Senator Femi Okurounmu’s recent allegations that former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba was among those that caused division in the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, stirred the hornet’s nest.
The allegations raised a lot of dust which prompted Chief Osoba to fire back.
In this interview, the former governor described Okurounmu as “a frustrated and unfulfilled politician as well as a failure in his chosen profession.”
Speaking on the crisis that led to the split in Afenifere in 2003 and the political crisis in the Alliance for Democracy, AD, Osoba laid the blame at the foot of the leaders. Excerpts:
Chief Olusegun Osoba
One of the Yoruba leaders described you in unkind words that you are a traitor and a double-dealer. How do you react to some of the things he said?
I will not descend into using uncouth, insulting and gutter language like Senator Femi Okurounmu did in which he called me a traitor, a security agent and a double-dealer. You asked what I felt reading his sustained attacks against me in the last two weeks. I was unruffled, unmoved. As a tested fighter and warrior, on the day I launched my book, I showed series of pictures of me as a boxer at the age of 10. I titled my book ”Battlelines” to show the intrigues, blackmail that I have suffered in both my professional and political life.
As for Okurounmu, I will describe him as a frustrated and unfulfilled politician as well as a failure in his chosen profession. His recent attack on me is borne out of these three reasons and the major factor is envy and wickedness. When you are envious, you carry that burden forever and an envious character cannot even say the reason he is envious particularly when God has been too kind to the person he is envious of. That is the situation between him (Okurounmu) and I.
During the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, struggle, Okurounmu said while you were supporting MKO Abiola, you were also collaborating and having dinner with General Sani Abacha and at that time. He said you betrayed Abiola by collaborating with Abacha. How true is this?
What he (Okurounmu) is saying is that I collaborated with Abacha because I was a security agent and that Abacha was after me because I betrayed my security relationship with them. My answer to that is I pray to God in Heaven that our heroes, who died in the cause of the struggle, particularly those unsung heroes, wherever they are in heaven, they should forgive Okurounmu at 80 because the insinuation that they were after me because I was a security agent is loaded. Sergeant Rogers was categorical and he was prosecuted by the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was then-Attorney General of Lagos State. He (Rogers) was categorical about those that were marked down and he was instructed to assassinate.
I pray that the spirits of Kudirat Abiola, Alfred Rewane, Bola Ige, Olu Onagoruwa; the spirits of those who were hit and they eventually died in the cause including Papa Abraham Adesanya, my good friend and soul mate, Alex Ibru, forgive Okurounmu. I can go on giving names of those who were marked down, from the evidence given in court and who were attacked. So, if they were after me as a security collaborator and an agent, then, he (Okurounmu) is destroying the spirits of these people who died for the cause and may they forgive Okurounmu. May their souls continue to rest in peace but what he has done is making all of them turn in their graves. May God forgive him.
He also alleged that former Military President, Genera Ibrahim Babangida funded your governorship election in 1992 because of your collaboration with him. How will you react to this?
I am shocked and disappointed at the lack of knowledge and intellectualism displayed by Okurounmu, who claims to hold a Ph.D. If you were a student of history, the two-party system in my time, was fully funded openly by President Babangida’s government. He built secretariats for the parties in all the local governments in this country. He purchased vehicles for all party officials at all levels. The two parties were fully and openly funded by President Babangida. We had not arrived at the garrison command politics of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which was the politics of do-or-die.
At that time, the voting system was open ballot; you queue openly behind the photograph of your candidate at all levels. Votes, at that time, were not monetised as it is now being monitised. In my time, we did not need more money to run our campaign because the parties were funded and we did not need to fund the parties. You didn’t need to buy votes because voting was by open ballot; you queue in the open behind the photographs of candidates of your choice.
What evidence has he that I collected money? What evidence has he that I needed money when the party was already funded? What money did I need from Babangida then, to spend it on what? So, what do I need the money for? That is why I said he is lacking a sense of history, he is lacking in intellectualism and he is lacking in political knowledge.
Also, Wale Oshun, chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, claimed that during the NADECO years, you donated £5000 to the pet project of Mrs. Maryam Abacha but when NADECO had issues, and they sent Chief John Oyegun to you in London, you gave them £250. What is your position?
In my book, I titled a paragraph on Wale Oshun Unkindest cut. His was the unkindest cut I could ever think of because both of them claimed to be secretary-general of NADECO but it was a bloody lie. Neither of the two was part of the 49 of us that formed NADECO.
NADECO was formed in General Adebayo’s house in Ikeja. It was a collection of so many forces and that was why it was called NADECO. So, they cannot tell the stories of their forefathers.
The closest person to me in exile in London was Wale Oshun, he was a regular visitor to my house. He should tell you first what transpired between the two of us. When he was briefly detained in Ikoyi prison before he ran away to the UK, I was regularly going to his house with Segun Adesegun and Sule Onabiyi to help the wife. When I speak, I speak with records and witnesses. What transpired between us, as an elder, I will not say it but he was a regular visitor to my house. I was to have done an operation in 1993 when Abiola begged me to return to face Babangida, which I did. I was the only one who went and met Babangida and said under no circumstance would I support an interim government.
Now, my passport was seized and I had a nerve problem which was almost cut into two. Efforts were made by Festus Ogunnaike and Peter Ajayi to get my passport released to me to go for the operation. My wife’s passport was seized and so, she could not even go with me.
I had a three-hour operation at Princess Grace Hospital; Wale (Oshun) is alive. If my relationship with him was that sour, how come he was the first person by my bedside while coming out of anesthesia? We were that close. I know his problem.
What is his problem?
His problem is this. Under the Social democratic Party, SDP, he was playing his politics in Lagos. He lost out and came to Ogun State. Both of us were at the Constituent Assembly in 1988. That was where I met him. He came to me and said he would like to be my running mate but I said Papa Awolowo was a democrat who practiced democracy to the core. I said I was not going to handpick my deputy but he was free to come in and it would be thrown open to contest. He emerged through the then Option A4 at the first level. At the second level, he lost out to Rafiu Ogunleye and at the state level, he lost out at Ijebu. So, he was not one of the candidates we considered at the state level where Ogunleye won by a narrow margin.
So, he failed and he cannot forgive me for not handpicking him as my deputy in 1991. He is still carrying that burden.
At that time, there was party discipline and then, the party now decided to compensate him after failing in Lagos and Ogun. We gave him the House of Representatives ticket and I supported him to become the chief whip.
We were so close to the point that Martins Kuye, who was in the Senate and wanted to become a principal officer, became bitter because Wale Oshun had been chief whip and there was no way someone from Ogun State could become another principal officer.
So, this is the genesis of the bitterness of Wale Oshun. The two of them (Oshun and Okurounmu) have not gone beyond that level. Okurounmu said he wants a public debate but I will not descend to dancing naked in the market. He (Okurounmu) is not a mad man but I won’t go dancing naked with a mad man.
All of you in Afenifere are old and we pray for the longevity of life but is there a possibility of Afenifere being revived in your lifetime?
Although I was brought up by a foremost prophet and evangelist, Joseph Ayo Babalola, who was my uncle, he was a founding father of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, I don’t pray to be a prophet at all. I don’t prophesy.
Is there any possibility of Afenifere being revived in your lifetime?
The future of Afenifere is in the hands of God, and the God of Yoruba will not abandon his own.
The death of Awolowo, Adesanya, Adekunle Ajasin, Bola Ige, will not be in vain.
I am confident that at the right time, another Awolowo will emerge but for now, at the age of 80, I must tell you that all of us must take the blame for what is happening in Afenifere. We do not have any succession plan; we wasted our time and energy on acrimony. Till today, Afenifere has no constitution. How can you have a body when all you go for at the meeting is to settle useless quarrels? There were many quarrels, today it is between Bola Ige and Ganiyu Dawodu and if it’s not between Bola Ige and Dawodu, it will be Okurounmu making insinuations against Bola Ige, attacking him.
He claims that they are the authentic Afenifere, how many of your age group are with them that they are going to hand over to? They now call us renegades, even Yinka Odumakin declared us persona non grata in Yoruba land. I met them at Jakande’s 90th year birthday, they pretended not to see me, I went to their table and shook their hands because Odumakin himself has been declared many times persona non grata. It was a reputable and well-known pastor that took him to go and beg Ayo Adebanjo. I am suffering what he has suffered many times.
They said those of us in APC have been declared as persona non grata for supporting President Muhammadu Buhari. They too have, at one point or the other, supported Buhari, so I thank them.
But they claimed that their support for Buhari was based on restructuring
One of the problems we have and I wrote it in my book, is that Awolowo had quality of ability to listen to other people’s opinion, maybe because he was a journalist. Awolowo had respect for dissenting voices. Awolowo had an expansive ability to accommodate conflicting opinions but they don’t have it.
When we were in government, we fought through the courts, Bola Tinubu in Lagos, in the name of all the states, instituted major cases that we won.
On local governments, Professor Yemi Osinbajo went to court and the court ruled that Obasanjo had no power to interfere with local government and that the local governments are under the states. Is that not restructuring? Obasanjo was spending money anyhow, again, Osinbajo went to court under Tinubu, and the court ruled that all money must go into federation’s account, which is Treasury Single Account, TSA, now.
My quarrel with them (Afenifere) is this, the APC as a party rejected the idea of going to the conference. I was nominated by the Former Governors’ Forum under Jim Nwobodo, not by Afenifere as he claimed, which I did.
We came to many conclusions, a lot of them that should be implemented by executive action. The report was submitted in August, Dr Goodluck Jonathan left the office about nine months after, and he never executed one executive action.
After he lost the election in February, he had three months to even execute part of the executive actions, but he didn’t. Now they are telling me that they didn’t see anything wrong with a man who had time to appoint all statutory boards.
What I am saying is that we, from Southwest, are not fools and bastards as our governors said. Devolution of power is inserted in our constitution, go and google it. They use the word restructure, which also means devolution.
Today, power is being devolved from British parliament to Scotland, and Whales centuries after been together. My argument is: You were so close to Jonathan and he couldn’t implement a report of a conference he set up in an executive system.
I am not saying that all is well in Nigeria. I will be a fool to say so, everything cannot be completely fine. Even in Britain, today, Theresa May was thrown out over Brexit. My argument is this, I am fighting for true federalism, which we have been fighting for, which we have tested in court, which they at the grassrsoot continue to test more in the courts, and my insistence is this: I am for Sovereign National Conference. I am also for referendum. Unless we have a military coup, which by the grace of God will never happen again in Nigeria, were a military man will decree it, we may not have referendum. That is where we disagree.
But as of today, if you want a sovereign national conference, the National Assembly will pass an act to set up that national conference, and the National Assembly must cede part of its power to that body. Also, in that act, any conclusion from that conference will become binding on Nigeria. A referendum must also be passed by National Assembly. I have asked them (Afenifere) how many House of Reps members or Senators they produced in the last elections
So, this is what I am saying, let us engage in intellectual discussion, let them listen to me, and I listen to them and let us come to a concession, but they won’t agree. We have invited them, instead of engaging the Vice President they resolved to call him unprintable names. In a major newspaper, the Vice President was described as a dishonest intellectual, and that he is a disgrace to the Yoruba nation. This was by an elder, how do you now engage the Vice President that you have insulted?
In any case, my children have told me that I should go and clear my name, and I can assure you that very soon, you will hear from me because I am going to the right place to clear my name.
Will you be seeking redress in the court?
Yes. They must prove it in the courts.
But is it true that you were a double agent during the June 12 struggle?
Again, God gave me talents as a reporter.
I did not bury that talent. Is it an offence for God to make you a super reporter? I am not being immodest, in my field, I used my talent to get wide contacts, right from the days of Tafawa Balewa.
These contacts that I have, I never used them to my benefits. I never owned a land in Lagos until I became Managing Director of Daily Times.
I used my contacts to help people. Papa Awolowo was a beneficiary of my contact.
When his passport was seized and he couldn’t travel out for his regular medicals, including many others, I got their passports back when Babangida got to power.
All the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, people who were detained, I retrieved their passports for them including Chief Bisi Akande, who is still alive.
Many who were on death row, I got their passports back. Our senior, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, who Okurounmu gave evidence against in writing, was investigated and they found nothing against him and his government.
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