By Soni Daniel & Tunde Osho
Mr Eyitayo JEGEDE, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, served as Ondo State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General before plunging into the murky waters of politics. He was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election to elect the successor of former Governor Olusegun Mimiko. But fate and intrigues within his party combined to stall his ambition.
Meanwhile, unlike a typical Nigerian politician, Jegede resisted the pressure to reject the outcome of the poll won by his opponent from the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, also a SAN.
In this interview, Jegede explains why he didn’t challenge Akeredolu’s victory at the polls.
There is no better way to start this interview than to ask you about your experience before and during the Ondo State governorship election in which you were a major contender. What was it like?
Yes, I took part in the election for the governorship seat of Ondo State. Before then, I took part in the primary that was organized by the PDP and emerged victorious. It was my first time contesting for an elective office and, interestingly, I started from the top. I started from the top because I believed I had acquired sufficient experience both in the private and public sectors. I started from the top because I had achieved high distinction in private practice and public service. I believed it was time to put our best leg forward and look for the best hands to manage the affairs of the state. However, we should not see politics as a means of livelihood, we should see it as a means of service. We should celebrate governance as against politics. We should try to build a system that will deliver better life for our people.
However, the process leading to that service delivery was a tortuous one. I regard myself now as a very skilful and experienced sailor who had transversed very turbulent high seas and turbulent waters. I believe it has pleased God that somebody else, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, should become governor at this time. I believe also that it pleases Him that those distractions that were put in our ways, those hurdles, and those seeming mountains were there because God allowed it. I believe we did our best to surmount all the obstacles. I believe that we were able to forge ahead notwithstanding the distractions. I believe that those negative elements that were used to truncate the will of the people would in the confines of their rooms suffer regrets because they would know that what they did was not only unconscionable, but also a disservice to the state and to our democracy. Those who set goals for themselves should be able to define the goals. The goal they set for themselves they will tell you, the goal they set for themselves was not a positive one but a negative goal. Negative in the sense that they were desirous and determined to pull down and not to build. Mine goal is to build. Their goal is to pull down. So while they were looking down and pulling down, we were looking up because we want wanted build.
I have seen, first hand, the infrastructure put in place by successive administrations. I know there are gaps desirous of special attention. Above all, I believe in the course of my going round, I have won the heart of the people. That is why it required extra efforts on the part of the establishment: a particular judicial officer, some highly placed political office holders and politicians, to remove my name from the ballot for a period of thirty days preceding the day of election to enable them achieve their objectionable goal. Following the court of Appeal judgement, I campaigned for only 24 hours. Despite this and other issues thrown at us, we remain the champions. We won the heart of the people. This is my position and that is my experience.
From the way you have spoken, it seems you have left everything to God. Is that the case?
Those things that we needed to do were done. The campaign that we should carry out, short of distractions, we did to the best of our ability, but you can also not ignore providence. What I have done is to do my best and leave the rest to God. Whether you call that divine inclination or providence or divine intervention or prayer is subject to your opinion. I have done what needed to be done. I prepared for the assignments. I worked in the public service of Ondo State and I offered myself to serve, not because of self-seeking desire but because the goal is to serve. If the goal is to serve and to work, why should I go to the extreme to foist myself on the people? If I say yes, I must be governor at all cost, whether they liked it or not, then you should query my motive? My motive should be honest, my motive should be pure.
People have argued that the events before the election and the deliberate refusal of INEC to postpone the election meant that I was cheated. I ran a race and in the race there were intrigues: some of them very negative, some of them very criminal, some of them very fraudulent. What I did was to go to court and challenge those distractions and I was vindicated two days before the election. Two days before the election Supreme Court ordered the Appeal Court to deliver its judgement. The following day the Court of Appeal delivered the judgement in our favour and described the judgement of the Federal High Court as a farce and a fraud.
I’m saying this not because Eyitayo JEGEDE is involved. I’m saying this because we all have a stake in this country and, for God’s sake we should as much as possible try to be fair to everybody. I went to court and was vindicated in the Court of Appeal to have my name restored as a candidate of PDP. I came back and requested INEC to postpone the election because of the need to conduct a free, fair and credible election. All those three words have their own meaning. If election is free it has its meaning. If it is fair it has its meaning. If it is credible it has its meaning. INEC refused to postpone the election even though it postponed the Edo election. There is supposedly somebody in charge of INEC who allowed the election to go on when he knew that my name was not published on the list on the notice board of INEC for 30 days as required by the Electoral Act when he knew that the person who submitted the names of party agents in the 3009 polling units in Ondo state has been adjudged not to be the candidate of the party; when he knew that those whose names were fraudulently submitted were those who were on ground before the elections; when he knew that the register of voters was not given to me or to my party; when he knew I was not allowed to campaign for thirty days before the elections due to the distractions and when he knew in good conscience that you cannot refer to those processes as fair.
What I tried to do was to correct some of the perceived negative tendencies and the shortcomings on our march to democracy. I’m not the one that will correct all, I will correct my own part, and somebody else will come and correct others. It’s like division of labour and you know in any battle you take charge of your section and then you move on and you also plan. It does not make sense not to plan. Those who fail to plan plan to fail. We were matched against formidable enemies. We were matched against those in the establishment. I got to know that my name will be taken out before the election but I said, it was not possible; they won’t be able to do it. I got to know that some people were planning to take out my name about 45 days to the election.
What proactive steps did you take to prevent it then?
We checked. There was no way they could do it lawfully. They said they were going to rely on a judgement by Justice Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja dated 29 June 2016, in which I was not a party but, in respect of 2019 election. We studied the judgement and found out that I was not affected by it. That judgement was about 2019 elections, not 2016. I was running for election in 2016, so what is my business with 2019? If you are in my shoes, are you going to challenge 2019 elections when your election is in 2016? Now we knew that in their eagerness to procure fraud, they made mistakes and I was not going to correct their mistakes for them. I told INEC nobody could remove my name because I was running election in 2016 and not 2019. INEC said, ‘yes’ we cannot remove your name because that judgement affects 2019 elections’, that it had nothing to do with me. What they did was that they went back to the same court. The same set of characters who are plaintiffs and defendants in the first case. Four months after the first case, they obtained another judgement behind my back and without my knowledge, purportedly removing my name as a candidate. That was why the Court of Appeal referred to both judgements as farce and fraud and set it aside.
Now that the election has come and gone and a winner has been announced, what is your reaction to the result?
My reaction is very simple. For the records, I have highlighted what I perceived as the unfairness and injustice in the entire system. I have also taken a decision that for this purpose, four years in the life of a nation is a very short period. I am speaking for myself. Whatever I have said and whatever anybody has said, INEC has made a declaration that produced Mr Rotimi Akeredolu,SAN, as the elected governor of Ondo State and he’s been credited with a good number of local governments and, notwithstanding what some of us perceived as non-compliance with the Electoral Act and/or the imperfections in the process – call it commercialization or monetisation or what was expressed as ‘edibo ke sebe’ meaning vote and collect money to cook soup. However, If my motive is to serve and to give my best and, if genuinely i did not intend to go ahead and benefit myself in an unholy manner, then i shouldn’t foist myself on the people. i therefore opted not to challenge the outcome of the election. Therefore I am moving on. All power belongs to God. I have decided to put my state and the people first before self. I hold no grudge.
Are you really serious not to challenge the result and have you consulted your party over this decision?
I have made up my mind. Having regards to what has happened and all that is needed and the likely outcome of a rerun, I’ve gone through a very tedious process part of which was very shocking, but I must grow above pettiness of politics. That is the difference between me and them. Some of us should demonstrate statesmanship and rise above the desperate desires to hold public office. My intention then and now is to serve.
Can we say your decision not to challenge the outcome was as a result of the consultations you did with various stakeholders during the periods you said you were studying situations for due analysis?
Naturally yes. Not only stakeholders and party leaders but also renown and reputable legal practitioners were consulted too. I am a senior member of the Bar, which is my field. Despite that, I also consulted widely with those that I believe were experts in the field of election petition cases, which is also my field. So my decision is the outcome of all these consultations. Having consulted widely, I Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, took a decision not to challenge the declaration of INEC as it relates to the outcome of the election of 26th November 2016. Let the people have a feel of a new government if that is their wish. Let’s see what the APC government has to offer. I have taken a decision. I’m not in this game for self-seeking. I’m in this business to offer our people service, to offer our people a new brand and bold leadership. It cannot be by all means. I don’t want to be governor by all means. I don’t want to be governor by whatever manner of way, hook or crook, no.
Supposing there was a level-playing field in the election, do think you could have won in view of the ground-swell of support President Buhari’s administration change agenda is enjoying across the nation?
There was a grand conspiracy against my person as a candidate, especially by the establishment which found willing tool in some supposedly party members and some officials. INEC did not show itself to be an independent body. As far as I am concerned, we enjoyed very wide support, swell and big support and we were sure to win the election. But the outcome of 26 November was not in line with our expectations. That’s why I said we might have lost the election according to INEC but I know we won the heart of the people all across. You know in the election that took place on the 26 November, some ministers from this side were all here for the Ondo State project on the part of APC and, they came with their entire wherewithal. The governors of APC were coming in droves. Some of them who had common challenges in their states were here to wet the ground from the resources of their states. You see them from the East, from the North, they were here and they were dispensing largesse. That’s left for you if you understand what I mean.
There was also the talk that you lost the election because former Governor Olusegun Mimiko and your party in the state did not respect zoning arrangement?
I am not aware of any zoning formula. I am aware that every time there is election, candidates had always emerged from the three zones. Go and check. Let me correct this impression, Governor Olusegun Mimiko is the leader of the party and I was privileged to be supported by him just like many others who supported me. Governor Mimiko had only one vote on the day of election. The average market woman also had one vote. I’m happy that I enjoyed support not only from students, from artisans, from workers, from unions but also from Gov Mimiko himself. So my candidature was the choice of the party and lots of individuals within the party including leaders. So what is wrong in you having support from the leadership of the party the same way you have support from those who are at the lower rungs of the ladder of the party? Two, do you want somebody who is not acceptable to the leadership of the party to emerge? How would he get support? It should have made more sense if those who were against my candidature would take time to evaluate me on merit. Mimiko didn’t lose this election. If anybody has lost, it’s me.
What do you think made Mimiko to pick you as his successor?
Gov Mimiko supported me because he knows I’m good for the job and can move the state to another level. Don’t you like good things? If you want to build a house and you have an engineer who’s very good, would you not engage him, would you not support him?
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