Ismail Omipidan is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola. In this interview, he speaks on the July 16 governorship election in the state and why the governor is challenging its outcome at the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. FELIX NWANERI reports
How has it been in the last three and a half years of the Oyetola administration in Osun State?
Governor Adegboyega Oyetola came into office in November 2018. He came in at a time when nobody really gave him a chance. There were few issues that heralded his election, especially issues of salary payment, reclassification of schools and single uniform, among others. Owing to the fact that the governor came on board at a time when the country was facing economic downturn and when Osun in particular was financially challenged, a lot of people feared and felt he would not perform and have difficulty meeting government’s obligations like payment of workers’ salaries. But thankfully, three and half years down the line, we are not owing any worker a dime, we pay salaries as and when due, and we also pay pension and gratuities to the retirees on a monthly basis. In addition to that, we have invested heavily in infrastructure, despite paucity of funds.
If the governor has done all these, what are the factors that caused the outcome of the July 16 election?
I think there is a combination of factors that led to the outcome of that election, and I will not want to ascribe to the fact that we lost the election. I think what we lost is the votes count; I want to put it like that. In 2018, only about 254,000 or thereabouts voted for Governor Oyetola but in 2022, more than 375,000 people voted for him. If you do the calculation, he got like 50 per cent increment in the number of votes he got four years earlier. So, would you say such a person is not loved by the people? For me, I think there are other factors which can be attributed to the outcome of that election, which I will like not to mention here because the case is already in court. But I will like to place it on record that there were some irregularities that marred the exercise. For example, on the day of the election, while different media houses were reporting around 7.pm that voting had ended in polling units across the state, voting was still going till around 9.pm in Ede North and South that are strongholds of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke. Though INEC guideline stipulates that electorate who are on the queue by 2:30pm must be allowed to vote, I have it on good authority that those who voted in Ede between 9 and 10.pm on election day were not on the queue by 2:30pm. And if you look at the conduct of the election, you will agree with me that the usual tension, anxiety and desperation that usually accompany such exercise was nowhere near the Osun contest and that is largely because of the personality and the character of Governor Oyetola. Go and check very well, most governors, who seek reelection are usually desperate and would do anything and everything to win the election. However, that was not the case in our own election because we knew we have performed very well to the admiration of the people. We were too sure that the people were going to vote for us. And they indeed voted for us. I won’t want to go into details that may be responsible for us losing the vote count because the case is already in court and I believe we will emerge victorious in the end.
Do you think that votes count was responsible for APC’s loss?
If you look at the margin, it is not large. It is 28,000 and that was exactly the margin from Ede North and South local government areas. We have filed a petition at the tribunal, and we are challenging the results in over 700 polling units across 10 local governments. I will leave the tribunal do its work but I’m convinced beyond reasonable doubt that with the votes we got, we shall come out victorious at the end of the court process.
What are your thoughts on the soured relationship between Governor Oyetola and his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola?
I can only speak for my principal and won’t be able to speak for Aregbesola. If you know my principal very well, you will know that he is a very peaceful man and he loves peace. If you look at the way he governs the state, you will realize that in the history of Osun, this is the first time a governor will be in the saddle and for close to four years, no strike or protest was embarked on by either workers or students. Apart from the national protest like the #ENDSARS, we have never had any protest, industrial or labour dispute in the last thrre and half years. That will tell you about the man and his character.
He is peace-loving and will do anything to ensure peace reigns. He has also done that in the APC but you know you cannot force an unwilling wife to stay when she has probably made up her mind to go. I will give you an instance. When the APC was conducting its membership revalidation exercise, the committee started with President Muhammadu Buhari. After that, they came to Ila to do for Chief Bisi Akande, being the first interim National Chairman of the party. After Chief Bisi Akande, because they were in Osun, they did for the governor and his wife. When they were done, the governor deemed it fit to invite his predecessor, Aregbesola, to come and do his, the governor proposed two days to him. It was not as if I was told; I was there when my principal was talking to him. The governor proposed a Monday date and he said he would be traveling with the President to either Katsina or Kaduna, I can’t remember now and the governor proposed the next day which was a Tuesday, again he said he would be traveling with the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed to Kwara. But he promised that he was going to inform the governor 48 hours earlier, anytime he was going to come and do his own. Unfortunately, we never got the notice. The only thing we got is that one Friday, we heard he was in Ilesha and he was saying they were trying to block him from doing his registration. The next question I asked was: By who? This was a man the governor spoke to personally and they had an understanding that he was going to give 48 hours’ notice for us to get prepared and receive him so he could do his own re-registeration. What we got from him was that he was in Ilesa and saying publicly that they were trying to block him for revalidating his membership of the party. I’m just giving you that instance to allow you and the reading public to judge who – between the two of them – is prolonging what looks like a crisis. My principal is not quarreling with anyone. There may be disagreement on style of governance. But beyond that, my principal has no issue with him or any other member of his TOP group. And all through the APC congress and governorship primary election, my principal said it publicly that the door of reconciliation was widely open but we must be genuine in our intentions. Because there’s no point constituting yourself into an opposition and you keep saying that you are in that party and you want to work for the party. We all knew the role each and every one of them played in the last election. But thank God, we did not lose the vote count by 100,000 or more. The 28,000 margin, despite the gang up and conspiracy, showed that my principal is still very popular in the state.
What is the leadership of the party doing to restructure the party, so that it doesn’t lose the general elections?
The governor said it from day one that there will be need to carry out reforms in the party but not the restructuring some of our brothers and sisters are talking about. A house has been built, you deliberately set fire on it, but by divine providence, you did not succeed in bringing down the house, and you said you want to restructure, which house are you restructuring, the one that you set on fire?
In any case, the constitution of the party is very clear; those who have been elected into leadership positions in the party are allowed to run for four years. How can someone who did not work for the party, someone who did not mean well for the party and who continues to constitute himself as opposition to the party be saying he wants to restructure the same party? It is not done anywhere.
If they are seriously genuine about remaining in the party, they should just come back home, apologize for their wrongdoings, so that they can be reintegrated back into the party. But you cannot inflict injury on the party and claim to be the victim at the same time.
It is not done anywhere. I can assure you that subsequent elections in the state will be won by the party and don’t forget that after the 2018 election, regardless of what transpired, the next election that was held in the state, the 2019 general election, Governor Oyetola delivered President Muhammadu Buhari. He delivered two out of the three senatorial districts, he delivered six out of the nine House of Representatives seats and he delivered majority in the State House of Assembly.
What is your take on the belief that Oyetola is too gentle to be a politician?
If your definition of a politician is someone who believes in violence, lies and propaganda, then I will tell you that Oyetola is not your kind of real politician. With my association with him in the last three years, I have come to realize that you can be a politician and still be true to your conscience. You can be a politician and still govern with the fear of God.
That is what has happened as far as governance is concerned under Oyetola. He doesn’t believe in desperation, and all these came to play not only in his governance of the state but also in the election. I’m sure a lot of people would have expected him to militarize the state because of his second term ambition and unleash violence on the state but he is not that kind of a politician.
Yes, he is calm. A state like Osun needs a calm and calculated leader because if you have a leader, who is unnecessarily excited, you run into problems. Governing Osun requires a cool, calm and calculated person, who would think outside the box to be able to ensure he keeps the state afloat.