In this interview with VICTOR AYENI of The Punch, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives candidate for the Eti-Osa Constituency of Lagos State, Bankole Wellington, popularly known as Banky W, explains his reasons for joining politics and his plans for his constituency.
What life experiences influenced your decision to join politics before you declared your intention to run for the House of Representatives in 2019?
For years, I have been very vocal about the need for good governance and youth participation in politics. I’ve been an advocate for as long as I’ve been active in the entertainment scene and in business, trying to use my platform, voice, to speak up and agitate for a better country. I have participated in more peaceful protests than most people I knew and played a role in many of the movements that tried to address the plight of the average Nigerian citizen.
However, the state of affairs just seems to be going from bad to worse, and if there is going to be any long-term hope for our nation, then many more like-minded people need to get into the system—the kind of people who are competent, empathetic, innovative, and genuinely have the best interests of our people at heart; people who are reformers, not rent-seekers, people who are servant-leaders by nature; people who understand that while our problems are from the top-down, our solutions are from the bottom up.
So, it dawned on me that perhaps I needed to be willing to take my efforts a step further, and go from being an advocate to an active participant in our political process. I realised that I needed to play my part in rebuilding the kind of nation I wanted my children to live in. It was this train of thought that led me into vying for political office.
I am grateful to be blessed with a great education (I studied Industrial Engineering at the university), a relatively successful career in music and film industry, as well as being a reasonably thriving small business entrepreneur. The first person I spoke to about feeling a burden to run for office was Adesua, my wife – and at the time, she said, “Banky, I know you, and I know your heart. I know that, if given the opportunity, you’ll do an absolutely great job in public service. But politics in Nigeria is dirty, and it is dangerous, and I don’t want anything that will soil you or harm you.”
My response to her was that part of the reason politics is so dirty and so dangerous is that so many good people have avoided it. So many of us have sat out the process over the years and stayed content with pointing fingers at those that are on the inside. It will never get better until we begin to build a consensus of like-minded people, insert them into the system, and embark on the difficult journey towards rescuing and rebuilding the country.
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You ran on the platform of the Modern Democratic Party (founded by some youth organisations), but you were defeated by the All Progressives Congress’ candidate. What did you believe led to that electoral defeat?
We learned a lot of lessons from our first attempt at running for office. After INEC de-registered our party (along with the majority of other small independent parties), we took the time to analyse where we fell short. We don’t have enough time to properly unpack all the reasons why we lost in this one interview, so please permit me to focus on just this one: structure wins elections, and we lacked it.
We attempted to build a structure from the ground up, but we were unable to cover the entire constituency in such a short period of time. In 2019, Eti-Osa had 295 polling units spread across 10 wards, with over 337,000 registered voters.
Simply put, we just didn’t have enough of a structure on the ground to properly cover that entire spread of people and places.
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Every ward in a major political party has an executive committee – a leadership structure in charge of that area, made up of a chairman, woman leader, youth leader, vice chairman, secretary, and others. The ward is then divided into zones (or areas). Those zones are also supposed to have their own leadership teams. It’s from these cells of leaders, groups, and people that you’re able to effectively reach the greater population of active voters—because they’re a part of these individual communities of people.
Otherwise, you’re just playing a guessing game by blindly casting a wide net through traditional and social media, hoping to attract enough attention to convince the people. You must be present and relevant in every single zone, in every ward in your constituency—I like to say, “In politics, if you’re not in the ward, you’re not in the war.” On the Election Day, you need multiple people stationed at every single polling unit so as to protect your votes and ensure the process is free and fair.
‘I didn’t chose APC because I didn’t want to loose my soul and values’
Why did you choose to currently run for the seat as a lawmaker on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party instead of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress?
You must figure out which platform makes the most sense for your own specific journey by offering you a realistic shot at success without losing your soul and the values that you stand for. The PDP in my local government area (as well as at the state and national levels) did that for me. We found that there was a genuine appetite for doing things differently.
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We found that the PDP is actually a very democratic institution. Despite the fact that most of the party leaders from the national level all the way down to my LGA were excited about welcoming me into the party (and supportive of my attempts to secure the House of Reps ticket), it was not going to be handed over to me on a silver platter. They categorically told me that I must go and do the work in the wards, and convince the members and delegates about the vision, because, at the end of the day, they would be the ones to decide, via their votes at the primaries, whether I would get the ticket or not. I absolutely loved that I’d have to earn my way to a win.
I don’t want to be the kind of candidate that is imposed on the people; I want to be the candidate that the people genuinely want as a representative. I don’t want to be a “Baba so pe” candidate – the type of candidate that, whether the people actually want him or not, whether you actually win the primary election or not, you’re forced on the constituency against their wishes. That’s not a democracy. That’s a dictatorship in democratic clothing. I wouldn’t be able to be myself in a system like that. That was one of the major reasons I chose the PDP.
From your estimation, what did the recent electoral victory of the PDP governorship election in Osun State and the loss of the APC portend for the country?
The incoming Governor, His Excellency Ademola Adeleke’s win in Osun State, is a fantastic step in the right direction for the party and the country as a whole. Similar to Governor Godwin Obaseki’s win in Edo State, the victory is evidence that our elections are now freer and fairer than they’ve ever been, and that gives us hope as a nation and momentum as a political party.
In both cases (Osun and Edo), the mandate of the people stood, and that’s how a democracy should function. It was encouraging to see that we could go against the ruling party and succeed; those kinds of victories can happen, especially when you put the right candidates in the right structure. Many of our citizens are definitely paying attention and willing to vote for the right candidates, but it’s also important that the candidates themselves are on the right platforms that would give them the best possible chance of success.
Have you identified the areas or sectors where you want to implement needed reforms in Eti-Osa Constituency?
Absolutely, we’ve been spending a lot of time meeting with stakeholders across the constituency. We are in the continuous process of engaging with young people, the elderly, residence associations, business owners and employees, religious institutions, and everyone in between.
By God’s grace, we have visited every single ward in Eti-Osa and will continue to do so throughout the campaign and even after we get into office, by God’s grace.
We are listening to our people, learning about their pain, and putting concrete plans in place on our agenda so that we can legislate, lobby, and represent their interests to the best of our ability. Some of the focus areas of our legislative agenda (and constituency projects) include education, healthcare, gender equity, youth empowerment, security, quality of life, ease of doing business, and more.
The overarching frame of mind we have is to acknowledge that as a nation we cannot keep doing things the same way because it is not working. We must take a revolutionary approach to re-thinking and restructuring the policies that govern our nation so as to chart a new way forward for the benefit of the people. My focus as a lawmaker would be to, first of all, seek to influence the focus areas where we can have some serious, verifiable impact on our constituency and country.
Are you confident that you will defeat your APC opponent, Mr. Babajide Obanikoro, this time around?
Yes. By the grace of God and with the support of our community, this time we will win.
Some people have said your political influence across the state draws its strength from your entertainment fame alone, and the PDP has recently come under fire for this. What would you say to this?
I am certainly grateful for the influence that my career in entertainment has given me across the state and the country. However, while entertainment gave me a bit of popularity, my experiences gave me a lot of perspectives. I’m an entrepreneur who has fortunately provided jobs for hundreds of people through my business ventures and projects. I know what it’s like to have to pay salaries and keep businesses afloat in this harsh economic climate.
I have gone through the journey of being a young person trying to get a career off the ground and keep it thriving despite the odds being stacked against me. I have had health challenges that God has seen me through.
What are the initiatives and policies that you have for youths?
In the area of education, one of the things we are trying to do from now, even before we have been elected into office, is to set up a tech skill acquisition hub for our young people that will provide training and free-of-charge to as many youths as possible in Eti-Osa. This centre will give our Eti-Osa youth a head-start in acquiring the tech skills necessary to get a job or build a business.
As a nation, we must equip our young people with skills that can be exported. The digital services field is one that we can focus on to empower the younger generation to be able to be productive members of society. Our youth don’t want to live off of handouts and humanitarian aid forever. They just need to be equipped and empowered with the skills to be able to fend for themselves in this new digital age. That’s why I want to focus on the educational system in Eti-Osa, pulling the public and private sectors together to enable this to become a reality for our youth.
We also have plans for the NYSC reform. Seeing as the programme no longer achieves what it was originally designed for, we intend to propose revolutionising the way it is executed to make sure that it empowers our young people, while maxmising the resources spend and simultaneously benefiting the nation tremendously.
We also intend to get the government and the private sector to invest majorly in the training, and skill acquisition of our youth, outside of the typical four walls of a classroom. I met with a construction developer, who has built massive residential estates in this constituency. He explained to me that he sometimes has to import expertise from outside of Nigeria i.e. from China or Benin republic, in order to deliver the kind of quality finishing in his construction projects that his clients require.
Isn’t it unfortunate that despite the serious struggles we have with unemployment, our businesspeople still have to import human resources from outside of our shores? Could we consider putting in tax breaks to incentivise corporate companies to invest in the up-skilling of the labour force here? These are the kinds of things we can do to benefit our young people, once we’re given an opportunity to come into government.