• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Desire to make a different in governance motivated me to go into politics – Oyegbola-Sodipo

Oyegbola-Sodipo (1)

Lanre Oyegbola-Sodipo is an All Progressives Congress (APC) chairmanship aspirant of the Abeokuta North Local Government in Ogun State, popularly known as LOS. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he talks about governance and why Local Government Areas are failing to fufil their constitutional roles. Excerpts:

As a well-known Public Relations expert and entrepreneur venturing into politics, have you thought about the challenges?

Permit me to say that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles the body. It is not the idea of going into politics that matters; but what we do as a politician. As a public relations and media practitioner, I am aware that it is the act perpetrated in politics that determine whether your reputation ends up as being good or bad. With the right values, such as honesty, commitment to public good and discipline, it will be easy to excel in any profession, even in politics. This is because over time, you would have demonstrated these good traits and would be known to your family, friends and contemporaries. This makes it easier for those you encounter even in a new terrain to trust and accept you.

I dare say that there is room for improvement at our local government level. I recall that the current Minister of Works and Housing, while delivering his Independence Day speech, said that often times, we call the President’s attention to issues that do not have direct impact on the common man. These issues are those that ought to be addressed at the local level. We need to focus more on our local government chairmen, because they are the closest to the people. Also, their activity or inactivity has great effect on every man in the community; his quality of life, aspirations and achievements. Therefore, for us to have the sort of livelihood we desire, we need to demand for a better quality of local government administrators.
Having accomplished so much in my personal and professional life, I believe there is a lot that I can contribute to the society, for the betterment of our people especially at local government level. My desire is to come in and do well. It is not about the salary or amount in the coffers. After all, how much is the salary of a local government chairman? I believe that my pay check is higher than what is presently available in that office.
So, I am motivated by the desire to serve the people and ensure that communal development is driven from the grassroots.

Politics here is different. Without a godfather, it is difficult to get a ticket on the platform of any major political party. Do you have a godfather?

An average person has a godfather. This is because a godfather is an influential figure, who has a measure of confidence in you; enough to stand as a surety or referee. For example, multinationals often require prospective contractors/vendors to provide recommendations from previous clients. This serves as a form of surety. The same applies in the political space. This is because the group of people (party leaders and members) that wants to give you a platform to serve needs to be sure that its candidate has character, competence and the right skill set.

What are the needs of your people?

The needs of the people in Abeokuta North are not different from the needs of the people in Makoko, Lagos State. Every rural dweller desires the basic necessities of life which are often lacking. For this reason, there is always a high rate of rural-urban migration.

From my visits to my LGA, I observed that the health centres are in a deplorable state, with almost non-existent equipment for testing or medication for treatment such that the people have to travel to the state facilities in town for the most rudimentary medical attention like malaria and typhoid. Ideally, the latter ought to be reference centres for major health issues.

At this time, it is important to give our health sector the attention it deserves; not just paying lip service to administration or empowerment. We need to make major investments in the sector which will give the grassroots better livelihood, after all, health is wealth.

In addition, we need to place a premium on education. When the late Obafemi Awolowo envisioned education for all in the old Western Region, it was not just about looking for money alone. It stemmed from genuine passion and sincerity of purpose.

It is also noteworthy that there is paucity of funds in the LGs. For all intents and purposes, this needs to be addressed and fast. Once this is done, it will provide adequate funding for new and existing projects.

Let’s look back at the days we were growing up. How did we go to school? It was because there was sincerity of purpose on the part our parents. Our parents wanted us to go to school and they did everything to make sure we did. They did not have to steal.
Everybody who comes to politics makes promises during campaigns but nothing gets done once they are voted into office.

At the beginning of this year, no one saw Covid-19 coming but it did. As concerned citizens, one of our priorities thereafter, was to produce 50 million facemasks for vulnerable Nigerians while empowering tailors across the different states of the federation.

How did we do that? We designed a project that solved a problem and created jobs at the same time. Knowing full well that we didn’t have all the money, we assembled volunteer tailors whose businesses had also been impacted by the pandemic, fixed a price which was lower than the market prices and they agreed to sew the face masks which they did from the comfort of their homes.

In the process, we empowered the tailors who had lost their source of income to the pandemic – no one was making asoebi or office outfits.

We took the same model to Abeokuta North, got tailors from the 16 wards to sew 20,000 facemasks and upon completion, were distributed through the community leaders to the poor who could not afford the face masks in the first place. This process ensured that they were also protected from the scourge of the virus.

All I did was to come up a good cause and people supported me. At the end of the day, we did not just hand over money to people, we solved a problem by getting them employed.
As a local government chairman and with the limited funds at my disposal, I will creatively solve problems while creating empowerment opportunities and prioritising the welfare of the vulnerable in the society.

What is your take on local government autonomy?

Local government autonomy is a great idea but the only way it can be effective is when those at the helm of affairs directly saddled with the welfare of the grassroots dwellers, are able to deliver on the basic needs of humanity.

Unfortunately, the majority of local government administrators do not have strategies or skills when they assume office and as such end up achieving nothing.

Let me ask, why would you commit the funds to a man who lacks basic financial management skills? How many local government chairmen are able to articulate their programmes or have an agenda?

You can only imagine what happens when you commit huge funds to a man whose best effort is to give out N5, 000 to a handful of people and declare in the dailies that he has carried out widespread empowerment

Even though Mr. President has assented to a bill which gives autonomy to the LGs, the biggest problem is that many politicians only aspire for this position without a manifesto. This is what Nigerians are lamenting about – decades of rot without hope for a change.

I have demonstrated what I can do. For example, I have an academic support programme that will positively impact the lives and eventually the families of 5, 000 students. This is just one out of the many plans to improve the standard of life currently obtainable in Abeokuta North.

However, I will not castigate the man who is the governor for the prevalent lapses because he cannot function simultaneously as the councillor. This is why he needs someone like me as a local government chairman. Then he will be sure that his agenda will be deepened at the grassroots, considering my track record and manifesto.

Are you aware of other aspirants in the APC?

There is a popular saying that ‘when the required is not available, the available becomes the required.’ This simply means that, it is those who are available that will be picked to occupy public offices. People like us have seen it all professionally; therefore, we are not afraid to come out and serve the populace. As it stands, we need to have more quality people aspiring for elective positions.

In the chairmanship race for the Abeokuta North Local Government, we have Master’s degree holders and even an engineer. This is an excellent array of aspirants and simply means that there is no opportunity for touts to hijack the seat. This also goes to show that it is level playing ground for all and at the end, the best candidate will emerge.

What if you fail to get the ticket for your party?

Such is life; you win some, you lose some. However, as a progressive democrat I will still be happy if another aspirant emerges as a winner. This is because party supremacy is the most important factor to me. The reality is that politics is never a ‘do-or-die-affair’ and there will always be a next time. I will continue to execute my plans of creating a great communal wealth and better livelihood for my people.