Veteran poet, social commentator and writer, Odia Ofeimun is running in the 2016 gubernatorial election in Edo state. He is already putting structures in place to make his dream a possibility. He is contesting o the platform of the Labour Party.
In this interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, Odia explained why he is into politics, what he hopes to achieve and the challenges he’s battling…
Why the interest in politics at this stage?
I have always been interested in politics. From as early as whenever, I have always talked politics. My friends know me for that. I have always discussed nothing but how Nigeria could be rebuilt or reorganized. It is the only subject I have been talking about all my life. The fact that I did not go into practical politics early is not exactly because I did not try. When I became Chief Awolowo’s private secretary, I took a leap to see how it works from the inside. If I had a special education in the world, that was the special education I got. It is an education that guides me every day in my activism. I have never had a day in which I didn’t talk about politics.
The kind of things I talk and write about involves making people get better, do better things for themselves, have a more harmonious relationship. As I got older, Nigeria became to get worse. I have always hated to be a grumbler. At some point, I made up my mind. That if at 60, things were like this, I will go into active politics.
One would have thought that if you had gone into active politics at an early age, it would have been better?
I would probably have acquired only very bad habits like many of my friends. A lot of people acquire bad habits along the way. It is not all the people in politics that are bad. They acquired it because they found out that they were loners along the way. I wanted to set the principles which politics can be measured. I have spent 25 years writing books that I think would change the way we look at things. If I hadn’t written those books, I don’t think I would have the courage to attempt politics, it is like going into a field blind folded. Having written those books, I have something to measure my own activities as well.
The most exciting thing for me is that I came across the writings of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Politics that has no written agenda is very difficult to pursue. It simply follows that you will go against the line of resistance. You will embrace things you don’t believe in. Once you do that, retracting your steps could be very difficult.
The truth is that, instead of seeing a government run in accordance with corrupt practices and function in the way our governments have been functioning, we only try to look at it in such a way that let us catch that man ‘scapegoating’.
There are structures of government that need to be dealt with, if not, all those things about corruption will not work. All the things that make corruption normal are still present in our mindset. Those who want to fight corruption must start with themselves. Identify the factors that lead to corruption and block them one by one. When Murtala Mohammed came to power, he gave back to the state what he thought he acquired illegally. Many people criticized him. Return what you took and give others the chance to do the same. You should sanction them if they do not abide by it.
Why the choice of Labour Party?
Every Nigerian says join the party that can make you win. Some will say I would have given you money if you were contesting under another party. We have never had a sound party system. If parties are organized, even though they are small, they can still have a great influence.
Awolowo did not become the president of Nigeria but he had so much influence than any other person. He insisted strongly on things that are right. He even forced other parties to join his ideology. All the things he wanted and people criticized are now cardinal principles in our constitution.
In the 1979 constitution, everything that is right in it was copied from Awolowo, everything that is wrong about it are the things they refused to accept.
In the Second Republic, once a Labour Party was established, you know there wouldn’t be another Labour Party. All over the world, the mere mention of labour brings to mind a party that defends those who have worked, provide work for those who do not have.
Part of the job of any serious politician who wishes the party will retain the principle is to learn how to organize in a way that whether you are in power or not in power, your party will be able to survive. No political party survives outside subscription.
What are your chances of emerging as the next governor of Edo state?
There is only one chance of winning. If I am able to build up an organization and it costs money. As I am talking to you, I don’t know where that kind of money will come from. I have indicated that if three million Nigerians give me N1,000, I will have enough money. If one million Nigerians give much less, I can win that election. In order to be able to raise N200 million that the constitution allows a governor to use for an election, you need at least N50 million in order to set up that organization that you need.
How will you go about it?
I am looking at you. I will also say that no Nigerian is too poor to raise that kind of money. Time is running out. The timetable for election have come out and I have not yet raised the money for the creation of that structure. There are other issues. If I don’t deal with them quickly enough, I might be out of it. I might find myself unable to move forward at all. There is one thing I will not do. One, I have decided to step into active politics, I will not move back. I will go on to do what I have been doing as a writer and do more but I will ensure that my idea of a political party will be soundly on the ground irrespective of what happens in this election. I will help create a Labour Party that will be a proper political party. Whether a party loses or wins an election, it should be a party.
Edo state need only 10 0ther states to be interested in the project and it can be done in 40 months. The will to stand up to the rigours is what the government needs. We can do it with less than N60 billion. They just need to apply a self reliance principle, things will work. Every part of Nigeria should be left to properly control the resources within their area. There is a possibility to build a wonderful city that the rest of the world can envy. If I become the governor of Edo state, I will build a Singapore quickly in the state that will attract envy.
Assuming you become the governor of Edo state, who will assume the office of the first lady?
There is nothing in the Nigerian constitution that says a governor must have a first lady. It is just that it is fair to do things the way it should be done.
I always know that I will do certain things late in life including marrying late.
What are some of the challenges you envisage in the process of achieving your dream?
There is one critical problem. It is about how I have lived in the past 10 to 15 years. I was explaining how the cultural organization I was running was beaten by the government. I do expect that part of the things I experienced in the funds of these government officials should affect my campaign.
I could have started my campaign earlier if I didn’t experience those destructive acts by the people in government. Who would have thought a government of change will come into power and destroy what other people are living on. There is a strong passion and wish across Edo state to get rid of government that over price projects.
The only obstacle I have at the moment centres on not getting the means to put certain structures on the ground. But some of my friends have been doing well in supporting me. The only fear I don’t have is what will happen when I win. From the first day to the first 35 months, I know what to do. After which I will have holiday. I wouldn’t go anywhere in the first 35 months until I do what needs to be done. We just need serious planning. There is nothing I am saying I will do that I cannot do. I will put a computer in front of every child from age five. I will insist the elders also participate in that culture. A properly ordered society will have a place for every hand. I will wipe out unemployment, I will create institutions that will provide platforms for other jobs to emerge. If you don’t do it, you are wasting time.