By Lekan Bilesanmi
… Why I am angling for PDP top job
Senator Seye Ogunlewe served under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo as the minister of works. Before then, he was a senator of the opposition Action Congress (now ACN) representing a Lagos District. His defection fetched him the ministerial job. Now he wants the PDP topmost job in Lagos State. In this interview, Ogunlewe speaks about his private life and why he wants to lead the PDP in Lagos State.
You were once quoted as saying nobody toys with your mum. Your mum must have played some crucial roles in your life to warrant that position…
A mother in all ramifications is the moulder of the character and future of the children. That is the person the children see most, she is the one they imitate and emulate most; so where your mother is a role model, your life will be better off. My mother is my role model. She teaches you all the virtues of life. If you are close to your mother and listen carefully, you will learn a lot more than you gain from your father.
And if you remember her because there is this bond between children and mother that is almost for life, you remember your mother in many cases than your father. That is my own case. If you have bad parents, you will have bad children and vice visa and pass same to your children. If you see people misbehaving now, check their family upbringing, it must have been defective because they have nothing to relate to. People like that, they can disown their parents or even change their names in order to get to the top, so they have no family values. And they are very vicious because they have no value for life.
You name your street after your mum. The impression one gets is that you are placing her above your immediate family?
Well that is the person I remember most. I didn’t have a child or wife at the time I knew her as my mother. For the first how many years of my life, she was the one I knew. When I was nobody, she was all I had. The reason people reverence your name now is essentially because your name commands attention. So I have no option than to defer to her. All my female children bear her name. It is a must.
At the time you went into politics, did you envisage you will come this far?
Absolutely no. There was no way I could have thought of coming this far at that time. Again, if you do it with all your heart, with honesty, the sky is your limit. In all my exposures, from when I was in Lagos State Civil Service, I was in works, so my appointment as minister of works was not strange to me. It is like the continuation of what I was doing before. And we do things like that and let people with experience participate and advise.
My concept of road works may be different which is involving Nigerian engineers to design and construct our roads. In a situation where you have expatriates to design your roads, construct the roads, you are not helping yourself. I bought the asphat plant and equipment, it is unfortunate that I was removed.
Why were you removed?
I don’t know. I was appointed and I was removed just like anything in life.
Perhaps for your lack of competence?
It will never be. Have you seen the letter the president wrote me? That I was a person of unequalled competence, uncommon knowledge. The assertion that I was incompetent is out of it, but whatever happens, even in life, it comes and ends. That is not an issue.
You were once a senator, minister and now vying for the state chairmanship of your party (the PDP). It is like coming down?
We have had several elections on the platform of the PDP and we lost consecutively. But I had another experience when we held the by-election into Constituency 2 in Ikorodu for the House of Assembly due to the death of the incumbent, so we had to do a rerun. I was invited by Mr. President on how we could win the election and I told him we could try and he then said ‘go and try’; we won; after the election, I analysed the major reason we were losing as against the reason we won.
I discovered it was a leadership problem, that if we had the right leadership to manage the party, it is more probable for us to win elections but where you have the wrong leadership, people that are only interested in money such that when they give them money they share it rather than using the money to facilitate victory in an election. You have an agent for instance who is supposed to serve at the polling booth, the money he is expected to take is not given.
You are supposed to give him food so that he will not move out of the polling station, he is not given and you want the man to stay there for 6 to 7 hours, to protect the votes, count them and make sure everything is in order. How is that possible? If you neglect the agent or the interest of agent at the polling booth, it is to your detriment.
So, if the leadership decides to steal the money, share it among themselves and neglect the polling agents, the canvassers, there is no magic in that, you lose the election. So I thought I could provide that leadership and use the experience gained while arranging that Constituency 2 Ikorodu election to make an impact and reverse the fortunes of the PDP in Lagos.
But you can as well look for a suitable candidate to support instead of vying for the office?
It is difficult to duplicate passion or experience, it is difficult to duplicate exposure or will to win election. I know precisely the benefits of winning an election as against the benefit of only sharing election money.
At the last dispensation, look at the number of Lagos State PDP EXCO that moved to ACN one month to the election, it means they had been hobnobbing with the ACN; if you are a poor person, you cannot lead a political party; if you don’t have the means to survive on your own, if you say you are the head of a political party, then you must have a price and they would pay you the price at the appropriate time.
So you think this attitude of being honest with money would win you more party faithful if you are elected?
Yes, because they know that what is meant for them would be given to them. They know that if you have an agent at the polling booth, if they earmark X amount of money to him, it will get to him, so he is more determined to work for you.
He would say if it is Ogunlewe, I will get my money which of course gives them a lot of confidence to work for the party.
We have over 8,000 polling booths and one is as important as the other, and you don’t need people that have no confidence in you as polling agents because they are the most dangerous to work with even if it took you several years to campaign, the agents at the polling booths are the key to your success at the end of the day. Once he is compromised, you are finished, but, in many cases, they would earmark X amount for the agents, they won’t give then on time, or give them a paltry amount and you want to win an election.
You need somebody they can first trust as we did during the Ikorodu by-election, because, in the election, they saw the difference of determination to succeed was at the peak, because once they knew I was involved, they were extremely happy and started working because they believed Ogunlewe would give them their money.
Your entry into the Lagos PDP chairmanship race has polarized the party instead of uniting the membership?
It has to. If it were in a better clime, it is somebody like me that everybody will support. Honestly, I just want to share and experiment what I experienced at the Ikorodu election. That is all, it is not a magic world, not a mathematical issue.
The people you say you want to salvage said they don’t want you, why not leave them?
Good. But what is the percentage of the people opposed to my candidature? In a political situation, there is a choice for the electorate, but in the determination of the choice, you must look for who can provide credible leadership. In the opposition camp, we have people who share my passion, they can give it to them.
There is General Olanrewaju, you have Dr. Akinloye, Chief Sani Adebiyi, they are on the opposition side. Give the chairmanship to any of them, I will serve them. I am talking about people that would talk in Lagos and people will listen, people that have pedigree, heritage, because the position is not for a minor.
Some people would be talking on television and the public will be asking, who are these people? And that is the leadership of the party? Whereas, these people mentioned, if you check their heritage, upbringing, you will know that if they talk on behalf of the PDP in Lagos, people will listen, it doesn’t have to be me but let us raise the stake.
Lagos deserves people that you can rely on and have confidence in, but where you go down too low to ‘boy-boy people’, people that would be saying yes, yes, yes to you, people will not respect them. I am not a ‘boy-boy person’. I will stand by what is right.I was enticed to join politics while I was still in civil service. At that time, we had military governors and so politics was not attractive but when Alhaji Lateef Jakande came in as governor, we could see his passion for the people.
And I was opportune to be part of the team that participated actively in revolutionizing governance in Lagos State at that time by providing the greatest good for the greatest number. 10,000 housing units at N6,000 per two-bedrooms. This was what lured me into politics because it was an avenue to salvage the people from poverty, illiteracy, to provide shelter at affordable price. But what do we have now? The people are frustrated and hopeless because the government has no plans for them. So I am in politics to improve humanity.
Why do politicians keep their children at the background and put their followers at the war front?
You are right. It is unfortunate though. Again, if your children are not ripe enough like mine, or they are not interested in politics, there is nothing you can do. You can’t compel them if they don’t want to play politics. Politics is not a profession that you can bequeath your children. They must like it first. It is a personal conviction.
And none of them at the moment is convinced that his father has done something worthwhile in politics to emulate?
They are complaining already because politics involves a lot of money, sacrifice, time and everything which is to the detriment of the family. So, it is not something you preach to people and they jump into it, it could destroy you, it could cripple your life, it could make your life miserable because you can lose everything you have worked for because it is expensive and risky.
It is very dangerous I must tell you. It is not as easy as you people outside see it. You have to accommodate people, be available at all times, even if they are not decent, they must have access to you. So you must be ready for any eventualities.
Do you have regret to have joined PDP from ACN. Afterall, they have been in power at the centre since 1999?
It depends on what you want in life.
What do you want in life?
I want to be myself. If you are yourself, you won’t go into ACN because it is a one-man show. It is not a political party.
How about PDP?
PDP does conventions. We go to court. Have you ever seen a case in court involving ACN? They don’t have any formal EXCO election to determine who runs the party, it has never been done. Only one person has been the chairman of ACN almost for life. There is some semblance of democracy in the structure of PDP but that does not happen in ACN. It is a one-man show.
What is your relationship with Senator Bola Tinubu?
He is my friend. When we meet at functions, we don’t discuss because he doesn’t discuss especially with people that knows him very well.
And you know him very well?
Very very, I know him very very well. Long time ago, I have known him for a long time now.
Are you fulfilled?
Very much so, more than fulfilled. God has been extremely wonderful to me. I never expected to be at this level in life. Is it experience, exposure, my children, extended family? I am more than fulfilled.
With benefit of hindsight, are there some actions you took in the past that you will have to think twice now before you do them?
Our access to people. When you are in power, the more access you have to people, the more you will be hurt. It is better you are conservative, limit your association with people because it is that position they cherish not you. Immediately you leave the stage, you cannot imagine what people that you stake your life for would be saying against you. So, it is better to be on your own and don’t expect too much from whoever is your friend or associate, be yourself. And expose yourself less.
I exposed myself to too many people believing I was helping them, they are the ones that would stab you at the back and talk ill of you. Human beings are not too decent, no matter what you have done to them. Ore oju ni won (they are friends on the surface).
Any sad events?
Yes but my happy moments have over shadowed all that. The Lord says count your blessings and name them one by one, He didn’t say sadness. He has taken sadness out of my life.
You talked so much about God. Are you that religious?
Very much so. There is no substitute for God.