Saturday, 15 March 2014

Really? I’m richer as a farmer than a politician says Ekiti State deputy governor

                                 I’m richer as a farmer than as deputy governor –Paul Alabi
Honest politician?


Chief Paul Alabi was the deputy governor of Ekiti State during the regime of former Governor Niyi Adebayo. He shares his life experiences in this interview.
You seem to love farming so much; does it have to do with your upbringing?
Yes. I started farming at a very young age. At about five years or so, people used to come and hire me from my mother to work in their farms. That was even before I started going to school. My father wanted me to go to school but my mother wanted me to be a farmer. He was a trader and was always travelling, so my mother was in charge. She would hire me out to people and I started taking interest in farming. I had my own farm when I was about six years old in 1950 at the back of our house where I planted corn and other things.

So, how did you manage to go to school?
My starting point in education was very rough because my father had two wives and my mother was the junior. The senior wife had a son who was 21 days older than me. My father decided that I must go to school like my step brother who started three years earlier. He said there was no way he would have two sons and one would be going to school while the other would be going to farm, but my mother insisted that I must be a farmer. So there was a big family quarrel in the house. One day, my father forcefully took me to Hossana African Primary School, Ijesa Isu-Ekiti and the only thing I was putting on was my mother’s wrapper with no pants. That was how I started going to school.
Have you always lived in Ijesa-Isu?
I am a native of Ijesa-Isu-Ekiti but I was born on 25th May, 1944 in Ikole-Ekiti. When I was five years old, my mother took me to my father in Ijesa-Isu where he lived. My mother lived in the palace in Ikole.
After your primary education, how did you proceed?
My father declared that he had no money and said he wasn’t interested in sending us to school anymore. He advised us to find our way. I got a teaching job in 1957 through which I was able to save some money. When I passed the entrance examination into Ekiti Parapo College, I wrote a letter to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ayo Okusaga, who was the minister of education, for assistance. They both replied to say they couldn’t give me any personal assistance. I was 13 years old then. From my savings, I went to African Church Teachers Training College in Ikere-Ekiti where I did my Grades II and III. I left there in 1964 and went back to teach to raise money. I was admited to the University of Ibadan in 1966 where I studied Sociology. Through my savings from the teaching job, I finished the first year and I was able to find my way through the second and third years with the help of the scholarship programme introduced by Chief Awolowo under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, called Indigent Students Award, coupled with contributions from fellow students.
What were you doing after school?
When I left UI, I taught at Fiwasaye Girls Secondary School in Akure between June and December, 1969. In January 1970, I joined the Federal Civil Service as an Administrative Officer and I left as a director of budget in the Federal Ministry of Finance in May 1994. I wanted to vary my experience from public life, so I was hired by Church-Gate Group of Companies between 1994 and June 1997. When I became tired of city life, I resigned. They begged me and even promised to double my salary but I refused. So I left and came home to resume farming.
So, how did you end up in politics?
When I came back, I was looking for farmland to start planting cassava and other things. In November, 1997, I visited my cousin, the then Elekole of Ikole, Oba Adeleye. As I was descending the stairs, I met Chief Apara and Olu whose nickname was Cash and Carry. They said they wanted me to join DPN. I declined initially because I never thought of being a politician in my life. I personally detest the way politicians lie and their cunning way of doing things. I was confused so I went back to tell the Elekole, being my cousin. He advised that I should consider their offer. He said it was good to be inside to help than to be outside complaining. That was how I was lured into politics just as Otunba Adebayo dragged me into becoming his deputy.
How did you meet Otunba Niyi Adebayo?
I knew him when I was in the civil service. He used to come to the ministry as a lawyer and businessman. I wanted to contest for the governorship position and he too was vying for the same office, so in 2008, he came to my house on a Sunday afternoon with late Barr. Dayo Fajuyi and Akogun Ogunleye. We had formed the AD then. I asked if he had come to surrender, but he said he was sure of winning the election. He said he came because he wanted me to be his deputy and when he said this, I laughed. We were 28 contestants and when there was no progress on the selection, I presented my draft for N250,000 for the primary to the party and I withdrew. So the leadership of the party said I would be made the deputy to whoever emerged for taking such step. Eventually, after a serious screening, four of them went to the primary and he won. That was how I became his deputy.
After your administration, one would have expected that you would remain in the same party with him. What made you part ways?
The then leadership of the Action Congress at the headquarters had a chosen candidate for the 2007 governorship election which was not known to us and we were all seeing them as an impartial umpire. But when we found out that they were scheming to favour Governor Kayode Fayemi, all of us, including Senator Bode Olowoporoku and Prince Ayo Adeyeye left.
It was alleged that you said Otunba Adebayo did not do anything for your community when he was the governor?
The question you would ask is what did he do for his own community that would make me say he didn’t do for mine. In fairness to him, the hospital in this town was upgraded to a general hospital during our administration. He also rehabilitated this road that passed through my house before we left. But we are still very close.
But you were the chairman of the State Tenders Board which handled capital projects, one would expect you to have taken advantage of that.
If that is how things work in government, things would have been better than this everywhere.
Even some of your kinsmen said you didn’t do anything for them? What specific thing did you do for them?
What could I have done for them? I don’t believe such report.
You were once considered for ministerial appointment under this dispensation, what made you lose out?
I’m not aware, and that could have affected my life too. Do you know how many people I employ daily in my farm? People even come from neighbouring towns and states to work here. I feel fulfilled being of help to people in one way or the other. I believe that you can make a difference anywhere you are if you do things differently. So you don’t have to be a minister before you can impact people’s lives. Everyone of us cannot be minister at the same time; so if we have that kind of orientation, there would be less trouble in the land.
The youths of today are poised for white collar jobs, how do you react when they come to you to ask for money?
They always bombard me with applications and I counsel them to embrace farming. I also help them in any way I could.
What do you think makes them not to have interest in farming?
It is due to a generational gap and poor orientation because they are surrounded by people looking for appointment.
Having held such an exalted office as deputy governor, one would not have expected to meet you in the farm?
As the deputy governor, I was still farming. I employed people and I made sure I spent my weekends here. I couldn’t attend most government parties and some avoidable engagements on weekends because of my farm which is now my office and I am proud of saying that anywhere. Even when I was a civil servant in Abuja, I was still farming in places like Kubwa and some people knew me then. My farm is big enough as employment for me.
Would you say you are richer as a farmer than as the deputy governor?
Not only richer, but I am happier. What happens is that most people measure wealth in terms of naira and kobo, but that is not how I see it. I guess that’s why I said I am happier because being happy is more important than being rich. I don’t have any political ambition again and there is nothing I want that God has not done for me. I can’t build a house again, I won’t marry another wife or have more kids. So, I am happy and contented with what I have.
Don’t you think you are missing out in politics?
I am not missing out anywhere as long as I’m happy, fulfilled and convinced that I’m adding value to people’s lives, which is more than running up and down looking for favours. For me, politics is not the end of everything. I now regard myself as an elder statesman. I cherish my peace of mind. In fact, a day outside my farm is like a day in hell. I have joy here; I eat fresh things and impact people’s lives. My people are even happy that I returned home.
So you prefer being in the farm than being in any public office?
Yes. Comfort and contentment are the baseline. Money is not everything but that doesn’t mean it is not important; it is. Politics is not the only profession. We have been misled to think that someone cannot live a good life or contribute meaningfully to the development of the society except by holding a public office.
Does that mean if you had been made a minister, you would have rejected it?
They may not even make me one because I don’t know how to lobby. In this country, people who play good roles are not recognised as much as the noisemakers. Even when I joined politics, I didn’t lobby to be made the deputy governor.
Did you know that you would be successful in farming?
No. I couldn’t have. I was a child of circumstance because my father wanted me to go to school while my mother wanted me to be a farmer. So their separate wishes for me have been fulfilled, even though it pains me that my father did not live to see what I have become. But my mother was alive till 2008 and she saw me farming which made her happy.
In 2007, you went to Ado-Ekiti to sell foodstuff to workers; what was the motive?
It was to assist my constituency which is the civil service. I don’t take my produce to the market in Ado, I only take them to the secretariat where my people are being exploited by the middlemen who buy the produce and sell at exorbitant prices, so I didn’t want that for those in my constituency. I am not desperate for profit.
But some said it was political?
No, how could it have been political? As the deputy governor, I was selling yam and when I left office, I continued. The way I see things is different from how many people do.
When do you hope to retire from farming?
That is when I die because it is only death that will make me retire from farming. Even if I am invited to Abuja, Lagos or anywhere else, I will continue to farm. In fact, I will prefer to die in the farm than in the house because whatever interests you, gives you joy and happiness is your friend and you should always stay with it. My 8:00am to 2:00pm in the farm everyday, apart from Sundays, is important to me.
How do you relax?
There is nothing as relaxing as farming. It is the most relaxing thing I have ever seen in life. When you move from where you plant yam to where you plant plantain and from there you move to where your labourers are working, you are exercising yourself. And when I am home, I sit under the shade outside for natural air, what is more relaxing than all those?
Since you love agriculture so much, do you cook?
Yes. I cook very well. Who will cook for me in the farm? I cook in the farm but my wife cooks for me at home and I eat two times a day. Her food is so delicious and some of my workers have been beneficiaries and I’m sure they won’t forget the experience.
How would you want your farm to be handled after you?
I hope and pray that it will be well handled because not all the children of today have interest in farming. I believe in the ‘do your best and leave the rest’ theory.
Is any of your children interested in following in your footsteps?
Some are interested in it, especially the females who are medical doctors. And if they can’t run it, that is their headache. Mine is to run the place to my satisfaction while I am alive. What happens thereafter is left to them and I say good luck to them. If they want to sell it, good luck to them. If there is anything that I hope for in life now, it is good health.
How many years would you want to spend on earth?
That is something that you have no control over. I live everyday of my life as if I won’t know the second minute, so I don’t bother myself about death; it can come at anytime. My mother spent 105 and my father spent 84 years, so I tell people to add the two numbers and divide by two, if that is okay. It is not how long but how much you contribute to life itself. That is the way I run my life; my house is open; no security or exotic cars. I have nothing to hide because life itself is not hidden. I have shown my children where to bury me, beside my wife, which is also where my mother was buried.
How have you been meeting your financial needs since you claim you sell your farm produce at a reduced price?
I am a pensioner as a retired civil servant and as a former deputy governor. There was a bill that was passed by the Ekiti State House of Assembly which was signed into law by Governor Fayemi, which makes provision for pension for a governor and his deputy if they finish their tenure, and Otunba Niyi Adebayo and myself qualify for it. When you have moderate ambition, God can enlarge it for you. And as a farmer, I produce things like palm oil, yam, fish and palm kernel in good quantities and I still give out some of them and God blesses me more. I also have children who are grown who send money to me, so I am ok.
But one would have expected that the money you made as the deputy governor would be enough to last you for a lifetime?
(Laughs) Ask people around. I spent my own money even as the deputy governor. I had built my house and had cars before I became the deputy governor. You won’t believe it. People know that there is nothing extraordinary in what I have either before, during or after, both in lifestyle and properties.

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