Professor Adesegun Ojo is a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, United States. A member of Peoples Democratic Party, Ojo went into politics in 2003 and was PDP governorship aspirant in Ekiti State in 2003 and 2005. In 2005, he came second in the primary election that produced Segun Oni as governor. In this interview, Ojo, a former chairman, Governing Council, Michael Imodu National Institute for Labour Studies, tells Funke Olaode why he is still vying for the governorship of the state. Excerpts:
What influenced your decision to go into politics?
I have always felt the desire to get involved and make a difference. At the University of Ife, I ran for secretary-general in 1981 and was National Vice President of the United Nations Students Association. I was the public relations officer of the Youth Vanguard of the Unity Party of Nigeria in Oraminyan Local Government Area and changed party and worked for the National Party of Nigeria campaigns in the 1983. During my trip back home in 1999, I joined the Peoples Democratic Party in my local government. Back in the United States, I helped launch Nigerian Democratic Leadership Forum, an association of Nigerians abroad in 2000.
Driven by the desire that we must all do all we can and bring all our expertise to bear to make the requisite change in Nigeria, I felt the need to come back home in 2001. I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Lagos between 2001 and 2002, which allowed me to get involved on the ground in Nigeria. I took a leave of absence from my university to come home to contest and was in the PDP primary with Ayo Fayose, Chief SK Babalola. It was an eye opening experience for me.
I received one vote during that primary but I gained tremendous insight into Nigerian politics. Transitioning from the classroom to practical politics, reinforced my sense of commitment that the best way to change things for the better can better be achieved from inside rather from the outside. We cannot in good sense criticise and condemn those engaged in the process if we stay on the side line. The country belongs to all of us and we must be engaged in our effort to make a difference.
Do you think your political ambition can still be realised in PDP, especially considering the crisis in the party?
I am willing and ready to serve our people. The leadership of our party recognises what I bring to the table. A sense of commitment to what is right and the capacity for innovative ideas to make lasting difference in the lives of our people. The question is, there are many who run for office without any ideas of what they want to do. They are driven by the trappings of power and see political position as a means to acquire wealth. I am about to retire from a career of over 25 years, I am even more ready now than ever before. In 2005, Yinka Akerele came first and I came second in the PDP governorship primary. Because none of us received 50 per cent of the votes, a runoff was to be scheduled between the two of us. But three days after the primary, both of us and Segun Oni who came third were summoned to the Villa to meet with President Obasanjo and the rest is history. The runoff was cancelled and Segun Oni became the nominee of the party and went on to be elected the governor of Ekiti State.
On the chances of the PDP, this is not given and in a recent commentary following the election in Ondo State, I offered a series of suggestions for the success of the PDP in Ekiti State. We must end the fractious politics within the party and elect a new national executive. We must do the same in Ekiti and allow everybody to participate in the electoral process. I must say that the current problem of the PDP in Ekiti State cannot be divorced from that decision that took place in December 2006. Intra-party democracy helps to mobilise the party for effective campaigning and, therefore, assure a greater success at the polls. We saw how the situation ended with the PDP in the recently concluded election in Ondo. Ekiti is a unique case. We are the only homogeneous state in the federation, which is why it seems we defy common trends sometimes. I must state categorically that the two parties (APC and PDP) have a chance to win the next governorship election. But all depends on the degree of unity within either of the parties, campaign strategy, quality of candidates, and effectiveness of mobilisation.
The incumbent governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, is undoubtedly popular in PDP and the state generally. Do you think you have what it takes to wrest power from his nominee next year?
Governor Ayo Fayose is a unique individual and has established himself as a formidable force in Ekiti politics. He is more than an institution, if I must say. You have to take him into any equation regarding elections in the state in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, his term is limited and it is not about wresting power from him. He understands the import of the PDP retaining power in Ekiti State. And I am confident that in the end, as an astute political strategist, his sense of understanding of what it will take to retain power will inform his final decision on who to support for the election. He cannot afford to create factions within the party.
It is not advisable to impose a candidate on the party. Given the limited resources available for governance, I will be shocked if he is willing to expend unlimited resources on any election in the foreseeable future. There are civil servants, teachers, retirees, trade unions and others who are quietly watching the electoral process. If they observe undue and unwarranted expenditure in the face of non-payment of salaries and pensions, that could turn them against the party. The same situation can be applied to the APC because the promised change is non- existent and Nigerians are not better off today than they were in 2015.
If it is perceived that undue amount of money is being spent on the election, our people will ask questions and will turn away. Both parties must be very careful and as such, opportunities abound for all. There is only one Ayo Fayose. Nobody else can be Ayo Fayose and Ayo Fayose is not running for governor in 2018. To run for any political office, you must be an eternal optimist and I am one. In the words of the former president of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, I still believe in a place called Hope. The best days of Nigeria are ahead.
If given the opportunity to govern the state, what would you do differently from what the current governor is doing?
My hope, if given the opportunity to serve our people, will be to lay a foundation for the growth of our economy. That will include basic infrastructure such as good roads, potable water and electricity supply, provision of adequate and affordable healthcare, abundance food production, a reliance on a viable agricultural development, so that we can rely less and less on federal allocation. I have a blueprint for economic development of our great state. Elected representatives are expected to inspire through their actions and policies that everyone should reach for the best in themselves for the greater good of all.
How would you describe your background in relation to your style of politics?
I was born at Adeoyo hospital in Ibadan to Michael Adeleye Ojo and Rachel Ojo of Oroke, Itapa Ekiti. My father was a headmaster at Lalupon at that point in time. He travelled to the United States for his studies in 1966 and was later joined by my mother. Two of my younger sisters and I were left in Nigeria and were raised by my maternal grandmother, Docas Alaba (now deceased), at Itapa Ekiti. I grew up in Itapa and hawked akara (bean cake) for my grandma. I proceeded to Egbe Oba High School, Ikole-Ekiti, where I was Light and Furniture Prefect.
After secondary school, I went to Oyo State College of Arts and Science, Ile-Ife, and was a Clerical Officer at the Department of Modern Languages, University of Ife, before starting my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the same university in 1980. I also received a Diploma Certificate in French and an MSc in International relations from the University of Ife. I received the French government scholarship for my MPhil and PhD in Political Science at the University of Bordeaux, France. I later proceeded to the University of Nottingham with a scholarship for an LLM in International Law, specialising on Human Rights. At Nottingham, I received a scholarship for a DIHL International Humanitarian Law as well. I also have two degrees from the University of Clement-Ferrand, France.
What was your childhood aspiration and at what stage did you decide to be a political scientist?
The fact that my parents were in the United States while I was growing up was an inspiration enough. My father received his PhD in Political Science and my mother her degree in home economics. I wanted to be a diplomat and my favourite subjects were literature, government and history. I performed equally strong in physics but my mathematics was average. This paved the way for my track into social sciences. Because I was a clerical officer in the department of modern languages, I developed interest in foreign languages and all these came together later on with the French government scholarship. My MPhil in African Studies and doctoral thesis in Political Science were written and defended in French. At the beginning of my career, I was active in African studies, political science, international law, and international humanitarian law professional associations.
What lessons have you learnt from your past political experiences?
It is simple. Equality and justice for all. If you give people crumbs, after sometime, that crumb will not be enough and they will demand their rights. I want to inspire, I want to offer hope and provide hope for our people. Not only through deeds but through actions. I want our people to be able to feed their families, I want their children to be able to achieve their God-given potentials. I want to eliminate the poverty of the mind and soul that pervades our society. It is not fair to encourage other people’s children to be okada riders and empower them to be such, when our own kids are doctors and nurses and doing million times better. Those children and their families must be given the opportunity to dream big and live like the best among us. We must create such an opportunity for all.