There is no doubt that the Isanlu-Isin, Kwara State born frontline politician, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo of Isanlu-Isin loves his state. A political scientist and lawyer, Oyedepo, since his foray into public service in 1989 after jettisoning his legal practice in Kano, has constantly championed the cause of good governance. Although, the All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain read Political Science at the prestigious University of Ibadan, he later attended University of Lagos to read Law basically to be able to play robust politics because according to him in this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, by his academic inclination, Law is the only profession that can give him the desired independence to have a mind of his own politics. He also shares his joys and disappointments as one of the vanguards of the famed O’toge movement that installed a fresh political direction in Kwara State politics, and many more. Excerpts…
You have degrees in both Political Science and Law, did you really set out to become a politician?
By training, I’m a political scientist, by profession I’m a lawyer and by calling I’m a politician. I had to go back to read law after political science just because I wanted to fulfill my mission in politics. The good thing about reading law is that it makes you a professional. Once you’re a professional, you are not easily intimidated by the crises and fancies of politics. In a sense, if you’re traumatized by political defeat or setback, you can always go back to your chambers and continue to practise law. And if you win an election, because you have a profession, you will be able to be a man of your own, standing your grounds on all things so that you can be so independent-minded. That has worked for me in several ways. I’m so glad that I had training in political science which has prepared me for a stint in politics. Not only that; I also have training in law which also prepares me for knowledge-based politics and today I render services in politics and I’m satisfied with what is going on for me in politics.
You were one of the arrowheads of the ‘O To Ge’ movement in Kwara State which was deployed to oust the famous Saraki dynasty from political power, looking back, would you say the struggle is yielding expected results?
Well, I’m truly an arrowhead. But let me quickly go down the memory lane. I joined politics about 31 years ago. I have tried so many political camps in Kwara State. I entered politics through the CO group and I later moved to Saraki group. Later, I opted out of Dr Olusola Saraki group to head a party which was essentially one of the five political parties formed by late General Sani Abacha, which late Chief Bola Ige called ‘Abacha’s five leprous hands’. I was able to move my environment with that party called Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN). I have been in a life of struggle for many years but the one that led to the O’Toge phenomenon was actually started in 2002 when I joined the governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Muhammed Lawal of blessed memory to slug it out with the Saraki dynasty. When we were defeated at the 2003 election, many of my colleagues that we started that movement together abandoned the cause but I was steadfast and followed through. Shortly after, from 2004 after I left power, I was no more in the state assembly as a legislator, I had to embark on serious political struggles which by the grace of God led to the O’Toge phenomenon that ousted the Saraki dynasty from power in 2019. In the cause of the struggle, I have done a number of things. I wrote books, I wrote articles and made a lot of appearances on television. I even established a political radio broadcast that is now so popular in Kwara State. Now, when you come to Kwara State you find so many people using the radio to sensitize and mobilize people for a particular political end or particular political actions. I started it. It was so popular when I was made the chairman of PDP in Kwara State. We started with Harmony Radio at Idofian. From there, we also had a stint with Royal Radio and then we moved to Sobi Radio. We even went as far as Paraku Radio at the border of Baruten. We were also at Alubarka Radio and Tiwa n Tiwa Radio. We employed the radio opportunity to make sure that we reached the heart of the people even though the people in government then were reaching them with money in their possession. The whole thing worked out. Now, looking back, am I satisfied with what the struggle is yielding? I am not. Personally, I believe we can do better than what we are doing now. There are a number of crises in APC where I belong. The APC came together through four tendencies; Akogun Tendency, Gbemisola Tendency, Lai Muhammed Tendency and Fagbemi Tendency. These four tendencies have not been together. I believe that after the ousting of the Bukola Saraki dynasty from power, I was thinking that we would have a government that is more compassionate and fair. But this has not been case thus far. Though there is still room for serious improvements. I believe we can get better. We are still not where we ought to be.
Peace has returned between your camp and the government. Would you like to speak on hope for Kwarans from the unity?
We are trying and discussing peace. I cannot say that we have reached where we are going. My belief is that if the current trend works, then it means that we can be together and effect positive changes in the lives of the people of Kwara State. One thing is sure; there is the need for a more inclusive administration where people that matter will come together to discuss the programme of the government, align it with the programme of the party and the manifesto and then be of immense benefits to the people of Kwara State. So, peace will return when we get our acts together.
How honestly would you rate Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq government’s tackling of poverty, unemployment, healthcare and education?
Governor Abdulrazak Abdulrahman has some social programmes like payment of money to old people, the unemployed people and those people that may want to go into business, encouraging them to get empowered through government’s intervention either in terms of money or other things. Well, I think it is still much in the realm of ideas. We would be happy to have it in the realm of concrete reality. But I think anything good will start in the realm of ideas. Ideas are very good. I believe if these things are done properly and they work, then there would be a reduction in poverty. There is no government that can actually eradicate poverty but we can get it minimized or reduced. Unemployment is also there. We really don’t need any statistics than to look around us, our backyard, our environment, even our compounds. How many people are in your premises that are likely unemployed? But with the social and entrepreneurship programmes of the government, all these things would be reduced drastically. On healthcare, we are still not there. The health insurance scheme is in place. If it works, it will be better. Then our hospitals are still not adequately equipped with medications and tools. On education, the government I’m sure will do its best very soon. I have been told that N7 billion has been given to the state through payment of counterpart funding by UBEC. I believe the government is mindful of that. He wants to really overhaul the system of education starting from infrastructural decay that is in our education sector. I’m hopeful that something concrete will be done in that direction.
As a leader in Kwara State politics, what do you consider to be your greatest achievements in terms of service to the people?
I have been in politics as I have said effectively since 1989. In the process, I had been a commissioner in two major ministries, I have been commissioner for agriculture and rural development and I have been commissioner for commerce, industry and cooperatives. I have done much in these two ministries. The distribution of fertilizers when I was agriculture commissioner was a thing of joy. We were able to serve so many farmers. We were also able to initiate a programme of buying one tractor per electoral unit in Kwara State. Before I left, we bought nothing less than 100 tractors. But we were unable to distribute these tractors. What happened to them after my departure I wouldn’t know but the concept was to buy one tractor per electoral ward. These things make me very happy because when you are in a government that is so impactful to the people of Kwara State, one must be very happy that he is affecting lives in different dimensions. When I was in the house of assembly, I was able to represent my people effectively in the areas of even personally digging water wells for various communities in my constituency. I was able to also establish cooperative societies for many of them. Many of those cooperative societies that were formed then are still functional today and are creating wealth among the disadvantaged people of our area. For all those I’m so happy. And as then chairman of a major political party, I was able to move that party and provided radical leadership that eventually led to the victory of our party in 2019. It was a moment of immense joy for me the day we were able to win the governorship and have all the candidates in the house of assembly and in the national assembly. I didn’t know we could go that far to have everything. Yet we scored everything 100 percent. Nobody will have such a record and would not be happy about it.
Is there anyone who has had a big impact on you as your leader?
Yes, there are so many people that I can regard as my role models. Globally, I love to follow people like Nelson Mandela of South Africa who was selfless in the pursuit of his goals. I read a lot about him. I have also about Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, how he was able to transform his third world country to be first world country within a very short time. I’m encouraged by that. Then, when I was in the University of Ibadan, I was always reading about Kwame Nkruma, Julius Nyerere and others. Those people influenced my thinking and my life drastically. Coming to Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo remains a model. He was so focused and progressive in his thinking and so futuristic in his approach to radical issues in this country. So, one cannot but be moved by such leadership. These are the type of leaders that have moved me a lot. I am so much grateful for my contact with them, some physically and some through their writings and their books especially. So, I have been immensely impacted by these leaders.
Tell us about your family and how supportive they’ve been to your political journey so far.
I come from a very large family when it comes to extended family. My father was a trader in clothing and a farmer. Unfortunately, he died before I entered the university. But his life impacted on me greatly. In fact, he was one of my ardent mentors in life. That of my mother too has had great impact on my life especially my religious life. My mother is alive. She is a devoted Christian, she could pray, she could fast. She taught me the way of the Lord from the beginning. If I pray today, if I fast today, if I go for prayers in the church today, it’s just because of the influence of my mother. My wife has been a pillar of support for me. She makes the home absolutely peaceful for my aspirations and she supports all my aspirations. She would criticize me when she felt I was wrong and she would give me advice on what to do. She is also a woman of prayer. She prays for me and has never dissuaded me from playing politics. Dangerous as politics has been, she has been always supportive. She also takes care of the home. When I go out for politics to do a lot of things, this woman will be the one to take care of the children and the home so that I will not be outside and still be agonizing on how to take care of my family. She has been supportive in raising our five children amongst who we have lawyer, chartered accountant, medical doctor, one in agriculture and the last one is in art. All of them are doing well in their various callings. This can be attributed to the commitment and efforts of my wife. So, I have a family that follows me diligently and guides me when necessary.
You were in APC before joining PDP where you became chairman, and back to APC. What is your ultimate target in politics?
I had to move from one political party to the other. If one will count the number of political parties I had joined in life, there are so many; some registered and some unregistered. The registered ones are Social Democratic Party , (SDP) and later DPN. Later I joined All Peoples Party, (APP), which became All Nigerian Peoples Party, (ANPP) under which I became a member of the house of assembly in Kwara State for four years as chief whip. I also joined Action Congress Party, ACN, which transmuted to All Progressives Party, (APC). I left APC because of the way and manner we were treated in 2013. In 2013, Governor Bukola Saraki had an issue with the leadership of his party, the PDP, and he decided to leave the party for APC. To me, Saraki was the issue in politics of Kwara State and I was not with him and I didn’t quite flow along with his leadership then. Therefore, if I had to join him that time, it means the main issue I was fighting would have been taken away. I was fighting Saraki not for personal reasons but for political reasons. Otherwise, Saraki is a pleasant person. I have no personal differences with him. May be what made me to believe I had to fight him was because we were never together. Therefore, I couldn’t understand him deeply. But to me, the type of politics I saw then was not the type I could go along with. So, the scenario then was that if Saraki had to come to APC, I would leave APC. That was why I left APC in 2013. When in 2018, Saraki had to also come back to PDP for the same reason that made me to leave APC in 2013, I had to leave PDP and I even forfeited the party chairmanship to just return to APC. The only thing driving me then was my opposition to Bukola Saraki and the leadership of his party. And my politics is not really hinged on acquiring property, money or even position. Right now, I don’t have any position in government whether at local, state or federal levels. But to the glory of God, I still remain relevant in Kwara State. So, it is not property or position that makes people relevant, it is one’s commitment to the ideals that one has, it is one’s integrity and character. Those are the things that, to me, are very important and I wish I can continue to cultivate throughout my life. If at the end of the day position comes, so be it. But the position that would come should not destroy my integrity and my character. I would always be very pleased if I continue to render service to the people of this state and make things better for our people. I believe also that Kwara State being a heterogeneous community, we need a government that is fair, equitable and just. So, my motto regarding my next stage in politics is equity, fairness and justice. Whether I am made anything or not, I should be able to fight for fairness, equity and justice in Kwara State. That is the only thing that can make us to be truly a state of harmony. And that is the only thing that can guarantee that everything is good here.
If you were not in politics, what profession would you have been into?
If I was not in politics, I would continue to practise law which I was practising before I joined politics. In fact, I would have been a good lawyer. It is my political participation that has denied me the silk which would have made me a SAN already. There is nothing in SAN to the glory of God that I don’t have the brain to pick. But law profession is like a jealous housewife. It does not tolerate competition with any other profession. And my commitment to politics is so total, so time-consuming and so demanding that I cannot be the best of lawyers and a very good and prominent politician at the same time. Although, right now I’m trying as best as possible to still maintain my law office. Luckily, there is a principal partner in the office who is my son. We maintain law chambers in Ilorin and Lagos. Since I cannot keep abreast of the dynamics of the law practice, I have also veered into what I can consider to be an integral part of politics, that is training of people in leadership. And to this extent, apart from being a politician, I’m also the president and founder of Nations Leadership Institute located in Ilorin. It is where we raise leaders for tomorrow. Our concern is that many people are in politics or in public life without the appropriate knowledge and we believe that if people are well trained it will solve seriously the leadership deficiency in Nigeria. We also believe that everything rises and falls with leadership. Whatever we are going through in Nigeria today is because of deficiencies that we have in politics.