Unflappable. That is the impression you come away with of the personality of Senator Rashidi Ladoja after about two hours of grueling interview session with the former governor of Oyo State and chieftain of the Accord Party.
Why? Ladoja was in the thick of a battle he is waging against his kinsman and successor, Governor Abio la Ajimobi’s controversial reform of the chieftaincy system in Ibadanland reversed. It was also a time the public was watching if he would fold up the tents of his present party and rejoin the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which has been wooing him to return to the fold he left in 2010 after being schemed out in the internal power game. To add to what may result in discomfiture of the interview subject, some of the the questions were not particularly friendly.
But, the astute politician took everything in his stride, exhibiting calm and cordiality, as he fielded questions from the Saturday Sun team of FEMI ADEOTI and YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE.
Sir, you seem to be a lone ranger in your opposition to the amendment of the Ibadan chieftaincy declaration. What did you see that your colleagues in the Olubadan-in-Council who have embraced it did not see?
I think some of them are blinded by the fact that they would be wearing crowns and called Obas, we don’t see things the same way. Look at the governor in Osun State, he said, he doesn’t want to be addressed as ‘His Excellency’ but wants to be called Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. That is the height of modesty. Does that one remove or reduce his rank as governor? People attach importance to things that other people think is unimportant. I don’t think calling me an Oba will change anything in me. Of all the titles I have, I chose Senator as prefix to my name. I could call myself an engineer because I’m qualified for it, I could call myself a doctor because I have an honorary doctorate degree, which some people like to parade, I could call myself Alhaji because I have travelled to Mecca on Hajj so many times, I could continue to call myself a high chief because I have other chieftaincy titles as well, but I picked only Senator, which is a privilege I’m entitled to even after serving in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But some people will go for anything because they feel it would be an addition to their curriculum vitae. But I don’t think it’s worth it.
The point is that some of the changes that they seem excited about are only the few ones that had been revealed to them, there could be some booby traps embedded in the report that are not known to them that could surprise and shock them? I advised them that time that why don’t they ask for the report, they didn’t see the report or any white paper on it. When you look at the terms of reference of the panel, it included review of the existing requirements/qualifications for ascendancy to the Olubadan of Ibadanland. Do we know if there are some additional requirements that they have embedded into the report? Supposing it is written that once you become an Oba, you cannot become an Olubadan because there cannot be two Obas in the palace? Supposing they bring in age as a factor, like saying that once you are 85 years you should retire? These are the things they failed to see.
There have been moves by the PDP recently to woo you back into its fold. Can you give us the status of the reconciliation talks and what your attitude to the party overture is?
You know these are people you have been together in the same party for so many years. The party started in 1998 and in 2010 I left. The good book says, if you have 100 sheep and you lose one, you will search for that lost sheep. So it is just normal for PDP to be looking for their lost sheep to bring them back and be strong again. There is nothing wrong in it if they feel that I am still an important factor in Oyo State politics or of politics in Nigeria.
So, we should expect to see you under the umbrella party soon?
We are still talking, nothing is concluded yet. Talking about who mistreated me to make me leave the party, was it Ahmed Markafi who declared Oyo State as a military garrison and someone as a garrison commander? When you hear them (PDP) say, ‘we have learnt our lessons’, what else would you want? I asked them to reassure me that what had happened before will not happen again. They said ‘yes’, that they can assure me on that. And talking about progressive politics, I ask, is (Senator Bukola) Saraki a progressive because now he is in APC? Is (Abubakar) Atiku a progressive because he is now in APC. Is (Rotimi) Amaechi progressive because he is in APC now? So, what are we talking about? There is nothing fundamental about the label ‘progressive’ in Nigerian politics. In fact, the world has changed, gone are the days when you talk about capitalism or socialism or communism, what you have now is welfarism. Everybody talks about taking care of their people and that is what is important. even a very strong member of APC came to me and said, ‘we cannot ignore you, because you have been in government for eight years and after you left, you still came second with a slight margin, despite all the incumbency factor’. The man that is ruling the state now is ruling with less than 32 percent of the votes cast in the last election, assuming there was no manipulation of votes. Also look at the runners up, they were products of PDP- (Otunba Adebayo Alao) Akala, Teslim (Folarin) Seyi Makinde were all of PDP. It means that if these people had all been together, then the rest 68 percent of the votes lost would not have been. So, if you have some people tell you this and you love your state and country, should you not listen to them and hear what they want to say? I know the agony that the people of Oyo State are going through. Free education started in Oyo State, I was one of the products when it started in 1959, and now, I’m here when Oyo State came 29th in WAEC examination. If you take away the results of all the private schools in the state, probably, we would have come last. These pupils were products of this present administration, the students entered secondary school six years ago and had such a poor performance in the examination, will you call that progressive? LAUTECH during my time was declared the ‘best state university in Nigeria’ and number five in all the universities in the country, but today, where is the university? Students admitted three years ago are still about to do their part one second semester, so is that progressive? Is that what we should allow to continue? Promises made but not kept? Nearly all the tertiary institutions have closed down now. This is not the Nigeria/Oyo State that we expect to see and whatever it takes, we will want to restore it back before we leave this world. I am 73 years and I know that there is not much time for me again, so, whatever that I can do to put the train back on rail, I will try to do it.
But there is the battered image of the PDP, are you considering this?
What are you telling me? When you are very good in propaganda, in the end, you will hit yourself. What makes PDP that was peopled by Saraki, Atiku, etc bad and doesn’t make APC where they are now bad? Maybe they have been too long in opposition, they don’t even remember that they are in government now. Please, let us leave them with their propaganda and face facts. Human beings make political parties. It is who and who that is in the political party that makes up the party. If we, the people who made the misadventure of leaving PDP now discover that the PDP we left has been reformed and learnt its lessons, then we can come back. Is there anything difficult in that? I’m not saying that I have decided that I’m going back, because I have to carry my supporters along. That was what I told the party’s proem chairman, Makarfi, when he came. I told him that when we get all these assurances, we will now go back to our people and tell them, this is the offer that we have, what do you think? Do we accept it or reject it? A tree doesn’t make a forest, but can only contribute in making the forest. So, I will still go back to them, to advise me on what to do. Whatever advice that they give we will follow.
How do you feel about Oyo coming 29th in latest WASCE result?
It is not because the teachers who sing my praises till tomorrow love me as a person, but because of my performance. We were second in SUBEB; today they are saying they are no more in SUBEB. Not only was I accessing my money, I went there to lobby for more from the executive secretary of SUBEB. We didn’t increase the teachers’ salaries, but we made sure that they were respected by their people, their salaries were paid as at when due. So, they were able to plan their lives. They knew that their salaries were coming on time and they were able to meet their obligations. There was no need for them to tell their children to tell lies that they were not at home when the landlord came to ask them for house rents. If a parent tells his son to tell lies to the landlord, that is encouraging the child to disrespect him, because the child could easily refuse on the ground that his teacher or pastor told him not to tell lies. You thereby reduce the parent to nothing. During the Eid El-Kabir festival, if children of one of two neighbours of different professions wear brand new clothes for the festival and their family could even afford to kill a ram and the children of the other, a teacher, could do nothing but fold their hands because their parents don’t have money, the teacher’s children cannot but ask, ‘what kind of parents do I have?’ They are bound to lose respect for their parents. So, by not paying the workers their salaries, you destroy their homes/self esteem. When we were growing up, the slogan was ‘room to let, teachers should not bother to apply’ because the landlords knew that they will not get their salaries on time. But we changed all that notion. We gave them back their self esteem, and people keep saying that is what makes Ladoja what he is. My life is only to serve the people of Nigeria and Oyo State in particular.
The issue of internal democracy is the bane of many of the big political parties including PDP which you appear set to return, what if this counts against you as it once did?
If that is going to continue, then they should know that there is no future for the party. That is what led to their defeat in 2015. It was when we found out that if we are not careful, we would not have time to field candidates that we set up Accord. It was not my intention to say, let me go and fight PDP, No! I could have aligned with other parties at that time, but I said no, let us see whether we can make a change on our own in Oyo State at least, and the people of Oyo State embraced me, so what else do I want than to become their servant.
How formidable is Accord Party in Oyo State, given the crises that rocked it?
You can answer that easily, since we came second the elections in Oyo State. In fact, it can be said that it wasn’t APC that defeated us, but General Muhammadu Buhari,because all the people, all the parties were just shouting, ‘Buhari, Buhari, Buhari’. To your question, there is no place you would ever have people being 100 percent in agreement, there is nowhere.
What’s your mind on the view that the next governor of the state should come from other zones of the state, Ibadan having apparently dominated governance in the state?
When I was coming in, in 2003, I was the one who chose Otunba Alao Akala as my deputy and the intention was that I was going to hand over to him. So, I don’t subscribe that it must be Ibadan alone. Whoever is competent and is accepted by the people should be in the saddle. I don’t care where you come from, as long as you are ready to serve. But when you look at it, you will find out maybe only one out of 10 governors in Nigeria are ready to serve, some of them want to acquire what they could not have legitimately acquired if they had continued doing their normal jobs. That is the issue where ‘Ojelu’ (Looters) and ‘Oselu’ (politicians) comes in. This house is where I was living before I became a senator and governor. Now I’m not a governor anymore, yet I still live here. I didn’t buy another house in England during my tenure, the one I have was bought in 1985. This is where I will be buried, I am not going to move out to any other house. This is the situation, so, whatever travails that come, one should seem them as such. One of the hallmarks of politics in Nigeria is that you don’t know who your enemy is. The next person sitting beside you may be your enemy. In business, it is different, when you are working in the same company, all the workers will focus on the common goals of the company, but not in politics. It is a question of ‘pull him down’ syndrome in politics. So many of the people standing trial today are not standing trial because of any offense, but because of this ‘phd’ syndrome and that is why a lot of people do not want to go into politics or offer to go and serve. Some people that are qualified for positions are running away because people say it is a dirty game. I don’t think it is a dirty game, it is those of us who are playing it that are making it dirty.
What is your take on the calls for the restructuring of the polity?
I was a member of the 2014 confab and that issue was extensively discussed there. People are looking at it from the point of how it will profit them and not profit the other person? What are we asking for? We are saying, this is a federation, Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, we said, let us devolve more powers to the federating units so that they can take some decisions on their own. Why should the Federal Government control everything in our lives? They don’t own the land that you build on apart from Abuja and some parts in Lagos, so, it is better for Federal Government to determine what their role will be in agriculture rather than continue to say they will continue to run the system. Some people benefit because when government says, this is a programme, the money spent goes to some areas than to others, so Nigeria is becoming a place whereby the natural laws of geography is no more holding. A place where the desert is feeding the rain forest, is that the natural law of geography?
Again, you cannot determine your destiny, look at what is happening in Benue, the people said ‘this is our land’, but the Fulani herdsmen are saying no, it is a grazing reserve. These are all the things that the people are talking about and that is why, even though I don’t support the idea, people feel that they are not well taken care of by the system and want to go. It is necessary for us to restructure so that we will take our destiny in our hands and not the Federal Government dictating for people how they will live their lives. I am not saying Nigeria should not stand, but it should stand as an entity with more roles to be played by the federating units. That is why some of us are so disappointed that the issue of devolution of power could not pass through the National Assembly. And to imagine that it (restructuring) was part of APC’s campaign promise. That is why, I called them amateurs. It is a situation whereby you cannot even say APC as a party is one, because they have so many divergent views.
Sir, Governor Ajimobi is laying claim to the Ibadan circular road as his project. You have similarly done so. What exactly is the true situation?
The circular road is a simple issue, when we came in, Baale Ekotedo called my attention to say, a proposal has been there with the military to build a circular road divider round Ibadan. I knew that, that is the best way to decongest the city. When you go to England, you hear about North Circular, South Circular; if you go to Shanghai, they have three circular roads, Adban, Middle and Inner; in Paris, it is also circular. So the way to decongest traffic is to build circular roads. Efforts have been made to build a Ring road, so, we took it up and decided there and then we were going to build a circular road. The first thing that you have to do is to design it, so, we commissioned the design in 2004 and the design was completed in 2005. The next thing for you to is to acquire the land, we paid compensation to the land owners, so, we now secured the land and brought the contract to study the set design at a cost of about N45 million. We were supposed to do six lanes, but if we manage to do two lanes here and the other side and manage to grade the road for people that would be coming from Lagos Expressway, that should be okay. We then discovered 80 percent of the traffic on the Lagos/Ibadan Express road are not for Ibadan, they only passed through the city. If we graded that road, instead of spending hours diverting to Ibadan, even if they can get to that place quickly and leave, they will save fuel and time and the internal roads will be clear and still durable. We decided to make a section of the road, two-lanes going and two-lanes back, you know, just like the Lagos/Ibadan express road is supposed to be four lanes from Lagos to Sagamu and three lanes from Sagamu to Ibadan but only two lanes were built on each side. It is just now that they are trying to build the others. If they do that one, then, we will enter from the express road, descend at Egbeda for people going to Ife then descend after … for people going to Iwo and descend at Akinyele and have an interchange for people going to Oyo and the north and other places. We will then put it on toll and the money that would be collected, we were to use to continue the road, even if it took 20 years. The land was already secured, and to make it fast, we gave the contract to two contractors, Kopek and CCC.
When Akala came he cancelled the contract and asked Kopek to use the money collected to dualise the road from Molete to Dugbe/Ekotedo. That was what he said he spent the money on, for CCC, he said, they should dualise from Mokola to Gate. The decision that we took in 2007 is now being repeated in 2017. You can understand that it is not a serious government. Most of the time, Governor Ajimobi talks that he would do this or do that or this is what is done in Atlanta or Philadelphia, but he forgets this is Nigeria. He would say that there are no street hawkers in London; this is not true. Some roads are closed in London on certain days and they still have vendors on the street. My brother has reduced all of us to people who don’t know what is happening elsewhere on the globe. People don’t understand that governance is a serious job, it is not a job for people who have no insight.