In continuation of his South-West campaign, President Goodluck Jonathan, last Saturday, visited traditional rulers in Epe division of Lagos State, TOLUWANI ENIOLA reports
The sight of cassava plantations, clusters of banana trees, palm wine kegs displayed in the front of huts, and a very narrow road dotted with craters, welcome a first-time visitor to Ilara, a community in Epe area of Lagos.
Ilara has the longest reigning monarch in Lagos in the person of the Alara of Ilara, Oba Akeem Adesanya, who assumed the throne in 1960, the year Nigeria gained independence. Life in Ilara is rustic, far from the hustle and bubble of city life. On Saturday, in what was described by the residents as the greatest visit of all time, President Goodluck Jonathan visited the village amidst great expectations. Jonathan came to Ilara to seek support from the Epe Traditional Ruling Council made up of 16 traditional rulers, who converged on the palace of the Alara to welcome the august visitor.
But there was more to the President’s visit than his desire for the blessings of the royal fathers.
While our correspondent beheld the opulence of the expansive palace of the Alara, which contrasts sharply with old buildings in the village, a discussion between two traditional rulers, who had been awaiting the arrival of the President, caught his attention. The two monarchs were getting uncomfortable with the heat in the palace and were demanding that the generator be put on. Some other guests in the other rooms were also making similar frantic calls. They were wondering why the generator was not working on a day the President chose to visit.
But our correspondent later learnt that the generator was put off in order to conserve fuel for the President’s visit. The monarch, like the villagers, had been spending much on fuel because of erratic power supply in the village. Interactions with the villagers further revealed that for the past four years, the community, like others in the Epe axis, had been groaning under erratic power supply. Giving his name simply as Adegboyega, a resident, who claimed to be a pastor, told our correspondent that electricity was last supplied to the community about a week ago, adding that the supply did not last long.
Apart from erratic power supply, the community is also battling with poor road network, lack of potable drinking water and other developmental challenges. The residents lamented the poor state of infrastructure in the community. The youths of the village gathered in groups, discussing the President’s visit. They wondered whether the visit was motivated by the oncoming elections or a genuine desire to develop Epe.
Despite these challenges, the people of Ilara were excited to see the President. When his chopper hovered in the air some few minutes after 12pm, PDP supporters chanted solidarity songs to welcome him. At exactly 12:26 pm, Jonathan and his entourage stormed the palace. Decked in a brown ‘agbada’ and a grey cap, the President strolled into the expansive hall of the palace amidst the shouts of “Jona! Jona! and “Koro ibo!” from party supporters.
Those on the entourage of the President were the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Adamu Mu’azu; Chief of Staff, Jones Arogbofa, former governors of Ogun and Anambra states; Gbenga Daniel and Peter Obi respectively; PDP governorship candidate in Lagos, Jimi Agbaje and his running mate, Alhaja Safurat Abdulkareem. Others were a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro; PDP chairman in Lagos, Tunji Shelle, a former presidential aide, Mrs. Gloria Adebajo-Fraser; and the President’s spokespersons; Doyin Okupe and Rueben Abati.
In his opening remarks, Mu’azu, who is popularly referred to as the “Game changer,” began with prayers for the traditional rulers. He said, “We have come to show respect to the traditional institution. It is the tradition of our party. We are here so that you will be able to bless our candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, to be re-elected on March 28, 2015.
“I plead with your royal majesty to bless our candidate, to pray for us, to give us your support and the support of your subjects so that we will be able to actualise the ambition of our President. The President is working to ensure that our power supply is improved optimally so that Nigeria’s industrial innovation is properly powered.
“I appreciate the fact that all of you are aware of our strides in the health sector, agric sector and education. I urge you to please appreciate our President by voting him for his last term in office to take Nigeria to the next level. I wish you long life, prosperity and additional wisdom as you discharge your duties.”
In his remarks, Jonathan, who was scheduled to visit the village three weeks ago, apologised for cancelling the visit. The President, who spoke for 10 minutes, urged the traditional rulers to bless him in order “to continue his transformation agenda.” He listed his transformation agenda for the communities. He said, “At the federal level, we have started quite a number of programmes that will bring maximum benefits to our people. Most of them are at terminal level. A number of them are progressing and we believe that if we are given the opportunity for the next four years, most of these will be concluded. Some of them are at the conception stage. A good example is our proposed deep sea port in Epe here.
“Our power sector is progressing and we believe that if we are given the chance to continue to revive it, we will achieve a lot. The sector is very delicate. The Federal Government controls a hundred per cent of the value chain. The generation to the distribution are entirely in the hands of the government and we are not advancing as we should as a nation.
“We want the total value chain to be under the control of the private sector. These few years are a critical phase and we believe that if we play politics with them, Nigeria will go backward. But if we are given the opportunity for the next two years, things will change and that will stimulate micro and small enterprises. There is no way our private sector can blossom if everybody has to generate his own light.
“The young lady doing salon work and a young boy doing barbing job have to buy generators and fuel with associated risk of fire accident and carbon poisoning. So, we believe (that) in the next two years we will be able to push that.”
The President listed his achievements in the health sector, noting that many Nigerians do not know that his administration had eradicated guinea worm. He assured that very soon, the World Health Organisation would declare Nigeria polio-free.
He added, “We are not left out in the industrial sector. You have seen our new industrial policy. We believe that as a nation, we must manufacture our needs; that is the only way to build our foreign reserve. This (foreign reserve) continued to dwindle because the major things we need are imported. We are working very hard in agriculture that is why even in 2012 when we had devastating flood, the world was apprehensive that there was going to be a major food scarcity in Nigeria and that we would probably call for international aid but at the end of the flood, food prices remained stable because of our agric programmes.”
“Even though the value of the naira dropped following the drop in oil prices, at least the basic food we need, the prices are relatively stable. We have a number of things that we are doing just like myself and the PDP chairman were discussing sometime ago, that as a party, we have not been marketing the activities of government enough and sometimes people even say, what has this government done?
“They will be surprised because we know that 30 years ago, almost nobody sees train moving in this country but now we have rehabilitated almost 90 per cent of the total train networks. So, as a party and as a government, we have a vision and we are following it steadily. Our public relations strategies are weak – that many people don’t even know what we do. That does not mean that we have solved all the problems in Nigeria. But we are on them. Even on terrorism, we have been telling Nigerians that we have some limitations but now we have equipped our military to the extent that we can contain the situation and that people should watch out what will happen in the next two or three weeks.”
The President assured that the Army would reclaim Nigeria’s territories soon from the Boko Haram sect. “Let me, on behalf of my party, promise you that if you give us the opportunity to go back, we will put a number of things in position that nobody can put a reverse gear to,” he added.
In his remarks, the Oloja of Epe, Oba Kamarudeen Animashaun, appealed to Jonathan to caution to his supporters not to foment trouble during and after the elections. The monarch said, “Electricity is our major problem. We are far, far behind. We have no light for four years and our people all over Epe have been groaning.”
In his short speech, Oba Adesanya, who hailed Jonathan’s visit, gave a short prayer for the President.
While some residents of the community, who spoke with our correspondent, commended the President for the visit, some described the visit as a belated move. A commercial motorcyclist, popularly referred to as ‘okada,’ who took our correspondent out of the village, described the visit as “useless.”
He said, “There are many pressing challenges in this village. If the President had addressed them, it would have been a smooth ride for him. But his seeking blessings from the traditional rulers means little because the ‘kabiyesi’ has just one vote while I have one vote. Even the king may not come out to vote. So the royal blessings may not guarantee him anything.”
But Agbaje, in an interview with journalists after the meeting, described the visit as “an auspicious push to the campaign.” He said, “This is the first time that any civilian president is coming to Epe division, that in itself is remarkable and it’s a great show of respect by the PDP. The visit will have an impact on the presidential campaign. He has shown that he is not just the President but one who respects traditional values.”
Another party leader, Adebajo-Fraser, believes that the visit had bridged the gap between the traditional rulers and the Federal Government, noting that with more persuasion, Jonathan would win the hearts of South-West voters.