Mr Ayodeji Karim, a former member of the US Army, was until recently the Managing Director of Constains (West Africa), Lagos where he resigned to vie for the 2019 Oyo State governorship election on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interactive session, he speaks on his ambition and plans for the state if he becomes the governor. DAPO FALADE brings the excerpts:
What gives you the impression that the party would nominate you as its candidate for the governorship election?
I have been a student of politics and I am actually not new in Oyo politics. I have been involved for a very long time and I have been in and around the corridors of politics for the last 10 years, for example. I am well known within the top hierarchy and I have always supported the party from the backdoor because I have been in the private sector because I didn’t feel at that time that I needed a political position.
But some three years ago, Governor Abiola Ajimobi approached me and told me that they were looking for potential professionals to handle different portfolios in the government. Then, I discussed the issue of Commissioner for Works with him. But at that time, I couldn’t get away from my job because I was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the business was going through some transformations and as the Managing Director, I couldn’t leave the company. So, my interest has always been a part and parcel of me: I feel getting involved is important because if we don’t, we are just wasting our time.
Now to answer your question, personally, I feel I have the experience and I am within the age bracket where I get up in the morning and drive standard and quality. I am very passionate about Oyo State. Yes, I have the confidence that the party will nominate me as its candidate for the 2019 governorship election. Having spoken to a lot of people in the hierarchy from the governor, to the chairman and the party leaders at all levels, I don’t have any impression on why they would not adopt an Ayo Karim as the candidate. Number one, I am untainted; I don’t have the usual baggage that everybody else has. I have never been in trouble. I have always kept a clean slate and I am also an indigene of the state. So for me, I have no issues at all with the leadership of the party adopting my candidature. We are just waiting for the right time and for the right opportunity to get in there.
Part of the reasons for this session is to sell the product, sell ourselves and tell the public, this is whom we are. During an interview on the radio, I was asked, ‘what do you want from the people Oyo State?’ I told them three things: first is that they should vote for people of good character. Secondly, they should vote for good people. Lastly, they should stop voting for people that will give them some slices of bread and take the bakery from them. This is what has been happening over the years, but that cannot continue as it is not sustainable and it makes no sense.
There are speculations that the governor has an anointed candidate to take over from him in 2019. Are you the anointed candidate?
Yes, from all indications from my interactions with the governor and the rapport that I had with him. I also know that if anybody goes to the governor, as long as you are within the Nigerian Constitution, you can contest for any elective position provided you meet the residential laws. Traditionally, the people of Oyo State would not necessarily adopt someone from outside the state to come and govern over them. We are not in Lagos State and I don’t that think we are that amenable to such a system. As an Oyo indigene, am I the anointed candidate? I believe so and I will tell you why.
If you look at the list of those of us vying for the governorship ticket, I will only speak about myself. I don’t think that any of them, in terms of deliverables, quality and standard, would beat my record and the record is there for anybody to see. Leadership is about leading by example and you lead from the front. Part of my army training, when you do command task, is that you have to lead. What are the qualities of a leader? You must have integrity and honesty and you must be diligent. All these things have been demonstrated and if Oyo State were to look beyond an Ayo Karim, I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves.
Do you think the masses want someone that would want to help them and would you not be discouraged?
I think the masses are already yearning for a change. The word, change, has been overused. For me, I think it is about making a tangible difference. How do you make tangible difference? It is by making yourself appeal to the people. I think the sincerity of what you are saying is important. If you are open and sincere, you can get to the people’s heart. I don’t think I will have any issue with the people adopting an Ayo Karim as the next governor of Oyo State. One of my trainings in the army is called winning the hearts and minds of the people. There are number of strategies by which you can do that: You sell yourself directly; you use the media and you use people who have access to other people to be able to achieve. With these three strategies, I think we can be able to achieve what we need to achieve within that short period of time.
Yes, a lot of the people are in the media, making all sorts of noise. But their background is sketchy; their experience is sketchy. The only thing they have or they are supposed to have is the name and that name, if you look at it, they are riding on the glory of somebody [who lived] in the past. What have yourself done today? Forget about my grandfather. Though he was a politician, but he has been dead for a long time. While I am not trying to rubbish my grandfather’s legacy, it is me that I vying for the office that the people need to know, not my grandfather. It is you that is seeking to the state to the next level that we want to achieve. So, I think it is also very important to know the background of someone is vying for an elective office. Integrity is important. Honesty is very important and the ability to drive to achieve result is also very important.
As to the second part of your question, I am a fighter. You don’t delve into politics to run away halfway through. I have been into many battles in my journey in the US Army and I didn’t run away from them. So, why would I run away now? Ile baba omo kii ba omo leru. I feel I am among my people; I am at home. So, I am not scared or fear the challenges in front of me. Yes, it is a challenge and I am not saying it is easy, but ibi to ba le la n ba omokunrin. As long as we are all men, we are determined and resolute. I believe that I am going to be the next governor of Oyo State simply because I know that the challenge in front of us is insurmountable. We have the right people and the right strategy. The governorship seat is there for us for the taken. So, I am not discouraged at all. No matter how much you get knocked down, you pick yourself up, you learn from it and move. There is no point crying over spilled milk; you have fallen face down. You dust yourself up, reassess the situation, come up with a new strategy and run with it.
Why are leaving your cozy background to take a plunge into an unfamiliar terrain where political interests are deeply entrenched; how do you think you would be able to change the narrative?
That is very key. For me, I can only sell myself and be open and honest, as much as I can. However, with the support system that we have, the machinery that we have, we should be able to see through. It is not all just about money. Money is important and it helps; you have to have it anyway to do politics. But I think the narrative now has gone beyond money politics: It is about the individuals; it is about the pedigree; it is about what can he do?; it is about what has he done before? These are the things. Something just came to my mind: If you look at the last 10 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom (UK), there is one common denomination among them all, with the exception of one, John Major. They all went to the Oxford University. John Major served in Nigeria in the 1970s and in the middle of that, he became the CEO of one of the biggest banks in the UK, Barclays Bank and he worked his way and he became the Prime Minister. If you also look at last 10 US presidents, they all went to Ivy universities, like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. If you look at where they all came from; they come from the upper-middle class of their societies. I am using them as an example because they didn’t go into politics because of money or what they have to steal. They went into politics because of what they wanted to deliver to their people. They were also compassionate.
But conversely, if you look at Nigeria, it is the opposite. Those people who are not compassionate about the people, when they get there, their self-interest is the only thing that is important to them. That is why, when you asked if I can change the narrative, I can tell you that we can change it. We need to look for people of integrity; people who are not coming I solely because of what they can get, but what they can give to the populace. That is how we can change the narrative. Let the people know that it is not the money that you want to steal. Of course, the office will bring opportunities and money anyway, so why do you have to dip your hands into the cookie jar? What belongs to the people should be implemented and used for the people. That is how I see these things. For people who have gone to amass money, using dubious means to induce people with money here and there, it would only tell because the situation of our country would never change for the next 10 if we keep voting those kinds of people into governance because of self-interest. We must put our self-interest to one side and work for a general interest that would better the lives of our people.