cynicism and dipping faith in Buhari and the APC.
I have just told you that he is back, better than what he was. Let us give him a chance, the year is ending let’s see what unfolds in the new year. I won’t make any major assessment yet. I want to let this year pass, it has few weeks to go, and I hope that 2018 will be a different year for both Buhari and APC.