Julius Olapade Okunola, a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God who worked in the United States of America, is the governorship candidate of the Accord Party for the September 22, Osun State governorship election. He explains why corruption cannot be totally eradicated in Nigeria’s election process and why more ‘men of God’ should take part in politics.
PT: The governorship election campaigns are heating up. Are you getting a fair chance to campaign?
Okunola: Well, yes, I have been given a fair chance. First of all, I have been given the opportunity to serve through my party, Accord. I think it is a fair chance, for giving me the chance to contest in the primary. It was a free and fair primary.
PT: Given the fears of rigging, vote buying and other problems that have been highlighted so far, do you see INEC well prepared for the challenges ahead?
Okunola: With what we have been told and with the new technology with their explanation and their seriousness to make sure that the election is free and fair, I think INEC is prepared to make the Osun State election a model.
PT: The IGP was in Osun and he promised that security personnel deployed for the election would be fair and non-partisan. Do you trust him?
Okunola: I will take every man for his words. I will say, I trust him, to ensure that his men do what they need to do to make the election free and fair, provided that they work to ensure that people are not allowed to expose their votes. I believe him, to do what he has promised to do.
PT: Much of the campaigns seem to be revolving around the alleviation of poverty. How did Osun people get to this level of poverty and how do you intend to take them out?
Okunola: Everyone knows that we got to this state because of non-payment of salaries and pensioners entitlements. When the purchasing power of any state is zero, then there is no way the buying and selling can come to play. So the reason why we are we are here is that salaries are not being paid. When salaries are not being paid no investor will come and invest in Osun State, because the question will be if I set up industry and manufacture products; who is going to buy them?
That is the main reason why there is poverty here. If you look at Osun State, and you look at the last eight years, most of the contractors are from Lagos. Majority of them live in Lagos, they are not based in Osun State. As they get the money, they go to Lagos. So, the money does not circulate here in Osun.
The people are really going through a lot. For example, if a contractor is in Osogbo, he will buy things in Osogbo and do a lot of things in Osogbo; but when he does not live here, majority of the money will be spent outside the state, the money will not circulate and that is the beginning of poverty in Osun State.
If you look at a lot of projects that are embarked on and that are not productive, these are resources that should have been used for something else that would promote economic growth, but unfortunately, where the monies are invested are not yielding any good thing. That is the beginning of poverty in Osun State.
PT: Do you have any solutions to this problem?
Okunola: Once I become the governor of the state, salaries will be paid as and when due. This is a project for me which I will execute with all the strength that I have. Pensioners will be paid their entitlements monthly and also, I make sure that we revive all industries that are dead.
I will do this by either giving soft loans to those industries for them to come back and then create employment for people and also by the grace of God, my government will also embark on infrastructural facilities. Construction of roads will create a lot of employment, we will try to create minimum housing scheme. Whatever we will need to inject into the economy to create employment, that is what we will do so that people can get employed and as a result money will be in the hands of our people. Whatever we need to do to bring money into the hands of our people, that is what we will do so that they can be self-sustaining in Osun State.
PT: It appears that all revenues that accrue to the state are used to pay salaries, given the huge wage bill and the backlog of unpaid salaries. How would you change this trend?
Okunola: That is what I just said. We will revive dead industries and encourage new ones to come in. The ones we can guarantee regular payment of salaries, then the purchasing power of the citizens will be sustained. So whatever the industries are producing, there would be people to buy them. We will partner with some of the investors to come into the state to set up industries.
If the government will need to give them tax credit say for the next five years, so they can set up their companies, the government would do that. We can also give them land to encourage them to come into the state to set up companies to create employment for our people. Unemployed graduates will be trained free of charge on skills on how to identify business opportunities and to start their own businesses with little capital.
The government can also give them start up capitals. So they will move from being unemployed graduates to employers of labour. For our pensioners who are retired but not tired, we (will) train them on what they can do, and the government can give them out of their arrears that are being owed, give them a lump sum to start up the business of their choice; by that the retired is back to the labour force, creating employment for other people.
By this, income will be generated for the government as many of these industries would be paying taxes to the government. That is what we intend to do to solve that problem.
PT: You are from Ife; you have another contestant for the office, Iyiola Omisore, who is also from Ife. How does it affect your chances?
Okunola: This is Osun State governorship election. It is not House of Representatives or the Senate where the election will be limited to Ife area. It is all over the state and you know everybody has equal opportunity to win votes in all these areas. I don’t think that Otunba Iyiola Omisore is a threat. I know he is popular in Ile Ife, but people have to make their choice on whom to vote for. I can tell you that the election of this year will take a new turn for the people of Osun State, because people will not vote because of money.
People will not vote on the bases of popularity, or party, but they will vote on the basis of what you have to offer, your plans for the state. That is what the election is about this time around. People have seen a lot of disappointment from older politicians. They want to try a new breed; they want to try a new party, Accord Party. That is what I am looking forward to seeing on September 22.
PT: You spent much of your working years in the United States, what is the nexus between your experiences abroad and the grassroots of Osun State that could endear you to the people?
Okunola: My early years and my secondary and university education were in Nigeria. Adding that to my going overseas will make what we think is not possible to be possible. With my exposure, being in a system that works perfectly well, now to a system where we are struggling, combining them, I think I should be able to put Osun State through.
PT: You are a pastor. What do you have to say about the scepticism that pastors or Christians should have nothing to do with politics, particularly with the brand of politics in Nigeria?
Okunola: Things have changed now because people are praying now to get men of God into politics. The Bible says when the righteous are in power, the people rejoice. We are all part of the system and if you allow other people to make the laws for you and you are not involved, then you have no choice when your interest is not taken into account.
There is nothing bad for men of God to take part in politics because we must be involved and we need to be involved. The reason is that if we do not get involved, we have other people dictating how to run our lives. So the more we are involved, the more we are part of what laws are being made to govern us. Besides, the man of God would always want to maintain his integrity. I encourage men of God to be involved in politics.
PT: What is your take on electoral corruption?
Okunola: There is no doubt that corruption is affecting elections in Nigeria. You see people collecting money or giving money for votes. Corruption has become an institution in Nigeria. It can be curbed, it cannot be totally eradicated. Even in advanced countries, there is corruption there. But when you put things in place to provide check and balances, and a punitive measure for those caught, that would bring a check to corruption in Nigeria.
PT: Would you say that what the Federal Government is doing to curb corruption in elections and other sectors, is adequate?
Okunola: The government is doing its best. you know that corruption in Nigeria is more than that. It is an institution. There are some people that are untouchable. But at least, taking a few steps is something. One day we will be there. Our legal system needs to be reviewed. If the legal system is up to standard, and there is sanity among the judges, I think corruption will be a thing of the past.
PT: Vote buying is the bane of elections today. Are you apprehensive on what would be witnessed on election day?
Okunola: First of all, if INEC keeps to its promise that no voter would have the opportunity to expose his vote, that will discourage vote buying. However, if people have agreed to induce people with money, there is nothing we can do. But will I join them, I will say, no.
I will not join them to do that, because it is not right. It is not the best thing to do. If you are contesting for election, the best thing to do is to present your manifesto to the electorate, let them choose the best candidate, rather than give them money to induce them. Those who do such do so because they want to continue to be in power and people continue to be in poverty. Whatever money that they give, they recoup the money back (when elected). That is what put the economy in a bad situation.
PT: What should INEC put in place to ensure a free and fair election?
Okunola: I just want to encourage INEC that they should not collaborate with any party. Let them make sure that nobody is able to show their vote. As long as INEC makes sure that ballot papers are secure and that nobody is able to see whoever the electorate voted for, I think that would be fair enough.