Ambassador Taofeek Oladejo Arapaja is no doubt a factor in the politics of Oyo State and by extension, Nigeria. He has held various political positions including Council Chairman; member, House of Representatives; Deputy Governor; Nigeria’s Ambassador to Jordan and Iraq. He was recently nominated for the post of National Vice-Chairman, South-West of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to slug it out with Dr. Eddy Olafeso, who occupied the position until 2020 when he resigned to participate in the PDP primaries for Ondo gubernatorial election and favourite of former Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State. In this interview with OYEDAPO OYEWOLE, he speaks on the crisis rocking the party in the region especially the wrangling between Fayose and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, the reconciliation move and the task ahead of him if he wins the forthcoming zonal congress. Excerpts:
Your nomination by Oyo PDP for the position of Vice-Chairman, South-West zone of the party came as a surprise to some people. How do you feel about this?
Well, I thank God for everything. I always believe in God and I believe that power flows from Him. When you are in a political party, you must endeavour to contribute your quota. It is not everything that the party has to do for you but rather it should be what can you contribute to grow your party.
So, I was doing my own, because, and it has to be 100 per cent. The face of the party is the Governor of Oyo State and that is the tradition of any political party. So, I will not go out and be maligning my leader but as far as Oyo State is concerned, the number one person is Engr Seyi Makinde. So for anybody to be coming out and against him is like you are fighting God. That is the way I look at it. So, if I’m called upon to contribute my service to the development of my party, I will be ready to take up the responsibility as bestowed on me by the Governor of Oyo State who is the leader of the party in the state and by extension, South-West. That is the tradition anywhere.
So, I’m happy that the leader of the party found me worthy of serving the party, and I will do it with my best, to reposition the party in the South-West. You know there used to be a time when we had like five governors in the South-West. There was a time that the country was in the hands of the PDP; we want to go back to that. If you look at the performances of the PDP governors you cannot compare it with that of APC – it is all deceit, lies every time, insecurity everywhere. So, as a party man, a genuine one, not the one that is looking for what he is going to eat, I am fully ready to serve
One of the cardinal preachment of Governor Makinde is unity and you will agree with me that there are still more aggrieved people in the party. Going by your track record as a former council chairman, former House of Representatives member, former Deputy Governor and former Ambassador to two countries, how do you want to use these experiences in making sure the PDP remain united?
Our first assignment is to reconcile all aggrieved persons so that we can be able to mobilize. Anytime I’m privileged to grant an interview, I always say that there is no point fighting one another since we can talk, if our grievances are genuine. Our major objective is to move the party forward but you know we have different types of politicians. We have those who have integrity, honour, and we have those who think if they want to get something and they cannot get it, then the party must scatter. That shouldn’t be.
Nevertheless, we still have to move forward. We’ll plead with them; talk with them because to me, when you are in government you seem to forget all the problems. There was a time APC was ruling in this Oyo State for eight years and we all knew what we went through and that was the brain behind the coalition we did in 2019. So we’ll plead with them. But this cannot be with those who have their own selfish agenda. So, our basic duty is reconciliation.
How will you react to some people saying your loyalty to PDP is questionable, bearing in mind that you have changed political party overtime from Accord to APC and back to PDP?
You see, there is no distinctive ideology in Nigerian politics. We are all the same. If there is injustice and impunity at the highest level, I won’t remain there. I will rather pull out of the party than remain and work against the party interest. You say you are a PDP leader when people are not around.
You call yourself a leader and you go on a radio and start maligning the governor, tearing the party. Isn’t it better to move out of that party? I’m a politician with dignity and I have a name to protect. I will not be in a party and be working against that party. This is exactly what happened in 2015 during the congress that some people tried to impose themselves on the party.
Somebody who is not qualified to be Chairman of a local government but wanted to be governor, and we told them that you can’t do it but if you want to do it no problem. It’s not done anywhere and people expect me to remain in that party? No, because I will not be happy to remain in that party and work for its progress because I know it’s just a waste of time. And that person where is he today?
So, isn’t better to move out of the party, as some people are doing now. You call yourself chieftain of one party and you are now singing praises of the leader of another party. If you love the leader of that party, isn’t t better to move to that party rather than remain in the party and be fighting within.
Obviously your objective is to destroy the party. I’m a genuine party man, if I’m in a party, I’m there 100 per cent. To me, I don’t understand a situation whereby your loyalty to the party is 99.9 per cent, it must be 100 per cent. How can somebody say he doesn’t like the face of Seyi Makinde, he doesn’t believe in the leadership of Seyi Makinde and is in the PDP of Oyo State and now you are hobnobbing and taking pictures with the leader of another party openly. They are not disciplined, so why can’t you move yourself out and go to that party so that we know that that is where you belong.
There are fears in some quarters that the party might hold parallel congress in the forthcoming zonal congress. In the event that the National Working Committee recognizes the other faction, will you consider boycotting the congress?
How can they recognize the other side? Those that are making a noise are just making noise. You all know the antecedent of Ayo Fayose, their leader, he’s just like that. Somebody with proper home training will not behave like that, castigating those that are older than you, always abusing this, abusing that. Those that are following him are even more decent than him.
The majority and leaders of the party in the South-West are in one place. He called himself father of fathers and said that by tradition, Engr. Seyi Makinde is the only governor in the South-West and by extension is the leader of the party. I want to use an analogy.
The Ooni of Ife we have today I don’t even know his number if he were to be among Baba Obasanjo’s children. But when Baba Obasanjo went to Ife, he prostrated to the Ooni in the presence of everybody. He prostrated to him, not as an individual, but for that stool, and that does not reduce the status of Baba Obasanjo. Baba Obasanjo recognized the fact that Ile Ife is the cradle and source of the Yoruba and that is what he prostrated to.
So, the face of the PDP in the South-West is Governor Seyi Makinde, whether you like it or not. That’s how God wants it. I don’t want to speak for the national office but the leader and the majority of the party is in one place, somebody who is hobnobbing with another political party is in another place.
I’m telling you, he keeps on singing praises of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Leader of the APC every time. What type of politics is that? Let’s call a spade a spade if they don’t believe in what he’s doing, they should have at least put him in his place. He shouldn’t be regarded as part of the PDP at all. All they want is to destroy the PDP and by the end of the day move to the APC.
Do you think you stand any chance with Eddy Olafeso, your opponent in the other faction and would you be willing to work with Fayose camp should they find a way to reconcile?
Well, the edge over Eddy Olafeso, I don’t even know him. I know our political experience and what we are talking about here is politics. Before becoming a local government Chairman, I’ve been a delegate in so many different ways.
I was a member of the Teaching Service Commission in 1992; I came back to Nigeria in 1990. In 1996, I became the Chairman of Ibadan South-East Local Government; in 1997 I came back again as local government Chairman twice. In 2003, I became a member of the House of Representatives. In 2007, I became Deputy Governor, and in 2012, I became an Ambassador to Jordan and Iraq. So I’ve been a politician all my life. So, what we’ve been talking about is politics.
So, Olafeso should come out and tell us what he has been apart from being a Zonal Vice Chairman. I’m telling you, we have to put PDP on the right track. The problem we have is internal and we must stop them before they destroy the party.
As I’ve said, reconciliation is the bedrock. It’s good to reconcile if you have the same objective. To me if you have a house that you have laboured to build, will you be a party to the destruction of that same house if truly you are part of that family? So if they are sincere with reconciliation, because that’s the only way we can move forward.
Forget about age, Seyi Makinde is the governor and father of Oyo State and PDP in the South-West, that has always been the tradition. This is somebody that has been asking people to respect him and he doesn’t have respect for anybody. He keeps on lambasting Baba Obasanjo, Bode George. Nobody is older than him, he can abuse anybody. I don’t know where he comes from.
God is wonderful! God is great because if you listen to his utterances, you will say this person is not worthy to be a local government chairman and he has been a governor for two terms, that is why he thinks he can say anything. He even said something that he could stop Makinde for second term. Has he forgotten that when God says yes, nobody can say no? Is he God that put Makinde there?.
Whatever happens to politicians having arge heart and appreciating nuisance value of others?
Yes to some extent, that is true if you believe that that person is there to listen But here, we have somebody who has an objective of bringing down or destroying the party. We’ve been accommodating him. At least Governor Makinde instituted a reconciliation team that has been touring all the states, they’ve been talking to everybody. They’ve seen him and the leader of that committee is Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. They’ve spoken to him but he wouldn’t listen because we know the agenda is about 2023. Somebody wants to become President and it’s only God that can make anybody to be President. Power flows from God! You are jettisoning your own party; obviously they are the ones sponsoring them.
Between the time you left the PDP and returned, what difference did you observe and if you emerge as the South+West Zonal Vice Chairman, what will be the problem that the region is having that you want to solve in the immediate?
Well, what we met is not what we left in the PDP. By the time we left we still had a President. Nigeria was in the hands of the PDP, but now, when we came back, we don’t have President. We have only one governor in the whole of South-West. So our main task is to go back to the winning strategy, and how do we do that? It is to embark on reconciling all the genuinely aggrieved people, not somebody who has one leg in, one leg out. Nigeria can see now the difference between the PDP and APC which is all lies.
We knew how much we used to buy petrol before now and we know how much we are buying it now. Insecurity is everywhere, even in the backyard of the President in Katsina State. They are just paying ransom to bandits, kidnappers and insurgency is still there. So, we can stop all these and the only party that can do that is PDP. But we need to go back to the drawing board and pacify those who are genuinely aggrieved, not those who have their agenda somewhere and are working for somebody else from another party.
Will you recommend some kind of sanction or what will you advise the National Working Committee to do as a way of resolving the issue?
Well, the National Working Committee knows what to do and I expect members to have done it by now. Obviously, they can see what we are seeing because it is not hidden. If they are not in the same line, they must be able to do something. But I cannot tell them what to do. Somebody like that is engaged in anti-party.
To me, his action is anti-party and he doesn’t seem to believe in God. If he believes in God, he will not castigate the work of the Almighty God. So, if they believe in PDP ideology, the National Working Committee knows what to do. I’m not going to tell them what to do.