At the age of six, shortly after his father passed on in 1945, he had lost hope in his education pursuit until luck smiled on him when his mother and stepfather, a year after he dropped out of school, took up the responsibility and re-enrolled him. The boy, from Igbogbo, in Ikorodu, Lagos State later succeeded in life and became a force to reckon with. Asiwaju Reuben Olorunfunmi Basorun rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Director, Domestic Operations with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and subsequently, Secretary to the Lagos State Government and Commissioner for Education under Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first Executive Governor of Lagos State between 1979 and 1983. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, Basorun, the pioneer Lagos State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) casts back his mind on the intrigues which led to his expulsion from the PDP and his subsequent defection to the Action Congress (AC), that later metamorphosed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and internal democracy within the APC, among others
Who is Olorunfunmi Basorun?
Olorunfunmi Basorun has in addition, the first name, Reuben which my father loved very much. Reuben Olorunfunmi Basorun was born here in Igbogbo, Ikorodu on Saturday, October 15, 1938 to Albert Adewamiwa Ogunmuyiwa and Abigail Bosede Olowu. Ogunmuyiwa died in November 1944 and Abigail Bosede, my mother, had to be betrothed in accordance with native’s custom to Yusuf Adeniji Basorun, who was an Uncle of Albert Adewamiwa Ogunmuyiwa. I started schooling here in Igbogbo at Methodist in 1944, because my mother was the daughter of Iya Ijo of Methodist Church. And the Catechist, then had influence in requesting that her children or grandchildren should start schooling on time. But when my father died the following year, the school matter closed and I had to be moved with my mother to my stepfather in Lagos in 1945. But I did not resume school until 1946 in Agege Central District School, where I can say now, I started my primary school. In those days, you would pass from primary 1A to primary 1B, before going to primary 2 and because of my previous knowledge in Igbogbo, I moved from primary 1A to primary 2. So, in 1947, I was in primary 2 and in 1948 I was in Standard 1. Again, I had to move, because my mother moved from Agege, where my stepfather was. I came back in Igbogbo on September 1, 1948 in Standard 1, which was in vogue, then. So, I completed my Standard 1 here in Igbogbo and moved to Standard 2 in 1949 at Methodist Primary School, Igbogbo. Because Igbogbo had the highest number of pupils in the primary school then and the only primary school in Igbogbo was Methodist and when I passed examination to Standard 3 I had to move to Ikorodu Methodist School, Ita-Elewa, Ikorodu. And in 1950, I was in Methodist School, Ita-Elewa, Ikorodu in Standard 3 and I read my Standard 4 there, before that school moved to Eturenren in 1952, also in Ikorodu. So, I completed my Standard 5 at Eturenren in 1952, before again I moved at my mother’s request to Lagos. And I went to another Methodist School at Tinubu, Lagos Island to do Standard 6. And from there, I completed my primary education. From the background you have seen, I lost my father very early and it was my mother and stepfather, who struggled to bring me up. So, I had to do some petty businesses, like selling ‘ogi’ (pap) on Sundays, hawking ‘ogi’ for my grandmother, selling kerosene and other things after school, before I raised two and six, which was 25 kobo then. I raised the money to buy form for an entrance examination into one secondary school, Eko Boys’ High School. And as God would have it, and out of 64 students that were admitted in 1954 at Eko Boys’ High School, I happened to be one. So, I entered Eko Boys’ High School in 1954 and left in 1958 and sat for the West African School Certificate (WASCE).
As I had finished the WASCE in those days, officials from the Ministry of Labour came to ask for interest in various organisations and I showed interest in three, but the fourth one, which I showed interest in and where I eventually worked was Central Bank of Nigeria, but that one was not organised by the Ministry of Labour. The Central Bank of Nigeria was established in September 1958 and they were going round secondary schools to recruit, so the General Manager – designate, then came to our school with another officer to recruit. The condition was whoever would pass in Grade 2 and would have credit in Mathematics and English Language. Our class teachers, after considering records, chose four of us and eventually we were employed. And we resumed duty at the Central Bank of Nigeria on January 5, 1959. The other three, Albert Babatunde Layemo (he is a practising lawyer now), Monsurudeen Adeniyi Adetoro (he is of blessed memory. He died about four years ago. He rose to the level of Currency Director. He signed the currency, while still with the bank, while I left very early) and the fourth of us was Gbolahan Jinadu, who became a Federal High Court judge and rose to the Acting Chief Judge in the Federal High Court, but died last year. So, two of us, Babatunde Layemo and I are still alive. In the bank, there were competitions in order to meet up and many of us did private studies. In the private studies and in 1967, I passed the Institute of Bankers examination and I was appointed an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers. In 1968, I also passed the final examination of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and I was appointed Associate. But while I was expecting the result of that one I enrolled at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos in 1968 to read Business Administration. I ought to complete this programme in 1973, because it was a five-year programme, but my employer, CBN, transferred me out of Lagos for two years and the University was good enough to allow me, to complete the course when I came back in 1974. So, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Business Administration in 1975 at the University of Lagos and I rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Director, Domestic Operations in June 1979. While at the bank, I also got elevated to become a Fellow, Chartered institute of Bankers in 1977. In 1979, when the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) won the state elections and Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was elected governor of Lagos State, he invited me to come and be Secretary of that government. And I resumed on October 2, 1979, as Secretary to the State Government (SSG), thus terminating my employment at the Central Bank of Nigeria. But the organisation saw me retiring and so, I retired and became a pensioner. So, I was in government with Alhaji Jakande for four years, first term and only he was elected for the second term and October 10, 1983 and he appointed me Commissioner for Education. We were there, before the present President, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), then Head of State and others staged a coup and we were asked to go on December 31, 1983.
You lost your father very early and his name was Albert Adewamiwa Ogunmuyiwa. Why are you bearing Basorun, as surname, and not Ogunmuyiwa?
I told you my mother was betrothed to Yusuf Adeniji Basorun, my uncle. He happened to be literate and he discovered that our great grandfather was Basorun and that he convinced my mother that, it was the same thing that I should change my name. If you check records in Igbogbo here, I am Ogunmuyiwa and that was how when he was enrolling me in school in Agege, I was eight years old, and he put in Basorun. My mother protested and in fact, my grandmother intervened, because apart from changing the surname, he wanted to rename me from Reuben to Rafiu, but my mother protested that one. She protested “His father named him Reuben and you can’t make him a Muslim.”
Didn’t you have an opportunity to benefit from free education in the Western region at that time?
I didn’t benefit. I didn’t benefit from free education, because free education started in 1955 and in 1954 I was already in secondary school. It hadn’t even been extended to secondary schools. When the free education programme started in 1955 I had already left primary education. Indeed, in 1955 when I was in form 2 at Eko Boys’ High School I came to Igbogbo to do labour, to build one of the schools Chief Obafemi Awolowo gave us here in a town called Agunfoye. In Agunfoye, we have three of them. We have Agunfoye Idirogbo, that is where Chief Awolowo built the primary school. We have Agunfoye Lantan and also, we have Agunfoye Gege-Nla. Gege-Nla is the Agunfoye of my grandfather. My grandfather’s name is Adepari Dada Paramole. Because Gege-Nla was older and Gege-Nla bore the name of the village and those people living in the village know that these two persons founded Agunfoye village. As a result, I was part of the labour that built the primary school and that primary school at Agunfoye Idirogbo is still there today and beside it, part of the development of the land acquired for that school has been taken over by the Federal government and they had already built a Federal Government Girls’ College there in Agunfoye, Idirogbo.
You once worked at the CBN and rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Director, Domestic Operations. How did you come in contact with Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande who appointed you as Secretary to the State Government? Were you playing politics while still in active service of the CBN?
At that level, I was in charge of currency operations throughout Nigeria. In my days, I would say in the early 60s, I was very much involved in community matters, particularly, 1963, 1964 and 1965. Even when I was on transfer, I came back here to do community work. It was through community work that Alhaji Jakande discovered and invited me to be attending meetings of ‘committee of friends’. The call was in 1974. So, I was part of the ‘committee of friends’ that gradually transformed into UPN in 1978. That was how we met. Indeed, he discovered that I had written a term paper at the University of Lagos for my degree programme on ‘rural development ‘ and so, he gave me an assignment to write a paper on how Lagos State Government could use the Co-operatives to transform the rural population. And a bit of was done during his term.
Having spent most of your life as politician, why haven’t you encouraged any of your children to step into your shoe?
Politics is a vocation and it is better joined voluntarily than getting anybody being invited. They have the options of becoming politicians and as they were growing and I was guiding them. My son for an instance, took the profession I wanted to be. I wanted to be an engineer when I left Eko Boys’ High School, because I was very good in Additional Mathematics and in fact, my second name was Add Maths/dash, because I loved mathematics so much. So, I got all my children involved in Mathematics and I think, my son had the idea that I wanted to be an engineer. So, he is an engineer. He became an engineer in 1989. My first daughter who is next to him, she is a Medical Doctor. She became a doctor in 1992 and my last child is also an engineer, a chemical engineer. The first one, the boy is an electrical/electronic engineer. The lady who is my last daughter graduated in 1997 as chemical engineer and the two of them have married and they are with their husbands. But my son is still very much around with me and he shares area of my views and stands firmly with me in the church. He is a Most Senior Apostle in my Church where I am the Head, Baba Aladura.
Looking at the quality of education during your time as a commissioner for education and what obtains now, how will you compare the two?
I stayed only three months in education ministry, but the quality of education at that time was a function of many things, the quantum of services that were facing government, the quantum of work that government had to do and then, how many people were educated? How many universities did we have? But if you want to compare it now, it is a lot of work. Some say the standard has fallen, while others say the standard has not fallen. I would say relatively, no standard has fallen. It is a relative matter and indeed, it is a function of how those involved are handling it. Let’s start with the parents. Even when I left government, all my children had to do morning tests before going to schools. I was always telling my children, thus: “If you want to do JAMB and I am still good in Mathematics and you must pass my own”. So, I was doing that and that should be from the parents’ side. Some parents do, while others don’t do, but to just throw their children into private schools, where they pay a lot of money and the private schools are not giving out what we want, because they don’t pay their teachers, as well. Then, the school system itself, the seriousness with which government is taking the school system is worrisome. That time what we were doing all these ‘poultry shed’ and all the rest, but today now you can see the difference. A lot was done from the School Management Board (SMB) to School Management Committee (SMC), because we had different issues to address. We had six Permanent Secretaries, for instance in Lagos State, managing six districts looking after the schools. All these ones, a lot has to be done by training and re-training of teachers, before the children can have good education. The other one, I have said it, is the parents, because we never heard students being involved in cultism, but it is a very common thing now and it is still baffling me, why should any child spill blood in order to join a group? Has he seen it with his parents or why?
When the new civilian dispensation came in 1999 and you pitched tent with the PDP and became the pioneer Chairman of the party in the state. Why didn’t you join the progressive elements who went to AD and were also in Afenifere?
That is a term I do not bother myself with, who are the progressive elements? We had them in the AD and also, many of them were there in NRC. To start with me, why I was not there. Naturally, I would have gone with certain people like Bola Tinubu and others, because we were together in the SDP. But when we were in SDP we had a group towards the end of Babangida’s term under the leadership of Late Shehu Yar’Adua and in fact in 1994, that grouped transformed into what we called Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM). So, we were a group and I belonged to that group with Dapo Sarumi and others. When in 1999, after Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar had broadcast the lifting on the ban on partisan politics and we met. We decided that we would all go into a political party and at that time, parties were not based on ideologies, but I would say people were basically looking for who could win elections and we all went. Even those who formed AD were with us. Late Chief Bola Ige was with us, because he was the one, who first of all wrote our draft constitution for that party. But the day we were going to consider the draft constitution, name the party at MUSON Centre, Lagos Island and I think that was on August 26, 1998 and Chief Ige didn’t come. And when emissaries were sent to him he gave reasons why he would not be part of the thing again. And that was how he left and he went to form AD with Chief Ayo Adebayo and others, but we remained there that day, with few other people. And we looked for a presidential person and we couldn’t get a civilian and we had to pick on an ex-soldier, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and he became the President. Dapo Sarumi wanted to be the Lagos State Governorship candidate and me, as the State Chairman of the party and we made sure he became the candidate, but he lost to Bola Tinubu, but I still remained there.
Until the end of the second tenure of Obasanjo, many things had happened to me in the PDP, at a time expelled and I had to write a 60-page appeal to be reinstated on March 16, 2006. When I was reinstated and worked for the party, those who reinstated me disagreed with me in 2007 general elections, because when Funsho Williams died, a school of thought believed the wife should step into his shoe. I asked, “how can an Ijaw woman become Governor in Lagos? So, all of us decided to back Musiliu Obanikoro, who eventually emerged as the PDP governorship candidate in Lagos State to face the successor of Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Raji Fashola, in that election. Fashola defeated him and after the election, several things happened and some people grouped together to expel me. The group now broke into two and they were now fighting, some people were luring me to be in one side of the two groups and I said, “I was in that place, because of the principle of PDM, because PDM was almost fading away. Why should I remain there? I am a politician from Lagos and I am not participating actively or benefiting anything. My community is not benefitting from the politics of Lagos too”. That was the first reason I decided not to run into any political party, but let me resign. So, I resigned and I refused to join the two camps then that were operating. I think a month or two later, I joined Action Congress (AC), which later transformed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and All Progressives Congress (APC) and I was warmly welcome. It was a very big ceremony, which was held for me and since then, I have remained in the APC. The people, progressives, progressives and all I know is, as we are going now we would probably be able to define those who belong to the right, those who belong to the left and all along everybody belongs to the same group, because they are all capitalist in approach. But the word, ‘capitalist’ or socialism, the two words are from the west and they are no longer applicable there. Everybody now is after ‘welfarism’, the welfare of our people. Even the US, who we call the ‘chief of capitalism’ or when in Britain they break into two, we talk of ‘Conservative’ and we talk of ‘Labour’ are concerned about the welfare of their citizens. Even the Conservatives, their concern is welfare for the people. In Nigeria, if we in the APC are working hard for the welfare of the people, then we are opposed to those who do not believe, at least, with the events we have seen in the few months those people will not believe in the welfare of the people.
Have you contested for any political office since you joined partisan politics?
I contested, but I lost. Let me tell you, I wanted to be Senator in 1992 on SDP platform. During the primaries, I lost to Sen. Anthony Adefuye and he eventually became our candidate and he won. During Abacha era, we had UNCP and we had DPN. I was in DPN and the UNCP candidate for this area was Adeseye Ogunlewe and I was the candidate for DPN. We went to the poll and I lost. So, I had contested. Then, the governorship in 2002, I came out and I wanted to be governor. I worked very hard and did everything, but there was a general orchestration by some people that Funsho Williams had been cheated somewhere and he just had to be governor that time. We all went into it and those of us who were not in the right camp were pushed aside. When the primaries was held and it was Funsho Williams that won. In fact, I had accident during the campaign. I was having ‘plaster of paris’ on my left leg when Williams came to ask for my support and I gave it to him. I took him round Ikorodu in an open vehicle as a party man. If he didn’t win and it would not be because we failed to support him. These were the three occasions that I tried my hands but I didn’t contest for this one, ‘Baba Aladura’ headship and I got it. I became Baba Aladura of my Church, succeeding my predecessor in that office. I have given you in a chronological form how I spent my life of the day. In 1959, I went to C&S and I remained there until the Head of the Church, which I belong to, Gospel Church of Cherubim and Seraphim died in November 2003. And by the Constitution of the Church, I being the next person and having nothing disabling me, was appointed the Head. But they gave me five years to pray, before they enthroned me. On November 18, 2008, the fourth day after my 70th Birthday, I was installed as Baba Aladura, the Spiritual head of Gospel Church of Cherubim and Seraphim and I have remained there since. I enjoy being there and that was what I referred to as, “I lost all the elections, but where I didn’t contest an election and I got it on a platter of gold”.
Within your party, is there internal democracy?
Yes, if anybody has doubt the first elections were held last year and all of you witnessed from the House of Assembly to the President and we had primaries. Even if my own, in the party, would not let me see what happened, then and everything that happened from my own constituency, Constituency 2 in Ikorodu, where the incumbent was my candidate for the first term, was rejected to go for the second term during the primaries, which was under transparent atmosphere. When the second term came the people decided she would not go again and they had their way. With all my influence, with all my talking to them, the votes cast were even disastrous, 340 against 69. So, I told them it was the decision of you, people that should prevail. So, there is internal democracy. Look at the Presidential primaries, when we went to the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, with our governors and everything was done free, fair and transparent. I believe there is and I wish and I hope it continues, because it is going to help us. It however discouraged rifts that would have arisen. There would have been chaos here and there, but those who lost and saw how they lost, whether they like it or not, have just kept quiet. Some of them have been given appointments, like a lady, who lost in my constituency and she is now a Special Adviser to the Governor. We just have to surrender to that internal democracy and it helps a lot.