Fayose believes I will be uncontrollable as gov – Ex-AG, Ajayi

Former Ekiti State Attorney-General and a chieftain of Social Democratic Party, Owoseni Ajayi, in this interview tells ABIODUN NEJO that former Governor Ayodele Fayose did not pick him as his successor in 2018 because he was afraid he (Ajayi) might be uncontrollable

What informed your recent call for more lawyers to participate in politics?

If you want to shape the society, you must participate in governance. You cannot be behind the bench and remain a critic. You have to get involved, and lawyers as learned people are in the best position to direct the direction of the government. Lawyers have passed through many segments of training in schools before being called to the bar.

 In their daily legal practice, they listen to other lawyers in court; others listen to you; judges make pronouncements, all these have intellectual and exposure auras.

So, if they are not giving back to the society from their endowment, they should not complain of bad government. That is why I advise that more lawyers should join politics at all levels and contest elections for various positions.

Are you satisfied with the contributions of lawyers already in politics?

Definitely, you will see the difference in a few lawyers who have distinguished themselves in legal practice and politics. For instance, Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) is a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association. You will see his activities in governance; he is always conscious of whatever he does, and he is conscious of the fact that he is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and a former president of the NBA. He is aware he is coming back to the legal practice, and you can see most of his pronouncements on the politics of Nigeria without minding whose ox is gored.

On Amotekun Corps, as the chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum, he made a lot of far-reaching pronouncements that governors deserve the right to protect the rights of their people when the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami said Amotekun was an illegal association that the governors had no right to set up. Akeredolu gave it back to him, saying that governors, as chief executives of their states, have the right to protect their people’s lives. He did not chicken out. Amotekun is now fully functioning.

Again, he was very vocal that the next president must come from the Southwest. He did not change his position. In his party, the APC, he was one of those who helped Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emerge as a presidential candidate.

Als, look at Senator Bamidele Opeyemi; he is a lawyer, and as the chairman of the judiciary committee in the Senate, he is everywhere defending the course of human rights and justice. We want more of these lawyers in government.

You have traversed the Peoples Democratic Party, All Progressives Congress, and Social Democratic Party; why and should it be like that in an ideal situation?

The constitution allows freedom of association. Not only that, as human beings, we are dynamic in nature; even friendship is not static. Your bosom friend today can betray you. So, you depart and pick another friend. You can opt out if you are not satisfied with the conduct of an association. These are part of our fundamental rights as humans. You find yourself in an association with a group of people and for one reason or another, you find it impossible to go ahead with the association, what do you do? You move on.

In the PDP, when I was with Governor Ayodele Fayose, where I served as Attorney General for two terms, we were to select the 2018 governorship candidate, so many of us were interested in succeeding him. Senator Dayo Adeyeye was contesting and I was contesting on Fayose’s prompting because when I was the Director General of his campaign, who won the primaries for him?

Prior to that, I had been his personal lawyer, representing him in several cases, saving him from several embarrassments as his lawyer, and helping him return to office for a second term.

Because of the closeness, on his own volition, he promised that if he won the election, I would be his deputy governor. I was the DG of his campaign. Immediately after I won the primary for him; he reneged, saying he did not want a politician as deputy governor, that he wanted a deputy that they would serve out together. He called a meeting of PDP leaders to discuss me, and he confirmed that while he had previously promised to make me deputy governor, he would settle for a technocrat to serve out his term with him as his running mate. It was then that he said he wanted me to be his successor from Ekiti South. He then said I should go back as an AG so that I could have my SAN. I accepted, but when it was time, Fayose decided that the same deputy governor, Prof. Kolapo Olusola-Eleka, who was not one of us, but a lecturer, and with whom we had perfected his becoming a running mate, was the one to succeed him. He said that he wanted someone that he would continue to use after leaving office as governor.

When asked about me in view of his promise, he said that based on my background as former president of the students unions at the College of Education, Ikere Ekiti, and University of Ife, former NBA branch chairman, and brilliant lawyer, I would be uncontrollable if I became governor.

Also, the Ekiti State APC is like a mafia in that it is reluctant to accept new members. The nucleus of the formation remains intact.

For instance, Senator Adeyeye came in from the PDP to the APC, aggrieved over Fayose’s imposition. He teamed up with Fayemi and worked with him throughout all the wards in the state for him to come back as governor; ditto for me. At the end of the day, look at what they did to Adeyeye.

During the last election petitions tribunal, all my attempts to join the APC legal team were resisted. Meetings of leaders would be called in my local government; I would not be invited, much more so at the state level. All attempts to inject myself into the system were blocked. I could not remain there.

Aren’t the members of the SDP, which you moved to, going back to the PDP? What is the problem with the party?

The insurgence and the movement of people to the SDP in Ekiti State were results of injustice and the imposition of candidates in both the PDP and APC. Those leaving now, being political human beings, want to fix themselves somewhere else because the SDP was not pronounced the winner of the June 18 governorship election.

Presidential election is coming, and politicians, being who we are, can’t remain idle. For now, SDP is fighting for its mandate; they don’t know where it will end; probably nothing will happen concerning that petition until after the presidential election; “let us fix ourselves somewhere before it is too late,” and you cannot blame them. You will see that if Governor Oni is pronounced the actual winner of the last election today, you will see the influx again from everywhere. It is a struggle for survival. It is not motivated by anything else.

Between February and June, expectations were high that SDP would produce Fayemi’s successor, what was the secret and what eventually happened?

The people of Ekiti wanted the SDP candidate, Segun Oni, and they still want him. It is not over until it is over. I am one of the leading counsels in the petition challenging the outcome of the election. You will see what will happen in the election petition. Ekiti people know what happened in the election, not that they did not vote for Oni.

What happened?

I don’t want to go into details, but as a lawyer on the election petition, these are the issues we will canvas at the tribunal. At least people know about vote-buying and so many other things. Segun Oni was duly elected by the Ekiti people, but he was not pronounced.

Must elections always get to the courts?

If there were malpractices in elections and if rules were not followed, the aggrieved would continue to go to court. It is preferable to go to court than to take their laws into their hands. The constitution has procedures and conditions for contesting elections. If these are flouted, people will ask questions. If our democracy does not mature enough to hold free and transparent elections, there will continue to be issues that necessitate the use of an election petition tribunal.

 Are you satisfied with the treatment of judges under the Buhari administration?

No lawyer will be content with the way judges are treated. The Executive tries to cow the Judiciary by not granting it financial autonomy in reality. The executive, which controls the purse, dictates the pace. That is why if the judiciary continues to go cap in hand to the executive, there is no way the executive will not subjugate the independence of the judiciary.

Judiciary independence includes giving unfettered independent judgment without thinking of whose ox will be gored. That can only be guaranteed fully by granting the judiciary financial autonomy. Of the three arms of government, the judges are the worst paid, and they are not in a position to complain. They can’t form associations; they can’t constitute themselves into lobby groups.

That is why I am using this opportunity to call for an immediate review of the salaries of judges. The President, Muhammadu Buhari recently said that since 2018, he has given approval for judges’ salaries to be raised, but it has yet to be implemented. He has an onerous duty to ensure that judges’ salaries are upgraded to a reasonable standard before he leaves office.

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