Professor Raphael Afonja, who is going to be inaugurated as commissioner by Governor Seyi Makinde this afternoon, as revealed why he decided to leave his lucrative teaching job in the United States to contest election in the country.
Afonja, who contested to fly the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, flag for Ogbomoso North/ Ogbomoso South/ Oriire federal constituency seat in the 2019 election, had been nominated as one of the three remaining commissioners in the cabinet of Makinde.
OYO INSIGHT recalls that Makinde had initially nominated and inaugurated 14 commissioners after their screening and confirmation by the Oyo State House of Assembly. He later sent names of three nominees which included Afonja, to the Assembly to make it 17.
He spoke in a chat with select journalists in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, last week.
Considering your intimidating credentials one wonders why you considered to take politics as an option?
I believe I have served the people in the United States in different capacities, although I have gained a lot and the country has afforded me many opportunities. I saw the need to come back to Nigeria and serve my fatherland and give back to my people. I believe in service to humanity. When I visited back in 2007, I saw the struggle that people were going through but at that moment I thought it was not the right time to come back home. I needed time and it should be a gradual process. I want to be very sure that it was time to leave the States and come back to Nigeria. By the year 2016 after I lost my mother, I came home to bury my mother, and that was a turning point for me. I sensed that some of the people that came for the funeral were struggling, and when I visited our Community in Ogbomosho I got a first a firsthand of what poverty was like. That drew more of my empathy towards the people around me and I saw the need to come home and give back, but I soon realized that I need a platform to do so. One of the things that came to mind was to partake in politics, when it comes to policy making and not just talking about things but coming up with what I like to call actionable ideas, what can we do to help the people and that was why I started my non-profit organization. Our organization focuses on women empowerment, Food Security, education, and medical outreach. I felt like those four major areas overlap in so many ways. Like I said earlier what motivate me is my empathy for the people.
You talked about service to humanity, you have been giving out money and other form of support to less-privileged people; don’t you think of other avenues to engage people and assist them than involving politics which is somehow murky
It is very murky, but I believe that government does not only create jobs especially when it comes to tackling unemployment but create the environment that allows businesses and investors to thrive. Since I am now part of the system I can engage people effectively by creating avenues that will bring them some kind of relieve. In the US I have worked at the Federal, State and local level, so I feel like with all of the experiences and skills that I have gathered over time, I can add value when given the opportunity to part of the government. I am glad to be part of the executive government of our great State, and this will give me the opportunity to have an impact in line with the vision of our Governor Engineer Oluwaseyi Makinde. I felt the need to serve and I just can sit back and be given people money or all the time without looking at other platform to reach the masses. Recently, I came up with this plan to build a cashew processing plant in Ogbomoso, and this plant from my business plan will bring about 1000 jobs for our people. One of the things I found out is that people coming from Vietnam and Indian do come to buy our cashew nuts and the only time when people make money is that period when they harvest cashew, after the season is over, that will be the end of the opportunity for them to make money. if you go to Vietnam or India you will find their people working all year round because they are the one processing it and selling it but in our own case once the harvest is done that is the end, so there are many things I have been working on even before I was nominated for commissioner in Oyo state, I have been thinking about ways through which we can come with actionable ideas that will create jobs for our people
Did you expect the nomination at all?
It wasn’t expected, as of two and half weeks ago I was just appointed as a dean at my university, in the United State after that I got a call stating that I was nominated for commissioner in Oyo state by my mother and leader, Rt Honorable Mulikat Akande Adeola. I appreciate her so much for recommending me to the Governor of our great State. This is also an opportunity to say thank you to the Governor of great State, his Excellence Oluwaseyi Makinde for accepting the recommendation and nominating me as a Commissioner of Oyo State.
Is your coming home not going to affect your career?
I am a professor and an engineer, even while I was here a while ago for politics and returned to the States after stepping down for the party, I was able to fit back into the system start working again. So this does not affect my career as a professor, moreover, my professorship is for life, it’s not going to affect anything I can always go back to the class or to the field.
You’ve been screened and confirmed today how do you feel?
Prior to today’s screening and confirmation, it was a heavy burden on my soul because Nigeria is a very delicate and unpredictable environment; things are always changing, I looked forward to it but I don’t know the people that was going to meet State House of Assembly. I don’t know how they will receive me but I had a lot of idea on my mind that wanted to share, actionable ideas with the experience which I have gathered from where I came from but I was looking forward to that day to see how it will go and I give praise to almighty God for the opportunity to be able to get today’s confirmation I am glad that it is over. I must add that the Honorable members of the House were nice to me and they made my experience as smooth as possible.
What should people of Oyo state expect from you?
The people of Oyo state can be rest assured that I will work really hard, they should be expecting somebody that will hit the ground running, they should be expecting somebody that will listen, somebody that has leadership skills they should be expecting somebody that will carry out the governor’s vision, they should be expecting somebody that will ensure all the governor’s campaign promises are fulfilled by the grace of God.
Scanning through your background , it’s likely you are assigned to man the Ministry of works, and there are some abandoned projects by the previous administrations and most of these projects especially road infrastructure are in a strategic location what do you intend doing on this projects?
The first thing I intend doing is to engage the directors from each department/units I will like to get the lists and details of all abandoned projects, list of proposed projects, and any ongoing ones. When I get those information I can actually take the next step which is gathering information as to why those people abandoned it in the first place, find out if money have been paid and see how we can win the support of the governor to complete them. However, If a contractor is paid and s/he did not complete the project, I feel they should be asked to return to site, payback the State the money that was given to them or face prosecution. The governor is not here to play any games, he would not in any way negotiate with criminals, you remembered recently he declared his assets as a governor he is very transparent, so the message to contractors, is that if you own us on a job , that has been paid for and you are yet to complete it, we will come after you. secondly, if you do a shoddy job we will make sure you come back and fix what you have done. so it’s important that our people in Oyo state enjoy quality infrastructures, peoples car have suffered because our road transport system is bad, people living in rural areas find it difficult to transport their produce to urban areas, it’s a struggle because there are no good feeders road that connect rural communities to urban areas so we are going to asses all the roads and projects that are already pending or the ones that were abandoned , we will go after whoever is in charge of those projects , they have a name , they have a company name to protect.
The immediate past administration, under the leadership of Abiola Ajimobi, initiated a transport scheme called Ajumose shuttle to ease movement of people in major cities and town at affordable rate, how do you intend improving on this?
First I will like to ask what our Governor intend on doing with those buses. I will find out and that will guide me on the steps to be taken on it, he is my boss; whatever he says is what I will do and my goal is to carry out his directives. So I will wait until I hear from the governor and my job is to make sure that I carry out whatever directive or policies that his government is proposing in an efficient way while making sure we that have a positive impact on the people.
Don’t you think your background from the states would clash with the usual operation in the civil service here especially with the civil servants, how do you intend managing the situation so that it won’t clash?
When it comes to civil servant no matter where you are going to work you have to always understand their point of view and you have to do things together, when you communicate with people you learn a lot about them, what I will do is tell them what I am expecting of them and they will tell me what is at their disposal. my job is to make sure they have every resources that they need to get their jobs done. My goal is to create a conducive environment that will foster productivity, remember that every place is unique, my job is to study, understand and get educated on the culture of doing things, at some point things that needs to change supportive tone will get them comfortable. Our job is to make sure that the people I work with are comfortable and have all the resources they need to compete their work and make the people who elected us can work into this office happy .
The past governments have been commended in term of construction of roads in major cities and towns including Ibadan, Oyo, Ogbomoso and others in the state, how do you intend extending this gesture to the rural areas so that they won’t feel neglected?
In the past few weeks the governor has stressed the need to invest in the Agricultural sector. However, to invest in Agriculture we need good road transport system and like I mention during my confirmation I said that the growth and progress of any society determined and measured by their socio-economic development. Therefore, farmers or people in agricultural sectors need good roads to basically move their produce from their farm to the urban area, I talked about RAMP which is Rural Agricultural Marketing Project, if we source for fund to construct connector roads between rural and urban roads and construct feeder roads this make it easy farmers to move their products to the market. We need to start encouraging our young folks to start looking at agriculture as an avenue to wealth creation and we can only do so when they have all the resources they need to succeed.
In many part of the world there is always a consideration for local content that is allowing residents of the area to do some kind of menial jobs. in the last couple of years in Oyo state you see contractors bringing in labourers and workers from China and their bases. How do you want to correct that because that will engage people and reduce unemployment?
Thank you, I believe in 80/20 rules or 70/30 rule, what do I mean by that? Remember, the governor promised that all the contracts will be awarded to Oyo state Indigenes, to me that is a plus and I will be recommending to the Governor that 20 or 30 percent of any contractor’s workforce should be indigenes of the community the project is being executed , meaning you have to engage the youths artisans who are ready to work, there are two things that happen when you do so, one you put money in people’s pocket; two, they get vocational skills from the job you assigned them to do. During my confirmation hearing, I talked about starting an Oyo state Road Maintenance Agency OYRTMA, guess what happens, through the 20/30 formula, we would’ve trained the people on how to repair and maintain the road, so by the time the contractor leaves with their equipment , we can now activate the trained folks which can be on temporary basis to maintain our roads. This is an opportunity to put their skills to work and make money for themselves.
One of the reasons why members of the Transport Workers Union always engage in heavy fight whenever they want to transit power is because of the money involved, I want to know how you intend to relate with them and see how they can part with some of their proceed to develop, repair road and other basic amenities?
For me everybody has to pay their fair share, we need to continue to come up with ideas to generate revenue for our great state. My job is to carry out the Governor’s vision, so I will wait to see his directives before speaking on what role Transport Workers will play in this government.
It was learnt that previous governors have always been collecting money from them…
So what we need to do is to engage them see what the core process is and we have to make sure we are involved. I believe that once accountability is put into place and people involved are transparent we will go far. This means they will have to be sincere regarding their activities or we may contract an independent organization to monitor them, maybe that will bring an end to the fights… So when that is being done, this will allow for a check and balance process, and I hope it will change their mindset
In Ogbomoso, some people claimed to have been penciled down for this appointment which you get recently before everything changed. How are you going to reconcile with the aggrieved party members in Ogbomoso?
Let me put it right, like I said before I didn’t lobby for it, the decision to bring me onboard was made by the Governor after our leader in Ogbomoso made the recommendation to him. Regardless of whom was recommended, the Governor knows the caliber of the people he wants to work with. I believe our and the Governor, believes that I am fit to serve under his leadership and that is why I am here today. now when it comes to the people who are aggrieved, my job is to reach out to them bring us all together because our goal is to fulfill the vision of this present day government which is solely focused on the development of our people. So I will reach out to everybody, no matter what party you are, we are Oyo state citizens first, so we have to make sure that we put the interest of the people we serve above anything else, as soon as we start getting it, that we are citizens of the great state of Oyo, I think our vision for the State will regardless of party affiliation.
On a lighter mood, have you ever participated in any election, and what was experience like
I was an aspirant in the last election, I aspired for Federal House of Representatives, I put in a lot of efforts, sacrifices and I was told to step down for the party, of which I did with no regrets.
How did you feel?
I felt great because I have always had my job, I have other things to fall back on, I am a professor, I am an engineer by profession. I am COREN registered civil engineer. I have other engineering certifications from the US, so for me it is not bad at all, the question for me is why did I come into politics, was it to enrich myself or was it for the betterment of our people, I was of the view that it wasn’t the time for me to do that base on my Leader’s rational which was ok by me and that did not stop me from supporting the party. Even after I was asked to step down, I expanded on my empowerment programs, because my plan has always been to get people out of poverty and come up with actionable ideas that will create wealth for our people. Therefore, I had no regrets.
When you are being screened, they read out your credentials, too loaded and you are just 41. How did you do it?
Academics is academics, by God’s grace I am rounded, I called myself an interdisciplinary person. I am always finding ways to improve on the things that I don’t know and as we speak I am doing my MBA at Eastern New Mexico University, USA, so I am still in school. When I am in an environment and I feel there is a skill I need to efficiently do the work, I will go to school or find a professional course that will help me with the skill that I need. For example, when I became a dean, I dealt with budget and when budget came in to place I have to learn about it, how to work on my books in terms of funding allocation and accountability that why I felt it was necessary to go back to school for my MBA.