Senator Babafemi Ojudu represents Ekiti Central Senatorial District in the Senate.
A proven journalist and a time-tested pro-democracy activist, Senator Ojudu alongside with his directors colleagues at The News/PM News suffered several incacerations from the military regimes of both Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha (now late) the height of which was his incaceration for nine months in the dreaded lonely SSS cell in Awolowo Road Ikoyi.
In this interview with thegazellenews.com team of MUSBAU RASAK and ZAINAB EJIRO OWHOKA, a nostalgic Senator Ojudu took us back to his days as a journalist, the formation of the new All Progressives Congress (APC), his experience as a lawmaker at the national level, why there is so much peace among political office holders, local and national, in his Ekiti State and why … Wait for this – he will not want to come back as a journalist if there’s reincarnation.
Sir, it is almost two years that you have been in the Senate, what has been your experience so far?
My experience so far has been that, I have come to see that the National Assembly is a very powerful organ of government and that whoever that is in control of the place can use it for either positive or negative purposes therefore any party that wants a change in Nigeria must strive to control the National Assembly as well, it is very important. Even when you do not control the presidency, if you control the National Assembly, you can bring about a lot of changes in Nigeria. That has been my experience so far.
You are an activist, a proven journalist and father of the military. What was the major challenge you faced when you came into the Senate?
The challenge I had was to go into the National Assembly, call attention to the many problems facing Nigerians: infrastructure, problem of corruption, declining standard of education, generally the decay in Nigeria, the issue of unemployment. If our party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had been in power and we control that place, we would have been able to make a lot of noise and make an issue of those problems to the point that whoever is in charge of the executive would have to do something. But as I said our voice is mute because we are the minority.
But with the coming of the All Progressives Congress (APC) there are chances that the opposition will take over in 2015. Do you believe in this assertion?
Of course I have high hopes and belief in this new party. After we may have completed all necessary formalities and the party is eventually registered, we will go into the election and come back victorious and then the APC would change the country.
I am so convinced in the ability of APC to change Nigeria positively because of the leaders behind the party and their commitment to ensuring that the country changes for the better.
Every leader involve in the formation of APC has one thing in common: they all believe that positive change must come to Nigeria.
They also believe that positive change must come willingly and that if there is no change, the country is doomed. So they have come together to provide vehicle to drive that positive change into reality and with the positive responses and overwhelming support our leaders have been receiving wherever they go, I know and believe that Nigerians are ready for that positive change and they have firm belief in the ability of our leaders to deliver.
Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and other leaders of the merging parties are very passionate about Nigeria, they care about Nigeria, they have that exposure, they think that Nigeria should not be what it is now. So it is that drive, that passion that is bringing them together and I believe that if the parties are able to scale all the hurdles, get registered as one party and then go into the election, certainly we will win the election and we are going to bring the change needed to turn this country around positively.
The belief in some quarters is that the party is a merger of strange fellows. What is your reaction to this?
I don’t believe that there is any party anywhere in the world where every member shares the same ideas and ideals. There is no party like that in the world. Take the Democratic Party in America, there are shades of opinions, there are different kinds of tendencies within the party, these tendencies contend and anyone with the upper hand becomes the reigning idea within the party, same for every party. So there would be people in the party whose approach to issues differ. We cannot all be the same. If you have five children in a family, the five of them cannot be the same but that does not stop them from belonging to the same family and being able to carry the name of the family to a place of honour and glory.
You were a member of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee that investigated the police pension fraud, can you give us an insight into your discoveries during the probe?
We went round the country investigating pension issues and also looked at the agencies set up by the Federal Government to manage the pension administration. We discovered a lot of things that were not right and we came up with a report, apportioned blame and made suggestions on how things would be better.
You are also passionate about the issue of employment scam, which you raised on the floor of the Senate, what was your experience about it?
The thing is that, when I got to the Senate, stories had been coming to me particularly parents in my senatorial district asking for assistance so that they could pay to get their children employed. I was curious and would ask “are you sure people are not duping you?, “Are you sure it is true? That people are being asked to pay before they can be employed and they assured me that it is true that they are being asked to pay for employment and I said I cannot pay for employment, I am not going to be a part of that kind of scandal but I will investigate.
When I asked around, I was told that it was true and that has been the practise. So I was forced to raise the matter and made an issue out of it, then not long after I came by real information. Some people in my senatorial district paid N250,000 each to a guy in civil defence and they got employed. They were trained, kitted and paid salary for three months only for them to be recalled to Abuja to bring their letters of employment, then they were sacked.
They came to me showed me the evidence of their payments to that account and I had to again make a petition and take the matter to the National Assembly and from there the Senate set up a committee to investigate the matter. The result of the committee is not yet out.
Generally we are also probing employment and appointments in the civil and public service, we even want to know if they abide by the rule that states that every state must be represented in the public service which is why the constitution made provision for Federal Character Commission. So we are calling on the ministries, departments, and agencies to bring in records of their employment, where those employed are from, which states and towns they are from, so that we can see if they have kept that constitutional provision.
Sir, you were a journalist, how would you say the profession prepared you for what you are doing now?
As a journalist you must be probing, you don’t take things at face value, you ask questions and demand answers. You may not be popular with the people in power, with the “oga at the top” you may not be popular but it is your task. I am not representing myself, I am representing thousands of people who voted for me, who sent me to go and represent them. I must ensure that their interest is served, so by that, I had to raise questions. As a journalist, I can quickly read through documents , decipher them and raise issues on them. I am an investigative journalist and practically worked as one for 28years, I know how to get my information, where to get my information and I know what can make up my information. So that has helped me a lot as a senator.
As a journalist, now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what has really changed in your life?
Nothing. It is just that I miss active journalism. Sometimes I see things I would love to report, but I’m holding a position of responsibility; it must not be seen that I’m the one reporting it so I have to pull back and say “oh this is in confidence. I have access to this by virtue of being elected”. That has posed a challenge but one that I have been able to surmount.
Can you really say that you have missed the newsroom?
Yes, I miss the newsroom. Why I miss the newsroom is that when I sit in the National Assembly or committees and I see things happen, I see events unfolding and these events are not being reported, I feel bad. If you give this to the public, your paper will sell, people will watch the television. Our young reporters are missing a lot. It is either they are not seeing things or they are ignoring them. So when I see things I get agitated but I can’t go beyond being agitated and I try to leave it and let it go.
In the next two years when you must have served your first term in the Senate what do you hope for in the Nigerian politics?
I would continue to participate. My goal is to be part of the vanguard that would change Nigeria for good. My hope is to be part of the vanguard that would make my state a model in Nigeria. We are yet to achieve that, we are on our way to achieving that. I would still remain a part of that vanguard.
The Senate seems to be more stable than the House of Representatives, what do you believe is the reason for this?
First of all, the inequality in number, where you have 109 members in the Senate, there are 360 members in the House of Representatives, it is natural that one will be louder than the other. In the Senate, we have former governors, former deputy governors retired this and that, then in terms of age, you have people who are about 70,75. They are people who are low tempered. They are less agitative, less radical than the House of Representative members who are mostly young and always raring to go and I think it is designed that way.
Now that you are a Senator the demand of the job means that you travel all the time. Is madam not missing you at home?
There is actually no difference when I was a journalist and now in terms of the number of hours I spend at home. When I was a journalist, I was always out of the house, so my wife has got used to it over the years.
Now that you are not being detained, or being held hostage?
The difference is that I have freedom. She knows I am not in the police cell unlike when I was a journalist and was moving from one cell to another. I am either somewhere doing my job or working in my senatorial district, that is just the difference. But in terms of having to sit down with her 24hours of a seven day week, it has never been like that.
Just recently you did an empowerment program in you senatorial district, what more should we expect from you?
So much more. We have a lot of plans. There are things we do annually like the essay competition where we give scholarships and laptop computers to over 20 students annually.
Laptops to 20 students annually?
Yes, laptops and scholarships for their school fees. We do that annually, we did that last year and the essays have been submitted this year and we are scoring them and by the third quarter of the year the winners would come up and we will present them to the winners. We do women empowerment. I have just brought in a mobile clinic, a 40 foot bus which will be converted to a mobile clinic to go round and assist people.
We intend to train women on how to do some vocations like hair dressing, candle making, tie and dye, bead making and so many other vocations. After they do the training we provide them with little assistance to go and establish their business. We have an agriculture programme, the three of us senators from the states are irrigating about 4,000 hectares of land in the northern part of the state that we are going to parcel out to farmers. This will improve agriculture in the state and subsequently contribute positively to the economy of the state.
Ekiti state seems to be one of the states in which members of the National Assembly and the state government have a very cordial relationship, what is the reason behind this?
We are product of struggle, our struggle began as far back as when we had a governor who was driving rough shod over everybody and we had to plan to get him removed from the place. Our money was being stolen and taken away, so we decided to remove him and after removing him, we decided we were going to present one of our best to become the governor of the state, after that we entered another struggle, election was rigged, we went to court for many years. Then we had a re-run, then went to court again, so we are products of struggle. We stick together. We are not accidental leaders. We are well organised. We are like brothers and sisters. We can disagree but we don’t let it get as far as quarrels.
If there is reincarnation and you come back to this world, will you still want to be a journalist?
If there is re-incarnation I would like to try something else, not because I don’t like journalism but because I’m a restless person. If I come back, maybe I will try being an engineer or I will like to try my hands out as a doctor. I just want to try so many things. Even now that I’m not gone yet I still try to do some other things as well. I’m even thinking of studying law now. May be I can retire as a lawyer. If I have time to go out of this country and take two years off and go and study law I would love to go into law as a retirement profession.