The story of the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is like that of the elephant and the seven blind men. One’s interpretation of his personality depends on the pedestal one is standing. This politician par excellence means different things to people. To some, he is a consummate politician, but to others, a radical cum social activist. There are those who see him as always fighting to challenge the status quo. Not a few people see him also, as a builder of leaders. To many others, he is a philanthropist, a troublemaker. The dynamics of his persona just goes on and on.
Recently, The Sun Publishing Limited editorial team, led by the Managing Director/ Editor in-Chief, Mr. Eric Osagie engaged the astute politician in a no-holds barred interview in his Freedom House Office at Victoria Island, Lagos.
Other members of the team included Executive Director, Special Services, Mr Bolaji Tunji; Editor, Daily Sun, Mr Onuoha Ukeh; Editor, Sunday Sun, Mr Abdulfatai Oladeinde, General Manager, Corporate Services, Mrs. Neta Nwosu and Deputy Political Editor, Willy Eya.
THERE are so many descriptions about you; some call you the game-changer, Field Marshall – that is what we crowned you with, the Field Marshall of Nigerian politics. You are the man who, from one state, hooked on to two, three states and now the whole country. People say all kinds of things about you because of your role in the politics of this country; when you reflect and read all these things, how would you describe yourself? Do you sometimes ask, am I the one they are talking about? How do you see yourself?
It is quite interesting and challenging when you hear and see all these descriptions in the face of the complex political situation and the challenges of our country; the diversity of the nature of our politics, the struggle for democratization, the concept and principles of federalism and the challenges of good governance. I believe there cannot be good governance without democracy and democracy cannot also be achieved unless you have free and fair election. People are not looking for perfection but in terms of materiality, it has to be substantially free and fair. How you define substantial compliance without mincing words is the challenge of every politician. My role as a politician is the determination to democratize my country, of indivisible commitment to democratic values, which can only come as you perform. I am not a thoroughbred politician, having come from a corporate background. I believe in strategy; and the strategy to win is that of every politician.
We can be politically sensitive and come up with the fact that you have to be a good politician, but no boxer steps into the ring to lose. No investor wants to invest to lose; otherwise, you can carry your money and throw it to the Lagoon. You’re there to win. How do you plan that strategy to win and come on top? That is where I always like to specialise. Then, there are elements of perversion, diabolical perversion in the political process. Particularly, in the maintenance of the status quo. Mine is to challenge the status quo if it is perverted. How do I challenge the status quo? When we came back in 1999 and the postatus quolitical space was opened, we had our political party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the platform on which I contested. The perversion started from the so-called delegates’ election. How could I say then that I wanted free and fair election if you subscribe to the delegates’ election where you could buy people like chicken and pay them off or go to the market with apples? I said, let the Lagos people determine through the political party structure, who and who they wanted.
I created a crusade to eliminate that delegates’ corruption and we won. We won the debate and we now have direct primaries in all the local governments. Those who have followed South West politics knew that it was a tough battle between Funsho Williams of blessed memory and myself. I won 17 local governments out of 20, and in two of them, there were no elections. They chewed the results in my local government, Ikeja. Lagos Mainland was the stronghold of late Funsho Williams and Ikorodu too with Ogunlewe and co. But we challenged the status quo because it was evident that I won that election, whateverstory anybody tells you. I still have that record. It is there. for everybody to verify I resisted the overturning of the results. Then, I was determined to form a government that was professionally and intellectually balanced to be a model for Lagos State. It is very easy for people to forget. If you recall, Lagos was described by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, as an urban jungle. Then, we had refuse dumps as high as skyscrapers. No hospital was functioning. We were just lucky that no epidemic like Ebola, Lassa fever, Cholera and so on, occurred in Lagos State. If you were a regular person on Ikorodu Road, Oworonshoki, there was no day you would not see up to four or five dead bodies on the streets. I had a friend, an American, who visited me with his wife to felicitate with me for winning the election. He used to work with us when I was on exile. They saw rotten dead bodies and vehicles had mashed on them. The wife almost vomited blood. Their plan was to spend one week, but after 48 hours, they were ready to go.
That challenge was confronted. Today, if you talk to respected Prof (Yemi) Osinbajo who is now the Vice President of the country; he was a member of our cabinet; every cabinet member became a cleaner and refuse supervisor to clear each street. It was then we established, through the respected Commissioner for Health, Dr Leke Pitan, the analogue telephone bank and centre 123. We brought in ambulances. Initially, we were using rickety vehicles to convey dead bodies. We cleaned up Lagos, re-organised and re-engineered the finances of the state. They were the three main focus areas. You cannot renew the infrastructure. That time, it could take six hours to move from one end of Kudirat Abiola Way to the other. I experienced it. You could spend the whole day on Itire Road. It is very easy to forget all these things. You could not go through Adeola Odeku without spending the whole day. Akin Adesola was impassable. Ozumba Mbadiwe was no road. Adetokunbo Ademola was no road. It would take you the entire day to move through Alimosho. These things have been entirely forgotten. We also faced the challenge of infrastructural deficit. Oil was trading at $9.50 per barrel and so the allocation was very poor. What we have now is a celebration, compared to what we had then. We were celebrating towards the end of our administration when the oil price rose to over $30. We celebrated that the federal allocation coming to Lagos was up to N100 million. It is very easy to forget. So, the challenge of enhancing the welfare of the people was there. You could not visit for instance, LASUTH hospital without covering your nose with handkerchief. You could not go to Marina and pass through the General Hospital without offensive ordour from dead bodies. No mortuaries existed. We faced the challenge of renewing Lagos and it happened.
No matter how beautiful your idea is, if you do not have the thinker, the doer and the financial resources to face the challenge, there is nothing you can achieve; that can be progressive. I had the best hands then. I had a Wale Edun, a highly respected expert that I knew in the United States, in IBTC, what is today a successful new generation bank; I had him in charge of Finance and creativity. He realigned all the ministries. There was also no courtroom; at Igbosere, you could hunt for rats there. You cannot believe this. When Prof Osinbajo took me there and we saw rats, we almost ran out because they were as big as rabbits. They were all over the courtroom. You wondered whether it was a human being or rats that was presiding. The spring on the chair in one of the Chief Justices’ office was out of the cushion where he sat. I cannot forget that quickly. So, when you put all these together and you see Lagos today, I’m a very proud man. Then, I was in the opposition party.
It was a government in opposition. I had a military-civilian in former president Obasanjo that I had to contend with. He was passing through personal transformation to become a democratised civilian. Those challenges are several chapters in the history of my own personal transformation too, as a politician. After the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) struggle to democratise Nigeria, sometimes, you forget that you are now in charge and no longer an activist. But what helped me was my private sector exposure having been trained as auditor/ financial consultant at Deloitte and having worked as auditor, treasurer in Mobil. I put those experiences in place to develop a strategy for first, financial re-engineering of Lagos State and two, defence of the mandate against the insurgence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In all you have said, leadership is very critical. How would you define leadership and what has your childhood personal upbringing got to do with it?
I will reverse it. I will first of all talk about my childhood days during which I was groomed for leadership responsibilities. The Tinubus are a famous family; famous mother, Magaji. I grew up in a very large and huge family in a compound system. We had cousins and nephews and all of that, living in the same place and that taught me to struggle. You would find such things very interesting in life. We had an aunty and her husband who had a bakery and you know bread-and-beans is a famous food in Lagos. If they wanted to give us bread, they would not give us one loaf each. They might just give us four loaves. As children, sometimes, we fought over the loaves, forgetting that there were extra loaves in the house. When we were eating, it was the case of the quickest hand that takes the biggest meat. It was a struggle. You would have thought that your stomach would have accommodated the entire bread without sharing adequately with your cousins, nephews and brothers. And after food, it became fun.
At Campos, Balogun where my mother had a shop, if you go in the morning, you would fight. If you were coming back home, you would fight and the day you came back with your uniform intact, you were lucky and would thank God. And when you arrived home, sometimes you got caned again. What happened to your uniform? The discipline of self-survival started from there, from childhood. Each time, I look back at the survival instinct of that period. The Race Course was common for us to play our regular rubber football. We called it Toronto in those days. We could also go on bike ride. On the bike ride, you fought; Toronto football, you also fought. You had bullies all over the place and if you did not confront the bullies, they would suppress you. I had this tiny figure, however, I had to struggle to survive among the giants.
So, that was a trait I developed from childhood until I left this country to complete my education overseas. And I would have been a musician. During the Ramadan festival, it was common to do Were. It is what we looked forward to. I always took part in it. I followed them around and I enjoyed it even though before 4pm, you must be home. If you were locked out, you were in real trouble. The Fuji musician, Barrister, was our captain. His late mother and my mum were very close and he would use that reason to always take me out until one day, my mother told me, “by 8 o’clock, I must see you in this house.” But I would still sneak out and follow the Were music group. But I thank God almighty, all those things are history now. It is through the discipline of great parents of blessed memory that we had that and I was able to become what I am today. It was through their discipline and guidance. I can recall the day I left this country for the United States of America and I decided that it was enough walking around. There was an event, I think it was the 50th birthday of Pa Awolowo or Mama H.I.D Awolowo, I think it was Mama Awolowo (she was very close to my mum). They were very close friends and they worked together as politicians. There was no corner in Oke Ado, Awolowo’s house that I did not know as a toddler. We visited Ikenne and Tai Solari had a coldroom at MayFlower School and we were asked to go there and pick the drink reserved for the reception after church hour. Kids, we finished that on time because we wanted to watch what was happening in the church. We were standing across the streets when we heard gunshots; I was extremely lucky that my late sister was coming out of the church across the street. I just moved underneath the tree to stop her vehicle from crossing and a girl standing beside me, Ganiyu Dawodu’s sister was killed. It was then that I decided that I should leave the country. I was devastated and I wanted to travel America.
Talking about leadership, leadership is a challenge. You read a lot about good leadership but there are few books on bad leadership. But they exist. The capacity to challenge your individual curiosity about life and your environment; about anythey exist. The capacity to challenge thing that you are there to do is an innate trait that is developed positively or negatively by individuals.
Do you think leaders are born or made?
They are made. The chances that people are born in royalty or upper class are there. Some people are born with silver spoon, they say. But are they good leaders? We have history of monarchs beheading people. Do you classify them as good leaders even though they were born? We have leaders who are warmongers who have destroyed nations and their people and were born into one kind of leadership or the other. But in any entity, every human being defines himself with what he does and how he faces the challenges of time. So, you have that category of leaders that is bound to shape their environment, their entity. It is about your determination to succeed first. You have to succeed first before you can lead. It is like the saying; crawl before you walk. So, how your life is shaped to become a leader depends on you and your environment where you operate. Like in every organization, without an opportunity, you cannot demonstrate your talents and you may not be able to excel. In a pool of reporters that joined an organization in one day, you will find a diverse capacity and ability, even to smell the content of a narrative that there is a story there.
If you give them the same narrative, they would come with different angles to the story. Then you have a kind of leadership which is the ability to identify all that and create a niche for yourself by your own definition. Leaders define themselves. They do. It is not just a question of talents. You have unrewarded talents all over the world. It is not just a question of education. Whereas education is the greatest tool to conquer poverty and ignorance, there are a lot of educated relics.
So, how then do you identify leaders? One hallmark of leadership is to identify other leaders; that is the third leg of the question. You are noted for identifying leaders and you are also a strategist; people would like to know how you plot your own map. In 2003 and 2007, you had different presidential candidates. As a strategist, you changed and brought a leader now in the country. The Tinubu brand of leadership is in the country. The Vice President today, Prof Osinbajo was your Commissioner, you had the likes of Babatunde Fashola, Fayemi and many of them who passed through Bola Tinubu School of Leadership. Is it an ingredient of leadership to discover other leaders? How do you do it?
First of all, I earlier mentioned the challenge of intellectual curiosity. You have to believe in yourself and you must have a clear vision of what you want. Do you want to excel? Do you want to convert impossibility to possibilities as defined by others? There are people who would see opportunities and ignore them. Ability to identify talents is not just a gift; you have to be talented and that come from intellectual curiosity and vision, your focused vision. You must have a strong determination. You have to be able to persevere in challenging situations. And how do you convert the potential disaster to an item of prosperity? Once you have that as a quality, you should be able to identify it in others. I never met Prof Osinbajo personally before, than in a group. I knew them in 1994 through a group they called professionals challenging the annulment of June 12, 1993 election. It was just a tiny, smallish activists’ group but very focused. Femi Falana, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti of blessed memory, Pat Utomi and others were leading and Prof Osinbajo was just a follower. Bola Ajibola had a very good chamber and had a very good reputation as Attorney General and we were looking at that during the regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida, I believe. Babatunde Fashola was very close and was more or less like a member of my family.
I had a list of recommendations of who would be the Attorney General. I had seen the challenges of security and others and I sent for him. I ignored the recommendations and did not choose him. My own blood brother, Wale Tinubu, was even pushing for him; they shared the same chambers and they were partners. I chose Osinbajo. When I created the Transition Committee. His name came up to fashion out a blueprint for Lagos State and Bayo Onanuga reminded me that we had met him; we had a chat and I sent for him. Then, he was a lecturer at the University of Lagos. We have the capacity to research and reform. I want you to ask the Attorney General of Lagos State…if you face the vice president today, ask him that question. What you have written that I have read, the synopsis about the judicial reform, the first paragraph is not about structure, it is about corruption; that you must eliminate corruption. We must put incentives in place and must rehabilitate the courts and he went on and on. Having read that, I said, this is my Attorney General. Prof Osinbajo did not ask for the job. I called him and told him, you are the Attorney General and he was amazed.
And that was how you called the others?
That was how I called them, one after the other. I had to beg Wale Edun, Yemi Cardoso. Wale Edun and Cardoso were both blackmailed to submission. They did not want to come to this urban jungle then, to work. They had portfolios in the financial world that they were managing and to leave the known for the unknown was a problem. I had to blackmail them, saying would you leave me in this challenge. You prepared the blueprint conscientiously; do you want to abandon me? We had to form the team that would implement the reforms. And Wale Edun raised his finger and said, Mr. Governor, how do we address you? I said Mr Governor. Wale Edun said if that is the challenge, we have to determine how long you need me personally and I asked him how long could you stay, and he said a maximum of six months. I said fine; maybe we go to nine months. When I invited Cardoso, he said he was not a politician and I told him, “that is why I invited you.” He said four years and that he cannot spend two years and I said that is it, 18 months. But to say you would abandon me after all those blueprints that we spent five months to put together is a lie. I will not accept that unless you guys want me to resign as governor. Cardoso accepted. Wale Edun also accepted based on the argument for the tenure.
And Chief of Staff, you picked Lai Mohammed; what happened?
I also picked Lai Muhammed. He had been part of my struggle in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) days. He was very vocal and he practiced with Yomi Edun. They shared the same chamber but he demonstrated resilience and capacity to take notes, put the meetings together and stayed focused. He was more or less the Publicity Secretary and Director of organization of Yomi Edun’s campaign. He and Rauf Aregbesola, I was looking at the two.
As Chief of Staff?
Rauf cannot be Chief of Staff. He was an activist from the time I knew him. Rauf would protest and carry placards against himself. But his commitment to democracy was unequaled.
You needed an organizer for the position of Chief of Staff?
I needed an organizer and a person with Law background. I am a finance person and if you have to deal with the bureaucracy, retrench, terminate and take decisions on proposals, you must first of all have somebody with compliance thinking. Two, lawyers generally, whether they like it or not, they must prepare a case file. So, you must be organised. You need a very organised professional as your Chief of Staff and that is what I told myself. So, it had to be a lawyer. When Babatunde Fashola missed the position of Attorney General, and I had committed the position of Chief of Staff to Lai Mohmmed, he was out for almost three years. We saw an opening in the third year for Lai Mohammed to go to Kwara. He was invited by Saraki through late uncle Molade Okoya Thomas. He used to practice lawn tennis with the late Saraki. We went to Lagos lawn tennis club and Saraki started talking and looking at how we could induce and seduce him to get interested. He said you are from Kwara and you are doing well in Lagos, why not come to Kwara. That was how Lai went to contest election there. And when there was opening, I had to appeal to Fashola to join the team and he made himself available. It was the ability to meet them individually to challenge their creativity.
Between Lai Mohammed and Fashola, who was better?
I can’t say but they have their different traits. Babatunde Fashola was an introvert. It was very difficult to convert him to become politicians. He did not want political trouble whereas Lai Mohammed had been used to it since 1994. You could see the difference between the two. But they got the job done. To Lai’s credit, when I said you must change the status quo, you must change the outlook, the whole structure and that you cannot use yesterday’s idea for today’s challenge and tomorrow’s reform and that I wanted a different government that was like that of America, Lai was the one who had to do the research about the office of the Chief of Staff. We were the ones who created that office. He went to Maryland in the United States. He went to the governor of Maryland to know what that office is all about.
Over the years, since the days of the June 12, 1993 crisis to NADECO and to the installation of the new president, what would you say are the highs and lows of your political movement?
There was the determination to follow the democratic norm. I came from a background where you must set personal goals at the beginning of every year in a corporate environment. Having trained to be auditor/ consultant to Deloitte is what I cherish till tomorrow and I will take that to my grave. The training and discipline was there. When you say you are leaving a client’s premises on a particular date, you have to justify meeting the deadline for delivery of any assignment. Timelines! In auditing and consulting from a public accounting firm of those days, you had to be a financial surgeon. You are going to a corporate environment where you open it up and look at what is wrong. What do they say in their books? What do they report to the public and how do they handle investors’ money? All these are within is a production line. How do they manage their inventory? You have to be a financial surgeon. If the company is bankrupt or heading for bankruptcy, you must be able to identify the weaknesses and all of that. So, that discipline, if you take it with you to any organization, you will excel. Training is important. to identify the weaknesses and all of
In your profession too, the schools of journalism, training and retraining of individuals in your profession and continuing education and personal discipline, and being able to meet the deadlines are crucially important. I have always employed that in everything I do. I can deviate once in a while; I have my reasons for doing so. In our political environment, you have a lot of distractions. You have unpredictable variables and circumstances. You equally have to deal with different characteristics of human beings. But what is important to you like I mentioned is victory and how do you achieve that victory? If it must come from ballot boxes, then every vote is important. You cannot stay on your ivory towers and be intellectually arrogant about votes. If a mad man can be sane for five minutes and he is holding a ballot paper, you must try to earn that vote. He can go back to his madness later. If a dirty mechanic with engine oil over his body is next in line to wearing a white garment, you cannot say move out of the line. You must be their friend and the ability to come to that level and deal with the diversity in a set of situations makes a good politician. It prepares you for leadership positions because you have to have the capacity to win the election.
What do you consider as the highs of your political career?
The high is when I survived as the only governor and one-man standing on the platform of the AD in the South West after the 2003 governorship election. In leadership and political battles, you must be able to recognise the talent of your opponent. Don’t ever underestimate your opponent, particularly, a personality like former President Obasanjo. First, he is not just an Army General ;second, they call their overall fatigue uniform, camouflage. What does that mean? Deception! They are trained in strategy, deception and tactics to defeat the enemy. If you underestimate them, you do that at your own peril. If you now recognise that quality in them, you know how to play the game with them. There are some aspects of it that I cannot discuss here; they are my own weapons tomorrow.
We know that you warned your other colleagues in the South West.
When I started a journey of a tree that can make a forest, the game, first of all, is survival. I made it clear to everybody that this friendship is laced with poison. I kept warning everybody very loudly. How can you trust a man whose uniform is camouflage? How can I believe that he is my political friend when I am in the opposition? No, draw the battleline.
Here you are, you wrestled a General in camouflage and you made another in camouflage the president; what is the difference between the two situations?
The difference is that Buhari came into politics and got his camouflage shredded. He came into politics through another political party, contested election and was defeated thrice. He got his nominations and got close to victory but employed one good quality-observance of the rule of law. He headed to the court each time he lost an election. Even though he had similar traits with Obasanjo as both of them collaborated in coups and all that, but he joined the political environment through another party. Each time he lost, he was in court. There is no way you would sit through, hearing of political challenges in any court of law or tribunals from the beginning to the end that you would not learn lessons. I see the discipline from a distance. When we collaborated to work together on the third term saga, I started to know him more. He is a focused and disciplined person. If you give him appointment, he will be the first to be there. You will meet him there. If you agree on something, that is where it stays. His belief in the process became clear in the party organisation. So, he demonstrated those qualities and he has followership.
In all these, which hasbeen the saddest and lowest moments in your political journey?
The saddest moment was the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election. That was the time we had the greatest opportunity to embrace democracy. The second chapter of my lowest moment was the brazen rigging of the 2003 elections in the South West. But my very proud and joyful moment was the courage to challenge the status quo, the reasons for the rigging, and that we must expose and conquer rigging. I give kudos to the judiciary. I cannot forget that. We went three and half years for Ekiti trial, three and half years for Osun State; there was the challenge in Ondo and the challenge in Edo. These steps deepened democratic values and culture. It took tolls, emotions; people cried and people died. That was the second challenge, but the joy of it can never be better experienced than when your wife delivers a baby. She would have gone through the labour pain; you cannot share the pain but you can only sympathise with the pain. But you share the joy of the baby together. They can only tell you their own experiences. So, those are the moments in life of this country from whixh we learn more. Suddenly, after that, you caused a constitutional change. They changed the period to 180 days. I still say it is inadequate. It does not allow the substance and the evidential matters to be enunciated.
I brought forensic analysis to play in the elections. You cannot write an autobiography here without all of that. Most of the things happening in this country today are as a result of good thinking in Lagos. You cannot talk of breaking the monopoly of NEPA and electricity generation in Nigeria without talking of Lagos. We were the pioneers. If we did not achieve it, what could they have been following now? What would have been the consequences for the country? What model are they following? You cannot talk of constitutional changes without the challenges of electoral rigging which even led to the card reader. How do you quantify these contributions? We are proud of it. If we did not create the eagle eye-the Lagos Inland Revenue Service (LIRS) to protect the revenue of Lagos State, to reengineer the finances of Lagos State and have the courage to increase Internally Generated Revenue of the state, where would the state have been? How is the IGR employed? How is science and technology employed to protect the revenue out of thousands of fraudulent accounts opened in Lagos State? What about the collusion with the banks? How would the money be recovered? They talk about Alpha Beta and this and that, but people should know that creativity is the hallmark of leadership. But do not ever think you would not have enemies because they are ignorant.
Obasanjo as a president embraced the issue of bond but go back to his records as president. He was against borrowing initially. We broke the myth when we created bond in Lagos State. People shouted, Bola Tinubu, what is he up to and that he wanted to bankrupt Lagos. Awolowo Road is still there, show me a pothole there? There are also 11 roads in the Central Business districts. Tinubu Square was a latrine. Where Helipad, Civic Centre and Oriental are standing today were refuse dumps, they were dump sites for aborted pregnancies. The road to AIT was being measured by the length of refuse by Punch and other newspapers. The reported that the refuse there had stretched to over one kilometre. It is easy to forget. It is easy to forget about the cart pushers and how they aided armed robbery. If you have beautiful ideas and creativity, you will have enemies. You would be abused and all that, but when you stay focused, and have faith, once you believe that it is the right thing to do for the state, the community and the nation. Stay on course and do not be distracted. If you have your hands on the plough, do not look back. That is the hallmark of leadership.
You have fought many political battles. During the NADECO days, you fought the military. During Obasanjo’s administration, you fought with him and last year, you fought President Goodluck Jonathan and took him out of power. Of all these battles, which one do you consider the toughest and why?
President Jonathan’s battle was the toughest. Once you have a government in place, there is the challenge of incumbency. Then you had the challenge of terrorism; you had a nation that was divided, a nation that was almost moving from its focus of religious tolerance and diversity, to religious division. You had a system that had been corrupted beyond anybody’s imagination. People were being loaded with money in Lagos. But you have to forget personal temptation.
Obasanjo, during his time disobeyed court order on the disbursement of money for local governments in Lagos. But you knew where he was coming from; you just had to be careful. That period was also a bit challenging. There were different situations that you had to confront using different strategies. But to unseat an incumbent president in Africa was the toughest battle. It was not easy.
But how did you do it?
Not now, but I can give you the elements. You have to be tolerant and focused on the unity of the country. You have to be able to make individual sacrifices. In situations that you even believe you had the opportunity to rule, how do you shelve that ambition and say no, this is the best strategy for winning? How do you use the self-discipline that is necessary to even avoid falling into temptation of inducement? How do you conquer the fear of the unknown? How do you battle intimidation and intrigues? Do not forget that loads of military men were around in Bourdillon, threatening and intimidating me.
Did they also come with plenty dollars and presidential aircrafts? What were the temptations before you that you had to reject?
Skip that. It would be too much of self-glorification to tell that story, but it was there for the take. But I am glad I did not fall to that temptation.
How much? One billion dollars; over two billion dollars?
Keep your guess of the temptation. The temptation was there and very tempting, tantalizing and juicy.
But did it happen during Nuhu Ribadu’s time? There were rumours that Nuhu did not win in Lagos because of some secret deals. Is that true? You heard that yourself.
I heard it also, but it is just foolish. Would Lagos have made a difference? Just cast your mind back. We were in negotiation with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and that is the truth. During the negotiation, we made little demands; we did not want to be on top of the ticket but it was a skirt-and-blouse thing. They wanted the skirt and blouse. So, if I must surrender my two feet, at least you’ll give me a wheelchair to keep me going. That was what happened then. But anybody is free to speculate and say all kind of things.
But some people said that Nuhu Ribadu’s mandate was sold and that was why he did not win; we heard all manners of stories.
How much is it worth? They had already sent a message. Nuhu Ribadu’s position was ‘I am just holding forth’. Nuhu Ribadu is a plain gentleman; he was disciplined and had so much respect for Buhari. He wanted to withdraw but he did not want to disappoint our party. It was like holding him hostage. He did not want to damage himself in the North that he blocked the chance of Buhari becoming the president. Each time he wanted to announce his stepping down, we told him you accepted to run, you could not withdraw now. But information kept leaking out that he had withdrawn. Don’t forget that social media was new then. That affected the whole thing. They did not even give us underpants not to talk of skirts. Do you want us to stand on the NITEL building without anything? Money wouldn’t have called my shot. My family and my mother were very close to Ibrahim Babangida and anything she said , I would have taken. But it did not play out. If I wanted appointment during the Ernest Shonekan regime, I would have got it. Money did not play a role. I have a track record. I ended up in detention; tried for treasonable felony which would have been death or life imprisonment, but I did not do that. I was gunning to become the Senate President but I gave that up and supported Dr. Iyiorcha Ayu, for us to reach a compromise.
So, you’re a team player?
I am a team player and I am ready to sacrifice anything in the interest of the collective.
Sometimes, you are also accused of imposition and that you just impose leaders on the people. In Lagos for instance, the impression is that if Jagaban says it, that is it. Are you guilty of imposition? Are you indeed a godfather in the politics of Lagos state?
Godfatherism is not a negative term, but Godlords are. They are the mafias. Godfathers exist even in the church of the Lord, if you are a Christian. During the christening ceremony, you have a godfather and godmother. If you call me a godfather, to how many children? It is all right because I have them all over. I have children everywhere.
But do you impose candidates on people?
You are talking about imposition in a democracy. If you are a strong adviser, you would get blackmailed; you have seen great qualities in an individual and one that has capacity to do good; you identify those you believe can deliver on the evolution of good governance. I have a responsibility to recommend. My party has the right to reject the person. And you call that imposition? When I identified Babatunde Fashola as against those who were closer to me; my brothers, my cousins; those who lost out, shouted imposition, you are a dictator, an emperor and all that. But what is good for Lagos is my concern; what is good for my legacy is my concern. The issue of continuity and the ability to focus on the blueprint and continue all the things that we have designed for Lagos are my concern. But whatever names you call me is not my business. I’m not in a fashion parade. I’m in politics to win and to deliver. They have forgotten the crisis that followed Fashola’s nomination.
When Fashola’s performance and results started to blossom like flowers in the garden, Fashola then became their child. The umbilical chord is buried and the baby has survived. In democracy, sometimes, you have the sprinkle of dictatorship too when you know that you are working in the overall interest of the people. For the fact that you have the facts that some people do not have; so you do not get angry.
Last year, your party, the APC, wanted somebody as Senate President, but someone else emerged. Some members felt disappointed. Some people said, how could Tinubu’s candidate fail with all he had invested in APC? What actually happened?
I did not say I am in politics to score 100 per cent all the time. As long as I get a sizeable percentage of success. I scored ‘A’ and the computer does not identify plus. The computer did not identify the plus or minus. That was what happened. The party mishandled a lot of things and we are still paying the price. We have to manage ourselves through it.
In terms of leadership style, what are the differences between yours style and that of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s?
Honestly, what I borrowed from Pa Awolowo is the vision to see through a frame. There is the discipline and ability to go through tribulations and convert it to success. I love him. Baba existed in a different political era completely, but there is that self-discipline and intellectual capacity to govern.
This your cap has become your trademark; we do not know what it is. If you place it down, anybody who sees it would identify it as yours; how did you come about the design?
Philosophically, it is my belief and faith in education, freedom fighting. On my cap is a broken shackle. It is freedom. The shackle is broken and you cannot put us in bondage anymore. You have broken the shackle of poverty, ignorance, disease. You develop the capacity to improve the quality of the lives of the people. It has been my philosophy and it will remain my philosophy. My office’s symbol is Freedom House. Freedom means everything to me, the freedom of man. You can find me on the street fighting against injustice.
We cannot end this interview without asking two related questions. Was the MKO Abiola saga the period of your radicalisation? Before then, you were just minding your business. What attributes of Abiola have you taken along into the present struggle?
It is perseverance and determination to fight poverty. That is why the title of his programme and philosophy and everything was Farewell to Poverty. MKO Abiola’s ability to bear the incarceration without giving up his mandate and the fact he paid the supreme price for it. The cancellation of June 12 was a turning point in my life and it radicalised me.
Do you think he would have been a good president?
He would have been because he believed squarely that you could not continue with the recklessness of the country and the dictatorship of that era. People saw him as the friend of the Army and all that, but Abiola did not share their philosophy. Abiola believed that if you are a friend and you need to kiss the person, you draw him closer. Even if you are an enemy to a person and you need to bite the person, first of all, try to be his friend. He believes you need to bring him closer before you can bite him. I learnt a lot from him. Nobody would understand Abiola’s philosophy unless you drew closer to him. I learnt a lot from him.
Is Buhari in the same mould in terms of leadership quality?
I knew Buhari from a distance and in observation, they are of different degrees and backgrounds in terms of discipline. You have a very disciplined person in Buhari. You cannot believe that Buhari has a very good sense of humour unless you are close to him. He even pokes fun at himself. But he is an introvert. He does not talk much. But in the case of Abiola, he can dominate conversations. They are just different human beings, In Buhari, you have a very passionate lover of this country. Everybody knows about his incorruptibility and all that, but his passion and commitment to the nation is of great value. He is also unpredictable in taking a stand, but on developmental programmes, Buhari would listen to you. No idea is too complicated for him to breakdown. He would listen, take notes and interject once in a while. He can agree and disagree with you. People complain generally about his slowness and implementation. He is not brash.
As I said, you have a lot of studies and characteristics of good leaders in diverse ways. No one has seen the virtue of slowness. Go and check the meaning of finding yourself in the eye of the storm. What is the eye of the storm? You find out that in any storm, no matter how ravaging, there is a spot of calmness. You just locate the spot and go through it. No one expected the level of damage done to the nation and the political environment of this country. We are now in the surgical theatre to cut off the tumor and cancer, close back, stitch the ailment and make whole again. It is a challenge and we all have to go through it. But we are on the right part.
What kind of a leader do you find in Buhari, especially with regards to the fact that you are part of the APC government?
A nation deserves the kind of leader she throws up. The challenge is the collaboration and ability to go round that support. If you want patriotism, you find it in Buhari but if you want a quick fixer, not Buhari. If you want bandage, not Buhari. Can you attribute the slump in the oil prices to Buhari? And that is where we get 80 to 85 per cent of the money we earn in this country from. Have we not behaved like spoiled, bad government and as corrupt as ever in the past. Everybody talked about diversity but it is not enough to talk about it. If they had taken concrete actions before now, would we have found ourselves in this mess? Are we following the right models across the world? Look at Malaysia, and Singapore. Malaysia took our palm kernel seed and turned it into a great asset. Show me a functioning refinery in the South of Sahara. Why have we not invested in it? We shipped the job out. Can you imagine that the refinery is even more beneficial than the crude oil in terms of employment and expertise and all of that.
Look at the bye-products- plastics, fertilizer, soda ash etc. The crude is just three products – Diesel, Kerosene and petroleum. But you have to have refineries. On the issue of deregulation, each of the past government did not have the political courage to embark on bold endeavours for the sake of the country. We react to sentimental and emotional issues. For a woman, there is the labour pain before the baby is delivered. Before we can repair the damage done to this country, we have to suffer some pain, we have to be patient and take very radical and bold decisions on our economy. I took some radical decisions in Lagos State and all of us are enjoying it now. I left surplus funds when I was leaving. When I went for the bonds, initially the PDP was against me. But look at how many years it has taken to realise that the main economic artery is the Lagos/Ibadan expressway. If you’ re taking commercial items to the East, the South- South or the North, it’s the Lagos/ Ibadan expressway that is the exit route.
They treat it with sentiments as if it is a Yoruba road. They have forgotten that you cannot go to the East with your containers, goods and services without passing through that road and you cannot also go to the North without the road. Does any lagoon lead to the North? It is critical. Made in Nigeria, what can we make? Look at Chinese food, we now cherish it in our country. In agriculture, we could not even feed ourselves. We import rice. We have nations depending on banana. We waste our resources instead of harnessing them. We use heavy derivation as a weapon rather than being competitive. We cannot have a Bill Gate without creating innovations and putting incentives in place. Without Apple telephone, maybe you would not have been able to record this conversation. You are armed with modern gadgets; were they made or assembled here? Have they seen the tablet of knowledge and creativity in Aregbesola in Osun. They have not embraced it. He is trying to invest in knowledge and the economy.