Senator Babafemi Ojudu, a member of the 7th Senate is a Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters. A journalist and human rights activist, Ojudu is now aspiring to be governor of Ekiti State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE he speaks passionately on why Ekiti State needs to be rescued from the present crop of leaders and repositioned to benefit its people
*******Last week, Transparency International’s assessment of corruption perception index in Nigeria said Nigeria is worse in cases of corruption now than before, how did you receive that news and how will you react to it?
You should know that whenever the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) comes out to say that they have found money of this magnitude, of that magnitude anywhere, it is noted by Transparency, whenever it says the wife of the former President has been found to have $45million in her account, it is noted. It is these reports that are compiled that led to the assumptions made, if there were no report perhaps we wouldn’t be talking of this. That for me, looking at it logically , is what is responsible for the ratings given to Nigeria, it is not a question that Mr. President has bought a private jet, Mr. President has bought a mansion in Dubai or somewhere in Britain or that the President has acquired houses in Lagos or Abuja, it is none of that. It is also not a question of some critical people in the Presidency making away with some huge money, it is not so. There is a lot of cries about the issues of corruption, judges were arrested, other people are being arrested, people are being taken to court, and all of those things get mention in the media and then those in Transparency International who make it their duty to work on these things keep all of those records and compare it to other countries. If we were not arresting, we were not investigating, we were not trying, everything will be silent, because there would not have been data to arrive at their statistics, but again I think it is still part of setting an agenda, making the idea of anti corruption an agenda for the country.
*******Talking about fighting corruption, the President recently reinstated the Nigeria Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Executive Secretary, despite the several corruption allegations and investigations, people are surprised about that action, what is your response to it?
Well, I am not quite informed about what necessitated his suspension in the first place and what caused his reinstatement and we should be careful in judging people based on what we pick up from the social media. I believe they are allegations and they have maybe to looked at the allegations, I don’t know and I cannot stake my reputation for that, all I know is that I do not in all honesty believe that somebody would have stolen so much money, suspended, investigated and he is found to be culpable and the President will just reinstate that person. You saw the case of Maina, immediately the President looked into it and discovered that he has committed some offence he asked that he should be removed from the system, but like I said I don’t have to comment on things that I don’t have facts on and on this particular case I do not have facts on it, I am just saying that I do not see the President trying to cover up corruption, he is very touchy and passionate about issues of anti-corruption, he is therefore not likely to want to let anybody who is involved go scot-free.
*******Your party the APC have been having some issues, which is not unusual, it recently set up a committee headed by its National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In view of the many crises at hand and in particular that of the Kaduna State governor last week, do you think in the time available that Tinubu will be able to achieve much and put APC in the right position to stand and win elections next year?
Why not, I don’t believe that what we have on hand is so bad and so crooked that it cannot be straightened. We are a new party, this party was formed less than four years ago, ANC (African National Congress) have been in existence in South Africa for more than 70 years, yet they still have crises, we saw the removal of the President just about a week ago, they have their internal crisis and wrangling, it took a lot of efforts to get the man to resign. So, for me when you realise the fact that different people and groups of different persuasions, of different ideologies and ideals came together to form the APC, it will take some time for then to blend those groups together to be one, to share and believe in one ideology and a particular way of doing things. It is work in progress and I think Asiwaju has been brought in to hasten that process, that process of welding the party together, but we have a common interest and that common interest is that we cannot afford to be thrown out of power just four years after taking power, everybody wants to be in the party that is ruling, not the party in opposition, so as soon as the elections knock at the door, everybody will come together and support our candidates and ensure that we win the coming election. Again what you are also seeing is what is expected in political parties, people are seeking advantage, people want to take the plum jobs, they want to contest to be senators, to be governors, senators wants to overthrow governors, governors are also doing their own calculations of how they can be something bigger, so many things, but when reality knocks everybody will see that in unity is our survival.
*******People are worried that even the Tinubu that was chosen to handle the reconciliation, himself has issues with some key members of the party, like the chairman of the party, just last week he wrote a letter to the President about the chairman, how do we reconcile that?
You know the beauty of it, it is always good for people to voice out their worries, rather than bottle them up and then begin to sabotage the party. He has expressed his opinion and that is democracy, he has put out his views on the table and I read the chairman’s response this morning, which shows to me that they are both patriotic and are looking forward to the survival and victory of the party and as soon as that happens the President will call the chairman of the party and they will have a talk and at the end of the day, the President will bring the two together and tell them this is the goal, all of us must work towards that. I believe that those things are good for democracy, we cannot all sleep and put our heads in the same direction, let ideas contend, let there be debates, it happens in all parties and political groupings in all of history, some are of the extreme right, others of the extreme left or some are in the centre, they debate from time to time, argue and then come to realise that they have a common interest and they have to work towards attaining that common interest.
*********Recently, the National Assembly approved the re-ordering of the order of election, putting the presidential election last, which created uproar in the Senate, with many saying it was targeted against the President’s re-election; do you think the re-ordering was in order?
That was an illegality, that was selfish and I can stay at the rooftop and shout that. The power to set out the order or process of election is not, as the electoral law says and as our constitution demands within the powers of the legislators, it is in the hands of INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and that has not been removed by any law or by any amendment to our electoral law. When Obasanjo (ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo) tried to put all elections on the same day some people went to court to challenge him. At the lower court, the judge ruled that it was an illegality, that that role belongs to INEC, then the judgement was challenged at the Appeal Court, the Appeal Court also found that it was an illegality, nobody has challenged it since then and that still remains. You asked was it targeted at the President. Yes, what is not broken is not fixed. If you have not broken your bones and someone decides to take you to orthopedic hospital, Igbobi, you will revolt. Why are you doing it, what do you want to achieve by doing it, there must be a motive for doing it, but whichever way they do it is not in our own interest, the best thing for all of us is to allow this democracy to survive, work hard to impress your constituency and don’t look for shortcuts.
*******But, it is already in the electoral act as passed by the National Assembly and as amended…..
There was no amendment, they thought there was an amendment, there was actually no amendment to the electoral act, it was an assumption, they assumed that there was an amendment to that section of the electoral act, I was in the National Assembly in the seventh Senate, it was not done.
*******If the National Assembly passed the electoral act, it stands to reason that the law they make they have the right to amend, don’t you think so?
Yes, they do, it will then be incumbent on those who are dissatisfied with that law to challenge it in court, because the constitution itself outline the powers of INEC and this falls under the powers of INEC and the constitution supersedes, unless they wants to amend the constitution.
******The governorship election in your state of Ekiti is around the corner and like you said sometime, you are on a rescue mission, but what is wrong with Ekiti State that it needs rescuing?
There is so much wrong. First of all let us look at the one that is important but not as important as the others. The issue of perception, today when I mention to people that I am from Ekiti the first thing they say is what is wrong with you people, why are you like this? How can you elect such a man to be your governor, how come with all your education you elected that kind of person as your governor, that is a very bad perception. It can affect our children who are looking for jobs, it can affect our businessmen who are looking for contracts, it can affect our sons and daughters who are looking for wives and husbands, so that perception is not good.
We were well respected in the past, we are known to be intellectuals, academics, people of integrity, principled, but all that now has changed because of the man who governs us. People look at us from what he is, abusive, thuggish, roguery and all that kind of things, that is not what we are, we have to change that perception of our people and of our state.
Another thing is the standard of living. A large number of our youths are unemployed, they have no jobs, you come out of school there is nothing to engage you, they are roaming the street unemployed, many have masters degree who are doing commercial motorcycle business, there is disease everywhere, the environment where they live is terrible and there is nothing to be proud of. Today in Ekiti there is no single industry that can employ up to 50 persons, except the fake news industry where we have found out the governor has recruited 100 people to be churning out lies on social media. There is no development going on there, the governor does not have any project that he can call on the President or the Vice President to come and commission. There is only a bridge in Ado Ekiti that leads to nowhere, there is no water under the bridge and it is not flying over anything. The road was wide enough before he came and then he put a one kilometer bridge on it at the cost of N15billion according to him.
So there is a need to rescue our people. The schools are collapsing, they are dilapidated, the standard itself is nothing to write home about, workers are not being paid their salaries, teachers and civil servants are being owed close to one year salary. Where do they get their food from to feed themselves and their children, where will they get money to pay their children school fees, if any of them fall sick where do they get the money to seek medical care ?
These are issues that are of concern to many of us who are from the state. A large number of our people are all over the world working, they want to come back home and participate in the development of their society, but the environment at home does not allow them to do so. The man is battering everybody, he is busy abusing everybody. A man who can wake up and take a man like Obasanjo to the cleaners, there is something wrong with him. I am not a fan of Obasanjo, but then in Yoruba land you don’t abuse elders, you are trained from the day you were born not to abuse anybody who is about two or three years older than you. You are not allowed to abuse him, you may disagree with the person, but you cannot abuse or insult the person.
******Even when the person has really wronged you?
No, that is what I am saying, you can disagree and argue, you are even allowed to disagree and argue with your father, but you are not allowed to abuse him. Obasanjo can be the father of that fellow, he can conveniently give birth to him, Iyabo and the governor will probably be about the same age, if Iyabo is not even older. Then, the idea of wishing a man dead is not in our culture. When a man is ill you pray for him to recover not that you daily wish the person dead and then be predicting his death and be brandishing some fake photographs of him being on life support. So, that fellow Fayose is everything that is antithetical to our culture and to our being as a people of Ekiti origin.
That to us is a problem and we think that we have to put things right. We do not want our young ones taking such a person as role model and then upturn our culture and practices completely. That is why we say let’s go and rescue our people. Because he seem to have captured them, because again with so much poverty in the land and he will just come around with a sachet of rice, like pure water, give it to them, ask them to raise it up, take their photographs and do the video and put it online for the world to see, meanwhile he is stealing our resources. People who were born and trained there and are proud to be sons and daughters of Ekiti cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch, they have to do something that is why I am doing this to dislodge him from the place.
******Can you say in all sincerity that this governor has not actually done anything tangible since coming to power?
I am yet to see what he has done, I have given you an example, the bridge he built has no economic value. I am from Ado Ekiti, I should be happy if the governor is doing something in my town, but I believe that if N15billion is spent judiciously in Ado Ekiti, Ado Ekiti will not be what it is today. All the inner roads are bad, all the roads to the economic centres, the farms are bad. If you spend N15billion tarring roads from the market to the towns where agricultural produce come from we will be talking of good life to our farmers, but to go to the epicenter of the town and build a one kilometer flyover that is flying over nothing, it is a waste of resources for God sake. If you use that kind of money to renovate all the schools, the school I went to Ado Grammar School, Ado Ekiti, owned by the government, the last time I went there the potholes in the classrooms are embarrassing, the classrooms have no window panes, the hall where we gather when I was there to pray every morning is an eyesore. Why don’t you spend money on these things that will improve the life of our people rather than building such a structure because you want a pact with the contractors.
I once was on a plane from Akure to Lagos with him and I asked him, governor why are you wasting people’s resources, spending money on this kind of thing, if you had decided to expand that road into about eight lanes traffic will flow freely. From one end of Ado Ekiti to the other end you are not likely to spend 35 minutes, so what is the use for that kind of project?
********What is the missing link in Ekiti, Governor Ayodele Fayose was the governor of the state, he did ‘so well’ that he was impeached, then he came again and the same people re-elected him, what are we really missing about the Ekiti people?
Let me say, he came for the first time and rode rough shod over the people, a good number of our prominent citizens were slaughtered in very tragic circumstances, we were all angry and decided that we had to take him out and we took him out, we thought that was it. Unfortunately, our governors who came in thereafter, got all the facts, those murders, the evidence of which are with Mr. Femi Falana would have put him on trial, that would have been the avenue to go to jail for killing our people, but that was not done and then he gradually gathered his supporters and was able to come back to power. For me I think something was missing, something was wrong.
********And what could be that missing link, because he later contested against a man many consider cerebral, well educated, yet he won
Yes, but in-between when he left and when he came back he contested against me for Senate and I defeated him, that is why I said if I were governor I would have known how to handle him and you won’t be saying what you are saying today.
******Will you say there is disconnect between the Ekiti elites and the people of the grassroots?
Yes, obviously there is a disconnect, because everyone of us who are educated could not find engagement at home, so, you either leave for Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Washington DC, Paris, Australia or wherever to go and look for greener pasture, then we left our fathers and mothers at home. Wherever there is no middle class this is the kind of problem you find and the way to solve it is that let us go back home, let us talk to our parents, our uncles, our aunts, our sisters and brothers that look, this is the way it is done, these are the things you can do when you have somebody with genuine intentions, not somebody who is deceiving you. He goes to sit with a shoemaker asking the shoe maker to repair his shoes, it is a deceit, meanwhile there is an entire room filled with expensive shoes that cost as much as one million naira a pair that doesn’t need repair and to me it is deceit and anybody who loves his people will not deceive them.
*******There are many people eyeing this position in your party, how do you intend to triumph in the primary?
How do you know? The party has not asked us to come and obtain form, anybody who wants to become councilor, chairman of council, commissioner, Senator, House of Reps, House of Assembly and all that can just take a room in the capital, put his photograph there and say he wants to run for governor to call attention to himself. Until the party comes out in another one or two months to say those who are interested go and obtain form to indicate interest with an amount of money, that is when you will know the boys from the men.
*******You are a media man; you were in the Senate, now you are a presidential adviser, why do you think your people should trust you?
They should because I have a track record.
I am not a nobody coming from somewhere who just say I want to govern you, no. From the creation of Ekiti State I have been part of activities in the state.
I am from a very political family. My father was a member of the Zikist movement, a member of NCNC. My grandfather and grandmother were Action Group members. In fact my grandfather in 1965 was detained by Akintola for resisting that regime at that time, he was an Awoist and I have been a member of political parties since my university days, I was a member of UPN, I was into activism, I was into journalism, I was part of the anti-military rule, I was into human rights campaign, I was into campaign for good governance and all that, i fought for press freedom.I have shown sufficient interest, I have made sufficient sacrifice. I and Femi Falana in the year 2000 formed Ekiti Progressives, we showed a lot of interest in what was happening there, after sometime I also led a group called E11 that decided that we must not allow people like Fayose have their way in government and I actually led the push that removed him from office at that time, so I am not an unknown quantity in Ekiti politics.