Tuesday, 3rd February afforded governorship candidates of the different political parties vying for the governorship position of Oyo State another opportunity to tell the people what they have to offer.
The event was the Governorship Debate organized by Ibadan’s first private radio station, Splash 105.5 FM and the venue was the International Conference Center of the University of Ibadan.
While Governor Abiola Ajimobi of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Rashidi Ladoja of the Accord Party, Senator Teslim Folarin of the People’s Democratic Party and Engr. Seyi Makinde of the Social Democratic Party were all in attendance, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala of the Labour Party was absent. Akala had sent a message that he had planned a campaign rally for the Oke Ogun area of the state before the date for the debate was fixed. He apologized for his unavoidable absence.
At the debate, the candidates spoke on policies and economic issues, trying to further endear themselves and their programmes to the electorate ahead of the election, slated for February 28.
Political fireworks were however on display during a segment anchored by popular presenter, Edmund Obilo. Candidates were allowed to “trade tackles” and ask questions from each other. While reacting to an allegation that the cost of the Mokola flyover was inflated, leveled by Senator Ladoja, Governor Ajimobi responded “egbon, iro le npa” (you are lying). Some have described that singular part of the debate as Senator Ladoja’s nemesis, recalling that he (Ladoja) meted out a somewhat similar treatment to his predecessor, Alhaji Lam Adesina during a governorship debate in 2003.
As the segment started, Obilo opened with the question, “Mr. Governor, did Ladoja refund about N 500 million as a plea bargain to you?”. Without wasting time, Senator Ajimobi struck with precision, “I maintain, without any equivocation, that Senator Ladoja-led government, including himself, returned more than N 500 million”, he said.
Apparently wanting more details, Edmund Obilo queried again, “why did he return N 500 million?” Smiling at the opportunity to fire again, Ajimobi said “because there were petitions and the EFCC came in and they arrested all the people involved, including himself and they asked the money to be refunded. And it has been refunded to us”.
Obilo, who described that segment of the debate as “Bull’s Eye on Stage”, to the admiration of the audience asked in his characteristic manner on air, “are you saying Senator Ladoja stole more than N 500 million from the Oyo State coffers by selling shares and did not return the proceeds?” Ajimobi who seemed to gain more confidence with each question turned to Edmund and said “did you hear my answer? With my answer, you don’t need to ask that question. I said Senator Ladoja’s government and participants including himself, returned the sum of N 500 million plus. The EFCC returned the money to us. He didn’t personally give us, unexpectedly of course, but it was returned. “
Facing Senator Ladoja, the moderator asked, “Senator Ladoja, did you return more than N 500 million?” Like a man of depth and maturity, Ladoja, the Ashipa Olubadan of Ibadanland shot straight with his answer; “I Senator Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, did not return one penny to Oyo State” while that threw the audience into applause, he continued, “and all efforts to paint me black failed because, one, the cheques displayed by Oyo State Government were not refunded by me, and they were refunded even before I was questioned by the EFCC. And I had an opportunity before to explain to you because the Governor said it was a case of plea bargaining, and there was nothing like plea bargaining. We never made any plea bargain. So, if it is refunded for plea bargaining, then there was no plea bargain. Therefore, no money was returned by me. The case is still in court. And the monies that the Governor said were returned were returned in May, 2008, I was only invited in August, 2008 and there was nothing I returned either to EFCC or to Oyo State Government, and I told you the circumstances about that. Unfortunately, the main actor is not here, maybe he would have thrown better light. ”
Ladoja continued that “the main actor said the problem was that we tried to encourage Senator Ladoja to work with us in 2007 to 2011, he refused and therefore we said we must taint his holier than thou image. He said it to a very senior statesman and that one said it was wrong”. And when Obilo reminded that Ladoja had threatened to take the Governor to court, he said “yes, the lawyer is here. We also wrote a letter to the Governor which he claimed he did not receive, until we published the acknowledgement. This means that the Governor is not always truthful in what he says”.
Facing Governor Ajimobi again, Edmund Obilo asked, “Mr. Governor, Senator Ladoja, on a different occasion told me that you inflated the cost of Mokola Bridge. Did you inflate the cost?” The Governor was calm in his response, “I think there is a need for education here. Now, if you go and check the records, Mokola Bridge was conceived in 1976. It was in the report of Dr. Olunloyo, it’s not even a bridge, it’s a flyover, and that the flyover should be constructed. And during Senator Ladoja’s government, they produced estimates and so on and so forth. Based on what they produced, we called the engineers, the same engineers in the ministries and they studied it and they brought their estimate. In fact it was very close to each other, except that inflation of cost, the price of cement in 2004 and 2005 is different from the price of cement now. So you don’t expect the same price. However, every contract must be done at an estimated cost by the ministry. So the Ministry provided the cost of N 2. 1 billion for that flyover. In between the cost estimate, there was a price increase of petroleum products, hence the price jumped by about 40%. When I was building my house, cement was N 3, today cement is no longer N 3. So the price was adjusted, the cost of living index also increased by over 50%. In this case, the price with all the other adjustments became N 2.9 billion. When you compare your cost of projects, if you are an engineer, and if you understand project costing, you will know that the cost of any project depends on so many factors and your cost elements, the infrastructure of the road you are doing, the furniture of the road you are doing, the areas of requirement in terms of moving, so generally speaking, my answer is without any reservation, the price of that flyover, when you compare it relatively speaking, even with Ogun State is a very competitive price”.
When Ladoja was given the chance to respond again, he said “I want to say that my brother is very good at giving statistics. But what we are saying is that we compared Ogun State flyover which is double lane and one and a half times our own, and we discovered that for every N 1 Ogun State spent on their own, we spent N 6. That is why we cried out. Secondly, we said Ogun State allowed trailers to pass through their own because it was pile foundation, our own was raft foundation. Two things we complained about: The Molete Bridge was built decades back, they provided for trailers to pass through, it was double lane and Ogun State was also double lane, nearly one and a half times our length here and it cost them less than our own. That is what we are saying. Is he saying the terrain of Mokola is worse than that of Ogun State which is very close to Ogun River? I still insist that the price was not correct.”
He went on to aver that “and again, some people were sacked in the ministry because they refused to endorse the bills”.
Of course, the Governor never allows himself to be outdone in such matters, he was quick to respond that “ah, egbon, nobody was sacked for not signing. If you look at the papers, everybody signed but let me answer your question. The difference between a flyover and a bridge”, Ladoja however briskly interjected that “Ogun State was also a flyover”.
Governor Ajimobi later continued that “when you are doing comparisons, you must compare apples and apples”. It got to the peak when the Governor pointed out that the flyovers being compared were handled by the same contractor and Senator Ladoja described that as “the pity of it”. Ajimobi passed what seemed like a sentence without appeal when he responded, “let me explain now, ee ni information egbon. (You are ill-informed my elder brother). I want you to go and check the records, the width for our own flyover is about 10 metres, Ogun State flyover is 11.2 metres, our own length is about 540 metres, their own length is 360 metres. Go and check, you are lying egbon, iro le npa. Our own is more and that is why Obilo, before the questioning, that is why you should go and find out and show us.”
Edmund Obilo again stirred the waters with the next question which he directed at Former Governor Ladoja. He stated that “Senator Ladoja told me that Senator Folarin came to meet him in London and in the discussion, a term came out, Ladoja said “ja gba” (snatch it). Did Folarin come to London to tell you about Akala? When according to some stories, Folarin and his friends hijacked the PDP structure from Akala and he wanted you to come in and you felt because they had “ja gbaed” Akala, he came to ja gba you too”. Taking time to explain, Ladoja pointed out that “you are mixing it up. That of whether they have 419ed Akala or not, that was here in Nigeria. When I said Tesi, you are now working with Akala, he said no, we are not working with him; we just used him to get what we want. In London, it was a question of come and join the PDP and I said you already have the structure in your hand which is not acceptable to many other members. Why don’t you put everything down, let us start all over again and he said ‘what I have, I hold’. I said if what you have, you hold, then you don’t need me.”
Senator Ladoja went on to state that “it was when I queried him that you are now working with Akala that he said a gba Akala ni (we swindled Akala)”.
Next, it was the turn of Senator Folarin, the moderator said “I have listened to you debate, you consistently say you don’t have money. You were asked in a debate why didn’t you tar the road in front of your house, you said it’s because you don’t have money like Seyi Makinde”, apparently trying to substitute discretion for valour, the former Senate Leader interrupted him, saying “and I have made it crystal clear that it should be the responsibility of government at whatever level to tar the road”. The moderator was quick to assume control again and this time, he fired another direct one, “and you were asked again here, what is your contribution to your alma mater, when you answered that question, you said you said you are not a rich man. As a former Senate Leader, you are saying to Nigerians that Senator Teslim Folarin is not a rich man and therefore cannot contribute to the University of Ibadan. Is that a Ja Gba tactics?” In his characteristic cool and smooth bearing, Senator Folarin sought clarification as he asked ‘I think I am finding this a bit confusing. You started with the ja gba thing do you want me to answer both?” Obilo however pointed out that ‘I just wanted to establish that word ja gba and use it to give examples of some of your answers in debates like this because the impression that has been created if you don’t know is that you are a smart young man. You outsmarted Alao-Akala and hijacked the party, Seyi Makinde is here licking his wound, you outsmarted him out of the PDP’, showing good initiative, Makinde decided it was time to speak out and he instantly said “Edmund, I have put whatever happened within PDP behind me. We are looking towards the future with hope”.
Senator Folarin’s response was “you know me reasonably well and I will be honest with you in my answers. The art of politics is to outsmart each other. If you have three or four people who are interested in one position and you want to go to one destination, there is only one car to take to that destination and there are four people who want to use the car. So what do you do?”
The former Senate Leader went on that “the bottom line in politics is interest. I am going to protect my own interest first, with all due respect, before Senator Ladoja’s interest, Teslim Folarin’s interest first. So when I went to oga, because I didn’t think you would ask this question, I don’t want to join issues with oga because in all ramifications, he is much more senior than (sic) me but I have to answer this question. When I went to him in London and he said ‘this exco cannot stand’, my thought then, I didn’t say it to him, was if oga is in Accord Party and wants to come to our party, how can somebody in Accord Party be telling us that what we have done is wrong or right? That is the first issue for me. I also suspected that he was going to come out for the governorship. So you are now asking me when I am in prime position to disband the exco and you would come in and take over the structure and I said no. And let me make this point, in 2003, when Chief Adeojo was in charge of the structure, we were under Governor Ladoja, under Baba Adedibu, we knew what we did to take the structure off Adeojo”.
Done with Folarin, Obilo shifted the fireworks towards Engr. Makinde and said ‘Engineer Seyi Makinde, you are seated very close to the Governor, do you want to ask the Governor what happened in Soka?”
Instead of reaching for Ajimobi’s jugular with the Soka question, Makinde, a gentleman in the real sense of the word chose to fire from another angle. “I’ll rather concentrate on some of the things we can do differently”, he said. Giving an example, Makinde said “Soka is intimately linked with the issue of security in Oyo State; security is linked to the economy because if we have an economy that shuts down at 8 O’ Clock, then it’s a problem. We can’t be saying we want to develop the economy, treat the issue of poverty and at 8 O’ Clock; people will have to go home. Some of the things that I would have done differently, if I take the street lights that we see, they are not on anymore because the government is not able to afford diesel to run those generators, because those street lights are being run on generators. What I would have done to achieve the same objective would have been to use gas generators instead of diesel”.
Obilo however prodded for questions on Soka because according to him, “the Governor had the opportunity to use this event to explain what happened in Soka”. With Soka and security on the front burner, Makinde said “what happened when my campaign office was invaded by the agencies on purported instructions from the government? And two, when there was a fire incident in Aleshinloye and we went there, we promised them a borehole, and we actually mobilized to go in there with a borehole machine and the Local Government Caretaker Chairman out there led thugs to that particular location and destroyed the machine. The issue of security and sustenance of peace has been central to this current administration and these issues also happened”. As Makinde rounded off, Senator Folarin said “I am glad you brought up the issue of Soka, and I don’t think we should laugh. For me, it is one of the darkest periods in the history of this state. I want to ask, how is it possible for God’s sake for such dastardly act to happen under the supervision of this government? That is number one question. Number two question, when the Governor visited Soka, we understand that a woman was killed; she was hit by a stray bullet. I want to ask the Governor if there has been any contact with the family of the woman that got shot.”
In his response, the Governor chose to take Senator Folarin’s point first as he said “it would be nice to know how come as a Senator, himself and some crooks went to remove Senator Ladoja from office, how come it happened? You are now asking me”.
Senator Ladoja did not allow the laughter and applause that trailed Ajimobi’s counter question to die down before reacting that “my removal had nothing to do with Senator Folarin. It had to do with President Olusegun Obasanjo”. Again, Ajimobi showed his oratory prowess with another question, “how come he was the agent of the President?” Again, Ladoja responded that ‘my removal had to do simply and squarely with General Olusegun Obasanjo who was President at that time. Neither Chief Adedibu nor Bayo Akala could have removed Ladoja, it was Obasanjo that said Ladoja must go because of Third Term. I didn’t say that Obasanjo was right o. A President that swore to uphold the constitution flouted the constitution by saying he doesn’t believe in the views of the majority”.
Not done with Senator Folarin, Governor Ajimobi went on, “God helps all of us, at times, He uses people. The President used Folarin and co to carry out the dastardly act. That is one. Two, let’s now talk about Soka, Soka existed before I came in. Even when I went there, I met a woman, relatively mentally deranged, that said she has had a child eight years ago in that same place. So whether you like it or not, Soka existed before we came. That is number one, number two, Engr. Seyi Makinde said they attacked him at Aleshinloye when he went there to sink borehole, believe you me, this is the truth, I was never aware of it. And did you tell me? No, because Seyi Makinde, with all intent and purposes does not belong to the violent group. Even if he belongs to it, I am known as a peaceful man and at no time do I go around with thugs or harbor thugs. Today, some of the people that violated order at Popo Yemoja, some of them are working with some of our so called contestants. They are housing them. Police went there, when they saw the boy, they wanted to arrest him, one of the contestants called Abuja to say he is working with him.” When asked to name the contestant, the Governor decided to leave the matter to the minds of the audience. “Out of decorum, I’ll rather keep it. You see, when you reach a certain level in life, it is not everything you know you say. You must be decorous about it and I maintain that stance but I am saying some of the contestants here present were part of it, but be that as it may, Seyi Makinde’s case, I don’t know the details. In fact, it is news to me”.
Of course the Governor too had a remark for the other candidates. “Even if Seyi Makinde or any other contestant here had issues of violence, we must pursue it to a logical conclusion. The law must take its course”, he said. He also stated there that “all of us must not encourage violence. That I maintain. Even when we argue, it’s part of politics. We are all brothers in the end, so I don’t think anybody should be so desperate as to be violent or as to be mischievous or as to be telling lies. I think we should avoid that”.
When Senator Folarin spoke after, he remarked that “I am sure at some point, His Excellency would allude to the fact that the PDP is a violent party, but let me inform the people of Oyo State that the people responsible for violence in the PDP, thankfully have left the party.” That statement drew some noise from the audience and of course Engr. Makinde, who was one of those who left the PDP after the governorship primaries was about to respond when Senator Folarin said “Not you Seyi Makinde. I don’t have to mention any name, not you. Don’t say anything but seriously, the people responsible for violence have left the party and it is not Seyi Makinde. But having said that, there is a serious issue about the involvement of NURTW in our body politics. We mustn’t run away from it and as much as His Excellency would claim that oh, he is Mr. White when it comes to this; that is not correct. I will give you two instances. Two years ago, we were in the house of the Late Arisekola to pay sallah visit and the NURTW people who escorted him to Arisekola’s house, they beat the hell out of our people and that is the truth. The other one, even though it doesn’t concern me, when Senator Ladoja went to campaign in Olomi, let us just thank God.”
Engr. Makinde, when called upon said “what I would like to say basically is that irrespective of the position we’ve taken and what we’ve fed our people, they know exactly the truth”.
While rounding off, the moderator reminded Senator Folarin that ‘the last time I interviewed you, you forgot if Ajimobi was still your relation”, the assertion was quickly followed by a question, “have you remembered now?”. The former Senate Leader sent people reeling with laughter with the response “I have my doubts”.
As the most senior contestant, Senator Ladoja remarked that ‘I pity Senator Ajimobi because he is the man on the seat. It is on him all the attacks are. It is true that his government has been the least tolerant, and it is not his fault. When you use consultants, they must earn their pay. In the process, the civil service has been destroyed because of excessive use of consultants. When you use Public Relations Officers for propaganda, they put out those things so that you can continue paying them their money. Like most of the things that have been written, like salaries are paid on the 25th and this and that, we know the truth now. The people have not got it. Water is 60% increased, but it’s not coming out. Roads are mended, which roads? What about the roads in the interior of Ibadan? Choice of priority is the major problem facing governors; it is not the amount of money.”
The former Governor also hinted that “you started a hotel at the back of Premier (Hotel), only God knows how much you spent there, maybe a billion Naira, you abandoned it. Technical University is abandoned”.
Interestingly, as the debate rounded off, Senator Folarin,an Ibadan chief went over to greet the Governor, prostrating himself. The Governor did the same to Senator Rashidi Ladoja. They all came together and took photographs.
Written by Wole Adejumo for The AnchorOnline