After losing out at the APC primary elections, like most politicians moving to wherever his dream could be actualize will be the next move but that wasn’t the case with Ayo Karim. His resilience and trust in the party’s ideology made him to continue to support the party. In this interview, Ayo Karim, billionaire businessman and Managing Director of Costain West Africa, bare it all as regards his next political moves, His relationship with Oyo State governorship candidate among sundry.
The Presidential and National Assembly election is over, what is your general assessment of the election?
My general assessment is very simple. The permutation, the directive and the calculation worked out in APC’s advantage, first of all let us talk about the leaders who are vying for the office of the President. President Muhammadu Buhari is known to be honest, astute and his vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has similar characteristics. You can see from what they have been able to prove in the last four years that the previous lords, what they were unable to finish this present government even with half of what they were earning before,was able to complete a lot of infrastructure projects to the benefit of Nigerians. So, winning the general election did not come as a surprise it was all based on performance.
Would you consider the election free and fair?
Yes, in my own personal assessment, it was free and fair because I was involved with the Oyo State chapter of the general election, unfortunately in Oyo State we lost a little bit to the other side but not withstanding we pulled our weight and now we have realised what we need to do in order for us to win further elections.
You attempted getting the APC ticket to run for Governor but you were denied, why didn’t you leave the party to actualise your dream in another party?
For me, I have been a member of APC right from inception, I was there since when it was formed as a party, I believe in the philosophy of the party and I believe in the ethos of the party and I believe that in APC if we go by the status of our constitution, it is a bit more favourable to Nigerians to stick to the party that are people oriented and progressive in terms of outlook to Nigerians and have the overall interest of the country at heart in terms of development, in terms of progress and trying to position the country in the league of nations as one of the best countries in the world. I can see the performance in the last four years in comparison to the previous 16 years of others, the different is clear. For me, in APC I think as a country and as a party we have a good chance and for me personally, to answer your question I have a better chance in striving among like minded people that require progress, that have high value integrity and hope to drive the country forward.
Were you angry you did not get the ticket?
No, I wasn’t angry, when you look at the quality and calibre of the aspirants in Oyo State, I think the APC ,Oyo State party governorship primaries has the best class of aspirants you can display in any part of the country. You can see from the gentleman, Adebayo Adelabu, who is the current flag bearer of the party in the state and if you look at the other top 10 , which one of them can you push aside? With titans and tactics we came out to raise the bar, I say look these are the kind of quality leaders we need. And based on that I am not disappointed or dissatisfied about the outcome, of course I was a little disappointed but I am not dissatisfied about the outcome.
So, in the next four years what’s next for Ayo Kareem?
For me, first of all we have a party and we have a governorship election and I am proud to say my friend, Adebayo Adelabu is our flag bearer, so I am pulling all my support behind him to win the governorship election so we can follow the party’s values, the ethos and hope to build on the progress that the state has been able to achieve in the last eight years, that is first and foremost. Secondly after doing that we can now look at how we can add value to what Adebayo Adelabu is doing as governor in the state.
In what capacity have you been working with Bayo Adelabu?
Well, we speak on a regular basis and we discuss a lot of strategies on how to achieve the aim. Don’t also forget we are members of the same party and as a member of the same party it is onerous on me as long as I decided to stay with our party and beside he also is my friend, as you can see I am wearing two hats, he is my friend and we are members of the same party, it will be a shame if my friend loses or my party loses, so, I am putting my eggs in one basket and I am going for it.
If Bayo wins… (cuts in)
No, when he wins.
Okay, when Bayo wins the normal trend is for him to seek a second term, making 8 years, in another 8 years you will be in your late 50’s, do you still want to govern Oyo State?
Well, when the time comes we will decide. Nobody knows tomorrow if I am to answer your question, I don’t know if there are other opportunities available in the society or in Oyo State, and the love that I have for the state, I want to practice my politics in here but if there is opportunity in the centre, obviously we will be happy to exploit it.
Before the ticket was given to Adebayo Adelabu, there was a kind of agreement between the top contenders in the state that if you lose out you will work with winner, other contenders didn’t abide with that rule, why are you the last man standing? You are also a key official with NAMMBO, how were you able to joggle working with Bayo and at the same time play a role in NAMMBO?
NAMMBO is a National Movement for Muhammadu Buhari and Osinbajo, basically it’s just to position ourselves in the centre, to try and support President Buhari and Osinbajo in achieving the target of the second term, and now we have achieved that, as the national Financial Secretary of NAMMBO we were able to raise funds, we did a lot of sensitization all over the country, we went up and down the nooks and crannies of the country, all the villages as much as possible all over the 36 states in the country including Abuja to let the people know that continuity for our country is important, we need to build on the existing progress that the government has made and it would be a disaster if we were to change that government now, so the support for that team is required. Thank God we have been able to achieve that so the next thing now is to come down to the state level to support my friend, Adebayo Adelabu in winning the governorship so that we can also build on the progress we have achieved in the last eight years. On how I was able to do the two, first of all you have to have the capacity, if you don’t have the capacity you can’t joggle the two . And the second question on how I became the last man standing and the only one with Bayo Adelabu. For me as I’ve said earlier, I believe in the ethos and I believe in the philosophy of the party and I also believe that one has to be magnanimous in defeat. In life if people are vying for a post, only one person could win, once that person wins, it’s his time , you need to wait for your own time and believe it would come.
With the results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections in Oyo State, do you think the APC can muster enough strength to win the governorship election?
Oh yes, I believe so, I believe Adebayo Adelabu has done really well, he is on the road, he is campaigning, he is appealing where his personality has to come out, his own self, he has to be a man of his own, he has to be Adebayo Adelabu Penkelemes, appealing to people not under the wing of anyone anymore. He needs to appeal, to reach out to people, this is who I am, this is what I intend to do please support me. For me I believe in that and that is exactly what he is doing, he was on the radio this morning and the interview this morning I must say was exceedingly interesting, about his performance, he was quite sincere, quite open and quite honest about what he can do and what he cannot do. So, for me if you are looking for a leader, a leader has to be open, honest and sincere. He knows quite what he can achieve in terms of what is available in comparison to what is on ground, for me I think a leader like that ought to be followed
You started well with the Ayo Ni Foundation, what will happen to it ?
Ayo Ni Foundation is a foundation, it isabout supporting the people of Nigeria, starting from Oyo State and that will never stop, we are hoping to build on the success we had during our campaign. And still Ayo Ni Foundation is an ongoing thing, we are going to be empowering people, we are going to be doing different types of programmes to empower women, empower students, youths, farmers, market men and women, those are the kinds of things we plan to do in the next few years.
I understand you are close to Governor Ajimobi, how did you take the news of his defeat in the Oyo South Senatorial District election?
Well, funny enough I saw him yesterday for the first time after he lost his senatorial bid, he is still upright, he is upbeat and I think he is magnanimous in defeat. He said he believed it was an act of God and probably God has different role for him to play in the politics of Nigeria and Oyo State, that is the way he sees it. Overall, I think he is taking it very well, from his statement out of 14 federal House of Representatives we won 9 and out of the 3 senatorial districts we won 2, so, overall it is not a failure, it is a pass mark but it was just that the only loss just happened to be his own seat. And I also believe that the Oyo South Senatorial District people is actually sending a message and I think it is not for us to laugh about but it is for us to learn from. I think it is a learning course for people like us who are behind in politics.
Would you consider going to the Senate if you have the chance?
As I said Oyo State is my first love, in any capacity that I can serve the people of the state I will be happy to exploit the challenge.
There is a rumour going round, that you and your brother, Kola are having issues that he is not comfortable with your ambition, how true is this?
Let me clarify this issue now, at my age when people start spreading those kind of rumours you wonder why, what is the motive?. My brother is a business man; I was in business before I decided to become a politician and that is my personal decision. However, I come from a family that is very supportive of whatever we all do, so, I don’t understand where those stories came from that my brother wasn’t comfortable with what I do. My family is 100 percent behind me, I don’t just have one brother, I have few brothers and they are 100 percent in support, but these are private people, because you don’t see them in the public domain doesn’t mean they don’t support what I do, I think that’s where the rumour came from. Do people expect them to be by my side during campaign and run here and there? my brothers are not like that, they are however, in support in term of resources, in terms of family support , that is available, otherwise I won’t be able to achieve what we achieved during the campaign. We all celebrated the New Year party together.
You were doing good as a businessman, why did you come into politics?
I am glad you asked this question, it is a question I feel passionate about. I have been very fortunate to have gone through the Awolowo free education system, and if you look at where we were in the 70s to where we are today with the level of our education system, if I am to send my child in Nigeria to receive that kind of education, I will be paying through the nose. And I know what the economy was in the 70s and in the 80s in comparison to where we are now, and if you look at the education system now it has been decimated, economy decimated and I feel if experienced people, exposed people, people with the technical know-how refuse to get involved with the running of our government, running our affairs then where it makes no sense, the logical thing for me to do having felt the way I felt is to get involved in politics. It is about getting involved because what is happening is that the educated people in the past, the exposed people, the enlightened people don’t want to get involved in politics but the politicians are the ones making decisions about our future and it only makes sense for me to get involved and that is the reason I am getting involved in politics to provide good governance.
How do you plan to merge your personal business with politics?
Well, I have diversified my business if we are to talk about my business, I have a company called Winchester Construction, Winchester Farm, and Winchester Mining, so I have these three businesses that is sustaining my life style.
All based in Nigeria?
Yes, all based in Nigerian and all based in Ibadan.
So, without your total contribution the business can function on its own?
The business can’t function by itself that is why you need people, I have been very fortunate having good people and I am also working as well as doing my politics side by side.
Now that you have come into politics and within the little time, what can you call the direct challenges you have faced?
The direct challenge is about the people, the people are the real challenge. Let me give you a scenario . You see if you take education away from the people the ability of the people to think beyond an average mind has been diminished. So if you can’t think beyond rice and beans on the table, then it is an issue, because you can’t just plan for today, you need to plan for the future and I think the ability for people to plan for the future has been taking away deliberately. So, our job as politicians and as leaders in this state is to raise the bar in education so that our people are able to think beyond an average mind, beyond rice and beans on the table and start thinking about the future of all us. For me, that is a challenge because that ability has been taken away and we need to bring it back, so when you are campaigning in a lot of cases it is extremely difficult for majority to understand what you are saying without inducement.
Are you aware of the popular belief that the APC governorship tickets goes to the highest bidders, have heard it?
I have heard it many times and that is entirely not true, it is just untrue, nothing true about it. And I am sure Adebayo Adelabu himself has reiterated many times and Governor Ajimobi has said if you have evidence bring it forward. Nobody for once has brought forward a single evidence as proof.
What will you do to sustain the Ayo Karim brand you have largely created in Oyo State?
Well, it is by sustainability, I have been in business for so long to understand how to sustain a process; it is by sustaining and getting involved. As I said and I have said to my friend, Adebayo Adelabu that I am available to support his movement, to add value to the state because I have about 30 years experience in construction work, I have about 10 years experience in farming and I also moved majority of my business into Oyo State and there is a lot opportunities to also exploit in the State, the mining sector is a bit dormant at the moment and the method in which we use in mining is not efficient and effective enough for us to be earning enough revenue from it. Agric business is available for us to expand if we want to be the food basket of the nation. There are other lots of things and I want to get involved and trust me, look at the history of Oyo State, Oyo State with an exception to Ibadan is a first in everything, we want that reputation, as our number plate says we are the Pace Setter State and we want to go back to that pace setting mode again and I believe Adebayo Adelabu is on the right step.
What is your expectation in this new dispensation as a politician that have contributed to its emergence?
My expectation is very simple, first of all you need to look at the quality hands that emerged in the last 18 months, the ones who get involved, who contributed their quota, those ones should be seriously looked into so that we should put the right peg in the right hole. Those days I believe have gone where because you suffered for the party it doesn’t necessary mean you need to hold a position, now the right pegs have to be in the right holes so that we start delivering the processes for Nigerians. You know there is a lot of different role that people can play; I believe there are lots of technical roles that require technical people to be able to deliver. So, we must be able to strike their balance that is what I expect, going forward, be listening government, yes a lot of people have suffered for the party to get the party to where it is but it is not necessary mean they are suited to the technical role. Those technical role let us fix the right pegs in the right holes that you will see will the exponent progress that we are going to make when that happened, I am not saying if, when that happened.
In the next four years the common man should expect continuity of the progress that have been made in the last four years for example, integrated transport system, the rail, the road, the air transport, electricity, all these kind of things, all these have been resolved now and if we don’t capitalize on those things we are going to lose out as a country, so, for me what you should expect, you should expect more of ease of life, ease of transport, ease of trading, ease of doing business in this country. This government’s continuity will create enabling environment for business to thrive and you can see from the Npower programme, agric programme and the school feeding programme and all other programmes embarked upon by the present administration. Now, I think we are getting to point where in the next 18 months we should be able to feed ourselves and feed our neighbours. Those are the kind of things we should expect, going forward I don’t think there will be a u-turn in that policy because the idea is for this government to capitalize and take it an exponential level.