Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim is a renowned businessman and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose platform, he had mounted an unsuccessful bid to become the governor of Ondo State. In this interview with selected journalists, the lawyer, businessman and politician spoke about his ambition, the political-economic challenges facing the state and the successor crisis ahead of the November 26 governorship polls. ‘Tosin Ajuwon was there. Excerpts:
You had plans to run for the last governorship race, but all of a sudden you aborted the ambition, tell us exactly what happened?
When I wanted to run for the last governorship election I was prevailed upon by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who held meetings with me six times to kindly allowed Governor Olusegun Mimiko to do his second term, and the reason was that he (Mimiko) was in Labour Party (LP) and it would look obviously not pleasant for the Federal Government to present him completely for second term while the President also told me that he too had second term ambition plans and it would not be too good to prevent the governor.
What came to my mind was that if the President of a country can call and appeal to you through lots of people, it would look as if you were stubborn not to accede to his request. Despite enormous preparation, which Dr. Mimiko himself knows, over 250 vehicles were purchased, lots of campaign buses and lots of movement had happened. So, I had to let the governor have his second term bid and that was why I didn’t contest in the governorship election.
Mind you, Jonathan said something prophetic; he said in 2016; even if he is not the President of the country wherever he might be he would come and help me to campaign, and it came to past. He is no longer the President in 2016. So, that was what happened during that time.
Was there any personal agreement between you and Governor Mimiko, when former President Jonathan pleaded with you to shelve your ambition?
Governor Mimiko came to my house in an unscheduled visit and we had to receive him. Again he is my friend, he did spent about four hours and we had some meetings and understanding that he would set up an economic council of the state. I told him to look for prominent business people to be in that council and I suggested Chief Michael Ade-Ojo (Elizade), Akinfenwa, Oloketuyi, and I also told him that I might also join the economic team by creating economic blue print for the running of the government.
I specifically let the governor knows that the shortfall of his administration is the fact that he doesn’t understand the economic base of Ondo State. I told him that he could be a political leader of a state but he cannot be the economic leader. I also told him that I have conceded to the president’s plea but am going to run the next election (2016). And he advised that when he constitutes the caretaker committee council he would be generous to allow me make nomination to the areas like; Odigbo, Okitipupa, Ese Odo, all local government that are close to me. He told me that his style of politics is that if I have the control of those local government areas, when am home, they would be around me.
We also talked about the cabinet, and I said I would nominate one or two people if he would be satisfied. I also reminded him of one of his earlier promises he made in the first term that we are supposed to form the first cabinet equally. We had an argument but that has come and gone while the rest remain history.
Did Governor Mimiko honored all these these conditions?
I thought he was going to honor his word for the benefit of the economy of Ondo State because the economic council would have been very important and I told him why it is difficult in paying salaries because the economic council would have told him how to source salaries. You can’t tax people that don’t collect salaries. I told him we are going to tell him what to do and how to do it.
But he didn’t honor it and suddenly the governor called me one-day and told me that he is joining the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and I said if that was his decision there is no problem and he is welcome, I also thought that was good enough if he was joining the party from his Labour Party (LP). I didn’t expect him to paralyze the political structure of the PDP as at that time.
Apparently, he came with his people and wanted to take over all PDP structures from ward to local government levels and I disagreed and this brought about the cases and legal battle we had in court. It doesn’t translate to equity. I told him the local government chairmen were elected for a specific time by the constitution and that time had not been spent.
Did you not take the case to the court?
I had to pursue the case to court. It took time for the governor because he was hustling between fear and courage. Fear that he can’t go back to where he is coming from, courage that he could continue with the legal battle. Of course he knows how much he spent on the legal battle and he knows the result.
We won all the cases and that created a big challenge for the governor and after that, it was another battle between myself and the governor over who has the president’s ears . You know as a governor of a state he might be allowed access to the President over security threat issues and lots of others that might be affecting the state.
Again, former President Jonathan told me he wanted to make him the Southwest Coordinator of the PDP and I told him it wouldn’t work, not because I hate him but because he is just coming again to the party. He couldn’t have gathered enough political posture for that purpose.
There was a time you received some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State before the election, what role did you actually played?
The presidential election was very touching and I was in dilemma because a very close friend of mine, President Muhammadu Buhari who had slept in my compound for four nights was contesting the poll. I brought him to Ondo State. I was Vice Chairman of his campaign committee in 2003, I was deputy national chairman of the ANPP in 2003, I was also the legal adviser that filed his case in INEC in 2003.
There was a bond and political strong tiles between myself, and President Buhari as at that time. Now, there was also the paradox President Jonathan as at that time with his education- coming with a PhD to run for the election and having lot of respect for me and held me in a very high esteem. I need to balance the interest. That’s the dilemma.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had left the party initiated my coming to PDP in the first long run. So, again I was left alone and Baba Obasanjo had made some calls to me and said I was overreaching my hands to still be in PDP. And I still stayed for whatever interest it may be. I wasn’t directly working against any party or against PDP deliberately.
But during the presidential election, week to it, the State Chairman of the APC, Isaacs Kekemeke, who is my learned friend and brother called me and said that elders of the party wants to have meeting with me. They came here and discussed their political future both at the federal and the state and it was a general meeting attended by the local government chairmen of the PDP. We agreed and carried out the outcome of the meeting and of course President Buhari won.
Since you have met with the leaders of the APC, what was your political calculation?
I couldn’t go to APC because of moral burden; that if I go to APC, am I going there to take what the people had already built before my arrival to their party. If they invited me to come and contest the election with them or if they invited me and say come and be our governor I will, but to go as at that time and hijack their party and started lobbying won’t be right.
So, I felt APC would be out of it as at that time but other party may be. As at that time again, PDP was divided in the state, there were two executives and up till today. There are still two executive- the Clement Faboyede executive which is still pending at the appeal court and there is no way they can conduct congress.
The next governorship election in the state is November 26; are you contesting for the race to the Alagbaka Government House?
I cannot tell you now because I have not completed my diagnosis. The question should not be if you are running for the governorship election but how do you want to solve the problem of Ondo State given that Governor Mimiko is going to handover N100 billion debt.
You have five months salaries outstanding, and let us assume he is able to pay one month before he leaves, let us assume he pays two months and salaries in Ondo is N3.9 billion by the wage bill multiple by 10 months of unpaid salaries by the time he is leaving office.
The economic crisis has not started and it may likely start around October, November or December as Nigeria is producing 800 barrel of crude per day and compared to the 2.5 million barrel a day and still owing six months salaries. Under the present regime in terms of oil production, the economy is going to face some challenges, so if Governor Mimiko gets money, he is going to pay whatever he gets from the federal account, so he is going to handover about 4 multiply by 10, then it’s N40 billion.
The Commissioner for finance (Yele Ogundipe) about two years ago came out to say that it was about N30 billion assuming whether it has increased, you added the N30 billion to the N40 billion that is N70 billion what about the debt of contractors and some other third parties and the central bank to the salary bailout.
There is no way the governor won’t hand over about N100 billion debt. If he hands over the debt and the economy remains the way it is, you as aspirants that want to vie for the office of the governor, how do you want to solve the problem. The issue on ground is not how you want to win an election because the strategy is simple but how do you want to truly affect the people and not become another Mimiko that would not be able to pay workers salaries.
What do you want to do that would transform the state and where do you think the resources would come from given the point that the allocation doesn’t increase from Abuja. So, how do you want to do that and that is what am working on. If I have a clear answer, I will jump into the political terrain or race tomorrow and I know that if I have 4 or 5 billion naira I would win election with good structures and even buy vehicles and other things for the purpose of the election.
Don’t you think the contest would be between the major political parties- the PDP and the APC and probably with the emergence of a third force?
The political parties in the state have problem. Accord party (AP) is not very popular, PDP is dead, and the APC has crisis of who will be the candidate of the party; so obviously you cannot say this is the party that would win election in the state.
I also support the idea of meeting the aspirants because election should not be do or die affairs. How do we solve the problems of Ondo State should be our concern. Even if am not running, am likely going to support, who will solve the problem of the state not who could win or who is popular. Such person can run under Accord, APC but really not PDP. If we cannot be governor, we are too strong to make sure that PDP doesn’t produce a successor. I can’t imagine a PDP candidate would come to this area and say he wants to win election here.
Every Ondo South Senatorial district is entitled to the governorship of Ondo State morally as at today. Who has the greatest moral consideration for governorship race should be southern senatorial district because they only produced once and didn’t spent second term; in the north there had been two that had been produced there; in the central one has been produced there and is just finishing his second term.
Let us leave Governor Mimiko out of this and not unnecessarily drag him on, let us sit down and formulate and find out who can solve the problem of Ondo State and how can the problem be solved, so if we know how the problem can be solved then who will solve the problem would not be an issue.
Even, Governor Mimiko couldn’t solve the problem of Ondo state despite his educational background and profile. It is about how do we get resources to solve the state’s problem. Is Ondo state a state that politician, technocratic or entrepreneur can solve its problem, or is peculiar problem.
People are attaching your name to Accord Party (AP) with the belief that you would run under the platform of the party, is it true?
We are planning massively to leave the PDP and move down to Accord party, which is no longer, a secret and we are even planning to have meeting with the National leaders of the party very soon. I will also officially write the PDP to inform them about my final exit. If we solve some of those problem I have mentioned then anybody can use the platform to contest and we shall accommodate anybody to come down and run under Accord Party, so it might probably not be about me. If I see a candidate that can solve the problem, then I will support the candidate and I will have my rest.
Few months to the November 26 governorship election and you want to start building a fresh structure in the Accord Party, Do you think this can work out?
That is not a problem; PDP was dead when I came in, try and check the history. When I came to PDP those who could still remember would tell you that the party was completely dead and I brought it up in two months. What we did was to put N10 million to hold rally in 10 different locations and bought vehicles and get them donated across the state that was how we even invited Late Olusegun Agagu and brought former President Olusegun Obasanjo to Ondo State. The whole of Akure was shut down and we brought helicopters with about eight governors who attended the event to receive me officially to the party.
The strategy of mobilization is not an issue, am a change mobilizer and drive people as quickly as I want to. I don’t need more than two months to drive people. You should know am not knew in politics because I started during papa Adekunle Ajasin’s time. Campaign itself should not be more than 60 days because you have to change the mindset of the people as they say today that it can be PDP. If they said it must be APC, then they must be able to move forward to solve this problem. If they don’t have an answer then it could be any party.
You are a political heavy weight, and now that you’re leaving the platform of the Accord Party open for anyone since you’re not particularly adamant in running for the governorship race, is there any names you have penned down for the slot?
In politics, you cannot zero anything because anybody can come. And if he can solve these problems, fine and if he cannot I will tell him he is not better than me. The normal thing that is developing the world today is about teamwork not about individual work and what is killing Mimiko’s government is lack of teamwork. How many times have you ever seen economic summit taking place in Ondo State; without a summit where people brainstorm and bring out idea, how do you develop.
Look at late Agagu in those days, its about seminar and conference. The government is building mega schools and it is difficult to build them in all the 18 local government areas of the state. About three Local Government doesn’t have it, even in Okitipupa doesn’t have these Mega schools. Is this a decomposed policy of the government that really has a grassroots support.
Also, getting a university all over the places doesn’t solve the problem, even the university in Akungba is not doing anything. You can’t say you have a University of Medicine in Ondo and the one of technology is at Okitipupa how do you fund them out of scarce resources. I think there is no policy interface in the programme of Governor Olusegun mimiko. The reason is that the governor is a fantastic politician but with zero base economic knowledge. He has nothing to offer economically.
There is lot of mixed-reaction in the programmes of the federal government led by President Mohammadu Buhari, as stakeholder in the Nigeria project, what is your reaction about this?
President Muhammadu Buhari came to face a lot of problems which he doesn’t have an answer. The change that APC brought was not conceptualized what they need is transformational change. They need to create a sense of urgency and establishment of practice must happen through institutionalization.
Buhari didn’t know that federal civil servants in Nigeria were collecting N280 billion naira as salaries in a month so the budget of N4.6 trillion which is federal government’s budget, so the 60 percent of the budget is for salaries, 30 percent is for debt servicing while the remaining 10 percent is for capital project which is projected on 38 dollar per barrel provided you supply 2.5 million barrel par day but now you are supplying 800 barrel a day.
When President Jonathan was there, accruable to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for proceed of petrol was 3. 6 billion dollar a month but when Buhari came in it turned to 600 million dollar a month he lost 3 billion dollar a month and its about 80 percent in the economic of the state. I have told Buhari in my article that low resources and capability will be the problems that his government would face. In selecting Ministers, he has to look for those who has the resource in solving the problem. Then, you will now have to get capable people who would have to help you drive the resources. The performance of his ministers is below expectation although they are not getting much allocation for their ministry. The fund is not there.
Don’t you think the President is fighting corruption even though some Nigerians seems to see the war as being selective?
On his corruption, he can fight that through the media with the recovery of funds and several others and the judiciary too is based on law. The practice of our behavior also has a lot in terms of fighting corruption because Buhari alone cannot fight corruption.
He needs the legitimacy of the people through the moral and legal parameter of the people to support the fight against corruption. If there were sociological contest and psychological change the fight against corruption would be simple. The people’s mindset too should be ready.
There is a clear distinction between the recovery corruption and preventive corruption. Preventive corruption is institutionalised but recovery corruption could be draconian it could be law driving by bringing back. The key problem is that we have issues with strategy, which means the change is not well, conceptualised.
Also, there is problem of structure and even if Buhari wants to drive change, on which structure will he drive his change on? Is it on the existing structure of erstwhile President Jonathan or other governments that have come before him in 1960s of the independence? That structure is faulty. Also, which system would drive change? Also, the staffs that have not been paid salaries would not be able to drive change. Would the four years of Buhari be able to solve all these problems?
People are clamoring for the restructuring of the country, would the regional government work with this same behavior. The practice must change. Although, data available really indicated that there is no enough fund to drive all these.