Senator Babafemi Ojudu is the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters. He recently launched a book titled: “Politics That Works: What Schools And Seminars Wont Teach You About Winning Elections.”
In this must-read exclusive interview with the The Gazelle News.com’s Editorial Crew, Ojudu spoke on the decision behind the book, Journalism practice in the days of the military juntas, his relationship with Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi; and the qualification of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to become Nigeria’s President in 2023, among others.
Q: The book you launched a few days ago was a success. What informed your decision to write the book and the choice of the co-author?
A: One is personal. It has to do with my daughter, who is a very brilliant, intelligent, patriotic lady. She was agitated about the state of the country just as I was when I was her age . Whenever and wherever people are protesting the situation of things you will find her. One day she led others to protest at the gate of Tinubu’s house in Ikoyi. I called her and told her I know that you are genuine, but the way you are going about these things will lead to frustration.
There is no way you’re going to change Nigeria’s government on the street and through protest. It has never happened and it will never happen. If you have ideas that are better than the ones we have now, it will be better to go and join a political party, go and start from the roots. Those of us who are in government now, in charge of the affairs of the country will one day leave the stage and hand over to others. Where are the Awolowos, Azikwes of yesterday, the Ganiu Daodus? One day too people will ask where are the Tinubus, the Buharis, the Ojudus. The challenge to build a better Nigeria will fall on your generation. But if you protest over and over, or you want to go and establish a political party of your own, you will end up frustrated.
She initially did not reason with me, but later called me and said that she has gone to join APC and has started participating in ward meetings. And I know that there are so many people like that in the political space who thinks it is all about agitation. Agitation is good; I am not condemning it all together but from what I have seen in this country it has led more to despondency, frustration, depression for many of my generation, or even generation before me. When you see those who agitated yesterday, they are not anywhere and they have not been able to effect any change. Plus the fact that quite a lot of young men and women ask how to join parties.
They believe it is I’m possible to be admitted, they think the door has been shut against them. The operators of the parties are selfish , they allege, the parties are cults, they conclude. They are so confused, they don’t know how and so on and so forth. So, I came by this young man Alex, who was lectured, tutored by somebody I mentored. The Master of Ceremony at the book launch was my mentee; he recommended him to me that he is someone I can work with, I now say that yes you are a member of that generation and you are interested in politics, let’s work together and come up with a book on how young people can participate and how they can make a success in politics. There are also experiences I have had over the years; I have had friends who left America with $5000 in their wallet, and wanted to become Governor in Nigeria. So people will shout Excellency, they will collect the $5000 from them, print a few posters, and then promise them the whole of Lagos is for you, the whole Ekiti is for you. One of them came to me once; landed in Lagos, saying he wanted to go and become governor in Ekiti, I asked him what qualifies you to become governor in Ekiti, he then brought out an album, the photograph he took with Soyinka in New york, Chief Anthony Enahoro when he was on exile in US etc. They were meant to show he got involved in the struggle for democracy. Is this all that qualifies you to be governor, I asked him. And you think that is how to become a governor. I asked, do you even have a house in Ekiti, he said no, do you have a business in Nigeria, no. But he brought $10,000. I say this $10,000 if you change it to Naira to prosecute governorship, that will not last you a weekend. Of course they took the $10,000 from him in a week; he ran back and never came to Nigeria again.
So, these are the reasons why we think that it’s very important to even break it down for young people who don’t know what it takes to succeed as politicians. Some people will come and meet me that it’s only in Nigeria you have somebody of Buhari’s age still governing. They will say if you go to the Netherlands, the president is 32; if you go to Norway, if you go to New Zealand it’s a woman who is 33. I have read about these people you are talking about, some of them joined political parties at the age of 16. In their locality; they have organized, they have carried chairs and tables to meetings, serving drinks, taking notes and networking. By the time you serve at different levels in political parties for 16 good years, you would have mastered the game, you have known several people, and if you are a talented type and responsible, people will say this guy is good, let’s try him. But you just come and attend a meeting one day and announce your governorship ambition, they will just cast you away with one finger, and then you are frustrated. And there is no book anywhere that you will be told that this is not the way it is done.
There was a lady, an activist, a good NGO person, she joined PDP in Abuja, and she declared her intention to run for House of Representatives. She went to the primary and failed woefully. Since then, she wrote a book and abused politicians and the process. You should abuse yourself because what you did is not the way it should be done, you met people there who have been in the process, who have been in the party for years, organising at state level, at local government level, sacrificing their time and resources. You just Parachute in to their midst and you want to take the trophy. It’s not done that way.
Q: What are the responses you have been getting so far on the book?
A: Very good. A guy came here this morning and said he read it all night, and that the language is easy to understand, and the logic is very sound. It’s something instructional, lazed with very interesting personal experiences.
I came from the journalism background; I take note of my experiences, when I joined politics. I was able to give a series of examples to substantiate my points. For example, the man who first told me enough of this, your activism, come and go to the Senate was the one to first run away from me. So, we need to know these things so that when you experience them in reality, you would have prepared your mind. You will not suffer shock. So, these are the kind of stories that you will find and how to work against and around those who are there, the kind of resources required, the kind of godfatherism that exist and how to work and not to offend them.
Q: With the review the book is getting, do you plan a sequel to this?
A: Well, I don’t know whether there is going to be a sequel, but this is going to be one among series of other books I will be writing. I decided to release two books before the year runs out. I have compiled my writings over the years, which I titled ‘Nothing But My Truth. That one is almost ready; there was a tribute from my friends, former teachers, and former colleagues including yourself Musbau Rasak. That will also come out before the year runs out.
I have also written my autobiography. Because I don’t know how to lie, I have told the truth about my life, about all the people I have encountered, but if I bring that out now, i don’t know what the reactions would be . It will certainly ruffle feathers. It will be like what I wrote during the Sunday Igboho saga. It will be the truth and nothing but the truth about my engagements.
I have been involved over the years, I have done all manner of things, the stories are very big stories, and because i am a Journalist, i am a storyteller, it is detailed, it is pungent. It will generate a lot of controversy. I have therefore kept it in the cooler, maybe by the time I am 65 or 70 I will bring it out. Sone of the people affected would have retired from public life die. They won’t mind then. They won’t think I have written to hurt their career.
Q: What has journalism taught you?
A: It has taught me to be very observant, to relate with all manners of people. To understand my environment, to show sympathy for others view point.
Some people find themselves in public office, people call them they won’t pick their phones, people can’t relate with them, and they are very snobbish, they think that they are God. They don’t even know that power itself is very transient. You have it today, and you don’t have it tomorrow. Life itself is transient. Because of my attitude and disposition I have twice been saved from death. Somebody w, who I do not know, will call and I don’t have the number registered, the person will give me information, and the information given to me will be useful. I was driving to Ekiti one weekend, and somebody called from the blues and said you are going to Ekiti this weekend, if you can afford not to come, turn back right away. I said what is the problem , he said no problem; I asked who are you? He said no, just turn back and I did. On Saturday, normally when I go to Ekiti I stop in front of a friend’s bar to greet friends who converge there whenever I visited home. Unfortunately another friend of mine has the same Skoda car as mine and the same colour. He parked in front of that place too that Saturday, a vehicle just ran into that Skoda, they thought it was me. The plan was that when they hit the Skoda, I would rush out, in the commotion that, follows I will be hit and that was under Fayose when there were a number of assassinations in the state. When they saw the man who came out, they left immediately. So, it’s good to pick your calls. There is benefit in picking calls. Even if somebody is going to beg you for something that will tell you what the needs of the people are and what they are suffering from. Pick your call, manage it, it won’t kill you it teaches you a lot.
I pray that more Journalists will go into politics, I guess that is why people like Jakande, Osoba, Bisi Onabanjo, among others succeeded. Journalism prepares you for public life. There is nothing you will not have seen as a Journalist. You have been to the lowest as well as the topmost places. I have been to Prison, Brothel, Mortuary, Court rooms, something similar to war fronts. And I have been to high places, palaces where I have eaten with governors, presidents, dined with Ambassadors, so journalism gives you a very sound exposure, unlike somebody who coming from the bank or a corporate world with limited experiences.
Q: Your welcome address during the book launch, brought back those days of guerrilla Journalism. To the young journalists, can you just recount the experience of those days?
A: Well, those were good as well as ugly days. Those days were very dangerous; when we almost had no office to practice, when the military was after us, when it was not a regular thing about going to office in the morning and coming back in the evening. You may leave home in the morning and end up in detention in the evening. So, it was Journalism that was not motivated by what you can get. We were pushed by agitation for democracy, for good governance, we wanted the military to be out of power; we were campaigned for democracy; we exposed the wrong deeds of the military; we suffered for it; it was a very hard time. We pray that that time doesn’t come again.
Q: Can you tell us your experience in detention?
A: Yes, I was in solitary confinement. I had only one cloth all through 8-9 months of my detention; I had a huge Afro hair and huge beard when I came out. There was no access to books, newspapers or radio. I will just sit down from morning till night. I will sleep when I can sleep. It becomes so difficult that at some point I will pull my beard and put them on the floor, separate the grey from the black, count the hairs, put them together again just to keep my sanity. Because there was nothing to occupy my mind and my time.
There was a time I had insomnia, I did not sleep for many days. They brought a woman the following day to the cell next to me, the woman cried all night, I started crying too, I started banging on the door of my cell that they they have gone to pick my wife. that who is going to take care of my children? The guard came and asked who your wife is? I said the woman in the next cell. He said is she your wife? He shut the door against me. I cried through the night. The guard who came to duty in the morning met me crying and asked what the matter was I said they have gone to arrest my wife. Who is going to take care of my young children? He said is your wife from Calabar? I said no she is not, but my wife is the one in that cell. How I came to that conclusion till today I don’t know, but I think at that point, I was already going mad. So, he was kind enough, he went for the key, opened the door of my cell, and that of the female detainee and asked is this your wife? I said no and he took me back. I slept on the floor all through. I used the then Ragolis water bottle as a pillow and slept off. It was later I was told that the woman was a former girlfriend of Jerry Oseni; they were no longer together. She had access to his complimentary cards and she was using it to beg for contracts and other things. So, they picked her and locked her up in the cell.
So, it shows that when you are in that kind of situation the difference between being sane and not sane is very thin. I remembered when we ran an interview with General Buhari, we were at Abiola’s printing press Isolo, the interview was exclusive, and we ran about 200,000 copies. Suddenly soldiers started jumping the fence and entering the place; they said we should pack all the papers and load it into their vehicles. The moment we heard that, I and Bayo Onanuga started removing our wrist watches and disguised . We pretended to be hired hands. They asked who we were , we said we were Unilag boys who were hired as casual laborers . They went and didn’t take any of us.
There was a particularly Interesting one on ACME road. One night as the Editor of AM News I was at the production office at Ogba road. Because of our security situation we installed a bell under the table of the security man at the gate, that whenever the soldiers invaded, he should press the bell and it will ring inside the printing press. So, I came into the office at about 10pm to do production all night, suddenly the bell rang. I knew trouble has come. Before the soldiers came in I have removed my wrist watch , my glasses an overall, I took a spanner and pretended to be working on the machine . The soldiers came and asked ‘where are your bosses? I replied, dey never come sir. When are they coming? They don’t come until 4-5am in the morning sir’. As soon as I stepped out, I instructed our dispatch rider by the name Bullous to take me on his bike straight to Bayo Onanuga’s place to inform him not to dare come to work that night so that they won’t lay ambush for him and capture him . Before I left Bayo to go to my house, our then driver, Late Saka, had taken my clothes that I removed to my house. When my wife saw those clothes she started crying, “has he been killed? Is he in mortuary? No Ma, he said . Soldiers raided the office and I came in to find his clothing. Few minutes into that I landed with Bullous wearing a factory overall . There several instances like that which I will put in my autobiography.
Q: Do you say this sacrifice is worth it considering our present day democracy?
A: Oh yes, we have done our own bit and I am happy about it. I have no regrets, the new generation will do their own bit, too. There is no generation that can solve all the problems of a country. So, when you are abusing Buhari, he will do his own and will go. Somebody will come too and abuse you when you are doing your own thing. And then you will go, till eternity society will continue to run. America today is not perfect, it will never be perfect. For me, it’s a generational thing. If a generation can come and solve the problems of electricity, and if there is another problem, another generation will solve it too. Obafemi Awolowo, Azikwe and others, they fought colonial masters, they won, achieved independence for Nigerians, they did the bit they could and left. We are doing our bit now and tomorrow we will pass the baton to anther generation so that they too could do their own bit.
Q: Ekiti 2022, are we expecting Sen. Babafemi Ojudu?
A: I have not made up my mind about Ekiti, I pray that this committee managing party will organise a national convention before the year runs out. The primary is supposed to come in January, if they organise it either in November or December I will be able to take a decision regarding that.
Q: Don’t you think it will be too late then?
A: I am not a new politician, I have been a Senator; I have ran for governor there, I have a name and face recognition, it’s just a question of waking up my structure. So, we are waiting, I don’t want to gamble. If I go campaigning now, it will be a waste of resources and time.
Q: In the course of your speech at the book launch, you mentioned mentorship and support for young politicians. How will that play out?
A: Well, in all areas of life, it is important that those who have been there before should mentor those who are coming. For instance, when you Musbau Rasak joined us as a reporter you were a greenhorn, but gradually we started mentoring you until you became a master. Musbau is a master now; we now have to learn from him (Musbau Rasak).So if you are a lawyer, you need to be mentored by those who have been there before you; if you are a carpenter, all professions and vocations can do with some mentoring. It’s just that in politics people call it godfatherism. There is a positive side of godfatherism and there is a negative side. The positive side is holding the hands of the young person to learn the ropes until he becomes a master himself. Then, when you help someone to learn the ropes, don’t now sit on his neck and expect him not to do things on his own until he sees you, or not to have independent thoughts and action. So, that is the area where godfatherism is bad, but a lot of young people can learn from the masters, hone their acts and begin to stand up on their own to do what is right.
Q: In the area of support, will it be financial or what sir?
A: Either way, a lot of money goes into politics, if I have been around for quite some time, it is expected that I should have been able to save some money. if my daughter is contesting tomorrow, I should be able to support her. Another one is the area of connection , making your network available to your protégé. Example is Alawiye-king. When he came from New York, somebody brought him to me, and I took him to Tinubu. Look at him today, he is doing great. You need people to do that for you in all professions.
Q: Sir, I know you work closely with the Vice President. So many people have been saying it’s likely he will run for the presidential seat, based on your level of closeness, you must have heard one or two things. Can you confirm to us if the VP is contesting the presidential election in 2023?
A: He has not informed me. The only thing I know is that his term will end in 2023.I think it’s legitimate for him to run, he would have served in government for eight years by that time. He would have seen and experienced a lot . And knowing he is competent, articulate , brilliant, humble and learned he is much qualified. He is a man of ideas, he is a man loved by everybody. If he contests tomorrow, his election will be compared to that of Abiola in 1992. Because here is a guy, if he goes to the North he is well admired, they see him as a very loyal and dependable ally to the President, and in the north, I have seen over the years that they hold loyalty very dear. If you say someone is loyal in the Southwest, it doesn’t really mean much, but in the North loyalty is highly rated. When you go to the East, he is accepted. I have heard PDP governors tell we pray this man picks the ticket if your party, if he does we shall work for him because he is going to be very fair and just; he is not going to be discriminatory, that’s for South south and Southeast. If you go to the Southwest, they say the same thing. I have not really come across anyone who says he is a bad man. He feels so free and relaxed wherever he goes. I remember when we had the Niger Delta crisis, he was sent by the President to go and engage the leaders of the South South. Watching him doing that shows that he is very capable. Since his intervention in that place, no single bomb has gone off in South south. So, if he is that capable, why can’t he contest? Even if he refuses to contest, why can’t we appeal to him to do so? And I could see young men and women going round Nigeria making case for him to come out and contest.
Q: What is your relationship with the Ekiti State Governor now?
A: He is my brother and also a friend, we greet each other when we meet, the only thing is that we are no longer allies. What has happened is that because of my background, I don’t look away when things are going wrong. Last weekend, I left Ekiti on Saturday to fly to Abuja, the Sunday after, my driver and other friends tried to come by road, they left Ado-Ekiti at 6am, they got to Abuja 10pm. Between Ifaki and Kabba, they spent several hours showing me photographs of how bad the roads are. I experienced a bit of that too, moving around town even in the capital, that same week when I was there. Chief Afe Babalola , a man who has invested billions in the state, issued a statement saying Ekiti has no reason to celebrate, Ekiti is land locked, development locked, employment locked, Industry locked, air locked etc. There is nothing happening in Ekiti state that anybody can celebrate . I have said several times that if you have a friend that you cannot tell the truth then that’s not friendship. The concern is that in Ekiti, the support base is almost 50/50 between PDP and APC. I have been involved in the politics of the place since 1999, and each time we have done an opinion poll, the result has usually been around 48%/52%. Our party and PDP has always run neck t neck. The election that brought Fayemi in for the second term, was won by just 18,000 votes. This is not comfortable enough. Looking at it as a political scientist, I think that came about because a lot of people moved out from PDP to APC, like Adeyeye and his crowd. Now, the discontent in the state today is so much, Obas are not happy, Labours, party members, people on the street are not happy. My fear is if things are not straightened between now and election time, we may be defeated hands down. With the kind of feedback I am getting on the streets of Ekiti, we are in trouble. I pray that party leaders and the Governor himself can do something between now and next year. And I don’t pray that we lose that state or we lose Osun, I am so concerned about these states.
Q: Have you made a personal effort to reach the governor on this?
A: Well, about four weeks ago, I sent a text to my governor, in reply to his to to me thanking me for visiting with Aregbesola.I told him we need to meet and talk, to fashion out strategies to solve the problems that our party is facing in the state before it gets out of hand. I have not received a reply since then. When you look at what happened at the ward congresses in Ekiti, it shows you that party members are not happy. People trouped out and they were singing anti-government songs, chanting anti government slogans. With that you could see that there is a problem on ground that we should quickly address. And I am a party man, the moment I quit APC that will be the end of my participation in politics, I can’t go to PDP. If I die and you put the PDP flag on my coffin, I will wake up, tear it and go gonback to sleep again. I am not the kind of person who can jump from one party to another. So, that’s why it is very important for me that we address the discontent of the citizens and party members, so that we can move to the election as one united body.