In this interview with Nigerian Tribune’s WALE AKINSELURE, a member of the Oyo governor’s advisory council and former Senator representing Oyo Central, Monsurat Sunmonu speaks on the 2019 coalition agreement, the chances of governor Seyi Makinde against the likes of Senator Teslim Folarin and Chief Adebayo Adelabu.
You have made quite a number of movements in your political career. You moved from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Unity Forum to the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and now you are a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In Nigeria politics, lack of ideology is identified as a major reason politicians defect at will. What is peculiar about your own political movements?
When we talk of political ideology, I believe you say that is something that you believe in. I believe in government of the masses where you follow the cardinal programmes of our late sage, Pa Obafemi Awolowo: free education, free medical care, job creation, rural development. I joined Nigeria politics in year 2010 after spending over 32 years in the United Kingdom. Within eight months, I contested and by the special grace of God, I won. In 2015, I contested for the Senate; through His grace, I became the first elected female Senator in the history of the state. Mama Wuraola Esan was appointed as senator not elected. That was the vision we the progressives had and held on to until there were congresses. During that time, we were all being pushed out of the race. We didn’t have a single position; so, technically, the conservatives took over, and everything got muddled up. Then we moved out to name ourselves Unity Forum and we had parallel congresses. They didn’t work and that was what led us to the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and then came coalition. And with the coalition, we started working with the government and my concern was if we are having the interest of the people or our own interests.
If truly and genuinely we are having the interest of the people, then we should give ourselves some time for the government to stabilise itself. I would not start quarrelling within one month or two to say that a person has not fulfilled the coalition agreement. I tried to speak with our people then that it is too early, that this is a race of four years. If we could hold on with the previous government for eight years, before we decided to move, why can’t we give this present one some time? He started with the move of giving us 22 slots among the transition committee members. There was even quarrels among ourselves on how to share the 22 slots and if we are fighting over that, that means we have not built our own house and it will be difficult to judge someone from outside, that has even tried us.
When I was Speaker, we had 19 opposition members; 13 of the ruling party; there was hung parliament during that era because the deputy speaker was in the opposition. Did we actually give out everything that we promised? The answer was no, then. I have witnessed this before, but through patience and perseverance, I said we will get there. We all have different attitude so I cannot control anybody but I have my own mind. Some of us decided to wait and at the end of the day, we had commissioners, special assistants, vice chairmen, councilors, supervisory councilors, members of board of parastatals; something that we did not give while we were in government. We had a coalition then if we had to give out deputy speaker, deputy chief whip to the opposition.
What is happening now is what we have done before and this is where our patience has brought us today. Some people will say that when I was given commissioner, I gave it to my son; that is a different narrative of the event. We were given three commissioners and we shared it among all the interest groups in ADC. The one that belongs to the Unity Forum, which I was then, was given to Dr Wasiu Olatunbosun; the one for Baba Michael Koleoso group was given to the Commissioner for Agriculture; and one was to be for Senator Olufemi Lanlehin until all that happened. The governor had already given my son commissioner because of their relationship. By the grace of God, I still managed to get things for my members. Nobody is perfect, but he has tried his best to fulfil the agreement to certain extent.
Who among the coalition members that have left surprised you the most?
I can only talk about my own group, which is the Unity Forum or ADC. And, I was surprised that Senator Olufemi Lanlehin left.
When we started the Unity Forum, he was not a member. He joined through the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Baba Rashidi Ladoja’s group. In the Unity Forum, we had our own aspirants: Senator Kola Balogun; the former deputy governor, Rauf Olaniyan; and some other people. We had some candidates and he joined us during the time we were inaugurating the steering committee. So, he was lucky just to have the ticket which 13 people were fighting for and they went to court. I do not want to go into details.
Do you agree with views that the governor could have better managed the coalition, in the interest of his second term bid?
Better managed! How? When a woman gets pregnant, she goes through a very rough time; you will not go and abort it; you continue to manage, cope with the situation and when the baby comes out, you are happy. That is the way I see life that in everything, you need to persevere. If we had waited for one, two years, I could have been saying a different thing.
The coalition was crucial to the governor’s victory in 2019. That coalition has collapsed with a number of politicians leaving the party while there are those staying back in the party but unhappy. With the present situation, how do you view the chances of the governor in the 2023 election?
I will go spiritual. It is only God that controls the universe; it is only Him that can do and undo. Remember that our leader, the late Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala categorically stated that Seyi Makinde is not near becoming governor. All this coalition came up after the first election; there was none right from the beginning. But about a week after the first election, everything just changed and that is God and you must never undermine the power of God. There were so many things that were against us (APC) during the last election. Teachers, civil servants, students were against us but those ones were not in the coalition. So, what were against us, then, are now for Seyi Makinde; that is, the masses. The coalition was for politicians.
But, politicians are crucial as they are known to mobilise voters; is governor Makinde simply relying on the masses for his reelection?
I agree that politicians mobilise but the electorate now are so sophisticated. It is no more business as usual. The people will insist on voting based on what they see. For a woman that no more has to pay N3000 education levy, can a politician convince her to vote otherwise? During COVID-19, the markets were not shut down; that is what it means to be progressively minded; government of the people. I will always appreciate the efforts of we (politicians) because we are the ones to start everything, before it reaches the masses. But, we have to be patient with ourselves. So, the performance of the governor will speak for him.
You move closely with the governor who appears to hold you in high esteem. But, there are those who question your political worth. They wonder whether you can really mobilise people and deliver polling units, wards in favour of Governor Seyi Makinde. How do you respond to such views?
They have seen it the day we defected and you were there; that has answered the question.
You mean you were behind all those that defected to PDP the other day?
Who defected? It was the ADC. That has answered the question, so I don’t need to enter into any dialogue with anybody. On whether I can mobilise or not, we keep our fingers crossed.
Who among the governorship candidates do you think will pose a great challenge to Makinde’s second term bid?
As far as I am concerned, I do not know anybody. I only know of Governor Seyi Makinde.
You certainly know Senator Teslim Folarin who has always battled you in Oyo Central Senatorial district. He is the governorship candidate of the APC.
Oh my goodness! We will meet on the field.
You should also know that Folarin is good mobiliser and political strategist as he defeated you in the 2019 Oyo Central senatorial seat contest.
We will meet on the field. I will never say that he defeated me in 2019.
But, he won.
Well, they announced him.
He might bring such to bear on the governorship election
Let us wait and see.
But, do you agree that Folarin is a political strategist
Strategist! What about his three ‘pakute’? Has any of the three worked in his favour?
What three ‘pakute’?
He said so.
Do you know the three ‘pakute’ he was talking about?
You will know as well.
If you say none of Folarin’s ‘pakute’ has worked, isn’t Chief Adebayo Adelabu, the candidate of the Accord Party, and 2019 candidate of the APC, another challenge for Makinde’s reelection bid?
Adelabu and Folarin were both in APC; I was in APC, but they were not in the party by the time I was there. If they are joining APC, let them bring out their people that they brought into the APC. They are only using the structure that we had before. You see what happened during our defection, with people across the 33 local councils. I did not go to Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba, for them to raise only my hand up. A leader must be able to bring his or her people to where he or she is going not for one person to go somewhere and start using the structure they met.
The governor has not officially inaugurated his reelection campaign council but is seen travelling from one place to the other. By now, shouldn’t the governor be on ground campaigning? Is the governor so confident of winning?
Before the 2015 election, when I was still the speaker, I remember that Aare Musulumi, Alhaji Arisekola Alao invited us then, complaining that Governor Abiola Ajimobi hadn’t been moving out and people had been moving out then. Then, he (Ajimobi) concentrated on the assignment given to him and trying to strategise; he did not come out until late. I was among the campaign council members. The tenure is four years so why do you have to leave your duties, responsibilities for campaigning? I did not start my campaign as a Senatorial candidate until very late because I was still sitting in the House. Do you want me to close the state House of Assembly, to stop working? When you are in government, there is something to it when people leave their responsibilities and start moving out. And people should raise questions about people leaving their responsibilities and moving everywhere.
What do you make of the agitations of the G-5? Don’t you think it puts candidates of the party in the state in a dilemma regarding campaigning for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar alongside theirs?
That is left to them. It is not for me to answer. Am I in the caucus? And, I have not seen any candidate come to tell me that they are in a dilemma campaigning. They know what is best for them.
You move closely with the governor, some regard him as ‘heady’ hence some politicians left the party, just as reconciliation efforts failed.
I just joined their party. So, it will be difficult for me to judge anyone. But, all that I am after and praying towards is for them to reconcile because an adage says: “Old friends are better than new ones.” I am very close to some of them like baba Nureni Akanbi, Mr Femi Babalola. I am looking forward to seeing all of them together as one family as they used to be. As a British immigration officer, we are told to be firm and fair. Nigeria people might say because someone is being firm, he is heady. You have to be firm and fair. In doing that, there are things you just wave in compelling and compassionate circumstances. But, it has to come from both sides.
Do you have any fears regarding Makinde’s reelection?
Never. I strongly believe in God. Do you know many times people plying Moniya-Iseyin used to change their shock absorbers before the road was fixed? You can only deceive people; you cannot deceive God. He is the God of justice.
You are a member of the governor’s advisory council. Does the governor really utilize advice from your council?
He does. In fact, I have just received a text message that there will be meeting tomorrow. Whatever we arrive at, our chairman, Senator Hosea Agboola, passes our minutes and resolutions to the governor. Sometimes, the governor invites us one on one to ask for explanation. Sometimes, he calls all of us together to discuss our advice to him.
Have you advised him on his following governor Nyesom Wike all around?
He is an adult. Though he is an adult, he has so many chains so we can only advice. We advise each other on different things and I believe that so many other people can advise him, including you yourself.
How do we get things right especially in the 2023 elections?
We have candidates for different parties. Nigeria should not live on propaganda. Nigerians should try to study, consider who to vote for. There is still time; anything can change anytime. It is too early to be going to press. I think we should be doing our groundwork. When the time comes, we will be there.
Can female representation in public offices ever be better? Year in, year out, only few females get their party tickets or even win elections. Is it the women shying away or the system that discourages their participation?
During the eighth senate, we said even if we are not going by the 35 percent affirmative action, let us start with even 25 percent and we move up gradually. At one point, I commended governor Seyi Makinde because we had a number of females as local council chairmen. Then, people living with disabilities are also represented in each local council.
Constitution amendment has been regarded, in some quarters, as crucial to resolving the nation’s challenges. Another one is being done by the present Senate and as usual, there are fears that the exercise will not be completed. As a one-time senator, what continues to hinder completion of constitution amendment process?
Nigeria constitution is too cumbersome and there are so many lacuna. If I have the opportunity, I will tell them to collapse everything and start all over so that we use the national and state houses of assembly to do that job correctly.