It was only a matter of time before the Minister of Information, Culture and Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, addressed some concerns in the local politics of Kwara State, especially, after penultimate Sunday’s explosive interview by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who not only called out the minister but levelled otherwise destructive allegations against the government’s mouthpiece. Quite expectedly, in this right of reply with THISDAY, the minister has responded, perhaps, to set the record straight even though it appears the last may not have been heard of the brickbats. Excerpts:
You have been at the centre of the crisis in your state. What really is the problem between you and your governor because there appears to be some kind of cold war between the two of you? Where did things go wrong?
I think that’s a good place to start, because you actually hit that nail on the head. You see, the truth of the matter is that the governor of Kwara State was never part of us. And I say this with all sense of humility. I am a founding member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He only came to join us in 2018, when Dr. Bukola Saraki went back to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
So you can see that this is where the real problem is. He does not understand what our own brand of politics stands for. And when you look at his own background too, you begin to understand better why there’s this problem between me and him.
You see, in his own words, he said two things which are very significant, and which actually describe him and point to his character. One, he said he is a person that can stay in a place for 10 days, without talking to anybody, which means a person like that has no business being in politics. A person like that should not be elected to any office at all, talk more of being a governor.
This is because as a politician, you engage on a continuous basis, you consult. As a politician, you carry people along. So when a man confesses and admits himself, that ‘my nature is that I can stay in one place for 10 days, and I won’t talk to anybody’, then you begin to understand the kind of problem you have. That kind of person has no business being in politics at all.
Now, he said something that frightened me. He said he tore to shreds the manifesto of the party and he’s implementing his own. So that person again, has no business being returned on the platform of the same party. What the party stands for is the manifesto.
But you practically disowned that manifesto when you came to power.
No, that’s a different ball game. But for a governor, who was elected on the platform of that manifesto to say he tore it to pieces? Honestly, I’m being very restrained. I see the governor as a deeply troubled soul. Honestly, because it takes a deeply troubled soul to make the kind of statements he is making.
You see, why I’m saying this is because when I look back at the history, how he came in and what he’s doing today, I get a bit concerned about his person, and I get much more worried about the party itself. Let’s situate these things in the proper context of when he came in.
As I explained, he came in only in 2018. And when he came in 2018, he came in shortly before the bye-election. When we chose him as a candidate for our party, people were very worried and concerned that they hoped we were not making a mistake. That this candidate of yours, his political history is that he might get a ticket, and just disappear like he did in 2015.
In 2015, he was the senatorial candidate of the PDP in Kwara Central and as soon as he got the ticket, he simply disappeared. The records are there. You can talk to anybody who was in PDP in 2015.
How do you mean he disappeared?
He became incommunicado. Nobody could reach him and of course he did the same thing when he got our ticket in 2019. He did the same thing. He got a ticket in 2019 and all of a sudden, he became incommunicado and nobody could reach him.
As a matter of fact, we had to go to Lagos, to all the leaders of the party to complain, to say look, the candidate you have given to us, we don’t see him again. But it seemed that we’re all resolved that in spite of him, we’re going to win the election. So when I read in an interview that he was the most popular person, he did not need anybody, I just chuckled to myself.
This is because, in the first instance, he has contested elections several times in Kwara State. Let him tell us what results he had in 2011 and 2015. Now, I’m going to come back to that. I think he made heavy weather of campaign contributions.
Number one, I think it’s very reckless on the side of any mature politician to start talking about who gave what for an election. I think it shows a lot of recklessness, inexperience and desperation. Now, the truth of the matter was that the impression he gave the party leaders was that he was a very wealthy man. That was the dummy he sold to the party leaders.
The party leaders bought it because at the time we went for elections in 2018/2019, Kwara State was in a very hopeless stage for the APC. Hopeless in the sense that all the electoral structures from governor to senator to house of reps members were all in the PDP.
As a matter of fact, of the 24 members of the house of assembly, only one was APC. All the commissioners were PDP, all the council chairmen were PDP, all the councillors were PDP. The task before the party was much. Saraki was going to roll out everything to make sure he won. So we would need somebody with a deep pocket as a candidate to match him. He sold that dummy to everybody.
And you didn’t cross-check?
You know they say oja okun kun in Yoruba, we say it’s night market kind of, and he convinced them and they sold to us and we all bought it, but as soon as he got the ticket, we realised that he had no money at all and that’s why it now dawned on me that I had to go out and raise funds.
He set up a 200-man campaign committee for his governorship, which he sent to me, which I approved but he did not even give us one penny to run it. He didn’t fund it and this is a man who ran a governorship campaign. He had no office. He was using one of the aspirants’ office. That is the truth of the matter. Let him tell us the address of his office.
We started campaigning for political supremacy in Kwara long before he joined us. Now, if you remember the national convention of APC in 2018, I had to do anti-party, because I was convinced that the senate president (Saraki) was going to leave us.
He was already hobnobbing with the PDP and what I saw on the ground was that he was only staying in the APC to hijack the structure of the APC. And from there, leave for the PDP and leave his people behind. If you remember, even after he left, the state chairman of APC, who was actually a ‘PDP man’, said he was in APC, and took us to court.
I formed a parallel EXCO, because I knew he was going to leave, but because I also knew that I could not use APC since the national EXCO of APC recognised the then elected officials of APC in the state.
So I had to use the Buhari/Osinbajo campaign platform. That was what I used before he came to start galvanising and mobilising our people. The witnesses are alive. One is Rotimi Amaechi, who then was the DG of the Buhari campaign organisation. We invited him to come and launch our situation room. At the same time, he came to launch over 2,300 canvassers. We call them polling units’ canvassers. We invited Festus Keyamo, who was the spokesperson for the campaign organisation to also come to Ilorin to give a lecture.
It was precisely that structure that was now resorted to when Saraki left the party. People must understand this. It was the same parallel structure that I formed with Bashiru Bolarinwa that was now adopted by Adams Oshiomhole, when Saraki’s people left us. But people don’t understand this. Where was he then? He was still in PDP all this time.
There is this belief that because you played this role in getting him into office, sometimes you will claim you installed him as governor, that you want to dictate to him how he should run the affairs of the state and that’s the source of the problem.
You see, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has given us over a thousand reasons why we have these problems and it depends on which side of the bed he wakes up from. At one point in time, he said he believed that I was the one that leaked the story about his lack of a school certificate.
At another forum, he said it was because I blocked resources belonging to him. At another forum, he said I was working to undermine his candidature. The truth of the matter is that I am single-handedly, with a lot of my colleagues in Kwara State, responsible for the success of APC in the state.
You see, when you’re looking at the success of the APC, it’s not only about the governorship, we won not only governorship. We won the presidential election, we won all the senatorial seats, six house of reps seats. We won 24 House of Assembly seats. So if you see what happened in Kwara, the people in Kwara wanted a change. It is not because they voted for anybody. They wanted a change. And that change, I’ve been very fortunate enough to have coordinated the activities. But for him to say it’s because I want to pocket him, he is somebody that is troubled.
Is it really true that he doesn’t have a certificate?
I don’t know about that, all I know is that there was this controversy, and he accused me of being behind it, which was completely not true. Let’s keep that till another day. This is a man who formed his cabinet, without even consulting me. Yes. I was not consulted and I’ve never complained to anybody.
Does that look like somebody who wants to control the governor? He made heavy weather of the fact that I did not recognise the speaker when I saw him. Of course, that was the first time I was seeing him. In 2018, as soon as Saraki left us, Oshiomhole called me and asked me in his very direct manner: do you want to run for governorship of your state and I said no sir.
I said for two reasons sir. I said that it would be morally unconscionable for me, an Igbomina man from the same south senatorial district of Kwara State, to succeed another Igbomina man, who had spent eight years in office. We are the same clan, same ethnic group. I said I will spend all my time fighting and arguing for the legitimacy of it.
Secondly, if I run for office, I’ll be distracted. I will not be in a position to coordinate the activities of everybody. I will just be interested in my governorship election, and he (Oshiomhole) thanked me for it. I thank God my strategy worked. All politics is local and I ensured that I did not impose any candidate anywhere for any office whether senatorial, reps or house of assembly.
So my strategy was, look, whoever you are bringing, make sure you can deliver him. If you cannot deliver him, I will hold you responsible because you chose him, he’s your choice. That’s what I did, including my own, I mean the House of Assembly member representing me. All I did was provide the logistics to support you.
Okay, so how would I know somebody from Baruten for instance, who was chosen, who was first elected through the assembly, and you did not call even meetings of elders to say, this is how we are going to distribute offices?
The speaker will come from A, the deputy speaker from B. How do you expect me to know your speaker when you’ve made it impossible for even any meeting to hold between you and the leaders?
Make no mistake about it. The problem in Kwara is not between Lai Mohammed and Abdulrazaq. He has problems with the Honourable Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemi Saraki; he has problems with the chairman of the party; he has problems with the leaders of the party, as well as with the aspirants or the party. And I want people to see this as the real problem. I mean, let’s even assume without conceding that Lai Mohammed is a bad person, are all these people also bad? So it is important to understand what’s going on.
But the story in town was that you actually said no to running for governor, because you were not sure your party would win, and that eventually, when he won, you felt you miscalculated and constituted a major stumbling block in his way.
Absolute rubbish! It’s even inconsistent. Look, even when Saraki was still there as senate president, we ran a bye-election in my own federal constituency, against all odds and we won. And that was the litmus test for APC.
I remember a serving governor who is today a serving senator. He gave me a call when results were coming in and said, Alhaji Lai, what am I hearing? Is it true? He said, I hear that the APC might win the House of Reps election. I said yes, it’s true, sir. I said but the results are not complete, but from what we can see, we are going to win. He said please call me when the results are complete.
I forgot to call him in the euphoria and he called back to say congratulations, let me make a confession today. I was told not to support you, that you cannot win that election, that you were a Lagos politician. So when you asked me for money, I did not give you.
He (Saraki) was a sitting president when we won. There was a sitting governor when we won. Otoge was an idea whose time had come. Even in areas we did not campaign, people were campaigning for us. So as I said, it depends on which side of the bed the governor wakes up from, that is what he will say about the problem between me and him.
Are you saying you did not at any time try to be his godfather?
I’ve been in politics for how long. With all sense of humility, since 1989, I have been very active in politics. At what point in time did I want to become a godfather? Was it when the cabinet was being constituted and I was not even consulted? Did I send you a list, or names of people to make commissioners? I told you this man is a deeply troubled soul and I’m serious.
How about the allegation that you collected N100 million and never remitted it? And he said, should you react or deny it, he would prove it, and even say more.
Am I a post office? The businessman that he said gave me the money, doesn’t he know him? Did the man say he gave me money to go and give him? As I said, it’s extremely infantile, reckless and desperate for a politician to start talking about who gave what for a political campaign.
I mean, it’s the height of desperation. It’s the height of recklessness. It’s the height of immaturity and that’s exactly why I say this guy ought not to even be a councillor. I’m serious. I raised funds from friends and associates to execute the 2019 campaign in Kwara state. These funds were raised for governorship, national assembly elections and presidential election. It’s on record that I received no penny from him to execute his own election.
If he contributed, he contributed to his own pocket, not to my pool. I’m saying it and I challenge him. Did he give any money to the party for any logistics during the election? I’m going to give you a copy of the press release by the party, that the only person relied on for logistics was Lai Mohammed. I challenge him.
I want to put on record, that when the president came to Kwara State, he was nowhere to be found. It was in the morning of the presidential arrival that I met him at the airport. Even the ankara that he wore, I provided the money for it. I sent it to his house. Let him tell us who saw him when the president was coming to Kwara State for presidential campaign.
I was told he arrived the previous night and was talking about me trying to dehumanise him. Is that not a very petty mind? As I said, I raised funds for all the four elections from friends and associates. I can say it on record that I gave money, because I know what happens on election day. And I’m glad that many of them have not denied it. So when you talk about money, ask him: did he give one penny to the party for the election? How did he think he won the election? I raised money from friends, from family, from associates.
Some of your loyalists have asked the governor to account for about N1 billion given to him. How is it possible for the party to route money through him without you knowing?
Of course, he was the candidate. The party will give money directly to the candidate. Remember the two times that the party gave us money. They set up a committee which I was a part of and I was not even interested. Yes, the party will give each candidate money, because at the end of the day he is supposed to be the candidate. But in a good setting, the candidate will come back and say, here’s how much the party has given me.
You see, not only do I have the record of what I raised, I also have records of what I disbursed to the party and I can say here that I gave more to the party than what I was able to raise, because even my own finances were thrown into it. For me, it’s all about winning and you can’t quantify electoral victory.
You will remember that in his interview, the governor alleged that I never campaigned for him. This video is proof that he was lying. Make no mistake about it. Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq’s reticence has nothing to do with humility. Rather, it stems from a deep sense of inferiority complex and a lack of intellectual capacity. The governor also spoke about second-hand vehicles and motorcycles, which were donated to us for the 2019 elections.
The truth of the matter is that 20 vehicles and 500 motorcycles, all brand new, were donated to us for the elections. They were not second hand as he claimed. Of the 20 vehicles, one was given to each senatorial and House of Reps candidate; one each for the youth leader and the women leader of the party; one each for the party chairman and secretary and the rest for the Buhari/Osinbajo campaign organisation. Even the governor’s factional secretary is currently in possession of one of the cars. Of the 500 motorcycles, each of the 193 wards got two. Also, one each was given to the canvassers of the Buhari/Osinbajo campaign organisation in the 193 wards while others were given to the leaders and aspirants of the party.
But it may be correct to say you started this confrontation, because there was an open rally somewhere in the state where you openly spoke against him that he was a one-chance governor.
No. That was two months ago. That was the opening of our office in Kwara state.
But should you as an elder in the party go that route?
You see, ask yourself, what led to it? What led to it was the interview he granted through his deputy governor. The deputy governor went to represent him at a party, and then raised the issue that money was given to me, and I did not give it to him. That was the genesis of it. Until then, nobody heard me talk about him. Even with all the brickbats he was throwing, I just decided I was going to be above all the nonsense.
Now that the gloves are off, are both of you not putting the party in serious danger, especially considering that elections are coming?
I’m one worried for the party. And I think the party has to stand up and face reality. You see, the party should not shy away from allotting blame where it is due. Today, it may be Kwara State, tomorrow it could be another state. Anywhere the umpire does not do what it ought to do, either because it’s nasty or it’s painful, will always result in these kinds of things.
Several times I wrote, accompanied with pictures, figures, I explained during the registration. Not only did I write, I accompanied it with evidence as to why people were disenfranchised. They called meetings between me and him with the Niger State governor and every time, I went there, I went to see him and I said, listen you are the governor.
All these your complaints that X does not like you, even if they don’t like you, you have won. I went that humble to say, let’s build the state together; don’t allow any kind of distraction. You want to run this state, you don’t need this and he thanked me.
Then he went and told two governors that, yes, it’s true what I have said, but that he would be betraying his followers if he followed what I told him to do. Let me tell you, in the meeting with the governor in the house of the Governor of Niger State were myself, the chairman, the speaker and that was the day he said I didn’t recognise the speaker.
At the end of the day, it was clear to everybody that this matter was in the governor’s court. We decided to meet the next day and I told him I will come and meet him in his residence. I had two hours of only me, him and God. That was about March this year.
We talked and he agreed with me in everything, but went back because his supporters would feel betrayed. Now, just to answer your question, after that, the issue of registration came, and of course, I went and complained, collected all the evidence, sent to the national secretariat, based on which they now sent another team on fact-finding.
The team came back and confirmed everything we said. Until today, they have been unable to go back to do fresh registration. There was even a time they called both of us – myself, himself, the supporters, they said they were going to refer the matter to the north central zone. It can’t be true to say that I did not make enough efforts. I bent backwards to accommodate him.
With election fast coming, what do you think are the implications? Are you not worried?
I told you that the party must do the needful. You see, in politics, 1,000 friends are not enough. One enemy could be too many.
So, what’s the way forward?
The party must do the needful.
Are you saying the interview by Governor Abdulrazaq has shut the door on reconciliation?
I won’t say that. But I will say it has made reconciliation even more difficult. For example, he talked about me not being able to win elections in my ward. And as I said, the records are there. Between 2003 and today, when I ran for election, I’ve never lost in my ward.
We want him to show us his own result in his ward. Two, he said I’m a Lagos politician. But he knew I was a Lagos politician, when he ran to me in 2011? He knew I was a Lagos politician when he was sending emissaries to me to take the ticket of the party?
Sometimes, I will send him to Mr Williams and Mr Adeyemi and I said sometimes, when I can’t see him, I will ask him who to see. My house in Kwara, in Ilorin became a Mecca.
But you’re said not to have a house in Kwara.
Even when I was campaigning in 2003, I had a house in Ilorin. If in 2003, I had a house in Ilorin, how about 2019? My house in Oro was a Mecca for all of them. How many times did he come to my house in Oro when we won the by-election?
The victory celebration took place in my village. He could not come because they had a meeting in Abuja. His elder brother was there. His campaign DG was there. Now, it’s the same house he says I don’t have, that he reported to almost every other day from Ilorin?
Again, you ask yourself, is that not petty even if it is true? Even if it is true, I do not have a house, how does that come into this matter? But as I said, he accused me of zero electoral value. Well, I say that my records in every election, even in opposition, I have always won my ward. And again, that interview has done him a great disservice. If there is anybody who was fraudulent, I think it is him.
Fraudulent in what sense?
In the run-up to the by-election, I raised N100 million and asked the donor to give it directly to the candidate, Ajulo. When I got home, the party chairman said they needed money to train agents and to meet other logistics, I think it was about N26 million.
And I told Ajulo (the candidate), give the chairman N26 million, come back tomorrow to discuss how we are going to use the balance for logistics. I did not see him again after that. He disappeared. So I got worried and went to Ilorin and I met my sources and told them here’s my problem.
This was the eve of the election. They assured me they will raise money. About 5pm, they called me and said, look, they were able to raise only N50 million. And I called my treasurer and asked how much do we have and he told me.
I now called somebody and I said, we need N50 million tomorrow. The person said, I have it but there’s no way it can get to you in Ilorin. Borrow it from anybody. I will pay you. So I went to AA (Governor Abdulrazaq), and I said, loan us N50 million. As soon as the election is over, I will repay it. But he sent N48.150 million.
We won the election, the person refunded the N50 million to him. Unknown to us, it was him and Ajulo that hatched that plan. The money he loaned us was part of the N74 million he never returned.
How did we know? It was the wrappers, but it didn’t make sense to us at that time. I called Ajulo, unfortunately, people who were coming from his village to celebrate, had an accident and we lost seven people.
At that point, I could not start asking for the balance of the money. But now, from his own interview, it’s clear that it was a ploy between them. In other words, he made a profit from our money.
This is our money, they loaned it to us, we paid them back. It is complicated but that’s the honest truth. So it is not for him to start talking about dishonesty. If anybody was fraudulent, it’s him. I said that he should come, he and Ajulo should come and explain the balance of N74 million. Who did they give it to? Out of the N100 million delivered to Ajulo, he gave the chairman N26 million. What happened to N74 million?
Till tomorrow, we are still waiting for that money. This man set up a campaign committee he could not fund. So who was supposed to fund it?
Are you outraged by the weighty allegations in that interview?
They are not only fake, they are deep fake. I am outraged, not only for myself but for the party and for the innocent people that have been, you know, rubbished. There’s nowhere in the world, you publicly discuss sources of your campaign money, or how it is spent. I’m worried by his recklessness and desperation.
Do you regret your decision to support him?
Even when you claimed he was not qualified to be a councillor?
or me, it was about APC winning regardless. That election was won not because of his popularity, because he had none; not because of his credibility, he had none. It was won because of the efforts of our leaders. And you see, going back to history, AA in every party he had been has always divided them like this. He did it in ACN in 2011. When they came in 2018, they were divided between Akogun faction and Fagbemi faction and he was the one at the centre of all of it.
And you didn’t know all these?
Yes, but we wanted to win elections.
Do you envisage that the way things are going, it might degenerate violently between your supporters and his?
Frankly, I do not see it. I have a support base that is firmly on the ground and who do not seek the moment and even when provoked, they are unlikely to actually react.
You see, they are the owners of the party. You don’t piss into your own house otherwise the amount of provocation that he has done during the last two years is enough for Kwara to have erupted. But my people are so mature, so disciplined, so pro-party. You don’t see the party chairman react to him despite the fact that he has completely marginalised them.
Even now, it’s more of a reaction to him. You will never see the party chair abusing him despite the fact that he has never given them patronage. If he’s on ground, how come he has been unable to depose the chairman?
For the record, until he used the caretaker committee, as we speak today, how many members of the EXCO are with him? How many are with the chairman, Bolarinwa? He has just danced naked in that interview. I think his handlers have done a very big disservice by exposing his underbelly.