Posted by Yomi Odunuga on
In an encounter with Yomi Odunuga on Wednesday in his Lagos home, former Minister of Works and one-time aspirant for the Lagos State governorship ticket on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, speaks of his misgivings and travails in and out office.
In an encounter with Yomi Odunuga on Wednesday in his Lagos home, former Minister of Works and one-time aspirant for the Lagos State governorship ticket on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, speaks of his misgivings and travails in and out office. Excerpts:
The rumour mill is rife with the news that you are planning to defect to the Action Congress, when should we expect this?
No, there is no truth in that news. You know I have been part of the extensive development of the Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State. I donít think that it would be wise for me to contemplate that sort of move even if there had been some disagreements here and there.
What then led to the rumour? Does it have anything to do with your experience in the last few months?
Yes, that was part of it. You know I was partially prevented from participating in the electoral process for the Lagos governorship race under the platform of the PDP. It could also be because some of the people that I invited to join the PDP, my associates, have left to join other parties including the AC. But these are persons who have personal grudges against the party; some wounds were inflicted on them; some were disqualified and some were arrested. But my own belief is that when I was a minister, I had so many associates and when I was dropped as a minister the associates diminished by about 80 per cent. Also, when I became an aspirant I had associates that were expecting certain things that would accrue to them if I become the governor. But immediately I had no other intention of going further, I became a man of no future ambition. I became NFA. Everybody was to himself, God for us all. It was difficult to now attract these associates. What would I use to attract them? If you donít have anything to offer, there are no associates in life. Associates depend on expectations. Once there are no expectations, over 90 per cent of the associates will disappear.
Has the leadership of the AC in Lagos consulted you or attempted wooing you in any way?
No, that is not true. The leadership of the AC knows my stand on this matter and what I have been able to do for or against them. So I donít think Iím the appropriate person to be approached.
Iím still curious to know why you have chosen to remain in a party that prevented you from realizing your ambition. Despite the shoddy way you were treated, are you convinced that that was the right decision?
Of course, Iím very sure. What happened to me was part of the elbowing that normally occurs in the PDP; in any political party and in any democracy. It is not only your ways that is superior. There are so many other people that could plan their own strategy against you. And once they have the advantage, then you lose out. That is life and it is a struggle. Political development also is more difficult because everybody now plans his own strategy on how to edge out the opponents. My competitors succeeded and I praise them for what they were able to do.
How would you describe your experience in the last few months?
It has been traumatic but very enriching. It is also very rewarding in terms of the appreciation of what people can do for you or against you. You learn almost daily. And if I put that experience into a book, it will be useful for the coming generations.
I learnt that you are not in good terms with the National Deputy Chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George. Is this true?
Politically, yes! But we are still friends. We might have differences politically but that is not the end of the road or the relationship. I might not be able to disclose the nature of the political differences now because Iíll like it to be part of my memoir. But it is not a secret at all; almost everybody knows what transpired; how it started; and how we got to where we are now. But I wonít go into that now. That is something Iíll want to do in the future.
How about your relationship with the president after you dropped out of the cabinet, is it still cordial?
I donít have any comment on that one other than saying that it is still cordial, because there is no room for any form of negative thing.
If you insist on being part of the PDP, do we then take it that you will be leading the campaign team of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro for the Lagos State governorship race?
No. They already have a campaign structure both for the presidential and the state and Iím part of it.
Looking at the indicators on the ground, do you really think the PDP can wrestle power from the AC in 2007?
Well, we have to work harder. We have allowed the AC to resurrect. Weíve allowed them to recover and reposition themselves and we have to map out another strategy to fight them. Unlike what we did before, it doesnít exist anymore. The question is what is the strategy that we have now to make sure that the PDP wins? We just have to change our strategy. AC is not a pushover in Lagos politics at all. We just have to counter their strategy if we want to win. If we donít plan well, we may be in danger. We are looking at what the AC is doing and what we must do to counter their weaknesses or the areas of superiority. We have to be very strategic to be able to cope with them.
Could you tell us what led to your sudden exit from the President Olusegun Obasanjo cabinet?
That one is history now. When you serve, then you have to leave. How many have left since then? It is a continuous thing and the president can reposition things the way he likes. It wasnít a punitive thing and I donít see it that way. When you read such meanings to it, it means you donít have faith in God. You move on and there is no point brooding over that.
As a minister who had overriding powers on some matters especially the frequent friction with the Lagos State government on the issue of roads, with the benefit of hindsight, would you say your approach was okay?
It served its purpose at that time. When you have a sitting strong government that you want to confront, you must have strategy and that was the strategy we employed at that time. It may not be the best but that was the strategy. It was not intentional. You cannot imagine that Tinubu is still my friend. We are still good friends.
How do we know that? Do you call each other?
No, no. Iím saying it wasnít personal at all. You donít make things like that personal. When you are in government, you do your job. And you must have to step on toes as you are doing that job.
But that strategy was meant to frustrate the then Alliance for Democracy and the Lagos State governor, wasnít that a correct reading of the strategy?
It was meant to assert the federal might where it was desirable. That was all.
And would you say Lagos came out the best for it?
No, Lagos was not singled out. It was throughout the federation. There had been so many incursions into federal highways. For instance in Enugu State, somebody constructed a big market on the ramp and we had to remove it. Itís always like that because the federal government built most of these highways with setback and people infringe or encroach on most of the setback. And to make sure that it doesnít happen, we have to remove them. We did a lot more in the East than in Lagos.
You were one of the people arrested over the death of Chief Funsho Williams, how does his death strike you?
I donít still believe that he is dead. You can see that his picture is in my living room. I cannot live a life without him. It is as serious as that. I still believe he is alive. I donít want to think about it because it has not sunk into my head that he is dead.
Do you think a YaríAdua/Jonathan ticket can defeat a Buhari or an Atiku ticket in the 2007 elections?
The PDP has an advantage of structure which the All Nigerian Peoples Party does not have. Our structure in the PDP is formidable up to the grassroots levels. And we have the governors too. If all of them would assist the YaríAdua/Jonathan ticket, definitely it will be so easy to win. In Nigeria, it is the political structure that wins the election and the PDP has that.
Whatís next for Chief Ogunlewe post 2007 elections?
I cannot run for any political office again. If you give me appointment I will take but not for an elective post anymore. But we want to see a better Lagos where children can go to school free at the primary school level; where there will be better transportation system; where there will be water and where electricity would have improved. The electricity situation now is really biting and it is affecting the development of the state. We need better roads and better life for our people after 2007 because the people of Lagos State have suffered a lot.
In your opinion, what are those things that make the difference between when you were a minister and now that you are on your own?
If you are a minister, you have so many associates. People that want to be your friend and want to be close to you because of what they are going to take from you. But once you are no longer a minister, they will reduce to, at least, about 80 per cent because you are probably no longer relevant for their own agenda. My advice is simple: when you are in government, please be careful. Know that it will end one day. And once it ends, know that you will not attract the same level of attention that you are attracting now. Remember that when you are there, a number of people will be your friends and associates for a purpose which will not exist when you leave there for a day. And once there is a drastic reduction in that kind of attention, please donít be surprised. Just move on because that is part of life. Your relevance would have decreased drastically. And donít expect too much from people.
How do you occupy your time now especially when your schedule has reduced drastically?
Iím a lawyer by profession and I still engage in legal practice. I do a lot of reading and Iíll start to write about my experience. But Iím still in politics and I advise politicians on what to do. I advise young people that want to come into politics on what to expect; that politics is not an easy thing at all. Politics is not something you just jump into easily. It might be attractive but the negative side of it is also very unpleasant. Very, very unpleasant. It is very wasteful. Very, very wasteful and very expensive particularly in Nigeria where we donít have strong parties. So, it makes it more expensive than in so many other countries where the parties have existed for long and the people vote for the party rather than for the individual.
What can then be done to make politics in Nigeria less expensive?
Fewer parties. Maybe two or three then we may have independent candidate. The more the parties, the more difficult it is for you to appreciate the importance of the parties because you can move from one to the other. So there is no ideology or preference for a particular party. The type of political system we run is also not helpful. We run a presidential system which is expensive. But a parliamentary system is a lot cheaper and it is more of the people than a presidential system. Presidential system is not the best probably for a developing nation like Nigeria. It is not at all because it is very expensive. To contest election as a governor, imagine how much money you must have. In the presidency, it is not always the best that would contest. It is not always the best in the party that will be allowed to contest or be the flagbearer. Thatís why Ghana is moving ahead of us because they run a parliamentary system. They will always be ahead of us. A presidential system does not give room for development at all because it is the individual that takes control even at the state level. But in the parliamentary system, it is the party that takes decision. Every other person is just a member of the party. Presidential system cannot lead us anywhere.
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