By Eric Elezuo
By September 2018, a new governor will emerge in Osun State to replace Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who will be completing his eight years mandate then. Consequently, the Osun political circle is saturated in the bid to find a suitable of more suitable replacement with a great number of aspirants expressing their interest.
Among the many contenders is Barrister (Hon) Femi Kehinde, a remarkable former House of Representatives member, whose sound political and economic analysis of Osun State gives him an immediate edge to be governor.
Meeting him at his Ikeja, Lagos, office, Barr Kehinde expresses the humility that is tantamount to taking anyone to any great heights. Devoid of airs or attendant arrogance, he cuts the picture of a steward who is ready to serve, not out of pretension but from the genuineness of heart. And when he opens his mouth to talk about the needs of Osun State, and strategies to meeting the needs, one would readily cast his vote for him. He is a fountain of knowledge, and a great reservoir of wisdom.
Barr Kehinde is running for the gubernatorial position of Osun State under the guiding star of the Action for Democracy; a party he says is stronger than ever. In this interview, he made governance look simpler than ABC, meticulously stating the panacea for poverty, and the roadmap to prosperity. Enjoy:
Can we meet you sir?
I am Honourable Barrister Femi Kehinde. And as the name implies, I am a legal practitioner. I have been in law practice for over 35 years. I am a native of Ile-Ogbo in Aiyedire Local Government in Iwo division of Osun state. I was born on November 3, 1959 to the family of Samuel Adebisi Kehinde and Chief Mrs. Elizabeth Wulematu Aduke Kehinde from Gbogan, who was until her passage, the Iyalode of Gbogan Land.
I started my early education in Ibadan being the son of a ‘nomadic’ police officer, and I relocated to Gbogan; where I finished my primary education at the Saint Paul’s Primary School, Gbogan in 1972. I attended Olugbo Community High school, Ipetumodu; also in Osun State between 1973 & 1977. I came out with a division 1 certificate. Thereafter, I had a brief stint at the Ibadan Polytechnic for A-level education and subsequently was admitted to the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University in 1978. I was in the Department of History for two years, between 1978 & 1980, before I relocated to the Faculty of Law where I qualified as a lawyer in 1983.
What prompted your relocation from History to Law?
Well, my father was a police man and when I was young, I had accompanied him on one or two occasions to court sessions. During my secondary school days, apart from being the best student in school; I was also very good in History, Literature, and in art subjects. My colleagues in school call me Justice; predicting my future career. When I got admission, fortunately, we were the first set of Nigerians that would sit for JAMB exam in 1978. Hitherto, what we had was concessional examination; you sit for as many exams as possible in the few universities we have then, which were not up to 10. So, when I was in History in Ife, I was elected a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC). From the SRC, some members would be appointed to the judicial council; I was fortunate to be among those that would be in the judicial council, even as a student of History. I now saw the students of Law bamboozling us with big grammar. And I said to myself, I can perform better; and I started the process transferring from History to Law.
Can we say passion prompted you?
Yes, it was passion to be a lawyer, and be like Obafemi Awolowo. As of that time, I had read the biography of Obafemi Awolowo. I saw his foray into politics, to law profession, and into journalism; and I said I want to be like Obafemi Awolowo. As a matter of fact, when I qualified as a lawyer, I did my law practice in the law firm of Obafemi Awolowo in 1984, because I looked up to him as an idol, and I see him as an iconic figure, I saw his life as worthy of emulation. Ever since, I’ve had my career in law profession. I would summarise and say History is my passion, Law is my profession, and Politics is my vocation.
31 years after Obafemi Awolowo died; did you see yourself living this status?
I believe that Awolowo’s life is exemplary; be it in conduct or in discipline; his life was patterned on self-discipline; that is how we describe his life. He is strictly principled and highly resourceful, brilliant, and if you look at his life at the age of 8, he wrote in front of his father’s house “To laugh at infirmity or deformity is nullity; that’s was the language coming from a toddler, and I believe that from that age, you begin to capture your life.
Let me give you an example of Harold Wilson; one of the best British Prime Ministers. At the age of 10, Harold Wilson went with his father to number 10 Downing Street, which is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Britain. He asked his father for a photo shot. He had a shot with his father at the age of 10 and prophetically told him that he would end-up in that house as a Prime Minister of Great Britain, and he accomplished that dream. So I saw in Awo somebody of the status of Harold Wilson. Now, it may be possible for people of our generation to match that feat, we would look at his life as a life worthy of emulation, but the attainment may not be too easy, because of the way we live today and because of the level of moral decay in the society that we are in.
This level of moral decay, can we attribute it to one of the reasons you wish to be the governor of Osun State?
Yes! When we were in the primary school there were some written write-ups that were compulsory for daily recitation. Examples are ‘Ise logun ise’, which was a poem by J.F. Odunjo, and some few others. Those were our moral pathfinders. When you want to leave your house in the morning, your parents will remind you ‘ranti omo eni ti iwo nse’ (remember the son of who you are) as if you don’t know the lineage of your parents. Those were what made us the men that we are today. You could not imagine wearing an apparel or cloth that were not bought for you by your parents, today, ladies buy handset in school for their parents. So you can see a complete departure from Nigeria of yesterday to Nigeria of today. I have written about the life of so many Nigerians; I wrote the history of Samuel Oladoke Akintola. I wrote the life; travails and challenges of Obafemi Awolowo. I’ve written about Oba Olatoro Olagbegi, that was a monarch in Iwo two times. I wrote about Oba Adetoyese Adeoye Timi of Ede land. I wrote about so many Nigerians, including the late Justice J. I. C. Taylor. I wrote about the Ibadan strong man of Politics in the 50s that is Adekofi Adegbala, and so many other Nigerians. In the course of these researches, I also took a lot from their lives and I believe with this knowledge if I get that opportunity by the grace of God to be governor of Osun state, I can right all the wrongs I have seen.
One, Awolowo as Premier did not live a flamboyant lifestyle. He did not live in government quarters; he lived in Okebola in Oke-Ado. He did not ride in an official car; he rode throughout in his own car, without dispatch riders. He did not stay in office above the official working hours, and he worked with the young and the traditional institution. In his cabinet, there were five traditional rulers that were non-portfolio ministers. His government was life in abundance; provided free education 1954; free health services; rural intervention; food and employment. Any government that provides these is certainly providing a life of comfort for the society. He has farm settlements, and those there encourage the youths to go into agriculture. There were plantations like palm oil, cocoa, rubber, cashew, etc. There was growth and development. We had oil palm factory in Okitipupa in Ogun State. Agriculture brought industrialization; these are the formula we are going to use. I am going to, by the grace of God, bring prosperity back to Osun state. We have the largest gold deposit in the entire south western part of Nigeria. But the mine is under illegal miners. We want to take very serious advantage of this opportunity by partnering with the Federal Government. We would pay fees and royalties to government, we would encourage investors to bring in equipment and we would have understanding with them in partnership. The mine deposit in Ilesha according to geological survey, IS worth about $2 billion, and the mining depth, unlike in South-Africa or Ghana, is just about 100 meters. In South-Africa, you will dig as much as 400-500 meters; in Ghana, you will go as 200-300 meters, but our mine is surfaced; you will not travel beyond 100 meters to hit the real gold. Because what they prospect now with local equipment like digger, shoves and others cannot get them the real gold, what they get are just flakes. So, we are going to leverage on this advantage. We are going to massively encourage agriculture as a business. In Osun today, Erimo part in the Ijesha area are beautiful lands for rice production. Farmers have been taken out of these farms because of disturbance from birds. We are going to synergise and partner with farmers by providing modern seedlings, fertilizer, and utilities that will drive away such nuisances from the farm land. If birds could not disturb rice production in Kebbi state, why in Osun state. We are going to have rice mills. The partnership between Lagos and Kebbi states has brought prosperity to Kebbi State. They have just bought rice mill of about N8 billion naira; no single rice mill in Osun state. We are going to massively invest in cassava, yam and coco-yam. You know cassava alone has 14 ingredients, among of which is Ethanol and Nigeria still import Ethanol. Also, we are going to encourage the tourism potential of Osun state. The Osun festival has been given a UNESCO standard and approval but have we leverage on that opportunity? On my visit to the palace of Otaoja of Oshogbo, I told him we are going to enhance tourism in the state, and ensure the river provides opportunity for boat regatta. And I am going to work on the Erimo tourist site, which is a gory sight now. I want to draw exemplary leadership from the committee of nations that are doing well.
“We would reduce wastage in government and bring the state back to God. In the entire landscape, Osun is the only state that gives holiday to traditional worshippers. We are going to massively engage our youths in gainful employment”
How do we do this? We would reduce wastage in government and bring the state back to God. In the entire landscape, Osun is the only state that gives holiday to traditional worshippers. We are going to massively engage our youths in gainful employment. The world is moving away from white collar job, we want out youths to believe in themselves, and the opportunities that are derivable in entrepreneurship. These, by God’s grace we are going to do. We are going to leverage on what we have to put smiles on people’s face.
Looking at Osun state, what do you think is lagging or lacking that would make one want to take over the leadership?
Government is continuity. I keep saying that I am not interested in the past but I am interested in the future. And whatever that is not right on the table, we are certainly going to put them right. If we begin to talk about what we see in Osun state today, for example, teachers are been owed 36 months; in the hospital there are no equipment and so many other things. We want to engage the society to bring a better day, a better future, and put smiles on faces of our people. There are about 2837 cosmopolitan communities in Osun state, the advantage of this is that there could be opportunity in co-operation; co-operative farming, co-operative society and several others. Also, it means because of that advantage you can earn a living, and we can only do this by encouraging our youths and providing them with necessary implements. If Malaysia could come to the western region to pick palm seedling, and they are now the largest exporter of palm oil in the world, then you will believe something is wrong. In Rwanda today, despite the tragedy of the civil war, they have the best airline in Africa. Parents are now withdrawing their wards from private to public schools. I had all my education in Osun state. In Osun today, there are communities that you can only access through Ilorin; you have to travel to Kwara state before they can get to these communities in the state. I don’t want to be bothered; I want to face the main thing. No government is a complete failure but what they have done that is not good, we would leverage on it and correct them.
Luckily, I am not running on their party platform because the world has moved beyond that. It is no longer the party but the person. Alliance for Democracy (AD) is the party that took me to National Assembly in 1999.
Why choose to run under an unpopular party?
I am a founding member of the AD just like Asiwaju or anybody; we all joined the party and got opportunity from that party to go to higher places. AD did not die nor was it deregistered. Some people left AD to move elsewhere like AC that metamorphoses into ACN and APC. And you will not see progressive tendency if you want to follow the idea and ideals of Obafemi Awolowo. AD exists as a party; some of our leaders did not leave the party and they are still there. It is not the size-strength of a party that wins the election. There was no Labour Party in 2007 when Mimiko picked that ticket and against all odds and permutation, he became the Governor of Ondo State. The last election in Anambra state, it was not APC or PDP that won; it was APGA. In France, Macron won the election even as an independent candidate because he left the popular party and delivered a message of new beginning; and he is today the President of France. Nobody ever gave Donald Trump a chance in the last US election. So, all powers belong to God but it is dynamism, and centre play of forces; and those forces are usually physical or spiritual. But, I am so passionate about my belief in God.
How do you want to match the likes of Aregbesola and Omisore’s candidates in terms of money?
I believe there would be interplay of forces and dynamics that would make money irrelevant. Today, with the dynamism of our youths, money is becoming irrelevant in electoral contest. I was with the Igbo community in Osun state to canvass, and they told me money has failed. When someone gives you N1000 for vote which is equivalent to 64 kobo per day, and would not give you give no good governance or drugs in our hospital. There are quite a lot of things to do.
Do you take into cognizance that you can’t do it alone; without people?
It is just one man that changed the fortune of Rwanda. It is one man – Obafemi Awolowo with good lieutenants that did all the magic including bringing the first of things like television in Africa, first stadium in Africa, first secretariat and many others. It is only one person.
How do you intend to go about bad influence in your governance?
In collective governance, there must be a shadow on everybody. Even Awolowo refused to approve one of his ministers’ bills in UK just to dissuade other ministers from coming for approval of unnecessary money. This and many others made him decisive. Also, the western region was the first to have an embassy in London, which we called Agent General; and our first agent general is Okorodudu followed by Toye Coker. Those were the beautiful days, and I want to emulate those days because they are possibilities. The Nigerian Constitution made compulsory only one minister for the executive, which is the attorney general, therefore you can decide to do away with some ministers. To cut the cost, if a minister is not doing well, one can remove him. And I am also an apostle of parliamentary democracy, because the present presidential system that we run cannot successful bring prosperity to the economy. It certainly cannot, it is expensive unlike the parliamentary where the legislature and executive are almost fused. You cannot be a minister unless you are member of the parliament. What I am saying is that the number of ministers we have would not have tasted such opportunity, because you must come from a constituency through election, and that is why we are not getting it right. We need to erect a system that would reduce cost of running for election and I believe the modern evolution should look at it. We should have a home grown constitution; tested and authentic. We need to redefine Nigeria; we need to redefine the concept of good governance; we need to make governance less attractive as it was in the days of our fore fathers.
“I was distinguished by my level of performance in having an effective parliament. I was highly formidable in the law making process, and I think I have landmarks. I was not a docile legislator, not a sitting legislator, I was an active legislator”
What were the things that make up your score cards in the four years you spent in the House of Representatives?
In the four years, my duty mainly was representation; followed by legislation. The duty of providing fertilizers and bore-holes and others are executive functions. In the four years, I was distinguished by my level of performance in having an effective parliament. I was highly formidable in the law making process, and I think I have landmarks. I was not a docile legislator, not a sitting legislator, I was an active legislator.
Was there any particular developmental project you undertook in your constituency?
In my constituency, we had opportunities of rural electrification; and I want to say I electrified some communities in my constituency; Oburo, Asa, Iwo Oke, Ajagba and some other communities; those are all in the Iwo local government – also in Ayedire Local Government, Oke-Osun. Aside from that, I provided opportunities for foreign investment and scholarships from my little resources. And doing this, I did not contemplate a future of becoming a governor. I was doing it as a call to service and duty. I am happy today that I have a reference point and that is just being a legislator. You can imagine what one will do if I have the executive power.
By next year you will be 60; how do you see yourself running against young candidates?
I am the young candidate. I am still in my 50s; if I become governor in September, I would still be in my 50s and I believe that I am the best mid-gap between the young and the old; because I understand the language and travails of the old. And if I become governor by God’s grace, I am going to establish old people’s home, and before now I have even identified spots, unused building, public and private building that are abandoned. I want to take care of the aged because they become the most vulnerable in their old age, and unfortunately, the government is not even paying their pension not to talk of gratuity. Therefore, I have the opportunity of just living the life of the old and preparing to enter the age of 60. I still have mental faculty, I am a lawyer, writer, author, and publisher.
Photo credit: Ken Ehimen