Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, is a former governor of Osun state as well as a former National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The former Military Administrator of Lagos state in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on developments in the nation, clamour for restructuring, 2023 presidency and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
As an elder statesman who has contributed immensely to national development, what is your perspective on the state of the nation, especially on the issues growth since 1999?
I believe we can do better. An average Nigerian today cannot be said to be happy with how the country treats its citizens. 60 years after independence, we should be where our contemporaries like India and Singapore are. India got its Independence in 1947; that was just 13 years before we got ours. See where it is today.
You once said that the crisis that led to the ouster of the PDP as the ruling party started when you were removed as the National Secretary of the party. What did you mean by this?
When we were to elect the National Working Committee (NWC) in 2013, there was an understanding between the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, and the Governors Forum to the effect that ‘Mr President would give us the chairman and we would supply the national secretary’. Jonathan declared that Bamanga Tukur was the one he would want to be the chairman. The chairmanship was zoned to the North-East. A shadow election was held where Shehu Babayo, my predecessor in office as the national secretary, won but his emergence was not meant to be because of the understanding between the governors and the President. Rotimi Amaechi who was then Rivers state governor told him, ‘don’t worry, it is not only the North-East that will elect the chairman, it is the whole nation.’ That was how, through the Governors Forum, everybody was brought onboard for Bamanga Tukur to emerge as chairman and for me as the National Secretary of the party. We started working peacefully, harmonising things for the progress of the PDP. Then the issue of Mr President running after the first four years he had came up. And the feeling was that Oyinlola would not come along in that project. And anything that is not based on sincerity, I would not because of what I want to gain support it. If I know it is not just and right, you will not find me there.
Was your opinion sought on whether you will support the President’s reelection bid?
Nobody asked me. At least, you should have asked me first and let me decline. The suspicion was that ‘he will not support it; he is Obasanjo’s boy; he is Babangida’s boy’. Why wouldn’t they accord me some level of intelligence to know what to do on my own?
There was a cooked-up story that I was not duly nominated from the South-West before I became the national secretary. There was no issue of nomination. Just as the chairmanship was zoned to the North-East, the secretaryship was zoned to the South-West. I paid for my form – I think it cost N500,000 at that time – and I went for election at the national convention in Abuja and I was elected. When Bamanga was playing his game, I was trying to steer the administration of the party in the right course. Then out of the blues, a court judgment said I was not the secretary, based on what they said, that I was not duly nominated by the South West. That was an absolutely wrong premise which had no bearing with the process of electing the national secretary. I appealed the judgment. There was a stay of execution of that court order but they would not allow me to go back to my office. They said when you win, you come back. I went to the Court of Appeal and won.
The judgment was given on a Thursday, and on Friday, there was a pronouncement from the NWC that I had been suspended from the party. That was illogical, in the sense that there must have been a disciplinary process. An offending party member must be taken through the process of a disciplinary action before it comes to handing down punishment. I was never called before any disciplinary committee. Some newsmen asked me about the pronouncement and I said that could not be and I quoted the section of the party’s constitution which says that you must put an offending party member through this process. I was not notified of my offence, to start with. Some of them who had some legal brain pointed out to them that ‘what that man is saying is right’.
Then they formed a disciplinary committee headed by Umaru Dikko. I received their letter inviting me to appear before the committee. And I wrote back that while I was on that seat as the national secretary, I took a memo to NEC on the setting up of the disciplinary committee. An observation was raised that our disciplinary committee was not gender-sensitive, that is, there was no female on it and as such, we should include a female as a member of that committee. That memo was therefore withdrawn.
There had not been any NEC until that time that they were calling me. I said the committee was illegal. And two, the last time I knew Umaru Dikko, he was chairman of another party. I didn’t know when he joined us that he was now heading a disciplinary panel. And finally, by the dictates of the contents of our constitution, as the national secretary, I could only be tried by NEC, not any other organ of the party. So, I did not appear before the committee. That was when the battle started and the Governors Forum felt short-changed. The initial plan was to make a scarecrow; that if you remove the secretary, change the chairman as well, because we had an agreement. Jonathan refused to change the chairman.
Three people, including David Mark and Adamu Mu’azu, who eventually took over from Bamanga, appealed to him to see reason but he made them empty promise that I would return to my office the following week. When I was making up my mind to leave the party, I called Tony Anenih of blessed memory, and I said, ‘I wouldn’t want you to hear that I took this decision without telling you. I am moving.’ He said, ‘No. I’m in London. When I return, I will go and meet him (Jonathan) myself because this thing ought to have been settled. When I come, I will either tell you ‘welcome or say bye-bye’.
Did he fulfill that promise?
Yes. He met Jonathan and he, again, made him promise like he did the before, which he never fulfilled. Seven governors, on that basis, decided ‘let’s move out of PDP. Let’s start the movement from PDP so that they will call us and listen to what we are saying. The leadership will call us.’ Instead of calling us, Bamanga Tukur said those governors who were trying to leave were of no electoral value. Serving governors in the states? At the end of the day, because Bamanga and his team were too full of themselves and would not retrace their steps, a decision was taken that we should move.
And the greatest blow which I know hit President Jonathan was the manner in which we moved. Although it was seven governors that planned the movement, two of them, Jigawa and Niger, backed out at the last minute. But before the two backed out, the seven states with the governors and all the delegates, in the course of the national convention, walked out and went to the Yar’Adua Centre where we formally declared the NewPDP. And that NewPDP, too, was a way of saying, ‘We have grievances. Let us talk’. The intention was not to go. But they called our bluff. Today, the whole thing is history. If you take the votes that President Buhari had from those states out of what he had, Jonathan would have won the election. That is why I said it was because of me. Looking at what was done to me by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when I was governor of Osun, there ought not to have been any relationship with them. With the decision of the seven governors anchored on the unjust removal of Oyinlola as the national secretary, I had no alternative. They were fighting my cause; wherever they said they were going, I would go. Some of my people asked me, ‘You are going to the ACN despite what they did to you?’ I said, ‘It is not my decision; it is the decision of the group and I have no alternative but to follow them’. And that is why I said it was all because of me.
Any regret leaving the APC?
There is a regret in the sense that we thought we had the worst of government in Jonathan but what we went to, honestly, was so incomparable. It made Jonathan a saint. And that is the only regret I had. Giving the antecedent of President Buhari, being a retired General, and a flash of his action as a military head of state, we had believed that he would straighten things security wise, economically, and infrastructure wise. Now, mention an area of development that he has been able to tackle boldly, taking an inference from what he did as military head of state. He is a shadow of what we used to know.
You have been a leader in both PDP and APC. Some Nigerians have said the two parties are the same. As someone who has experienced both, what can you say is the difference between the two parties?
I have been in both parties and I can say categorically that the APC is a much more disciplined party . The followership listens and respects the leadership. But that is where it ends. APC has a very scant regard and respect for the public and for public opinion. It also has a disdain for the law. That makes it a danger to democracy and constitutional rule. The PDP, I can say lacks discipline among its members but it is a party that fears what the people may say if it misbehaves. That is why you could see it trying its own members for breaking the law. With APC, a sinner becomes a saint the moment he joins them.
There are fears that given its style of politics, the APC may turn Nigeria into a one-party state. Do you share that view?
That fear is unfounded. The APC will disintegrate before 2023. It has achieved its purpose, which was to actualise General Buhari’s ambition. The party will die soon from its internal contradictions.
How best do you think the South- West PDP can be restructured in order to return it to winning ways and what is your assessment of Governor Seyi Makinde so far in repositioning the party?
Discipline and respect for internal democracy is key to the return of the PDP in the South-West. Governor Seyi Makinde has done excellently well in uniting the party and repositioning it for immediate and future success. He is giving it the right unbiased leadership.
You governed Osun state under PDP platform. Do you see PDP becoming the ruling party again in the state ?
Osun has always been a PDP state. The bane of the party in that state is indiscipline which breeds disunity. Once that is taken care of, the party will bounce back.
Ahead of the 2023 elections, do you think zoning or merit should be considered in selecting the presidential candidates, especially that of your party, PDP?
Justice demands that the Presidency comes to the South. When it comes here, we can then sit down and decide where it will go here using merit and fairplay.
The Edo and Ondo governorship elections will take place in few days from now. What is your admonition to electorates in both states?
My admonition to the electorates in both Edo and Ondo is that they should vote PDP on election day and ensure they protect their votes so that the votes can count.
You will be 70 in few months’ time, looking back at your achievements; can you say that you are fulfilled?
I give God the honour and praise His holy name. I am fulfilled. I became an orphan at age 9. Despite that disability, I joined the army and rose to the rank of General. I was governor of Lagos and Osun states and also National Secretary of a ruling party. Besides, God gave me a wonderful family which I see as the crown of the blessings I am endowed with. I give God the glory.