by Femi Owolabi
The Scoop’s Femi Owolabi was at the conversation with Lagos PDP governorship aspirant, Jimi Agbaje, and he sent in this report.
Dumi Hall, Westown Hotel, Lagos.
Forty-nine minutes after the event ought to have kicked off, an announcer comes to inform the waiting guests that he just got over the phone with the man we all have been waiting for, Jimi Agbaje. ‘He’s on his way from the Island. He just finished a meeting there,’ the announcer solicits more patience from the guests.
It is rather an impromptu gathering as most guests got their invitation just some twenty hours to the event – No Holds Barred Conversation with Jimi Agbaje – and assigned to moderate the conversation, is the controversial social-media personality, Japheth Omojuwa.
Agbaje, a trained Nigerian pharmacist, ventured into active politics in 2007 when he, under the platform of the not widely known DPA, contested for the governorship seat of the most populous state in Nigeria, Lagos. Widely believed to have conducted the best campaign in 2007, Agbaje eventually, amongst other major contenders; Musiliu Obanikoro of PDP, Femi Pedro of LP, lost to Babatunde Raji Fashola of the ACN. Jimi Agbaje, or JK– as popularly called– had since echoed as an household name that his re-emergence for the coming 2015 elections does not come to any Lagosian as a surprise.
‘Why do you want to be the governor of Lagos State?’ Omojuwa asks, as Agbaje assumes his seat at about 11:33am.
‘To make Lagos what it should be,’ Agbaje says, adjusting well into his seat. ‘We want to make Lagos to be like those cities we love to go to. And, it’s time for some of us to look at this and try to do something.’
Aware that, Agbaje’s major contender at the party level, Musiliu Obanikoro is officially declaring his ambition to run the same time a conversation is on-going with Agbaje, Omojuwa further asks, ‘why Jimi and not Musiliu?’
‘What matters is how to make change,’ Agbaje says. ‘Like in our public schools, the quality of education should be the same. So, if people believe Jimi is the right guy, fine. And if otherwise, fine. Jimi believes Lagos can be better. It’s about ideas, and first and foremost, knowing what to do.’
‘We should play on our strengths,’ he continues. ‘I am playing on the strength that I am known. And JK has ideas to transform Lagos. The generality of Lagos would prefer a JK, and that is why we are playing on that strength.’
When asked about his relationship with a chieftain of the PDP, Bode George– who was once jailed for corruption, Agbaje says his journey to the PDP has nothing to do with him.
‘He didn’t even know when I joined the party,’ Agbaje affirms. ‘Sixteen years, and PDP has never governed Lagos. Probably people like Chief Bode George feels I could be the best candidate.
‘I want to state categorically that there’s no issue of godfatherism. I decided to run for this office and not that I was called by one godfather. And I’ve never received a kobo from anybody.’
Responding to the question thrown at him about cross-carpeting from one political party to the other, Agbaje laughs, recollecting the day he saw a cartoon on the internet—caricaturing him as a political harlot wearing multiple badges of different political parties.
‘My first party I ever joined was the AC,’ Agbaje explains. ‘I wanted to run for governor, but the circumstances I left the party were that I didn’t see a level playing ground. A number of us took a decision to leave for DPA—and I ran on this platform in 2007. I stayed on till 2010 when the party said they wanted to merge and form a mega party. At the stage, I couldn’t go further with the experiment of the mega party. But people should know that after my election, I stayed on, for the LG elections. So, it’s not that I’m desperate. In fact, there were many offers from across, but I said it’s not about that. I left around 2011. So for the records, I had only joined the AC, DPA, and now, PDP. And, I left DPA because it wasn’t in existence anymore.’
When further engaged on policies, Agbaje explains that what Lagos needs now is more of human development capital. He claims this is the key thing missing. ‘And for me, education is key,’ he adds. ‘Whatever we are going to build on should be on this tripod; education, health and security.’
Asked on how he intends to build on the incumbent Governor Fashola’s achievements, Agbaje acknowledges the achievements of the present government, saying reacting otherwise would be too much politics.
‘But, there are more to be done,’ he continues. ‘BRT is an achievement. But will you say BRT is what it’s supposed to be now? I see no difference between those BRT buses now and those Molues we pushed away.
‘Also, the government in power has been very poor with housing schemes. Lagos needs 170,000 housing units every year. So when you talk about 1,000, is it anywhere near where we should be?
‘Then our slums; is there any of them that has been reversed? Which of the slums have you been to and seen a reversal?
‘The light rail is a good project but it is taking forever. We need to beautify our waters and improve on water transportation. And that we’ve been able to grow our IGR from N10b in 1999 to N400b now is a good thing, but what are the effects on the people, the issue of multiple taxations?’
For some, they are worried about Agbaje’s choice of political party, PDP—a party that has been running the affairs of the country since the return of democracy in 1999, and sadly hasn’t achieved much in governance.
‘From a citizen’s point of view, no party ever does enough,’ Agbaje claims, responding to the question; what has PDP done for Nigeria? ‘But for PDP, governors are in charge of their states. No interference from the center,’ he asserts. ‘We are running democracy for the first time, for sixteen years. I think we should give credit to those managing the country.’
He is quickly interrupted by the audience; a reminder of how President Jonathan meddled with the affairs of the NGF by taking sides with the candidate who lost the NGF chairmanship election but was a member of his party. Agbaje, however, insists that the president doesn’t interfere in the politics of you win or you don’t win, dismissing all cases cited as mere speculations.
Addressing issues on leadership, Agbaje says leadership should be experienced at every level of governance. ‘Take for instance, the guidelines say no campaign until ninety days to the election,’ he explains. ‘But other people don’t go with the guideline. People have also been disturbing me that they’ve not been seeing me. But for me, I had to adhere to the guidelines, and that’s leadership.
‘Some years ago, we agreed that that we shouldn’t deface Lagos with political posters. But look at everywhere now, and I’m like didn’t we have a general understanding on this matter?
‘I am not going to do any posters,’ he assures. He then says if his posters are seen anywhere, it is the handiwork of people and not from him.
Speaking further on leadership, Agbaje, pointing to the moderator, says ‘I don’t even know Omojuwa. I am meeting him for the first time. But when people ask, why is the conversation being moderated by an anti-GEJ? I was like no, is it people that would be praising you always that should be around you? If APC people come here, we will all talk. And that’s leadership.’
Responding to a question on transportation, Agbaje hammered on the need for the completion of the light rails. ‘If you stay in Ikorodu, you will spend four hours to reach you place of work in Lagos. But if we have the light rail system, it won’t take more than fifteen minutes.’
On the tolling at the Lekki gate, Agbaje says, ‘the Lekki link bridge, in principle, is an alternative route. I won’t object once you get the technicality right.
‘Our focus, however, would be on education, primary healthcare and security. When we have all these in place, we can now partner with the private sectors on other things.
‘Look at when they wanted to build the forth mainland bridge. I think we had a debate then and I raised my doubt. Where is the bridge today? Lagos government don’t have the money to build such. Projects like this we can partner with others.’
On why some of his supporters are not members of his party, PDP, Agbaje says his strength is in the Lagosians and not the politicians. ‘So, the supporters ain’t necessarily politicians.’
‘We are going to be accountable,’ Agbaje assures when asked about when he would declare his assets and how transparent his government would be. ‘There are things people want to know but they don’t have the access. We are going to run an inclusive government.
‘And on my assets, people think JK is rich. You will be surprised if I declare my assets.’
The moderator put it to Agbaje that no Lagos government has been able to address the issue of Agberos. And Agbaje, recognizing the Agbero as a political structure on its own, promises to redefine the structure. ‘We will employ their services so they begin to have some self-esteem. You can use them for political campaign, but differently.’
Agbaje who appears as a policy-oriented politician, when asked how he would manage the electorates whose ideology revolves round the money for hand back for ground policy, says, ‘what we tell them is that, when they bring the money, collect it but shine your eyes.
‘…Together we can take Lagos to the next level,’ the event rounds off as Agbaje is made to recite his 2007 popular campaign lines.
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @fEMIoWOLABI