Governor Seyi Makinde’s removal of local government chairmen and their council members just two hours after he was sworn in on May 29 obviously put them on a war path with his administration. The action led to court cases and other actions by the House of Assembly. In these separate interviews with the Chairman, Oyo State branch of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Mr. Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye and the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor, Mr. Taiwo Adisa, both parties give deeper insight on why they are towing their paths and what they aim to achieve. They spoke with Southwest Bureau Chief, Bisi Oladele, and Oyinlola Lasaki. Excerpts
SINCE May 29, when the new Governor of Oyo State was sworn in, ALGON seems to have been in a running battle with the Oyo State Government. Why is it so?
It is unfortunate that it has to be so. It is not our making. ALGON Oyo State, of course, should be in good working relationship with the governor of the state, Engineer Seyi Makinde. And that is the hand of fellowship that we extended to him. That is what we did immediately he came in. As chairmen, first and foremost, to welcome him and congratulate him, placing a newspaper advert to welcome him. We went even as far as sending emissaries to book an appointment with him for an official congratulatory visit. Unfortunately and sadly on that day, and very uncommon, the governor in less than two hours that he was sworn-in, just came out through his Chief of Staff to pronounce democratically elected institutions, local government councils, dissolved.
At what time did you make efforts to pay official congratulatory visit to him?
No, we just sent people to him. I just told you now that on the day he was sworn in…
Did you attempt to visit him before May 29?
No, we did not, we only sent a message. Like I told you, it’s in two folds – one is to congratulate him in the newspapers, the other is to pay him a courtesy visit to congratulate him.
But that could be interpreted to mean in a way that you were trying to curry his favour to retain you in office or try to make sure he works with you.
Which one would you have preferred? If we did not go, people will wonder why local government chairmen chose not to congratulate a new governor or pay him courtesy visit or official visit. Now we went, you’re saying it’s probably that we wanted to curry his favour. Whichever way you look at it, we believed it was important and civil for us to welcome him.
There’s no way a governor will come without you recognising him. Whether you want to work together or not, he is your boss and you must give him that recognition and that is what we were doing. It’s not for us, for anybody. Of course, if we had been on the caretaker platform, he has every right to say I am not working with you but even that caretaker platform during the time of Senator Abiola Ajimobi, he met some people who had three months tenure or so, and he came when their tenure remained about one month to end. He didn’t do anything until when they finished that one month. Those were caretaker chairmen. Even as a caretaker, it is the House of Assembly that will give them that tenure of three months and wait till when it’s three months. But in this arrangement, we were democratically elected.
But the claim of the state government is that your election was illegal because there were issues and there was another court case that couldn’t have allowed the election to take place?
Yes, that was their episode one of the whole drama because we are at about the fifth episode now. That was the first reason they gave. And thank God that we have been following events; we keep documents, things are being documented not even in this age of digital technology where people even if you press your phone, you google it, you will be able to see. You will be able to get that judgment. The judgement he is talking about, that particular judgement was vacated. That injunction that they were talking about… We had election on May 12 and the judgment was vacated on May 10. So they saw that judgement, this is the thing they’ve been hammering upon; it’s illegal, it’s this, it’s that. Even so, we have three tiers of government. We have the executive, legislature and judiciary. It is not for the executive to interpret what the law says. The court has said no executive, whether his agent, House of Assembly, or any executive arm has any right to dissolve, remove or do anything to democratically elected chairmen of local governments and their councilors. So even if they believe so, this is a civil society and a democracy. The normal thing is to approach the court based on the fact they have and give all their reasons and allow the judiciary do the needful. They did not do that. There’s a subsisting judgment, they did not obey that.
You said the governor caused it. How do you think he can end it?
Good. Even in war period, there’s always a roundtable to jaw-jaw. It’s not impossible to put all these to an end. It’s not impossible at all.
Are you saying it is in his hands to do so?
It is; it is! He’s our governor, there’s no pretense about that.
But the House of Assembly has just approved the proposal to appoint caretaker chairmen?
Noooo! That is illegality upon illegality. Go and read that judgement. The House of Assembly, the executive – all of them were restrained in the judgment. You see, we will always come back to square one. This is what he has wanted to do from the very first day he got to office. See where we are today. Until you go back to the basics, you can’t just do illegality and think you can go scot-free. If it had been in the past, one could do that. You remember how Obasanjo as the Head of State or President of Nigeria removed Alemeighseia against court judgement; how he removed Dariye against court injunction; how he helped in removing Senator Ladoja; how Fayose escaped from Ekiti? But that is the kind of government that we were running then. Things have changed. Don’t forget, this is the time of Buhari. See how the poor man, the President of Nigeria’s governing party, won all the elections in Zamfara and the elections were canceled and all the posts given to PDP that never even won the election by court judgement? The man never interfered in that judgement. You can’t even do half of that with Obasanjo. We know what we are talking about. So, if things are changing for better, if we’re having this in Nigerian democracy, we can’t have this kind of situation. Come on, why will you now come back to a state like Oyo for that matter like a military man and say all the local governments are dissolved? There’s need to do a kind of reflection on how these people got to their position. How did they even get there? Whether you say Kangaroo judgment, Kangaroo election, arrangee… Whatever form you think, the appellation they bear is executive chairmen, they are not caretaker chairmen. So, thinking of that alone, whatever reason you have, you cannot be a judge in your own case. You cannot just say because of my position, I can do and undo.
How long are you willing to go at the level of ALGON on this issue?
Oh, as long as the legal actions can take us. We are on with it; we are doing all the needful and we will continue to respect the court judgment. And I’m telling you this; nobody is interested in being in office by force. If today, we have a judgment that says you were not democratically elected or the election was faulty, or you can’t be there, or vacate that office… Oh my God, I’m assuring you, I will lead by example, and I’m assuring you that no chairman will stay any longer. But this is a court that has given judgment that you are not respecting. Now you are going back to that court. You said you will not go back to appeal; now they have gone to appeal and we are waiting for them there. So for us, we will always abide by the rule of law, whatever comes out of court, that’s where we stay. If they have lawyers, they need to interpret to them what that judgment says. And again this has brought me to so many other things that happened afterwards.
A lot of things; I mean I refuse to be intimidated in any form.
Is anybody intimidating you?
Serious one, serious one!
Who and who are intimidating you?
A lot of them; agents of PDP, supporters of Governor Seyi Makinde; a lot of them, they came to attack me in the office, at home. Later, they came around my area with motorbike (Okada), several threats to my life. I reported to DSS. I have been to the Commissioner of Police twice to report this and it’s yet to abate.
Yet to abate?
Yes. But I refuse to be intimidated in any form. And I know it’s only God that protects. I have spoken with the Commissioner of Police for protection. He agreed with me and he promised to do something even though I’m yet to see anything till now. It’s a very serious problem. They have been coming to my house, coming to threaten, and I have a family. And what we are doing, you can bear me witness, the people of Oyo State can bear me witness that I’ve never engaged in violence and I’ve been preaching against violence. I’ve even told our people not to fight anybody. We don’t believe in violence here; we believe in intellectual fight, we believe in legal fight.
As the ALGON chairman, what would you tell Governor Makinde if you met him today?
Yes, I would advise him. You know there is a way that the office affects people. I hope he won’t be affected negatively by the office. I would tell him the plain truth. It’s not about me being the local government chairman for God sake. No! But there are ways you can do things because he is of our generation. If you want to cheat people or you want to do something to them, there are ways. You can’t just call people and tell them they are idiots, this and that… My own fundamental human rights should be respected and I need to protect it and that’s what I’m doing under the law.
I would tell him first and foremost that he should respect the court judgment. Then, I would tell him to sit down and see us as partners in progress. I followed his campaign. He said he’s going to be governor for all the citizens of Oyo State. Even if you have things; you have your own people that you want to be there, you still have two years after our tenure to do all that. Even if you want before then, next time he should not employ that kind of tactics. It’s not too good, it’s as if you are saying these people, they are animals; they do not exist, I can do anything to them. They stand dissolved. He should not use his power the way he sees the power. So, he should have a meeting with all of us; let us discuss. We are all from Oyo State. He’s our governor and we are not from heaven; we are not from another state. We are all citizens of Oyo State. So why can’t you have a discussion with us.
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