It has really been an eventful journey for me. And I thank God for everything. I was born in Ile – Ife in 1960, the year Nigeria attained her independence. And I was named Joseph. If you look at 28 years of my life, which was spent in that neighborhood of lfe and Ondo state, I will say that God must have been preparing me for a mission. I graduated from the University of Ife in 1982 and Proceeded on national service, also in Ile – Ife, at the Oyo state College of Arts and science, where I thought Yoruba and literature in English.
Thereafter, I worked for the former deputy governor of ondo state, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. I will say that was my baptism of fire in politics. Through that network, I was able to meet a lot of policticians, some of whom are still very much around today. By the time I left Chief Omoboriowo, I started working for the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade sijuade. I was running Motel Royal in Ile Ife which was owned by him. There I also came in contact with a lot of people. Thereafter, I went back to the university for my masters in Literature-in-English. And by the time I was completing that programme in 1988, the thought of what to do began to cross my mind. Of course, my first love was teaching.
I wanted to teach and I applied, variously to some institutions, but at that time, there was an embargo on appointments and promotions by the then military government. I couldn’t get a job and I was getting very desperate. My father had died when I was only thirteen and I was left with an illiterate mother to look after me. So you can imagine how frustrating it was not being able to get a job after getting a masters degree. As fate will have it, when I was working at Motel Royal., I had met Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, who was a great writer with The Guardian. My first article was taken from me in Ife by Onukaba to The Guardian in Lagos. It was published in The Africans Guardians’ Culture section. It was a story I wrote on the Olojo Festival. I was also writing on the opinion pages of The Guardian.
I remember the very first one. It was what I called the politics of language, which was in response to an article written by Odia Ofeimun about Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s decision to stop writing in English. That was how it all started until Kunle Ajibade and I co- authored an article which generated so much commotion in the media industry. I will say that was what catapulted me into fame in Lagos. At that time, I wanted to work at The Guardian but couldn’t get a job from Nduka Irabor then, Onukuba suggested I should meet Lewis Obi at the African Concord. As fate will have it again, the first day I visit African Concord, the first two people I met were Bayo Onanuga and Babafemi Ojudu. And of course we knew ourselves as writers and I said I wanted to see the editor, Lewis Obi. They told me to wait for him.
To cut a long story short I was given a job at African Concord. But I was somehow baffled when Obi asked me how much I wanted to earn. You can imagine a bush man, coming from Ife, being asked how much he wanted to be paid. I thought it was Ife, so I said I will like to earn N700 a month. That was how I became a Lagos boy at the age of 28. And within a few months, I was transferred to Weekend Concord which I accepted reluctantly. I didn’t know God was preparing me for a major task in show business and entertainment.
Why did you resign from Weekend Concord?
When I was at Weekend Concord, May Ellen Ezekiel came and invited me to edit Classique. I left Concord exactly two years after joining them. I couldn’t tell my chairman, who had become very close to me. You see, I am the kind of person that put passion into whatever he does. I was employed by African Concord, but I was writing for the features page of the National concord, Sunday concord and even the Yoruba newspaper, Isokan.
So it was very easy for my employer to know there was a guy who was working round the clock. But when I decided to leave, I couldn’t tell my chairman. Of course, when I told the managing director, Dr. Doyin Abiola, that I was leaving, the first thing she did was to ask me where I was going. I told her where I was going. And she was wondering what could have informed my decision to leave just two years after joining the organization.but you see, I love challenges. I love to travel the road less travelled. That was how I joined Classique and It opened a window of opportunities for me to meet the movers and shakers of our society. I continued my relationship with Chief MKO Abiola and he gave me some money, which was about 4000 pounds.
The story behind that is that it changed a lot of things for me. By the time I came back to Nigeria, I became completely transfigured. And it led to the way I had to leave my job. By time I came back, I told my boss that I wanted to prepare for my wedding. Of course, by the time I came back I was no longer editor: I was made managing editor and I didn’t like it. I resigned. And them, I went into public relations I was also selling bread till 1992, when Nduka Obaigbena came and asked me to help him set up a news publication. The paper’s initial name was leaders and company and I was to be the founding editor, so, I helped to recruit some of the key staff that started leaders and company.
A few months after that, Abiola joined politics and I left Leaders and Company, and followed him, while Nduka followed Bashir Tofa. From there, the June 12 crisis came. And again, I was right in the middle of it. And it led to my being detained at Alagbon under Babangida regime. I came out and continued my campaign. Then Abiola was arrested in 1994. Then, in 1995 I was to be picked up and my wife was tipped off. They were going to charge me for treason, and as one of the persons behind Radio Freedom which later became Radio Kudirat. I managed Nigeria to Cotonou, Togo and Ghana. And from Ghana I went to London, getting to London, I thought Abacha will relax, but he never did. The next thing I did was to think of what I was going to do to survive. And then, my cousin, Segun Fatoye, suggested that I publish a magazine. And that was how Ovation was born. And I can tell you tha we needed 140,000 pounds but we couldn’t even raise 20,000 pounds. But my uncle, Chief Ezekiel Fatoye, managed to give me 10,000 pounds and the rest is history today. So I have been used to growing something out of nothing.
A few days before your 50th birthday, you declared your plan to run for presidency. When did this idea of contesting creep in?
For me, my decision to contest the presidency is not a political ambition. I prefer to call it a political mission. Unknown to me, it has always been there. I have watched the political landscape in Nigeria and I have been an active participant in various ways, in my own little corner, either as an activist or media person. And without sounding immodest, I believe I am one of the people who have written the greatest number of articles about all issues affecting Nigeria. But I have come to a conclusion that writing articles have changed little or nothing about these lingering political problems in Nigeria.
So about two years ago, I got an invitation from some people in the United States of America. The group is called Nigeria reunion and it is the largest gathering of young Nigerians outside Nigeria. These are young, but very successful professionals. So I went to Baltimore to honour their invitation. They asked me to tell them what the biggest issue that affected Nigerian economy negatively was. Well, I told them the Niger Delta situation was very volatile, and since Nigeria runs an economy based on oil and nothing else and until we can resolve the south south, I don’t think the Nigerian economy can improve. Then they asked me which ethnic group was the most vocal in Nigeria. And I said it was the Yoruba.
Their early exposure to western education, the media and all had made it possible for them to control a lot of things. They are very vocal and they are not afraid to say it as it is. Then of the questions was which country I considered to be traditionally, very close to Nigeria among the foreign powers. And I said that it was Great Britain, our formal colonial masters. Whatever affects Nigeria will affect Great Britain. And then we have a large concentration of Nigerians in Britain. In fact the second home of Nigerians. Then the last question they asked me was the political need to win an election apart from money. And I said it was the media. At the rate the Obama thing was going at that time, the media had made up their mind that they were going to install Obama. So if you have the media, you have already covered about 50 percent of the journey.
Then, the money aspect will follow. Once the hype is right, people will be able follow the campaign. Then, they said they had been reading some articles I wrote about searching for good candidates in Nigeria. They said they were surprised that I could not recognize that I was one of the best candidates available in Nigeria. Before that day, people always told me that I was a politician because I had the network.
But I never I never considered myself as one. I was just an activist that was doing his own business. Then they started this bizarre analysis about how I possessed most of the criteria that they want in anybody aspiring for the presidency. So, they said what they wanted to find out from me is if I have the guts because the people I am going to fight have held power practically all their live. I thanked them for thinking that I am important in the scheme of things. I have been used to people who will put you down for who you are, people who thinking that you cannot do anything because you are a black man. And in Nigeria, for some funny reasons, may because journalists are some of poorest professionals around, people don’t have respect for us.
Since I declare my intention to run for the presidency, I have been getting all kinds of funny responses. Some people even asked if thought the presidency was showbiz. For God’s sake, how can you see me as a showbiz person when I write a very serious column every Saturday? I have to combine it with every other activity, with even travelling all over the place. Sometimes, at social functions, you see me typing away on my laptop.
On what platform do you intend to run?
I intend to run on the platform of the labour party am a product of labour. My father started in life as a labourer. He migrated from the old Mid-Western Region, from a place called Ihievbe to Ile-Ife. I don’t know when, but the story is that it must have been around 1944. He got married to my mother and I was born in labour. Most of the Ora, the Afemai people have always been in labour, most of the great labour people like Pa Imoudu and Adams Oshiomole are from that area. It is an ideological thing. Some people said that I might have decided to run for president because I want to be appointed as a minister. To me, that is an insult. By the grace of God, I am beyond all that. If I wanted to be a minister I am sure I would get something if I sat in Abuja for three months.
So it is an insult for anybody to say that I am looking for a job. Besides, I believe that people who get jobs in Nigeria, anyway, are people who are not employed and are not employable. So, for me, labour has always been my first choice. I have never belonged to a political party. I joined Labour party about a year ago, when I thought this was an idealogical thing. I want a platform that I can conviniently say is different. Everybody knows that Labour party has no money. If I am not in Labour tommorow or decide to go to another party it will never be PDP.
Nigeria is confronted by a series of problems. How do you intend to fix them?
Ths biggest problem confroning Nigeria is corruption. And nothing has been done or being done to corrcet it. Once you have a corrupt leader, you cannot fix anything. So the best thing is to have a leader who has never been a government contractor. As a jounalist, everybody knows that I run my business strictly professionally. I don’t get involved with people in government. When you talk about land allocation in Nigeria, you will never see me there. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State, I was one of the closest persons to him. We were both on exile together and we shared many fond memories as well. But I only entered his office one when he was in office. And that day, Tokunbo Afikuyomi was going to see him and I didn’t want to wait in the car.
Another person I was close to was Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia state. I was the first person to write in 1996 that he was going to become governor. I used to call him Aba trader. For the eight years that he was governor, I only went to Umuaiha once and never visited him.That is me. And I didn’t know that God was preparing me for a mission, So that I will be in a situation, where I can talk boldly and confidently. So, I am not involved in all the rat race that people run in Nigeria. I have just been runing my business. I come from an academic backround in Ile-Ife. I wanted to be a teacher, but I came to Lagos and changed into something else. In fact, profesor kole omotosho say that one of tragedies that befell the academia was Dele momodu coming to Lagos to come and do showbiz.
For me, I have never left that academic lif totally. And that is why I am doing some of the things I am doing now. So, I always laugh when I hear of the issue of EFCC or ICPC. They cannot do anything because those who have appointed them will never allow them to function. If you want to fight curruption, it must be across board. You cannot be handpicking people. You must have a yardstick. And then, a leader must be able to come out and say that he is the one that is elacted, not is wife or family, for the first time, you are going to have presidnet who will be able to tell his wife to go and face her business. My wife is a chartered accountant. She has ACCA and a master’s degree. I am not going to allow her to waste all that to go and be chasing governors’ wives and be doing jamboree all over the place.
When john major was prime minister of British, his son was working in the supermarket. When Tony Blair was in government, his wife, a lawyer, was still going to court. I don’t know what is wrong with us in Nigeria. So, the fight against coruption must begin with the first family. Once the first family is corrupt, everything else will never work. What happens is that once the wife of the president is jobless, all manner of people will be patronising her for favours. When you are under pressure – somewhere along the line, you wiil cave in. Secoundly, one thing I have decided to do is not to go any big man in Nigeira for help. And God will bear me witness on this. In fact, people are calling me to ask if they have offended me. But I have made up my mind that at 50, I want to dedicate my life to fixing the problrems of Nigeria. I have travelled more than an average human being and I marvel that even samller countries like Gambia and Ghana are fixing their problems and we cannot fix ours. It means that it is not lack of money and lack of brains.
It is the problem of leadership. The people we have as leaders do not have the capacity to make a firm commitment to getting the right thing done at the right time. The next thing is infracturucture. Any nation that lacks infracturucture can nevr makes it. The only reason I moved my production department to Ghana is because of power. The reason we are not able to fix electricity in Nigeria is not because we don’t have money. We spend more money than Japan alone. It also boils down to the curruption issue. And I cannot understand why we cannot fix our roads. What is so difficult tarring our roads?
If you go to Cotonou now, you will be amazed.i was there when President Yayi Boni came in three years ago. Today, the man is building the fly-over. I doubt if we have been able to build a single fly-over in the last 20years in Nigeria. Look at the roads in Nigeria. They are so disgraceful. Even in Abuja, between Namdi Azikwe Airport and the city, you will see what I call gutter. The oyinbo man who created the word gutter would have forgotten because our leaders are over –ambitious and so vacious. All they think about is money, money and more money. So, they cannot fix anything.
Look at food production. I am a great fan of chairman Mao Tse Tung China. I read a lot about the agriculture revolution. That is my dream. For the first time, you are going to have a president who will wear jeans and T-shirt and go on that Lagos – Ibadan expressway. If every president had been on that road every time in a year, they would have fixed it. But what happens is that once you become a president in Nigeria, you become emperior. And then, you are put in a guilded cage. And you are just like animal in the zoo. You don’t know what is going on outside.
By the grace God, you are going to have someone, who is exposed enough to know the needs of the people. One of the hallmarks of leadership is the ability of the people to follow. What you need is to allow the people key into you and connect to you. I want to leave a leagacy. You are going to have a president, who in four years will be able to lay a solid foundation that nobody can uproot. That foundtion will be so deep-rooted and so implanted that Nigerians will key into it. And any other person, who treis to destablities it, will be so ashmed of himself. You don’t need to go any special school to become a president.
Business is not rocket science. It is just about the determinatioin of one man, who has been employed and who knows that his name will be written in gold.
Source: The News magazine.