The governorship election in Ekiti state is two months away, and a good number of aspirants have been declaring their intentions to run. Babafemi Ojudu, special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on political matters, is one of the aspirants who thinks he is the best head for the Ekiti governorship crown.
In this interview with TheCable, he talks about his agenda, if elected.
TheCable: Why do you want to govern Ekiti state?
Ojudu: I don’t do things because I just want to do it. Whenever you see me go into any venture, it is because there is a very good need for it and there must be a problem for me to solve and this Ekiti one is particularly troubling. Ordinarily, I am satisfied with what I am doing now. It is challenging enough. I see myself contributing so much but I just believe that we must not abandon Ekiti state to what it is now, that we need to intervene vigorously and save the people.
I was born there, I grew up there and I know what the community gave to get me to the point where I am now. All of those things that make you a man to contribute meaningfully to the society are no longer in Ekiti state. Our young ones no longer have good role models. There are very serious problems of employment, drug abuse, secret cult, thuggery, hunger, collapse of infrastructure. All of these do not augur well for the future of that state. Beyond that is the fact that the man who represents us does not present us in good light. We are seen as pariah across Nigeria. Whenever you mention your name and people ask you where you come from and you say you are from Ekiti, there is a way they look at you. It takes away quite a lot from us. Our perception as a people has become so negative within the confines of a country called Nigeria, and we are not fine with it.
And I look at it, if we abandon our people in Ekiti, and say we are in our comfort zone and we should not assist them to get out of these morals, then we have failed. So, I just believe that God has given me the talent, the capability and the capacity to intervene vigorously and bring about sanity in Ekiti state and that is what we are trying to do.
TheCable: What are the key areas of your manifesto tagged ‘My agenda for life more meaningful for Ekiti people’?
Ojudu: One, earlier I talked about hunger. There is hunger everywhere in Ekiti state. You need to look at the face of an average Ekiti person to know that they are hungry, and it should not be so, because there is nothing that does not grow in Ekiti state. The land is fertile. We used to be an agrarian society. Many of the first generation people who went to school were trained with the produce of agriculture. Today, people from Kogi and Benue are the ones growing the food that we eat in Ekiti and it is not sufficient. So, a good number of our people go to bed hungry.
There is no single industry in Ekiti state. There is no revenue that anybody can earn here. I look at it and I say, what is the first means of bringing an end to this? What is the fastest way of getting results? It is to go back to land and rededicate ourselves to farming.
First of all, we will be able to feed our teeming population; secondly, we would be able to generate some income. I am not talking about cutlass and hoes; we want to go into mechanised farming. There is nothing that does not grow in Ekiti— from Banana to plantain to oranges to cassava to vegetables to rice to cocoa. We have timbre in abundance. Tomato grows anywhere in Ekiti state. We have five dams, with large bodies of water. Not up to 5 percent of the land in Ekiti is cultivated. Everything is virgin. If I get this thing, I can mobilise the energy of the youth to cultivate this land. I’d make sure that at least, an average Ekiti person is able to feed well and that they are not malnourished as they are now.
Even with the proceeds of agriculture, we can then invite private sectors to set up agro-allied industries and then absorb our young people who read chemical engineering, food technology, and different sciences. Did you know that close to 40 percent of the resources Awolowo used in the first republic to run western region, came from Ekiti state, came from cocoa? These resources were also used for free education in the whole of western region, and to build Cocoa House.
The food bill of Lagos per day is about N6 billion. There is none of it that we cannot produce in Ekiti state. The possibilities are just too many. It is just a question of being creative and innovative and committed and not just that you want power for power sake, power for your ego. So, agriculture is the priority, every other thing will be an extension of agriculture.
Another area which is of paramount interest to us is taking people off the street. Take them off drugs, give them hope, and invest in them with a lot of possibilities. An average Ekiti person is brilliant but you know what has been absent is that there is nobody to motivate them to be that person and I want to come and be that motivator.
And I have plans for young people. Ekiti will be the capital place for the young people, where you can try your talent. And the first thing we want to do within the first three months is to create an IT centre where we are going to have about 250 internet-enabled computers with 24 hours supply of electricity. Let the young people go in there and do what they like. It will take them off thuggery and drugs. It will give them renewed hope.
Also, look at the area of technical education. We want a situation where every local government will have a technical school, and we will be able to supply other parts of Nigeria with quality labour. Today, if you are from Ekiti and you want to build a house, the man who will roof it, do you POP, lay your tiles will come from Cotonou. You cannot get good labour from Ekiti and young people are wasting away. There is nobody without talent, what we don’t have are opportunities.
To address this problem, I would borrow from Samuel Ogbumedia, the former governor of the old Bendel state. When he became governor, he set up a sports institute in Afuse. Products of that institute have largely represented us in Common Wealth games and Olympics. That again takes enough young people off the street and into the productive sector. And we go from there to ensure there will be no week we won’t have a competition in Ekiti state. Ekiti will become a destination. Right now, there is no productivity going on. We want to drive traffic to Ekiti state and all of these can be done within two years of our being governor.
I have gone ahead to mobilise our people in diaspora. I have travelled to America, Australia, Europe, South Africa to rally the efforts of our diaspora and they are ready to help, they are ready to become a part of this agenda.
TheCable: Former governors Segun Oni and Kayode Fayemi who are members of your party, All Progressives Congress (APC) are also interested in the governorship seat. What is your relationship with these former governors, and do you see yourself a better candidate who should emerge in the party primary election?
Ojudu: Sure, I am a better candidate. I know the two of them very well. They are my friends and if you ask them, they will tell you that I played a role in their emergence as governor. I worked very close with Oni to ensure he got the ticket of the PDP when he got it. I worked closely with Fayemi, because both of them were members of a group that I was chairman for many years.
I was chief strategist to the both of them at the same time. Two weeks to the election, I told them I am giving up the job. I know them, I know what they are capable of. They know me, they know my energy. They know that when I say I want something, I want it and I will get it, except I have not made my mind to get it. I can tell you and I am very sure that I will get this, without any rancour and I will do it to their benefit.
TheCable: Will you agree to a consensus candidate?
Ojudu: If they come together by consensus and they say look Babafemi, we know that you are selfless and you are a patriot of the state, and that you have the capacity, rather than dissipating our energy, we want to support you to become governor, I will welcome them and embrace them and give them the assurance that I won’t betray the trust they put in me.
TheCable: Ayodele Fayose, the incumbent governor continues to boast of defeating all APC candidates combined. Fayose appears a populist whose ‘stomach infrastructure’ policy seemingly endears him to the masses. What are you putting in place to win electorate hearts over to your side?
Ojudu: The stomach infrastructure was a gimmick, which has failed. If you are talking about stomach infrastructure, you won’t keep a man whom you employed unpaid close to a year. So, where is the stomach infrastructure? You know, he used to boast then that he was giving out free rice, chicken at festivals. All of those stopped now that he knows he is not going to come back to request for their votes again. It is all deceit. Ask an average civil servant today, if he is not afraid that he could be sacked or sanctioned in one way, he will tell you that this man, they have seen enough of him.
Fayose has claimed to have defeated all of these people before but he has not defeated me. He contested against me in 2011 and I beat him silly— I had 60,000 votes, he had 21,000 votes. Secondly, in 2006, when I saw that he was not governing our people very well, that he was becoming authoritarian, I raised a group, E-11, and we moved round Ekiti and consulted elders of the state, and got him impeached. Twice, I have beaten him now, so he knows I am not one of those people he can claim to have beaten. He knows his master in this game and I am his master.
TheCable: E-Eleven was set up to oust Fayose then?
Ojudu: When Fayose came in, many of us thought that he was a change for the good. Here is a young man from a humble background and we thought that he had come to save us. Not up to three months he got into power, we started seeing that sign of self-centeredness, corruption, intolerance. We then said, ah, we didn’t bargain for this, the signal we are seeing is not good and that was when we started meeting in my house in Magodo and we realised that if we don’t take him out, we are all endangered.
TheCable: You accused Fayose of being responsible for a number of killings. Is this politically motivated or you have evidence to prove?
Ojudu: No, I have evidence to show that. Now, there were some incidents of killings and attempted murder during his tenure. The then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was not quite comfortable with that. He set up a panel to probe the killings and they came out with a report, and that report, I have a copy. It was even published into a book by him (Obasanjo). They indicted him for murder, and for taking substances that make a man behave irrationally and for several other things.
Femi Falana also did his own private investigation and also came up with a charge which he gave to the then Governor Fayemi but Fayemi never saw the need to charge this fellow. Every soul destroyed and killed by any human being demands justice.
TheCable: A major visible capital project done by the Fayose government is the flyover, first of its kind, in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. Will you applaud Fayose for this?
Ojudu: Incidentally, I am from Ado-Ekiti and if you do something beneficial for my town, I should be able to commend it, but I do not see the need for that bridge. Ado-Ekiti is not big, does not have traffic problem. There is no water and we are building a needless bridge. That bridge is uncalled for. The amount of money which is learnt is about N15.5bn could have been used to tar all the inner roads in Ado-Ekiti.
Initially, the budget for that bridge was N4.8bn, it has now taken N15bn. If you are serious, with that money, Ado-Ekiti will be like an El-dorado. There will be access to anywhere in Ado-Ekiti. All you have to do is expand that road where the bridge is and with a fraction of that (money), you would do that.
TheCable: Considering your seeming high social class, do you have a strong connection with the grassroots?
Ojudu: As I said earlier, I was born there, I school there, I grew up there, I speak the language very well like every other person who lives there. Everyone knows my background and my pedigree in Ekiti state. I am not from a rich home, I am from a humble background so I can relate with the poor, the market women.
I can eat in any buka in Ado-Ekiti. I can live with anybody. I am not structured in a way as not to see value in people who are below me in social class. If I am not comfortable, I will not want to go and solve their problems. But what I don’t do and what I don’t appreciate is people glamourising poverty. A situation where you bring people together and give them one sachet of rice and ask them to raise it up and take their pictures and then post it on social media and it goes across the world. To me, this is demeaning. It is dehumanising to our people. I don’t want to be part of that kind of a thing. There are different ways people deal with poverty and bring succour to the poor.
TheCable: How do you want to generate revenue for Ekiti state if elected governor?
Ojudu: That is why I say we have to go into productivity. Who do you tax when there are no industries, when majority of your people are unemployed? The current governor is taxing pupils in nursery school when we should be talking of free education…
Every tipper carrying sand must pay money. It is not enough to rely on what comes from Abuja every month. Even the one coming from Abuja is not spent or disbursed in a manner that could allow for development.
TheCable: Let’s talk about your current job as an adviser to President Buhari on political matters. What would you say are the biggest challenges advising Buhari on politics?
Ojudu: I do not see any challenges advising the president on politics. The president is not a novice in politics himself. That is not to say there are times you don’t want to put things in perspectives for him to see.
TheCable: What do you think are his chances if he runs again in 2019?
Ojudu: From my depth of analysis, his chances are bright. Who is coming to face him, tell me? With the kind of credibility that he has? You may say the expectation of everybody has not been met but you won’t say that this man is a thief or that he is not sincere. And at this juncture in our life, we still need his kind of person. What we could just say is that Nigerian’s expectations have been very high and we could not have met them at that tide, but it is still work in progress.
TheCable: You were a member of the seventh national assembly. There have always been controversies around what senators earn, and recently Shehu Sani, a senator from Kaduna, said each senator takes N13.5 million monthly for running in addition about N1millon consolidated salary. What do you say about this?
Ojudu: This issue of salary has become so controversial and figures are bandied around. Certainly, I didn’t earn that much when I was there as a senator.
TheCable: Why did you leave journalism for politics?
Ojudu: The kind of journalism I practised was also political in a way. My reporting was mainly in the area of governance, respect for human rights, social justice, and freedom of expression. I did quite a lot of investigative journalism and related with people in power. I read political science at the master’s level. So, I am fascinated by politics. I just felt that I had so much to contribute beyond just writing and reporting.
Today, I can raise my hand and beat my chest that I never did any deal with anybody. I observed closely what people do and it prepared me for what I am going into now. And I think that there is a lot we can do for our people even within the limited resources that are available if we are ready to be honest and throw away corruption.