Akindele Akanmu Ogunbiyi, chairman of Mutual Benefits Group, is one of the governorship aspirants in Osun State on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He comes highly recommended among the number from the opposition side. Before joining the race, he had worked in the managing director/CEO capacity for 15 years, group managing director for more than 5 years and is presently the group chairman of the Board. He was the chief promoter/founding managing director and chief executive of VTL Insurance Brokers Ltd from January 1993 to September 1995. He has had several other public and private exposures. The aspirant parades an intimidating résumé. In this interview, Ogunbiyi speaks on his mission to deliver Osun from bad governance, which he says is very urgent; how he will bring his experiences in the private sector to bear on the economy of the state; tackle the insecurity challenge in the state, among other issues. Excerpts:
The way the country is today, regarding security vis-à-vis the herdsmen and other crimes, it’s as if people are raising their hands in helplessness. Looking at the security architecture of Nigeria and based on your own experience and exposure, how do you think this herdsmen issue can be solved, bearing in mind that two priests among others, that were killed were just buried recently.
It is really sad and inexplicable at this modern age that this is happening in Nigeria. I am sorry to say, yes, I am gunning for a political position, because I am convinced that leadership can make the difference in everything. They will tell you that people is the most important when it comes to factors of production. But, I tell you, it is having the right people, not just people, but the right people. I don’t know how a country so blessed when you see the biblical country flowing with milk and honey, I have not seen any country in the world that fits into that description but God just decided that we won’t have the right leadership.
Fulani herdsmen (or killer herdsmen as they are called), communal clashes here and there, religious war, for crying out loud, we have to talk about what people need. I will be 56 in the next couple of weeks. We grew up in this country. I am a village boy to the core. My primary, secondary, modern school, my university, everything was in the village. My father’s best friends, especially in my town, Ile-Ogbo, were from the Hausa community. My father was a herdsman. They thrived and they lived in harmony. You find Igbo community; you find in virtually every locality within the South-West. You say Kano is a no man’s land just as they say Lagos is a no man’s land and you get to Kano in those days and you find every ethnic group represented and they lived as if they were in Umuahia or Ile-Igbo. You get to Kaduna, it is the same thing. Is it not the same country? It is all about leadership. You have leaders who have the capacity to lead well but they choose to do other things. This leadership issue we are talking about, they have the capacity to do the right thing, but they’ve decided to do otherwise.
You said your father was a herdsman…?
Yes! My father was a herdsman. I grew up to know him as a herdsman. He would go – and buy with his friend from Ijebu – they would go to Kano and buy herds of cattle, 400 to 600, 1000; the two of them, they would trek, 90 days, 100 days to lead the cattle down to Oyo. There was no harassment in my locality; there were herdsmen. The three localities that make up Iwo land, Aiyedire Local Government, Iwo Local Government, and Olaoluwa Local Government, we had herdsmen. We never had these issues. If you come to my farm, about 25 kilometers from my village, you will see 7 or 8 year-old boys, two of them controlling about 400 herds of cattle. They pass through farms, they know when to stop them; they know when they see virgin land, they know when they see free grazing land.
So, what’s the way forward?
This is just political. The day our leaders would come together and say heck, we are one and let us line up as one. What else do we talk about? We are using ethnicity to divide ourselves. What do you say of India, a country of 1.3billion population; over 300,000 ethnic groups and their ethnic groups are as much as their religious beliefs. It is unfortunate. I can only appeal to our leaders. When people fail to give the deliverables that are needed for the common man to live a decent, peaceful life, they will look for alternative to engage us. This is exactly what is happening.
You’re a private sector individual going into politics, how do you hope to deal with the violence associated with political activities?
Am I going there to go and fight anybody? I spend an average of N50m every year, picking people from the streets, supporting indigent students, talent hunting. If you take these ones off the streets, who will the politicians use to engage in violent acts? And what do they give to them. If you give anybody N200 in my village, that is a lot of money. Our parents gave us quality education from their merger resources. When our leaders have failed to give us the deliverables to ensure a decent quality of life, they find something to engage us. Unfortunately, because of poverty in the land, they are able to use people to perpetuate violence.
We have always had people show so much commitment and passion about how to develop the nation when they are coming into politics, they espouse the same passion you are exhibiting now, but as soon as they get there, they, like you said, know what to do, but they refuse to do it. Why is this so and what do you think you will bring that will be more beneficial to the people.
There are a thousand and one people like me who are very passionate about leadership and know what to do. But it is either they are not bold and courageous enough when they get there or they get there using the wrong platform. Nigerian politics is dominated by some clear factors, god fatherism and monetisation. No matter what, no matter how principled you are, if you use the wrong platform to get into political office, unfortunately, you become crippled from day one.
Yes, I am gunning for this, but I can tell you by the special grace of God, though monetisation and godfatherism are in politics, but here I stand on God and what I represent as Akin Ogunbiyi; what I represent to my God, what I represent to my family, that is what I am taking to politics. As long as that independence is maintained; as long as you are able to align your thought, focus and energies to the goals of helping the people make a decent living, you will surely deliver. We can complain and complain, good people had gone into politics but the platform of getting there is the issue. Somebody said to me that if you want to run for governorship of Osun State, do you have N3billion to N5billion to throw away? I said I am not going into politics because I want to go and throw N5billion away. If I need to spend N5billion, I want to know why I am spending N5billion. Remember that what I know how to do best is to sell pure water N10, N10; buy a bag for N10 and find a way to sell and make N100. I am not used to free money. If I have to spend N5billion to make it happen, it has to be N5billion that I can walk away from if something else happens. I am not desperate. It is not the N5billion I am relying on one godfather to give to me and tie my hands. If I win it and spend N5b it is not an investment that I want to recoup; whatever I am deploying to get to the office, they are part of the sacrifice, I think the society needs sacrificed. And that is part of the problem of this country – people are not ready to make sacrifices.
You spoke about platform and you are using the PDP platform; looking at the state of the party as of today in Osun State, how confident are you that it is the right platform? Looking at the economy of Osun today because it is heavily indebted, will you still be able to work within that kind of environment?
I will start from the second question one of the things that spurred me into taking this decision is because of the common man of Osun State. For the past eight years, it has not been what it ought to be. They always say if it is not broken, don’t try to fix it. But what did you describe now, you said Osun is indebted. We don’t even know how much the debt is: Some say it is N400billion, some say it is N200billion. The government itself said it is N143billion. But for eight years, this is the best that government can give. There is nothing bad in borrowing, the question is, what did you use the fund to do? We know that Osun State is heavily indebted. And luckily for all of us, there is no hidden place any longer. Debt management office, every month, they publish the statistics. So, there is nothing that is hidden. Not everybody would ride a car in his life time. Not everybody would build a house in his lifetime. Not everybody would buy bicycle or wear rubber slippers in his life time. But good leadership dictates that everybody must have access to the basic needs of life in order to live a decent life. My parents, your parents, under the leadership of some people, they had access to that and we are what we are today.
Let me take health care for example. My mother gave birth sixteen times. She got married 1944 to my father, before then she was married to somebody else where she had given birth ten times. What do you think was responsible, poverty! When her in-laws advised that you have suffered enough with us, why not go and try another man, may be through another man, God would grant you grace of another child. 1944, she married my father and with my father, she gave birth six times before remaining the just two of us. Let me tell you something about health facility. 1962 they set up Iwo Medical Centre, General Hospital. My mother said she had forgotten about child bearing. She was just nurturing the only one remaining, my sister, when she saw her pasturing tummy and thought it was fibroid. She said there was nothing they didn’t do to about my pregnancy until February 1962 when the Iwo Medical Centre was established and my father said, ‘let’s take you to the clinic in Iwo’. The reason was that she was pregnant but our people thought it was fibroid so they attempted to dissolve it not knowing that it was pregnancy. They took her there where she was told that she was 6 ½ months pregnant. And here I am today, to the glory of God, employing over 5000 people, creating value here and there. That is the power of a good health facility when made available to the people and the people will always pray. They have done, their best, let posterity judge them. I am fully aware of the challenges on ground but my life has been that of entrepreneurship. I always start from ground zero. The grace of God is more than sufficient; we have more than enough resources in Osun. I am not saying it is going to be easy. It is going to be tough. But where there is a will, there is a way. I know how to create wealth. I know how to drive value. I am going to take Osun as a country that is indebted and has nothing and then start from ground zero. Look around, can you see greens everywhere. Green means life. Green means wealth. Mineral resources are there. The 4million people of Osun is a market on its own. So, there is work to be done. For somebody like me, by the grace of God, it is going to be tough but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Coming back to the platform, I am not just new in politics. I may not have been out there in the open but I have been in PDP from God knows when. I have impacted the party. There are so many reasons why the country is going through what it is going through now. We thank God for the crisis in PDP. Now, we have the benefit of a standard and which is the standard of APC coming into government. Failure isn’t a bad thing. But for the discerning eye, failure is an opportunity to start all over more intelligently. This is what PDP is presently is. I was part and parcel of resolving the crisis of PDP in Osun State. Without peaceful platform, no matter how well meaning, there is nothing you can do. PDP has got its act right especially in Osun. And Osun is like the new foundation the PDP at the national level is going to ride on. We have learnt our lesson from our mistake. There is nothing bad in failure. It is a man who fails and still fails to rise above his failure that is a failure.
The bulk of the money they collected is used in servicing civil servants and their productivity you cannot really measure, just like it is in other states. As a manager of personnel and employer of labour, what is going to be your blueprint for Osun State as they are owing teachers, pensioners and everybody? How would you reform the civil service in making it efficient and effective?
The civil service is the bedrock of governance anywhere. They are the real technocrats. They know their onions. They assist government to run efficiently and effectively. But the unfortunate thing about our civil service, it is not only in Osun, it has been politicised. When I get to government by the special grace of God, I will go back to professionalise the civil service and make it more productive. They say there is time value for money. There is also value of time. If you make this people professional and productive, there is no free lunch. They would give you ideas, resources, actions that would bring about productivity. What I heard they do now is task the people and increase taxes. If you tax somebody you are owing three years’ salary, even if you say the tax is 30percent, what you are going to get is zero. So what do you do? Create the enabling environment for civil servants to be productive, for SMEs to grow and thrive. What is the internally generated revenue, IGR of Osun State, it is about N660million in a month. The bulk of this revenue, about 60percent is derived from one senatorial district. What is happening to the two other districts? As I said, look at greens everywhere. Don’t forget, I am a farmer. My first degree was in agriculture. I have invested over N2billion in setting up of farms. This is how we are going to approach it. Once I assume office as governor of Osun State, the first thing is unification of common purpose. I must get a balance across the ethnic, political and religious divide. That is the first assignment. Let everybody know that before anything, I am Osun citizen. I am a stakeholder in this. In our business, do you know where ideas come from that we generate millions and billions? There is something we do in our organisation, we call it strategic session. It is every Monday. We gather together, from assistant managers upward, about 250 of us, from 6.30am to 8am. Some people say it’s too early but in a place where you find me as the boss, where would you say you were? Look at the way I am dressed. I don’t need the glare of any office. I have wined and dined with presidents around the world. When you find me in our farm, until they point at me that I am the one, you would not know I am the boss, so what is new? I don’t need that title. I only need the office to be able to make the difference. Leadership is about service. People are happy to make use of their time. There is that personal satisfaction the civil servants, director in agriculture, arts, will get. Nollywood is the third biggest contributor to Nigeria’s GDP. About 8percent I think. If I need to fetch water for Osun people and they will use the water and bring out money to pay salaries, who cares? This is leadership. It is about service.
How about other co-contestants; what is the relationship like?
There are about 23 of us on the platform of PDP contesting for one ticket. All I could do is what I am doing now. I have presented myself and everything I stand for. I have presented my pedigree. We are all aware of the enormity of the problems in the state today. Do you need a conventional politician? Good luck. Look at the profile of all of the aspirants. They are all qualified by their own right. But my God says everyone runs a race, only one person takes the crown. And it says run, do everything within your reach so that you will be the one to win the crown. By the grace of God, I am comfortable. I am not looking for political power for additional relevance. Let the party look at us vis-a-vis the deliverables as it affects Osun and make a decision. I will do everything. I have reached out to some of my co-contestants in their homes. I tell them, I wish you the very best I wish myself. This is it. There is no fight. If I win, it is the same Osun and PDP. Please queue behind me. If you are the one that wins the ticket, if you look at your back, you would see me behind you. There is nothing other than that I am a stakeholder in Osun. I said earlier that I spend more than N50m every year supporting indigent people and talent hunt. Look at education, we are playing politics with the future and hope of generations yet unborn. A young man graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) with a First Class in architecture. He won nine prices. After his service, he got back to the village as there was no work. He became a terrorist. There was no job, nothing. They say survival is the master of patriotism. I was in a function where my governor was seated where he was talking about patriotism. I said there is nothing like patriotism. Survival comes before patriotism. I said it openly. I also said is it that we don’t have qualified medical doctors in Nigeria? But survival instinct made ‘baba’ to run to London for his medical treatment. You are now telling our youths that they lack patriotism. So this guy with first class, his life was ruined until by God’s intervention. He sent a text to me. He introduced himself but I didn’t know him from Adam. That was where I picked him up. I sent him abroad. It cost tens of thousands of euros. He still got distinction in architecture. Today, he is a senior lecturer at the University of Leeds. UK gave him permanent residency. He has taken his wife and four children. He had no job after graduation, living in the village and within three years, he has had four children. What future are we giving our children? This is why somebody like us must come out into the position of leadership. We have been affecting lives positively but in the bigger picture, we need to be governor of Osun State to be able to do this.
Look, a friend of mine told me a story, sad story. He works in the local government. He was driving out one day and saw his neighbour, a woman, who was a vice principal in a school. He saw her by the road. Three hours after, when he was returning, he still saw the woman, standing on the same spot, he was then forced to park and enquire what the matter was. As she opened her mouth to talk, she just burst into tears. She said ‘you know I’m a vice principal and my husband is a principal but for the past three days, we have been taking only water as there is no food in the house’. That my friend too hadn’t been paid but he dipped his hand in his pocket and brought out N1000, gave her N800 out of it. Somebody he respects so much, somebody he calls aunty, right there on the road, went down in her knees and started praying for him. Two of my colleagues in secondary school committed suicide. When I identified that, I had to place them on a monthly stipend. One of them committed suicide, because he was owed two and half years salary. Then they asked them to go and look for N30,000 for certification. Yet, here was somebody who hadn’t been paid two and half years. He then wrote in a small note on a paper and committed suicide. I pray that Osun people know and appreciate the enormity of what is on ground and choose Dr Akin Ogunbiyi. As I said, it is going to be tough and rough but together we can build the Osun of our dreams.
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