At 80, I can’t run for elective posts again but I’m still active in politics – Ajatta
At 80, I can’t run for elective posts again but I’m still active in politics – Ajatta
Hon. Jaiyeola Ajatta
On Thursday, December 20, 2018, the former House of Representatives member representing Oshodi-Isolo constituency II, Hon. Joseph Jaiyeola Ajatta, would join the octogenarian club. In this interview with Abolaji Adebayo, the two-time ACN rep walked down memory lane of his life journey as he boasted that despite being old, he could still perform in politics though old age would not allow him to run for elective posts in politics. Excerps:
On the 20th of this month, December 2018, you will clock 80 years on earth. How has the journey been so far sir?
Thank you very much. The journey has been good. I don’t think there is anybody in this life that has not ups and downs. Sometimes things are good; sometimes they are not good because one has to struggle and get back again. Altogether, I thank God that I am able to live up to this year. During my primary school days, it was okay up to the time I left Ikaram, my home town in Ondo state, for Abeokuta when I finished my primary school. I came to Lagos and I went to secondary school, that is Lagos City College, Yaba where I studied in the commercial section. I did the RSE Examination and later did secondary examination in the RSE too. After my secondary school, I went to work as clerk at Royal Insurance Company at Tinubu Street, Lagos. From there I went to study Accountancy. So, when I finished exams, I worked in a few companies both in Nigeria and England before I came back to Nigeria. So, it has been ups and down all the times.
Sir, you said the journey has been full of ups and downs, can you remember some few downs and how you were able to weather the storms?
The problem is that I didn’t come from a very rich family. I saw the kind of life I was going through compared to those people who came from very rich families, I thought I could not cope with it. But with my knowledge and passing of examinations in the RSE in the commercial sector, which was the basic, I still believed that I could do better. That is one of the down parts of the journey. When I did and passed my exams, I said to myself that I could make it with what I had. I have always gone into Accountancy in my life and I am still doing it up till today. So, for me to be a member of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, even the fellowship, I can say that all my life is about accountancy.
You trained as an accountant, how and why did you venture into politics?
I trained as an accountant. I worked also as an accountant. I got to the apex of accountancy. And as I said, I got the fellowship membership of the Institute. I also worked for companies in that capacity. I think I am happy about my chosen career.
So, why did you leave your profession for politics?
Yeah, I had practiced accountancy for a long period of time and I am happy about it. But when I got to the community where I have been living up till now, I realised that the people at Ajao Estate here in Isolo needed assistance and I believed that if I went to government, I would be able to offer a lot of assistance. That is why I got into politics. I first of all went to my home town in Ondo state to contest for the House of Reps but they said it was not possible for me. I came back to Lagos, I contested, and I won. Then I said ok, it is my constituency that sent me there, whatever I am going to do, I will do a lot to help them. So, that is why I was able to achieve a lot of things in my eight-year term. If I count them, they were more than 70 projects which could be divided into pieces to more than 100 projects for my constituency – Oshodi-Isolo constituency II.
How were you able to deliver over 100 projects when many of them were outside the purview of the committee on which you served?
Well, I was able to get these things done because when I was in the National Assembly, although I was in the opposition, the government was PDP. But even then, I was able to go to the people in the opposition and asked them to do something for me in my constituency. I met them for many things and I achieved a lot. I was able to get the federal government to do a lot of things which Lagos state was supposed to do like NNPC road and some other roads. There were a lot of projects I did which normally would not have been there. Like the post office in Isolo which had been abandoned for a very long time; the substation here in Ajao Estate which had also been abandoned for almost 15 years, when I got to the House, I was not in the committee, but I went to them. I wrote them about these projects and also pushed the application, asking them to do the substation at Ajao Estate here and they did it. Electricity was supplied to Ajao Estate and Isolo after the substation had been repaired. They were also able to tap electricity from here to Oshodi and far beyond Oshodi, that is another major project. There are many other things that I pushed.
I was not in that committee as I said, but sometimes I went to the committee and say look, I want something like this, who is the boss of this organisation. I would go and talk to him and say this is what I want for my constituency and I would get it done. That is why it was easy for me. I am saying this for anybody who is going to the National Assembly to have the idea of getting things for his constituency because if you sit down at the National Assembly and you are not pushing anything to help your constituency, well, they will not be able to re-elect you.
Since you left the post as a member of House of Reps, can you compare your own achievements with those of your successors?
Well, I didn’t go into finding out their achievements let alone comparing them with what I did. The person who took over I supported him, I campaigned for him. I also financed some of his activities. And when he got there, he did his best, but whether it measured up to my own I don’t know. I know I have done my best and my bests are still there for people to see. I have left more than seven years, so.
Sir, during your party’s primaries then, you lost to the person, how did it happen?
Well, the normal thing is that, when you are doing primary. Then, they called us into a hall and told people to vote, after voting, they asked us to go; we were not there when they counted the votes, but I lost (laughing). That was the system then. When I lost, I congratulated him, I worked for him…
(Cuts in) You didn’t protest?
Nooo! I even gave him money (laughing), I gave him handsome of money to do his election and I came to even campaign for him. So, as simple as that.
That was Hon. Akeem Muniru then?
He later lost to PDP in his second term bid, what happened then?
Well, you see in politics, you can see people who are going to vote for you; you go round to them. But by the time you go out, some of them would praise you, that is nice, but some of them would praise the works you have done. So, if they don’t have much to talk about that you have done for them, then, I don’t know, they may not be able to vote for you. But if you have done well, and you bring out what you have done and show it to them, they would ask you to do again. But if you don’t, when they want to vote again, they would say they want replacement.
Do you think that was the reason APC lost to PDP in 2015?
It’s one of the reasons. The man had gone to the House of Reps, spent four years and came back. So, it was people that assessed him or voted him. It doesn’t have medicine. He himself would have asked where the thing was wrong. I believe he would have seen it but recently he tried again to go but he couldn’t get the ticket.
But sir, some people believed that it was due to some internal crises within APC in Oshodi-Isolo particularly in Isolo, what is your take on this sir?
When there is a change of person like that, everybody would be saying what they know; it’s for the person to find out whether what he has done is right or wrong, see whether he has performed well or not. The race to be in the House of Reps or any other position needs a lot of hard works and a lot of prayers because they are competing with others and some of them have got something to show the people and you that want to compete with them, what have you got to show. Or you have gone and come back, and you want to tell the people to vote for you again. If you don’t have something to show that you have done for them, they will just listen to you and do their wish. They would vote according to who they liked. But nowadays, money play a lot of part, eh, I don’t know….
(cuts in) That is exactly the question I want to ask. How do you see the role of money in today’s politics?
During my own period, I did not spend much. What I did was to go to people and tell them to vote for me. It is not that I started giving them money. If I had money, I would give, but honestly, I used to tell them that they should not wait for me to give them money rather, they should wait for what I would give them when I got there. And that was what they did for me throughout, and they were able to enjoy for the period I served.
Politics is winning and losing, and it takes a lot of reasons you yourself may not even know. But if you are going into it, you must believe that you are going to win, and count yourself as better than others. But when the voters brought the results, and what happened was different, maybe you did not spend enough; maybe you over-spent, maybe you had offended some people by your statements during the campaign. So, it is very important for you to work hard before the election. Because if you start taking people to court, a lot of judgement may not favour you. Some people go to court just to save their face. I knew that if I was allowed to do the election I would still win because it is easy to tell people that these are what I have done, and I have done enough, there is a good example to show.
But some people have money and give it to people. During my time I told people that if anybody gave them money, they should take it and take it into their pockets, but they should not vote for the person because they didn’t know where he got the money from. And they listened and heeded my advice. I said ‘it is not his money, he has got the money from somewhere and come and give you so, take it from him to enjoy yourself but don’t vote for him.’
You said if you still run you are sure you will win. Why are you getting back from politics now?
Because I’m getting old and I have to allow the younger ones to try their luck and do like me. That is why now when I talk, I show them what I had done during my period. So, when they want to do their own, they should look at the records of my achievements in the constituency for them to be successful because what I did helped me a lot. I believe that time is changing, and our conditions are also changing. The person who wants to go must do the justice needed.
In short sir, you have quitted politics totally or are you still in it?
No, no, no! it is not possible to leave politics. But the ones that are here, which I have done where I am now, I want others to do better. If I have chance to go for another post again, I will go. Supposing I’m given a job as a board member somewhere, it is still part of politics. But it is not now that I will go around and say I want to contest, God forbid! No. At the age of 80, I should be looking at things I will sit and use my practical knowledge to do for the people especially those that are going for political positions, tell them to do something for the constituency. This is why I’m saying that since I have gone there twice, I think I can allow other people to go. Some people have gone more than two, three, four times, well, maybe they started young. Today, I want to celebrate my 80 years, that means that I should allow the young ones, support them, encourage them and ensure that the best person gets there and do something good for the constituency.
During your 8-year term, how did you engage the people in your constituency?
It depends on what we are doing. I established a free computer school for the children in the constituency. During their graduations every six months, people gathered here to enjoy themselves and we discussed. Within my eight years, I was able to train 19,000 people in computer.
Apart from that, I had a constituency office here, and I had workers there. People came to the office and table their wants. My workers would gather them and file them for me. We had time for meetings. I personally, I listened to my constituent anybody who could not see me at home would call me. Even if I was busy to answer the calls, I would make sure I called all the numbers back in the evening. That was the time people used phone booths. At times when I called back, the person would have left. There was a time I called constituency meeting, and someone accused me of not picking calls immediately I got back to Abuja but thank God others rescued me. If you ask me for help, if it was what I could do I would do it, but if it was what I could not do I would tell you I could not do it. When someone asked me for N10000, I would tell him he could only get N500, another person would get N500 and like that so that everybody got something. But I made myself available for everybody
Was the prograame sustained after you left office?
When I left, I think it should have continued, but what I did was to go again and get the government to set up a computer school at Ajao Estate. So, the federal government built the house, equipped it with sets of computers. It is the secondary school here. At the time I was leaving, they asked me to come and commission it but I said the person coming in after me should commission it, although I was the one who organized and facilitated it.
Alright sir, what is your strategy when you are faced with any challenge both in your political career and personal life, and how do you tackle it?
I never think of anything that is too much of problem for me. If it comes, I only know that there is something I have to do. So, I will start planning how to do it and pray to God on it. If you have problem, you can consult other people but mostly you need to pray to God.
How do you see politics presently compared to when you served?
Though politics is politics, all people doing it depend on themselves and their environments. In my time, money was not the main issue but now, money rules. Nowadays, if you don’t have money, don’t go into it.
Sir, how do you feel being among the lucky ones who clock 80 years on earth?
I thank the Almighty God for allowing to live up till this time. At a time, it was hard for me, very hard. If you asked me this question, I would try to hide it but now I will not hide it. I know at 80, I look back and I thank God. Problems are supposed to be around in the world, but you sit down and see how you can solve the them, that is most important. I had created some problems for myself and I find how to solve the problems. Some problems are even waiting for me somewhere, but let it come I will solve it. It is a natural thing. And for me to be 80 is a gift of God and I thank God for that.