I have capacity to ensure positive Development in Kwara South – Ex-Chief Protocol to President Jonathan, Onijala

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In this interview with our Correspondent, KAYODE ABDULAZEEZ, the former chief protocol to the Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan speaks on his career, life experiences, and community development interests that led him to join Politics and seeking for office under Accord Party (AP) in the 2023 general election, enjoy the excerpts

There is this belief that a body, sometimes, known as Kwara South Vision was founded and that you’re actively involved in that body. What’s this body meant to do?

Prior to Kwara South Vision, in 2018, we started the new dawn and we have very knowledgeable people. People who are of like minds that are determined to change the socio-economic sphere of Kwara South. The vision is to change the mindset of the people towards politics, to let them see that it is necessary we have good governance. There are so many things good governance will bring to the people which are lacking because they are deprived of the dividend of democracy like we see in Nigeria. So that is the vision. We have to interact; we have to get people together. And we can work as a team to see that we bring development to Kwara South because the state which we are now is very deplorable and not acceptable. That’s the main plan.

Your politicking has gone beyond the Kwara South Vision of a thing, to a real politics. You’re in which of the political parties?

I am a member of the Accord Party.

Do you intend to aspire for any political office?

Well, I’ve been affirmed the Senatorial candidate of the party for the 2023 election to represent the people of Kwara South District.

How prepared are you for the office?

I’m more than prepared. If you look at my pedigree or you look at my background. Enacting laws are for development, for politics because it all encompasses diplomacy. I don’t think I’ll be a newcomer to that kind of position.

Can you shed light on your pedigree and background?

I started my diplomatic career in 1981 and I rose through the rank to become a Foreign Service officer with level 17 and became a Director. And as a Director, I headed several departments. That’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I headed the East and Central African Division. Then later, I was moved to the region’s department. The regions department is the largest department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All the countries of the world have divisions in a section of African countries, so I was the director. From that position, I was appointed the Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And that same year that I was appointed Chief of Protocol, I was appointed Chief of Protocol to the President. So I had to move from the ministry to the Presidential Villa.

(…..cuts in) which of the presidents?

(…..continues) Goodluck Jonathan. So I had to move from the ministry to the villa. From there, I retired in 2013 as the State Chief of Protocol. I’ve been around the world. I’ve gone to more than 60 countries in the world.

Can you name some of these countries?

I told you I was the Director. If I start counting now… (….cuts in) that’s why I said some.
Some?….Yes; France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Britain, etc. Pakistan, South Korea, Brazil, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Kenya. I’ve been to Turkey, Malawi, Botswana, and all over the world.

I stand to be corrected. There would be a difference between diplomacy and law-making because as far as I know, diplomats are not used to talking all the time. They talk only when it is necessary. But as a lawmaker, you have to prove effective representation of your people, and sometimes if need be, you have to get radical about it. How do you merge these two offices?

I do not see any difficulty in that. I participated actively in the formulation and implementation of some of our foreign policies. And you know that in the National Assembly, we have the foreign policy committee. And apart from that, what is involved? Anybody who has gone to school, who can read to a certain extent, who has a degree should be able to follow within two weeks or one month should be able to learn the ropes at the National Assembly. And talking, as a diplomat, we are going to represent our country. It means talking, it means to research, and it means gathering information here and there. And to pass a law, there is a process; there is a procedure which obtains in the Foreign Service also. All these memoranda that we sign with countries, all these protocols, all these agreements that we signed with other countries are written by us in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we are used to writing all this stuff. So, it won’t be strange to me. And, negotiation: We have participated in many meetings, both bilateral and multilateral, where negotiations are made, and protocols are signed. For 33 years in the foreign service in this capacity, there should be enough that one can do in the National Assembly.

Coming back to the choice of the political party, you mentioned Accord Party. Why the choice of the Accord party? Do you think, with the Accord Party, you can achieve your dream? Compared to the popular political parties.

I could look at the seed of time and tell you which one will germinate and which one will not. In life, people always look at the challenges instead of looking at the opportunities in a given situation. They look at the challenges there. I’m an optimist. I’m a catalyst. I believe that if I’m destined to get there, I will get there with the help of God. There’s this tendency that if you’re not in PDP or in APC, you can’t get anywhere. It shows that we’re very pessimistic. We are not dynamic. In other places, a small party with a good idea, and a good manifesto can defeat a big party. And what makes a big party is the people. So, a small party with a very good message that resonates with the people should be able to win elections. That’s my view that it’s not supposed to be the big party all the time. It’s not the size of the dog that matters in a fight but it’s the size of the fight in the dog. So we can be small but we have ideas and principles and the vision that we want to share with the people. And I’m sure that that message is going to resonate better than what the big parties are going to offer us. They have been there for more than 20 years now, but what has become of us? So, it’s like big for nothing.

You have expressed so much confidence and optimism about winning. How close are you to the grassroots and how confident are they about your candidacy from your assessment?

I started going around last year, exactly 4th April 2021 because I was with the PDP and we went around all the seven local governments of Kwara South. I was impressed by the reaction of the people. To me, they saw in me a different person, a politician who is not practicing politics the way they used to do. They listened to my message, listened to the vision and they are convinced about my sincerity. They are impressed with my knowledge. Even in the PDP, for example, when I was contesting for the senate, my local government adopted me as their strong candidate because they felt that I would be able to represent them well. I’m famous at the grassroots, at least, in all the seven local governments that we have in Kwara South. There is even a kind of silent revolution now that the new trend will be to the extent that people will want to vote for persons and not parties.

Are you saying this conforms with your principle?

Yes, I agree to that. In the past, we have this belt system of choosing our representatives. Because it’s APC and APC is big, PDP is big so anybody that they bring and speak my language will win because it’s a big party. Nobody cares about his pedigree, no one cares about his track record, nobody asks him about his vision, how he wants to achieve his vision, they don’t ask him. Before it used to be naira, everything is now ‘dollarized’. And he dolls out all these, dolls out rice, spaghetti, very nauseating things that they do. Sharing things to induce voters. I think that’s very wrong. In civilized countries, if you do that you’re going to jail. Sell your vision to the people, tell them how you can achieve that, and tell them what you can do. Let them trust you. I don’t need to buy you clothes or give you money for you to vote for me. When they do that, when the man gets there, he owes them nothing because he has bought that seat and he has used you. He’s going to dump you. He doesn’t need you again because you’re not the one sending him there. He has bought that position. I think if we change that, if any party puts down any candidate, we should ask ourselves who is he? What’s his pedigree? What’s his biography? What are the track records? What’s his vision? Let him explain it. How is he planning to achieve all these things he says he’s going to do. But, I just come, go to the bank and borrow some millions or sell my properties to be able to spray money and become popular so that they can vote for me. If eventually, I win, when I get to the house, the first thing I’ll do is to recoup these expenses so that I can pay the bank. I have to build another house that I’ve sold. That’s why I said if we continue like this the future is very bleak, especially for the youths. Because every four years, politicians will come, they will doll out money, give 3 or 4 cups of rice, some spaghetti, and all that stuff and because of the hunger in the land, but the question is; who caused the hunger in the first place? It is bad governance we have in place that caused the hunger. And, I think that some of our leaders intend to keep us as such so that every four years, they can come and dominate us again. And it will go on like that and like that, and they will pass the money to their own children too. Their children will come and dominate us and dominate our children. It’s a cycle. If the people cannot say enough is enough, enough of all these money politics, enough of all these nonsense.

Let’s know you, tell us what you’ve done. How are you going to do it? Can we trust you? I think that’s what matters in this that we are about to go into. Not because somebody is from APC or PDP, it’s not about the party. Who is PDP putting down? Who is APC putting down? Who is Accord Party putting down? Juxtapose them, interview them, screen them and see what they have. Instead of just saying he’s from PDP. They’ve been doing this for 20 years now and the level of development is lamentable. You can imagine what obtains in other countries, small countries, countries that are bigger than Nigeria, countries that are not up to Nigeria, what they are doing with their intellects, with the resources God had given them, you’ll be ashamed to call yourself a Nigerian and that is why, today, you go abroad when they see your green passport they want to put a comb through you. The first thing they thought of is; this is a ‘419’, this is a crook. That’s the state that we are now in, that we need to correct. If not, our children won’t forgive us. The youths won’t forgive us and it’s dangerous. The level of insecurity will continue to rise. You can imagine the thousands of graduates on the street. You go to school you graduate, no job. You can imagine the depression that will set in. Somebody was telling me that his son graduated with a good grade in economics. About three years now, going to four, no job. And he said the boy started going out, coming late, hanging out with bad people, that one day he even discovered that he put his money somewhere and the boy stole it. The man was weeping. I said no ‘you have not seen anything. If we continue like this, we are sitting on a keg of gun powder. It will explode one day because these people, these children won’t take it any longer. So, the right thing for us now is to change the narratives. There must be good governance. Government should be able to provide an enabling environment. Government can’t give all the jobs but when you create an enabling environment, individuals can come up and establish small and medium enterprises where our youths can go and work. You can establish mechanized farms. All these are the low-hanging areas; hospitalism, and tourism. These are the things that you can do quickly, within one year, you can employ so many thousands of people before you now start thinking of heavy industries.

Going to the senate now, what are the kinds of laws or bills you want to bring forward to the National Assembly that will be of benefit to the people in your constituency and to the state as a whole?

When I get there, definitely, I’m going to make sure that we contribute in a very robust manner to the bills that will be people-centered. When you start talking about bills on all these things that people cannot profit from, I just laugh. Why can’t we pass bills that will affect health, education, and good roads? How many laws have they passed on insecurity? All we hear is they are inviting the IGP or the service chiefs. What laws have they passed that will make the government tackle this insecurity? What laws have they passed on ASUU? ASUU has been on strike for many months now. What laws do we have in place to control the educational sector? Also, in the health sector. I don’t see any hospital around Kwara South. Let me limit the conversation to my Kwara South. I remember I go to one hospital and they told me that that’s the best hospital in that town and I started laughing. They did ask me why? I said in Europe or America, they won’t even take their kids to this hospital. They won’t even allow you to function. And this is the best hospital here. These things make me sad. If you go to some countries and you see roads that are 12 lanes and no single porthole. Are there roads in Nigeria? What bills are they passing to make life comfortable for the common man? All you hear is they passed trillions of naira and there is no light, no security, no education, no hospital. So these are the areas we are going to look into that these people in the pursuit of happiness will be able to get what they want. At least, live as human beings. In my disappointment, I always tell them that I don’t believe that we are yet human beings. We are between chimpanzees and human beings. If we are human beings they won’t be treating us this way. We won’t be accepting the kind of government they give us. I pray that God will send people of like minds, people who love the people who want to lift the people out of poverty, who want to make their lives better.

Back to your ambition, how much have you contributed to your community and the constituency as a whole?

They always ask me this question, and, at times, I just laugh. Because they hear the word ambassador, they believe that I’ve stolen all the money in the world. They believe that I have the entire dollar in the world and I must be dolling it out. No. An ambassador is a civil servant who is on salary. So what do you do as an ambassador? You can do the little that you can within the limit of your income but if, I remember when I was a level 14 officer, from the little savings I awarded about 7 or 8 scholarships to university students and I paid for 4 years. I was even giving them more money than the government was giving them. In later years, I gave people going to the polytechnic, and people in the university scholarships, paying more than what the government was paying. And when I retired, what do I do for the community? I am not a money bag. There are some things that I can do so I started a mechanized farm in my community. One day one elder in the town was telling me; he said to me; you’re the richest man in this town. I asked why. He said when you sit down and you see the people going to work on that farm, you should be happy. That is, every day these people get something to eat and it makes you happy and talking seriously, he’s right and I am too. I’ve not stolen money, I will not steal money and I won’t do more than what my capacity can carry. Within the context of what I have, on a daily basis, the people who have come to us, want you to help. People who cannot pay school fees for their wards, want you to help. At times, I’m choked. But I won’t do more than what I can do because I’ve not stolen money and I won’t steal money because of anything. I fear a situation, maybe coming from your background, you’re going into a system that people have been there and they are very large in number. You’ll just pray that you meet people of like minds there. In the event that you just find yourself in the midst of all these types of people whereas left to you, you’re focused. You have your own agenda; you have your own mindset towards certain things.

How do you think you can cope with this kind of situation?

Well, we have what we call the lone voice in the wilderness. You can stand to be something. Some people want to be someone, and some people want to accomplish something. That means the world is divided into two. Those who want to become someone and those who want to accomplish something. I think I belong to the class of people who want to accomplish something. As an ambassador, I think God has blessed me and I think I’m okay with that. But for me to be able to accomplish something to help the people, I mean using my position and their money. I mean the money I am paid as a Senator which was given to others and most of them are pocketing. I intend to use the money to bring development to Kwara South. Kwara South is my constituency, not Nigeria. So, from what I will be able to get from the constituency allowances, I bring it back to Kwara South and not pocketing it, not building houses or buying cars or whatever. You use that money for them and with the political power that I have. With what I have as a diplomat, I should be able to attract investments into Kwara South. You can stand to be a Daniel. You can stand to be alone. Let the people know what you stand for. You’re focused. You know what you want to do when you’re there. Don’t forget that they give them slots. With me, I have no God-father that will be taking this money from me. The money is meant to make an impact in Kwara South. I’ve heard that many people who have gone there when they get the constituency money, it doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to someone else. It belongs to the godfather that put them there and that shouldn’t be. Me, I don’t have any godfather aside from God. Your constituency, like any other one, across Nigeria, I think there is this issue that a senatorial constituency is made up of different groups of people. Like in your own case now, we have the Ekitis, Ibolos, and Igbominas, and in some cases, the balance does not strike to the extent that you discover that a section of a constituency is the one that is benefiting more, especially when their own people get there.

Do you foresee a replay of that if you get there?

I don’t. If you’re open-minded and I don’t think I’m going to do that, if I have seven local governments that make up my constituency, I don’t see why I have to concentrate attention on Isin Local Government for example, which is my own or the Igbominas. No, it shouldn’t be. I’m representing Kwara South then whatever I get will be spread among the people without discrimination. That is my constituency and I don’t have to discriminate. They voted for me because my Local Government alone cannot give me the senate seat. Whatever project we are going to bring must be spread and it must go around the seven local governments.
Talking in specifics now, you must have observed in the areas of infrastructure, certain areas there is no infrastructure, and where the infrastructures are in place, they are not up to expectations.

Is there anyone you have identified who you think needs urgent attention?

Sincerely, when you talk of infrastructure, especially in Kwara South, because I ask people, maybe I’m blind, what government’s presence do you have here? All you see are old hospitals that were built in the 60s or 70s, that is now repainted. The school was built in the 60s or 70s. I’m not seeing any factory in Kwara South that belongs to the government or that which any Senator has brought; either small or medium. I’ve not seen any road. So when you talk of infrastructure, I think it’s zero. I was telling some people that we are really very lucky during the corona pandemic. If the thing had been otherwise severe here like in other lands, it would have wiped out all of us in Nigeria. Not even in Kwara South will it not be severe because where are the equipped hospitals to tackle the scourge? Where are the workforces? They are not enough. So we are just lucky. My daughter fell sick and I took her to a hospital in Abuja owned by a foreign company and when I got to the hospital I was telling my wife… and this same government officials bring their children to this hospital o. Will the trillions of naira that people are putting in their pockets not do something worthwhile in this regard if only they are well appropriated? Why can’t the federal government, even the state governments have this kind of hospital in the 774 local governments in Nigeria? Is that too much? But when they are sick they go abroad. They don’t care that Nigerians are left to be taking herbal concoctions. These are the things that make me sad. Having seen the worst situation, I asked a fellow one day: I said this thing you’re doing here in Kwara South, can you do it in the country where you’re residing? He said no! Distributing drugs to people. And I said why? He was embarrassed by that question. I asked why you think you can’t do that in the country where you live. He answered and said because the government in his home country had taken care of that. Good. If the government has given good governance, they have provided medicines why not in Nigeria?. You go to some hospitals in the US for example, and at times you just see that even a dog has more worth than some of us here in the way they take care of them. So these are the things that worry me. Why are we not getting these things done here? Those doing it right elsewhere are not better than us, they are not more brilliant than us but because they have the passion, they have the love of the people that make them leave a legacy. When you go, people will talk about you that during his time this factory was brought, that road was constructed, and that bridge was built. These are the things I want to accomplish and see that the young ones that will take over; when they are not young anymore and we are supposed to be resting will do our best because we had left a good legacy for them to follow. So, because of that, we are now to go, show the change, and lay the foundation so that others can come and build on it. I have to work with the two members of the House of Representatives because I have observed over time that we elect the three of them in Kwara South for example, and you can never see them calling for a meeting to strategize. So what can we build on in Kwara South? I’ve not seen any meeting called by these three representatives of ours at the National Assembly. This one is distributing clippers, that one is disturbing rice, that one is digging wells, and I laughed. If you go to Dangote, You will see the number of jobs attached to that industry alone which you can’t imagine. Why can’t we point to one of such industries in Kwara State? I’ve not seen one. We need good governance, we need someone who has visions and can do it.

What is your message to the electorates?

To the electorates, I just pray that this time around, don’t eat rice, don’t take Ankara and mortgage the future of your children, because if they give you money now, after a month the money is gone and you won’t see them for the next four years. They will not come back to do anything for you again. If you’re looking for candidates that have the love of the people you should search for them, talk to them and screen them. The person must not be a man with a big pocket. Know that God loves a man with clean hands.