Jumoke Anifowose, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State and daughter of the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, believes she has paid her dues in the politics of the state and that the party has been unfair to her. In this interview with Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI, she speaks about the circumstances surrounding her suspension from the party, the battle of succession in the next general elections and other national issues
You have just been suspended by the APC for alleged anti-party activities. What really happened?
I only read about it in the newspapers and in social media; I have not received any letter of suspension from whosoever is responsible. But, I wouldn’t say I did not hear about it because people in my hometown and my ward told me that the chairman of the party came and forced the ward executive members to sign a suspension letter. According to them, the state chairman said he was directed by the governor to get me suspended for anti-party activities. I want to say that members of the ward exco should even be the first set of people to be suspended or even expelled for anti-party activities because, during the last election, they campaigned and voted for the Action Alliance (AA). The INEC report shows that the AA won in my ward because the ward leaders worked frantically for the AA. This was because the governor was at that time supporting the AA. So, if anybody should be suspended for anti-party activities at all, it should be these same people. Even the state chairman, the video where he was campaigning for the AA is still in circulation. I have never been seen anywhere campaigning or talking about AA or holding meetings with AA. I am APC and I don’t think I can hold meetings with exco that is working for another party. So, who should be suspended? Is it me or the exco members?
The governor was disqualified during the screening prior to the last governorship election in Ondo. But, because of the cult-like image of the group that he belongs to – the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is like a cult – it appealed to the committee to reverse its decision. He was disqualified initially because of this AA palaver. Even in Owo Local Government, where both the governor and I come from, the AA defeated the APC. So, they are the people that should be suspended for anti-party activities, not me.
According to reports, you were suspended because you have not been attending party meetings and have not made any contributions to the development of the party in the last four years. What is your reaction to these allegations?
They are just looking for ways and means to rubbish me because I took them to court over the way the primary was conducted. They will regret all these actions at the end of the day because I am ready for them and the court will eventually settle this matter. If people are counted in Ondo State based on their contribution to the party, in my ward, local government and elsewhere in the state, I should be number one, even better than the governor because I started politics in Ondo a long time ago; the governor was brought from Ibadan. I have been on the ground; I have been state chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the three major parties that formed the APC. Before then, I have been Ondo North Senatorial District chairman. Later, I became deputy state chairman and eventually, I became the party chairman. So, who has contributed more; the who is who in the party today, I brought them to the party. Let him tell me, the governor, let him tell the world one or two people that he has visited among those that have left the party, that they should come back and join the party. I can name hundreds of people that I went personally to meet in their different homes, encouraging them to join the party and those that had left to return to the fold. I may not have money, but I have used everything that I have to work for the party, including money too. If they say I have not contributed, let them tell me what they mean by contribution. When they want to hold a meeting, they would tell me by midnight. I am well engaged; I am a lawyer by profession and I could have cases in court. And it depends on where they are holding the meeting too. I am a leader in that local government; if you are inviting to a meeting, you cannot ask me to come and hold a meeting in the house of somebody who just defected to the party; somebody who is my junior in the party. By right, the meeting should hold in my house or wherever I determine. This is an insult and I won’t take it. So, if that is anti-party to them and that I have not contributed, so be it. We shall meet in court.
What were the grounds on which you took the party to court?
I took the party to court because it did not follow its own constitution and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wouldn’t want to say much in respect of the matter because it is in the Court of Appeals now; as a lawyer, I should know my limits in discussing cases that are in court.
Governor Akeredolu is your kinsman; you are both from Owo. Is there any problem between you and the governor?
May be, when you see him, you should ask him this question; he is in a better position to tell you what the problem is.
The general impression is that the Ondo APC closed ranks prior to the last governorship election to be able to defeat the PDP. How united is the chapter at the moment?
Well, the chairman of the party should be able to tell you, how well he has tried to bring people together; at least he is the one stoking the embers of disunity in the party. They call them Caretaker chairman now, which is an aberration, going by the constitution of the party. Try to ask him how well he has tried to bring together people who are disgruntled, who have one thing or the other against the party. He was my Treasurer when I was ACN chairman; he saw the way I worked, the way I went around courting people to join the party. Has he done that? Even before I became state chairman, I was chairman of the Reconciliation committee under the former Action Congress (AC). I went around the three senatorial districts without a dime from the party. I was the one using my money to feed those in the committee.
Is the problem connected with the 2023 general elections and the next governorship election in Ondo?
I don’t even know anything about 2023 general elections; I have not started thinking about it. It is not in connection with 2023 general elections or the governorship. You should ask the governor what the problem is.
In your view, how can reconciliation be done in Ondo APC today?
As you have rightly observed from an earlier question, they suspended me because I have not been contributing to the party and because of anti-party activities. I’m sure they have said that about other people too. When somebody is doing anti-party, do you just throw the person away? Why don’t you ask the person to tell you his or her grievances? So, it all depends on the leadership. When the leadership is inept and they don’t know what to do or see things out of hatred, what do you expect? I cannot answer that question. They will tell you the APC is one family in Ondo State, but they know in their heart of hearts that it is not one family. The governor has said that they should look for quality people, and these quality people must be financially okay. The financially okay people are they the ones voting? These are the kind of people the governor is wooing to join the party during the ongoing membership revalidation and registration exercise. He said people with money should come and join the party.
Going back to your question, it depends on the leadership. Like what I did when I was chairman; going around meeting people who were active before, to find out why they are no longer active. That is the way to court friendship; that is the way to bring back old members that are disgruntled; and that is the way to give people a sense of belonging, to make them feel happy. Their attitude is that they don’t need many of us because we are not loaded financially. People that have not seen money before and they come into money suddenly, that is the way they behave.
How has the image of your late father affected you in politics?
Number one, I cannot step into his shoes because, as you said, they are too big for me to wear. My father’s image has affected me both positively and negatively. Negatively, since he was a straight forward person and I am expected to follow his footsteps, some people don’t want to have anything to do with me that will involve bribery and corruption. So, in that wise, I am negatively affected. And you know Nigeria, if you don’t play ball, nothing goes. Everywhere, people are corrupt and, so, you have to give something, to get something.
In a positive sense, when some people hear my name, they always feel happy to know that I am the daughter of my father. So, from that angle, I want to thank God.
The two dominant political parties, the APC and the PDP, appear to be having internal problems at the moment. How do you see the battle of succession in 2023?
From what I have been reading, power has to come down South, and by the grace of God, we in the Southwest are looking towards having the presidency again. So, that is my take in respect of 2023. Whether it is going to be the APC, the PDP or the mega party that is being touted, we just have to pray for Nigeria, for us to get good governance; a government that will be accountable to the people. That is the type of government that Nigerians should pray for; not people that would be arrogant that no one can hold them to account. That is what is currently happening. People are just doing what they like. I think the president is too soft; he is not handling them like when he was in the military. He has to bring back that fire in him, so that people can sit up and behave.
Do you think the president has done well enough, to encourage Nigerians to vote for the APC again in 2023?
I have just said something now; that answers it all. But, it’s not too late to firm up.
The insecurity challenge involving herdsmen is currently in the news in the Southwest. What is your take on it?
As a Yoruba person, as a Southwest person, I am in support of what Sunday Igboho is doing, to save us from the hands of killers and from the hands of kidnappers. In Yoruba parlance, there is a saying, Dada oleja, sugbon oni aburo to gboju. This means Dada cannot fight, but he has a younger one who is bold and can confront anybody. That is what we are seeing in Igboho; we the older ones cannot fight, but we have the younger ones who can bell the cat for us. In that wise, I am all in support of Sunday Igboho.
Would it not lead to anarchy, if it is replicated in other parts of the country?
What type of anarchy? Has it led to anarchy in Oyo State?
It might, if the Federal Government decides to take any action that may escalate the crisis…
I am sure good reason would prevail, so that it won’t lead to anarchy. The young man is telling people not to do anything untoward. He has specified the type of people he wants out of the environment and he has urged his followers to do it without violence. So, he is not embarking on a course that cannot be supported. In the way he talks, he appeals to his followers to apply caution and not to go beyond their bounds. Besides, Igboho has somebody that he respects; somebody who can hold him in check. That is Senator (Rasheed) Ladoja. If he calls him to order, definitely he will mellow down. If people that have been kidnapped tell you the horrors they went through in the hands of the kidnappers who are Fulanis, you will be appalled. I think it is time we got the bandits out of our forests.
Sixty years after Independence, are you satisfied with the way Nigeria has progressed?
Nobody is satisfied.
In your view, what is the problem really?
Development has not been what it should be. I don’t see the reason why our leaders should be carrying out money abroad, to buy properties, instead of spending the money for the betterment of the people. If Nigeria’s money stashed abroad were channelled towards development here – towards our hospitals, towards education, towards infrastructural development, etc – it would be a different story. How old is Dubai that we are all rushing to as tourists? So, if the money abroad is brought back, Nigeria would be the best country in the world. We can be the best in the world, but for corruption.
President Buhari was voted into office six years ago to chart a new course for the country, particularly in the area of corruption. What is your assessment of the fight against corruption under Buhari?
I said it earlier, that if it were Buhari the soldier, it wouldn’t be like this. It is like Baba doesn’t have the energy again. That’s my own picture; I may be wrong.
What can be done to salvage the situation in Nigeria as it is today? People are clamouring for restructuring. Do you believe that it can solve the problem?
What people mean by restructuring is for the geo-political zones to be in charge of their resources and make the centre less active and less attractive. Why not? When we had three regions they developed at their own pace. So, why not? It would aid development and it would encourage competition.
What is your final word for the APC family in Ondo State, particularly your followers?
The APC family in Ondo State should keep the flag flying and they should not be discouraged by the current state of affairs in the party.