BY Omonu Nelson-Yaks
Senator Babafemi Ojudu, special adviser to the president on Political Matters, recently visited some local government areas in Ekiti State as part of his community engagement activities aimed at sharing the programmes of the APC-led government with the people. The visit was also to foster unity within the party in the state. At the end of the 3-day visit, he assessed the problems facing the state and propose solutions that could help reposition Ekiti State.
Grassroot is politics. How do you gauge the feelings of the grassroot in Ekiti State?
The people are obviously yearning for change and the response I got from the people, from our consultations, from our visitations, is that people are ready for that change. We have seen the burning desire in them to experience a change from the present bondage and enslavement.
From the reactions you got from the people so far, what can you say are the feelers you get?
The feeler is that we just have to get closer to the people. There is also the need to give them adequate information. We have to find a way of bringing them together, of uniting them and getting closer to them in Ekiti State. We need to inform them about government activities that have direct impacts on their lives and we need to inform them on how they can participate so that they can benefit from them. We need to let them know some of the things that the Federal Government is doing for Nigerians because many of them are not just aware. We need to come down a little closer to the grassroot. And I was so glad that I was able to do that over the weekend, trying to introduce some of the Federal Government policies to them, trying to correct some wrong impressions that have been sold to them. I also appreciate the opportunity I have, telling them that the Federal Government means so well for them. We tried to allay their fears and let them realise that if we are able to organise ourselves, we shall once again recover the state from those who are riding roughshod over the people and put Ekiti back on track once again. I also used the occasion to advise our people on the need for unity in our party, on the fact that there is no need to abuse one another and nurse ill feelings against each other. I also offered advice on the need to respect our leaders and on the need not to engage in any undue confrontation with them. I also spoke about the need to come together and create a formidable party that will lead our people into the future.
18 years into democracy, what is your assessment of the state of development in Ekiti State?
Let me say that the progressive administrations that we have had in Ekiti over the years had made attempts to lay a foundation that subsequent administrations could have built on. However, such attempts usually get truncated one way or the other. A case in point is the present administration in the state that has uprooted whatever base was being set. As you can see, the state is drifting without any sense of direction and it cannot place itself anywhere. There is no visible plan to improve the quality of the lives of Ekiti people economically, socially or in any other ways possible. In all of the sectors, there is no plan, no well thought out plan. No one can see any sign of anything on ground to propel the government on the next thing to do. We don’t even know what propels the action of the government. All we have as governance are sporadic actions, buying roasted corns on the streets, going to the market to help women cut up fish and meat, going to put our fire with water in bucket, building bridges to nowhere and all sorts of frivolities. There is no direction. And these have exposed the people to so much poverty, so many diseases, so much squalor. The Ekiti of today is just rudderless.
Can you just mention one area where you think major development can start from in Ekiti State?
Ekiti is an agrarian society. We have professionals all over the world who were trained with proceeds from farming. That was the major profession of our fathers, grandfathers and our great grandfathers. Our land is still largely unploughed. The last time we used Google tools to zero in on Ekiti and tried to see the total area of land being used for agriculture currently, we discovered to our shock that it is not up to 10,000 hectares. It is noteworthy that these are mostly used for subsistence farming of one acre here and there. There is no mechanized farming in Ekiti State. So, if we just decide as a people to go into farming, we have land that is fertile. There is no plant that cannot be grown here, from palm tree to cocoa to cassava, to yam, to banana and vegetables. We have vegetation, fertile enough and good enough for us. We have the dams that can supply water for crops to be grown year round, so we don’t have to wait for the rain.
The other area we can focus on is education. We have the potentials of building our economy on education as in Boston, in the United States of America where you have the best universities, colleges and research centres. Every 10 kilometres in the state can accommodate schools for training people in different areas. I am not talking of schools that will occupy a vast space of land, 500 hectares of land, 200 hectares of land. I mean institutions that can exist in just a storey building. Agriculture and education, going simultaneously can create an environment where people learn and one day you will discover that one or two of them are geniuses that will invent something that will draw the attention of the world to the state.
In Ekiti State, you have as governor a constant critic of the present administration. His body language to the people is that the Federal Government is stunting his effort to develop the state, being the most vocal in the opposition party to the incumbent. What is your reaction?
Let me say with emphasis today, and I should know as Presidential Adviser to the Federal Government and indigene of the state, that there is nothing under this current system, that Ekiti State is qualified to get from the Federal Government that it has not received. There is nothing, whether it is the statutory monthly allocation or the bailout fund and all, there is nothing that has been withheld from Ekiti State, despite the fact that we are in the opposition at the moment. Governor Fayose cannot come out to say that the Federal Government has starved him of any fund and substantiate his claim. Whatever Ekiti has not benefited from have been because he is not being creative, not caring, or not interested.
Okay, as chief strategist to the Federal Government on Political Affairs, what efforts are you making to secure Ekiti State from the Peoples’ Democratic Party?
Yes, the purpose of my going round is to prepare the people’s mind to get ready for the change that will happen in 2018. I am going round to tell our people to forget their differences. We all subscribed to the progressive ideology right from time. Ekiti has always been progressive. But suddenly, something strange happened to us. So what we are doing now is to raise their awareness, tell them to be aware of what the present is and then let them be able to project into what the future should be like. So, that is what we must all consciously do together, rather than abusing one another, rather than maligning one another. That was why I issued a statement recently, about the need for Ekiti people to unite. There is need for unity in Ekiti. If we unite, this fellow in Ekiti does not amount to anything. We know him, we know his antecedents; we know why he is here. And you know, when that happens, I mean when we are united, it becomes so easy to throw him off the saddle and move on. It is never too late to organise our society. With a governor who knows his onions, this place can turn around in a very short time. It is a compact state. From one end of Ekiti to the other end, you cannot travel more than one hour. We are a homogenous community, we are Ekiti, and we speak the same language. There is no Oyo, Ikale, Ibadan or Ijebu among us, there is no Awori, Ekiti is Ekiti. So we understand each other’s language. There are no two dialects in Ekiti. Therefore, to manage and run this place successfully should not be difficult. All you need is to identify with them, don’t be arrogant, don’t be snobbish, envision things with them, work with them. Any leader that wants to be successful here must be ready to carry them along in the positive way. Be there with them during thick and thin. When you are thinking, think along with them and when reasoning, reason along with them. When you do that, then it will be a piece of cake. Government is simply about the people. But when you are not with them, when you are duplicitous, you are thinking of something else and you are proclaiming another thing, you are stealing and you are pretending to the people that you are on their side, then the process becomes difficult for you.
So what messages are you taking to the Federal Government on the situation you met in Ekiti?
Yes, I am going to let them know that there is a lot of work to do here. I will also let them know the state of our state now. I will also let them know that the man who has been busy abusing everybody all over the places, including the old and the young, can be easily taken care of. And that the state can be recovered so that the people can also benefit from all the programmes of the Federal Government. We have a programme to feed school pupils for free. But the schools are owned by the State government. The Federal Government cannot just break into a school to enforce its programmes. The programmes are there but Ekiti is not being allowed to benefit because we have a governor who does not care. Governance has gone beyond waiting for Christmas and Easter and then setting up shop in the village square giving people kongo of rice and distributing N200. So, we need to let them know that unless and until we have a platform here, the people of Ekiti will be foreigners in their own land.
Fayose had remained one of the greatest critics of your administration and the impression he is making is that the Federal Government is yet to deliver on the promises made to the people during the campaign that took APC to power, what is your take on this?
(Cuts in)He (Fayose) was not elected to be a critic. He was elected to govern. He was elected to manage the state. He was elected to pay the salaries of workers and allowances of pensioners who had served the state selflessly and meritoriously. He was elected to use the resources available in the state to create jobs for the unemployed. So when you leave all of that and you are poking your nose in the affairs of the Federal Government, you are abusing a 76 year old man who has no issue with you, who has never engaged in any confrontation with you, you wake up every day and you are wishing him dead. You just wake up and start creating tension all over the place. You turn your state to a ‘one week, one drama’. So what kind of governance is that one. Today, the yam consumed by African Diaspora are exported by Ghanaians. Some of the yams are not even grown in Ghana. People come to Nigeria to buy and then process it for export. And what do they do in Ghana? They have a system whereby they remove the moisture from the yam, to preserve and then make it ready for export. People are making a lot of money from that. Ekiti has some communities where they produce nothing but yams. Why can’t government encourage them so that we can be exporting too and earn some foreign exchange? Something as simple as that, we cannot do. But rather, you are busy every day, going to radio and television to abuse an old man who is old enough to be your father; a man who has made tremendous contributions to the growth of this country. A man who as far back as 1984 had been the leader of this country, at a time when you could not even do anything for yourself. So, for me, it appears so strange, so unacceptable that you can abandon the noble assignment given to you and started chasing shadows.
You talked about agriculture and education, what about power, the entire state is in darkness?
Ekiti is in total darkness. Complete darkness. That is part of the failure in Ekiti that we are talking about. You see, many governors in Nigeria are already taking initiatives to solve their power problem. I have never for once heard of any move by our governor in that direction. And one should ask, how do you develop without power? Lagos is already thinking of 3000 megawatts of power. If they can achieve this as projected for the next two years, Lagos will be having uninterrupted power supply 24 hours a day. There are no industries here. We only have ministries and schools. If we are able to generate 500 megawatts of power by ourselves, we will have all day round electricity. But have we been able to address our minds to this? Is our governor interested in this? We have the wherewithal, not even money now, mental capacity, of what to do to provide light for our people. These are the kind of things we have to look at. If we don’t change this government and this party that is ruling us, we are going to be in darkness for 20 years. And the rest of the country will leave us in that darkness.