There’s undoubtedly an air of mystery about Mayor Festus Kudehinbu, the final man to publicly throw his hat into the ring to be the next leader of Bristol.
His campaign literature is limited to say the least. There’s no website or even a telephone number or email address. There is a Facebook page and a few leaflets which are slowly being put through people’s doors in and around St Paul’s where Mayor (yes, real name) lives.
What is clear from the leaflets though is that Kudehinbu is a “well educated, family man” with a “fine military background”.
So what’s the latter part got to do with being mayor?
“Just so people know that this is what I’ve done in the past,” he explains matter-of-factly as he sits down in his flat cap and suit in St Agnes Park, a short walk away from his home in Morgan Street.
“If I just put my picture there people will just say no, this man is nobody. It’s for people to see what I’ve done in the past. Some people will look at it and see that this man has got discipline in his life,” he says.
This is actually an unusually long answer for a man who responds in mostly short, single sentences in our 45-minute interview – a change from the other candidates, most of who don’t know when to stop talking.
Having sat through a few short answers, delivered in his very measured and calm way (he’s been tagged #shymayor on Twitter his agent tells me), I ask if Kudehinbu really thinks he has what it takes to be mayor.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “But I’m going to give it my best shot and see what people think about me.”
Odd. It’s an unusual decision for a person like him, I suggest.
And brave too.
“Thank you,” he says.
So what did he gain from his 10-year military career in Nigeria which he can utilise when mayor of Bristol. “I gained discipline and manners and respect,” he says, succinctly.
And so how does he describe his character?
“I’m a very nice guy and I’m very kind, and I like to help people,” he replies with a smile before falling silent again.
Kudehinbu’s career in the military actually only lasted 10 years, a short portion of the 58-year-old’s life. He has in fact spent most of his time as a taxi driver in Bristol.
Born in Agerige in Nigeria, Kudehinbu moved to Lagos when he was four. His father had six marriages and Kudehinbu has lost count of how many half brothers and sisters he has.
Schooled in Lagos, he went straight into the army (“because I like the force and I wanted to give my service to the nation”) after finishing his studies.
He was sent to Weston-super-Mare to train in radar and ended up working in radar for most of his military life. He never saw conflict, he says.
After the army he returned to the UK to study electronics at Newport, getting a job as a taxi driver in the meantime to pay his way: a career he ended up sticking with for the rest of his life (he now works for himself as a Hackney Carriage driver).
Having moved to Bristol in 1985, he has lived in Montpelier, Knowle and St Paul’s, where he currently resides with his partner. He has five children, the eldest of which is in his 30s.
So, has there been some huge political awakening culminating in his decision to run for mayor?
“I received an urge to participate,” he says. “I just received an urge. I don’t really know where it comes from. I just see that I need to get into the race so that the voice of the minorities can be heard. That’s what encouraged me to join the race. I just woke up and I said I need to join the race.”
Apart from the sudden urge, why exactly is he running?
“Because I want to move Bristol forward,” he says for the first of many times during our chat.
This is one of the principal parts of his campaign leaflet which states: “My primary aim is to move Bristol forward in all aspects of human endeavour.”
Underneath this statement are some very bold, but also very vague policies, such as “schools and colleges would be improved”, “traffic jams and congestion in Bristol would be tackled” and “the economy of Bristol would be improved”.
So does he have any concrete plans?
“I want to bring job creation. I will encourage most companies that left Bristol in the past to come back by offering some incentives,” he says.
“They would pay less business tax. There are also a lot of empty buildings in Bristol which could easily be occupied.
“I want to make it easy and cheap for developers. Cardiff and Newport have low business rates and that’s why you see Bristol companies moving down to there,” he adds.
“Building local community centres for the young people. It will include sports and some other things.
“This will take them off the streets and make them occupied. Some of them don’t having anything to do and end up doing something silly. Getting them occupied is the best thing we can do,” he says.
And where is the money going to come from?
“I would go into partnership with companies and businesses,” he replies.
He says George Ferguson is a “good man”, but doesn’t believe he has the “common man” at heart.
“You can see with 20mph and putting parking meters outside residential homes,” Kudehinbu says. “A lot of people can only just manage to pay road tax. Most people are very poor. They pay many bills and for them to pay additional tax and a tax to park outside their own homes – I don’t think that’s right.”
So how will he tackle congestion?
“I will build park & rides in strategic areas. If you are coming into Bristol you can park around the M32 and come into the city centre,” he says.
“Some of the roads which are blocked, I will open them. Some of the one-way streets, I would make them two-way.”
This all sounds like it might benefit, erm, taxi drivers – like himself.
“No. The park and ride will get people on the buses and it will reduce the congestion coming in and out through the M32,” he says.
That’s not to say he isn’t firmly with the car lobby. In fact, he was a part of the protest against a residents’ parking zone in his own street which led to a barricade being built by residents to stop contractors painting controlled parking bays outside homes.
“I think it was a good one,” he says about the protest. “We showed that the public can put an objection to something which doesn’t suit them. Having to pay for parking outside your own homes is not a very good idea.”
He says he is passionate about Bristol and especially the people who live here. But he says ethnic minorities are given a tough time.
“For instance, St Paul’s Carnival hasn’t been staged in Bristol for two years and this is what ethnic minorities like. They like to come together, share ideas together and see what other ethnic groups there are.”
I ask him why he thinks the carnival was cancelled.
“It’s best you ask George,” he says. “Well, other festivals have been carrying on. Balloon Festival, Ashton Festival [sic] and other festivals concerning some people, they have been staged continuously in Bristol so why has St Paul’s festival not been staged? I think the motive of George is to close St Paul’s festival for good.”
Why would he do that?
“The opinion I have, he doesn’t want the ethnic communities in bristol to have anything to live for. This is my own opinion,” he says.
It’s worth pointing out that funding was withdrawn by the council and Arts Council England after a “loss in confidence” in the current board to run the carnival.
As our interview comes to an end I suggest Kudehinbu just doesn’t have the experience to win the election, or be a successful mayor for that matter.
“I don’t have the experience, but sometimes you have to be in the job to get experience. If I’m elected, along the way I will get the experience and that will make me more strong so I can push my ideas forward. I think the public should trust me because of what they see in my policies, I would implement it.
So, is the #shymayor quietly confident?
“I think I am. So I will give it my best shot. It comes from inside me. Not many people want to be mayor, but I feel I want to become mayor to help the common people and the ethnic groups and the people in Bristol generally.
“I think I have a chance because of the feedback I’m getting from people. Many people are telling me it’s a good idea. People are telling me I’m the right person to save Bristol.”
Bristol24/7 is hosting a mayoral hustings featuring all candidates at The Lantern at 7pm on Thursday, April 28. Entrance is first come first served. For more information, visit www.colstonhall.org/shows/mayoral-hustings/