Adeolu Akande, a visiting Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Igbinedion University, Edo State, is one of those eyeing the Oyo State governorship seat in 2019. A former Special Assistant on Research and Communication Strategy to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and former Chief of Staff to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, Akande spoke with a group of journalists on many national issues.
We gathered that about 15 aspirants are eyeing the gubernatorial seat in Oyo State. Considering all circumstances, money, grassroots connections and godfatherism, do you have all these criteria to successfully prosecute your ambition?
From my experience as a student of politics, a journalist, and as somebody who has been around politicians since 1991 when I joined the Tribune newspapers as a reporter, there are so many variables in any electoral contest. But it is almost impossible for a candidate to possess all the ingredients he or she needs to win an election. My own understanding is that governance is a collective responsibility. When you have a candidate that is able to represent a sizeable number of stakeholders in the polity, he can transform the ownership of the project from himself to some critical stakeholders; a situation where they can say we believe in the candidacy of this person. These stakeholders will then assemble these ingredients for the purpose of supporting the candidate. I believe that my own candidacy is driven by the fact that I have clear ideas, based on education and experience, on how we can make Oyo State serve the interest of the greatest number of people. The state has the resources that if effectively harnessed can transform it from what it is to a state that meets the yearnings of the greatest majority of the people.
Considering where I am coming from —journalism and academics — I am not a moneybags. I’m not a businessman. I am not into oil and gas business. I am not into banking and I am not into construction business. So, I don’t have that gargantuan amount of money available to those who have backgrounds in these areas. But my training and experience has equipped me with very clear ideas of what to do to make the state greater. The incumbent governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, has raised the bar of governance in the state and we all have a duty to make sure that the standard does not fall.
Let me say that I am not alone in this. I am working with an army of young people and professionals who are equally convinced that, with the right approach, we can release the great potential that abound in the state and make it the envy of other states. It is this army of young people and professionals who are bringing in these necessary ingredients that will make our effort a success. When I say I have ideas, I am, of course, referring to collation of ideas of so many people in the various sectors of society like economics, agriculture, law, tourism, banking, education, health services, housing and so on. In essence, we are leveraging on the collective wisdom of those who believe in the project to drive the campaign to deliver the government of our dream in Oyo State.
What if the leader of the party who is also the state governor, Senator Ajimobi, does not support your candidacy? Are you in good terms with him?
I have met the governor to tell him of my aspiration. He said he is encouraging party members who have come to him to work hard to win the support of the party. He said his most important consideration is the candidate that can win for the party and ensure that the bar of governance that he has raised in the state does not come down. It is unimaginable that I would have gone out to speak about my aspiration without first informing Governor Ajimobi.
Apart from being the leader of the party, he is my boss. I served him as Chief of Staff and maintain a cordial relationship with him.
Are you aware of the fact that there are factions within the APC in Oyo State?
I don’t believe there are factions. I think most times people attach tags that are not appropriate to certain developments. What we have in the party are tendencies, not factions. In every political party, there are tendencies because people come from different backgrounds before they met in the party. When people come from common backgrounds into a party, there is always the tendency that they take the same positions on certain issues. It is natural for individuals to coalesce into groups to protect certain interests when they feel threatened. However, when that issue is resolved, they form new alliances to confront new issues. There are no fixed positions on issues and that is why it is said that there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics. You talk about factions when groups take rigid and predictable positions on all issues. That is most inapplicable in Nigeria where politicians not only cross fault lines within political parties but indeed cross to other political parties with the ease with which hot knife cut through butter.
There is the agitation for an Oke-Ogun indigene to be governor of Oyo State in 2019. Is this what inspired you?
As I said earlier, the first political appointment I had was at the Presidency after which I came back to serve in Oyo State. My driving force is the passion to draw from my theoretical and practical experience to serve the people of the state. My specialty in Political Science is Comparative Politics which has opened my eyes to how the best governments in the world are run. As an official at the federal and state levels, I have been exposed to the constraints and potential that abound in government in Nigeria. I am left with no iota of doubt that we can raise the bar of governance further in the state. That is the passion that drives me.
I agree that for equity, fairness and creating a sense of mutual respect, all parts of Oyo State should be given the opportunity to serve at the highest level of government. But the most important consideration should be the ability of the governor to deliver on the responsibilities of government to the good people of Oyo State.
What do you think is the most pressing need in Oyo State?
I believe the most important question in Oyo is how to generate funds to run the government and develop the state. Gone are the days when a governor only needed to bother about how to spend the monthly allocation from Abuja. It is now incumbent on government to find ways to generate funds for development. The comparative advantage of Oyo State is in agriculture. Oyo State has the fifth largest landmass in Nigeria with 38,000 square kilometers of arable land. We have to leverage on our comparative advantage in cassava cultivation, poultry, maize and fishery especially in Ikere Gorge Dam, which has the capacity to meet a sizeable percentage of Nigeria’s annual fish need, to grow the local economy. In cassava alone, Oyo State can develop an economy that does not need federal allocation to flourish.
Oyo is arguably the largest producer of cassava in Nigeria. Nigeria produces 54 million tonnes of cassava per annum, but exports less than one per cent of it. Nigeria also imports cassava products that run into billions of dollars every year. If we multiply or triple present cassava production in Oyo State to satisfy local and international markets, we will boost the local economy for the wellbeing of the people and revenue generation for government. But that requires serious work. We need to depart from small holding farming and encourage large scale commercial farming. We need to attract our youths to agriculture because the average age of farmers in Oyo State is 55 years. We need to take advantage of science and technology in agriculture. One acre of Cassava cultivation in Nigeria produces four tonnes of cassava whereas an acre produces 14 tonnes in Asia. Our cassava is not competitive in the international market because of sundry factors. If we address these factors and become competitive, we would help open the market for our farmers. These problems can only be addressed by government.
A World Bank says Lagos State consumes food worth N8 billion every day. How much of this can we bring to Oyo State, which is only one hour drive from Lagos? If we focus on agriculture, we can quadruple the economy of Oyo State within a short time and provide jobs for our teeming youths. We need concerted efforts to expand our economic base. If we do agriculture on such large scale, we will be attracting the industries that depend on such agricultural produce as raw materials. It is when you bring industry and agriculture together that you would be creating jobs for our youths. We should not be complaining of youth unemployment when we have 38,000 square kilometers of arable land largely uncultivated. Government, in partnership with the private sector, can create farm estates where youths work. It is not true that youths don’t like agriculture; it is the poverty in agriculture, as presently being done, that the youths abhor. When youths are engaged in agriculture, live comfortable life, others will throng the sector.
You seem to be passionate about youths. Why is this?
Youth unemployment is at crisis point in Oyo State as it is in Nigeria. There is hardly any household you visit without meeting young men and ladies who have been out of school but are unemployed. The major cause is our education system. We have to bring in skills acquisition into our education system, such that by the time a child leaves secondary school, he has a vocation with which to earn a living.