Hon. Joseph Iranola Akinlaja is representing Ondo East/West Federal Constituency of Ondo State at the National Assembly. Before joining the House via the 2011 elections, he had served in the higher echelon of the nation’s labour struggle especially during the military era. His struggles ensured he became the General Secretary of NUPENG after Chief Frank Kokori and later the National Deputy President of NLC under Adams Oshiomhole. In this interview with JULIUS TOBA, the current Deputy National Chairman of Labour Party gave reasons why his party will emerge victorious in the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State against the background of what he called unprecedented and aggressive infrastructural development of the Mimiko Administration in the last three years.
How will you describe your time in labour struggle?
I will say my time was very exciting as we preached one thing which was unity among ourselves to acquire the necessary skills and influence to be able to use it for the benefit of Nigerians.
Looking at your background as a unionist, how were you able to adjust when you got elected as a politician?
Yes, it is still in me because you can not take unionism out of me. It is still there, even when I was in the labour movement I practised my own unionism with integrity. Don’t forget that I supported government or employer’s policies that are progressive and in the best interest of the people and as well I opposed policies that were considered inimical to progress of the people.
That same attitude I have brought to the National Assembly where I speak my mind on issues even when it is going to be unpopular, I say it as I see it. I will say I’m still the same Comrade Akinlaja, if you remember very well even when I was active in unionism I was equally involved in partisan politics. I was a Councillor in Lagos Mainland, at different times I contested for Council Chairmanship of same Lagos Mainland and even House of Representagtives in Lagos. I believe from time that trade unionism and partisan politics are two sides of a coin. One is industrial politics, because for you to be in leadership in unionism you must canvass for votes too. The only thing is that it is not as lethal as party politics. So politics is the common denominator of both, I have been with politicians for long. Even the formation of Peoples Solidarity Party, PSP I was there, SDP, I was there, even AD, I was there. Till by the grace of God I took Labour Party to Ondo State as the Deputy National Chairman of the party, a position I still occupy till date. When I brought the party to the State I met a sensible, humble and erudite Iroko who accepted to flag the banner of our party and he did it without stain.
Having just marked another year of Democracy Day Anniversary, how will you assess the House of Representatives?
I will say we are making progress steadily and our integrity is intact, we have a dynamic leader in person of Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. He’s a democrat who has followed democratic principles in his leadership affairs. He is transparent indeed, because there’s an adage in Yoruba that “if an organisation is going to be progressive it has to start from the leader” and If a fish is going to be rotten, it starts from the head, I’m speaking metaphorically now. In the last one year, it has been nice passing progressive Motions and Bills.
You know that in Nigeria today, we are not short of good laws but we are short of good attitudes and character. We have character deficiency, attitudinal deficiency which make implementation of laws and policies almost impossible. That’s why we as a people are not making progress, so the House decided to talk about attitude. What should be the attitude of the legislators? Yes we have the standing order, we have the 1999 Constitution to guide us but let us discuss what will be our attitude. Virtually everybody in this House spoke their minds on how best we should behave. We later came to a conclusion that we should be on the side of ordinary Nigerians because in the context between the have and have-not, the have-not can not compete unless those in authority intervene on their behalf in order to ensure peace and stability in the polity.
What are the chances of LP in the next guber election in Ondo?
Labour Party will win clean in October. This is because the plank of our campaign is what we have done. These things are verifiable, you can see them. But others will still say “I will do” this is the same promise they have been making since 1976 when Ondo State was created. But unfortunately since then, nobody has been able to do what Governor Olusegun Mimiko has done in less than four years. It was as if there was no budget in Ondo State before now. The electorates are not fools, they supported our party and governor.
If you recall the history of our struggle, this is a party established on the 14th November, 2010 and contested an election on April 14th 2011, within just three months. Our victory was unprecedented and unheard of. It was a digression from age-long belief that no one can displace a sitting government with all the federal might. The state government that we unseated was then sitting on all the resources for two years under a situation where it was later confirmed that it was a stolen mandate. They were sitting on our resources both legal and illegal security and God did what he did. But what surprised many of us was that instead of Ondo people to say if you can beat them join them. To our surprise, people were leaving and decamping in trenches to a party that was still in embryo. So if Ondo people could stay with us then when it was indeed inconvenient, is it now that the government is doing well that their welfare can’t be guaranteed?
But what is your comment on the speculation that Mimiko is going to decamp to PDP in order to enhance of his chances?
As the National Deputy Chairman whenever I hear that I laugh a lot. I can confirm to you that Iroko (the governor) still called me this morning discussing with me to know what is the party’s position on primaries and when will the programme come up. This conversation involved the three of us I mean the governor, myself and Dan Iwuanyanwu the National Chairman. He wanted to know the party’s programme ahead of time, so whenever I hear this I often say it is laughable. He has asked me on several occasions that what is it that will take me out of Labour Party? I have told him that I had a reason to leave Alliance for Democracy, (AD) to leave PDP all because of lack of internal democracy, but now I don’t have any reason. Tell me what reason do I have to leave and where do I go to after LP? Hence, I’m confident that Mimiko is going to flag the banner of LP and he will win.
ACN has threatened that it will capture Ondo?
I will say it is not a military arrangement, you can’t capture. Let me remind them that in a democracy, you don’t capture, rather you persuade voters. It is not a gun-vote affair, you can’t put gun on my head and ask me to vote for you. Going by my antecedents even when I refused to yield to the military threat as a labour man; is it now in a democracy that someone will put gun on my head in a bid to capture me and my followers? However, aspiration is a legitimate right of everyone but I know that ACN will not win.
But two of your colleagues in the House of Reps decamped to ACN, this followed a recent Court ruling in favour of LP?
We will take the enrolment of the judgement and shortly we are going to bring the judgement to the notice of Mr Speaker. We will ask him to advise him to vacate his seat. We live in a democratic setting, we will encourage the Rule of Rule. In short, we as LP Caucus in the House are already working with the party secretariat to formally present this case. Our move is not coming in form of a Motion but in form of a request for implementation of court judgement and we are hopeful to get it done.
There’s a growing concern that crisis may brew up in the wake of this election, how do you as a stakeholder intend to avert this?
As a party in power today, we have advised our people to be peaceful and be politically mature. However, people should know that nobody has monopoly of violence. They should know that violence is a Gorilla warfare, everyone should advise his follower not to allow it to start, because once it starts, it take God’s intervention to curtail it. Don’t forget that if you kill any of my family member, I will not romance or kiss you. Rather, I will go and plan too how to be stronger than you. And don’t forget someone who is hiding somewhere for you can be deadlier than you. So there’s no one that can’t be violent. My advice is that everyone should manage his animalistic tendencies and put them under check.
Mimiko had advised Ondo people as early as 2006 that he never wanted to become a governor on people’s blood. Look, how can we unleash violence? Even when we were under-dog we didn’t do that, is it now that we are in power that we will unleash terror? Tell me, is it now that we are performing that we will promote violence? My final message to all is that “No foreign god should come to Ondo State to come and unleash violence on us. Because you can not understand the terrain more than those who live in their natural habitat. By foreign god, I mean any external intervention from anywhere. Then for us in the National Assembly we have decided to work for the governor and make him emerge for the second term. We are doing this because respect begets respect, this is our time to pay him back for his support in 2011 April which produced us, there’s no going back.