Mr. Owoseni Ajayi, a former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Ekiti State, was removed by Governor Ayo Fayose in controversial circumstances in 2017. His removal was done a few hours before he faced the panel that interviewed him for the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview with ODUNAYO OGUNMOLA, Ajayi relives the embarrassment caused him by Fayose’s action, his other experiences with the outgoing governor as a commissioner for three years and the circumstances that led to the defeat of the Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, at the just concluded governorship election in the state.
The Ekiti State governorship election has come and gone. As an active player in the election, what is your assessment of the exercise?
Let me start by saying that the election was free, fair, transparent and credible. All the insinuations by the losers in that election that it was rigged were contrary to the facts on the ground during the election. And you will discover that when you see the result from all the polling units to the wards, the local government areas and the state level, they were keenly contested. You cannot see any bogus figure reflected in the election. It was a true reflection of the people’s will. It was a reaction to the misrule of Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose.
I want to state categorically that, that election was not strictly about PDP and APC. It was strictly about Fayose and the people of Ekiti State. Three things were responsible for the downfall of Governor Fayose and his administration. One, he does not seem to believe that anybody else deserves to benefit from his administration because he believes the administration belongs to him alone. His greed was responsible for impoverishing virtually everybody that serves under him. Members of the House of Assembly are so impoverished that they find it difficult to meet their daily needs. He virtually took over the functions of the House of Assembly, running the House of Assembly as if it is a parastatal in the governor’s office. He demonstrated this when he went to the Assembly and said, ‘I am the Speaker here. Pastor Oluwawole is merely acting for me.’
Our House of Assembly members never attended any seminar to brush up their experience anywhere outside the state. The furniture allowance, which is their constitutional entitlement, they have not been given up till now. Invariably, after securing a loan with their salaries at the inception of his administration, they are virtually left with nothing because their salaries have been consumed by the loan they collected. How do you expect those people to be happy with the administration?
During an interview I granted earlier, I said about 15 of the Assembly members were already with us in APC, and I said then that it would be a gradual process; that some people would defect before the election and others would defect after the election. About that number is already moving against him. That is why he is now fighting tooth and nail to ensure that he is not impeached.
How much advice did you give him on these as one of his commissioners?
He is a kind of person who does not listen to advice. He does not care about people’s feelings or opinions. He behaves like an Emperor of the Manor. People don’t feel free to give him any advice any longer. What is the essence of giving an advice that will not be heeded? And if you give a genuine advice, he is going to see you as an enemy. As as a result of that, he is now surrounded completely by sycophants. These sycophants were the people that made him to pick a wrong person as the governorship candidate. A person whom he told the whole state in the stadium when he was being sworn in, and at all public fora, that as the deputy governor the man was going away with him, barely six months into the administration, he changed gear because he started nursing an ambition to succeed himself and run for third term by proxy. His ambition to run for third term was the beginning of his downfall. All other people who had ambition in the party, like myself, Dayo Adeyeye, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, Ambassador Dare Bejide, he took them as his personal enemies who must be flushed out at all cost. He took all of us as his enemies irrespective of our contributions to his success both in the primary and in the general election, because of his ambition for a third term by proxy.
Are you saying in essence that Ekiti people rejected his third term by proxy at the last election?
Yes. The deputy governor is a fine gentleman. He was not ambitious for the governorship. He told me point blank, ‘Attorney General, I am here on God’s assignment to fulfil my destiny as the deputy governor of this state and go back to the university to continue my job as a lecturer.’ It was the governor who saw him (Olusola) as somebody who had no political allies and so would be responsible to him (Fayose) alone, that forced him into the governorship race.
The second problem that was responsible for Fayose’s failure in that election was arrogance. Fayose does not believe that anybody else has any idea to contribute. He does not believe that anybody is intelligent enough to advise him, including the National Secretariat of his party (PDP) who were rightly advised that if he picked his deputy, there was no how they could win the election. They were advised to pick a candidate that was acceptable to himself, the party members and other aspirants. Senator Abiodun Olujimi specifically mentioned that he should pick his Attorney General, which is my humble self; that what problem would he have with me as his Attorney General, his personal lawyer, and that I would be acceptable to them too because I had been in the party and also from the hometown of Dayo Adeyeye. That because of local interest, Prince Adeyeye would not have an option but to support me. But he refused and said that he would defeat all of them; that it was either the deputy governor or nobody. That was how sheer arrogance led to his defeat.
Then, the third problem that he had was his inability to manage human resources. Greed and arrogance dovetailed into this. He claimed that he wanted to be like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. But he has forgotten that he does not have a single attribute of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was governor for eight years and he too has spent eight years. But Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has developed human beings that he has exported to virtually all segments of the Nigerian society; be it in politics, economy, legal practice and other fields of human endeavour. Bola Tinubu has trained people and brought them up not only in Lagos State but to other Southwest states. One of them is Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. He was a two-term Attorney General like me to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He was not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria when he was appointed Attorney General by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Asiwaju assisted him to become a Senior Advocate while he was serving him. And when it was time for him to nominate somebody as Vice President, he nominated him. If that opportunity is given to Fayose, he would prefer to give it to nobody that is close to him or he loses the seat.
Look at the man in charge of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr. Tunde Fowler, he is one of the products of Asiwaju Tinubu. Look at Raji Fashola, he was Chief of Staff when he became Senior Advocate. Do you think it was through his efforts only? Was it the number of cases he won in the courts compared with a two-term Attorney General like me? Then look at Akinwumi Ambode, Lai Mohammed who happens to be an indigene of Kwara State. Look at Aregbesola. Asiwaju exported him from Lagos as his Commissioner for Works to Osun as governor. What about our governor here (Dr. Fayemi)? Look at how he fought tooth and nail to get his mandate for him in the first term. Look at how he fought tooth and nail for Adams Oshiomhole to get his mandate and also Olusegun Mimiko and countless others. But I am asking, can Fayose point to a single person? That of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is endless, Fayose cannot point to a single person that he has developed whether professionally, economically, socially or anyhow. He believes in using people and destroying them; not just using and dumping them.
You were his trusted aide, personal lawyer and one of the people he depended on the most during his first and second tenures. At what point did the two of you fall out?
I will just pray that God forgives him on our relationship because I served him diligently, used my experience as a politician to serve his administration in the first and second terms. I used my experience as a legal practitioner to defend him as his personal lawyer. I cannot be going into details of the two roles because they are repsa locuitous, that is they are facts that speak for themselves.
There is nobody in this country and this state who is not aware of what I am talking about. Apart from nominating me, I don’t think there is something to show for my relationship with him. To worsen the situation, I was to face the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee interview for the award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on a Monday as his Attorney General, but the Sunday evening preceding it, he dissolved the State Executive Council. When I left Ado Ekiti for the interview in Abuja as his Attorney General with his consent, he called me by 1.30 am on Sunday, raising some unclarified issues. He discovered that we could not be discussing it on the phone. He said, ‘When you come back, we would be discussing it.
So, the following evening, without waiting for clarification on those issues, he dissolved the exco less than six hours to the interview, and I became a former Attorney General. While other governors were lobbying for their Attorney Generals to become SANs, he stabbed me in the back. His enemies wrote petitions against me over his misdeeds, and while I was battling with that, he too came to stab me in the back like Brutus did to Julius Caesar. What he did to me while I was facing a panel that interviewed me for the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was a case of what Brutus did to Julius Caesar. The award of SAN, which happens to be the peak of our legal profession, assuming I had succeeded in that, I would say I got something out of this administration and it would have brought glory to Ekiti State and to him. So, if somebody could go to such a ridiculous level, if somebody could be so mean and wicked to somebody that had served him diligently and sincerely, you will see the kind of character he is.
Despite that, I was managing the relationship that I have put so much into. I was coming to the Government House to see how we could resolve it between us. But each time I left, he would start blackmailing me that I came to beg for money. He would tell people that he had given me some money again and that when I finished that, I would come back to beg for more. Whenever I went there with the hope of resolving issues with him, I also went to his wife to say, ‘Madam, come into this issue between myself and my boss because we have come a long way. We should not be seen as fighting dirty outside.’ And in fairness to the woman, she discussed the issue with him. Do you know what he told the wife? He said, ‘Madam, don’t come into this issue. Do you know where I met Owoseni Ajayi? Did I consult you when I appointed him as Attorney-General twice? That prayer that you are doing at the Government House is what you should continue with; you are not a politician.’ He is so arrogant, pompous and unremorseful. He is very ungrateful to anybody who has assisted him.
There is nobody who has assisted us to come to power that Fayose has not offended; from Senator Buruji Kashamu to Senator Gbemi Saraki, to House of Reps member, Hon. Sunday Karimi to former PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, the list is endless. There is virtually nobody, he has not turned against, so how do you expect such a person to win election? So, it was a battle between the people of Ekiti State and Ayo Fayose; it was not a battle between PDP and APC.
That takes us to the next election. Your local government origin, Ise/Orun used to be a stronghold of the PDP. But for the first time since 1999, the local government area fell to the progressives. What are other factors that may not be clear to the people outside which made the PDP to lose Ise/Orun?
Not only that Ise/Orun fell to APC, it was a landslide. The votes in Ise/Orun were used to cancel the little edge he had in Ikere and Ado. The reason was that he underrated and insulted the people of Ise Ekiti. Two of us were governorship aspirants from Ise Ekiti: Dayo Adeyeye who is a former Minister of State for Works and Prince of Ise Ekiti kingdom and myself, his two-term Attorney General, former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association and former President of the Students’ Union of University of Ife. He did not see anyone of us as worthy of succeeding him. Not only that, he insulted us. He insulted the people of Ise Ekiti by saying, ‘Who are the voters in Ise/Orun Local Government?’ This was an insult he passed on the people in public; that they don’t vote in Ise/Orun. How many people are there? He insulted everybody, including the Oba of our town. Have you heard his popular song? “Mi o mo gomina Ise, gomina kan ti mo mo, Ikere lo ti wa (I don’t recognise any governor from Ise, the only governor I know comes from Ikere).
Under his government, there is no development whatsoever he could point to in Ise. The road that Governor Fayemi tarred in Ise, he went to put a roadblock there, saying that he was doing dualisation, causing traffic problems for the community. That is why everybody in Ise/Orun was involved in that election, including our Kabiyesi (monarch) and the chiefs. In fact, the traditional chiefs were agents of APC on the day of the election and were looking for whoever that would come from their wards that would vote for Fayose. It was Fayose’s attitude to the people of Ise/Orun local government that was responsible for the massive votes against him.
His attitude also extended to his own local government because he lost his local government. It was only in his hometown, Afao, that he won the election. They are claiming that APC rigged the election; was the election rigged in his hometown too? He lost in Iyin. He lost in Igede. He lost in Iworoko. He lost in Are. For people reading this interview, Are and Afao are twin towns; there is no demarcation between them. He lost in Igbemo, his next door neighbours. When you move from Afao to Igbemo, you will see the road there because he could not develop the place. Planks are put on the bridge between Igbemo and Afao. Go and check, it is still there. That was why people voted massively against him.
Go and check the result from his unit in Afao. APC got 181 in the unit where he voted, and he got a little above 300 in his unit. Whereas in Ise/Orun, the highest PDP got in any unit was 50 against 300, 400. So you can see that it was basically the attitude of this man that was responsible for what happened. You can see that he worsened his personal problem. You know, once you create a problem, you will be jumping from one crisis to another. How can somebody who went to go to a radio station to announce an election result. Will he say he does not know that it was an electoral offence? When they pick him up on that, he will say they are victimising him. After relinquishing his immunity, if they pick him up on that. That is a strict liability offence. They were still doing collation. Even in some units, they had not finished counting. But he went to the radio station and started announcing results as if he was Prof. Mahmood Yakubu of INEC. Who will save him from those self-created embarrassment?