•‘How lives are ruined by political office holders’ failed promises’
•Explains why he wants to be Kwara governor
•‘My victory’ ll end dictatorship’
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
Comrade Issa Aremu, a notable labour leader, is the governorship candidate of Labour Party, LP, for Kwara State. In this interview, Issa explains his vision and prospects.
Your five-point agenda, which seeks to better the lives of Kwarans, seems to resonate what the average Nigerian needs. How realistic is it considering that similar promises had been made without being fulfilled?
I agree that many lives have been ruined by promises not fulfilled by political office holders. According to Ben Okri, my favourite novelist, our days are poisoned with too many words, not meant to be. Health-for-all by year 2000 is one of such promises. Kwara has witnessed much official words said not meant. In 2003, for instance, Governor Bukola Saraki, who later served two terms, at his inauguration, launched a charter of education reform tagged, ‘Every Child Counts’. 16 years after, having passed the baton to his successor, Fatai Ahmed, many children are still not counted in schools. There is actually a new level of illiteracy in Kwara. Adult literacy is less than 50 percent.
There was a Kwara State that was the ‘education capital’ of the old Northern Region.
We had a pool of human capital, entrepreneurs, educationists, lawyers, doctors, accountants and clerics among others. But, today, many children are out of school due to the collapse of infrastructure, poor income of parents who could not afford private schools and non-payment of teachers. Our agenda is different from the past failed promises because my party and I live with the reality of deprivations in the state perpetuated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Our agenda is driven by the people for the people with implementable strategies that are inclusive of all.
Comrade Issa Aremu
Your pledge of making conditional transfer to the old, the unemployed and those with disabilities is something that also appeals to many. Even if you succeed in starting the programme, how do you fund it?
The (Kwara) 2019 budget is N157. 8 billion. For a population of three million, there is enough for the needs of all including the aged and the physically challenged. Budget per capital is more than national average. Sadly, resource distribution disproportionately gives privileges to those in power. The 1999 Constitution says the primary purpose of governance is security and welfare of all, not the elected and appointed government officials. It must start with me as a governor. Aristocratic style of governance must stop. Conditional transfer to the needy is a smart and kinder means of reactivating Kwara economy which is already in depression. The disabled, the unemployed, widows and aged will buy food, pay rents and pay for services that would in turn boost productivity and create jobs. Transfers are no costs and no less than they are incentives. A few of us are already helping the needy, but what of others not so connected? It should be made a right for all, not undignified precarious charity.
You pledged to run a government that is not elitist. How would you achieve that in a state like Kwara?
We have the five-point agenda, known as the 5ps. It means people, prosperity, popular participation, partnership and peace. We are for inclusive governance within the context of Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Ekiti State was created in 1991 compared to Kwara which came into existence in 1967. Governor Fayemi has commendably signed the SDG laws. 2019 election would put an end to state capture in Kwara and terminate dictatorship. There is a bi-partisan alliance to liberate our state.
How do you leverage on the agricultural potentials of the state?
Kwara has a total land mass of 32,705 sq km. It is the eleventh largest state in Nigeria with a cultivatable area of 75 percent, which is 2,447,250 hectares of land. But there is no food security in the state due to poor governance. Only 24.7 percent is cultivated despite the fact that the state has population and land advantage for commercial agriculture.
Our charity would start with poor small farmers through long term loans, grants, inputs and commodities exchanges that stabilise products’ prices. Of course, there is room for large scale farmers, but incentives cannot be for only privileged big time farmers, certainly not for only nomadic white Zimbabwe farmers but all our farmers who, in any case, are the ones who have been feeding us for ages. Of course, there should be roads to farm gates back to the markets. However, the farmers lack access to loans, agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and tractors and other infrastructure like good roads to transport perishable food items to the market. We will definitely provide the farmers with necessary farming inputs to enable them engage in commercial farming that will boost agricultural produce in the state.
You are so confident about your prospects despite not being a core politician. What makes you think you will emerge victorious in a state where governorship election outcomes are often defined by the influence of known political actors?
20 years after uninterrupted democracy, there is the need for quality control of our democracy. We need credible, tested and popular leaders. I have always been an activist, from secondary up to undergraduate days. Thanks to good public education that inspired civic knowledge, patriotism, pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism as well as anti-apartheid consciousness. I am proudly a democratic socialist, in terms of ideological leaning. I have spent almost three decades in trade unionism, organising workers into unions and defending their rights against exploitation and oppression. We fight precarious situations against work, and advance the frontiers of decent workplace. All these equal politics in great measure. But not in the sense of the recent commonplace crass corruption, greed of the few elected amidst mass poverty of the electorate and sheer violence. I believe in popular politics which is authoritative allocation of resources for the good of many. I have always been engaged in the politics of redistribution through collective bargaining in the world of work. And politics of production in reviving collapsed factories, ensuring beneficiation, value addition and sustainable jobs for our youths.
Annually and even daily, we ensure that owners of capital and means of production share profits with working men and women who actually produce wealth through negotiation and dialogue. Workplace democracy is politics. I currently hold a number of positions in the labour movement. I emerged through elections. As the Vice President of global Union IndustrialAll , I was elected by some 40 million workers from Asia, Europe, America, Latin America, Maghreb and, of course, my dear continent, Africa. I am also a member of the National Institute, Kuru, Jos, the highest policy and strategic studies institute in the continent. Our motto is, ‘Towards a better society’. Many philosophers have analyzed the worsening underdevelopment of Nigeria, including myself. It is time we changed things for the better as the great German philosopher, Karl Marx, rightly once said. I have paid my dues like many of my comrades in the struggle against military dictatorship. And for democracy. From my students days in Ahmadu Bello University,ABU, Zaria and later University of Port Harcourt, we demanded an end to military rule, and for democratization, with the attendant repressions. It is a scandal, today, that those who never appreciated nor dared to fight for democracy are the reckless drivers of this process with all the mess that trails it.
In this election, you are not only contesting against the incumbent but a ruling party that could possibly not spare anything to win. Are you not bothered?
I agree with legendary Nelson Mandela that said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” If a few individuals were audacious to capture a state of three million, why would millions fear to reclaim the state back?
You recently raised the alarm that your life was being threatened. Does not imply that the playing field in Kwara is not level?
I often pray at Al Nur Mosque, Wuse 2 along Ibrahim Babangida Way. At the Mosque for Fajr (the dawn prayer) prayers on Monday, January 21, 2019 in Abuja at 5:30 am, I noticed, a few meters away from the gate, two cars with hazard lights. I left the mosque at 6:15 am. I curiously noticed again the two cars were still there with same hazard lights on. Being security conscious, I paused. At that point, the two cars with Kwara and NASS number plates respectively sped past the mosque gates, parked some meters away from the National Pension Commission (PENCOM). Two persons came down from the cars apparently waiting for me to come in their direction. I also noticed they were carrying what looked like arms. They were also positioned for God knew what. At that point, I had to drive off in the opposite direction with the legitimate suspicion that I was being trailed by some criminal elements. I thank Almighty Allah that I arrived home safely. I have since notified the new Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu. I commend security agencies in Kwara for creating a level-playing field.
What are your areas of concern regarding the buildup to the general elections?
All contestants in 2019 elections must promote peaceful issue-based campaigns. The eyes should be on the political ball, not on the legs. It seems impossible until it is done as Nelson Mandela said.