Mr Abiodun Asimiyu Ladepo is on a mission to make Oyo State truly the pacesetter state if given the mandate of leadership in 2023. In this interview with Demola Akinbola, the vastly-experienced and exposed US Army Officer outlines his approach to leadership, governance and development, saying that what is needed is not heavy propaganda, but for the government to focus on the serious business of maximising the enormous potentials and resources of Oyo State.
Could you give us an insight into your family background?
I am the first of eight children by my parents. My father passed away on June 15, 1978 at the age of 42. But to God be the glory, my mother is still alive and strong. I have three brothers and four sisters – including me, that is four males and four females. I am happily married with children.
Which schools did you attend and what qualifications did you obtain?
I started out at St. George’s Anglican School, Sabon Gari, Zaria, where I had my primary education up to Primary 5. My father, then a staff of Standard Bank (now First Bank), was transferred to Ilorin, Kwara State, where I spent just one year at Ilorin Teachers’ College (ITC) Demonstration School, for my Primary 6, before he was transferred to Bukuru, near Jos, in Plateau State.
At Bukuru, I attended Baptist Day School, Bukuru, also for just one year, for my Primary 7 and earned my Primary School Leaving Certificate. Believe it or not, they still had Primary 7 in the north at the time, even though back in the south, and even in Ilorin, elementary school ended at Primary 6. My father didn’t want to leave me by myself back in the south to attend secondary school while the family moved to Bukuru. So, I had one year added to my primary school education.
For secondary school, I started at Akinorun Grammar School, Ikirun. There, I lived in the Boarding House because my family was still in Bukuru, but my father was preparing for transfer back to Ilorin. He sent me to Ikirun because he had a cousin there that could check up on me from time to time.
By the end of my first year at Akinorun, my family had relocated to Ilorin. And because I was too much of a troublemaker, my father pulled me out of Akinorun and enrolled me at Muslim Council College, Babanloma, near Jebba. Babanloma was so small a town at the time that my school was the only secondary school there. I remained there for the next four years to earn my Secondary School Certificate. I later attended Oyo State College of Arts and Science (OSCAS), Ife, for my A-Level education, and the University of Ibadan where I earned a B.A. in Linguistics.
Tell us about your career history, in Nigeria and the US
I had only two jobs in Nigeria. The first was as Clerk in the Life Insurance department at Gateway Insurance Company in Ilorin. This was a job I took after graduating secondary school and was denied admission to then Kwaratech (now Kwara Poly) for my A-Level education. And the reason was because I was not from Kwara state and refused to take the advice that I should change my hometown to Offa (Kwara), instead of Ibadan (Oyo). Remember, this was in 1979 when politics had returned to Nigeria and everything was politics. How could I give up Ibadan…Ibadan..for Offa? No way!
Even though I had never lived in Ibadan up till that time and my father had paid taxes to Kwara state for so many years, I was still denied admission. Many of my secondary school classmates whose WAEC results were not nearly as good as mine were offered admission because they were from Kwara state.
Mind you, my father had died just a year before I finished secondary school! So, I had nobody to help me secure admission. When I applied to OSCAS, I didn’t know anybody. In fact, I didn’t even visit the school. I had someone in Ibadan go to Ife, collect the form for me, bring it to Ilorin, fill it out and had the person take it back to OSCAS.
I found out in the defunct Sketch newspaper that I was offered admission. In those days, they published names in national dailies. I worked at that insurance company for two years. It was the money that I saved there that I used to pay for my education at OSCAS and UI (OSCAS was basically free, but feeding and accommodation were not).
My other job was as a Reporter with The Guardian newspaper at its headquarters in Lagos. I had been posted there for my NYSC primary assignment and The Guardian had been pleased with my performance. The paper offered me a letter of appointment a couple of months before I completed my Service. I am very proud of that part of my professional life in Nigeria.
I left Nigeria for the US in 1988 and had a few menial jobs – Bus boy, Newspaper Vendor, Pizza Delivery Man, Public Telephone Inspector and Repairer, and Taxi Driver. I was even going to drive a tractor trailer! I completed a six-month training and received certification but changed my mind and stuck with taxi driving because it afforded me the opportunity to attend evening classes (5pm – 11pm) at Towson University, Towson, Maryland.
Then I enlisted in the United States Army. And to God be the glory, I have had more than 20 years of active duty career in the US Army.
You are a writer, critic, social crusader, and also actively engaged in the US Army. How are you able to combine these?
I am not an “Activist” or “Crusader”. I think those are descriptors that require higher levels of involvement and commitment than what I do. But yes, I am a Writer and a Critic – a Social Critic. And I am also a Soldier. I am able to combine both because soldiering is my profession. It’s what I wake up in the morning for, get dressed and go to do. And I get paid to do it.
Writing and criticizing the ills and inadequacies in our society – particularly the Nigerian society – is a vocation that I love and have been doing since I was in secondary school in Nigeria. I remember my first published writing was a Letter to the Editor that I wrote as a Form 3 student in Babanloma and sent to both Herald (Ilorin) and Tribune (Ibadan). It was a complaint about the dangerous bends on the Ogbomosho – Ibadan highway. To my surprise, Tribune published it, albeit heavily edited to remove my harsh language! At UI, I edited a magazine that was also dedicated to the improvement of living conditions for students and exposure to international news.
What is your assessment of the state of things in Nigeria, especially developments in the last 10 years?
You have set 10 years. May I set 40 years? I want to say that since the military left in 1979, the country has witnessed stultification in most areas, and even retrogression in others. I measure progress in terms of institutionalized improvement – like we have had in the banking sector, telecommunication and the military – for instance. Those improvements will likely stand or continue regardless of who is president.
But, even in just those areas, we know the depth of corruption; of false wealth; of gouging of the banking system that is going on with little or no penalty. We know that when we embraced GSM in Nigeria and gave credit to the government of Obasanjo, it was a misplaced credit. Nigeria and the rest of the developing world had no choice but to embrace GSM.
And even at that, we have not been able to move beyond being able to make phone calls and access the internet. We have not, for instance, been able to use telecommunication to solve crimes to the degree that we can use it. And for the military, while it is safe to say that our military has been professionalized to the point that the idea of staging coups is now an anathema for the officers, we are still severely deficient in tactical, operational and strategic levels of trainings that are tailored to our unique sets of security challenges. And we have not been able to find true allies that will partner with us in constructive ways, helping with arms, ammunition and intelligence support.
So, just in those three areas that one can point to improvements, there are severe problems that make things appear like we took two steps forward and three backward. That is retrogression to me.
Do you hold the view that the Nigerian political class, as currently constituted, has what it takes to rescue Nigeria from the precipice?
Yes. But I think we need more…a lot more…of the likes of Fayemi, Fashola, El Rufai, Ribadu, Makinde to get in the system. The process you go through in Nigerian politics to become a nominee, even for the post of Councillor, is fraught with huge financial blackmail…to the extent that an otherwise decent person will have been turned into something else before attaining the position.
And this is because those that will nominate or elect him do not care so much about his qualifications or potential to perform. They only care about how much of his personal wealth they can get before voting for him. So, if there are more people like you and I in politics, we can, at least, put a dent in the overwhelming number of those who do not ask what a candidate brings to the contest in terms of preparation.
We can have real policy debates in our vernaculars so the common man can understand us. Right now, it is all about sloganeering, carnivals, and the distribution of money and stomach infrastructure – things that will not last beyond a few days at most.
What’s your opinion on restructuring and community policing?
Physical restructuring…no. I do not think it is necessary, nor do I think it is even practicable. Economic and Political restructuring…yes. I think we should look into that. I do not want to belabour the issue here by harping on some of the reasons that many (mostly those of us in southern Nigeria) have adduced.
I can tell you that we ought to find a way to devolve more power from the federal to the lower tiers of government. I think the local governments surely need more percentage of funding than they are getting right now. I think we are spending too much money on the federal legislature. I don’t see why we need three Senators per state, earning such an ungodly amount of money.
I think 36 Ministers are just too many (and I know it is a constitutional requirement). In short, we need a constitutional amendment to prune down the size of government in general, and engender a devolution of power from the federal level in particular.
Community policing is the solution to the seeming intractability of some of our security problems – kidnapping, armed robbery, assassination, and even Boko Haram. These criminals live amongst us. Community leaders know them. Even the kidnappers that live in bushes are not islands unto themselves. They interact with the rest of us.
Governors should incorporate community leaders in their security architectures, tying them directly to decent law enforcement agents. If a village chief is empowered (financially) to keep a register of new members of his community (Name, Address, Phone Number, Employment etc), it will be better than what we currently have.
In other words, the governors must be willing to share their Security Votes with the community leaders. These community leaders, depending on their abilities, may engage youths in their respective communities to patrol the communities and protect their people.
The PDP is back in the saddle in Oyo State. How would you assess the first 100 days of Governor Seyi Makinde?
I am surprised the governor joined in the silliness associated with First 100 Days by rushing to turn tokenism into something worthy of celebration…the distribution of exercise books that were ordered by his predecessor, changing the covers and making it seem like it was his brilliant idea; the cancelation of school fees for ALL students, including for children whose parents can afford to pay, while we have many schools in the state that do not have roofs, ceilings, windows, toilets, water, let alone electricity generators, libraries, laboratories;
I think until he has announced a comprehensive plan to increase the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), he should not be frittering away some of the sources of income for the state. This is what I mean when I talk about institutionalized development. The governor should embark on well-thought out policies that will outlive his administration. For someone who had been running for governor for about 10 years, he should have been prepared to announce those far-reaching, concrete steps within the first month; certainly, within the first 100 days, if he must play the first 100 Days silly game.
Could this be the beginning of the end for APC in Oyo State, or you are convinced that the party would stage a comeback in 2013?
I don’t know about the end of APC in the state, People said the same of PDP in 2015, after Ajimobi won his second term. But, implied in your question is the masterful use of propaganda by the governor’s media team to discredit Ajimobi and, by extension, malign the APC.
I have been holding conversations with some leaders in the party about the danger of leaving the field of propaganda alone to the Makinde people. They will re-define us completely by 2023 so much that nobody in the state will vote for us. Some in our party still believe it is too early to criticize his government. I disagree, obviously.
For every lie, half-truth and exaggeration that they put out, we should have our people countering them. Our major handicap right now, that is working in favour of the PDP, is the crisis of leadership within the party. Once the reconciliation moves being made bear fruits, you will see us in concerted efforts to offer better and more enduring alternatives to the people of Oyo State.
You recently unveiled your vision to become the next Governor of Oyo State. What is the motivation?
The main motivation is that I believe I can assemble a better team, together with which we can truly make our state the Pace Setter state in Nigeria. No nation has entered the so-called First World without a strong public education sector.
For more than 30 years that I have been abroad, I have paid a lot of attention to how education is being run in all the countries in which I have lived and worked – the US, Germany, South Korea, and even the UK and Canada. I have paid attention to healthcare issues, food security and general security apparatuses. And I know that our people in Nigeria want the best for themselves and their families.
They just need someone to provide the motivation. That’s where my military career comes into play. I know how to lead. I know how to accomplish missions. I know how to adapt solutions to the uniqueness of the environment in which I am operating. I have garnered enough connections – institutions, governments and individuals around the world – that we can partner with to bring our state to where we would be the envy of other states.
Why do you think it should be you? Why are you optimistic about your chances?
I do not think it SHOULD be me. That’s the kind of attitude that breeds hubris and makes people engage in politics of hostage-taking, scorched earth politics, politics of total destruction etc. I welcome others. I welcome healthy competition. If there is someone out there that I think has the capacity to form a better team of great people; that has the ability to fearlessly lead; that is incorruptible, altruistic and is not beholden to dark forces that hold our people back, I will gladly offer such a person my support.
My overall interest is to bring back home some of the experiences I have garnered in America, Europe and Asia. I want to move from being a critic of government to a doer. I want to put my money and energy where my mouth and pen have been all these years.
What will be your specific strategies for addressing issues of unemployment and low productivity?
We will move away from the idea that government should be the highest employer of labor. That’s why we consistently have the problem of paying salaries and pensions on time. We have too many people hired by government, many of whom are “under-employed” because you have three people doing things that one person can do.
We want to provide the enabling environment for private entities to thrive so they can employ people; and for individuals to run their own small businesses and be successful doing it. For instance, we will assist folks in setting up all kinds of small manufacturing businesses and link them with markets for their products.
The current administration and even the one before it talked about assisting farmers in getting their goods to markets. We will not just talk about it; we will do it. We will assist in large-scale, mechanized production of food and its storage, and exportation where we have excess.
Our state is blessed with all kinds of natural resources, particularly in the Oke-Ogun area; we will not pay lip-service to assisting private entities (and the communities in which these resources are located) to make the best out of these resources. We will actually do it. Ours will not be a government of tokenism in the First 100 Days. From Day 1, we will be doing and announcing constructive things to the people of the state.
In our administration, the ministries that will definitely see an upsurge in employment are those responsible for Agriculture, Works and Water Resources. We will not neglect other ministries, of course. But to underscore the importance of agriculture, we will devote a lot of resources to it.
Do you think you have adequate local knowledge of the political situation in Oyo State?
One thing I know is that hunger hurts everybody the same way. Poverty hurts everybody the same way. Lack of good educational foundation hurts everybody the same way, poor healthcare delivery system hurts everybody the same way. Horrible roads and decrepit public infrastructure hurt everybody the same way. Corruption hurts everybody the same way.
Of course, I have enough local knowledge of the political situation in the state. I will roll with some of it, and I will do my best to reject parts of it that I know are inimical, and indeed destructive, to the successful delivery of good governance post-electoral success.
What would you do differently if you were elected the Governor?
Differently? I will not lie to the people. I will not malign any of my predecessors. I will not engage in vendetta. I will respect the electorate. I will serve … just like I have diligently served in all the places that I have worked and received accolades for LDRSHIP – Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honour, Integrity and Personal Courage.
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