His name is bigger than his body frame, though not that he has a petit frame. He has made name in the state as an engineer, a consultant, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a socialite and a politician. Now, Engineer Femi Babalola aka Jogor wants to add another label to his name: a governor. Babalola is a prominent governorship aspirant in Oyo State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party seeking to unseat Governor Abiola Ajimobi in 2015. In an interview at his Abebi House office in Challenge, Ibadan, he tells TUNDE RAHMAN and BIODUN AKANDE why he is in the governorship race and his relationship with former governor of the state, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, among other sundry issues…
How did you derive the name Jogor?
The name came doing my secondary school days. It’s a nickname I acquired from Jog Head, which was a very popular comic in those days.
Essentially, you want to run for the governorship of Oyo State on PDP platform and the man that is widely known as your political godfather, former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, is also in the race. How do you hope to navigate this?
I have said this often and often and I won’t be tired of saying it. The day I made up my mind to run for governorship of the state, former Governor Alao-Akala was one of the two people I sought their approval and he gave his approval; not only his approval, he also gave me his blessing that I should go ahead. I have been seeing his posters and banners around but he has not personally called me to tell me that he has changed his mind and if that happens we can then think of what to do.
We started with that question because somehow your fate and that of former Governor Alao-Akala appear to be intertwined. Even when you look at the case against both of you by the EFCC, both of you were charged together and you insisted you have no case to answer. How do you establish your innocence in respect of allegation of engaging in fraudulent contract award?
It is not even about me alone. It is about the three of us and as far as we and our lawyers are concerned, there is no case to be answered in those charges. The charges bothered on awarding contracts without budgets. It did not bother on not executing a project or missing funds. They said projects were awarded without appropriation and that we also conspired to award to myself a contract. The reality is that my firm was a consultant on that project. There were also 13 other contractors on that project. If they now want to say that Pentagon Engineering was involved in a project that was awarded without budgeting approval, how about the contractors that executed the projects and at the time I kept saying that we did not sign any contract with the state we only signed with the joint local governments. So I still don’t understand what is going on. It is all politics. Even the charges against Chief Akala andHalleluya (Senator Hosea) are baseless. It is not even about me alone. It is not about absolving Femi Babalola. I am talking on behalf of the three of us that the charges as charged are politically motivated and I stand by it. I know we are just playing politics.
But the court insists that you have a case to answer.
Yes, that is court. Court can say that we have a case to answer but we have not gone on trial. By the wisdom of our lawyers, they maintain there is no case in this case and that we are not even going into any trial. Even neither the Federal government nor the state nor the EFCC that said that a project was awarded without tender has shown us the budget they are talking about. Our lawyers have asked- where are the budgets for the year? Why don’t you put them there and let us see that these projects were not budgeted for? EFCC was also being careful not to have put a copy of the budget in the proof of evidence because the easiest evidence they need for a project that was not budgeted for is the budget of that year.
While Governor Alao-Akala was in power, you were very visible in that government, some claimed you were a front for the former governor. How did you see yourself in that government?
People that said so were probably jobless because Pentagon has always been very active in this state. There has never been any government in this state that existed that we did not have a working relationship with. Even when the military government was here most of the World Bank projects were done by Pentagon Engineering. We have acquired experience over the years and logically we are rightly placed for any government patronage. We are here; we have the local knowledge of the terrain. We know our ways around. Once there is a tender we will apply and after due diligence is done, we are always there. It was just yesterday I was telling someone that in the whole of five years of Governor Akala’s administration, we handled just three projects, which were the local government projects. We were consultants to 33 local governments, which anybody can do. In 1996 or 1998, Dasuki’s son was a consultant to the Federal Government on 774 local governments. But we are Yoruba, we understand the reasons; we know why people behave the way they are behaving. When General Buhari was in charge of Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, Afri projects consultant was in charge of the 36 states and nobody raised any eyebrow. Also in 1996, when we were doing all these World Bank Projects in the old Oyo and Ogun states, the coordinating consultant was Eng. Shagaya who is an Ilorin man and nobody raised any eyebrow but because people knew that Femi Bablola could have an ambition they must find a way to truncate it.
There are at least 13 aspirants jostling for the gubernatorial ticket of PDP, how do you assess your chances among these aspirants?
I don’t know if it is all about chance. I think it is also about preparation and positioning yourself and the grace of God, which is uppermost in anything. I want to believe that among all the candidates jostling for this post after I finished my calculation recently, I found out that we are just three. I found out that only three of us are qualified namely – myself, Elder Wole Oyelese and probably Soji Adejumo, the reason being that we are the only three candidates that have remained in PDP all our lives. We have not worked against the party at any time; we have not crossed carpet at any time. If ours were a serious society, most of these people would not even come out to present themselves before party leaders.
But Senator Teslim Folarin is an aspirant and he has not left the PDP since the party was formed.
Teslim Folarin said it openly that he worked against the party in 2011. He worked in favour of Ajimobi. In a serious society, such a person would voluntary retire from the party and that is the truth. And in terms of visibility, I believe that ‘am the most visible among the candidates. I am the only person that has been in this state all my life. I have never gone out of the state. I have spent all my life here. I know our people and understand their problems and also know how solve those problems. Politically, I am a party faithful and also a loyal member to the core, as I have never worked against the party. One other thing, among the candidates, you will find out that Oyo Central is the only zone in the state that has not produced a governor.
Oyo North has produced, Oyo South has produced and the agitation is right now heavy that Oyo Central particularly the part that is not from Ibadan should produce the governor of the state and that is where I come from (Fiditi).
People still have this feeling that whether in APC or PDP, Ibadan would still produce the governor.
People always say that and I would tell you why. People always believe that Ibadan has the highest population in Oyo State.
There is doubt about that. But the question is we shouldn’t forget that Ibadan is a metropolitan city, Ibadan is a conglomeration of people from other parts of the state and it is the state capital. It is not likely that anybody that is not well known in Ibadan can be governor, not necessarily somebody that is an extraction of Ibadan. I was born in Ibadan, which gives me an advantage over some other contestants.
But that does not make you an Ibadan man.
So what makes an Ibadan man, even the person you are saying has Ibadan origin might not be popular as I am. I’ve spent all my life here. We should not play too much politics with nativity. Let competence be in the forefront.
Considering the fact that the present governor seems to be doing well. Do you think it will be that easy to defeat him, being a performing incumbent?
I don’t know if you have gone round the town, if you know where we are coming from I would not agree with you that Ajimobi is doing well. If you know what is expected of a governor that contested an election and made promises. The only way you can convince me that a governor is doing well is by putting his promises beside his achievements and you score him more than 70%. But in this particular case I have not seen him doing something extraordinary. The only visible thing that people keep saying is that he is expanding roads, which Governor Ladoja under PDP started and Governor Akala also continued from where Ladoja stopped. If you measure the length of roads that both of them have done kilometer by kilometer they have done more than Ajimobi, even Ladoja that spent three years did more roads than Ajimobi. Some of the roads done by Akala included Queen Cinema to Molete, Monatan to Iwofun, New Garage to Oluyole, Mokola to Ojo and many more.
But those roads are substandard in terms of quality
There is no road that is substandard. I am an engineer, I am not boasting. There is no road that does not have its lifespan dependent on maintenance. So if you refuse to maintain a road because you did not build it, it is the populace that will suffer for it.
So how do you assess Governor Ajimobi in terms of performance?
I would only assess him based on his promises because as a governor there is an expectation and I am to tell you that he has not fulfilled his promises. He promised Oke-Ogun University but he has not built the university. He promised to generate N4 billion every month from agriculture; he is not generating it. He also promised to be paying salary on the 22nd of every month but up till today he has not paid April salary and we are in June by tomorrow. All the trucks Ajimobi is using today for sanitation were bought by Akala. Akala had ordered for the trucks but the trucks took a year and half to arrive and Ajimobi eventually inherited those trucks, which he is now using for his sanitation program. Also, trucks they now use to confiscate vehicles were bought by Akala. The digital equipment that are in BCOS today were bought by Akala. Go and verify to confirm if am lying. Oke -Ayo, Joyce B and other places don’t have water. If you come to Ring Road by 5 am you will see people ordinarily that should still be sleeping carrying buckets around looking for water and they are sinking boreholes to wet flowers.
But the governor carried out repairs on Asejire water works
You see Asejire is a complex thing. If you are not deep, you can never understand how you would solve the water problem of Oyo State. You need to be an engineer to solve it. Asejire has enough water not even for Oyo State alone but for the whole of Oyo and Osun states. So all what is missing is the right person that can fix the problem.
If you get the PDP ticket and emerge governor what are you going to do differently?
I have identified the number one problem in Oyo State, which is unemployment. I would create employment. I know the level of unemployment in this state is about 60 per cent. Even now, I employed people that I don’t need in my office just to create jobs for them.
When I am solving unemployment, I would spend money on Agriculture. Agriculture and health go together. If I spend money on agriculture and employment, my bill on health is going to come down. Infrastructure will go parri pazzu.
You had an altercation with Ajimobi sometime ago over the need to open a place around Jogor Centre to create access for others.
That came after an interview I had at the BCOS. The interesting thing is that we saw it coming and we went to court and we have a court injunction telling them not to demolish the fence and he went ahead to break the law he swore to protect by demolishing the fence.
In the build-up to 2015 election, there has been so much drumbeat of war and violence. Does it bother you particularly as we approach the election in Ekiti and Osun states?
No, there won’t be violence. There is one thing Obasanjo did that we usually gloss over, which is the pluralisation of political parties. The problem is usually within the party, so if one cannot get the ticket in a particular party, he is free to go to any other to pick the ticket. And again the police are there to maintain peace.
There is intense rivalry within PDP in Oyo State. There are two or more factions with at least two different party secretariats. Have you been able to unify the PDP in Oyo State and what is your relationship with FCT Minister of State, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide?
PDP is one in the state. Unfortunately when we had the congress, some people were misled. But be that as it may, we are going to this election as one PDP. We are going to come together before this election. Oyo State is a PDP state. 99 per cent of people in Accord Party are PDP while the majority of the people in Labour Party are also PDP. My relationship with Jumoke is fantastic. It is not PDP that brought us together, we’ve been friends forever and my relationship with Arapaja is also fantastic. The two of them are not going to object to my emergence. They would see me as someone who didn’t work against their interest in 2011. They will see me as a young man with ideas and a complete party man.
There is this school of thought that says that some of these so-called old political warhorses like Akala and Ladoja should give way for younger elements, do you also share this view?
Yes, I share that view that the older ones should encourage the younger ones to take over from them. I believe that the older ones should also tutor the younger ones. I also want to encourage people that when you are above 60 years, you should move away from the driving seat because the primary essence of leadership is to train leaders to come behind you and to succeed you because the joy of being a leader is to sit back by a corner and see people that you groomed doing things well.