• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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‘My desire to contribute towards rescuing, rebuilding Nigeria forced me into politics’

‘My desire to contribute towards rescuing, rebuilding Nigeria forced me into politics’

Bankole Wellington, known as Banky W, a popular musician and actor is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), candidate for the House of Representatives in the Eti-Osa Federal Constituency in Lagos State. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke on the reason he is venturing into politics, his chances, and what needs to be done to reposition the country, among other issues. Excerpts:

Why did you venture into politics?

For years, I’ve been very vocal about the need for good governance and young people’s participation in politics. I’ve been an advocate for as long as I’ve been active in the entertainment scene and in business, using my platform, voice and following to speak up and agitate for a better country. I’ve participated in more peaceful protests than most people I know and played a role in many of the movements that tried to address the plight of the average Nigerian citizen.

However, things have gone from bad to worse, and if there’s going to be any hope for our nation long-term, then I feel like many more like-minded people need to get into the system. The kind of people who are competent, empathetic, innovative and who are genuinely seeking the best interests of our people; people who are reformers and not rent-seeker people who are servant-leaders by nature, who understand that while our problems are from the top-down, our solutions are from the bottom up. And it dawned on me that perhaps I needed to be willing to take my efforts a step further, and go from being an advocate to an active participant in our political process. At the end of the day, the goal of advocacy and activism is impact and improvement. So, if you haven’t yet witnessed the impact you seek, then your activism has not yet been completely successful.

I realised I needed to be willing to stick my neck out and attempt to play my part in the rebuilding of our nation. I’m grateful to be blessed with a great education. I studied Industrial Engineering in University, a relatively successful career in music and film, as well as being a reasonably thriving small business entrepreneur by co-owning a marketing agency and a chain of fast-food restaurants. I know that I owe everything that I am to the grace of God, and the support of my people, and with all that God has given me, if I can’t use it to lead by example, make the sacrifice, and offer myself in service to my people, while opening the door for other like minds to do the same… then who exactly am I waiting for to do it? It was this train of thought that led me into vying for political office.

Aside from being vocal as an advocate, I’ve been very active in terms of community service over the years. I genuinely get a sense of fulfillment from serving my people. It’s why I started the “Lekki Food Bank” with some friends during the lockdown. It’s why I’ve helped to lead various community service efforts through my church and my foundation. We’ve done everything from food and clothing drives, to street clean ups, to giving out scholarships, business loans and grants, and so much more. Because I believe that true greatness is not just about what you can get, but about what you can give. That’s part of what drives me; the idea that each of us can be a stepping stone to someone else’s success, a solution to someone’s problem and an answer to someone’s prayer.

I’ve therefore, spent a lot of my time, energy, finances and resources in service to my community and country over the years, and whether I ever successfully get into government or not, this is who I am, who I’ve always been, and who I will always be by God’s grace. Being in politics just gives me the opportunity to serve and impact a much greater number of people – and I’m in politics because at this stage in my life, this is my greatest desire to be an instrument of service and impact for my community and country.

You were successful in music. One of the problems is that we have had a lack of visionary leaders. Aren’t you concerned about the perception people have of our politicians?

The first person I spoke to about having a burden to run for office was Adesua, my wife, and at the time she said “Banky, I love you, I know you, and I know your heart. I know that, if given the opportunity, you’ll do an absolutely great job in public service. But politics in Nigeria is dirty, and it is dangerous. And I don’t want anything that will soil you or harm you.” And my response to her was that part of the reason politics is so dirty and so dangerous is because so many of the “good” people have avoided it.

So many of us have sat out the process over the years, and stayed content with pointing fingers at those that are on the inside. And it will never get better until we begin to build a consensus of like-minds, insert them into the system, and embark on the difficult journey towards rescuing and rebuilding the country. The great philosopher, Plato, once said “the punishment for not being involved in politics is that you will end up being ruled by your inferiors.”

The truth of the matter is that our system will only be as “good” as the people who get involved in it are so if we all choose to stay away, because of the image people have, or any other reason, then at the end of the day, we will only have ourselves to blame. Yes, politics can be dirty and dangerous, but the more decent people that we can get into the system; the more they can influence it to improve.

The way I see it, we have two choices, we can give up, and avoid it, and leave the whole system to rot and burn to the ground or we can get involved and we can fight. And you see this campaign that we are running? This is what fighting looks like. We are the change that we seek.

Apparently, you are dissatisfied with the system; at what point did you decide to represent your constituency in the National Assembly?

What I found was that most of our people were not paying attention to the National Assembly, and the state Houses of Assembly. Most people would really only be aware of the presidential candidates and the governorship candidates, not realising that our legislative bodies also have so much to do with the quality of life that we can live, and the policies that guide the environment that we live in. And so in 2018, I looked at the options that we had for representation, and I wasn’t convinced that the eventual representative would be accountable, responsive, and impactful enough for our constituency to get the kind of impact that we need.

A lot of the time, we end up with “electing” officials who feel entitled to their seats in office, rather than servant-leaders who feel the need to earn those seats, and be accountable to the people that elect them. And in the previous election, I felt the burden to stand up, mount an opposition to the status quo, and throw my hat in the ring.

I announced my intentions to run very late in the game, it was about 3 months to Election Day.

It would have been impossible for us to win by coming in that late into the race; however it was a great starting point.

We ran on an independent, small platform, but we were able to win in some polling units, where it would have been previously unthinkable. And that, for us, was the goal. It was about a proof of concept. In 2019, we planted the seed. In 2023, we will win the seat – by the grace of God, and with the support of the community.

Read also: Need to demilitarise Nigeria’s 2023 general election

What are the needs of your constituency?

We’ve spent a lot of time meeting with stakeholders across Eti-Osa. We’ve been in a continuous process of engaging with our people: the young and the elderly, the entrepreneurs and employees, the residence associations and religious institutions.

We have visited every single ward in Eti-Osa, and we will continue to do so throughout the campaign and even after we get into office. We are listening to our people, learning about the pain, and putting concrete plans in place on our agenda so that we can legislate, lobby, and represent their interests to the best of our ability.

Some of the focus areas of our legislative agenda (and constituency projects) include education, healthcare, gender equity, youth empowerment, security, quality of life, ease of doing business, and more.

The overarching frame of mind we have is to acknowledge that as a nation we cannot keep doing things the same way while expecting better results, it is not working. We must take a revolutionary approach to rethinking and restructuring the policies that govern our nation so as to chart a new way forward, for the benefit of the people.

With that being said, I must be perfectly clear that I’m running for a legislative seat, not an executive position. So my focus as a lawmaker would be to first of all seek to influence the focus areas where we can have some serious, verifiable impact in our constituency and country. Take education, for instance, one of the concerns for our young people is that they’re not getting the kind of education that gives them skills that are relevant to today’s marketplace needs.

One of the things we hope to do to address that, is to foster a public-private partnership that will give young people in Eti-Osa access to free tech-skills acquisition via tech hubs in the wards of Eti Osa. These tech centres will give our young people a head-start in acquiring the kinds of skills needed to get a job in tech, or build a business. As a nation we must equip our young people with skills that can be exported.

The digital services field is one that we can focus on to empower the younger generation to be able to be productive members of society. Our youth don’t want to live off of handouts and humanitarian aid forever. They just need to be equipped and empowered with the skills to be able to fend for themselves in this new digital age.

That’s why I want to focus on the educational system in Eti-Osa, pulling the public and private sectors together to enable this to become a reality for our youth.

The great thing about being a Representative is that even when you don’t control the budget, you can use the position and your voice to influence the execution of it. It’s a shame that while Eti-Osa is home to most of the successful businesses, brands, and people in our country, the constituency has very little to show for it.

We have no public hospital, and most of the primary health care centers, which we have done a tour of, have nothing to write home about. Our roads are bad despite all the money we have contributed in tolls over the years. Security continues to be an area of grave concern, and so many other issues persist in our communities.

And even though some of these specific issues will not fall under the direct control of the legislator, my job as the representative will be to serve as the spokesperson for the people to the government, doing everything within my power to get the government to act in favour of our people, while also amending existing laws and writing new ones to make our country a better place to live, do business, and raise our children.

The broader details of our legislative agenda are available on our website and anyone can go on there and see some of our plans. The focus areas listed address the specific pain points we have found in this constituency and in the country as a whole, and some of the ideas we are putting in place to solve these problems.

What did you learn from your last experience running for office in 2019 and what will you do differently this time around?

We learnt a lot of lessons from our first attempt at running for office. After INEC de-registered our party (along with the majority of other small independent parties), we took the time to analyse where we fell short. There isn’t enough time to properly unpack all the reasons why we lost in this one interview, so please permit me to focus on just this one: structure wins elections, and we lacked it.

We attempted to build a structure from the ground up, but we were unable to cover the entire constituency in such a short period of time.

In 2019, Eti-Osa had 295 polling units spread across 10 wards, with over 337,000 registered voters. Simply put, we just didn’t have enough of a structure on ground to properly cover that entire spread of people and places.

In a major political party, every ward has an exco, a leadership structure that is in charge of that area. That exco is made of a chairman, woman leader, youth leader, vice chairman, secretary, and more.

The ward is then divided into zones (or areas). Those zones are also supposed to have their own leadership teams. It’s from these cells of leaders, groups, and people that you’re able to effectively reach the greater population of active voters; because they’re a part of these individual communities of people. Otherwise, you’re just playing a guessing game by blindly casting a wide net through traditional and social media and hoping to catch enough attention to convince people.

As a candidate it’s critical that you’re present and relevant in every zone, in every ward in your constituency, I say this all the time: “in politics, if you’re not in the ward, you’re not in the war”.

And that’s before Election Day when you need multiple people stationed at every single polling unit to protect your votes and ensure they’re monitoring the process, so that it is free and fair.

INEC has now greatly increased the number of polling units, so that anyone who wants to vote is within a very short walking distance from his or her house.

In Eti-Osa we now have 725 polling units, which means we will need a minimum of 2,000 plus actively engaged people to cover the entire spread on Election Day. Structure wins elections. And we are much better positioned with the structure we have now to win this one, by God’s grace.

How prepared are you and how confident are you to win this election?

We are extremely confident that this time around, we will win this election. I use the word “we” because it’s not just about me. It’s about all the people of Eti-Osa who are standing with me for this election. It’s not my agenda; it is our agenda. It’s not my campaign, it is our campaign. We have done the work, and we’re still doing it.

We are better prepared from a strategic standpoint, from a grassroots engagement standpoint, from a use-of-technology standpoint, and from a structural standpoint to bring this win home, and I believe we will do it.

Part of the reason why the country is not moving forward is that there’s a need for restructuring or devolution of powers, what’s your take on it?

A lot of people feel like our National Assembly is a waste of resources, and that our lawmakers don’t achieve anything with the seats that they have.

But I’d be tempted to point out that when our National Assembly really means business, they can get a lot of good done. Case in point being the Electoral Act, or “Not too young to run”. Both of these reforms are excellent examples of our legislators working together with policy advisors, NGO’s, and civic society to pass critical, vital laws that have helped to move the country forward in leaps and bounds.

These are laws that have changed our country for the better, and I think everyone would agree on that. The reality is that for us to even consider changing or restructuring or anything of that nature, we need to insert enough innovative thinkers into the current system for that debate to be put on the table.

I think that we must acknowledge that we have seen a lot of wastage over the years, and many people are therefore frustrated with our government in general and the National Assembly in particular. But I think that the legislative arm of government has the power to do tremendous good, if we get enough people in there that will act in the best interests of our people.

I have to agree that our constitution, in its current form, needs work. And while I agree that it is a flawed document, I don’t believe it is a “final” one. I think as lawmakers we have a duty to seek improvements and reforms in policy that would benefit the vast majority of our people.

There is absolutely an argument to be made for changes to the constitutions that have to be applied, but we need the National Assembly to make that happen.

We must have lawmakers and policy advisors that are ready to sit down and tackle the complex problems. For instance, the structure of our police force is an issue we must debate.

International best practices suggest that the best policed nations have a collaboration between a state police force protecting communities while the federal arm oversees the most crucial and complex investigations.

Isn’t that something we should debate and consider in Nigeria? The security situation in the country is a serious concern for us all.

Isn’t it time that we consider restructuring our current security system in Nigeria, by advocating for multi-level policing with clear jurisdiction on crimes to complement the current over-worked existing federal force?

This is just one example of numerous ways we can look to restructure and reform the country, but you’d need the right group of thinkers seated at the table to make it a possibility. And I believe that come February 25th 2023, by the grace of God and with the support of the great people in Eti-Osa federal constituency, I’ll be given an opportunity to serve in that capacity.