Governorship candidate of the Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff -led Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State, Jimoh Ibrahim, in an interview with Punch’s
TUNDE ODESOLA and TOLUWANI ENIOLA, discussed on the crisis rocking the state chapter of the party, the forthcoming Ondo election and other issues.
The except goes thus:
You are a good friend of Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Where did things go wrong between both of you?
I supported him financially, morally and through other means when he showed interest to be governor. I took him round. The current Secretary to the Ondo State Government emerged from my office here in Lagos. During the last election that was held in Ondo, I had prepared to be governor. I am happy that former President Goodluck Jonathan is still alive. He called me and said he wanted Mimiko to do a second term. He said people will be abusing us (Peoples Democratic Party) that we are not tolerant of the opposition. He said I should, please, allow him (Mimiko) to be governor. He said in 2016, he would roll out everything in my favour to be the state governor. Mimiko then came to my house at the Victoria Garden City, Lagos, and we took pictures together. I gave him advice on how to run the state. This is 2016. He is not talking about it (agreement) again. After they described me as a mole in the PDP, and that I was working for President Muhammadu Buhari, the then President Jonathan stopped talking to me. I don’t know why Mimiko is afraid of me. He is my friend. Mimiko is very close to me and my wife. As we speak, he can walk into my house and ask for food. My wife would cook for him. My wife is very close to him. His wife is also very close to me. I was on an international flight when I saw his wife and daughter five months ago. We flew on the same flight. I bought gifts for her and her daughter. I flew first class, they were in business class; I went to check them twice in the plane to be sure that they were comfortable. After the flight, Mimiko’s wife and his daughter called to thank me. But Mimiko is heartless. I don’t know what he is scared of.
What is your view of the Mimiko government?
Mimiko is a black swan. In Ondo, it is unfortunate that we have such a person as the governor. I am surprised how Ondo came about the candidature of Mimiko. Right now, workers and pensioners have not been paid for many months. Why should this happen in an oil-producing state? I don’t want to be involved in sentiments. If I say too much, people will say I am from the same PDP. But these are raw facts. Mimiko has less than 30 days to go. Never again will Ondo State be deceived by this kind of a person. Mimiko collected about N1tn in the last eight years of his administration. Where are the roads? The state of things in Ondo is unfortunate. When the late Olusegun Agagu was governor, he left N36bn in the treasury of the state. How much is Mimiko leaving now? He is leaving debts. We leave him to God. Let him judge himself with his conscience.
Anybody can be governor of Ondo State. Mine is to tell the people of Ondo State why I want to be governor and sell my programmes to them. It is up to them to decide. I am not desperate to be governor. It’s not a do-or-die affair for me. I am not like Mimiko who does not have anything to fall back on. I have my job. If he knows he is a good medical doctor, why can’t he go and develop a hospital? But if you want to go from governor to vice-president, you need to know you have huge challenges.
There’s an allegation that you’re being sponsored by the All Progressives Congress to ruin the chances of the PDP in Ondo.
That is baseless. I supported Buhari to win in Ondo State in the last election. I told Jonathan that he would not win in Ondo. When Jonathan picked Mimiko as the South-West coordinator of the PDP campaign, I went to him at the villa and told him that he would not win the election because Mimiko does not have the capacity to deliver. Jonathan was hailing him as Iroko . I said fine, he (Mimiko) will iroko (sweep) you out of office. Jonathan held more than 30 meetings at the villa. They described me as a mole in the PDP. They said that I was working for Buhari. I told Jonathan that my worry was the appointment of Mimiko as South-West coordinator and that he wouldn’t win. Maybe Fayose would have been a better choice than Mimiko. A day to the election, Jonathan called me. He said he had talked to all the leaders in Ondo State and that if PDP lost the election, it would be because of me. Then I asked Jonathan, “What if you lose in the whole of Nigeria? Would that still be because of me?” That was the end of our conversation. He thought Mimiko would win the South-West for him. When the election results came out, Buhari won in Ondo. In 2003 when I contested on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, I delivered 25 per cent of the total votes cast for Buhari in Ondo.
Why did you condemn a statement credited to the spokesperson for INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, which said that INEC has up till October 27 to decide on who it will accept as the authentic PDP candidate?
Before, I saw the Independent National Electoral Commission as an unbiased umpire but the corruption within the electoral body is alarming now. For instance, when I was going to submit my nomination form, I took the first batch of the forms signed by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to INEC. It took me one minute to do that at INEC. When I was to submit the second batch of the forms, signed by the state chairman of the PDP (with the judgment of the court saying that he should be the one to sign my nomination), the boy who took the form to the INEC office told me that INEC rejected the form. I was shocked. I went to the INEC office and asked why they rejected the document. I waited for four hours. After four hours, I asked again what the problem was. I then asked for the legal department, where I met a female official. I saw the boy who rejected my form with her. The woman told me they would not receive the form. She said there was an error in the court judgment. I asked her how she knew that there was an error in the judgment when she had not even checked what we brought. I was shocked when she demanded $1m from me before she could accept the document. I thought it was a joke. I told her I won’t give out any money.
Do you have her on tape?
I said she demanded that amount from me. I said no to her. I just want to wait before I write against her with facts. I travelled back to Oxford for a programme. I got a phone call that my name was rejected (at INEC). The female official told us that unless we have a court order to correct that mistake, she won’t take my form. So, we went back to the court to enforce the judgment. We went to tell the court that its judgment was not obeyed. I insisted that the court must protect its judgment. If it was in the United Kingdom that a court order was not obeyed, such a fellow would be sent to jail. INEC came to court again with an unsigned affidavit. Somebody gave them money and they were in a hurry to do the person’s bidding. How can you go to a commissioner of oath with an unsigned affidavit? The lawyer said an affidavit that was not signed was invalid.
Apparently they forgot this. We served INEC a court judgment, which was published in the media.
The next thing we heard was that INEC said that it will obey court order but that it was studying it (court order). What are you studying? This is a court order. INEC has no right to say that. By that statement, it is insulting the integrity of the judiciary and the court. If it was a court order in the favour of Governor Olusegun Mimiko, will they say that they are studying it? Then, the next thing we heard from the INEC’s spokesperson was that anything could still happen before October 27. A respected institution like INEC cannot be talking from both sides of its mouth. Why will the spokesperson say that INEC would obey a court judgment but that anything can still happen between now and October 27?
That is very embarrassing. Then, I read again that the same INEC said they gave us between now and October 27 to reconcile. Is INEC now an arbitrator? There is a judgment on the ground. How can INEC be telling Nigerians that it gave us till October 27? The opportunity to add and delete (names of candidates) is over. The minute INEC was served the court judgment (affirming me as the authentic candidate), my particulars should have been displayed by INEC.
What is the electoral body waiting for? There is a court order. Unless there is a specific one from an appeal court that says INEC cannot do that. But it is not so in this case.
When I obtained my nomination form from the Sheriff-led national leadership of the PDP, the INEC commissioner in Ondo State claimed not to know me. I was embarrassed. How would he say he does not know me? He had been a member of the PDP. The All Progressives Congress recently demanded his removal. This is somebody that wanted to see me in London at the graduation ceremony of his son to discuss Ondo election. I told him I had no business with him. I am not out to rig election in Ondo. I don’t want anybody to rig me in. I am not saying that he is fraudulent but he arranged a London meeting and I said no. I have a call record of the conversations. How can I go and see the INEC REC in London because I want to be governor in Ondo State? This is not right. What we are insisting is that the court has said we should publish this name; until an appellate court or the Supreme Court says no, you are bound by that order. Don’t tell me to reconcile.
You’ve been accused of unsuccessfully running your companies. It is generally believed that you’ve been unable to pay workers’ salary arrears and, as such, you don’t have the capacity to govern Ondo State.
How many people have they employed? I am paying salaries as and when due. Last month, I paid the salaries of over 8,200 persons. Maybe they cannot see. I bought NICON Insurance with shareholder funds of over N1bn and now (it) has over N57bn as of the last account. Energy Bank Ghana is there, it is the most liquid bank. Worldwide Investments in Dubai is there, it has assets running to almost a quarter of a billion dollar. It is the third biggest property investment in Dubai. As for Energy Bank Sao Tome, I bought it completely dead. It is now the second largest bank in Sao Tome. Global Fleet is still there. I bought Air Nigeria and sold it back because of disclosures. There were too many liabilities, so, they approached me and said they wanted to buy it back. If you buy something at, say N500m, and you are offered N5bn for the same asset, won’t you sell it? I bought Great Nigeria and sold it to WEMA Bank. I made money from there. The question is this, if I buy something two years ago and after I have renovated it, and then someone comes and offers me N700m above the purchase price, I will ask myself, can I get N700m dividend in the next 10 years? If the answer is no, I will take your offer of N700m. I bought Air Nigeria for N500m and sold it six times the purchase price. So, what are they talking about?
So, the claim of bankruptcy is baseless. I am an individual. I am not a government. I don’t receive government subvention. I have over 8,000 workers. And they are from 12 countries of the world. If I have anything, I sell it the moment there is profit on it. I don’t sit on what I have. I buy, turn it around and resell. I bought National Mirror from Emeka Obasi. What was the circulation of the paper when I bought it?
The primary that produced you as the candidate of the PDP was held in Ibadan rather than Akure. It was also alleged that INEC had no representative at the primary?
Where did the All Progressives Congress hold its presidential primary when President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the party’s candidate? They did it in Lagos. It was not done in Abuja. The allegations are empty talks.
But that was a presidential primary and not a governorship primary. The presidency covers the whole of the country.
Why didn’t the APC presidential primary take place in Abuja? The rule is clear: If you have security challenges in the place where you want to hold your primary, INEC allows you to take it to the next headquarters of that region. When the APC had security challenges in Abuja, they held the primary in Lagos. Secondly, we informed INEC about the Ibadan primary. They got our letter, which was duly signed and stamped by INEC. The court says we should inform INEC. Whether they come or not does not matter.
With your achievements in the business world, why do you still want to be governor?
As far as I am concerned, I want to help the people of Ondo State. I want to bring them from hopelessness to hope, from injustice to justice and from poverty to wealth. We are blessed with a lot of mineral resources. We are just 3.5 million people in Ondo and we can be the pride of Nigeria. I have developed my capabilities to withstand the challenges of leadership.
Your critics have said that you are not even popular in your hometown and that you have never won even in your ward?
How can you say that I am not popular in Igbotako? Anybody can allege but it is not true. When they don’t have anything against you, they will start bringing baseless allegations.
Your critics have said you have not been giving back to Ondo State. Why is this so?
We have over 54 stations in Ondo State. In 2003, during my campaigns, I gave out scholarships to students. The printing press of National Mirror runs from Ogbese. If I decided that it should be(sited) in Ogbese, is that not to develop Ondo? I am thinking of industrialising the state. Let Mimiko tell us how many industries he has built in Ondo. He had only a three-bedroom flat where he ran a hospital in Ondo before he became the governor. Can you compare that to the investments that I have in Ondo State? Recently I donated classrooms worth N16m to the secondary school, where I finished from. Is that not contribution to development? How many has Mimiko built for his secondary school, where he finished from, in Ondo?
In the eventuality that the reconciliation moves between Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff succeed, if you are told to step down for (Eyitayo) Jegede, will you?
How can I step down? In Edo State, the Makarfi faction presented the PDP candidate there. So, in Ondo, who should have it? Is it not Sheriff? I can’t step down. The opportunity for INEC to add and delete the names of candidates has expired. There is a court order affirming me as the PDP candidate. Am I going to change the decision of the court? Will I compromise the judgment of the court? I am also a lawyer. I cannot do that. Jegede is a lawyer, he understands this too. It is not possible. If he likes, he can continue to campaign. As far as I am concerned, I am the authentic candidate. His campaign doesn’t matter to me. What I know is that I am the candidate of the PDP. So, anybody can be campaigning for me.
Won’t this impasse give the opposition candidates such as Olusola Oke and Rotimi Akeredolu an edge at the polls?
I am not going to talk about other candidates. That is not good enough. I can only talk about the PDP. Oke is a lawyer. He knows what he is facing. Aketi (Akeredolu) is an elder brother. Let him face his APC. Abraham is my friend in entrepreneurship. Let him do his best. I will never use my mouth to bring people down unless truly they have not done well.
There’s an allegation that you are only running for governor in Ondo State to get the favour of the presidency?
What does the President have to do with Ondo election? In the last presidential election, President Buhari won in Ondo. What has that got to do with Ondo? This is not my first time of contesting to be governor. When I was 34 years old, I contested. My interest is to develop Ondo State.
What is your opinion of the candidacy of Jegede?
I don’t know Jegede. How can you be contesting to be governor and I don’t know you? What do I want to tell the people of Ondo State about you? If Mimiko had come to me and said I should accept Jegede (to be my) deputy, I would have accepted. Deputy governor is not too small for him (Jegede). Jegede was a commissioner. Jegede too would have accepted to be deputy. Mimiko insists he should be governor. It is okay. Let him go and be the governor.
Why did you link your mother’s kidnap some years ago to Mimiko?
Mimiko called me three days after my mother was kidnapped. I asked him why he was calling me after three days. I told him that my mother used to cook for him when he was campaigning. My father was Mimiko’s campaign manager. I introduced him to my father. I have never been to the Government House (Akure) to demand anything. I don’t need anything from him. Now you heard that my aged mother was kidnapped and you are calling me three days after. The then President Goodluck Jonathan had given me a call the same day my mother was kidnapped. When I got the people who kidnapped my mother (because they called me to ask for ransom), it was so painful what they were telling me on the phone. Eventually, we rescued my mother.
How were the kidnappers linked to the state government and Mimiko?
Yes, they linked it (kidnap) to the state government and Mimiko. Go and check the police record of the kidnappers. What has happened to the kidnappers after the case? Let Mimiko explain to us. The kidnappers were arrested. What happened to their case file?
Did Mimiko set them free?
I don’t know. Go and check their case file.
How much are you budgeting for this election and are you going to have a fundraiser?
I am not doing any fundraiser. I don’t want that. I am not saying that my friends cannot contribute but I don’t accept cash into my campaign. They can print posters and produce vests to support me. That is enough. I have my own innovative way of doing it. I don’t need cash.
What is your relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari?
I cannot say anything about that. The President of Nigeria cannot be my enemy. He is the Commander of the Armed Forces. I was honoured as Commander of the Order of Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, a CFR cannot be rude to a Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Mimiko is a Commander of the Niger. I am his senior in terms of this honour so he cannot be rude to me and should respect me.