Hon Olaifa Jimoh Aremu, prominently known as OJA beyond the political circle in the state is a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the African Democratic Congress, ADC representing the people of Egbado North/Imeko Afon Federal Constituency in the National Assembly. From classroom to politics, the unionist who is tipped as a professional in politics spoke exclusively to Gateway Times on sundry issues.
It was a no-holds- barred interview.
For those who do not know you, who is Hon Olaifa Jimoh Aremu?
Thank you. I am Olaifa Jimoh Aremu otherwise known as OJA which is the acronym of my names. I came into partisan politics, precisely February 2014, I was about to retire then, I still had two years left as a Teacher. I have been a Teacher all through my life and a Union leader. I became a Union leader many years back in a government school in Lagos state. So, I am from Aiyetoro in Yewa North, born some sixty something years ago. I attended the United Primary School in Aiyetoro, from there I went to Anglican Secondary Modern School, Ilaro. In pursuit of my education, I proceeded to the defunct Teachers Training College, Aiyetoro. Immediately after that, I started teaching and thereafter relocated to Lagos in 1981. When I got to Lagos, I started with a fresh teaching appointment. And I remained with the Lagos state government till May 1, 2016 when I clocked 35 years in service, I also pursued my academic attainment to masters level as well as other professional qualifications. But prior to 2016, I had delved into politics. I joined Peoples Democratic Party, PDP then. We went through the rigor of party primaries. On the day of the primaries, there were manipulations here and there, particularly on the delegates list. As a result, the outcome of the primary was distorted. It was said to be inconclusive to borrow the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC new slogan. So, we protested to the party Secretariat in Abeokuta. The protest was upheld, and 48hours after the aborted primaries, I was informed by the party leadership in the state that unanimously, the State Working Committee of the party had resolved to give me the ticket as the party flag bearer for the House of Representatives in my area. We were happy, including my hometown in Aiyetoro. But unfortunately, in less than 48hours, the euphoria that greeted my nomination was turned upside down.
Cuts in…What actually happened within a time frame of 48 hours?
What happened was that another person was given the ticket. And the decision didn’t go down well with our people. Between year 2014 and 2016, PDP was solely in the hand of one man.
Who was the ‘one man’ you are referring to?
Sen Buruji Kashamu was in charge then. So, If you didn’t receive his favour, there was no way you could have made it in PDP. Of course, he was the Southwest Chairman of the party in charge of contact and mobilisation. So, there was no way you could have had your way if you are not in the good book of Buruji. I won’t blame him to the latter because we were not close. But the overwhelming decision of our people then was for me to represent them. So, he collected the ticket from me and gave it to someone else. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for that person, the person he handed the ticket to didn’t win. Because, we had foretold it that the person he gave the ticket to cant deliver in the general election as at that time. People were not happy with the decision to shortchange me.
But you later left the party to join African Democratic Party, ADC. What informed this decision?
The encounter between Senaotor Buruji Kashamu also played a role here. But let me appreciate him on the other hand that he was a good statesman and politician with the story I am about to tell you now. After about a year, we both separated politically, he called me to his house in Ijebu Igbo, and I obliged him and went for the meeting. He felt sorry about what happened between us. And he assured me then that if I should come back to PDP, he would support me. I agreed with him. I came back to PDP, but on one condition, that on one more time, that please, you will support Prince Gboyega Nasir Isiaka, GNI for the governorship position in the state. Because, the people of Ogun West up to the present moment are yet to occupy that position. Initially, he agreed with me. In his own words then, “I have not seen a better candidate to Isiaka. But as months roll by, and one thing led to the other. And he withdrew his support for Prince Isiaka. And to me, GNI is my own man, any day, any time. I have been together with GNI for almost 40 years. We got to know each other since 1980. And we have maintained a perfect working relationship. When Sen Kashamu withdrew his support for GNI, and I read it on social media, I quickly called the attention of GNI to it. We sat down and discussed the way forward, and he said he would be visiting Sen Kashamu. So he went there with some elders to iron things out. They got there, and discussed at length. But, unfortunately, they came back with nothing. Kashamu told them that GNI should be thinking of contesting for the Senate. When they came back from Kashamu, and I was updated, I simply informed them as well that I will have to withdraw my membership of the party should he insist not to support GNI for the governorship slot. I joined PDP because of GNI’s ambition, and since the situation was as it were then, then I had no business in the party again. Of course, I left PDP ahead of GNI himself. Interestingly enough, GNI even pleaded with me to let us wait in PDP a little bit, maybe things would still work out.
Precisely, it was Sen Buruji’s withdraw of support for GNI that led you into joining ADC?
Exactly, because he had assured me previously that he will still support GNI. Though, he told us then also that people from Yewa axis, were not speaking with one voice. I told him, we have learnt our lessons, those things would change. I promised him, we will correct the anomalies. Buruji said okay, we should go back home and resolve whatever differences we had with ourselves, so we could be able to speak with one voice. Sincerely, if we have to blame Kashamu, we should equally blame ourselves. He was very right in saying we were not united.
You have given us an insight to your sojourn in politics, coupled with the movement from PDP to ADC, What other hiccups did you faced on this journey?
Well, I faced typical challenges an average politician could have encountered. And which a future politicians will still face. And what are these challenges, basically speaking, we have the financial challenge, the loyalty challenge, and we also have the challenge of the professional politicians. Hope you understand that. Because there are two classes of politicians; I have always refer to myself as a professional in politics and not a professional politician. My background doesn’t even portray me as professional politician. The first obstacle I encountered when I joined politics was that I should be telling lies. Even, people who were members of my kitchen cabinet then would advise me in support of it. And I told them, I was not trained that way. I have been a teacher all through my life; I became a union leader, fighting for the welfare of others. If you now tell me to be telling lies, what would become of me after which my lies must have been exposed, either sooner or later. On one occasion, it got to a point that I told them to be telling the lies on my behalf. But, I warned them not to bring my names into it. We just laughed over it, and I am quite sure it didn’t go down well with them. It is nice to be straightforward and frank, but unfortunately, we hardly appreciate such.
Yewaland is blessed in so many ways, so also are the challenges enormous as well. How do you intend to address some of these issues?
I will answer that question by making reference to this popular Machiavelli’s quote, the great Italian philosopher who once said nothing in this world is harder than the introduction of a new social order for two reasons. One, those who are benefitting from the existing order will see you as an intruder, somebody who has come to take away from them their source of survival, and they will do everything humanly possible to scuttle your effort. Secondly, those who have made a choice to be your followers and believer in your own cause of philosophy will also nurse the fear of the unknown. They are not sure whether you will succeed in this crusade or not. If you succeed, they will identify with you; if you fail you are on your own. They will be the first set of people to turn around to say didn’t we tell you. So there must be a paradigm shift. If you go to any place to learn a skill, it must be wholly manifested in you. We must see a visible change from the way we would be behaving immediately after the acquisition of the skill. Otherwise no education would assume to have taken place. And jokingly, we always say some people passed through the school, and that the school didn’t pass through them. It means they only went to school as a tourist. They came with nothing, and left with nothing. So, we must move away from the traditional ways of doing things of relying heavily on what I can take from a system. We must think more of the people than ourselves. We must imbibe the principle of altruism. We are not saying you should not take care of yourself, but consider the people first. Therefore, if you place it on a scale of 100percent, let 70% go to the people, while 30% comes to you. What matter most are God blessings.
In letting 70% go the way of the people as you have rightly said, what should your constituents be expecting in the immediate?
Laughs. Thank you. I will not be comfortable with the word immediate if you keep on hammering on immediately, the expectation of our people will be higher. Of course it is already happening. Because, they have been expecting us to be performing magically. If I should open my phone for you to see, you will see endless numbers of messages requesting for one form of assistance or the other. You can imagine somebody coming to me to seek assistance that runs into about #9million to #15million. Yes, not that they are joking, the request are subsisting. Seriously, where will I get that kind of money? How much am I earning as salaries and allowances? If one person will need as much as #15million, another person will need #9million, that is beyond even a Senator let alone a member of the House of Representatives. That should be taken to the doorsteps of the government. In this case, I am trying my best. I have been drawing the attention of the state government to such assistance through our members who are in the state House of Assembly. While we were campaigning, we went down all the nooks and crannies of my federal constituency. We saw things ourselves and we made certain promises. What people should expect now is the implementation of those promises. And I think I have started in that direction. I have energized an abandoned transformer. I have repaired a damaged culvert which linked a community with a major road. I have visited two communities in Yewa North; precisely speaking Ologiri, and by extension Korole Village both in Ebute ward. Just about few days ago, I was at Sanwonjo Farm Settlement to listen to their complaints, particularly in the area of power supply. They have a transformer there which is yet to be energized. I think the transformer was given to them by the immediate past member of the House of Representatives, Hon Kayode Oladele which is highly commendable. But the transformer is lying fallow there. For the past nine years or so, the inhabitants of Sanwonjo Farm Settlement have not been able to experience one day of power supply. So, I am going to energise the transformer for them. What Hon Oladele did was remarkable, but we need to get it working for the benefit of our people.
Honourabe Sir, you won your ticket into the House of Representatives on the platform of ADC, while the Governor of your state emerged through APC. What is your relationship with Gov Dapo Abiodun?
You know, we are mutually related. APC, ADC. The relationship between the Governor and me is very cordial and robust. There were some official outings recently which the Governor didn’t limit the invitation to his party people alone, he made it across all segments in the state. The religious, traditional, politicians, CDAs were part of it. I was also invited by Mr Governor in his entourage to Mr President recently. We also visited him with Prince Gboyega Nasir Isiaka and other party leaders to congratulate him on his election. Immediately the Governor won the election, he extended his hands of fellowship to us that taking Ogun state to a greater height should be the concern of everybody irrespective of political affiliations. And I think that is what he has been doing till date. I am commending Mr Governor for that. But this doesn’t me I am in APC. Please, get me clearly. If by tomorrow, we have cause to pitch our political tent with APC, We will have to call a general meeting of all stakeholders to take a decision. GNI remains our symbol in ADC. Wherever he thinks we should head to, we will decide on it and move on. But we are still in ADC, and we are happy with that.
There has been continued agitation for a Yewa person to occupy the seat of power in the state since the return of democracy, but things have not been working out as expected. Are you not fed up with the move so far?
Laughs. We are not fed up, and we won’t be fed up. Do you know how many times Mr President contested the presidential election before he later won? He contested three times and failed. On the fourth occasion, he was fortunate. So our case in Yewa is not different from what has been happening to people from other sphere of life. We will continue to be agitating for the position. Ogun state stands on seat of three tripods. And the tripod is made of Ogun East, West and Central. If after 43 years of existence, one senatorial district is still being left out, then it is highly unfortunate. The two other senatorial districts should fear God. If we had committed an offence, they should forgive us. Having said that, I will passionately appeal to our people in Yewaland to be more united, if this dream of occupying the governorship seat would come into fruition. We need unity among our people. GNI has been on ground for long. He knows this state inside out and participated actively in the development to the best of his knowledge. I wouldn’t know of anyone who is more qualified than this gentleman from Yewa to occupy that office. So, the issue of Yewa doesn’t have a presentable candidate should be rested in the mind of those who are spreading such fallacy. And if you are talking about lack of finances, the three time GNI contested so far, have you ever seen any creditor running after him?. All these excuses are just a way of hanging the dog by calling him a bad name. I have said earlier on, we have the human, mineral and material resources in Yewaland. All that is left for us is one; to get our act together, see ourselves as brothers and sisters and let us remain more united than we were before. We have the first team, the second and the new generation of politicians in Yewaland. Among the first team, we have people like the former deputy governor, Alhaja Salmot Badru, we have sister Iyabo Apampa, Hon Waliu Taiwo, Hon Bisiriyu Popoola, and we have our respected father and leader, Pa Ayo Otegbola. All these people are eminent personalities from Ogun West. We expect them to provide necessary leadership for us. When we see them in the front, we follow them. Unfortunately, if the majority of the people say they are going this way, our leaders will go the other way. And if we are saying that we want Yewa man to become Governor of Ogun state. All of us, must come together. The agitation must be very vehement. And it must concern everybody. It must not be left for a few to pursue. The problem we have is lack of unity. We acknowledged that fact that in Ogun West, we are not homogenous by way of demographic distribution. It is true we have Aworis, Eguns, Ohoris, Ketus, Anagos, these are people with different cultural background, even language. But destiny has brought us together and we must realize that fact. That was why we changed from being refered to as Egbado to Yewa. Because the mistake that was made then was that Egba and Egbado were same thing. Whenever that was given to Egba then would assumed to have been given to the two of us. They saw us as appendage of Egba, and it is not so. We are partners in progress. Ogun state belongs to all of us. I am appealing to the two brother senatorial districts to address this obvious imbalance in the scheme of things in Ogun state.
Your people protested few days due to the closure of the border areas as they could not move their farm products freely any longer. What are you doing to this in making sure your constituents are not run out of survival?
Well, we have been reacting to it. Prominent sons and daughters of our land have been speaking against it as well. Sen Tolu Odebiyi has also reacted to it. He had even visited the Comptroller of Custom to express his concern over the border closure. Though, the President must have had his reasons for the closure. You know we have porous border, as a gateway state, we share border with Benin Republic, so should understand the situation. The Onimeko of Imeko has also spoken against this backdrop of border closure. My own reaction once again is that I am appealing to the government not to embark on blanket closure. If the purpose is to restrict the movement of hoodlums, it should not be extended to locally produce agricultural products. I was informed few weeks back that some trucks with locally produced items were seized, I wasn’t happy at all. Tomatoes are a perishable product. I am appealing to the government to relax and monitor the task force people to avoid confrontations with the farmers. We won’t encourage our people to face armed men. But government should realize that ultimate power lies with the people.