Kayode Ogundamisi, a commentator on Nigerian and international affairs, was involved in the Nigerian pro-democracy struggle. Ogundamisi comes to mind easily for his battle with the Ibrahim Babangida-led military government of the late 80’s to 90’s when he narrowly survived a treasonable charge by the government of the day. Ogundamisi was a frontline member of the National Association of Nigerian Students, a former secretary general of the University of Jos Students Union in Nigeria and the O’dua Peoples Congress (OPC). Currently living in the United Kingdom, Ogundamisi shuttles between his base and Nigeria where he runs a programme on self-empowerment. A B.Sc graduate in Political Science from UNIJOS, a graduate of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism who also possesses a Masters in Public Administration from Ogun State University, and Masters in International Relations from the London Metropolitan University, in this well-timed chat with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, the convener of the Liberty Forum UK, shares his passion for activism and writings, and views on politics and politicians.
You are a different kind of activist and writer. People see you from different perspectives. Please, share briefly with us your personal and public details.
I guess I attract different views about my position on issues, it’s either people agree with me or they do not, I am also aware of the extreme dislike for some of my positions, I am not responsible for how people react to what I perceive as my own point of view. When I am convinced about a course of action, I follow it through, I am accountable to my conscience. In life, you have to stand on something, it does not matter if you are standing alone so long you are standing for what is right. Most of the issues people oppose me on in the short term; they tend to do a 360-turn around, arriving at my initial unpopular position.
My personal details are simple, I am a father who is very protective of his private life and I think I have done a reasonably good job regarding that aspect of my life; I separate my private life from my public life. Let us leave the private life private.
I keep cobwebs out of my public and private life and make sure it is an open book anyone can pick up, read and be happy to read, it usually sounds arrogant but I am TEFLON. I can account for every penny I earn, applying same principles in my public and private life, contrary to what people think. I do not live on twitter and Facebook or social media in general; I have maintained a full- time job at different levels from 1993 when I completed my NYSC in Enugu State till date, it is important for activists to either be self-employed or get employment. No job is too ‘menial’ to be done so long it is honest, transparent living and you do not have to sell your soul to the devil.
Why do you think people who appear to be daring are often misunderstood?
You know people detest the truth even if it is staring at them, it is not that people misunderstand the truth, they simply pretend not to understand as it hits at their conscience, it questions their morality and demands from them a turnaround from bad to good, and pretending to misunderstand the truth helps them to sustain their status quo, the truth exposes their bias, their ethnic, religious and bigoted bias, so pretending not to understand is a pretence. When in 2011 I described Goodluck Jonathan as clueless with the way he was handling the Boko Haram issue, those who screamed against my position did not misunderstand me, they knew deep inside of them that cluelessness is not an insult. As a matter of fact, the dictionary describes being clueless as and I quote ‘having no knowledge, understanding, or ability.’ But the Jonaheedeens as I describe them saw the word clueless as an insult to the office of the President and his person, but it took them five years to agree with me, not only did Nigerians agree GEJ was clueless, they voted him out, same people who voted for him especially in North East Nigeria. That should be a lesson for President Buhari, right now he’s doing well to an extent; when it comes to the issue of security, foreign relations but appears to be clueless with what to do with the economy. If things don’t shape up, Nigerians will give their verdict in 2019. So if I say President Buhari is clueless when it comes to the economy, it is not an insult; it simply means I submit from my observation that he does not know what to do in dealing with the economy or that what he’s doing isn’t good enough. But praise singers will pretend not to understand me; they will run with the word clueless, living the message to kill the messenger even if the message is the truth, pretending to misunderstand.
Please, one memorable encounter with the opposition views since you came to the limelight as an activist ‘writer.
I am not sure I understand your question but let me say if you mean my memorable encounter since I started picking out, I would say the day I met the man who tortured me as a student leader, I don’t know if you are aware that I was arrested during the evil days of the General Babangida regime and a then Army major supervised my torture, they used blade to draw a mark on my flesh, on my back, they left a mark on me, it was painful, I carried that wound when I was released from Jos prison, the pain lasted for a long time, I longed for revenge and that was in the 90’s. Years later, I had become the Sec-Gen of the Oodua People Congress, we had a crisis in Ajegunle and I rushed down, some of the local boys had caught a man with a gun and they were about to take the laws into their hands, I rushed down and it was the same Major who had tortured me as a student, the same Babangida goon, I intervened and spoke with him, he did not recognise me, he was posted to DMI in Lagos and only came to Ajegunle to see a friend but was caught up in the crisis, myself and one of the leaders of the OPC Toyin Jimoh rescued him and took him to Mushin, I asked if he knew one Sankara in UNIJOS and he replied yes and that he recognised me as soon as I arrived, I removed my shirt and showed him what was left of the scare he made on my back in Jos. I told him I had forgiven him, we remain friends till date and that is one of the twists in life in Nigeria.
What do you like most about yourself and what do you think is your weakness/es?
Like about myself? That would be vain, I leave it to others to offer an opinion, can’t be a judge in my own case. My weakness? That would be Nigeria. I find it difficult to mind my business, I love society and speaking for the voiceless, it is a huge privilege but I think it is also a weakness, it has affected my ability to sustain a relationship, I have lost a number of friends because I usually pick Nigeria, the community before them, maybe now that I am older and my children are also wiser, I will settle down with someone that is able to give way for my country if the need be, if I need to answer that call to speak out, time will tell.
How did you end up living abroad; some say you were exiled, others say you went schooling?
Thanks for asking that question, a number of people actually thought I left Nigeria on exile; that is not the case. I was privileged to be among the many that fought military dictatorship, from Generals IBB to Abacha and Abdulsalam. I remained in Nigeria playing very active and dangerous roles in the pro-democracy movement. After Obasanjo became the President through election, I chose to stay out of politics and was already involved in the self-determination struggle, I was also very close to the Niger/ Delta movements. The mother of my children left Nigeria for her country of birth England and had our first child in England. In the year 2000, late Oronto Douglas and I went to Holland for the climate change conference at The Hague, then I visited Germany and saw my daughter for the first time, held her for the first time, she was just few years old. The moment I carried my daughter, I knew I could never be separated from her as a child. I returned to Nigeria. It was either both my then wife and my daughter returned to Nigeria or I joined them in Europe. Well, the rest is history, so let me set the record straight to those who have been sniffing around, I have never applied for political asylum in any part of the world, I have never lived illegally in any part of the world, living abroad was a personal choice but then am I really living abroad, I break more news on social media about Nigeria than those who are permanently based in Nigeria, so I might be physically outside Nigeria but I am emotionally and spiritually in Nigeria and do visit regularly. It is true I did school in England, I had masters in International Relations, which was my third post graduate study. I started a Doctorate degree in Political Economy when I was in Germany but got really bored and restless, it was clear the academic world wasn’t my calling and I was tired of having to reference foreign school of thoughts when discussing Africa.
What’s your social life like?
I don’t do big owambe gatherings, I find them ridiculously extravagant. I spend a lot of quality time with my children, we do a bi-annual drive around Europe, it is a huge adventure I always look forward to. I love dancing. I can dance. Just keep good music away from me. As soon as the light is off and no one is looking at me, I hit the dance floor. I guess I have been described by close friends as a travel freak, I have visited over 30 countries and I have not even started yet, luckily with a dual nationality one does not need visa to most countries, so it is just buy your ticket and go. God has been kind.
What do you do when not writing?
Spend time with my children, it is remarkable the lessons you can learn from being around children, they say the wisest of things and see what adults do not see. I love my children with all the veins in me, they are my greatest challenge and every challenge is a lesson in genuine unconditional love. I hate when they ask me critical questions as I know I can never lie to them.
What’s that little secret that inspires your way with life?
The society I guess and my background. The words of my father, he told me about contentment and that if you have that, you will never lack and you will always care for and about others, everyone would say great things about their dad but my dad was just so unique, he served in the Nigerian Army, during the war they had an opportunity to loot the bank. I think in the Ore-Benin axis, my dad stood his ground, he was not even a ranking officer, he stood his ground for what was right, he ended up not having a lot of money but he was fulfilled doing the right thing, I wonder why he did not tell me the story himself, it was his colleague who rose to become a Brig-General who told me the Ore story years after my dad had passed on. So you can’t bribe me, you can influence me with your money, I will stand my ground, it is truly amazing knowing one is free and you can take independent position at all times.
Reading most of your reactions to their actions, you don’t seem to see politicians all over the world as different from one another. Is that correct, and what exactly drives this opinion of yours?
Politicians will always be politicians, they tell you what you want to hear and that rule applies irrespective of race, colour, religion or country. You have few leaders, exceptional leaders who do not act like politicians, a good example is Buhari, he gets to say it as it is even if it will get him in trouble, same applies to late President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara or even late Chief Gani Fawehinmi or Malcolm X, they don’t call blue, red, those rare men and I guess some women inspire me.
Dr. Doyin Okupe just reacted to your posting his pictures online where he was supposed to be begging Chief Obasanjo. And you replied in like-manner. Many are reading personal grudges to this development between you both. What’s your stand on that?
Why should I have a personal grudge against Doyin Okupe? I do not know him personally, I don’t rate him high, I don’t admire people who are morally bankrupt. Doyin is a non-issue, that man stands for only one thing and that is BABIANLA politics. Two times, he’s abused Obasanjo, too times he’s gone to beg the man, rolling on the floor like a nine-year old child caught stealing in his mother’s pot of stew. It is such Babianla politics that makes me dislike people like Atiku Abubakar. Look, Olusegun Obasanjo is the very reason Nigeria is where we are today, he imposed a sick Yar’Adua and a clueless Jonathan on Nigerians, just for his own selfish reasons, just to punish Nigerians for rejecting his third term. Yar’Adua even with all his good intentions died in office leaving us with the option of fighting for Jonathan to be President and I did campaign for Jonathan to be acting President on principle even though I rejected his candidacy in 2011. In sane countries, Obasanjo will be in jail, answering for charges of corruption under his Presidency. From Halliburton to the sales of Nigeria’s assets to friends and concubines, we have short memories in Nigeria. That is probably why I cannot partake in active politics in Nigeria as a candidate, if I have to go back to my vomit to serve, I would rather wash diapers in Akure and live a quiet life. Look at the sudden turn around, who would believe the Tinubu’s of this world would be advocates of an Obasanjo today? The same Obasanjo who defiled the constitution, attempted to turn Nigeria into a unitary state under his command, seizing funds meant for the local governments in Lagos. Doyin Okupe is nothing to me, he can enjoy his stolen blood money but characters like him can never know peace, we cannot allow them to have peace.
Please, describe your sense of style, and on what do you spend the most: clothes, accessories, perfumes, underwear, or anything else?
Nothing really to describe I love my African shirts; they are affordable, easy to wear and speaks me. I don’t do accessories, I have never worn a watch in my life, I don’t do gold chains or ornaments. I like simple life. My daughter actually buys me perfumes, I don’t even know the names or make. I just use them. Ah! underwear ke, that is too private jor.
How and when do you spend vacations with your family?
Europe, Canada and the USA. We’ve tried Nigeria two times but it is cheaper going for vacation in those countries than to Nigeria. Remember I have children, not one child; so traveling to Nigeria would mean years of planning but soon they will be old enough to visit on their own. I can’t wait for that day to come. I always tell them they are Nigerians but citizens of the world so they are free to decide.
If you had your way, and considering the present situation with Nigeria, would you prefer a Goodluck Jonathan to a Muhammadu Buhari ruling right now?
Never again should Nigeria ever get an accidental calamity of a President such as Goodluck Jonathan, General Muhammadu Buhari is not perfect but for heaven’s sake, it would even have been better to have, what is the name of that Nigerian comedian Klint D drunk as President. Goodluck Jonathan was a complete disaster. I am passionate about anti-corruption, any leader whose philosophy is about stealing cannot get anything right in my opinion. Buhari’s missteps cannot be excused but at least you cannot doubt his commitment, we should not be having leaders from Buhari’s generation governing Nigeria but look at what happened when we tried a young man with a PHD? Please, I will choose Buhari over Jonathan even today.