Rauf Aregbesola Speaks

“I Have Experienced Ruthlessness In The Hands Of Oyinlola…”-Aregbesola

“I’ve Only Visited Osun State Three Times Since Governorship”

Rauf Aregbesola, the Osun State gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in the April 2007 general election, has been in the throes of protracted legal tango with Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, over his disputed mandate well over one year now. Listening to him speak on the Yoruba politics is like sitting in a brainstorming session with a class of intellectuals charting a way out of a particular quagmire. In this chat with DADA ALADELOKUN, MUSBAU RASAK and OMONIYI SAIAUDEEN, he reminiscences on the experience of violence visited on his supporters since he formally declared his interest in the number one seat in the state and the intrigues over his alleged involvement in a bomb blast.

NEWS STAR: Recently, you were in Abuja as a guest of the Inspector General of Police at the force headquarters over the bomb blast incident in Osun. What was the interaction like?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: It was normal; it was not an interrogation. I didn’t go as a suspect. I went as a responsible Nigerian to express my position on the petition written to the police authority. I was only invited through a letter, from the force headquarters in Abuja to come and tell them what I know about the bomb blast. When I got there, I was made to believe that the petition came from the Osun State government through the presidency on the matter. And I was asked to give my own side of the matter which I did. I did not only tell them what I had experienced during the course of my political activities in the state since 2005, the highlights of which most of you know, but also direct brutal experience I have had from the incumbent. Since April 2005 when I started the quest for the gubernatorial seat of the state, I have faced so many life threatening acts of violence, the most notable of which was the Oroki saga where my life was threatened physically through gun shots.

Apart from other surreptitious plans made to eliminate me, some of which we reported to the police and the Nigerian public, there were also triple attacks on my campaign headquarters on April? I equally denied any knowledge about the bomb blast. I told the police that in all my political activities I have never employed violence to canvass support or coerce support. I made it clear that I am a democrat with a strong commitment to meaningful, engagement of the people for whatever political end that I want for myself or my people. I equally told the police that there couldn’t have been any motivation for violence since I am the petitioner at the tribunal because what it means is that I had chosen to proof the criminal manipulation of the April 14 election by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the court of law, rather than resorting to self help.

So, if I had gone to the court prior to the bomb blast, if I had obtained an ‘order’ from the court to. inspect all the materials used for the election with enthusiasm that I would be able to get all I would need to proof my case beyond reasonable doubt, if at that time I had on the INEC premises over 30 people working for me, how would anybody see the justification for wanting to bomb the INEC? Of what benefit will assassination of Oyinlola be to me? These are issues we must properly situate in our quest to get to the root of the matter.

I equally told the police that on the day of the incident I was with the IG of police. As a matter of fact, the news was broken to me in the waiting room of the IGP because I was there in company of Dr. Kayode Fayemi on a courtesy visit and to also make request for police protection. The facts are documented. So, we must all understand this as a diversionary tactic by Oyinlola to sway our attention from the tribunal: But I am happy that we are in a democracy, there is no way they call, get all of us sucked to their narrow, reactionary and bestial view. We will not be cowed, we will not be intimidated, and we will not be repressed. We will keep on doing what is best for the polity, what is in the best interest of our people and what will ensure good governance, rule of law, justice and progress.

NEWS STAR: I guess you wouldn’t have expected this storm. What then is your perception of the Nigerian politics bearing in mind your experience so far?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: I did expect it. From the outset, I knew we were going to be dealing with animals, sub-human being. If I had not known that those we were dealing with are sub-human in their understanding of issues involved in the society, perhaps I would have disappointed my supporters. I know they are not fully in formed when it comes to thorough understanding of what should be the relationship between divergent interest groups in terms of social or political economy in any sane society. And from their utterances, you can simply know this. Don’t forget that this man had branded us terrorist’s right from our advent into Osun State politics. First, he, called us Oranmiran. He left from there to say that we are not from Osun.

At a point, he called me a refridgerator mechanic. In’ fact, he made so many uncoordinated statements that a developed mind wouldn’t ordinarily dare say. And we told him to show us any aspect of our constitution that says a refridgerator mechanic or anybody whatsoever cannot aspire for any elective office. And the irony of it is that they say all these things as if they are saying reasonable things.

To a man whose period in Lagos as an administrator can only be remembered for lack of performance and total mediocre mal­administration. Again, he had a second chance in Osun there is nothing to sign-post his tenure other than mere jamboree. Yet he keeps celebrating ‘his relationship’ with an Oba who earned his own respect through responsible decent bebaviour.

So, back to your question as to whether I had anticipated the sort of ruthlessness I had experienced before I launched my ambition into the power politics in Osun State, the answer is yes, I did. I knew it would be this tough before I took the decision. I have read several of his write-ups fruitlessly defending our allegation against him of being a bully; let him tell the world how he left his secondary school. He was a bully right from his secondary school. He was suspended from school for bullying other fellow students.

NEWS STAR: Did you attend the same school with him (Oyinlola)?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: Not necessarily. But you can take it up with him. What we are saying about his military background is that at every point in time, his insolence and lack of respect for human rights and human dignity have always be the cause of avoidable tragedy and disasters. Yoruba has an adage that says, “If you are given a slave assignment, you discharge it with utmost nobility.”

In other words, Oyinlola had had a reputation of bestiality and ruthlessness and that characteristic
is what is informing his mal-administration of Osun State and his hostile attitude to all opposition. It takes a ruthless person to always want to destroy whosoever that stands up against him in a democratic challenge or contest. The law of Nigeria permits democratic challenge. Why then should, democratic challenge lead to absolute declaration of war? This man sitting by me was in a meeting with him when he told all the chairmen of boards in Osun in August 2006 that they should attack me wherever they saw me. He told me he would want me dead. The question we are asking is this: why should democratic contest lead to bloodbath? Why should democratic contest lead to such a high level of hatred? Are we in a fascist state? This is no longer a military state. We are in a civil society where respect must be given to the rights and privileges of the individuals which is what we are asking for.

We traded ideas and our people preferred our own ideas to theirs. The people freely gave us their mandate and you callously stole it but rather than admit the fact that you’ stole the mandate, you are gallivanting all-over the place, throwing your weight around, threatening fire and brimestone, harassing us, persecuting us, hounding us, fabricating lies against us and clamping us into jail we never underrated them; we knew their capacity for evil. But then, you must give it to us that we have appropriately squared up with them in exposing their evil machinations and diabolical tendencies. So, I want to give it to myself that we have tried to strip Oyinlola naked in front of the whole world as a brutal, ruthless and a conscienceless personality that will not shy away from anything that would make him a small god before the people.

NEWS STAR: As a follow up to all you have said, why are you always being accused of violence?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: The answer to that is left to you as a purview of news. On April 16, 2005, the entire state was sealed up that we shouldn’t enter. We beat them to it by using train to enter. And the Nigerian Police has not devised any means of holding up the train. Starting from that, you can now begin to find an answer within yourself who is a ruthless person. Is it the person who sealed up the state for the normal political event which was widely advertised? Or the one who, knowing the capacity of his opponent to use force for selfish end, and, therefore, resorted to using train which the police authority in Nigeria has not devised the means of stopping? And we launched our political and cultural movement – Oranmiyan – without any untoward incidence. There and then we set the pace.

Again, how do you accuse a person who went peaceful to a gathering, Osogbo Progressive Union, on an invitation for community development fund-raising only to be denied his seat in the full glare of the public with the presence of the governor and his executive council and consequently intimidated out of the event by gun shots? My head was targeted; what saved me was the fact that I went with an armoured vehicle. And to cover up their shame and their sordid acts, the police arrested me, kept me in their custody for three weeks and arraigned me for violence. Subsequently, I sued the police and I got N5 million compensation for illegal arrest.

NEWS STAR: Were you paid?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: (Cuts in) They have not paid me. After all that, we embarked on the most glorious campaign anybody could imagine. If you watch the footages of our campaign rally, I doubt if Osun had witnessed any event as glorious as that. Exactly a month after we had launched Oranmiyan, my financier, Alhaji Alabi Hassan Olajokun, was assassinated in the broad day light at Gbongan junction. Up till date, his killers are still at large.

Hon. Babajide Omoworare, our senatorial candidate for Osun East Senatorial District, was abducted. He was then the majority leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly. On May 26, 2006, my entourage to a rally organised by my supporters in llesa was waylaid by the current Chairman of the PDP, Wale Oni, and attacked. The guy was arrested, but nothing happened thereafter. He is today the current Chairman of the PDP in llesa East Local Government. Every movement we made was visited with venom attack by the PDP. My father’s house was vandalised, so also those of our members. All this happened before the election. The house of Engineer Akintunde, the honourable member of the Osun State House of Assembly representing Osogbo, was razed to the ground. The same thing happened to the house of his colleague representing Olorunda. In his own case, he was physically assaulted and his head smashed. It took us several thousands of Naira to save his life because it almost resulted in mental derangement.

On the day of the election, no fewer than 12 of our agents were killed. The perpetrators of these acts were apprehended by the police and the acts documented. So, we are not saying anything fictitious. What we are saying is what we have witnessed. I was forced out of the town by the ruthless state power. I returned to Osun on the eve of the election, Friday, April 13, 2007 around 10.30 p.m. only to leave by 1 p.m. And ever since then, I have only visited the state thrice. First on May 11, 2007 to submit my petition. I went back again when the palace of Owa Obokun was razed down to commiserate with my people. The third time I went was when I announced to the whole world that I was going to re-engage my people in political activities. It was that event they saw that made them grim with envy sighting the uproarious reception that greeted me. And that is the basis for the latest attempt to intimidate me unjustifiably, divert my attention from the tribunal and demonise me.

So, they are the devils who do not enjoy the popular support of the people. Interestingly, they did not limit their violence to the opposition. They also fought from within. Senator Kola Ogunwale from Iragbiji had his own taste of brutality when he ventured into the gubernatorial ticket with Oyinlola. The woman leader of the party (PDP) that defected to ANPP, Madam Jeunkogbadun, was killed by armed men. Alhaji Shuiabu Oyedokun’s house was invaded by hoodlum when he attempted to stand against them in Osun. He lost his brother to that attack. These are the ones we can recollect. Let them tell us our acts of violence. The only one they have always been repeating was the spontaneous reaction of the people to the electoral robbery of April 14, 2007 a day after.

I say spontaneous because not a single person out of our members they arrested for the violence has been convicted. It is not a question of grandstanding; we are the most popular party in Osun State. Our acceptance in Osun is beyond any repression. We are simply the party of popular choice. And I challenge whoever cares to go to conduct a political survey in Osun if the result will be different from what I have said.

NEWS STAR: During the last hearing of your petition at the Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal, your counsel was said to have been denied the submission of some documents which were considered to be vital to your victory. What is your feeling about this?

RAUF AREGBESOLA: Your question is in response to newspaper report which is inaccurate. The motion has been filed long before that day for us to reopen our case. The motion was argued that day and the tribunal reserved ruling on that day. So, the question of denial was out. Let’s even assume it was denied, the case doesn’t end there. What matters is the fact that the issue has been raised. The question now is: what is my feeling? I am upbeat; I am quite confident that I will win. The reason for my confidence is simple: Justice is about ensuring that the wish of the people is done. Democracy and justice are twins and one cannot really exist without the other. And the essence of democracy is the promotion of the view, the will and the desire of the majority. I do not entertain any fear; our victory is almost guaranteed.

This is based on the fact that the electoral fraud committed by the PDP is blatant and unhidden. It is too open and flagrant. I give you some examples; Awolowo Hall at the Obafemi Awolowo University had a polling station. It was closed down in February and was reopened in July. The election took place on April 14. And from that polling station with a register voter of 265 voters, the PDP returned for itself 2003 votes, whereas, in the register, only 200 voters were accredited. Looking at the implication, for 2003 voters to vote at the rate of one minute per voter, it simply means that the entire voting process will last for 2,300 minutes. If you divide 2300 minutes by 60, you will get 38 hours. And the maximum voting hour according to the INEC’s regulation is 10 hours, which implicitly meant that the voting process at the polling centre would have lasted for four days and consequently spilled over to Tuesday, beginning from Saturday.

That is one of the greatest evidence of the criminality committed by the PDP in Osun State during the election. And it was so bad that in Ife-Central and Ife-East, there was no polling station at all.
But we are not worried; we have confidence in s the Nigerian judiciary that we will win, considering the evidence before the tribunal. And, of course, for those who would do justice, it does not take any extraordinary effort to establish the truth and do justice. Let it go as they wish. But as far as I am concerned, I have implicit confidence in the Nigerian Judiciary to do justice to the issues of gubernatorial and several other legislative elections in Osun” State.

NEWS STAR: But you have had to disagree on some occasions with the decision of the tribunal in the past.

RAUF AREGBESOLA: (Cuts in) Confidence has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree. You disagree to agree. You are not a robot, if there are issues you disagree with at any point in time, you don’t just say you concur. You must debate it and that you debate an issue does not mean you lack confidence in the process. Every sane human relationship must throw up challenges of debate and conflict before resolution. So, our disagreement with rulings and statements made by anybody in the tribunal cannot necessarily be interpreted to mean that we lack faith or confidence in the judicial process.

I have said it over and over again, judiciary is an institution. It is not an individual. Let’s even assume a set of individuals within the judiciary is not representing the institution very well, will that mean that the entire judiciary is bad? So, what we have been saying must not be misunderstood because the judiciary has earned its respect and won public confidence for itself. Today, I believe that the judiciary that had the courage to declare the Abacha administration as illegal through the landmark judgment of Justice Akinsanya, the judiciary that aligned with the Nigerian people to tell Obasanjo that so many of his acts were illegal, the judiciary that stood up against fascism and several undemocratic acts of some past Nigerian leaders deserve my confidence.

• Culled from NEWS STAR