2019 Fed House of Reps: My participation in politics is for the development of grassroots – Anibaba
Despite occupying a political position at the federal level, the aspirant vying for Oshodi-Isolo Constituncy II seat at the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Habeeb Anibaba, said his ambition is grounded in grassroots development, saying he is going to fight for special status for Lagos State, sponsor Bill for LCDAs’ autonomy among others. In this interview with Echonews Editor, Abolaji Adebayo, Anibaba declared that all policies should be centered on grassroots since every political post holder represents the people at the grassroots. Excerpts:
The name Habeeb Anibaba seems to be new to the hearing of electorate in Oshodi-Isolo and in Nigerian politics, who is Habeeb Anibaba?
Thank you very much. In brief, Habeeb Anibaba is a Lagosian, from Ikorodu to be precise. My mother is also from Lagos Island so, you can say from both my father and mother sides, I am 100% Lagosian. I am a banker by profession up till now. I’ve been in the banking industry for the past 13 years. I am also a graduate, I hold B.Sc Degree Business Management from the University of Uyo, Second Class Upper Degree. I am a fellow of Institute of Chartered Economists of Nigeria, also a fellow of the Association of Human Resources Practitioners, just to mention a few.
Habeeb Anibaba is a socialite, a philanthropist. Aside my banking job, I run a foundation known as RedGrape Foundation. This Foundation assists basically Public Primary Schools in Lagos State. You may ask, why public primary schools? Public primary schools in the sense that if you visit some of the public primary schools that we have, before now, you might be forced to cry. Things have changed a lot though; the government has come in and has helped a lot. But there is a lot to be done and we can’t leave everything to the government alone, we have to assist. And in any society, once we get it wrong at the foundation level which is the primary school, we are all going to have problems. It is these children who do not go to school whom we neglect at the young age who terrorize us much later in life when they’ve grown up. If we don’t take care of them, they are going to have problem, we are going to have problem and the whole society will have problem.
Anibaba fielding questions from Echonews Editor
What really inspired the establishment of such foundation to cater for the primary schools in Lagos??
I attended a public primary school in FESTAC Town. It was called PROGRESS PRIMARY SCHOOL popularly known as SCHOOL6 then. I benefited from Alhaji Jakande when he was the governor of Lagos State. It is one of the public primary schools he built that was known as Jakande School. In FESTAC town then, we had School 1,2,3 up to 11. So, School 6 was just one of them. At that time we had issues where students sent out of the school because they didn’t have exercise books, textbooks, uniform and other learning materials.
From that time up till now, we still have this problem. I now thought of what to do about this, to at least reduce it because at that time the economy was even better. The economy was far better at that time and we had those problems not to talk of now, the problem is huge. It is not something we can leave to the government alone so, I decided to assist in my own little way.
Habeeb Anibaba the banker turning to a politician. For how long have you been in politics and how active are you in Nigerian politics?
I will say I’ve been in politics from a very young age. You will say how can a baby be in politics? But, I became interested from very early ages. My late uncle, Prince Ademola Adeniji Adele, was the Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government during the SDP/NRC Era. He was in SDP. I was very close to him and learnt a lot from him. What particularly got me interested was a situation where two, three, four people would sit down in a room, in an office with a cup of tea and have discussions and take decisions. And you will see that this decision that they took they implemented it and the general society, everybody is following that line. I was like whao, this is how it is done, just 2, 3 people will sit down and make policies for the generality of the people? I also wanted to be that influential. That was how I picked interest at a very early age.
But I’ve since learnt that it goes beyond all that. It’s not all about sitting down and take decision. You must deal with the people, live with the people, breath with them, eat with them and carry them along. As you carry them along they will carry u along also. Actively, I will say since the advent of the new democracy that we have in 1999. From the days of AD, tough though, I’ve been participating actively. Though, I’ve been at the background, basically mobilizing people to vote for our preferred candidates. As God will have it, we’ve had successes here and there. I have supported several aspirants who have gone up to win, who have gone up to be influential people in today’s Nigeria.
What exactly inspired your ambition to run for the House of Representatives but not starting from the grassroots?
Thank you very much, even the House of Representatives, looking at it, we all feel it is a very high office, you still have to be in touch with the people at the grassroots. We are only representatives and it is because all the people who live in your constituency cannot go to the green House at the same, that is why they have selected you to say “go and represent us, go and be our voice, our ears, our eyes,” over there. So, it is still a grassroots’ thing, you have to be close to the people.
First of all, one of the things that got me into politics is, if we call ourselves elites, professionals and we don’t get involved in politics, it becomes anybody’s game. The people who get themselves involved will get to the position and will make decision that will affect us, whether we like it or not. They will make laws however they know how to do it. It may be good, it may be bad. If they are not the right people they will make bad decision all the time and it will affect you and me. We cannot just sit down and start complaining that the government is not doing this or that, this person is not representing us well, we must all get involved. That is how we can change things for good. That is my major reason for getting involved in politics. But to answer your question, specifically, I want to be in the House of Representatives to create change, to be able to affect lives positively, especially in Oshodi-Isolo.
As big as Oshodi-Isolo Constituency is, what makes you think you are the best candidate for the position and what character distinguishes you from other aspirants?
You see, for you to achieve anything in life, you first have to believe that you can do it. We just finished watching the world cup tournament which was won by France. Those players, from the day they left France to go for the world cup, they must have had that belief that they could do it and that was what got them that far. Even Croatia believed that they could win it and it took them as far as they went. I have the belief that I can do it. As per who is the best candidate, that will be left to the generality of people to decide, as we meet them to interact with them, my track records over the years will judge on all that. But, I specifically believe within me that I am up there. I am made bold to say I am the best because I have a lot to offer. I have been offering a lot in private and in the open.
What character or characteristic do you think distinguishes you from other contenders?
Number one, I will copy Mr. President, Integrity. Throughout all my years in the banking industry I have never been accused of stealing money. Money has never been missing. I have never committed fraud. I have integrity. And because of the job that I do, trust is key, people must trust you before you can keep their money. I am somebody that you can trust, you can count on my words. Whatever I say I will do, I will do. Though, it’s only God that promises and never fails but, you will see that I will work towards achieving every goal that I set or will set.
Sir, as a grassroots politician, what are you putting in place, first to win the primary at the party level?
On the issue of the party’s primary, I will keep doing what I’ve always been doing which is running an all-inclusive campaign. Not neglecting anybody. I’m not the type that says ‘these people are not important what do they have to offer.’ Everybody has something to offer. Politics is a game of numbers, you must engage all stakeholders, not some stakeholders, all stakeholders, all groups, all power-blocks, you must carry them along, explain things to them in the language that they can understand so that they can start to see the vision that you are seeing in your head or in your sleep. Explain it to them, act like a video camera ‘this is what I have to offer you, come along with me; I guarantee that you will be fine.’
What campaign strategies do you think or are you intending to deploy to win the election if you eventually win the primary considering the forces of the opposition parties?
Just like the strategy for going into the primaries, same intent to cover all areas by carrying everyone along. If you look at Oshodi-Isolo today, you will observe that it is a cosmopolitan society. We have several ethnic groups, we have the Yorubas, the Hausa, the Igbos and people from South-South. Even from South-South you will discover that we have different nationalities. We intend to reach out to all of them. I have been reaching out to them already. We have been living together and we’ve never had any problem. Even where I live, we have people from all-over Nigeria and that is how Lagos has always been from the day I was born. I have been living with different people, I’ve been interacting with them and I’ve not been having any problem. I intend to carry everyone along, bring everyone on board.
It is when people feel neglected that they cannot buy into your vision or your dream, they will go their own way, but if you carry them along they will feel wanted. Talk to them in the language they can understand, they will buy into your idea and they will even go ahead of you to campaign and will go far ahead of you to do more than you even expect of them. People will want leaders, representatives that they can reach and talk to. I am that kind of person, I am accessible, people have and they will still have direct access to me. I am not living in the air, I am fully on ground.
In 2015, APC lost this position you are vying for to the opposition party. Have you identified the mistakes of APC and what have you been doing to rectify the mistake so that the position won’t be lost to the opposition party once more?
Part of the mistakes in the 2015 general election was not carrying everybody along. You will discover that we had issues of people who, usually before they go into the polling booths, go to their neighbours and knock, let’s go and vote o, its time o and they go there in 10s, in scores. But because they were not carried along, people just walked out to the polling booths, cast their votes and went home, the kind of mobilization they used to do, they did not do.
We have been voting in this Oshodi-Isolo for a long time and we’ve not been defeated by the opposition party. What happened in 2015 was because some people were neglected and if you have been following my campaign, my movement, it is an all-inclusive campaign. We talk to everybody; we try to reach across to everyone. We are not at war with anybody. It is not war; it is not do or die affair. Our aim is to offer qualitative representation and so, we are reaching out to everybody who is a stakeholder in this constituency.
We intend to touch everywhere, all nooks and crannies of Oshodi-Isolo to Ejigbo LCDA, Isolo LCDA. We intend to talk to everybody, talk to all the leaders, talk to all the people, artisans, and professionals, name it. We will reach out to everybody, bring them on board so that they can support us. I believe by so doing we will find joy.
It is discovered that in Oshosi-Isolo, Isolo particularly, there is crisis within the APC Party due to supremacy claim by some factions, what will you say about that. Don’t you think that can affect this exercise in 2019?
These issues are already being filtered by the leadership of the party and I’m very confident that they will all be resolved. They are regular issues that happen all the time. It is politics. In fact, if we don’t have problems at all, then we should be afraid, that means there is a real problem. When these issues come up it is an opportunity to thrash them, to sort things out and get everybody moving in the same direction. I didn’t believe there are serious issues that will affect the chances of the party. As I said, the leadership of the party are already working on these issues and the people involved are brothers and sisters. They know one another very well. Trust me everything will be sorted out.
What agenda do you have for your constituency, what are the things you intend doing differently if elected in 2019?
On my agenda, first of all, there are two things that are very important to us in Lagos State as a whole before I come down specifically to the constituency. The issue of 57 LGAs that we have in Lagos State is paramount. We have 20 Local Government Areas, as recognized by the constitution as we all know and then we have 37 LCDAs. How do we get recognition for these 37 LCDAs? We wanted to work and walk with like minds at the National Assembly, get them to support our ambition and see how we can get ratifications for the 37 LCDAs. So that they will be recognized by the constitutions and they can get their funds, directly instead of the present formula where the money for a local government is being shared into two or three as the case may be.
Secondly, the issue of special status for Lagos State is equally important. This issue has already been presented by Senator Oluremi Tinubu. We intend to continue in that line to gather support. Lagos State deserves it. The total budget of Nigeria right now, if it is given to Lagos State alone, it will still not be enough. There is a lot to do in Lagos State. There are lots of backlogs already. You can see there is construction going on everywhere. Senator Oluremi Tinubu has already presented a case for a special status for Lagos State. So, we intend to follow it up, get backing for it, make it get more momentum, work with like minds to help us achieve this vision.
As we know, there is a lot of infrastructural development going on in Lagos State. Right now, a lot of construction is going on and that is because there is a lot of backlogs, a lot needs to be done and we need funding for them. We might say probably Lagos is Oliver Twist, we generate more revenue, no, it is not enough. Lagos State is not just for Lagos indigenes alone but for the whole of Nigeria. The whole of Nigeria is represented in Lagos. Lagos State population is over 20 million, more than the population of several countries. So, those are some of the things that we intend to do.
Another thing is the issue of getting jobs for our youths. In the constituency today and even in Nigeria at large, we have so many young people, some educated, some uneducated who have nothing to do. We intend to help them get jobs. First of all, looking at our constituency, we share border with Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, but we know they took off land from us. As you and I are here now, a plane will take-off, a plane will land or should I say several planes will take-off, several planes will land, they disturb us with their noises. At times we are sleeping at night, we have to cover our ears when the planes take-off and when they land. What benefits are we deriving from the airport? We have several federal government agencies in the airport, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), name them, several airlines. How do we get them to look into their host community and help us in job placement for our youths?
We also intend to get them to do what we know as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – giving back to their host community be it boreholes, providing transformers, several things. It will depend on them, sit down with them and see how they can help us but most importantly, job opportunities for our youths and we also intend to work with other federal government agencies to get jobs for our youths and also attract government projects.
We have a federal road here; it is not in a good state as we all know. We intend to get the federal government to pay attention to that road so that it will become motorable. It will reduce the traffic gridlock on that axis. There are several other things that we intend to do.
You know, some may query the issue of empowerment for youths, for women and even for elderly ones and say as a lawmaker you are supposed to be in the chamber to make laws that will change the society and all that. But, when this democracy came up in 1999, we found out that we have a lot of deficits, things have not been going in the way that they should go. We must support federal government and state government by empowering our people. For example, we have welders around, you give them a job and they will say don’t worry, by Thursday come and pick up your stuff. When you get there on Thursday you won’t find the person. When you go back on Saturday, you meet the person, he will tell you, “Oga no light.” How will they work when there is no light? You will also look at it and say that is true; there has been power failure for a long time.
If we can put 2,3,4,5 welders together and get them a welding generator, it is a form of empowerment then, they can work all through the day and deliver on their promises, you their clients will be happy, they will be happy.
We can empower our market women also, help them with soft loan to trade, to help their businesses, to push up their businesses. What they really need is just a little push, there are several people with great ideas but do not have the funding.
What do you have particularly for different age-groups in your constituency?
Particularly for the youths, you can put them in different categories, we have the educated ones, all they want to do is find jobs so that they can leave their house in the morning and come back in the evening. For this category, we intend to help them find jobs as many as we can. We will talk to federal government agencies, different agencies, and corporate bodies. We will always have a way of knowing when these people are employing. So, if we can get few of our people job placements, they will be fine. Then they can take care of themselves, take care of their families.
Then for the uneducated ones too who are skilled in one profession or the other, as I mentioned, the welders, the artisans, there are several ways of helping them. Some need better tools to deliver on their jobs. For example, there is a cobbler who makes shoes, slippers for me. When he started I noticed he does very nice shoes but the finishing, there are usually issues in the finishing because he does not have the right tools to get the desired result. So, we intend to help these people too to get desired tools to get their business, push them up just to the next level whereby they can get more clients for their businesses.
The area of sport development too, if you go round this constituency we have football teams. People who want to play, especially football, we intend to work on some of our playing grounds so that they can have places to express themselves. Who knows, one way or the other somebody may notice them and they will get a better club for them to play for. This will also help their finances. These are just a little. As I said, aside the issue of making law, the major thing which the people want is what will affect them, directly.
We also intend to engage people, to talk to them, we will organize a vocational workshop where we will train people. Even people that had gone to school, it is not just enough to say that you have gone to school, if you go to school you can also learn a trade, something that you can use to make extra money. It can even turn out to be a way of livelihood for them. There are a lot of graduates who are hairdressers.
If you look at Nigeria today, the settings of our white collar job, if you get to all these agencies you have mentioned, they will tell you no vacancy. For majority of the youth within your constituency, how do you think you can help them to get job at the federal level? Is there no different way you can help them to get jobs? If you look around now, the campaign is all about entrepreneurship, why don’t you look in that direction?
Looking at the job placement, that is just one aspect, if all the government agencies were to sack all workers now and they say, “Okay we want fresh people to come in,” we will still not have enough places for our people. It doesn’t mean that we are going to get jobs for everybody. If anybody tells you that, that person is lying to you. It’s not possible to get job for everybody and that is why we talk about training, assisting artisans, assisting traders to grow their businesses.
A lot of our youths who are coming out of school are not looking for jobs. A lot of them have brilliant ideas, they just need backing for it. Farming! Some years ago, the Lagos State government started an Agric. program they call “YES”, our youths who are, not only youths there are elderly ones who are going into farming, we will assist them also, either by getting seedlings for them, either by assisting them with farming tools, assisting them with grants to get farm land where they can continue their farming.
Because the whole of Ejigbo is choked up, there is no land here, so if anybody tells you he is going to get you farming land in Ejigbo, I don’t know where he is going to get that from even in Isolo. The Lagos State government has a scheme in Epe, Ikorodu, we can help our people key into this programme.
Everything we are going to do, let me say categorically, I cannot, I will not, be able to solve everybody’s problem but what I can guarantee is that you will not have to face your problems alone. I will be with the people, I will be with you all the way. I live here so, I know where the problems are.
For the elderly ones, for the children, what do you have for them?
For the children, I believe a lot of them are still in school. I have been assisting children in school for a long time now, we intend to continue that, to help them in their education as much as we can. Some of the elderly ones too are still working, some are still in business, so it is not all about youths alone. If you grow youths and neglect the elderly ones, some of the youths you are helping, you are neglecting their parents and you want them to support you, it is not possible. We are going to have a discussion with the elderly ones where we will get to know their problems, a lot we already know because we have engaged people far and wide, a lot of them still need grants for their businesses, a lot of them are farmers.
We have association of farmers in this constituency. They have meetings all the time; some of them are into animal farming. We intend to work with them to see how we can help them in different areas. As I said, we are going to run an all-inclusive campaign. This person who is going to represent you is not going there to represent just himself. I am not going there to represent Habeeb Anibaba, I am going there to represent the people of Oshodi-Isolo constituency II.
Looking at the political game going on at the green chamber, some people at the local level see you as a greenhorn who does not have mind of playing such game. What is your reaction to that?
My reaction to that is that, you see, when people do not know you very well, they concoct stories to other people, say whatever they like and then sell it. They go to the town, they say all sort of things. Political greenhorn! What do they mean by political greenhorn? Somebody who knows nothing about politics. Is there really anyone that does not know anything about politics at all? We play politics even in our homes, with our wife, our children. So, in one way or the other, everybody knows one or two things about politics.
Yes, going into the green chamber, we have a lot of representatives from all over Nigeria. Everybody wants what is good for their constituencies. They want to be able to say ‘my people, this is what I was able to do for you, what I was able to achieve.’ The main thing is to try to walk with people with like minds in the house, who share the same vision, convince them and, like in most cases when you try to present a bill you have to be able to explain to the people who are going to support you also.
As difficult as some of these things look, they are easy. I am a full detribalized Nigerian. I went to secondary school in Jos, a unity school, Federal Government College, Jos. I went to University of Uyo in Akwa-Ibom, South-South, I did my Youth Service in Nnsukka, today’s Enugu State. I have been everywhere in Nigeria. I have brothers and sisters in Nigeria. I have more than expected acquaintance. I know how to relate with different people, people of different tribes and religion. I am married, my wife is from Edo State, South-South. So, I am not somebody who was born in Lagos, lived all my life in Lagos, grew up in Lagos, feed in Lagos, no! I have more than an idea about what is going on all over the country. I know how to interact with the people. Even my job helps me in that line, I meet people whom I have never known before and I convince them to do business with me. I get to meet people who do not even like me at the first instance.
They say you never get a first chance to make a first impression. At times when I meet people who do not like me, their first reaction is get out of here. I am able to convince them, make them see reasons why they should to do business with me. I believe I can play the politics, convince people, talk to people, to get not just what I desire, what we want for my constituency. It is possible. You don’t have to be tricky about everything.
How do you plan to gather people together to get what they really want and what you are going to do for them?
There are various for a through which we can meet people and interact with them. We have the CDAs, I attend their meetings. Everyday when you attend the meetings, it is their pressing issues they put forward, issues they want government to look into. Because I attend these meetings, I already know what their problems are. There are different associations, market women, traders, farmers associations, youth associations. Even in Jakande Estate where we live, there are different youth associations, all working towards the development of the Estate. In this Jakande Estate there is landlords’ association. All over Oshodi-Isolo there are many associations, Barbers’ association, tailors’ association, the automobile repairers know as Mechanic, they have their association. Welders, everybody, they already have their groups. It is easy to reach out to them since they already have blocks, they articulate their problems, they already have them lined up.
It is not that we will have to tell them, you people should go and investigate them, what your problem is and because I live with them, I know what the problem is already. For example, you go to a settlement that is in a swamp and as you are driving you get to a point where you cannot move and you say you people of this community what is your problem? Without asking you already know they need a good road because you have experienced it, first hand. There may be other issues but, you have seen that already. Reaching out to people as I have said has been from the first day of our campaign. It’s all been about reaching out to people and it is easier when you already have an association you can talk to their leader they call the members and you can have a one-on-one discussion with them.
Hon. Kehinde Bamigbetan, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and strategy was the frontrunner for this position but, all of a sudden he stepped down for you. There are various opinions, rumours. What can you tell the people so that you can clear their doubts?
You see this thing people call luck, like this guy is so lucky, he got so so so thing free of charge. Like you are walking on the road and you see money on the road and it was luck. You have to pass there first, if you do not pass through that road you couldn’t have found the money. People will say Hon. Kehinde Bamigbetan had to step down for Habeeb Anibaba. Habeeb Anibaba had to be in that position where somebody can step down for him. If I was not capable, if I was not sellable, I am not what people can see and say yes, we will accept him, nobody would have stepped down for me.
Again, Hon. Kehinde Bamigbetan, God bless him, he explained critically in details why he took that decision and trust me, 10, 20 years from now, when we think of that day that the Honorable Commissioner took that decision, we will continue to pray for him because he is somebody who is selfless, he is not thinking about just himself. We have some leaders in this constituency when they bring anything, it is all for them. If there is a position, it is for them only. Hon. Kehinde Bamigbetan is not that kind of politician, he looks at things critically, he is a master strategist. Personally, I have learnt a lot from him. He looked at the situation critically and felt, “why not hold on to the position I already have as the commissioner of Information and Strategy instead of substitution and then they (with other party leaders) looked critically, they rubbed minds with lot of leaders across the constituency before arriving at the name Habeeb Anibaba. But as I said earlier, Habeeb Anibaba was ready, I hadn’t offered myself before for service. It is not the first time I will be contesting an election. If I was not already in that position, where people would deem it fit that I can do it, nobody would step down for me. Nobody will put me forward.
I respect the Honourable Commissioner very much for the decision he took. When I first heard it also, I was taken aback. Why is he stepping aside, why is he not running anymore? Because I supported his decision to run but, again, he looked at things critically. One of the things I learnt from him is when anything happens to you, when you hear anything, any experience, whatsoever, have 30 minutes or one hour for yourself, to sit down and look at things critically, trust me you will find a lot of answers even without consulting. Before you even consult people you will find a lot of answers. And he sat down and looked at things critically and said, let’s play this game this way. And as you can see, from the day the news broke, several groups had come up, commending this decision, supporting my candidature. “Yes, we were disappointed when you stepped down but this person you’ve put forward, we welcome him just as we welcomed you and we worked for you, we will also work for Habeeb Anibaba. As I said earlier, 10, 20 years from now we will continue to praise Hon. Kehinde Bamigbetan for this decision.
People want to know, majorly, what Honourable saw in you before he took the decision to pick you and again, can you shed more light on those elective positions you had contested previously?
First of all, what the Honourable commissioner see in me will take us back to my credentials, what I believe in. Number one, I have integrity; I am someone that you can trust. I am not somebody who will steal your money. I have demonstrated that throughout my banking career, I am people’s person. I love doing good, I believe if that is the major reason why we are even on earth, we would do good! If you are in the position to do good and you don’t help people, it is in the Qur’an and Bible, God will take you from that position and put another person there. It is the law of nature. You must do good, I have benefitted from people’s goodness, why will people not benefit from mine.
But, most importantly, my number one trait is integrity, character; I don’t play with it at all. Secondly, you asked, because I said earlier that this is not the first time I’m putting myself forward for an elective position. I contested for the House of Assembly in the last general elections. I was asked to step down. I listened to the leaders of the constituency, I respected them. No quarrel. Again, I offered myself for the position of the LCDA Chairman; the leaders again in conjunction with the people of Ejigbo said no, it is not your time yet. I was told to step down again. This is my third time of coming out. So, I am not a political greenhorn as some people would say, I have contested elections, I have known what it means to campaign, I have known what it means to reach out to people. I know what the primaries are all about, I know what the general elections are all about, I have been part and parcel of several campaigns, I have campaigned myself also, it is not a new terrain for me.
Since you began your campaign, what is the level of your acceptability by the constituents?
I have been overwhelmed by the support of people in the community. I have been seriously overwhelmed across all age groups, people have even gone beyond the level that I have asked of them. Some people who I have not even reached out to have reached out to us, saying, “No, we are with you” and we believe this is our time, God willing we will get there.