Although not likely to have called time on his public service engagement, with his last outing however, Senator Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro is arguably one of the most experienced politicians around. A quintessential Lagos indigene, Obanikoro is a former Lagos Island Local Government Chairman, former Commissioner for Home Affairs in Lagos, former Senator for Lagos Central, former gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in Lagos, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Ghana, two times minister of the republic and former board chairman for Industrial Training Fund. Clearly, he comes to the table with loads of experiences spanning many years. But while sharing his life after power with THISDAY’s Olawale Olaleye and Anayo Okolie, Obanikoro said his God was not done with him yet. In other words, he was still open to more service to his fatherland. He spoke on a wide range of issues including the 2014 controversial Ekiti governorship election, which he insisted Governor Ayodele Fayose won squarely, the crisis in the PDP, his trial by the EFCC and the state of the nation, amongst others. Excerpts:
Since your last public service engagement, how has life treated you?
Well, initially it was quite restful because I went to the USA and got a degree in history. But towards the end, the issue of election funding became a very stormy issue. I had to come home and put that in correct perspective. And so far, it’s been up and down, and as they say, that is what makes life thick.
Just like you mentioned, the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State has been one in which your name has come up in different forms. One, the role you were said to have played in the alleged rigging of Governor Ayo Fayose into office and of course, the arms deal scandal. First, let’s start with the alleged rigging. How do you defend the allegation?
It’s unfortunate that we live in a country where we like to pretend or where we can’t stand up for the truth. This is my Holy Quran (he brought it out and placed his hand on it), I did not participate in any rigging of election in Ekiti State and I did not witness any rigging in Ekiti State. I did this deliberately, because I am a student of history and I will not want to be defined by electoral fraud, which I never participated. If former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi will be honest, he lost that election fair and square.
At the time that election was conducted, the former governor didn’t have any chance of winning the election, because at that point, he had lost the confidence of Ekiti people. I was not there on Election Day contrary to what is being fed to the public. In fact, I represented the former President, Goodluck Jonathan at a basketball function in Lagos and seated next to me was then the commissioner for youths and sports to Lagos State, Oshodi.
He was there beside me throughout on that Election Day, when I was supposed to be in Ekiti rigging election. It is also unfortunate that the young officer recorded an encounter that was misinterpreted. One, what he did was criminal. The young man should have been seriously punished and reprimanded by the military. It’s unfortunate that I am told he has been promoted. What he did was absolutely illegal – recording your minister on tape? I never invited you to come and rig any election. We walked into an altercation between them and Fayose, the then candidate of PDP in Ekiti State.
Fayose was accusing them of colluding with Governor Fayemi to rig him out of the election. We walked into it and as the minister, I felt I should intervene. You can listen to that tape again and you will never hear any portion of it where I said “let’s rig an election” or gave them an instruction that the election should be rigged. No! I never did; that never took place. I listened to the same tape. No rigging ever took place in Ekiti, but people sold their argument of rigging to curry sympathy and maintain an image of a politician, who is still relevant and popular at home, rather than deal with the reality that at the time that election took place, the then governor either rightfully or wrongfully had completely eroded whatever confidence or popularity that he enjoyed when he started his administration, and that was the truth.
Of what importance is Ekiti to me? I never participated in rigging any election in Lagos, why will I go and participate in election rigging in Ekiti State? I have not benefitted either directly or remotely or in any shape or form since Fayose became governor. I didn’t benefit prior to his being governor, so I had no vested interested in Ekiti. My primary and secondary interests were just to help the PDP organise themselves and give us a chance of winning the election. I did the same thing in Osun, but we lost. We didn’t cry any foul, despite the closeness of the election, and nobody will claim in Osun that they were harassed or intimidated by us with the military or anything.
No, we never did. I was there and I left before the election started too. Just the same thing I did in Ekiti, on the eve of the election, I left because staying beyond that will not be justifiable, either in private or within my own conscience too. We must be able to do things that we can defend at anytime.
Are you now saying that a governor who spent four years in office, with the kind of work he was said to have done in Ekiti, could not even win a single local government area?
Well, that even should now show you how unpopular the governor was. There is no way anybody will plot a rigging in the governor’s local government, a sitting governor? You will be insane to do that! If you are looking for victory, you will look for it in a reasonable manner, not in a manner that will rubbish the entire election. If they will be honest, invite anyone of them let them do what I just did. I know you have more Christians than Muslims in Ekiti, let them place their hands and swear by their bibles, if they did not lose that election fair and square.
Let them place their hands on their bible and swear by it, if anyone of them will dare do that. I’m not lying to you. There is nothing wrong in losing an election if we are true democrats and it’s about time that we learnt how to lose gallantly. I lost a gubernatorial election to Fashola, according to INEC. My own personal election and I did not fight anybody. We went to the tribunal, which was the right place to go despite believing that the election was rigged. It was rigged glaringly. Even the total number of votes reported exceeded the actual number of votes counted for the election by 150,000 votes. I did not die. In fact, when the party said we should go for appeal, I said I was not interested; I didn’t participate. I only participated at the tribunal. I didn’t participate in the appeal. So, that is to show you that if my own election, despite my belief that it was heavily rigged, and I didn’t do anything outrageous, why will I go to Ekiti to go and participate in rigging of an election to achieve what? What is there to achieve?
Let’s look at the funding of the election, which was also very controversial, and your alleged involvement in the movement of money supposedly meant for the arms purchase. Was that also cooked up?
Well, I want to say this without any fear that I never participated in moving any money meant for arms purchase. You see, in Nigeria, we politicise everything. I believe certain things should not be politicised. One thing I would say is that, I agree totally with the president that there is need to reconstruct the way we fund our elections. I totally agree and that speaks for all the political parties so that whatever mistakes made in the past are not repeated.
As we stand today, the mistakes of the past are being repeated. We have seen election in Edo, we have seen election in Ondo, they are not different from what we are accustomed to. So, yes, I agree with the president that funding of election must change, tax payers money must not be used to fund election, but there is a golden opportunity now which they are missing that have not been used – to find a more justifiable means of funding election, rather than money coming from government coffers to fund elections. That has to change and that cuts across all the political parties.
So, what role did you play in the probe of the Ekiti election that made the governor think that your return to the country to answer to some of the charges may have been some kind of conspiracy to bring him in?
One thing is for sure, I cannot speak for Fayose and I am not a mind reader but it makes sense to say that he must have made some conclusions within himself to make such pronouncement. Evidently, he does not know who I am, that is why he could say that about me. But the truth of the matter is that, I didn’t make any deal with anybody. I was done with the academic programme that I went for, and after I was done with it, why should I stay outside Nigeria? You will need a lot of money to remain there, and don’t forget, at this age I am no longer employable in the US, so if I am going to live in the US, I must create my own business.
Initially, I thought of consultancy on African affairs, but later I just realised that I was not cut out, even when I was young, I stayed in the US for nine years (1981-1989) and came back home, even as a young boy, is it now when I am a grand-father that I will now go and seat in that cold weather and be doing what? So, I’m not cut out for that kind of life and I figured that coming home and confronting these issues is more honourable than staying away. And the longer you stay away, the more people read all sorts of meaning into it. I just figured out that it’s better to deal with it once and for all and move on with my life, regardless of insinuations from any quarters. I didn’t address my mind to that. My mind was focused on getting myself sorted out within the system in terms of confronting whatever challenges that are there and dealing with them as a man.
Are you free from the allegations?
Well, I am not the one to answer that question. We have to push that question to the EFCC.
Your party, the PDP has suddenly found itself in some kind of irredeemable crisis. Do you share this view?
Well, there is nothing irredeemable in life, it depends on the actors, but fundamental mistakes were made. After we lost the election, the party then should have been restructured. We had about two or three months to do that, but we didn’t address our mind to that, maybe because of the unexpected loss. But immediately after, the governors who ought to have been sober and more reflective chose to tend to personal needs rather than collective needs, because what brought Sheriff was this issue of people wanting to become vice-president. I was told that he promised about two or three different governors that position and that convinced them or made them to suggest to the party that Sheriff should be the chairman of PDP. That was a wrong decision. It was a wrong decision then, it is still a wrong decision now.
The PDP that you see today, does it look like one that can play a major role in 2019 to you?
Well for me, if the history of this country is anything to go by, it will be a tall order. I’m not God. Man proposes, but God disposes. We are planners but the almighty God is the chief planner. We can plan/plot, but if the chief planner/plotter says otherwise, no matter what your plans are, you will definitely fail. But if you ask me to speak to the realities of today in terms of the kind of hole we have dug for ourselves, I would say it is a very tall order and looking at the pattern of elections that we’ve had in the past two years, you will agree with me that as a human being, I can’t say it’s impossible; but it’s close to being impossible.
Since the PDP crisis started, a lot of interventions have been made by different people, but all of them appear to have failed, including the last move by Jonathan, where Sheriff reportedly stormed out of the meeting. Why do you think the interventions have not yielded results?
We have two major camps within PDP now with different agenda. You have one that wants the party to play itself back into reckoning, and you have one that has a responsibility to be an undertaker – to kill the party and bury it. These are the two elements jostling the party, and which side wins will determine what will become of PDP tomorrow. If those who want to bring the party back to reckoning win, then the party has a chance. But if those that we know have been appointed undertakers, have the upper hand at the end of the day, then you can kiss PDP goodbye.
Is the situation in PDP bad enough to push someone like you to another party?
You see, let me tell you, politics is about interest and looking at the Nigerian politics, the older you get, the more reflective you are on things, and I am beginning to think local since all politics is local. I am thinking more local now. Why am I thinking local now? I see my state as a state with an opportunity to show Nigeria what governance is all about through performance and I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the way we are playing our politics today in Nigeria, if we don’t reconstruct and rearrange it, God forbid, we may lose Nigeria too and with that, I am beginning to have a rethink in terms of what national politics mean?
Does it have any meaning? If the federal structure has become a liability rather than an asset to Nigeria, is that where you want to be? That is what federal Republic of Nigeria in the last 50 years has become. In the last 50 years, Nigeria has gradually become a liability rather than an asset. If you look at the level of good that we have enjoyed prior to independence and a few years after independence, they are far more than what we have been able to accomplish in the last 50 years.
The rate at which education was growing at that time, the sky was going to be the beginning for Nigeria. In the last 50 years, we have stunted if not regressed completely – our educational gains completely eroded. In those days, children of the rich and the poor attended the same public schools. I sat in the classroom with the children of Babatunde Jose, Chief Edu and a host of others. We the children of pepper sellers sat in the same classroom with the children of the rich of those days. That is long gone in Nigeria now.
Today, your class determines the calibre of school that you attend, that is the Nigeria you have now and even the standard has fallen drastically. We cannot continue to delude ourselves believing that we are making progress, when we are actually not making any progress. I am beginning to address my mind to more local issues and to see how we can collaborate with the people of like minds to see how we can also be part of the new thinking and the new approach. The new thinking and approach for me is the future of Nigeria.
By the new thinking and approach, I mean that we should restructure Nigeria for the good of everybody. If we have kept a structure for 50 years and we can’t count our blessings as it ought to be, and countries that we started together and were ahead of after independence are now far ahead of us, then something is wrong somewhere and I am convinced that it is the structure of Nigeria that is the cancer eating the country.
You are one of the most experienced politicians or public office holders that this generation has produced given your experience so far, how have these experiences helped to shape your person?
Let me say that coming from my background, and having served in different positions in this country, I have seen it all and that is why I try as much as possible to be guided by this experience, because you know there are productive and non-productive experiences. I want to count mine as productive experiences over time. With that, I can sit here with you and tell you emphatically without mincing words, that if Nigeria does not reconstruct and rearrange itself, we are going to run into issues of monumental proportions, and it is better for us at this stage before we are consumed by all these to do the needful.
Let’s even look at it: the federal structure is so huge and massive that it has become unmanageable. I’m talking to you from experience. How can Nigeria explain managing secondary schools and universities, when we have more fundamental issues of food and security to deal with? I also believe that the fundamental issues of education, agriculture and housing for all can be better managed at the state and local government levels if properly empowered. But I don’t know why we are running away from empowering local government administrators.
In Lagos, we have had the likes of Mayor Olorunibe of blessed memory and so many prominent mayors, who have served Lagos meritoriously, like me and a host of others. I don’t know what we are afraid of, because the more you reduce the local government, the more you reduce the amount of people with interest in serving at that level, and whether we like it or not, that is the closest level of government to the people. If you can empower the local government, it is easier for people to go and compel their chairman to get things done at that level than to even see the governor.
So, the restructuring we are talking about is not only about the federal government, the restructuring must also occur at the state level, but we must have the courage to do it because our future is more important than our yesterday and our today. It is evident from my own experience that most people are interested in keeping power for the sake of keeping power and not because of the value they can add. If it is adding value, when you sit in Abuja, you can tell that you are not reaching the people, except you are deceiving yourself. You can tell that primary health care must be properly given to the local government with the proper wherewithal.
You cannot but admit that even the natural law of justice depicts that if I am the owner of something, I should derive more benefit from it than anybody else in the house since I am the owner. These are things that when you run away from natural justice, it will come back, hunt, fight and make nonsense of anything you are doing. You might think that you have the power to suppress or do anything, but the essence of power I believe from experience is adding value.
What do you gain when you reduce or demean an individual or humanity? Because I have power over you, I will reduce you to nothing! That is not the essence of government; the essence of government is to make me a better human being, add value to my life and make it meaningful. But when you can no longer achieve that, the essence of governance has been defeated and I think that as an average public office holder, we should begin to look at things from this perspective.
One, all of us can work towards reducing government in people’s lives, and two, returning power to the people in the true sense of it. And then when we do this honestly, naturally things will improve, because this idea of not being responsible to nobody is what is killing governance in Nigeria; the civil society and the public are so docile now that it is as if everyone is happy, only to go home and complain. All of us must participate, even if people are shying away from participation, we must find a way to hold them back to be part of it. That is the only way we can have the best. You cannot just sit back and say as long as it does not affect me everybody can go to hell. We must be our brother’s keeper and these are the things that I have seen from experience; the tendency for an average Nigerian to look out for themselves is not prominent rather than to look out for all of us.
In what ways are you giving back or have you given back to the society with your many years of experience in public service?
Let me start from my local government administration. If you go and check the record, I, Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro was the first local government chairman in Lagos Island to visit all the primary schools in Lagos Island. I did not just visit for the sake of visitation, I went there to experience what our children were going through, and when I got to those schools, I saw schools in Lagos Island where children sat on bare floor, classrooms without blackboard, teachers without teaching aids. I saw these live, and within months we corrected all that.
How can our children sit on bare floor? We immediately corrected all that within three months. It is also on record that I introduced the payment of JSS3 WAEC fees for all the children in school, because as at the time I was chairman, we were trying to find out how the children were faring, with the JSS3 examination. In the course of this interaction, we discovered that almost half of the pupils were unable to pay for the JSS3 examination; so, immediately I got back to the office, we signed and approved payments and made it mandatory subsequently.
At that time, also, I saw that the bursary award for students was around 5000 naira per student and they were given either given 250 or 500naira. All these I increased by 100%. The bursary was increased to 10,000naira, while the other one was increased to either 500 or 1,000 naira, for it to be more meaningful. We did not stop at that, in order to bring government closer to the people, we must had more area councils, local government and area offices within Lagos Island.
We added two additional area offices: Epetedo and Campus area, so that we can bring government closer to the people. That, we did because we realised that we had only one headquarter, which is the city hall. If you can’t come to the city hall, you can’t interact with government. That is not how to govern. So, that I expanded and I am glad to say that within the period we were there, interaction with the community improved, and we were able to uncover a number of bad roads, collapsed and non-functional drainage system, with our offices functional there. We had more interaction with the people and were able to alleviate some of their major challenges, particularly in the area of drainage system, because Lagos Island is always a messy place with flood during the raining season and even up till today, but we were able to resolve and minimize the sufferings to ensure that the drainages were flowing and we created new ones, where we’ve had collapse and where we had non-existing drainage system.
Beyond that is also the fact that when I became chairman, there was a day that I was coming to the office that I saw a long queue at the council. At first, I was scared, upon asking why the queue was there, I was told that they were there to receive their monthly salaries. There and then, I said to myself that such will not happen in my office again. I immediately opened account for all the staff of the local government with People’s Bank of those days, because they had office at the city hall, and that also helped us to reduce ghost workers, since ghost workers could not open account in banks.
We drastically with that effort alone reduced ghost workers and in turn, I also created other avenues for the local government to generate revenue. We also introduced stock market at that time. It was very buoyant and council made quite some money and I am sure those investments are still there as we speak today. I built two libraries to stimulate and encourage the reading culture. I also built two police posts and health centres. These are some of the modest achievements that we made at that time.
As a commissioner, the record is also there. I introduced the idea of creating fire station in every local government and also creating a training facility (I was commissioner for home affairs and culture), where all fire fighters can be regularly trained to be on top of their responsibilities, and then during my tenure, I acquired water tanks for the fire service and we also acquired some gadgets that enabled fire service men to go into a fire scene with a fire resistance suit, oxygen suit and what have you, for protection to save lives.
Those things were acquired under my watch, and one thing that I did that I will never forget, when you talk about black heritage festival in Lagos, it was myself and Gbajabiamila that put it together and the record is also there that we succeeded in bringing in about 17 mayors from the US for the first black heritage festival in Badagry that year, because I used my contacts when I was mayor of Lagos to get those mayors from the US to attend that festival. Part of my responsibility was also Hajj operation. When I got in, we realised that people were spending days in the banks before procuring travellers cheques for Hajj operations. I ended that in my first year.
Religious wise, I was able to avert crisis that would have bordered on ethnic and religious issues because those were part of my responsibilities and the relationship I kept with all the ethnic groups in Lagos then was neatly done that I was trusted by all. Any incident, I would get a call and before it gets out of hand, we would have been able to stay on top of them. Throughout my tenure there was no single issue of such. I will also give credit to the governor (Bola Tinubu), because anytime there was any trace of any religious or ethnic issue that could lead to crisis, once I called his attention to it, he never ever waivered, he gave me more than 100% support to avert it.
Then whenever any of the ethnic nationalities wanted to see the governor, I was always the point guy and we were able to facilitate that seamlessly. That I would say to a large extent is an achievement I am very proud of for being able to have an ethnic/religious crisis-free society. I am really proud of that accomplishment, hence when we celebrate Lagos, these are some of the things that have made Lagos what it is today, because if we had encouraged or paid lip service to ethnic/religious issues, Lagos probably will not be as peaceful as it is today.
Those who succeeded us took a cue from what we did, and that is why today, we can call Lagos the land of peace, freedom, wealth and land of anything that is positive. It didn’t just happen, we created it.
As a Senator, it is also on record that the first person to raise a motion on the floor of the Senate, asking for a special status for Lagos was me. Despite the hostile responses that we got, we pushed the motion through the Senate and the records are there for us to see. It is also on record that I remain the only Senator that raised a bill to end casualisation of labour in Nigeria. It has resulted in the slavery that we have today. Our children are being enslaved by employers of labour or how do you explain somebody being a casual worker for 8-10 years? As we speak today, we still have that and it is slavery; it is a reverse form of slavery and it is still very prominent today and unfortunately we left the Senate before it got to its 3rd reading. I also pushed for the recertification of fuel pump every year, because I realized Nigerians were being swindled of several millions through manipulation of the fuel pump.
I successfully moved a motion to help Lagos deal with the ocean surge that became a perennial challenge to us. If you also recall, we had all African sports festival in Abuja, and the velodrome got spoilt when there was a storm and for almost two years, they didn’t go back to fix it. It was my motion on the floor of the Senate that got the velodrome back. I raised the motion at first, nothing happened. I came back again with a follow-up because I realised that some people were profiting from it.
How can we do something and within a year a storm destroys it, something that we used hundreds of millions of tax payers’ money to erect and then the contractor would not go back to site to correct it? They were going to get away with it, but I ensured that they didn’t and it was repaired. I also carried out several empowerment programmes within the state – the Isale Eko and Ijora to be precise – and any issue that affected our people, we took so seriously that our office was always available.
One of the things that I took up strongly was the issue of federal character. I recognised that the efficiency in employment as far as federal character was concerned is huge and it is criminal the way it is today. You can’t explain why our state is as it is today – underrepresented in all federal ministries and agencies, while some states are overrepresented. This issue I took very seriously, but unfortunately I spent only one term and that is one of the reasons continuity at the National Assembly is also very key, because the longer you are there, the more effective you become and you will have sufficient time to deal with those issues that are very fundamental to the unity of Nigeria. You can’t justify why some states are heavily represented and some states are not represented. We have a commission called the Federal Character Commission, yet this injustice is still left unattended.
As an Ambassador, I did a lot. I completely turned around the image of Nigeria. If you go to Ghana today, I am highly celebrated. Is it the former President Kuffor, Mahama or even the present President Nana Kuffor Ado? If I start beating my drum, people would say, what do you want him to do? But anybody you speak to will attest to the service we rendered in Ghana. No Nigerian businessman in Ghana will speak ill of me, because I fought for them at every given opportunity and I left my door opened for everybody regardless of your community. No discrimination in my office. We attended to everybody and we dealt with Nigerian issues throughout.
One of our programmes was the Ghana/Nigerian business summit, that was held yearly and before I left, we included Togo, but unfortunately those who came after me couldn’t sustain it. I was doing it then with Otunba Ajayi, who is now a king in Osun State. We partnered him for four years to ensure we promoted Nigerian businesses and we also tried to open Nigerian market to Ghanaians through that platform and we did that for four years successfully together.
After I left, I did not hear of it, so evidently those who succeeded me did not continue with it, and our presence in Ghana was felt even amongst Nigerian students there, because there were so many issues affecting Nigerian students and businesses, particularly small scale business. We met on ground this 300,000 minimum capital investment requirement put in place by the Ghanaian government for small businesses. We got them to show concern for Nigerian business. I didn’t know what the situation was but we were not able to resolve it.
I would say that Nigeria as a country shouldn’t have allowed Ghana to enact such a law or laws, because we should have been pro-active. If we had followed it before it became law, I’m sure the Ghanaian government would have given us a fair hearing, knowing the kind of collaborative relationship that we have had over the years. I think while that law was going through the parliament and signed by the president, we were not there. Whoever was there probably didn’t pay attention to it or didn’t know about it before it was passed into law.
That is the more reason that diplomatically, we need to be more alive to what is happening around us, even till today, there are things going on within the West African community that are not aligned to the interest of Nigeria. But if we don’t pay sufficient attention to some of these things, it will come back to hunt our businesses and citizens because we have invested and we still invest a lot in West Africa. They say he who pays the piper, dictates the tune, but in our own case, we just spend like a prodigal son without thinking of tomorrow and the interest of our citizens.
Two things: the issue of the City Hall fire incident, and as minister, you were said to have positioned yourself as opposition to the Lagos State Government, such that you didn’t enhance development of the state?
As chairman, the fire incident happened of which I was not even there when it happened. The then governor set up a panel of enquiry headed by a Lagosian like me, the late Engr. Piero. He was the one that sat over that body. Alhaji Babatunde, who later became Head of Service, was a part of the panel that investigated it and they said it was an electrical connection that caused the fire incident, as a result of power surge. It is a common occurrence in Nigeria. Unfortunately, that structure was old and we didn’t have the capacity to deal with that kind of emergency.
One, the Fire Service Lagos State got there and there was no water. It took about 4-5 hours to get water. You can imagine the kind of damage that would have been done. It was simply too little too late. And the incident, I repeat myself, only affected the chairman’s office. Records and vouchers of payments are not kept in chairman’s office. The incident didn’t affect the treasurer’s office, the strong room where vouchers are kept, the secretary to the government’s office where records are kept, so it was politically correct for the opposition to use it against me.
As chairman, I usually get to my office before 7am to clear up everything on my desk, so there was no file in my office that got burnt. It only affected the chairman’s side and the council chambers, where the councilors sit for business, as you know you can see the senate floor and the House of Reps floor, so if there is a fire incident there, no file will be burnt because it is just an open place where the council men sit and the gallery there for those who want to observe their sitting. People now took that to mean that we set the place ablaze to cover up. Cover up what? Then the maximum we were getting from the federal government was about six million naira, and they don’t give us cash. The money goes to the bank.
The highest contract awarded under me as a council chairman was about 700,000 naira, so I will raze the council down because of 700,000 naira? It doesn’t make any sense. It didn’t make any sense then, so everything said about it was just political. It was politically convenient for them to use it to tarnish my image before the public and unfortunately a lot of people bought that hook, line and sinker, but there was nothing to it.
On the issue of minister obstructing the progress of Lagos, there is no place that is dear to me more than Lagos. There is no way I will stand in the way of progress for Lagos. I am a Lagos person – die hard and proud one at that. I was minister for seven months don’t forget. Somebody had worked for seven years before I became a minister, how could I have possibly obstructed the job that started in 2007, while I became a minister in 2014? So you can see that it was also political.
My issue with that development remains the same. You cannot build low income housing for the poor close to the water front, given the issue of flood and our lack of capacity to deal with it. If you go to that place today, the only entrance to the place is through the express, when you build a 3,000 housing unit for an African, you are building for 30,000 people. If you go to that place now, there is no infrastructure to support that place – no clinic, no hospital or even schools – nothing.
Even the settlement before then, Lagos Island, that has been there for hundreds of years does not have infrastructure in place for citizens there. If you go on the street of Lagos Island now, you will cry at its level of decay, particularly in the Isale Eko area and you are talking about building on the other side across and if you look at Jakande estate, it has become a ghetto, which I believe that a serious government ought to have attended to all that rather than creating another mess near them. That is to show that my reservation about the project was not misplaced, I still believe that there is no justification even up till tomorrow for that development there, and that was the only thing I said.
I only went there to see what they were doing there, and they said I went there with soldiers to disrupt the work they were doing there, but there was nothing like that. I didn’t even interact with them. The said soldiers didn’t even enter there with me as I went in there with only my orderly and we didn’t even say a word to people working there. They cannot claim that I talked to them. I deliberately did not interact with them so that they will go and quote me out of context, yet they went on air saying I was against them.
So, how can I block the progress in Lagos? I have no other place to call home than Lagos. What I cannot enhance, I will never disrupt. I would rather enhance rather than disrupt the development of Lagos. I think that was an issue turned political for obvious political gains. I was on point with the observations that I raised, and those observations still remain valid.
With your achievements, are there things you still seek to accomplish?
As a Muslim, we dream, we have ambition but all that we always put in the hands of God. Like any other human being, yes I have my dreams and ambitions but like a responsible person, I moderate myself. I try to reflect on possibilities. Once you keep yourself in check, once you can always moderate yourself and what you stand for. That way, I believe you will never fail.
Within that context, whatever it is, let me say this with all sense of modesty that whatever it is that I have achieved today, I didn’t consciously set out to achieve them when I set out in 1990/91 in my political journey. In fact, I never wanted to be an Ambassador, when I was given I rejected it. It took the intervention of Ambassador Gana Kingibe, the late President Yar’Adua and to a large extent, our former party chairman, Sen. Ahmadu Ali, for me to accept to be an Ambassador.
As for the ministerial position, nobody plans to be a minister. You can plan to be nominated but it is the president, who will decide whether he wants you or not. I was nominated the first time, but I ended up becoming an Ambassador instead. However, I became a minister the second and third time of nomination. But as for me planning to be a minister, it is a no. Yes, I planned to be governor twice and it didn’t happen, so I have accepted God’s verdict.
I can’t fight God. You just have to pull yourself together and move on with your life. I thank God for what he has done in my life – me that was selling stool, when I was in school to become former this and former that – I give all the glory to God and I believe the good Lord is not done with me yet. I don’t know in what capacity I am going to serve, I don’t have a blind ambition and I am not interested in fighting any battle that is not constructive or that is meaningless. I am wise enough to know what is reasonable and what is not. I also want to dedicate my life towards the restructuring of Nigeria. I am committed to that.
When you look at the current political convolution, what can you make of the situation?
As we say, God is a Nigerian. We have been in worse situation and all the pundits will come out and pontificate the number of things and at the end of the day, it will come out wrong. If you look at the land scape now, you will be saying that there will be 3-4 political parties that will spring out of the situation. All those calculations may amount to nothing at the end of the day, because God has a way of intervening. Nobody could have predicted the outcome/aftermath of 2015 election. People were scared that they were even leaving the country, but nothing happened; everything went on smoothly and perfectly, thanks to the then President Jonathan for conceding the election.
So, for me to sit here even as a cabinet member, if somebody had asked me what my reaction will be if my party lost the election, I couldn’t have correctly predicted it. But the president showed the signs of wise counsel, wisdom, maturity and vision because it takes a visionary leader to do what he did. You have to look beyond your immediate to take that kind of decision. Those who live in present time will never have taken such a decision. It takes people who live beyond the day to make such sacrifice and I want to commend him for that.
So, I believe going down, so many things will happen. The political situation is so murky that you can’t see below right now. I don’t like to make political predictions that I cannot look at the factors that will play out in making such predictions, because nobody will honestly in good conscience tell you that this is how things will play out. It is that murky. There are so many things that after the president took over office people will say they did not know that’s how it would play out.
Things are unfolding at an unprecedented and alarming rate. If somebody had told me that at some point, the governors will just hand over the PDP to one person, who will come and destroy it, I will say no. I thought it was a political issue that we could politically resolve but other factors crept in and it has gone out of hand now. So, you can see that you have to be very careful in making political projections and calculations in this country. I think our environment is as stable as our own faculty right now.
Can you say the APC has justified the trust reposed in it?
You mean APC as a party? The jury is still out!
Do you think the party would have done better given what it met on the ground when it assumed office?
With the benefit of doubt even numerous APC chieftains have come out to admit. Okorocha, the Governor of Imo State recently came out to apologise to Nigerians that they have seen the mistakes they made and that they are willing to correct those mistakes. You look at some of the steps that Vice-President Osibanjo took while acting in assuaging the feelings in the South-south, southern Kaduna and South-east, you can see that if that had started from the beginning of this administration, the kind of restiveness that we have seen in these areas probably would not have been.
There are some mistakes that were also made. We can also argue whether it was just human error or deliberate. I would take the side of human error, because I don’t believe that President Buhari will deliberately want to hurt Nigerians, but certain mistakes were made and I see that they are also struggling to correct those mistakes. The initial policy on the naira-dollar exchange was a bit faulty at the beginning, but I think with time they have been trying to make amendments and correct that. We saw some improvements a little while ago, but it is sliding back again now and I believe that all this can be overcome.
So, on the issue of promoting ourselves, you don’t knock yourself no matter how bad you are outside. We can knock ourselves inside but not outside. It is not good for us because the amount of money we spend on image building. We cannot be our own ambassadors; it will amount to creating more problems for ourselves. I will say this: Nigeria cannot be as bad as some Asian countries. I don’t want to be particular. Some Asian countries that are being celebrated today have more criminals there than Nigeria.
About two days ago, I heard that North Korean people hacked into our banking system, if it were to be Nigerians that did that the whole world would have been shouting alleluia and the noise would have gone viral. I am even surprised that nobody is talking about it today. If you look at some of these foreigners in Nigeria too, they are committing serious crimes against our country and people, yet we are not talking about it.
While you will see Nigerians swallowing drugs, these people smuggle drugs outside Nigeria in containers yet they will never openly condemn themselves. It is only in Nigeria that we openly condemn ourselves. We ought to knock ourselves here and defend ourselves outside. These are some of the mistakes that we make, and I have seen concerted efforts to correct them, because these days the president doesn’t knock anybody anymore; he doesn’t use foreign platform to roll out policy statements anymore and it is good.
I believe that he must have settled down to the realities of today and seeing the power of the social media and all these new technologies that are being deployed as means of information dissemination. You can see more caution in the way things are done and in the way pronouncements are made now. I guess sometimes there are things that you would learn on the job. You must give somebody a chance to learn. You have to crawl before you walk. Those are some of the things that I have seen, but I always believe that there is always room for improvement in any human endeavour.
Lastly, what factors do you reckon were responsible for PDP’s loss in the 2015 election?
In my own estimation, when you look at that loss from the stand point of 2015, you will miss it. We lost the election from the time Baba (former President Olusegun Obasanjo) handed over government. It was a gradual thing, we didn’t lose overnight. At every election, we were losing something and what we were losing was more than what we were gaining. So, by the time we got to 2015, the ethnic colouration in Nigeria had gotten to a crescendo, issues had gotten to another level completely and people played up ethnic/religious issues to the point that it was even difficult for the PDP to campaign in the north.
Not for anything but ethnic/religious grounds and it became difficult for even some Christians to come out to vote on Election Day for religious reasons. So, if you try to explain it in isolation of these facts, you will miss the point. There are other factors too, but these are more fundamental. You ask yourself, why didn’t the president win in the South-east and South-south? Why did the president win in the North East, North West and North Central overwhelmingly? Then you will now begin to see the reasons for my conclusion.