The Lagos State chapter of the Labour Party has been embroiled in a leadership crisis for a long time leading up to the party primaries last year which gave birth to factions. The factions had been enmeshed in a legal battle for the right to be recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. In this interview with MAYOWA SAMUEL, the party’s immediate past chairman in the state, Kayode Salako, sheds more light on the party’s power tussle in the state, and the upcoming election. He declared, among other things, that the ruling All Progressives Congress in the state, practices autocratic democracy and while he denied being a mole in the LP, he explained why his wife is a top-notch member of the APC. Excerpts:
You recently resigned as the Lagos State Labour Party chairman. Some reports said you took up another appointment, other reports said you’re vying for an elective position. Which is the correct situation?
I stepped aside to focus on the challenges of campaigning to win my election. My campaign will run for just five weeks and I’m covering just five wards in my constituency. I’ve earmarked a one week campaign for each ward and local government for five weeks, starting this Monday. But what I’ve been doing is silent underground work which has been going on for the past two months, because where I’m going to be contesting is one of the most dangerous constituencies in Lagos to run as an opposition in an election, and that’s MC Oluomo’s base. That’s the base that made him who he is today. So, if you want to contest there, you’ve really got to be on the ground and you have to get your operational strategy right. You have to seek the faces of the boys in the environment. That’s the headquarters of the state boys in Lagos. But I’m not going to have any problem with MC because he’s my brother and friend. He knows me and I know him. I have to believe that he won’t disturb me and he won’t encourage his boys to disturb me.
Aren’t you worried that your posters and campaign billboards could be removed like Peter Obi’s billboard in Anambra, and those of Jandor here last year?
My strategy is to reach out to many people through campaign means that can’t be easily removed by anybody. I’m aware of those ugly developments that are part of the culture of the ruling party here. Anywhere APC is the ruling party, that place is owned by the national leadership of their party. That’s why the national leadership of that party boldly said that becoming president of Nigeria, is his entitlement, and his turn. That’s the same manner members of that party operate. They believe that democracy is their birthright. The governors in the party, in their states, own democracy; the presidential candidate of their party is the owner of the democracy.
That’s the way Lagos State has been for 23 years. For that reason, no other political party has the right to come and operate in the state. In Lagos where I live, the political system is not used to that ideal culture of democracy. What Lagos is used to is what I call the culture of autocratic democracy. They call it democracy, but we know that it is an autocratic type of democracy because they are the ones in power in the state, no other political party has the right to operate in the state, except they allow it. I think if they’re wise enough, they should know that all these things aren’t promoting the image of their party’s national leader who is also their presidential candidate in this coming election, in good light.
The culture that has been operating in Lagos for over 22 years is what they want to go and nationalize. My worry is not even for my own party, because already, there’s a political revolution on my party platform. Whether we paste posters or mount billboards or not, that political revolution has been a prevalent phenomenon on people’s phones. About 80 percent of Nigerians have good phones and they see these things on their phones, the phones are already advertising for us. The revolution that’s going on right now is the Labour Party, and that revolution is already posting posters on people’s phones, sharing handbills, and talking on television, and radio, there’s no means of media you’re looking for that’s not on the phone.
People are already getting our messages from their phones, we only need to do little in the environment. If you look at the rallies we did for Peter Obi, like the one we did in Lagos on October 1, last year, we saw the turnout of millions of Lagosians that came out. Was it posters they saw on the streets or handbills before they came out?
When they say elections aren’t won on social media, what brought out those millions of people? It’s the same social media, so the ruling party should watch out. It’s the social media that will win this election for my party because almost every Nigerian now has a good phone and they’re getting messages about who to vote for and the party that is the rave of the moment is on their phones. When the ruling party continues to say opposition parties are not going to be allowed to operate in the state, my worry is that they’re only doing it to harm the image of their presidential, governorship, and other candidates of their party. Nigerians are complaining that they’re tired of your platform but you’re bullying the opposition, will Nigerians like or hate you more for that? That’s an advantage for us.
“What Lagos is used to is what I call the culture of autocratic democracy. They call it democracy, but we know that it is an autocratic type of democracy because they are the ones in power in the state”
Could this culture of autocratic democracy you alleged to be within the Lagos APC be the reason you left the party?
I left the party because I was on that side of the political divide for many years but I didn’t realise my ambition, and neither was I fulfilled, after reviewing my political life after 22 years of being on that side, I saw that I’m not getting younger. I watched the likes of MC Oluomo grow on that side, so why will I not also be fulfilled when I also have the ambition to serve my society? I wanted to be a prominent and notable member of parliament in Nigeria, a lawmaker. But after 20 years, I realised that I’ve just been in one position politically, I didn’t move. But when the revolution came from the Labour Party, they approached me and gave me a job. The first job I got from the Labour Party was to be the chief campaign strategist for the OBIdient movement in Nigeria. That’s why, when people call me a mole, I just laugh. How can I be a mole, but I was the South West chief campaign strategist for the OBIdient Movement? After that, I became one of the prominent coordinators for the OBIdient movement in Lagos. After that, I was invited to be the chairman of the party. After that, the party also elevated me to the position of the special adviser in the office of the national chairman of the party, Julius Abure for Lagos State Labour Party Affairs and its Liaison operations. They called it an elevation, so if I didn’t do well for the Labour Party in the five months that I held sway as the state chairman of the party, they wouldn’t elevate me. They also signified that elevation by giving me a ticket to contest for the House of Reps. of my constituency. What else am I asking for? So, how can I be a mole in a political platform that gave me the opportunity to realise my age-long political ambition which I was unable to realise while I was in APC? How can I be a mole as the state chairman of the party, yet, I made sure that Lagos Labour Party had candidates to contest elections? If I’m a mole, will I work for my party to have candidates? Those calling me a mole, just want to use that to edge me out because of their own personal interest.
A factional chairman of the party, Ifagbemi Awamaridi, said neither you nor the current chairman is legally recognized by the party’s constitution. What’s your opinion regarding this?
Ifagbemi Awamaridi was appointed to run the affairs of the party in the state the same way I was appointed. If he’s saying the way I was appointed was wrong, then that means he also ran Lagos State as an illegal caretaker state chairman of the party for the number of years he ran it. It’s the same national leadership of the party who appointed me to run the affairs of the party in the state as caretaker chairman that also appointed him. The same letter I was given was the same letter he was given. So, if the way he ran it wasn’t wrong, if his own modus of appointment wasn’t wrong, then he doesn’t have the locus or the moral justification to say that my own too was wrong.
The constitution of the party, states that in the absence of a state congress to elect a state chairman, in the absence of a congress the national chairman of the party shall appoint the caretaker state chairman to run the affairs of the party, pending the time the state congress will be conducted. He got in through this process, I got in through the same process, and the woman I handed over to also got in through the same process. Awamaridi even went to court to challenge the validity of my state chairmanship status, but the court threw out his case and affirmed that the Olukayode Salako led state exco of the Labour Party in the state was the right, legally valid, constitutionally recognised leadership in the state. That’s how he lost out, and since then, he hasn’t been talking.
Still on the mole matter, your wife’s name appeared on the list of the APC presidential campaign council. What do you have to say regarding that?
My wife, Foluke, has been in APC all her life. She’s been finding her own fulfillment in APC, so she didn’t see any reason to leave. We are two different people. That we’re a couple doesn’t mean we are one, Foluke is not Kayode, Kayode is not Foluke. We’re two different people and we’re two socially liberally inclined people. Her ideology can be different from mine politically. Her reason for operating somewhere can be different from mine. Both of us were in APC but when I didn’t find fulfillment, I told her I was leaving, and she didn’t see any reason to stop me. I asked her if she’ll come to Labour Party with me, and she said no, that she has built a lot of things for herself on that side over many years, and that she hadn’t got the conviction to leave yet, after all, Tinubu is a Muslim, the wife is a Christian; Fashola is a Muslim but the wife is a Christian; so why are people not calling them religious moles? As the man that I am, I can’t be lording it over my wife, I’m not conservative in reasoning, and I don’t have any right to force my wife to be in a place when she doesn’t want to go. She has the freedom of choice. I want to tell you today that I am fulfilled on the platform that I am right now because if it were to be in APC, it wouldn’t have been easy, it wouldn’t be possible at all for me to get to be the state chairman of the party, let alone have the opportunity to have the ticket to contest for the House of Reps.
If you were contesting for the governorship, your submission about your wife having the right to be in APC while you are in the Labour Party would be different, don’t you think so?
If I was to be contesting for governorship, it might have been a different case. My wife wouldn’t have had any choice because it’s part of the political requirements that a governor and his wife must be in the same party. It won’t make sense that I’m contesting for governorship under a party but my wife is in another party. However, when I was joining the Labour Party, I wasn’t going there to become the state chairman of the party. I went there to look for the House of Reps ticket and that wouldn’t have forcefully made my wife come with me. It hasn’t gotten to that level yet, that’s why I didn’t force her to come with me.
Have you and Awamaridi discussed settling this leadership tussle before you handed over your chairmanship to Mrs. Dayo Ekong?
Awamaridi and I are now former state chairmen of the party. All of that is not necessary anymore. Both of us are out of power. He has stopped saying he’s the state’s Labour Party chairman and governorship candidate since the court changed all of that. The court told him he was no longer the chairman of the party, or the governorship candidate of the party. The court told him that the governorship candidate of the party is Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour.
The exco of your party allegedly rejected Mrs. Dayo Ekong, just days after you handed over to her. How do you react to this?
Nobody has the right to reject anybody. Once the office of the national chairman makes an appointment and it’s signed by him, it’s constitutionally valid and must be obeyed. So, nobody has the right to reject what the office of the national chairman has done. To do that will be unconstitutional, null, and void. If you don’t like the woman, and you want to continue to be a member of the party, the worst you can do is to distance yourself from the activities of her administration. You don’t have the right to say you’re not accepting her. From what constitution or law did you get that? So, Mrs. Dayo Ekong remains the validly appointed caretaker chairman of the state right now, she’s the one I handed over to. If anybody is claiming to be the state chairman of the party, tell the person to produce his letter of appointment from the office of the national chairman of the party.
Months ago, INEC released a list of approved candidates for all the positions for all the parties but the candidates of your party were missing. Why?
I wouldn’t want to talk about that. It’s the national leadership of my party that has the locus standi to talk about that. If he legally conducted any election, that’s if he did at all, why is it that up till now, Lagos Labour Party is still struggling on how to have candidates to contest next month’s elections? That’s to let you know he didn’t do things right. The names of our candidates to contest the next election have been coming out now through the decision of the court. We now have candidates for governorship. That of the Senate is still subject to the court decision, we now have many candidates contesting for House of Reps. And I’m one of them through the decision of an Appeal Court judgment and INEC has obeyed that judgment by uploading our names, and that is what is giving me the right to contest. But I must assure you that almost all our candidates, if not all, would contest in the next election.
LP presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has been endorsed by elder statesmen such as former president Olusegun Obasanjo; Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo; and Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark. How do you see his chances?
Peter Obi is obviously the choice of all well-meaning Nigerians in the current political evolution going on in the country. He’s the most widely accepted candidate to win the election and be the next president of Nigeria. His chances are very high, better than the chances of the other gladiators. We all know that for any candidate that appeals to the majority of the youths, women, working class, labour union, then the established ruling order, the chances of such a person is always very high. So, the candidate of my party is likely going to be the next president of Nigeria by popular votes of Nigerians. It’s always said in politics that minorities will always have their say but the majority will always have their way. The votes of the majority of Nigerians that have accepted to vote for Peter Obi will surely have their way come February 25. Lagos State where I’m talking from right now is over 70 percent an OBIdient Lagos, and that is what we are working towards. Our mission is to work towards making Nigeria 90 percent OBIdient before February 25 presidential and national assembly elections. I also wish myself the very best of luck, because I’m also contesting to represent my constituency in the National Assembly election. My constituency is also 90 percent OBIdient, and is ready for my imminent victory. I’m confident of winning the election by the grace of God.
“His chances are very high, better than the chances of the other gladiators. We all know that any candidate that appeals to the majority of the youths, women, working class, labour union, then the established ruling order, the chances of such a person is always very high”
The ruling party once expressed reservations about the use of BVAS by INEC to prosecute the election. What’s your opinion regarding this?
INEC has promised to give Nigerians the best election they’ve ever experienced before in the country’s history, using this coming election as an evidential template for that. The world has gone automated, so we can’t afford to upload like in the past. We should be able to do things in consonance with the way the modern-day system runs. The world has gone automated; we now have electronic banking services, the electronic Bible and Quran, and so on. So, why should we now continue to be running an analogue system? We should operate in conformity with how the modern-day realities have been running things. The idea of using BVAS will definitely reduce electoral rigging and malpractices, although Nigerian society is a peculiar one. No matter the system, those who will be struggling to compromise it will still be struggling to see how they can manipulate the system.