EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: With Hon. Babatunde Desmond Ojo

 EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: With Hon. Babatunde Desmond Ojo
Arc(Hon). Babatunde Desmond Ojo

Honourable Babatunde Desmond Ojo is the honourable member representing Oriade at the State of Osun House of Assembly. In this interview, he spoke on his personal life, Osun politics, the rumour feud between the Governor and his predecessor, why he will contest for the House of Representatives and why the House is doing its best to partner with Governor Adegboyega Oyetola in his quest to develop the State of Osun.

How do you combine your private life with politics?

I’ve always been in politics. I was the head of government in my school days at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State and I managed to graduate as the best student. For me to have successfully manage my academics and school politics prepared me for future political endeavors.
I joined mainstream politics in 2010 and I have been able to manage my family, business and politics. I see myself as the Director of three businesses; my family, my architectural firm and politics. I work assiduously to make sure that none of the three businesses is neglected. That is why I make sure I have routine outings and dinner with my family. I know for sure that I must take my family out for dinner once in a month, I don’t miss that. I ensure I visit my kids in school on their visiting days. I also know I must spend quality time with my wife, I don’t miss that too. I plan myself. I separate the time for politics from family and business.

What influenced your decision to go into politics?

For me, politics is a means to service. I was not a comrade and I wasn’t into ALUTA in school but I was deeply involved in rendering service. I want to see people around me happy and comfortable. I want the people to enjoy what the privileged and highly network connected ones are enjoying and that prompted my decision to join politics. After school, I worked for 15 years before officially joining politics. That has helped me in a number of ways to actually differentiate between providing services and also serving the people. So, my purpose in politics is about service to humanity, service to my people and representing my people.

It’s over a year, would you say the 7th House of Assembly has positively impacted the lives of the people?

Thank you. I can confidently tell you and our people in the State of Osun that in the last 18 months, we have been able to influence a lot of lives with our laws and policies. We are aware that the core responsibility of legislature is; law-making, oversight and budgeting.
In terms of law-making, in the last 18 months, we’ve been able to pass about eight (8) bills, we’ve moved eighteen (18) motions and we’ve been able to pass a budget of record-time. The 2020 budget was passed December 2019.

Personally, I have initiated three (3) bills and moved a number of motions like the motion to address the Coronavirus pandemic in the state. I was the one who moved the motion to assess the preparedness of the state government through the ministry of health to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, I have raised other motions to address pertinent issues in Oriade constituency which I represent. There was an issue of a telecom mask in Ipetu-Ijesa which has been resolved. There was another issue of flood which was raised at the floor of the House. We’ve been able to live up to the challenges of the office by representing our people and representing them well.

Do you engage your constituents in meeting and dialogue so as to gather information, get feedbacks and to apprise them of the progress you’ve made thus far and the ones you intend to make going forward?

We’ve done constituency engagement in the last 18 months but unfortunately we couldn’t continue because of the social distancing as a result of Covid-19. But luckily for me and my team, we have been able to device other means of communication and engagement with our people. I can tell you for a fact that I am the only State Legislator that gives weekly reports in the whole of southwest and you can confirm that on all social media networks. We give our reports coherently. We do that every Saturday, and from it, we get feedbacks and opinions of our people. We have also used media in relating to our people. I have been to 5 or 6 TV and radio stations this year within the state. And if I’m going for Radio or TV interviews, I usually want my constituents to call me to validate anything I’m saying. Going forward, our plans is to engage my constituents physically every quarter so that we can get details of what they need and inform them of our achievements.

As the representative of your constituency, how have you been able to facilitate and influence key decisions/projects/services from the state level for your people?

Let me start with the physical projects we’ve been able to influence to our people from the state government. This year budget, we’ve work on some roads, like Ipetu-Ijesa to Eti-oni road. This year, I took it upon myself to write federal agencies that have the responsibility to fix roads, and because of our influence, we’ve been able to fix Ipetu-Ijesa, Ile-oluji axis of the federal roads. The state government is also working on some roads in the constituency as we speak. We’ve been able to bring investors to Erin-Ijesa water fall.  We are in the final stage of completing the Ikeji-ile micro-electric power. In our little ways, we’ve been able to impact lives.

In Oriade Local Government Area, we have 13 wards, and we have been able to influence all the wards by providing employment opportunities in terms of NPOWER, Public works and in other government agencies. I can tell you that since assumption of office, I have secure slots for over 100 people. Though, it might not be enough, but we are trying our best to make sure that the dividends is evenly distributed. So for every ward, I can boastfully name 10 people and their details that we have been able to touched and influence their lives positively.

More so, we know that our youths are future leaders, this is why we invested immensely in our youths by providing scholarships for students into the technical school. Our last count is 24 students and we intend to empower another 24 students. Last year, we bought 60 JAMB/UTME forms for 60 students in my constituency and we shall do same this year.

Despite the obvious fact that it’s not the responsibility of a lawmaker to do physical projects, but we want to leave indelible footprints across Oriade state constituency. We have constructed two water boreholes system; one in Ijebu-Ijesa and the other in Ipetu-Ijesa which was commissioned to mark the first year anniversary of my tenure as a lawmaker. We have also instructed our engineers to inspect other boreholes system across the constituency. This is to critically look into the water supply system of our people even though this moves ought to have been saddled with the executives, but we have taken it upon ourselves to do this. Water is key to growth and development. More boreholes system will be constructed as we get allowances and salaries because there is no constituency allowance for lawmakers in the State of Osun. As we get more fund from personal means, we shall continue to give back to our people.

You talked about the execution of projects and support for students through scholarships and UTME/JAMB forms; Do you follow up to know the progress and performance of these projects and the beneficiaries after they’ve gained admission into tertiary institution?

Yes. Like this morning I spoke to the Principal of the technical college on phone so as to know how the students who benefitted from the scholarship scheme are faring. For the JAMB/UTME students, as God gives power, we expect that some of them are in the universities and we intend to start giving student bursary, but not now. Even when this is not our responsibility, we shall do this in our quest to deliver service to our people. Our people must also take responsibility in ensuring that these facilities are maintained and well-managed. As at this morning, we learnt that one of the boreholes has not being working properly, I have to make a call to my representative around that area to go check it out. He told me that it was the phase of the meter that stopped working, and that they need to change from one phase to the other. That’s absolutely not my responsibility but we fixed it. It doesn’t mean we will stop coming to their aids when we hear their complaints. That’s was why I instructed a guy to go fix it. This will show that we offer post service after the delivery of the dividends we promised our people. So, we do a lot of follow up.

Politics is full of mixed feelings, what are the challenges thus far in your political sojourn especially since assumption of office?

There is a lot of challenging in politics. You must make up your mind to be a politician and you must have a sense of direction. What do I mean by that? I made up my mind that I want to be a legislator. And I intend to continue in that path. After now, by the grace of God and if my people permit, I want to go to the House of Representatives or to be the Senator. I believe in this country, you must be able to decide on where you want to be. A lot of youth likes to be a politician but they don’t understand the rudiments of politics. Representing your people in the State parliament is different from being a Local government Chairman. The challenges in politics are enormous.

Firstly, politics is expensive. You must be prepared financially. We all know our politics in Nigeria is costly. The electioneering campaigns and publicity requires huge fund. The America presidential election is ongoing and I heard that the leading candidate, Joe Biden, spent about $120 million on publicity, despite the known fact that they don’t give out cash to woo voters in America. That’s a lot of money on publicity.  As youth we must make sure we have a second address. What I mean by this is for the youths to have a professional qualification so as to enable them work for years and garner experience before joining politics

Secondly, another challenge in politics is human relations. Politics is all about the people. You must possess the wherewithal to relate with the people appropriately.

Thirdly, politics is time consuming. You asked me earlier about how I manage my private life and time with politics. You can’t be perfect but you must be able to plan your schedules. You can’t tell me you are a student and you want to be a councillor. It’s not possible because you have to be with your people. So it is time consuming.

Lastly, it require a lot of energy and personal effort. You will have late night meetings and go out to meet your people. You must have the zeal to do well in politics. Those are the few challenges for now.

As a lawmaker, have you advocated for youth inclusion and participation in politics?

Yes. Youth participation in politics isn’t a bad idea. I joined politics at age 34. That was ten (10) years ago. In Nigeria, we do say that the age bracket for being a youth is between the ages of 18 – 35, but at 44, I still feel like a youth because that is my constituency. Luckily in Nigeria, the minimum age require to contest an election is 25. So at 25 years, you can contest for House of Assembly or Local Government Chairman.

Recently, there were agitations, campaigns and protests against police brutality and bad governance in Nigeria. The #EndSARS movement lasted for 12 days before it was hijacked by unscrupulous elements and escalated into violence. What was your involvement and position during this period?

Let me emphatically state that I am against police brutality and I vehemently supported the call to #EndSARS. I will refer you to my Facebook handle BABATUNDE DESMOND OJO to check my stand on the subject matter. I was one of the few lawmakers who agreed with the youth that we need to #EndSARS. I also went further to advised the government that it should provide the basics that will empower our youths. I suggested to the President that he should decentralize the employment system such that we go to each ward in this country and select like 10 youths as beneficiaries of the federal government employment. We should also reduce the age of retirement and gives the older ones a smooth transition into retirement. You know the retirement age is 60 years, I suggested 55 years. The government can train them in other businesses so that when they can go into retirement and they will be able to employ more youth. With that, we can end youth unrest.

Also, I stated that the government must urgently look into the critical sectors so as to end bad governance. The government should review high tuitions in our schools, fuel deregulation and electricity tariff. I proposed that the youth should be carried along in the deregulation process by bringing them aboard in the committee set up by the government. By doing this, the youth will be deeply inform of happenings in the petroleum sector and why there is hike in fuel prices. I positioned that government should reduce the electricity tariff.

As youth, we must be cautious. We have to be good ambassador. I told you earlier that I joined politics at the age of 34. Now I am 44. I was a youth and I’m still a youth. This is my first term in the House of Assembly. I want to see other people grow with me. But the people will not vote for a youth that is not capable for that office. You must be well prepared in terms of education, exposure and human relations. Human relation is key. You know some youths hijacked the protest for another agenda and no reasonable government or leader will want to hand over to youth that are not well cultured. I will advise the youth to make sure their agitations are well channeled and we should be devoid of violence.

There have been assertions and recommendations that those people who have been in government since the return of democracy in 1999 should be voted out of office in the next general election in 2023. Do you feel threatened?

I’m not aware of that. I still want to be Governor of my state in the future. Why will anybody tell me not to contest? In as much as I’m doing the needful in the capacity of my office. Let me state it on record that in the last 18 months as the Honourable representing Oriade in the State House of Assembly, we have achieved unprecedented feats. You can verify it. Nobody has done what we did in the last 20 years. I can assure the youth of Oriade that nobody can beat my record in the remaining two and the half years because I have great plans for them.

So, we just need to talk to the youth. When you see a good product, you market such a product. You just can’t ask the leaders to take the back seat, you need to join politics too. Most of the youths agitating for us to be in government from 2023, because I’m one of the youths, and I will still be in government, do not have voter cards. They don’t have political parties. Today in Nigeria, we have 10 or 12 political parties after INEC has reduced it from 50 or so. The youths must avail themselves with the opportunities in other parties. They don’t have to be in APC or PDP.

Politics isn’t just about holding a political office, it about influencing your people positively in your environment. It can be in your small town. It can be in your street. A person who hasn’t impacted on the lives of his/her people or neighbours cannot be a good leader. So you must start by influencing the lives of the people around you positively before joining politics. The President of France is 42 years old but he became President at 39. He was well prepared. He had graduated. He’s been exposed politically and internationally before he became president. They didn’t just pick him from his room because he’s a youth. As youth we must be well equipped and well cultured.

You initially aspired for the House of Representatives but you didn’t get the ticket, what happened?

In a life, sometimes, you don’t get what you want. But the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly have the same core responsibilities. It’s just that the areas you are representing differs. As a state legislator, I represent Oriade local government area but for the House of Representatives, you may be representing two or four local government areas.

I aspired for the House of Representatives but my leaders in the party felt that I should be in the House of Assembly for now to see how well I can perform and from there, by the grace of God, I can then move to the House of Representatives.

Basically, it’s all about politics. In politics, there are various factors; as a contestant you are a factor, zoning, culture, tradition are other factors that come into play. There are lot of permutations. When I first aspired, the incumbent in the House of Representatives felt that he should be given a second chance since other people in that political dispensation were granted ticket for a second term. As a reasonable person, I felt it is in order and considerable. The second time I aspired, the state structure of the party felt that experienced matters in the legislature. It is known that a two-term legislator is referred to as ranking member of the House. So, I was stepped down and what do I do? In my third attempt (smiles), my local government area was zoned out by the leaders. And our leaders have the final say in the party. So, they sent me here and I’m here and I am enjoying it.

Wow! But if you have the chance to aspire for the House of Representatives in the future, will you still contest?

One hundred percent.

Are you chairing any committee in the House of Assembly?

Yes. As a professional Architect, I was named the Chairman House Committee on Land. I’m also the Vice chairman House Committee on Health. I am also a member of other committees like House Committee on works and Media.

Access the performance of the standing and special committees after a year. Is there any plan to reorganize them?

With due respect to the RT. Honourable Speaker of the 7th Assembly, RT. Hon. Timothy Owoeye, he has been able to do justice by putting the right pegs in the right holes. All the professionals in the house are given the right committee as Chairman and Vice chairman. I’m comfortable with the Speaker’s decision and everybody is performing excellently. And we’ve been able to do some reforms in the committee that I chair. We’ve had stakeholders meeting, town planning and regulations across the state. We shall have a conference soon as a result of our endeavours in the committee.

For the first time in this Assembly, we did quarter performance of the 2020 budget in the Ministry of Land. We are doing well at the committee level.

How do you rate the 7th Assembly under the leadership of RT. Hon. Timothy Owoeye?

Excellent.

What is the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature in the state?

The relationship is cordial. What do you expect? The three arms of government is like a parallel line that have a meeting point and continues in their various ways. Let me explain further, We are the same government with different responsibilities. We supervise the Executive arm of the government through oversight and we are doing that diligently.

What is the level of Executive compliance to the resolutions passed by the House? Are you satisfied?

They listens to us. We all sit together and agree on issues. At the end, we reach a conclusion. The focus of this government is the welfare of the people. They have to comply to our resolutions

So, since the resumption of the Assembly, there have been no clash of interest with the Executive?

No. Things have been perfect.

How is your social life and do you promote social activities especially with your people?

Before I assumed office, as an aspirant, I organized a football competition in Obokun/Oriade federal constituency. I’m hoping to reorganize such competition so as to bring the youths together. I also go out with my constituents. I like to sit with them, eat and drink with them. I party with them. Like this weekend, I have three parties I will be attending in my constituency. The party will give us more space to interact with one another.

Have you been faced with some of your constituents coming to you for personal help?

Before politics, we attend to all of that. So, why stop it now. If you are good to your people, then you must continue to be good to them. Responsibility to my people is personal. In as much we can’t do all, we must ensure we attend to those we can. If your people have personal relationship with you as a grassroots politician, they don’t see you as a politician, they see you as their family. So they will tell you anything they can tell a brother. So you should be able to work on the ones you can do and let them see reasons on why you can’t do others if you are not capable of doing it. You must go out of your way to help them. You don’t say no to them because they are the ones who voted you into office.

Do you have any establishment or firm in you constituency that can provide job opportunities for your people?

Before politics, I have a hospitality business. And I have been able to give over 200 people jobs.

Is that all?

I will limit it to that for security purpose.

There was a rumour during the election that you harboured thugs to be used in electioneering campaigns in one of your properties? Now that we are here with you, we would like to hear your views on this.

You’ve said it. It is a rumour. How can I harbour other people’s kids for thuggery when I have my kids? It is what I give to my kids that I want to give to my constituents. You will notice that throughout my campaigns, I campaigned based on issues. I have never campaigned base on attacking individuals. So your opponent will come with all sort of allegations but I’m not like them. In fact, they claimed that I’m not the owner of the hotel. I didn’t argue with them. So it’s a question of knowing where you are going and you facing it. It’s all rumour. I have my children and I don’t want them to be thugs.

I can see you are very fit and agile, do you like sport?

I play football and table tennis.

You mean you still play?

Yes. I have a table tennis court in my house.

Which football club do you support?

I support Arsenal. I’ve being supporting the club for 25 years.

Do you promote up and coming artiste or any other talented people within your constituency?

Recently, I was discussing this with my aides. I told them we need to look toward that direction and search for the gifted ones. But before now, we’ve been able to assist one of Ijebu-Ijesa indigenes to Turkey. He now plays professional football. We hope to do that a lot.

Recently, I met with some renowned footballers in Lagos State. We are hoping to start a football competition by the grace of God. It won’t just be a competition because anything worth doing is worth doing well. We planned to have two professionals that will help build the careers of some of the participants. Everything is all about money and we are not in the Executive. This will require a lot of money. But what we are trying to do is that we are building a profile with our personal relationship with the constituents and with the little we’ve achieved. This profile will enable us to connect with corporate organizations to assist us in developing our people. We are already talking to some of them.

Is there anything put in place for the orphans and less privileged?

We don’t have a recognized home for orphans in Oriade. But we’ve been able to assist them in insolation. We render assistance as they come to us. I can remember that at the last anniversary we had, we visited the motherless babies home in Odi-ijebu even though it is not my constituency.

People believe that to make a headway in politics in Nigeria, you need a godfather. Do you agree with them?

Yes, you need a tutor.

You don’t call it godfather?

I don’t report to anybody. But I have people I go to if I have problem and they give me sense of direction.

There are people who believe that you need a godfather to sponsor and influence your aspiration and election.

I don’t believe that. Nobody sponsor my election. I joined politics out of my own volition. So I worked for it. That was why I said our youth can’t just go out of school and go into politics. Firstly, you must work. You must have what you are doing before politics. And you must have a budget. You don’t wait for people to sponsor you. That’s why a lot of people call it godfather because they rely on some people to give them money to contest election. That is not to say that you must not have revered people that you seek advice from.

Coming from a community with lesser political momentum and history when compared to other towns within Oriade LGA, how did you secure the party’s ticket and went ahead to win in the polls?

Politics is not for the miscreants. In politics, you must be able to penetrate the grassroots. Let me give you this analysis. You can have ten people and only two of these people will be important. I will rather go for the two most important ones who will add valve to me in their wards.

Let me say this I was just laughing during the countdown to the election in 2019. I have one of the best structure in Obokun/Oriade federal constituency that nobody can beat. If you don’t give people in your ward a sense of direction, they won’t follow you. Some of our politicians are overrated. They make mouth. If you have a structure, you must maintain it. But a number of them will come from abroad and Abuja and say they want to contest for office. They will do empowerment today and run back to America for three months. I can tell you that anything anybody does in three months, I can cover it in a weekend in my visit to my constituency. That’s what you call grassroots politics. I’m closer to my people. I know how to reach them and where to meet them.

Do you still reach out to your closest rivals in the polls?

I don’t have a rival but an opponent. He’s my younger brother. We always talk on the phone. I think I reach out to him on his last birthday.

What do you think should be the motivation for lawmakers in Nigeria, given the controversies that often surround constituency projects and jumbo allowances?

For us in Osun, we don’t have constituency projects. And our salaries has been scaled like that of a Director in the civil service. You know what that means. But for the National Assembly, I’ve not been there, so I don’t know. But I can tell you for a fact that even the demands from our people is enough for you to have a jumbo pay. Unless you don’t love your people. What are the allowances? Salary and running cost! Some people will say that Lawmakers shouldn’t be given official cars when you have a Commissioner in the Executive with 10 vehicles (cars and Hilux) at his/her disposal. In as much it’s a service. It’s also a day-to-day work that you must put resources into to get result. Sometimes, we need to think outside the box. We let our emotions overrule our sense of judgement. It shouldn’t be the case.

Is the State of Osun House of Assembly well-funded?

We are not lacking. Our salaries and allowances are paid as and when due.

What are your plans for them in the coming days?

I want to be able to go back to my people and discuss my scorecard with them.

What is your assessment of the Gboyega Oyetola led government?

The Governor is doing well. You can see a number of projects around the state. To mention a few; the primary health care sector and the upgrade of other health facilities across the state. He was able to manage and curtail the COVID-19 very well. In spite of meagre resources, he has been able construct roads and still constructing. He has touched all sectors in the state. By the grace of God, as we have more money, the government will do more for the people of the state. You can see the market that is being built.

Can you say the present administration has performed better than the previous government led by Ogbeni Aregbesola?

How do you expect me to answer that? They are both my boss. Let me tell you, it depends on how you are looking at it. The state of the economy during Ogbeni’s regime is different from the economic situations now. But I can tell you that the direction in which Mr Governor is moving at, in the next 8 years, he will be one of the best Governors we have around.

What is/are your opinion(s) of the government decision to reverse some of the policies of the Aregbesola-led government?

The present government is doing what the people want. In as much governance is continuum. Changing decisions and policies is part of governance. If I’m going to Ilesa and the Osogbo-Ilesa route is blocked, I can take Ile-Ife to get to my destination. The major thing is to reach the destination. Your question refers to the fact that as long as we have our students coming out in flying colours and the standard of education is improved. That’s what matter to people like us. As long as the policy is for the people, nobody can contest that.

There are rumours that there is a frosty relationship between Governor Gboyega Oyetola and his predecessor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, can you confirm this?

It’s all lies. I’m one of the closest to the two. Some people will just sit down in their rooms and cook lies. Some of these people have not the Governor face-to-face and they make mouth as if they were with the Governor yesterday.

Ogbeni Aregbesola has been very busy. He’s the Minister of Interior. The interior ministry is one of the largest ministries in the country. Governor Oyetola has been very busy too. They are friends. Why will people want to insinuate what is not.

Do you support the social media bill that is being sponsored by the Federal government of Nigeria?

No, I’m not in support of it. You can’t tell your people not to talk, but, people must talk reasonably.

How can we stop the spread of fake news?

You cannot stop fake news. You can only curtail it. Politics itself is propaganda. As long as we are in democracy, we will play politics. You will have opponent and opposition party. The opposition party will want to outwit you. Before 2015, we were not in government. We also challenged the PDP government then. We can only curb fake news, we can’t eradicate it. Your enemies will always disseminate fake news about you. We just have to deploy a mechanism to checkmate fake news. You heard something about me, it’s responsive that you ask me now that you are in my office. Our people must ensure they verify news before spreading it. The problem is not the originator of the fake news, it is the people spreading it. That’s my personal position without recourse to anybody.

Any advice for the youth and Nigerian at large in relation to the state of things? We want you to SOROSOKE.

They should calm down and be of best behaviour. But they must ask questions. They should SOROSOKE (speak loud and clear). Some political office holders need to be checked for them to perform. But you must check them the right way. It’s not by violence, but by engagement. They should engage the leaders constructively. The youths must be calm as well as the leaders.

 

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https://youtu.be/pRPU6xuvxhU

 

 

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