Following the celebrated adoption of a Presidential Aspirant by the Conference of Former Speakers in the Southwest. Our Correspondent in Ondo State spoke with one of the Former Speakers, Rt. Hon. Victor Olabimtan from Ondo State on this and other issues. Excerpt:

The Yoruba agenda for 2023 seems to be gathering momentum. Do you think Yoruba Presidency is feasible in 2023, considering the seeming unorganized nature of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the moment?
Olabimtan: What do you mean by unorganized? There is nothing unorganized about the APC. A party that is currently creating massive awareness in preparedness for nationwide party registration cannot be said be disorganized. The party is undergoing serious restructuring and repositioning to meet futuristic yearnings of Nigerians. It is an aberration that a party of the APC status cannot boast of a valid members’ register. For the first time, therefore, the present National Caretaker Committee is taking the bold step of setting the standard for the incoming party executives to build on. Are you not aware that the APC national convention comes up in July this year? Can a disorganized party be doing all of these? Your question on Yoruba Presidency in 2023 has been over-flogged and addressed by sincere party leaders at different fora. 2023 President from the Southwest is surely feasible, without any iota of doubt. The Presidency is coming to the South in 2023, and the southwest is the stronghold of the APC in the South. Naturally therefore, we should be expected to produce the APC Presidential Candidate come 2023.
 
You were part of the team purported to have adopted Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the consensus aspirant for 2023 presidential election…
Olabimtan (cuts in): Wait! Did you just say adoption? That is far from the truth. It is not correct at all. What are you people even talking about? Where, when and how did we adopt Tinubu?

But Rt. Hon. Sir, were you not at the meeting of Speakers of the Southwest States, convened by Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa of Lagos State?
Olabimtan: Yes, I was at the meeting but please, get it right that the meeting was never convened by Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa as you asked. I attended the meeting of Conference of Former Speakers of the Southwest States in Ibadan. And for the record, let me emphatically reiterate that the meeting was not convened by Rt. Hon. Obasa because he is not yet a member. We were convened by our Southwest Coordinator, Rt. Hon. Titi Oseni-Gomez from Ogun State, to receive Obasa and his team. Obasa and his team informed the Forum of the aspiration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and suggested that all Yoruba States should support him. Speaking for myself, I told them without mincing words that Ondo and Ekiti States are not appendages of Lagos and Ogun States. Though the roles of Asiwaju Tinubu as a National Leader of the APC is appreciated, however the call for all Yoruba States to queue behind him is not patriotic and unhealthy for our democracy for now. I am of firm belief that other States, especially Ondo and Ekiti also deserve and qualify to produce the next President. That Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has done much as a leader isn’t in doubt but his impacts are mostly felt in Lagos and Ogun States. He has done nothing significant for us in Ondo and Ekiti, other than the continue treatment of our states as an appendages of Lagos and Ogun. If Asiwaju is sincerely interested in the Presidency, he should discuss with and get the support of our Governors, who are the leaders of our respective States.

But it was reported in a national daily and you were quoted to have eulogized and endorsed him. 
Olabimtan (cuts in): How has eulogy meant adoption or endorsement? I have equally eulogized him just now. I said he has done much as a national leader and is appreciated. The issue of endorsement was not just an outright lie but fallacy. How do you endorse or adopt someone that has not declared interest in a contest? Two things played out at the meeting. Hon. Obasa and his team informed us of the presidential ambition of Asiwaju Tinubu. Hon. Ajigbolamu from Ekiti State also informed the forum of the Presidential ambition of his principal, Governor Kayode Fayemi. Could there have been an endorsement when two illustrious sons of the Southwest were introduced to the forum? Are they saying we rejected Fayemi?

Does that mean that you and other attendees were misrepresented?
Olabimtan: They didn’t just misrepresent us, they were mischievously deceitful. What is the ruse about? When you see a husband shouting on top of his voice, that he’s still the husband and leader of his household, watch carefully he is really leading nobody. You don’t have to coax, rope or blackmail anybody to claim superiority or gain relevance, if you are truly superior. I am not sure Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will be proud of the ongoing mockery they are making of his ‘campaign’. Anyone in doubt about what truly transpired at the meeting should contact Rt. Hon. Titi Oseni-Gomez. She convened the meeting and knows what happened.

Who is now your preferred candidate for 2023 presidential election?
Olabimtan: The issue of my preferred candidate is inconsequential at the moment. We are talking about 2023 presidential election. 24 hours is too long, they say, in politics not to talk of 2 years. Besides, I made it succinctly clear at the meeting that according to the APC constitution, Governors are the leaders of their respective states, just like the President is the national leader of the party. Therefore, as a loyal party man, I will wait for my Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who is the leader of APC in my State of Ondo to tell me who to support for 2023 presidential election, when the time comes. It may interest you to know that all other Former Speakers from Ondo and Ekiti States toed my path on this.

Simply put, are you maintaining that the Conference of Former Speakers of Southwest States didn’t endorse Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
Olabimtan: That is the simple fact and truth! His endorsement was never discussed and there was no basis for that. Conference of Former Speakers is made up of seasoned politicians, not pushovers. If indeed, there was an endorsement, it won’t be Hon. Obasa that will speak for us because he is not yet a member of the Forum.

Finally, what is your position on the seeming controversy between the Federal government and Ondo State on the deadline given by the Governor for herdsmen to vacate the Ondo State forest reserves within seven days?

Olabimtan: There is really no controversy. I will simply call it communication deficiency. Governor Akeredolu didn’t order herdsmen to leave Ondo State. He said unregistered herdsmen must leave the government forest reserves, and equally banned all underage and abnormal grazing along the streets of Ondo State. This isn’t the first time the state will be taking such action. Similar order was issued against indigenous farmers who encroached government forest reserve for routine farming in the past. They were made to vacate the forest reserve and heaven didn’t fall then. That was done purely for economic reason, to preserve our common heritage. Now that the forest reserve is being used for notorious criminal activities, the onus is on Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, as the Chief Security Officer of Ondo State, to rise up to the occasion. Therefore, I support with 100% the position of Mr Governor that we must get rid of these criminals before they consume us all. Even in the Nigerian Constitution, the number one responsibility of the government is the protection of lives and property. If ridding Ondo State forest reserve of encroaching farmers and unregistered herdsmen is what will restore sanity and make the State safer, so be it. We must all rally round Akeredolu to ensure that the rights of the people to live without fear is guaranteed. The Federal government must support this sincere and noble course. Government forest reserve worldwide is regulated. There is therefore nothing strange or unusual about the order given by Mr. Governor. A secure society is the desire of every citizen of the Country, and we must all embrace it rather than politicising security matter.