Senator Babafemi Ojudu is the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters. He speaks in this interview on Nigeria’s challenges, blaming them on the handiwork of forces within the system
You are one of the founders of The News/PM News group, a media organisation that famously fought military dictatorship in Nigeria. How would you describe those years?
It was very interesting and dangerous at the same time. It was also a very challenging period of my life. We lived as if everyday was the last. We did a lot of things that put our lives and those of our families in danger. We were idealists, revolutionaries in a way. We were fearless and were determined to succeed. Thank God we survived that period.
Now that you are a presidential adviser and governorship aspirant, would you say your view of politics has changed from what it was as a journalist/political activist?
I don’t know about the governorship aspiration, but as a senator and special adviser, I have seen more about government and governance and I am more familiar with the challenges that Nigerian leaders face, which you cannot appreciate if you are not within the system.
There are many forces within the system that do not want Nigeria to work, that do not want our people to live like the rest of humanity. Whatever good idea you bring about to solve the myriad of problems facing our people, these forces will act as stumbling blocks.
They frustrate simple solutions to problems out of selfishness. To succeed, you need vigilance and extra dose of determination. You need to close your eyes and deal ruthlessly with those who will deliberately not allow things to work because they want to satisfy their often insatiable taste.
What will you consider as a problem with politics in Nigeria, especially in your home state of Ekiti and what are the solutions to such problems?
Lack of awareness on the part of the governed. Sometimes, they mistake their friend for their enemy and their enemy for their friend. This is an unfortunate situation. We have to work hard to create a middle class. The middle class in all societies is the engine of change.
They are educated, they are enlightened, they understand the workings of society and can look into the future and imagine what life will look like if things are properly done. They are the ones who can appreciate the ideals of freedom, dignity, good environment, love, beauty and aesthetics. The poor live by and for the day.
What steps is the Federal Government taking to bring the country out of recession?
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is trying to ensure considerable reduction in the theft of public resources, with the ultimate goal of stamping it out. The government is also working to ensure that Nigeria produces what we consume and we consume what we produce. If you are going to have taste for rice, you must grow it rather than sustaining Thailand farmers on the rice fields with your taste.
The government is determined to diversify the economy, so that we can escape from the trap of monoeconomy. The crude oil-based economy, as we have seen, cannot sustain our society. We must go into production, particularly agricultural production.
We must invest heavily in our solid minerals sector. We must encourage our young men and women who have gone into the entertainment sector and assist them to export their products, so that we can earn foreign exchange therefrom.
We must encourage creativity; we must spot talents and invest heavily on them, so that they can be inventive. In short, we must be competitive in the world market in areas beyond oil.
What is your advice to the people of Ekiti State and those aspiring to be governor as the next governorship election in the state approaches?
My advice to voters is that they must go for people of ideas and ideals. They must not choose because someone has thrown money at them on the street and buys beer for them. All of those are momentary gains that will leave them the way they are if not worse than the way they were. The Yoruba are what they are today because they had an Obafemi Awolowo, who planned and clinically executed development policies.
He never went to beer parlours and paraga joints to seek votes. He was very meticulous in his planning and clinical in his execution. That is the kind of person we need in Ekiti to bring us out of the morass we have found ourselves. For the politicians they must not seek cheap popularity. While they need to court the voters, they must stay resolute and principled. Leaders chart the path for the people. They tread paths hitherto unpaved. An unpopular idea today may be the one many will embrace in future. Awolowo lost an election earlier in his career. His idea of free education and increase in taxation to fund it was not loved initially, but look at where it has taken us today.
Tell us about a time when your judgment has been tested during a crisis.
I think on my feet and I am very intuitive. I think fast and act fast. On a number of occasions when I have been in danger, this has saved me. You will get to read much of that in my autobiography.
Do you see yourself as the next governor of Ekiti State as being speculated and what is your advice to young journalists and media entrepreneurs?
On the governorship issue, you are the one saying that. I am contented for now working as a special adviser. On my advice to media start-ups and young journalists, I will say: Keep working at it, be ethical, eschew lies and fake news. Credibility matters a lot in journalism. When you lose it, you are not worth anything. You also need to realise early enough that if you are looking for money you are in the wrong profession.
How do you feel at 56?
I feel good. I am happy and thank God for keeping me alive. I never knew I could live this long. I have gone through a lot, very dangerous situations in the 56 years I have been here.
How do you deal with the pressure that comes with your office and work schedule?
I try to have some sleep, not quite adequate, but enough to keep me healthy. I listen to music and read when I am in a position to do so. I keep abreast of goings on around the world in the areas of politics, entertainment and technology. These are the things that keep me going.
What is your philosophy of life?
Do things that make for justice and equity. Fight for those high ideals that enable progress for humanity. Shun material things. Don’t chase after money and be contented with what you have. Work towards being an oloro, not olola. I hope you understand the difference?