Vanessa Obioha discusses the governorship aspiration of Kayode Olubunmi Ojo, an engineer, who is hopeful for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress to realise his dream of governing Ekiti State
Do you share the opinion that a people get the leadership they deserve? How have ordinary Nigerians contributed to the situation we find ourselves?
We have a very big role to play. If you check the future of this country via purposeful and serious governance so that we can move away from mediocrity to a people of purpose. The press also has to encourage a lot of people that are out there; people who are successful in doing some businesses to come back to public life to help us develop infrastructure and to us from being a country with the potential to a developed country. That’s exactly what we need. We have been a country with potential for decades upon decades, and not being able to take that flight, and the whole world is leaving us behind, even some African countries are leaving us behind. Time is passing by from where we are supposed to be and the generations that are coming behind us will not forgive us if we don’t start doing things differently. We have done the same thing the same way for several decades. Nothing has changed and we keep doing it. The press has a serious role to play to shape the opinion and the narrative for everyone to understand that government and governance is not about yourself. It’s about service delivery to the people. It’s about committed development of the people and it’s not about you collecting and taking money or feeling you are above every other person. You are a servant. This is what we will bring to governance. It will be a change that will eventually spread to the entire country, to bring that office to the level of the people. Service to the people. You are not to be served. I don’t want to be a governor and people see me and begin to scream. We should all be normal people, just as we see mayor’s and governors, even Prime Ministers in developed countries. All of you are the same. They enter train, public transport, they go to supermarkets like any other citizen. They don’t make a fuss about it. We should be able to do that here for us to be able to develop this country. As an individual, I’m just tired of this lack of seriousness. So God willing, we will get there.
As a member of APC in Ekiti, how will you assess the last four years of Governor Fayemi? Are coming for continuity or a radical departure from the past?
It will include both ways as you described. It’s going to definitely be a continuation of APC and at the same time, a radical government which is a government that is going to do extraordinary things. We are going to do a lot of things in a very high level manner. To be honest with you Dr. Fayemi has actually done quite well. He has laid some serious foundation for Ekiti with some good projects like the airport that we’re building right now as a catalyst to development. There’s nothing we want to do in that place, if investors cannot get to their plane and fly to the state capital, who are you going to talk to? So that is a key project. A lot of people don’t understand that but I do because I’m a development person. And I really applaud him for that. Then we have the knowledge zone: the knowledge economy development, that is crucial. I know that because of lack of funds, they’ve not been able to really push, but they have the template which is great, because we’re the Fountain of Knowledge. So any area that we have needs for, we should take advantage of that. There’s no reason why…I saw recently that the President approved the university of aerospace about a couple of days ago. As much as I appreciate it, I was quite disappointed…
We’re not too serious. We relied on oil for all these years and it’s getting extinct in our face, yet we don’t have a solution to our economy. We wasted all our money, carried everything to Europe and America, we didn’t invest it here. We are not supposed to be borrowing money to build railways. These should have been done years ago. We’re not supposed to be borrowing to do the trans-Sahara pipeline, take gas to Europe, we should have built it years back so that we’ll be competing with the Russian leader. We would have laid that gas pipeline to Europe. Europe needs gas. That’s the only thing we could put our hands on in Europe. If you lay that gas pipeline up to Europe, you will make 20 times the money oil is giving us. I have never seen such a blind set of human beings. And we have been flaring before I was born.
Definitely, we will continue the development of all his policies but we will now take it to another level, improve on it and make sure that we build a 21st century economy. Our intention is to deal with Ekiti as if it’s a country which means, we must, as a matter of emergency, not even urgency, define, develop our economy whereby we don’t have to wait on Abuja’s money, which is no longer enough. In fact, the last time I even had a discussion with Dr. Fayemi, I asked him how he’s been able to pay salaries, because I don’t understand how he’s been able to pay salaries considering the meagre amount of money that is coming to the states from the Federation Account. The money is just not enough. From records. I hear that we have about 62,000 civil servants, including teachers in Ekiti. If you multiply that by an average of N30,000 per person which is definitely more, that’s really about N1.8 billion. And I understand that our allocation sometimes is not up to N3 billion and then you have to fund projects and other statutory deductions. So, we have to do things differently by finding our own money, investing and building so that we can get the money back from levies, taxes, fees that people will pay.
What kind of resources have you actually identified in Ekiti that need to be explored to generate these resources you are talking about?
Our biggest resource is people. Because our people are extremely dynamic people. Even though, over the years, because of the condition of the country and lack of development, it has made people to be poor, with little or no purchasing power. Purchasing power is very low which of course means you can’t buy much but I believe that if we invest in the people, it’s the people that build the state, not the other way around. We invest in people by bringing in industries, by expanding our tourism capacity, by tapping into agriculture extensively, we will be able to help people, improve their income and then based on that, it will rub off on the state. And so many other areas of development that we’re going to invest in. We are going to bring in a lot of investments.
There is this campaign in Ekiti State now, talking about zoning, that the next governor should come from the South. Will you say zoning exists in Ekiti politics? If it exists, to what extent?
Well, Ekiti is a very homogeneous state. In fact, in Nigeria today, we are probably the most homogeneous state whereby we speak almost the same language, from Ikere to Otun, almost the same dialect. So we’re kind of homogeneous as a state. And as a result of that we don’t normally zone. Historically, if you look at it from 1999 to 2018 which was the last election we had, everybody contested from all zones. So you can check that fact. And based on that, I don’t think there’s going to be any difference in 2022. What we want or what we have to project for right now is actually who is the best person that can help us improve the viability of our state by bringing in investment, helping our schools, education; bringing in all the programmes that will benefit the people, putting pipe-borne water in people’s homes homes, all over the state. To tap into the God given resources that we have. So to me, that is more important than where you come from. I’m not saying that the southern people don’t have great people, we have great people in the south. But the way Ekiti is structured, everybody’s going to go to the polls and the people will choose who they want, no matter where the person is coming from. The person might be Mrs Oloro, Dr. Fayemi’s elder sister. If she is the best, so be it. I believe Ekiti electorates are extremely sophisticated and they’re going to choose who they want irrespective of where they come from.
But the argument is that since the creation of the state, Central and North have been producing the governors more than the South, that for fairness and equity, it should be conceded to that Senatorial District?
If we want to talk about fairness and equity, it is a contest between able bodied men. And it has always been like that from day one. So for fairness, equity, let everybody go to the field, work, ask for people to vote and be voted for. That should be what will be fair based on our precedent. If in the past only one zone produced all the gubernatorial candidates again, and then we want to do it another way, we can say no but it has never happened like that. So you can’t even say that is on the basis of unfairness. If you look at in 2018, in PDP, the incumbent government at that time, fielded Professor Kolapo from the South. And Dr Fayemi was from the North but we defeated them. Professor Eleka only won in two local governments and then won by 74,000 votes and the south has six local governments. Dr Fayemi won in four local governments and Prof. Eleka won in two local governments. Ekiti people are very sophisticated. Even at that time, there was still clamour for zoning. If they believed in you, they would have voted for you. What the people believe in is who can effect positive change in their life. How will their life be improved? So that’s what they are going to do in 2022.
You were in the race before, you didn’t make it. What are the lessons you have learnt between 2018 and now?
Well, the lesson I learned is that you need to be more engaged with all the stakeholders in politics. And then you need to, of course, understand, study the terrain better, relate more with the people. In 2018 that was my first time. I have never contested in an election before. I believe that people out there want to listen to new ideas, want to listen to new opportunities and everything. So basically, I’m saying that’s what I have learnt in this system and by the Grace of God, I believe things will be different this time around.
So you are confident that the primary will be free and fair?
Well, I can only tell you that Nigeria has a factor in everything. There’s nothing you do in this life that Nigeria’s case is not slightly different. It’s peculiar. Free and fair in Nigeria is in line with the peculiarity of our system so I believe in line with Nigeria’s peculiarity, it will be fruitful.
Former Governor Fayose introduced this concept known as stomach infrastructure and when Fayemi came in, he departed from that, the Ekiti people you say are sophisticated, some of them have been groaning, they are not really comfortable with the policies of the governor. If you become the governor, where will you stand, will you be in between or a clear departure?
It has to be a hybrid of the two. I understand Ekiti, I have spent time on the ground. We have these three measures that we have to follow which is something that is urgent and immediate that you have to do. Then you have the short-term measure, the medium-term and the long-term measure. Like you rightly said, it’s not only in Ekiti, all of us know the prices of goods and services now. Prices have gone through the roof. So there’s hunger in the land. The value of N1000 now has gone to almost nothing. Even in Lagos here, what you want to buy, you can’t really get that much value. It’s all over the country, not only in Ekiti. As a result of that, we have to have a programme that addresses the immediate needs of the people, to at least give them a little bit of a cushion while you now go to short-term measure, then medium-term and then long-term which is like getting industries, getting people to be integrated into the new economic system that we are going to be building in Ekiti State. That’s the way we are going to do it. Even the stomach infrastructure that you mentioned, what is stomach infrastructure? It’s just a slogan. Did Dr Fayose go to the street and share money to the people, he never did that. But if you look at Dr Fayemi’s government, it is focused on building the foundation that was not there or what he built when he left and was kind of scattered and then he had to come and start rearranging that structure. You know, bringing back the Ikogosi Warm Springs which was shut down during Fayose’s term. He built it in first term when Fayose came in, he shut it down. He tried to bring it back, all those things, Ire Bricks, try to give it to core investors to bring in money. That Ire Bricks alone can give us a lot of money because if we diversify the product, we improve on the product that we make, and also streamline what they make. For example, they make efficient bricks now in Europe, Germany where they use them for buildings. Those are the kind of things that need to be done to make those companies dynamic so that they can become profitable. You understand? So this is the part of the issues that we already have on the ground that we need to invest in. We need to look at it and push it forward in a manner that is consistent to a regular normal business.
What is the perception of the governor of your state to your ambition to succeed him?
We are reaching out to feel the pulse of the people in general. That’s where we are at, to really ask the people on the ground, what do you really want for us to fill that gap? That consultation is ongoing. It’s after this consultation, when we gather feedback from the people that we will take it to the next level, to talk to our leaders, the governors, the minister and former ministers and our elders. At that level, we will talk to them and see what their line of thought is. They all know me, I know them very well. But the fact of the matter is, of course, there’s this issue that every governor always wants to announce their successor. But if we look at it historically that’s really never worked. We have examples of people that are anointed. They are guys and they think oh he is my guy, he is going to be loyal, or doesn’t work. At the end of the day, the man that is in the office always wants to have his independence and wings. But before they get to that position, they are always humble and some pretend.
Is Fayemi your Godfather? Are you relying on him to become governor?
Governor Fayemi’s relationship with me is very cordial and civil. I see him as my senior brother. I only have God the Father, not godfather. I only rely on God not humans. But the fact is that in politics, there’s no way you want to do something without carrying along your leaders and elders, except you want to go and start your own political party. Not only in Ekiti but even at the Federal level, regional level, you must interact with all those leaders. There are only a few people in this world and in this land that will be governor. It’s a unique position. Only a few people will be governors of Ekiti or Lagos State in the next 100 years so it’s not just a position whereby anyone or everybody can fill, so therefore, you must relate with the leaders. You must carry them along whether they want to support you or not, you must relate to them. Even when you win the tickets, you need them to support you, to push for you to win the general election. My whole point is that Governor Fayemi that I know and have seen is a very intelligent individual, all these things that I’m saying, I don’t need to say it to him. It’s like preaching to the preacher. He’s been out there, he knows what is going on in the country from his colleagues. I believe there will be a level-playing field to exercise rights.
What is your solution to the crisis rocking Ekiti APC?
The solution is very simple. It is to bring everybody together. APC is an indivisible family. But you know politics is about interests and every politician trying to vie for an office, you’re trying to create whatever is your own niche advantage for you to get the electorate to get the position. It always happens in politics but at the end of the day, everybody will come together. But for somebody like me, I don’t have any issue with anybody. I know everybody, I talk to everybody, I don’t have any quarrel with everybody. So I can approach anybody to discuss with them to say, look, what we’re doing is greater than our individual matter. We have to come together to make sure that we win that election so that we can actually start that cycle of continuing where we left because if you look at it, Ekiti will always rotate from one party to the other since we started. It is very, very important that you know, we work together to make sure that we win the next election.
Based on party rotation as seen in the state since 1999, people believe that the next governor may come from PDP. Do you share that sentiment? Can you redefine or reinvent the wheel of what we think it’s the norm in the state?
I have done extensive consultation, that’s why I said we are discussing with people not only in APC but all round the strata of the people to ask them questions to find out what they really think and how it can be better for all of us. Some people have the idea that it is going to be PDP and that encourages a lot of people to think it’s their time. But the fact is that we have gone beyond that. Everybody has realised that the only way for their lives to be better is to vote for an individual who will come to improve their lives, to x-ray all their candidates both in APC and PDP, and other coalition parties. It is to look at and say that this is the person that will improve their bottom line, their pockets and economy. So it’s not even about rotating parties. What is the party going to do? It is the person that helps the party. And that’s why I’m telling you that from the feedback we got from the people, it’s very encouraging. At the end of the day, the leaders will also hear the feedback, they will realise it’s better that they go in our direction because we will be to ensure continuity by winning the election. Number two is not only winning the election, that is the beginning of the social contract to the people. To make sure that we improve the bottom line of the state and that we make our state become the destination choice in this country. I had a town hall meeting with Ekiti people in the diaspora and somebody asked me what actually drives me. Honestly, what drives me is the fact that in the whole world today, there is not a single majority black populated country that is successful. Why? That ‘why’ drives me. We have to change that narrative. When people talk about racism, I just laugh. Why won’t they be racist. Tell me one black country where the people are selfless, where they build their economy and people can go to and call a country proudly that is developed, successful, looks after people, provides quality education, affordable housing for the people and does not discriminate. Uganda and Botswana are coming slowly. It drives me crazy. I have the privilege of starting at a young age to work. I graduated before I was 21 years old. Studied engineering, I went straight to work. I started my own business at 24 and God has been good to me. I have been privileged to travel around the world to see development around the world. I have been asking myself this question, what does it take to build an egalitarian society. From my experience, it only takes commitment and to bury our greed. Bury that greed. How many clothes can you wear? How many cars can you drive? We are too greedy. That is the problem. Let us lock our greed and work for five years, we will not know Nigeria again. We have interacted with people at the local and federal level. We have insatiable wants, not needs. By the grace of God, God willing we are in that position, the narrative will change. You will see governance from the people, not this cosmetic arrangement that is ubiquitous in the country. Because what do I need? I don’t need to buy a house in London or America, I did all of that before I turned 30.
We’ve seen people who have great ideas but they change when they get to office, maybe because of the people surrounding them, are you sure you will not go the same way?
Go and ask the character of these people, ask those who knew them as a child. That is the point. When somebody comes to tell you something, you have to look for someone that knows that person from age five to 16 or thereabouts. That trait is in all of us. You cannot change. They will tell you who is trustworthy or not. Which amount of money is going to change me? Change me to do what? To buy clothes or a Ferrari? I have told the people around me point blank. I’m very blunt. This is what I’m going to do, and I will do it now, next 10 or 20 years. If you want to be with me, then stay, if you don’t want to be with me, you can leave. That’s who I am. I know some people give in to pressure but I don’t allow pressure to change me because I’m not going to meet you to give you money to contest for election.
How prepared are you financially?
If I tell you now that I’m super prepared, I will be boasting. What I will just tell you is that when we get to the river, we shall cross it.
What are those things that will work for you in the primaries?
Well, I believe that our people are inherently good people and when we sit down to have a conversation, they will see through my heart that I’m honest. It’s not about me, it’s about them. That’s all.
Do you have Plan B?
There’s no plan B for me, whatever I’m focused to do is what I want to do. Before I start anything, I have asked myself numerous times if I want to do it. If I decide that’s what I want to do, that’s what I do. I don’t give room for if this is not going to work, this is what I will do. This is my office, nobody is going to sack me. So I’m gainfully employed. So I’m not desperate for a second option. This office has always been my plan A-Z.
Do you have a political structure on ground?
My political structure is the common man in the streets of Ado-Ekiti, Ikere, etc. It’s the common man. I’m a people’s person.
What are the core needs of Ekiti people?
What I see in their eyes is the urge to have a better environment around them and to have a governor they believe they made. That’s what I see with the interaction I have with the people. Our people are very simple, generous and accommodating, they can be a bit strong headed. I also have it. My children do too. I enjoy being among the people. I just always wish I could do more for them but I know with my own personal capacity, there’s a limit to what I can do.
Should we be looking at Infrastructural revolution if you become a governor in Ekiti State?
Without infrastructure, there’s nothing else you can do. Infrastructure security, administration of justice, so if I owe you money and you don’t pay me, there’s no need to use cutlass, we will just go to court and settle it. We must have infrastructure that will attract investors. All these things are tied together.
Infrastructure has become a sort of anathema to our leaders. What will you be doing differently?
The problem of infrastructure in Ekiti is that the strategy is a bit poor.Number one, we are still kind of a rural state and landlocked. People believe that we don’t really need too much of everything. For example, between Oke Oro and Oke Mesi, I pass that road when I go home. Sometimes, I don’t see one car passing when I’m on that road. So, if you wake up tomorrow and say you want to expand that road, people are going to look at you weirdly. What is the volume of traffic that will come there? But that is wrong. You have to build in anticipation of what is coming. Then the number two thing is finance. The money is meagre. And if you want to build real infrastructure, Not, not this job that we are doing here. It has to be better. Because I’m in engineering, they will call from the Ministry of Works that they want to design and that you should submit a bid for the design. When you do so, they will tell you no, they will tell you they want a design that is for N5 million. They will tell you that the cost of doing the design is N5 million. The design cost in a civilised organised way is almost 30% of the cost of the product because you need all the experts, the experienced people that you are going to pay for their man hours, they’re not cheap. That’s why you see you have all these failures that we have because most of the things that have been done by people that are actually not experienced, there is no simulation. There’s no nothing. But if I were to do it for Chevron, or Shell, they offered me 5 million Naira, if I’m to do it for Shell or Chevron, it will cost N500 million because they will not take ordinary paper. They want to see your design calculations, they want to see a simulation, you are going to do hazard analysis, which is to do the risk analysis. What can happen? What can go wrong? If this happens, what happens? That is the only way. That’s why you see all those enduring infrastructure when you go overseas. Have you tried to ask yourself why does this have you ever gone to Germany or the UK and see a road that is like this, that they lay asphalt today and is like this? It’s because everything has been taken care of.
What stops local contractors from giving Nigerians quality roads?
It is a perception that is very wrong. You will think oh Julius Berger is a company that everybody wants. You know why? If I bid against Julius Berger, if they offer me coke for N100, they must have given the same coke to Berger for N2000. Go and check. I work in Dangote Refinery. I did the same for the refinery. The rate that they gave me, they gave Berger the same work but five times my rate and they paid Berger up front. In two years, I’m yet to collect mine.
I’ve been in this system and I understand this system. And that’s why I’m saying, we are going to develop our own. We’re going to develop our state, we’re going to use our people to develop our state, we’re going to help them to make sure that they meet that quality. It is not rocket science. It is not hard. It’s having a quality control department that helps the people to tell them the tools they need, the kind they need to buy. The kind of training… this is how you do it. These things can be done. It’s not hard. I have companies; I have a construction company in the US. We are working. What am I saying? This thing is not hard. It is just this commitment to see that we believe in our people and we help our people, we train them, we develop them and when they see the benefit. That’s why everybody in Ekiti is a politician.
If you are familiar with Ekiti, even the youngest has ties with a politician because that’s the easiest way to…But when you create opportunities where people can work and do business, most of them will leave politics and civil service voluntarily. Because you see what your neighbour who is doing better than you is waiting for one N200,000 SA appointment. The guy is building houses, buying houses, marrying new wives, you will leave politics and join him. So we’ll create that opportunity, that platform for people to thrive.
All you have said cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of insecurity. What is your plan to secure Ekiti state so that it will not be another Kaduna State?
All the infrastructure we’re talking about, we will build security around it. Everything you do from day one there will be security around it, because at the end of the day, just like you said, it is only a secure place that anybody will want to visit. If you’re not secure, nobody’s going to come there. We want to build an economy whereby foreigners will be able to come in freely, visit because we have a lot of tourist sites they can come in and everything. You can only do that if it’s secure. Where they won’t be kidnappings. So we’re going to have a robust secure n network security apparatus. Luckily, at least the Southwest governors launched Amotekun. It is for us to enhance it, take it forward, give them those legislative teeth that they need to be able to support the police, then all the police formation also will enhance and provide them support. Although everyone is clamouring for state police, we don’t have a state police so we must do with what we have, make them more efficient. I will tell you a story. When Rotimi Amaechi was governor in Rivers State, he did something that I won’t forget. All the policemen that were attached. You know before he came in that time, there were shootings everywhere, there were kidnappings. What did he do? They have these entry points in Port Harcourt. When you enter the town, they profile the people, they will search them and then get them and everything. They have CCTV, a central control system and everything. And then he took most of the police that were attached to Israel for training, not training on only how to shoot but also how to even relate with the civilians. These policemen were the ones that told me about it. So, he was able to reduce the criminal activities in Rivers State drastically during that period. That tells you that where there’s a focus, and there’s that sense of purpose, everything is doable. All the police that are brought in there, we will engage them, even give them good allowances to encourage them. So whatever we have now we have to make it work.
What I see in their eyes is the urge to have a better environment around them and to have a governor they believe they made. That’s what I see with the interaction I have with the people. Our people are very simple, generous and accommodating, they can be a bit strong headed. I also have it. My children do too. I enjoy being among the people. I just always wish I could do more for them but I know with my own personal capacity, there’s a limit to what I can do
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Founded on January 22, 1995, THISDAY is published by THISDAY NEWSPAPERS LTD., 35 Creek Road Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria with offices in 36 states of Nigeria , the Federal Capital Territory and around the world. It is Nigeria’s most authoritative news media available on all platforms for the political, business, professional and diplomatic elite and broader middle classes while serving as the meeting point of new ideas, culture and technology for the aspirationals and millennials. The newspaper is a public trust dedicated to the pursuit of truth and reason covering a range of issues from breaking news to politics, business, the markets, the arts, sports and community to the crossroads of people and society.