‘Owo is the cradle of modern day Nigerian politics’
Chief Jamiu Ekungba is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State and a member of its Board of Trustees (BoT). In this interview, he takes a look at some of the issues presently bedeviling the party both at the national level and its Ondo State chapter. Ekungba also speaks on the place of Owo kingdom in Nigerian politics, as the town celebrates its 1000 years of existence today.
Owo kingdom celebrates its 1000 years of existence today. What is the significance or is it merely a political stunt?
Let me start by saying that one of the things that stand us out is our ability to work out these details from time immemorial when the first Olowo, Oba Ojugbelu Arere left Ife. We were able to document how many years each of the 32 Olowos that preceded the current Olowo spent on the throne. It might not be by the Gregorian calendar, but in the olden days, seasons were used to keep the record of events. So, it was possible for Owo to establish that the kingdom has existed for 1000 years.
About two years ago, when we flagged it, some people faulted it. But we provided the yardstick we used in measuring it. And there is nobody that will not agree with us that 1000 years is a milestone. We thank God that we have been able to retain our identity as a land of honour for that period.
Secondly, the new Olowo will also be taking his staff of the office today. So, we decided to combine both, today.
So, what is the significance of the celebration?
With a sense of modesty, let me say that Owo is undoubtedly one of the cities where the culture and tradition of Omo Oduduwa still radiate passion and vibrancy. Owo has also remained the centre of gravity of Nigerian politics because whatever you like to call it, Egbe Omo Oduduwa metamorphosed into the Action Group, United Party of Nigeria (UPN), Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and ACN is one of the major parties that formed what is the All Progressives Congress (APC) today. Consequently, whatever is the APC today germinated from Owo kingdom. So, we as Owo people have a reason to be proud of ourselves.
Also, in the era of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of the Western Region, what made him stand out was free education. Free education was initiated and developed in Owo by our father, Pa Ajasin. We cannot forget the impact of that policy on Yoruba land and in Nigeria as a whole. So, Owo people have enough reason to go out and thank God. We are not just dancing and celebrating; we are using the opportunity to thank God.
Last but not the least, research has shown that in the whole world, there is no town that bears the name Ilu Owo (the town of honour) except one other town, Madinatul Munawwara, the town of Prophet Muhammad (Madina) in Saudi Arabia. Even by the name itself, we have reason to be proud, joyful and to be grateful to God. So, these are the reasons we said ‘let’s celebrate today; let’s thank God for these 1000 years; let’s beg God to continue to abide with us and strengthen us for the next 1000 years so that Owo would remain an icon in Yoruba land, Nigeria, and in the world’.
You have prided Owo as a city that has impacted Nigerian politics positively. To what extent has the town’s contribution to the development of Yoruba land and the nation been reciprocated?
Owo has produced two governors. Owo has also produced ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, professors, accountants and other highly respected professionals in different fields. Owo produced Pa Ajasin as the first civilian governor of Ondo State. His administration had a great impact on us as a people. Out of all the governors in that dispensation, he was the only person found not to have compromised his integrity when the military took over power and decided to probe the civilian administration. In addition to not compromising his integrity, the legacy he left behind in terms of infrastructural development, industrialisation, and improvements in the education and other sectors are still serving as benchmarks for prospective governors in the country.
We thank God that after so many years, again we have another governor in the person of Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) who has shown that he understands what governance is all about.
I know quite well that the relationship between Akeredolu and former governor Olusegun Mimiko is so strong that Akeredolu does not want to talk about the Mimiko administration, but I can. What Akeredolu has achieved in his three years in office in terms of infrastructure, education and health were not attained in the eight years of Mimiko and six years of Agagu.
Now you asked if politics has impacted us. We believe in what can we do for ourselves not what the community can do for us. That is why Owo people are known to concentrate on their careers and trades, and we are proud of that. But we now have one of our sons as the governor who is doing a lot of industrialisation of the town. Akeredolu is trying a lot in Owo now so the town can feel the impact of governance. He is not only improving the infrastructure in Owo alone; the impact of his administration is being felt across the state and in different sectors.
For instance, in the area of health, the administration has introduced health insurance for pregnant women. In the area of education, no government in the state has refurbished the number of primary schools he has refurbished in three years. So, I think Akeredolu is doing wonderfully well.
But the people appear dissatisfied with his style of governance, as he is accused of running the state like a sole administrator?
Listen to me. I am an accountant by profession. Accountants look at the value created and value-added. So, forget the style. Is there no House of Assembly in Ondo State? Is the House of Assembly not passing the state’s budget? If he is awarding contracts, are they saying that the contracts are not being passed through the due process?
Let me tell you something about politics. Even at the national level, the losers who are not in government will always look for something to discredit you because they want to take over from you. Even within our party in Ondo State, there are people criticising Akeredolu, not because he is not doing well but because of their ambitions to become governor in 2020. Consequently, if you want to become governor in 2020, you must criticise the person there so that he would lose the election and you would become governor.
But the APC he is leading has shed weight in the state as they lost two senatorial seats and five House of Representatives seats in the last general election. Isn’t this a sign that the party is becoming unpopular in his watch?
I am a member of the APC’s Board of Trustees. As a member of the BoT, a lot of responsibility is placed on me. What I can tell you is that there were lots of misjudgments on the part of politicians at that time and consequently the party was divided. Some deep, fundamental mistakes were made by people in their bid to ensure that some people emerged as “this or that”. So, that is why we lost those positions.
Immediately after the presidential and National Assembly elections, we, the elders of the party in the state called them and warned them about the consequences of their actions. So, everybody came together again and in the House of Assembly elections, APC won all seats.
So, as far as I’m concerned today, there are campaigns going on underground by people seeking to take over from Akeredolu in 2020. If Mr ‘A’ is criticising Mr ‘B’ in order to defeat him in the election, that constitutional tool he is using is fair in politics. That is why you see criticisms against the governor. Who else will you criticise if you don’t criticise the governor who is an incumbent seeking another term and you want to take it from him? For me as a member of the BoT, I am supposed to be enjoying that within my party. That is not division; that is also not factionalisation. So, each group is trying to canvass for the support of the people. But what we advise them is to be factual in their criticisms. To say that Akeredolu is not doing well is not factual. And when you talk about human relations; of course, everybody has his style of relating to people. And I’m not even interested in how you relate to me. I am interested more in the value you are adding to my people.
The crisis in the PDP in 2016 paved the way for Akeredolu’s victory in the governorship election. Looking at the skirmishes in Ondo APC, which resulted in the party losing some National Assembly seats, do you see Akeredolu coming out victorious in the 2020 election?
Do I see APC coming out victorious in the 2020 governorship election in Ondo State? As a member of the BoT, I will say yes. We have a way of ensuring that everybody falls in line after the primary election. On Akeredolu, my appeal to Ondo people is that you don’t change a winning team.
The governor is doing well to the best of my knowledge of governance in Ondo State. Look at infrastructure, education, and financing. Look at where he met our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and where he has taken it now. We have been talking about the Olukola Port project for years. No governor had taken the project to the level Akeredolu has gotten it now.
The Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) has now approved the construction of the port. If completed, that will be the deepest seaport in West Africa and from Casablanca to Cape Town. So, Olukola port will be the best in Nigeria because it can take big vessels, but nobody cared about it before now. And we have been producing governors anyway. So, having a port there will have a huge impact on Ondo State and it will be more productive than all the other ports the country has been wasting money to build, through dredging. He has also brought a number of industries to Ondo State within three years.
As an individual, I am not interested in what is personal to me; I am interested in what is good for the state. All the other people that are jostling for the position can tell me that they will do better than Akeredolu but that is a promise. What I am seeing now is that Akeredolu is doing well; we do not need to change him. As an elder, if anyone asks me, that is the response I will offer.
Do you agree that in spite of his performance, he would need the full support of every APC stakeholder in the state to secure a second term?
Why is the party foot-dragging to implement the resolutions that were reached during a peace meeting in July this year brokered by the elders towards resolving the conflict in the Ondo chapter? Do you think it will augur well for the party?
I was one of those people that spearheaded the reconciliation with our leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu. The only one that remains now is reconciliation with the National Chairman of the party. And as a member of the BoT, I will see what I can do about that. My closeness with the chairman is not as much as my closeness with our leader so what I can tell our leader is different from what I can tell the chairman. But, politics is “give and take”; compromise and reconciliation, are vital to progress. In politics, you fight today and tomorrow you become friends.
On that note, what is your message to APC stakeholders in Ondo State ahead of the 2020 governorship election?
As a leader of the party, I want to admonish all those aspiring to be governor to campaign fairly and with integrity. I appeal to all members of the party to remain united; we are going to pick only one of the aspirants. The party is more important than any individual; and we must not allow any individual to crack our party.
Talking about the national leadership of the party, how would you assess their performance so far?
I think I should just zero it down to our president who is the leader of the party. Everybody will agree with me that the man is doing very well. He is focused and resolute. One thing I know about him that I always tell people is that if he believes that what he is doing is right, there is no amount of noise you make that will make him change his mind; he is going to do it to its conclusive end. I love that about him. And what he is doing is always right. You can make your noise but you will come to see it later that that is the best option for us. I also appreciate the fact that he has galvanised all the leadership of the party together.
Talking about the national chairman of the party, I commend him for standing on one thing – that the party is more important than anybody. And what he has achieved for the party so far must be appreciated. In the last dispensation, we were in government but we were not in power because the National Assembly was against the executive. Now, he has been able to ensure that there is synergy between the National Assembly and the executive.
And for our leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, I want to qualify him with a verse of the Quran that says ‘God knows who he will give His message at a particular time.’ God deliberately sent Tinubu at this time to work assiduously to rescue Nigeria and he has done it by sacrificing everything that is possible to ensure that we were able to put together APC and nurture it to what it is today. I think that in our movement to the next election, which people have started talking about, we must be very careful. We must not sacrifice what is right for any selfish or parochial interest.
What is your take on the moves by a section of the party to see the national chairman ousted from office?
Self interest! What I have seen is that since 1999 except when Obasanjo was in government, the governors determined everything. Even in the first term of Obasanjo, they nearly prevented him from securing the ticket of his party because Atiku Abubakar was in control of the governors.
Now, this is a chairman of the party that is saying that the governors have their responsibility, the party has its responsibility, the national executive has its responsibility; let everybody face their responsibility. So, those of them who think that his being there will jeopardise their permutations for 2023 are the people that are fighting him.
What is the position of the BoT on the matter?
The BoT has not met but that is my personal opinion.
Finally, what do you think should be the focus of the Olowo whom you said will be taking his staff of office today?
His Royal Majesty, Oba Ajibade Gbadegesi Ogunoye is well educated. He has two degrees, one in Public Administration and another in Law. He also practised as an accountant. So, these three things put together have prepared him for this job. He is very intelligent; he is a humble man that listens more than talking. If you talk about the qualities of good leaders, he has it. For me, his emergence was by God’s guidance.
Now, his reign is going to start the next millennium of the town. He has demonstrated already that he wants to unify the town as one team. You know when you play as a team you win. So, he has started by resolving to make the town work together.
Therefore, my advise to him, which is like advising myself because I’m supposed to work with him, is that we should be able to sustain that which he has started by making sure that everybody in Owo who is aggrieved must be appealed to while those who are not aggrieved must be encouraged to continue so that all of us move into this new millennium a happy, united, focused and dynamic people that we have always been.