There are indications that Oyo State will be an interesting spot ahead of the general elections next year. And chief among the gladiators to watch out for is Isaac Babalola Owolabi. A University of Jos-trained-medical doctor. He holds a PG degree in Conflicts/Peace Resolution, and is currently concluding a thesis for a doctorate degree in Development at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
A former two-time Commissioner for Health under the Alao-Akala administration, during which time he was generally regarded as the chief strategist of that regime, he is widely regarded as a versatile politician. A frank and blunt person, he was said to be the only person in the then Oyo State Executive Council who would look at the former governor in the face and tell him he was wrong. He fell out with his former boss at the twilight of the administration as he was seen to be too independent-minded.
Owolabi is in the race for the 2015 gubernatorial ticket of the PDP. Last week, he created time out of his busy schedule to talk with PATRICK OKON, and this is how we spent time in each other’s company.
The race for the Oyo State Government House is not going to be an easy one. And you are one of the aspirants to watch. What motivated your entry into the 2015 gubernatorial race? And what do you think gives you an edge over other contestants?
A lot; and one can say the experience. I have been a partaker in governance, particularly at the critical juncture of policy formulation and implementation as an executive committee member. Again, I have been in PDP as a Strategy/Election Planning Committee chairman for the 2007 general elections and the general elections of 2003 the one that brought about the governor then and the one for former Governor Akala.
And all these were done when our most able politician in Ibadan, the late Chief Adedibu was alive. They were able to recognize the intense contributions of the younger hands like mine that could bring to the fore in guaranteeing the success of the PDP. Having said that, I think over time, I have been able to demonstrate my humble capacity that brought it to bear at the level of governance and all these things therefore will count at the end of the day.
Your former boss has indicated interest in the race; with the experience he already has, how do you see your chances? Most people would prefer you to step down for him.
Thank you. I planned for the PDP at the state level, the general elections that brought in Governor Ladoja, I planned and did the entire strategy as the chairman of PDP General Election and Strategy Committee for 2007. I carried these experiences forward to contest as the South West Youth Leader of the PDP. I went further at the just-conducted mini convention led by Professor Jerry Gana. I was an accredited and cleared contestant for the post of the national secretary.
You can see therefore that my involvement with the PDP and struggle for political emancipation has cut across the three levels of government. Having said that, there is also the comparative advantage that I may have over my competitors, irrespective of their previous positions. I am very-very convinced that the PDP party men and women today are much more inclined to making the right choice at the level of the primary.
The reason is that they have interacted with us at different capacities within the party. Some of us have not been lucky enough to serve the same people and so it will be very-very easy for our party members to decide when the time comes at the level of primary election who they want to vote for.
And I think this is the structure that the PDP, through the electoral reform; extant conventions and regulations, have continued to enshrine to allow for opposition through internal democracy, to allow for participatory internal democracy that easily disallow those things that execute vibrant party men from seeking political offices.
So, in respect of my other contestants therefore, I will summit that the final decisions as a democrat belongs to the people and that ultimately I am confident that voters will decide my fate.
Could you please let us into your manifesto; what are you bringing on the table if you eventually become the governor of Oyo State?
Thank you very much. It is in the summary of what we call the Atelewo Philosophy. People will say Atelewo eni. Our economy at the state, the federal and international will be driven by knowledge. It is going to be a knowledge-economy. It is most important for visionary leaders to start to consider education and put it at the front burner of all political discourse.
Of equal importance is agriculture. Today you will be surprised that more than 50% of agricultural output in terms of tubers, fruits and legumes get spoilt either in transit or while the peasant farmer that grows 20 baskets of oranges struggles with storage. At the time of harvest, what is the maximum income he gets from those 20 baskets? And we can direct the market by provision of small and medium-scale processing plants. If it is cashew, we should have cashew processing plants, if it is mango, we must have the processing plant, if it is yam tubers we must be able to add value such that we can improve the shelf or half-life for our foods and by implication give adequate support to the peasant farmers.
It is very important because if majority of our people still dwell in the rural environment and they are peasant and dependent farmers, we cannot talk of poverty alleviation, except they have sufficient increased outward income that can guarantee them the opportunity of breaking the cycle of poverty and ensure that their kids are in school; you need to provide health care and so on and forth. That is our strategy towards creating the necessary middle class. Today in Oyo State, for an average Nigerian, we have a great gap between the rich and the poor.
It is that middle class that really needs to create what we have in our plan, in our document, what we describe as Atelewo Philosophy. We need to have a significant soft loan by way of rural credit that will target women. If we are able to target women to the extent of 80 percent of our micro credit soft loan at zero percent interest, with a mechanism that guarantees recovery and within the frame work of conditional grant scheme where any woman that accesses this loan will in turn by way of social contract guarantee that she will be able to keep her kids in school, she will get immunization in which she accesses that loan. You will see most mothers, most families will therefore be able to keep their kids in school, get all the prescribed immunization. Therefore, you will reduce the disease burden of the community and improve their educational outcome just by that and of course, upwardly improve the infrastructure.
For too long, we have misconstrued infrastructure simply as the construction of roads, while electricity, infrastructure for health service, and schools, chairs for our children who now sit on the floor, help re-engineer education which is a critically-important outcome of every great nation. Today, you find Oyo State at the lowest rung in WAEC and NECO exams. This is an indication of the gross abandonment of education with experience that is needed and accountability, an open score sheet for the people that would certainly allow them to have confidence again and to allow them to give support in terms of paying up their taxes, levies and tenements that can improve internally-generated revenue for the state.
The sole candidacy of PDP is President Goodluck Jonathan; what is your take on this and what does it portray for our democracy?
At this historical juncture of our nation’s development, the demonstrated commitment of Mr. President cannot be over-stated. Even to the opposition is not in doubt. Despite the numerous challenges that this country Nigeria has been confronted with in recent times there have been remarkable progress in all sectors in spite of paucity of funds. If we start to itemize the gains of the Jonathan’s administration in road network, trans-modal transportation, or are you going to talk about the airports that are constantly taking a new look or the roads across the country?
The East-West Road, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and so on. You can look at the power sector, it is really remarkable and today we are starting to see some stability the unbundling of NEPA in the power sector. So, hopefully in a year Nigerians can start to enjoy stable power supply.
Is it a personal resolve to be a core supporter of Jonathan or you are just towing the party line?
No, I am not just towing the party line. I am a product of exact sciences. And it is important when you make a stipulation; you need to have lateral evidence. I have just stated the key points of very viable evidence why the PDP BOT will have no opinion than to support Jonathan; why the governors will have no option than to support Jonathan; not simply because of the credibility or assumptions but based on what we have experienced in the past four, five years since he became the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
It is too elementary therefore to say simply because he is the president of the country, he should re-contest the election. We need to take a look at what he is able to achieve despite the fact that there are challenges in the country; despite the fact that most countries consider Nigeria a war zone.
Do you have confidence in INEC conducting a free, fair and credible election in 2015? And in your party’s internal democracy, do you think it will be able to deliver what is right to the people, especially in Oyo State?
I will take the last question first. There have been a great change since the inception of PDP and I believe that the visions of the founding fathers of PDP speak to the needs of Nigerians irrespective of ethnicity, irrespective of social class, irrespective of geography.
To that extent, I refer you to all the PDP documents. No other party, and I make it abundantly clear, has the text and the analysis that is evidence-based of where we are as a nation and the direction we need to take. So, the PDP manifesto is an all- encompassing document through which any democrat can find space except you are using different analytical tools that is from Mars. Nevertheless, politics is also about perception.
That we need opposition in Nigeria cannot also be overstated in that it will allow for any democracy, that balance of different views and a different approach. PDP came into governance after a long military rule. You would see that compared to the late 90s our people are not only more politically aware today; they are increasingly becoming part of the debates as to the methodologies and the manners we can use to improve the life of our people.
And that is very very critical and significant. It is to the credit of Jonathan’s administration that we also have some electoral reforms. Considering our form of federalism, when you have the PDP in the South relating and coming from the cultures and the experiences of the people, you also have PDP in the North also relating and representing the aspirations of the people.
And we agreed on the common front. In other words, the common ground of life more abundant, providing education for our people, building a veritable Nigeria for the future generation is central. And that is why the PDP will remain a party to beat in the years and decades to come.