Ousted deputy governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Azeem Gbolarunmi, recently spoke to journalists on his relationship with the late prominent Ibadan politician, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the crisis in the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party and his 2015 governorship ambition. Ademola Adeyemo was there. Excerpts:
What do you think of politics in Oyo State without your mentor, late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu?
It has been a bit difficult because we are still missing him. When he was around, Adedibu was a centre figure in Oyo and Nigerian politics. He was my father, mentor and everything. I belonged to his camp. It has not been easy since his demise; things have been difficult for Oyo State PDP.
If he was around, things would not have been like this for PDP. He was a rallying figure, a mobiliser, a strategist, father, leader and everything politics. Everybody respected him. Now after his exit, things fell apart. Everybody wants to be leader and nobody wants to be a follower. Even a councilor in the party will tell you that he is also qualified to lead the party. The political terrain has not been all that easy in Oyo since the exit of Adedibu, but I know things will get better. It is just a matter of time; water will find its level.
We don't have anybody now that can step into his shoes. He had his own uniqueness and style and I doubt if there is anybody who can step into his shoes. Adedibu trained many people in politics; he made many people in politics. He also sponsored many people into high posts such as governors, senators, House members and so many political posts. He made me a deputy governor and he was like a father to me. I will always miss him.
But it appears the Adedibu political camp is now in shambles. There is no cohesion, no unity of purpose again. What is the situation now?
Yes, like I said earlier, everybody wants to be a leader and you know if there are many captains in a ship, it will run aground. But the situation is not hopeless, there is a concerted effort going on to reinvigorate the camp. At the appropriate time, we will unfold our plan. We are one big political family and we are going to remain one. I can assure you that you will soon see us together again.
What really is the problem with PDP in Oyo State? The crisis seems intractable.
No, it is not insurmountable. We should expect that! We are talking about the largest party in Africa here, so we are bound to disagree and agree; we cannot run away from internal conflict within the family. But I can assure you that when the time comes, we will be back together in the interest of the party. Plans have reached an advanced stage and very soon, you will see a united PDP in Oyo State again. We have learnt our lessons that there is nothing good in crisis.
However, it should be noted that we did not lose all the states through election, but lost Ekiti and Osun to judicial pronouncements and verdicts. We lost Oyo state because of the internal bickering in the party and we defeated ourselves. The then governor stepped on many toes and we paid for it. Also, the former governor stepped on many shoes and that affected our performance. However, we are now ready to regain our lost glory in the state.
Are you sure you've learnt any lesson?
Yes, l thinks so. As soon as we are able to fix the problem of who will be our leader, all other things will fall in place. We know why and how we lost the state to ACN and we are ready to make amends. The problem we had in the past was that some people wanted to be the leader of the party and at the same time, the leader of government and the two cannot go together. You cannot combine the two.
For instance, if you are the governor of the state, you should be able to leave the leadership of the party for another leader. In the past, some people were the governors and the leaders of the party and whatever they said was final. That is not democracy. If you concentrate too much power in a human being, there is the tendency for that person to be autocratic. You cannot be the alpha and omega of the party; you need to consult others and carry everybody along. We have to leave the operation of the party to the grassroots people who know everybody and their contributions.
Is it appropriate to then say that lack of internal democracy in PDP was responsible for losing the South-west states?
No, it was beyond that. If there is a party that has internal democracy today within its fold, it is the PDP. Go and do your research. We lost those states particularly Oyo because of the internal wrangling among us and nobody wanted to see things from other person's perspective. We told the former governor to leave the grassroots to the leaders and not to impose candidates on them, but he turned down the advice.
So we had a situation where some members disrespected their wards and local government leaders and ran to Government House to obtain tickets. So, we had a lot of impositions which bred misgivings and protests and things fell apart and the centre could not hold. As far as I am concerned, we have learnt our lessons. Former governor Alao-Akala did well to the best of my knowledge. To be honest, the people of the state like Alao-Akala and he did his best. But it was a different ball game at the party level; some grassroots leader felt he did not carry them along at the end of the day and we all paid for it.
Do you feel that the South-west is marginalised in the political arrangement in Nigeria?
I am not comfortable with the position of the South-west in the nation's politics now and I want to appeal to our leaders to urgently address this issue. The fact is that we are marginalized; there is no two way about it and it can be corrected.
As a grassroots politician, do you support the scrapping of local government councils?
No, local government councils are very important and they play significant roles in ensuring the deliverance of the dividends of democracy to the grassroots. They are the closest governments to the people. Instead of scrapping them, they should be strengthened financially.
What about granting them autonomy?
In my own candid view, autonomy should not be given to the local government. The reason is simple: it will be abused. They have been given autonomy before but it did not work. It was abused. That was during Babangida's regime. It cannot work because there will be clash of interests. In a state, where there are many local governments, there will be no checks and balances which is the hallmark of governance. If a particular council belongs to another political party, it will not be easy at all.
As a former deputy governor, what is your political plan for 2015?
My political future is in the hands of God and I will continue to follow his dictates and be grateful to him for what he has done for me. According to a wise saying, 'we are but like a pencil in the hands of God'. However, I am consulting with my people and whatever direction we find suitable, we shall follow. I am not desperate about anything; I am waiting on God and my people and at the appropriate time, we will unfold our plans. One thing that is certain is that I am in a good stead to serve my people at any level and I am not over ambitious. I will listen to God and the leaders of my party.