The former Minister of State for Defence and former Senator of Lagos Central Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro who recently defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC) in an interview with him penultimate Friday in Lagos spoke on why he returned to the progressives fold, views on Ambode’s achievements, relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and a host of other germane issues. Please enjoy excerpt from the interview:
Lagos Panorama: Sir, our readers would appreciate an introduction of you in your own words. This will be apt as a self-opinion of self.
Obanikoro: I don’t usually like to introduce myself beyond anything than my name is Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro and I’ll leave it at that.
Watchers of political happenings in Lagos and, indeed, Nigeria for some time now are in agreement that you have a formidable political force. Please give us an insight into your political school and your political ascendancy over time.
Well, let me say that my coming into politics was not accidental at all. It was planned, orchestrated to add value to society. I studied Public Affairs with concentration in Administration of Justice in my bachelor’s degree and Public Administration with Public Policy in my Master’s degree. I have also added another degree in History. I was also at Harvard for a programme on emerging leadership. I have been around as far as politics is concerned. I started as a local government chairman. I was a party deputy chairman of National Republican Convention (NRC) in Lagos state. I was a director with Lagos State Bulk Purchasing Corporation. I was a member of Lagos State Football Association. I was a commissioner during the administration of Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu. I was elected a senator. I was an ambassador. I contested for governorship of Lagos state in 2007.I was appointed chairman Industrial Training Fund and was also a minister twice. I was Minister of State for Defence. I resigned and was later reappointed the following year as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. All these will sum up who I am and where I am coming from. In terms of my political philosophy, I am a great believer in democracy because the two major models I have are Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the great Martin Luther King Jnr. These are the people that shaped my life in terms of public service. And that is the major reason I opted for public service.
The cliché kosi Koro kosi bo is very popular in Lagos. Please educate our readers on whether it is a fact of political clout or mere self-aggrandizement.
Let me say this. You can’t say it is an act of aggrandizement. One, it was not a cliché coined by me. It was a cliché coined by those who believe in me as a politician. And if you look at my track record, it speaks for itself. I don’t like to beat my own drums. I allow people to assess me and tell me who I am or what they perceive me to be. I may not agree with them but I usually refrain from being the one defining who I am more so when it comes to issues like this.
Recently you and your supporters returned to the progressives fold. Is this return a political surrender or a political sensitivity?
It is not a surrender and not a sensitivity. There is a saying in Yoruba that boko ba’rokun to ro’sa a fori si elebute when a ship sails, no matter how the journey is the ship will eventually return home. For me, I see it as homecoming. And I am a good student of history. I reflected on the history of the south west as far as opposition is concerned and I came to the conclusion that history in the south west has never been kind to opposition. I felt that whatever legacy I am going to leave behind as a politician is better kept and sustained within the progressive fold. That seems to be the natural habitat to the people of the south west. And we are also at the zenith of political life and we believe that the best thing to do at this time is to return to my natural environment so that my legacy can be sustained as one can be remembered as someone who fought on the side of his people rather than on the other side.
Having returned home, and now that 2019 is approaching, what plans do you have now?
I don’t think it is appropriate to discuss that now. We have leaders and leaders. I think the first thing for me to do is to keep abreast of my thinking and see how that can be packaged within the framework of political agenda of the party. I am a team player and I have come to play my own role and contribute meaningfully without acrimony with the political family.
Is there any immediate or remote possibility that you might return to PDP?
Let me tell you, I am 58 years this year. The last thing I want to do is brag because I have not gotten this far by my height or handsomeness or money. It is the grace of Almighty and I recognize that. But having done all those things that I listed, I am not seeking any appointment from anybody again. There are very few things that I can aspire to be politically. So, if at this stage I don’t know what I want in life, then I don’t deserve anybody’s respect. I know what I want, this is homecoming for me and this is where I intend to end my political career.
You are a leader in Nigeria by all parameters, it will be vital to seek to establish your opinion on salient national issues like the Fulani herdsmen issue; the proclaimed policy thrust of the 2018 budget; the recent congress of PDP; the macro-economy; the status of things with Boko Haram insurgence; the recent fuel crisis and the up-coming presidential election 2019.
The issue of Fulani herdsmen is really painful, it is very sad. I do not believe that at this age and time, you have such occurrence. But unfortunately, it is there. I hope the government is able to confront it head-on and summon courage to put an end to it. On the issue of the policy thrust of 2019, we cannot fault the policy trust. It has never been our problem in Nigeria, the devil has always been in the implementation for the benefit of the masses. So, the policy thrust, for any right thinking person, will know that consolidating on some of the modest achievements made by the government made a lot of sense. Injecting huge funds into the economy to accelerate our return to normalcy is after a terrible recession is the right thing to do. But as we all know, the devil in the country has always been with the implementation of this policy thrust. I hope this time around it will be different. I also hope that it will come out of the National Assembly in good time. Don’t forget that politicking is going to start any time from now and once we roll into politics, every other thing will suffer. It is not just in Nigeria, it is everywhere. That is why Americans coined that phrase because once you are entering the tail end of any administration, the strength of that administration is reduced and the focus is also distracted because of political situation. So, that is also very important. I don’t believe we even have two months for the budget. If the budget is not approved by the end of February, I doubt if much can be done with it before the year runs out because by April, everything is politics. It is very important. I would have wished that the budget was passed last year so that this January implementation begins and we will at least have four months of implementation before we roll into political activities. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. We just hope that it can be accelerated as quickly as possible.
You talked about the election. Our hope is that INEC will live up to expectations. The major problems of elections are not when voting is taking place. It is when they are returned from polling booths to collation centres that you have all manners of hanky-panky happening all over the place. So, that is where you have hijacks by thugs, where the police are compromised and INEC officials too. We hope the society will graduate away from that this time around and hope that we will have a good, clean and respectable electoral outing come 2019.
Lagos State is your primary constituency and it is logical to seek to know your mindset on the current administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in terms of performance and expectations?
Talking about Lagos State government, I am proud of what Ambode has been able to achieve so far. I am not a praise singer, I am very hard on people I evaluate. I don’t easily give marks to people. One of the reasons I admire Ambode’s administration is not because of those grandiose projects he has done but because of those small, small common sense solutions that he has brought into governance. That is why I admire him. Look at that under bridge around berger, look at what he has turned that place into. If you don’t know that place originally, you wouldn’t have known that such place existed. That is common sense solution. Go to Oworonsoki now. Go and see what he is doing there. That is a common sense solution. If you see the traffic problem we used to have on Third Mainland Bridge, see how simply he eliminated that by using an existing land to create an infrastructure that has accommodated the flow of traffic and kept commercial vehicles away from the main traffic. That, to a large extent, has improved the traffic situation. I live in Ikoyi and we used to have nightmares in the evenings when coming out of the traffic. The space has always been there. What we need to do is create another space for the traffic to move from Ikoyi before joining the main lane. These are common sense solutions that people will not pay attention to. But for me as an individual, as an American trained, it tells me that there is somebody thinking in Alausa. We must recognize that and commend them for that. One other thing I also want to add, you see, people might say that it is a waste of money, no, it is not. Though what he is doing now with the carnival started from another administration but he has escalated it. It has become a bug in every neighbourhood. Let me tell you. My wife is a trader, last December, they closed the whole of Nnamdi Azikiwe Street and they had a huge carnival there, they were all happy because of the carnival. All the traders joined. There was no Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba, everybody participated. They also extended it to us in Parkview for the first time. We also joined them. So you see, somebody who knows one or two things about the economy can think. That is how you grow an economy. You make people dip their hands in their pocket and expend either for personal satisfaction or those who are buying food stuff, people who are buying drinks are buying, and that is how you expand an economy. You are spreading the wealth and, in addition to that, it is easing the pressure and the frustration that we live with every day, pressure from light/electricity, frustration from water, frustration from traffic and all that. So, these are things that you cannot easily quantify in the true sense of it in terms of the kind of value that they add to society. People talk about the Mardi Gras in Louisiana and the one in Rio in Brazil a carnival that people will come and see and watch all over the world. I am happy that somebody started it but he latched on to it big time by taking it to another level. I was in Epe, let me tell you that was what caught my attention about Ambode. If you have not been to Epe, you need to go there. If you see what Ambode has done now in Epe, you will be shocked. The governor has transformed Epe completely beyond any person’s imagination. The way I look at it, if it is properly managed, that place can be our tourist haven not only in Lagos state but in Nigeria. So, these are the things that I have seen, that I appreciate and I believe it is our role to appreciate and encourage him to do more.
From what you said about Ambode, have you endorsed him for a second term?
I am not saying it officially but it is my prayer. That’s my prayer for him.
Recently the IYALOJA BOOK was launched to commemorate an amazon of Lagos. We recall that despite the brewing strife between you and Asiwaju Tinubu then, you showed genuine sympathy and profound condolence after her demised. How do you explain this?
Don’t forget that Alhaja was not only Asiwaju’s mother. She was my mother too. I can recall many times that Asiwaju will be upset with me and Alhaja will intervene and tell him aburo eh ni won, mase suru pelu won (they’re your siblings, be patient with them) uncountable times. So, there is no way Alhaja will pass on and someone like me will not participate or show the expected emotions because she was a good mother. In addition to that, she served Lagos extremely well, she contributed a lot both under military rule and under civilian government. She was one of the stabilizing factors during military era, trying to ensure that Lagos is not shortchanged. I can recall that she said that people should go and protest when didn’t want to create local government for us in Lagos state. She was one of the people that fought that we must have more local governments. And she also protested for so many good things on behalf of Lagos – both openly and behind the scene. Though Asiwaju is her main son, but we are all Alhaja’s children.
Definitely, you have politically gone through thick and thin with Asiwaju Tiinubu. What is your general opinion on his political standard, strategies and style?
As I have said, I am not a praise singer but the truth is that I am always quick to say that Awolowo was the greatest politician to ever participate in Nigerian politics. I make bold to say that Asiwaju is the greatest politician of our own era. I can say that Awolowo is the greatest of all times but Asiwaju is the greatest of our own era. There is no doubt in my mind about that. You don’t have to like him but if you see what he has done here in the state of Aquatic splendor, you cannot but give it to him. But now, from 1999 to 2007 we had 36 governors. How many of them can you put on the same level with Asiwaju? That says it all.
As a formidable returnee, your planned contribution to the general political stature of the party is vital. Please let us know your observations, suggestions and advice on appropriate party administration in collective interest?
Well, to be honest with you, as a party person, if I have advice for the party, I will reveal it to them through the appropriate channel and not through the media. We are not getting younger. So we cannot do things that we would spank those who are younger than us if they do, we should not be seen to be encouraging it not to even talk of doing it.
Thank you Sir, it’s a great honour talking with you.