Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is a 34-year-old activist and architect who holds a Masters Degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT in the United States. As the KOWA Party chairmanship aspirant for Ikeja local government area, he tells PREMIUM TIMES in this interview why he moved into politics, how he raised funds for his campaigns, and his plans for the council if elected.
PT: You’ve been on the campaign trail for a while now, how has it been?
Rhodes-Vivour: It’s been fantastic, people have been very receptive, we’ve been doing good governance evangelism for the last three months. Fortunately, our party is a party where there is not so much strife, people shooting each other, or imposing candidates. We had a very democratic primary which allowed us to emerge early, and to start on the campaign trail very early. So, we started that. People are very responsive, people are tired of the status quo, people want real change. We’ve been getting to communities, listening to them, understanding what is important to them, their own priorities. And that’s what matters and that’s been very a fulfilling experience so far.
PT: When you think campaigning, the next thing is to think about the financial resources to prosecute it. How did you raise your own funds?
Rhodes-Vivour: There are a lot of good Nigerians. In Nigeria, we like to focus on the barriers and problems, we are not solution-oriented. When people see you running, they see you have a good desire for the people, they see your intentions are pure, they will support you. People have been donating to my campaign, N10,000 here, N50,000 here, N200,000 here, people are helping. I don’t have any godfather. So, all my friends, I tell them ‘Listen, you people keep complaining about this country, I’ve stood up, I want to run, at the local government level where it impacts people the most. Instead of complaining, do something, support me.’ And they’ve supported.
Another thing is, we don’t have godfather in our party, we don’t have all these people that are just thinking of themselves, so we don’t have to spend as much money as all these other campaigns. Because all these people, they spend money because they don’t want to talk to the people, they don’t want to spend time with the people, they’ve not even used their brains to think of what is important to say to these people, and ideas that they can actually implement. So, they just come, they share money and go so it’s a lot of money they have spent. We don’t have to do that.
PT: A lot of people don’t trust politicians and that’s why they prefer to just collect their money during campaigns. Have you had that experience?
Rhodes-Vivour: No, I’ve experienced that a lot and you know, you cannot blame people for thinking like that because that’s how politics has been practised since 1999 really. But the thing is you have to start changing people’s perception. First you come there as a young person, you come with a party that they know they don’t have any godfather, any big wig politician behind. You can easily tell them ‘Listen, I’m not a thief, I’ve not been in a position of power before. We are not people that want to just go and steal. We have limited resources and we want to do things for the public good.’ And you talk to them. So instead of spending money, you spend time in different communities. You don’t do these big rallies that you come with big car and stand and everybody will gather to see you. No. You go and meet people, in ‘small small’ groups, 10 people, 15 people, so you can build a relationship and a rapport. And people appreciate that a lot. Also, you tell them ‘I’m not here to be giving you N200, N500, but I’m going to do an empowerment programme or a skill acquisition programme and it’s free. All of you come and benefit from it. I’m not interested in giving you fish, I want you to learn how to fish.’ That’s how we approach our campaigns because we also have to be honest with ourselves. If we start behaving like the normal politicians, then we’ll become those politicians.
PT: How difficult has it been trying to break into what a lot of people see as the PDP/APC stranglehold on the electorate?
Rhodes-Vivour: It has been very easy because this is the perfect time. Nigeria is at a point where those two parties have disappointed them woefully. We voted out people because we were tired of their misrule, expecting that we are going to get real change, to come and get fake change, change that was worse than the situation we were complaining about. We have a president, we don’t know the state of his health, we have promises they made that were not kept, people are suffering like they’ve never suffered before. So, people are tired, people are clamouring for something real. What they got was this: they promised them they’d give them food, but what they got was the smell of the food. Now they want food. And they want youth; they want young people to come into position because they know that the problems we are facing today cannot be solved by the same people we have been recycling since 1970. They want people that can solve the problems for today’s youth. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high. You have to use creativity to solve these problems and that’s in our generation, and it’s our time. And we also have to look for people that have leadership qualities, that shows by their character, their character that shows by the choices they make. When a young person goes into KOWA party and is ready to do the work, to spend time convincing people, it shows character. It shows capacity and belief in an ideal.
PT: In one of your recent interviews, you said you were running because you want to improve the standard of living of people of Ikeja local government. And that’s the kind of stuff every politician says. Why should your people believe you?
Rhodes-Vivour: Because I have creative ideas that are realistic to do these things, and my manifesto is built on the interactions I’ve had with people over the last 6-7 months. It’s one thing to know people and it’s another thing to sit down and talk to them, ‘What are your problems? On a scale of 1 – 10, what is your priority?’ So, for instance, someone will tell you that, ‘Listen, my children, I know that the person that is in charge of their Day Care is putting sleeping pills in their pap and water so that she can go to market and go and play with her friends and leave these children sleeping. And if the children sleep for like 5 – 6 hours, that is reducing their brain capacity. By the time that child is 15 that child’s brain is not properly developed.’
When someone tells you that, you’ll now know we need to provide quality Day Care (facilities) in each of these wards. Quality Day Care does not mean go and destroy a building and build one big, fancy building and come and cut tape. No, you can rent spaces and renovate, you can partner with people that own uncompleted buildings in a ward, finish it to an extent and lease it for some time. These things are things you can do with a small amount of money but create the desired effect that you want. Because it’s not about the shiny house, it’s that your child that is inside there, he’s safe, he gets quality education and he’s playing. That is it. Creativity.
I know KOWA also has a lot to prove. We are not just working to become a local government party, we want to be a state party, a national party. So, we have to show Nigerians what good governance is, in fact, we have to overdo, so trust us with this local government let us show you what good governance is and then we’ll now come to you for support when we are going to the next stage.
PT: You are known as an activist but now you want to cross to the other side. We’ve had activists before you coming into government and seemingly forgetting everything they’d been fighting for. Why won’t you do the same?
Rhodes-Vivour: First of all, the activism I have been involved in. Two things, one is restoring History to schools and improving the History curriculum, the second thing is anti-GMO stuff. And it is because of that I went into politics. Last August, they invited me for one special day seminar with three of the ministers, Minister of Science, Minister of Environment, and Minister of Agriculture. And just going by my experience with them, I just believe these people don’t care. Now if you are doing activism and you are constantly sitting across the table of someone that does not really care, you are wasting your time. You need to be on the other side of that table. If there have been more activists on the other side of that table, Nigeria will be a better place. We cannot just carry protest, go and march and go home and keep doing that. I’ve been on this GMO thing for at least 3 -4 years and it’s good, we have to do it because it keeps them on their toes but we also need people to actively get into politics, actively become policy makers as well, so we’ll have them on two sides. So, it’s not so much crossing over to the other side. You’ll now have an activist chairman, that if he’s loved by the whole of Ikeja. If I say we are leading a rally against GMO, all my people will follow me. That is powerful. And also, you need power to be able to change the lives of people, you can do it in a small way but there are ways you can also do it on a bigger platform that gives you more leverage. I don’t really see myself crossing to the other side, I feel that politicians should be activists. It should not be that you crossed over and you become a politician. People like Herbert Macaulay; he’s actually someone I look up to. He was someone that was from an aristocratic home, he did not have to take time to struggle or anything, he could have been selfish and just thought about only himself but he stood as an activist.
PT: When you look around your local government, what do you see as the most pressing need of the people?
Rhodes-Vivour: It’s not one thing. First of all, we need to tackle youth unemployment. And in tackling youth unemployment you are also tackling the educational system because a lot of these young people drop out of school from primary. We need to create something, to catch them and prevent them from dropping out. Once they drop out, their lives just take on a cycle and it just gets worse and worse as they grow older because they never go back, they can’t go back. Then they become the ones using codeine, always getting high, become the political thugs, the kidnappers, the robbers, you know. So, you need to catch them young. So, we will be tackling youth unemployment by creating skill acquisition seminars, giving them skills and providing ways for them to serve as interns with companies around Ikeja area. But we will also be tackling primary school education, even secondary school education as well by after-school programmes. So, you encourage this desire to learn, to seek knowledge, to carry on, to push through. And then you have wellness and environment. They go hand in hand. Since I’ve been here, everybody is having malaria one day or the other. And what causes that? Our gutters are open, not flowing, we don’t fumigate regularly, that’s why everywhere I go when I’m campaigning, I fumigate that ward. It’s something I believe is creating impact. Because malaria kills more people than Boko Haram, it’s a very powerful thing. So, you cover the gutters, you ensure that the gutters are flowing. There are maps for how these gutters are supposed to go. Implement them. Use innovative and creative solutions.
And then we will also create a recycling system, a recycling community where each household separates their wastes, organic wastes, plastics, dirt, dust, everything. Let’s make it a culture in Ikeja, this is the Ikeja way. That’s something that’s going to be a community effort and we are going to create incentives for that. And the money that we get from the organic waste, you can convert it to compost, sell it to organic farmers – you know I’m passionate about organic foods – that money you now bring it back and use it to subsidise garbage bags. So, in Ikeja, it should become a thing of the past where you just see people just throwing trash anyhow. Also from my experience on the campaign trail, too many people have lost loved ones because they go to hospitals and they don’t have oxygen, they don’t have blood, and they go to first hospital, second hospital, by the time they get to the third hospital the person has died. So, if you have a patrol team that goes to each registered hospital in Ikeja to check the level of oxygen and blood they have, on a regular basis, that in itself will put the hospitals on their toes. And even if the commissioner of health says we do not have the right to do that, we’ll publicise who does not have what so you’ll know you are not wasting your time going to this hospital. By the time the hospitals see that they will sit up.
That’s the bigger agenda. We intend to do Ikeja so well that every other local government chairman starts to feel inadequate and has to start to copy. Like Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello scenario. Awolowo will pass a law, free education, Ahmadu Bello will be forced to copy because people will be saying ‘Look at what they are doing in the southwest, so you can do things like that.’ You start to pressurize the people and they’ll start stepping up as well.
PT: Talking of registered Ikeja residents, how do you intend to achieve that?
Rhodes-Vivour: We intend to go round, we know your house, we know your business….
PT: (Cuts in) But isn’t that the same thing LASRRA is doing?
Rhodes-Vivour: LASRRA can be doing their own. These things don’t have to be expensive. We have corps members that are constantly in the local government, what are they doing there? They sit down, every time I go to the local government, they are talking to themselves. This is something where we’ll have a biodata card, you put down your thumb print, we partner with local banks to fund this thing. We’ll also take data for ourselves because we need data. How can a local government or a state even plan for its people when it doesn’t know these people? What is your blood type? What’s your height? What do you like? Collect as much information as possible so you can start to plan. How many children do you have? And you can start to make it a commonplace thing for people to feel the need to register with the local government because there are benefits.
PT: These projects you have mentioned need to be financed. Where will the money come from?
Rhodes-Vivour: First of all, we have to be very creative. Nigerians have gotten used to politicians that are thieves, we keep hearing billions for bridges but if you go and look at that bridge, it is a fraud. They gave you a bridge for the price of five bridges or they are giving you a borehole that is N70 million or website that is N300 million. Projects that touch people don’t have to be too expensive. The idea is how does it solve this matter? For instance, if I want to have an ambulance, I can go and spend N16 – N20 million buying a brand-new ambulance that is shiny or I can buy a second-hand ambulance and have six. The important thing is, is it working? Is it effective? Are we servicing and maintaining it properly? And are we transparent about the cost? I cannot go and buy a second-hand ambulance and say I used N16 million to buy an ambulance. You will be transparent, this is how much we have, rather than buy one let’s buy four, and that four will work only in our six wards. The more we generate funds the more we can buy more.
Another thing is that revenue collection in this Ikeja is extremely inefficient and corrupt. They outsource it and the revenue collector will give whatever he feels they should give to the local government. We have to streamline revenue collection. You as a tax payer should be able to pay directly to a channel, you and the local government, so that will minimise all this huge waste that is going to people. By the time you do that you’ve already doubled your revenue base.
And you also have to be creative, you have to partner with NGOs, partner with so many people who want to work with local governments. So many grants are supposed to go to local governments, it’s because these agencies don’t see capable minds to work with that they don’t work with them.
Another thing to also consider is this. All these local government chairmen, they don’t have roadmaps that are sophisticated enough to present at the UN. There are Sustainable Development Goals that you can tap into, so many things you can tap into but they don’t even know about these things. There’s Clinton Health Access Initiative and that of the British Council. If you can put your plans together properly, you present to these organizations and they will be glad to work with you because it is at the local government level that the impact of their funds can be seen the most. As long as they can see the metric of success, they will happily work with you. But then you have a lot of our people that will be asking what is in it for us? A local government chairman will go somewhere, they’ll tell him they want to do something and he’ll ask, ‘What is in it for me?’ That puts a lot of people off. But when they see a shining example, people will be attracted to him. Even private citizens. If you want to build a library in Anifowose, and they know that you are not a thief and you are transparent in what you do, people will contribute. Like I told you, my campaign, people are contributing to it because I’m transparent about what I’m doing
PT: In Lagos State, we’ve had cases of people campaigning and winning elections in a party and then crossing to the ruling party. What do you think of that?
Rhodes-Vivour: I believe that the main problem of Nigerian politics is that there is no ideology. You don’t have people with ideology. When an ideology is to share money, you can cross to any scene anytime. But someone in Labour Party can never cross to Conservative Party. A Republican Party man can never cross to the Democratic Party. It’s because of ideals, this is what I believe. Now KOWA has an ideology that I love, Social Welfare and Modernism. So, you put the people first, then you use modern ideas, innovations to solve problems, doing your governance in a very modern way, keeping up with the trends all over the world. That ideology does not exist in any other party.
PT: Ahead of the forthcoming election, do you think LASIEC has provided a level playing field for all the political parties?
Rhodes-Vivour: To be honest, I don’t have any complaints with LASIEC going into this whole thing. I think they’ve done a fantastic job. You know they published the election guidelines, we followed the guidelines. There were times when they wanted to charge people a ridiculous amount for nomination forms. We complained, they listened and they reduced the money. We would have been happy if they reduced it to zero but they reduced it halfway. I think that’s a nice thing because it shows they are listening to us and taking us into consideration. There were deadlines they set but also extended because some could not meet it. They treated us fairly. I’m very happy with that. We went for our validation; it was a very pleasant experience.