Chief Charles Olajide Awe, former students’ union leader and politician is the immediate state chairman, Ekiti State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Aba Atiba of Erijiyan-Ekiti. He tells TUNDE ADELEKE the story of his life.
YOU have always been a politician right from your days as a student.
In Nigeria, political activism has been a slippery road, but interest is not what you can suppress easily because once you have interest in a particular endeavour, no matter the obstacles, you continue to press on. That’s why we call it struggle. I grew up in an environment where political matters have always been the issue from morning to evening. My mother was a politician and our house used to be a beehive of activities, so, growing up in the West in the 60s was always about discussing political matters. Being a popular food vendor, people would start arriving at our house as early as 7:00 a.m. to eat pounded yam and whatever transpired the day before and the following morning would be the topic. And as a small boy, I would serve them and I would listen to their discussions. That was where the interest started from. When I was growing up, I realised that political activism was important. That was why I chose to serve the people. I discovered that almost all of our needs in life are being provided by government. There are some you can’t provide easily by yourself. You need road, schools, hospitals and many other things in life, but you beckon to government to do all for you. But they say politics is dirty and all the good things of life are coming from politics. That’s why I got involved.
Can we know how the story began?
I was born in Erijiyan-Ekiti in 1959. I started primary school in 1967 and between 1970 and 1973, I was in Modern School in Erijiyan-Ekiti. Later in 1975, I left for Liberty Academy at Odo-Ona Elewe, Challenge area in Ibadan (they call the place Oleyo) for five years. When I left, I moved to Ondo State College of Arts and Science, Ikare-Akoko, for two years before I gained admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ado-Ekiti, which has metamorphosed into Ekiti State University where I studied English and Literary Studies. I also had a postgraduate diploma in journalism and presently I am a Part IV student of Law at the National Open University. I am contemplating going to another university because of the issue of not being able to go to the Law School. But all along, I have concentrated on politics. At the secondary school level, I was involved in activism where I was the librarian. When I crossed to OSCAS, I joined Alex Oke and a host of others who were politically inclined to form a student political party and contested elections. I was to be the speaker of Students Representative Council but the students union was banned.
You were seriously into it as an undergraduate.
In Obafemi Awolowo University then, I was a member of SRC from Part I. When I got to Part II, I contested the presidency of the students union which I won. When I left the university in 1987 after the national service, I was the publicity secretary of the defunct Peoples Solidarity Party, which was later dissolved and I also belonged to the Social Democratic Party. In the party, I was elected a councillor in 1991 for three years l later served as a supervisor. When I left the council in 1993, the political situation nosedived when the issue of Abacha and Abiola came to the fore. In-between 1993 and 1996, I was involved in the struggle for the creation of Ekiti State and at the same time, I conceived the idea of a farm project in Erijiyan-Ekiti. So, when there was no political meeting secretly (because we were being haunted by the military), I would be on my farm. Later in 1999 when the ban on political activities was lifted, we formed the Peoples Democratic Party. I was an actor in the formation of PDP in this state. In 1999, we were defeated in the governorship election by the Alliance for Democracy. That was when I ran for the Ekiti Central senatorial seat. I lost to Chief Ayo Oni of Oke Imesi, AD’s candidate by about 40,000 votes. In 2003, PDP took over the state. Between 1999 and 2003, I was a member of the Governing Council, Federal Polytechnic, Ede. Later, I was moved to Bayero University, Kano, as a member of the Governing Council.
Then you jumped ship?
All along too we had a bit of political differences, particularly with [Ayo] Fayose, and some of us contemplated leaving the party to form another party called Advanced Congress of Democrats (ADC). I was the state chairman of the party for almost two years when the idea of forming a party that would be able to go to the centre came up. That was what led to the emergence of the Action Congress which we merged with AD and ADC. In a contest, I became the state chairman. Later, we renamed the party ACN until 2018 as the first chairman of APC. I relinquished the position in 2018.
What about local politics?
At the local level, I’m one of the leading figures in Erijiyan Improvement Union. I have been actively involved in organising Erijiyan Day. To crown it all, I was made a high chief, the Aba Atiba of Erijiyan-Ekiti. The Aba Atiba stool became vacant in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009, people were contesting for the position and I was one of those shopping for a candidate for the stool because the last occupier was from my ruling house and there are three ruling houses that could ascend the stool. But observing the other ruling houses, the people decided that they were going back to my ruling house and that I was the one to be chosen. In 2012, I was installed the Aba Atiba of Erijiyan-Ekiti.
How would you describe your childhood?
It was not rosy. My father was a farmer and our family was a little bit above the poverty line because we had enough to eat and we never experienced hardship paying school fees. My father would pay and my mother was very supportive. That has been keeping me on ever since because when I was about to marry and was about to have a house, it was with ease because I had a place to live. But when it came to activism, it was not easy. I entered activism at a time Rafindadi, the then NSO boss, didn’t want to see student activists. They were always in one detention or the other, but we enjoyed it because we believed we were doing the right thing, but in the eye of the law, we were wrong. But before we called ourselves liberators, we always wanted to dare the authorities, particularly during the Buhari/Idiagbon era. But when you look at it, that was the ‘furnace’ that treated us and we became fine elements. So, growing up was not so bad, but one way or the other, tough.
I recall a major crisis during your student union presidency which prompted the Nigerian Tribune to write an editorial on you. What exactly happened?
When I entered the university in 1984 after my stint in the Students Representative Council, I contested the presidency which I won. What triggered the crisis was the irreconcilable differences between the students’ body and the institution’s management. We were to move from the temporary site to the present site and the issue of transportation came up. Students believed we should have printed tickets in 50kobo denomination to board the school bus that would convey us to the permanent site. The school management said they wanted it in bulk about N250, forgetting that many of us didn’t have up to N200 coming to school! Good idea, once you bought it, you could be using it anytime you wanted, but 95 per cent of the students, preferred pay-as-you-board. The school had committed itself to motor dealers promising that within a very short time, they would recoup their investments. The school management wanted the message conveyed to the students but there was a breakdown of communication, even as the university was bent on having its way. So, a day to the examination, I was suspended throughout the period of examination which would run through two months. I was suspended around 5 O’ clock in the evening. Unfortunately for the authorities, the students got wind of it and the following morning, no student was allowed to board the new buses provided by the institution because their leader had been suspended. That was what led to the crisis.
How was it resolved then?
The editorial by the Nigerian Tribune then was because the university was the baby of the Unity Party of Nigeria; and in a fledgeling institution like that, they didn’t want a major crisis to disrupt the system. So, the Tribune was concerned that issues must be amicably settled between the students and the management. I was suspended for a month, with the belief that I would just go like that and students would go and write the exam, but the students supported me. They said unless I was allowed to write the exam along with them, they too would not write the exam. The school was closed down. After one month, we came back. When I came back, I went to the registrar to show myself up that I was back after serving the mandatory one month suspension. The then registrar, Chief Adegbite, looked at me and said, “Awe, you’re back again!” I said. “Yes, you suspended me for one month and I’m back.” He said “this time, let’s work together for peace. We have printed tickets.” I said, ‘No problem, Sir. Since new tickets have been printed, I will mobilise my students to start patronising the vehicles, I told him. That was how the matter was resolved, but I paid dearly for it. You know school managements know how to deal with students.
You chose farming when you could conveniently get a white-collar job?
What prompted me to go into farming was the land. My father always told me that I should make sure not an inch of our family land is ceded to others. There is no way you can maintain a land without culvating it, so, to maintain land, you must do something on it. You either build on it or you engage in farming. Also, I believe farming is the oldest profession. I travelled to Israel to see how they do their farming, exporting oranges and so many crops, even to Africa. I realised it was dedication. With a small land and a population not up to 10 million, and with a desert, with Galilee and one or two other rivers, yet they are feeding the whole world. What I deduced from Israel when I did a comparison is that we are very lazy in this part of the world, particularly Nigeria. We don’t like strenuous jobs, jobs that can occupy us for hours. But I love my family, I don’t want them to suffer. I can confidently and categorically say that up to 80 per cent of the food we eat in my family is produced in my farm. We only buy salt and possibly one or two things. We must make farming a priority. That’s why I love Buhari because he has the foresight and I thank God for him. If we’re able to survive till the month of March, with the closure of the borders, then we are okay because people have realised now that we have to sustain ourselves and there’s no way we can sustain ourselves with our population, if we neglect farming.
How is your social life?
I wish you would come to Erijiyan on weekends to see things for yourself. I have a lot of friends who visit me and we listen to good music, classical ones of the 80s and even of the 60s. I take wine moderately and I mix with people. I don’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to social activities, that’s why I don’t have any depression because I don’t think unnecessarily; if you greet me, I will answer you, if you don’t, I go my own way. The only thing that you can do to disturb me is when I am aiming at something that I consider my legitimate right and you stand in my way, trying to block me, I don’t like it. I like people around me, we prepare pounded yam and eat as much as we can.
How do you relax?
Where my houses are, I have a lot of things I relax with. I love dancing and good music, particularly the local ones because I get inspirations, spiritual connection with old music. There are times I invite musicians, local ones, to be with me on weekends just to relax. When I fall sick, I go to Erijiyan to drink ‘agbo’ (herbs). Though they inject me, the best healer (agbo) is at home in Erijiyan. I ask my sister to prepare agbo for me and pepper soup with fresh fish from my farm. Once I take it, I am up again. When I am tired, I go to Erijiyan for a few days. In my farmhouse, I can stay for days without coming to town. I love nature. I go to the farm and go deep inside up to two or three kilometres. I would just be watching, at times they could be snakes, or lizards or I just sit down and be looking and people would think Jide Awe is in Abuja or somewhere else. No, I’m in Erijiyan. In the evening, people come to me, either for counselling or to drink one or two bottles of beer. That’s how I enjoy myself.