–Ishola Filani, PDP chieftain
By SEGUN AJAYI
Wednesday February 08, 2012
Photo: Sun News Publishing
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Chief Ishola Filani, is a consummate politician whose political career has spanned three decades. A member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) National Executive Council (NEC), he is in the vanguard of repositioning the party in the South-west towards wresting power from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the 2014/2015 general elections. Towards this end, the legal practitioner is offering himself for the office of Ekiti State chairman of the PDP. He told Daily Sun that the decision to lead was not unconnected with the new wave of rededication, sacrifice, and realignments sweeping through the party in the South-west particularly. Filani, who also holds the title of Asiwaju of Ikole Ekiti and Egbeobaland, speaks on the party’s efforts at charting new direction in the region and many more. Excerpts:
The congress of your party, the PDP is ongoing and I believe the major concern is how to wrest power from the opposition ACN during the coming polls. Is there anything in the works ahead of that?
Yes, there is a lot on ground to ensure that we regain power in the South-west. The unfortunate aspect of it, however, is that the loss of power to the ACN was not an indication that the party was weak in the region. As it is now, one-on-one, the PDP is more on ground in the zone than the ACN. The loss could be blamed on internal squabbles. Of the six states of the South-west, the only state that one confidently say that the ACN holds is Lagos State. States like Osun, Ekiti, and Ondo were lost through court decisions. The judiciary, especially, the Court of Appeal, was very unfair to us in the South-west. Interestingly, some of its decisions are being overturned by the Supreme Court. One of the decisions was the recent sacking of the five governors whose tenures were hitherto extended by the appellate court.
But the PDP lost through the ballot in Oyo and Ogun states
The party lost in Oyo and Ogun states because of internal conflict. Now, we have leant our lessons. You would note that if you add the votes of the PDP and that of the Accord Party, you would realise that the PDP would have won in Oyo. The same thing applied in Ogun State. By the time you add the votes recorded by the PDP to that of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), you would agree that the PDP would have won. At the South west zonal executive meeting of the party in Abeokuta penultimate week, the issue of internal squabbles was addressed and former President Olusegun Obasanjo who hosted the meeting appealed and reminded us that we could not afford any bickering now. He, therefore, appealed to all those who are still aggrieved to embrace peace for the sake of the party. For instance, in Ekiti State where I come from, we’re still together. Even those who left the party have returned. I believe that with proper planning and organisation, we look forward to a good outing in the coming elections.
But how can you assure a good outing if the right people do not emerge from the ongoing party congresses?
That is why the party is searching for individuals who tower above all the pettiness; somebody who is a man of his words, to steer the course of the ship to safety. We need individuals who are financially independent at the helm of affairs in the states; people who can knock doors and they would be opened. We no longer want individuals who are still writhing in local prejudices. For instance, in Lagos, a former Permanent Secretary, and ex-minister, Adeseye Ogunlewe is running for the chairman’s office. In Ogun, a lawyer and former senator, Chief Dipo Odujinrin is vying. I believe that if we can allow such people, we’ll wrest power from the ACN.
What about the incumbency factor?
Mind you, our people have not fallen for the antics of the party in government. ACN administrations in Osun and Ekiti states have shown the kind of stuffs they are made of. Our people have not fallen for their antics. It is only in Lagos State that you can say confidently that ACN has held on to power. All we need to do is to work harder by resolving the differences among us, put in place credible people who are patriotic to the cause of the party but not those who are after their pockets only. So, we’re not going to be intimidated by the incumbency factor. Don’t forget that they too snatched power from sitting PDP governments in those states.
There was a report credited to the immediate past Ekiti governor, Mr Segun Oni, where he said that given free and fair polls in Ekiti State, that the PDP would win. Would you agree with that optimism?
Oni’s optimism was predicated on the latest appeal to PDP members to bury the hatchet and work for the progress of the party at every level. Everybody has now realised that whosoever you may think you are, you cannot be greater than the party. And what strengthens the party, aside that all of us work together? That is why I want to appeal to my brothers in Ekiti, former Governors Segun Oni, Ayodele Fayose and the former minister, Babalola Aborisade to unite and stop scandalising one another. Fortunately, the gubernatorial election will not be coming earlier than 2014, so, we have two solid years to prepare and build a formidable party.
How is the PDP responding to the recent Supreme Court pronouncement on the five governors that their tenure ended in May 2011?
As for the governors, it is clearly stated in the constitution that the tenure of a governor shall be four years. When that tenure will begin and how it would end should not be the overriding factor. We have always insisted that a sitting governor does not need to take a second oath of office. Inasmuch as I would not blame the governors for advancing their interests, the judgement of the Appeal Court, which the Supreme Court later overturned, had again exposed the inadequacies of our judicial system where judges in the High Courts and the appellate court were alleged to have misinterpreted the constitution. But we must thank God that at the end of the day, the Supreme Court has been able to put the matter to rest.
Was that why former Governor Segun Oni went back to court over the allegation of bias by the judges of the Court of Appeal?
The decision of the Court of Appeal in the Ekiti gubernatorial election was unacceptable to the people, and this prompted all the reactions. Ekiti people in general and the PDP in particular viewed it as a judicial tsunami. As long as there are judicial remedies to exploit, I will not blame Oni for exploiting them and he would always have the support of every right-thinking and loyal party member in Ekiti and acrosås the country. As a lawyer and politician, I support all the steps he has taken so far. It is my prayer that however late, truth and justice will prevail at the end. Look at the case of Al Mustapha, truth and justice prevailed 15 years after.
But do you think he can be restored to office?
Why not? It all depends on the issues raised in the cases. But looking at the matter, I don’t think that restoration to office is his main target. His main concern is to ensure that justice is done. He’s more concerned about the system and ensuring that the process is not abused and that rules and procedures are not jettisoned on the altar of bread and butter. Moreover, he wants to ensure that those who commit offences, however highly placed are brought to justice. By the steps he has taken so far, he’s helping to sustain democracy and the rule of law and we should praise his courage.
Coming to the nitty-gritty, you’re aspiring to lead the PDP in Ekiti State, what makes you think that you’re the best man for the job?
I don’t want to say that I’m the best candidate for the job. The way I want to put it is that I succumbed to pressure to run for the state chairmanship. My first problem was that, the state chairmanship position was zoned to my senatorial district and my federal constituency comprising Ikole and Oye Local Government Areas. In the present circumstance, if you want to be a leader, you must ensure internal democracy. That was why our people asked me to oblige myself for the position of the chairman. And since one wants to be patriotic and contribute to the party’s efforts to regain power in Ekiti State and the South west, I do not think it would be too much of a sacrifice. I was also encouraged by the fact that some of my friends are doing the same thing in other states of the South west. Like I mentioned earlier, Ogunlewe is vying in Lagos, and Chief Dipo Odujinrin in Ogun State. I also learnt that in Ondo and Osun states, they are trying to put strong candidates in place. I believe that with all these, a strong party will emerge at the end.
Given the fact that I’m not strange to all these things, I’ve played party politics all along. I have never contested elective positions. I know that certain issues must be addressed in order to put the party in the proper perspective. My intention, mission and how to go about them have been itemised in a campaign flyer. To that extent, we’re working hard. We have a team that is going round the three senatorial districts of the state for reconciliation and to bring those who are aggrieved back to the fold. Also, we have plans for the elders and women. Over the years, we have realised that we have been complacent. We lack the machinery of propaganda which the opposition have used against us. We will match them programme for programme, ideology for ideology. In going about it, we’re going to be urbane and show the stuff we’re made of.
Don’t you think that Oye people may work against you against the background of the seething rivalry between the two communities?
They also have their candidates and between Oye and Ikole, it has always been difficult for them to agree on anything. For obvious reasons, all attempts by elders of the party to convince Oye people to withdraw their interests for Ikole were jettisoned. The way I see it is that everything will be settled at the congress.
How would you describe the court decision stopping the Ekiti State Independent Electoral Commission from going ahead with the council elections?
I see the judgement as an epoch-making one. I salute the courage of the judge who was able to identify that majority of the seven-man state electoral panel were card-carrying members of the ACN. So, the judgement is a victory for the judiciary, the rule of law, and democracy. This is to ensure that there is no bias and there is a level playing field for all the parties involved. Therefore, I congratulate all the PDP members for this victory as it is an encouragement to them. Therefore, we must gird our loins and fight all forms of injustice. I also congratulate the government of Ekiti State for obeying the court order by suspending the local government elections indefinitely hoping that by the time the electoral body is reconstituted, the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.