Former Ekiti State deputy governor and former governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prof Kolapo Olusola-Eleka, speaks with ABIODUN NEJO about the differences between him and his political godfather, former governor Ayodele Fayose
How has life been for you as a former deputy governor?
Very good and purposeful. It has been a peaceful and purpose-oriented post-deputy governorship. I remain the humble, diligent and noble teacher I have ever been; a professor of repute, still imparting knowledge to the upcoming generation.
Are you satisfied with the outcome of the PDP senatorial primary in your Ekiti South Senatorial District?
Well, it ended up not being a contested election as expected. The serving senator from the district, Senator Biodun Olujimi, having performed well at the Senate, was collectively returned by the delegates and the party, which, to me, is a very good decision from the leadership of the party. The clarion call before every faithful member of the party is to support the wish of the party, and rally round our governorship candidate, Otunba Bisi Kolawole, to deliver the mandate before us during the general elections.
Do you have any regret stepping down rather than test your popularity in the senatorial ticket contest?
No regret at all. I am a purpose-oriented politician. It was a voluntary withdrawal. I am committed to serving my people; that was why when the initial endorsement took place, I took my time and examined the process and the sincerity of purpose that evolved it. All the aspirants in the governorship primary election will notice that I never nursed senatorial ambition; I was committed to the governorship race, which I pursued to the primary. Like I posited in my withdrawal letter, our leader, former governor Ayodele Fayose, approached me through some party leaders, including the acting PDP state chairman, to contest; it looked like a seemingly good political gesture, which I later caved in to after consulting with my teeming supporters. One basic and most important reason for accepting to take up the challenge was to protect the interest of my local government (Ikere) within the constituency. There were early signs of possible consequent propaganda to blackmail me that I mortgaged Ikere’s opportunity politically if I initially rejected the proposal.
However, subsequent happenings revealed that the same leader who openly endorsed my candidacy for Senate in my town went on to also discretely aid another person, who had earlier obtained a nomination form for the House of Representatives contest from the same federal constituency to pick the same senatorial form. I was left with no choice but to consider the initial endorsement as a facade and decoy. I observed there was no more sincerity of purpose in the so-called endorsement. I am committed to serving my people, but I am principled in the process of service delivery.
Some people say you cannot function without endorsement. Is it true?
Nothing is wrong with endorsement. What is unethical is an imposition. You can’t even have supporters without their endorsement of your aspiration. Nobody can endorse a liability. These people know I am not just an intellectual asset, but a political asset highly needed among the current breed of politicians. I can function well outside endorsement. I contested the governorship primary of our party without any endorsement from the leader. My candidature was well accepted. I lost that election due to heavy financial inducement and insincerity on the part of some of the party officials who came to conduct the primaries. What was supposed to be secret ballot was clearly seen as a display of charade where a leader assumed the position of umpire and inspector. Moreso, a critical assessment of the result shows I am passionately loved by the people.
You are an academic, a professor. How did you get into politics?
My incursion into the political arena started long before I became the deputy governor. I have been a registered party member in my ward in Ikere LG since 2005. My father, Elder Joshua Olusola Eleka, is a renowned politician in PDP in Ekiti State and had once served as the Ikere LG party chairman (2003 to 2005) during Fayose’s first term as governor. He influenced his children’s participation in politics. I was not unknown to my party members in my ward, contrary to what some people will want the public to believe. However, I was more active in my local area in Ile-Ife where I resided for years as a lecturer, actively supporting PDP and performing my civic duties as a registered voter before I changed my polling unit to Ikere LG in 2014. My life, notwithstanding my academic prowess and status, has always been about service to people. So, coming to governance was a divine arrangement. God gave me that opportunity so that my contribution to the progress of the life of other people would be formalised on a larger scale.
So far, will you say politics has been a fulfilling experience for you?
Yes, it has been a fulfilling experience, but we have more work to do to ensure an integrity–oriented value system guides our conduct. Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility or pledge. It’s the quality that inspires trust in other. The current political space in Nigeria lacks, to a large extent, leaders that value integrity.
Are you satisfied with the way politics is played in Ekiti State and indeed the country?
I am not satisfied with the way politics is being played in our state. We call ourselves the Land of Honour and Fountain of Knowledge, but our political mechanisms are devoid of principles but full of dubious processes. It can only get better when purposeful leaders, who are really determined to turn things around, assume leadership position. The political scheming and its intrigue are not peculiar to Ekiti. The process should get more engaged often by stakeholders; this is necessary to achieve a distinctive process of producing our political leaders in Nigeria.
As deputy governor, what did Fayose see in you that made him endorse you for governorship in 2018?
The former governor saw my integrity–oriented value system. He saw my commitment to work as a deputy governor. He saw my work ethic and high work rate in delivering milestones and plans. He saw that I was the needed bridge between the past and the future. He saw my goals for the state that is the encompassing SHIELD Agenda and my capability to deliver it. He observed that I could perform optimally which would make him to shine for a long time in the annals of the history of the state; because people would continue to make reference to him as someone who supported a performer. He saw integrity; that I was not motivated by the riches of the office, but truly committed to the development of our people. We could have won the 2018 governorship election if not for the electoral rigging of the ruling APC, but posterity will always settle that score. To my fellow Ekiti people, the future is very bright; absolutely bright.
At what point did you and Fayose have differences that he felt you could not do it again so much that he chose another person for the 2022 election?
I quite understand that politics and self-interest are as inseparable as fire and heat. But then, as leaders we must realise that we have a lot of people looking up to us, therefore, we must be rational and our words should be our bond. Back to your question, I believe only Governor Fayose can properly answer it. For me, I was riding on my candidacy as the most prepared party man in Ekiti, more so, hinged on the gentleman understanding we had in the defunct Osoko Political Association under Fayose’s leadership. Then, all the interested aspirants were expected to be on the field until sometime in June 2021 when selected OPA leaders would meet to assess our suitability based on some laid-down criteria. Unfortunately, this agreement was not adhered to. What we saw was that our leader suddenly in February endorsed Otunba Kolawole, who was the then PDP state chairman and who was not among the aspirants. No prior consultation with the leaders. My “offence” then was that I refused to step down my aspiration; I followed my conviction.
But some say it was because Fayose later realised that you would not be a puppet. Is it true?
Well, all my life, I have never been a puppet in anyway. My leader, Fayose, knows this. This statement is a function of public records. I follow God’s instruction. My loyalty is unquestionable. I have been instructed to be subject to authorities. As a professor, it would be misplaced for anyone to call me a puppet. I respect people, I fear God. Only God is supreme.
But why was it difficult to resolve the differences?
I do not believe there is anything too difficult to conquer or any conflict too hard to resolve. However, in my honest view, Fayose knows what to do if he wants issues resolved. He is a leader we hold in high esteem; he should do the needful. Nobody is competing leadership with him. I think it is high time he checked people around him to know if they are actually sincere with him. Do not forget that we are all fallible, but what contributes to some of our misdeeds can be related to the calibre of people we confide in, few of them are genuinely loyal while some are sycophants. At this juncture, I suggest both leader and follower need deep soul-searching to discover where things have gone wrong. Leadership exists on different levels – team, operational and strategic leadership. The strategic leader is the leader of leaders and is expected to develop ‘practical wisdom’, a blend of goodness, intelligence and experience. Honesty and straightforwardness are key issues. In the words of author John Adair, ‘a good leader sees others not as personal followers but as companies and partners on a common journey’.
How did you feel when you lost the 2018 governorship election and 2022 governorship primary?
I didn’t lose the 2018 election. All the ills that transpired during that period were one of the darkest periods in the annals of our constitutional democracy. The conspiracies of state and non-state actors robbed the good people of Ekiti the joy of sterling leadership, which I represent. The APC at all levels that took powers by force using all state and non-state machinery is worse off today and is sinking the nation into remissness.
With respect to the 2022 governorship primaries, a winner in the person of Otunba Kolawole, emerged and I have since congratulated him and I am very much available to contribute my quota towards ensuring PDP wins the June 18 election.
After the governorship primary, there were options and entreaties to you to come over to other parties. Do you have regret not joining any of the parties?
I am a very loyal party man. One of the very important traits I emulated from my parents is making sure your word is your bond. I remain committed to the principles and ideology of the PDP. For me, PDP is my political home.
How did you feel contesting the PDP governorship ticket against Bisi Kolawole, who was your campaign DG and Fayose, your boss?
It was indeed a great challenge and an honour to go head-to-head with them. This might still happen in the future and it might not. Generally, it was a politically intense period and my issue-based campaign put everybody on their toes. It was actually a rewarding experience as I learned a lot in the course of the various activities leading to the primary election.
Fayose insinuated that you were an ingrate for disparaging him, referring to him as deceitful and arrogant for not supporting you for 2022 governorship ticket despite all he has done for you. What will you say to this?
I didn’t describe him as such. I’m well trained not to abuse elders. Also, there was no such statement made during the 2022 governorship primary election. I only referred to the evolved process and system during the recent senatorial contest, where he raised my hand in the public and later secretly supported another, as exhibiting an arrogant display of deception and lacking sincerity of purpose. Forever, I am grateful to God and I thank Governor Fayose for the opportunity to serve my people. Fayose clearly understands my grouse with him, he knows the issues. We spoke about them several times. His insinuations are totally incorrect and do not represent the true picture of things. In life, God will always use humans to propel you towards His plans for you. Only people who don’t understand life will play god. At some point, some people held Fayose’s hands and lifted him to the heights he has attained in life, why isn’t he enslaved to them? The bottom line, Governor Fayose reneged on our agreement in OPA for 2022. The group knows this too. Anyway, we have put that behind us. What matters most now is coming together to ensure victory for the PDP.
As a PDP member, how do you see it performing in the June 18 governorship election?
The state of governance we are experiencing at present in Ekiti is a clarion call for help. Thus, all hands must be on deck to ensure that PDP returns to power. The party leadership must do all within the ambits of the law to instill unity and give a sense of purpose and belonging to all members. This is solely in the interest of the common man in Ekiti. If PDP wins, Ekiti has won. PDP leadership in Ekiti should endeavour to reach out to all. Currently, some of us are seen as outsiders to the Bisi Kolawole project and this is not healthy for the desirable success of the party in the forthcoming election.
What do you think the party can still do to get back to power?
First, we must be sincere with ourselves. There must be unity across the board. Look, the PDP is one and must approach issues in that light. We cannot continue to see the party as a one-man enterprise; an individual does not win election. It takes the conscientious efforts of all critical stakeholders and loyal party members to win elections. Bring everyone on board; quit grandstanding. Once this is done, victory is certain.
And with the 2023 general elections around the corner and as parties hold their presidential primaries, what type of president do you think Nigeria needs in view of the country’s sociopolitical and economic challenges?
We need a President that is a unifier; a President that is fit in body and mind; a President that can instil hope; a President that understands the issues; a President that will not divide this country; a President that can create jobs and secure the country; a President with veritable antecedents in leadership and governance; a President that will be conscious of what is happening around him; a President not from the crop of the set of politically inept persons; we need a President from the PDP. Franking speaking, only the PDP can salvage this country from total collapse. Atiku Abubakar is the sure answer.