Prince Debo Gbadebo is leader of the Alliance for Democracy in Oyo State. In this interview with YEMISI AOFOLAJU, he speaks on the fortunes of the party which once controlled the South-West region, why he remained with the party and his efforts towards ensuring the party wins Oyo State and at the centre in 2019. Excerpts:
As a leader of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the South West, what has kept you with the party for that long?
Cuts in… I am a leader of the party in Oyo State not South West. As a chieftain of AD in the state, I have been in the party since 1998. I worked with the South West leaders when the party was started at Ijebu Igbo in Baba Abraham Adesanya‘s house. I started with the founding fathers. I worked with them and lost with them. I was with late Lam Adesina. I had started politics even before I gained admission to Yaba College, Lagos. I was with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, being a friend to his late son, Chief Oluwole Awolowo, since my college days. I grew to become the Publicity Secretary of UPGA National Vanguard; that was when the Action Group and the NCNC came together as UPGA. I was the youth leader before I became the Publicity Secretary under late Chief MCO Ajolochukwu’s presidency. I am not a greenhorn in politics.
Why are you committed to the party as against the trend by politicians jumping from one party to the other, even few days to elections to get their ambition realised?
What we had at that time that is missing now and which we would never have again is leadership that was consistent, that could not be bought over with money. This leadership was headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a consistent leader who we followed without fear of evil. I believe you know that I am from Ogbomoso with Chief S.L. Akintola, but I preferred to follow Awolowo.
Why did you prefer Chief Awolowo to Chief Akintola, your kinsman?
I preferred Chief Awolowo because I wasn’t following personality. I was following principle and ideology, which are serious issues because we were not expecting immediate reward, but that we too, would take up the mantle of leadership one day. We were always asking ourselves this question ‘what type of leader do you want to be?’ Akintola and Awolowo were the leaders we had then. But I preferred and I stuck to Awolowo through thick and thin. In our days with Action Group, we were loyal party men and never expected monetary reward for our commitment because we believed we were serving our people; we didn’t know what was called money. All we knew then was Awolowo.
Unlike what obtains today?
There was none. We were asked then why were we following Awolowo. When Bola Ige came with the Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN), the Ogbomoso people said that they wanted the National Party of Nigeria(NPN) because it was alleged that Awolowo’s people killed Akintola. But I said I was not going to join NPN for that reason alone, because I knew and believed Awolowo did not kill Akintola. Anybody seeing us in politics then saw the truth. Awolowo built the first television station in Nigeria; he built Cocoa House, (the tallest building), finance corporation for every farmer to farm with ready-made market for his goods, that was exactly what we were following. But is the situation the same today? What was Awolowo looking for in politics?
He never accumulated wealth; he was not preoccupied with acquisition of material things that are the hallmark of today’s politicians. There was no corruption. He was not arrested for corruption. He was only arrested and charged with trumped up treasonable felony. He was a bold man that one could beat one’s chest to follow then. For instance, when I lost my election in 1979, Chief Bola Ige said, ‘Debo, do you want to be a Commissioner?’ I asked him, ‘how much is a commissioner’s salary?’ he said: ‘it should be up to 14,000 naira per month’. Politely, I told him, ‘I cannot do it sir.’
I rejected the offer because when I was contesting the election, I donated 10 vehicles to the party. I had money already, I had worked hard and I had money.
How will you describe the way today’s politics is being practised going by your narrative?
Late Chief Adisa Akinloye came to Ogbomoso and took me to Mr Brown’s house where he said, ‘Debo, we want Yomi Akintola to win unopposed, so don’t contest. We will give you money. We will make you a minister. Name your ministry’. We want NPN to win Ogbomoso without any opposition.’ He never knew who I was. They had this belief then that I was diabolical (omo yi logun sa)! I replied by telling them I was not in any way diabolical, but bold. I told Baba Akinloye that I was going to contest the election; he said then ‘You will lose,’ I replied him by saying that it did not matter because I believed then that it would make me stronger in life. I said ‘who am I to win Yomi Akintola in his own constituency with his father’s demise and with the thinking then that he was killed by Awolowo’s men? Then, nobody gave any candidate money for election, we sourced for funds ourselves. The practice then was as a House of Representatives candidate, you would be responsible for the funding of whoever the Senate’s candidate was. Aburo, that was then.
But now, but now, but now, it is problematic. There are problems and crises now because there is no respect for ideology, issues, policies and manifestoes. My dear, everything is in shambles now. We have forgotten that whatever we wanted done should be enduring, but the case is contrary now. All politicians think of now is being voted in so as to have access to the commonwealth of all for themselves, families and cronies. Today’s politicians are less concerned about tomorrow or future and the future of our children. Nigerians are no longer burdened of what would be the effect of their immediate action and inaction, the present actors are acting as if there will be no tomorrow.
The present cream of aspirants wanting to contest for the National Assembly and State Assembly are not doing so because of the electorate, but because of their pockets. Politics is being practised upside down in Nigeria unlike the way it was before when politicians were development, building infrastructures and service-oriented. Why am I in AD? I know you would ask me.
Why have you remained in the party?
I have answered that question at the beginning of the interview. AD is Awolowo’s party and an offshoot of Action Group. I believe anything that is associated with Awolowo is the answer to our numerous questions. Who will do what Awolowo did? Name the leader in Nigeria.
Are you saying the present crop of members of AD believe in the ideals of Awolowo?
Then, it was so.
Before I go to now, I will dwell on the then. My then was 1978, when Gowon, Murtala and Obasanjo left the scene and Babangida said parties should be formed. I will share a story of your late Publisher, Chief Oluwole Awolowo, who was my very good friend. Having lost my election, Papa Awolowo insisted that Wole and my good self should be at the collation centre of the presidential election result at the FEDECO office then; we were there waiting to collect result at the first ballot because we were sure Papa Awolowo had won the election. Papa’s running mate, Waziri Ibrahim was expecting the result at Ikoyi also. What I am giving you is what you (journalist) cannot buy with money. Two army corporals at the electoral office came towards our direction and whispered to us ‘they have declared Shagari as the president, go to Ikenne and tell Papa Awolowo to do something now.’ We didn’t know what to do. We felt we should go and inform Waziri first in Ikoyi, but I insisted that we should go to Ikenne instead. We went back to Ikenne in tears. Papa said, ‘You, Debo, you were so bold to have contested an election against Akintola’s son. I like you Debo because you had the courage to face an election with Yomi Akintola.’ He further asked, ‘where did you get that courage and boldness? He then asked, ‘what about the result?’ We said ‘Shagari had been declared as the President’. Papa said, ‘Nobody can do that in Nigeria’ and that he was busy arranging for the second run off. Within two minutes, there was a news flash and I was frozen on the same spot. Papa just said, ‘That is not the end of life. We will try again in 1983.’ He instructed those who were with him that I should be calmed down and be given food. That was then. With the history I have given you, people are not in politics these days for service, because if people are in politics for the reason Awolowo was in it, Nigeria would not have been in this mess we have found ourselves. Nigeria would have been peaceful. People would not be killed both right and centre on a daily basis as it obtains now. Life no longer has meaning to Nigerians any more. Can anybody stand Middle Belt in the days of J.S. Tarka? He was the leader of the zone.
As Nigeria prepares for general elections in 2019, what are the plans of your party to make a change?
We are out reminding our members and Nigerians what AD is and what it stands for, who the founding father, Awolowo was, his achievements and what their voting for the party means at this time when the polity is in a state of confusion. We are waking Oyo State residents up in particular because they are fast asleep.
When are you starting the reawakening?
We have started doing that.
Does AD have national spread?
Yes, we do. I will not lie to you, I am interested in winning Oyo State and winning it well. AD is taking over the state come 2019. Leave the national spread to the national. We did this for Bola Ige and Lam Adesina. We are set to repeat the same feat in 2019. I am back reminding the electorate and the Ogbomoso people not to repeat the past mistake.
What is AD going to do differently in the state from what the current ruling party is doing?
We are going to do a lot. I am an Oyo State indigene, though I have lived outside Nigeria and other parts of the country and I know what we need most. All these will be unfolded as we march towards 2019.
What gives you the assurance that AD is taking over Agodi Government House in 2019?
We are seriously working on our aspirants for the party to pick a sellable and acceptable candidate for the office. You will be surprised by the time the names come up. We have capable hands suited and kitted for the job in the party.
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